Tales of the Old River
(A Seven Otter Day)
By Del Albright, as told by
(Author's Note: Etched on the gun stock of my memory are tales told by my Dad, Elmer Ward Albright, of trapping during the Great Depression, and how he and his family lived a little higher on the hog because of his trapline tactics. Every time I pick up the old Winchester Model 62 pump .22 handed down to me by Dad, I remember these stories. Here is one such story told in his words.)
The Great Depression forced us to pull up stakes in Idaho and move to just outside Eugene, Oregon, near the Siuslaw River. It was 1932.
In those days a man could earn a dollar a day, working his tail off, daylight to dark. Believe me, I did it. I was only 15 years old when we settled in Oregon, but already doing a man's work. I knew there had to be a way to make a decent living off the land, as the hills and forests around our place were teeming with game.
It came to me one day while I was a fishing and watching critters along Doe Creek. I could harvest a few of the fur-packing critters that lived along the many creeks and rivers within 20 miles of home. Every time we went to town I'd see posters advertising prices for fur pelts. Otter was going for $20 and up; while a prime mink could net a man more than $100. It was real tempting to a young man looking to have spending money.
I took my wages and set them aside until I had enough cash to get me a brace of traps. I knew I'd be a hunting 'coons, mink, otter, and muskrats (beaver were illegal to hunt/trap by then), so I got an assortment of traps, including a few jump traps. Sizes ranged from 2 to 4. The first thing I did was to boil those shiny new traps in water mixed with alder bark so as to turn them black and stop any rust.
It didn't take me long to get the knack of trapping. One day in December of 1936, I had trapped 2 mink, 2 or 3 muskrats, and 1 otter. . I was selling my furs to Tony, as he was the fairest buyer. When I went into R. A. Babb Hardware I saw a Winchester Model 62 pump .22 caliber rifle, and bought it for 'bout $17.00 with my trapping money.
The next day after buying the gun I was running my trap line, approximately 18 miles worth, along the banks of the Siuslaw River when I heard noises coming from the water downstream of me. It sounded like critters so I laid down and crawled up to the bank and hid under the brush. Coming up the river were seven Otters playing and diving in and out of the water like porpoises. I figured they were feeding on river clams and having fun doing it.
I quietly waited, not making a sound; just watching. When they got up to where I was hid, I timed it so the 6 lead otters were under the water and I shot the last one in line so as not to scare off the other ones. I did this each time the last one in line came up to play until I had shot all 7 of them. It was an experience I've never had again.
I skinned out the otters. They averaged about 30 to 40 pounds and nearly 5 feet in length. I stretched out the hides and put them on a board made out of cedar fence slats I got from a fence that was on our ranch along Doe Creek. The boards had to be smooth as the fur was next to the boards. Skinning was done very carefully as nicks and cuts in the furs took away the value of the fur. Tony liked my furs as they were done right, and gave me $25 a piece for them.
The Oregon otter have what they call "Cotton Fur" which means because the weather isn't as cold as in other places, their fur is not as thick. The furs are worth more money from colder country. But I was happy (and rich) that season!
The .22 was ideal for working the traps. It was quick, accurate, and with shorts, didn't make much noise. It accompanied me on many a long journey. It rode in the scabbard of my pony at times. It killed more than its share of orchard-raiding black bears too. And it put a fair amount of venison on the table for us too.
Not that a young man thinks much about the future, but even then, after a few seasons of packing that trusty Winchester .22, I figured someday maybe I'd pass it along to my son...