Rabbit Drive, Caruthers Station, Fresno County, March 10, 1892.

I was following some links on New Things regarding rabbits in Australia, and it reminded me of another rabbit story. The photograph above is a scene from it.

The great rabbit drive, described as “one of the most successful and picturesque ever had in California,” was the work of more than 5,000 people and resulted in the slaying of about 20,000 rabbits. This day’s “grand sport” had such an impact on fledgling California writer Frank Norris that he later incorporated it into one of the most vivid chapters of his classic novel, The Octopus.

By noon the number of rabbits discernible by Annixter’s field glasses on ahead was far into the thousands. What seemed to be ground resolved itself, when seen through the glasses, into a maze of small, moving bodies, leaping, ducking, doubling, running back and forth-a wilderness of agitated ears, white tails, and twinkling legs. The outside wings of the curved line of vehicles began to draw in a little . . . .

Then the strange scene defined itself. It was no longer a herd covering the earth. It was a sea, whipped into confusion, tossing incessantly, leaping, falling, agitated by unseen forces. At times the unexpected tameness of the rabbits all at once vanished. Throughout certain portions of the herd eddies of terror abruptly burst forth. A panic spread; then there would ensue a blind, wild rushing together of thousands of crowded bodies, and a furious scrambling over backs, till the scuffing thud of innumerable feet over the earth rose to a reverberating murmur as of distant thunder, here and there pierced by the strange, wild cry of the rabbit in distress.

. . . Like an opened sluice gate, the extending flanks of the entrance of the corral slowly engulfed the herd. The mass, packed tight as ever, by degrees diminished, precisely like a pool of water when a dam is opened. The last stragglers went in with a rush, and the gate was dropped.

The corral, a really large enclosure, had proved all too small for the number of rabbits collected by the drive. Inside it was a living, moving, leaping, breathing, twisting mass. The rabbits were packed two, three, and four feet deep. They were in constant movement; those beneath struggling to the top, those on top sinking and disappearing below their fellows. All wildness, all fear of man, seemed to have entirely disappeared. Men and boys, reaching over the sides of the corral, picked up a jack in each hand, holding them by the ears, while two reporters from San Francisco papers took photographs of the scene. The noise made by the tens of thousands of moving bodies was as the noise of wind in a forest, while from the hot and sweating mass there rose a strange odor, penetrating, ammoniacal, savoring of wild life.

On signal, the killing began. Dogs that had been brought there for that purpose when let into the corral refused, as had been half expected, to do the work. They snuffed curiously at the pile, then backed off, disturbed, perplexed. But . . . .the killing
went forward. Armed with a club in each hand, the young fellows from Guadalajara and Bonneville, and the farm boys from the ranches, leaped over the rails of the corral. They walked unsteadily upon the myriad of crowding bodies underfoot, or, as space was cleared, sank almost waist-deep into the mass that leaped and squirmed about them.
Blindly, furiously, they struck and struck.

-Frank Norris, The Octopus; A Story of California (1901) from California History, Summer 1992.

1 thought on “Rabbits”

  1. Man, that scene has been burned into my mind ever since You showed me that book er, 10 years ago ! I think of it every time I have to take the 46 to the coast. Thought of it last week when I was in Avenal.

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