One of the stranger artifacts at the Washington County Historical Society is a receipt for squirrel scalps. What’s the story?
In colonial and revolutionary times, as more and more land was cleared for fields of corn and some of the larger natural predators like bobcats retreated deeper into the woods, the squirrel population escalated to the point of being a serious problem. Throughout the frontier – Maryland, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio – squirrel hunts were organized. One hunt in Ohio “produced 19,660 scalps, not counting those from hunters who failed to turn theirs in” (New Englanders on the Ohio Frontier, McCormick).
Furthermore, in some counties, the trustees of the county would decide the number of squirrel scalps each household had to produce. People were fined 3 cents for each scalp lacking from their requirement, and paid 2 cents for each scalp over the requirement. The scalps were immediately destroyed so that no dastardly person could reuse them.
So, in the good ole days, rather than feel like you’d been scalped yourself, you could actually pay your taxes in squirrel scalps!
Rob Weiss is a volunteer for the Washington County Historial Society.