|Each country to its own. Salt Lake Valley has its Seagulls, the plains have the buffalo, and Cripple Creek, Colorado has its jackass.
But out in Uintah Basin, in eastern Utah, there is the small rodent, with the powerful puff tail, that deserves the accolade. His name is the cottontail rabbit.
In the ‘Early Days,’ at the ‘Opening,’ in 1905 and 1906, the homesteaders streamed into the Ute Reservation to settle the last free land on earth. It was a howling wilderness and civilization was far away. There were rivers and streams, of course, but for the most part it was a barren, arid waste. Here the settler must make his home by living on his claim for five years to ‘prove up,’ or his title to the land went blooey.
They came, they saw, they conquered–some of them–and the rest starved out. But those who made it say it would have been impossible without the cottontail rabbit.
You see, the automobile in those days was practically unknown. There were no refrigerators. The butcher shops in the large centers had ice, but a trip to town once or twice a month was quite an accomplishment. Fresh meat was seldom, if ever, come by during the long, hot summer. But over the whole country ran the little cottontail. He supplied fresh meat to the settlers.
They say the 30-30 Winchester won the west. This may be true, but in Uintah Basin the gun that did the business was the little 22 rifle of almost any make. With this the homesteader got his rabbits, and if he didn’t get them, he got hungry.
As time drew on, the homesteaders’ money grew short. As one old-timer said, “When Jim and I settled on our place, we had seven cows, seven kids, and seven dollars, but we made it. Sometimes we had rabbit for breakfast, rabbit for dinner, and rabbit for supper. And I still think rabbit is mighty tasty when I can get some.”
From these stories, comes the truth. Not only was fresh meat, like beef, hard to come by, but even if there was plenty, the homesteaders couldn’t buy it. One of the ‘Early Dayers’ said, “We spent our money before the canal got built. We were too poor to go and too poor to stay. But as long as we could get bullets, we could get rabbits. And that’s the thing that kept us alive. I can’t count the times I would have gone to bed hungry, if it hadn’t been for rabbits.” So it goes, everywhere the Old Boys gather, the story is the same.
In this fast, modern age, the memory of the cottontail recedes farther back, until now, the part he played is almost forgotten. This is why I hasten to write these few words for the record. If it were me, somewhere in a proper place on the reservation, I would erect a monument to the cottontail. I respect the gull, the buffalo, and the jackass, but the rabbit would have my prettiest blue ribbon. Because, you see, I am an Old-timer. I was born, was reared, and have lived all my life on the Reservation. The cottontail is not unknown to me.