When the "frontier" was first being settled, prairie rabbits were a boon. They were easy game for hungry families. But during the Depression, they became a terror that whole communities fought through gruesome "Jack Rabbit Drives."

During the First World War, the price of wheat went through the roof, and one of the best places to farm it was in northern Texas and western Oklahoma. These expansive, dry states were thought too parched to farm, but turned out to have vast stores of water in underground reservoirs. After clearing the native grasses, farmers discovered the land was so rich that some only visited the state for planting and harvest and still made a fortune. Ten years of soil-stripping farming later, the crops dried up, and the newly-exposed soil got carried away in storms so huge they half-buried houses.

Then the jack rabbits came. The rabbits were migratory, came in "herds," and reproduced every 32 days. They ate everything that grew, starving the people and cattle who stayed on the lands. Farming and ecological disaster had eliminated many of their predators, and their population just kept expanding. In 1935, there were an estimated 8,000,000 rabbits in western Kansas alone.

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Some counties offered rewards for dead rabbits, but local governments soon ran out of money. Farmers sold rabbit pelts, but eventually an entire rabbit was worth less than the bullet it took to shoot it. That's when "Jack Rabbit Drives" became part of the culture. People would gather in huge groups and line up to make a giant square. They'd stomp and yell, driving the rabbits toward an inner pen. There, instead of shooting the rabbits, they would club the rabbits to death – both to save money on bullets and to avoid shooting each other.

It sounds like an unpleasant local ritual, but it was a county-wide effort that changed the ecology of the land. The biggest single drive involved 10,000 people who killed off every rabbit in eight square miles of territory. The people organizing the drives knew how much of a force they were. When people outside of the territory condemned the drives, people in west Kansas threatened to simply drive the rabbits onto their land and see how they dealt with them.

Image: Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), 1861-1946.

[Sources: Jack Rabbit Drives, The Worst Hard Time]