Ten-year-old Pat Smith sure looks mighty proud of those 13 mouse tails in that jar she’s holding. A long time ago, 75 years ago last December 1945 to be exact, a campaign was announced by the Courier Journal that an effort to get rid of mice and rats in Jefferson County, Kentucky had begun. The next April 3, 1946, a 10-year-old school girl got her picture in the Louisville Courier Journal with a jar of mice tails.
In the spring of 1946 the East Jefferson County Lions Club offered one cent for every mouse tail and three cents for every rat tail a student brought in. That was the promise to Fern Creek, Jeffersontown, Melbourne Heights and Hikes grade schools. Other schools in Jefferson County had participated with enthusiasm because the mouse and rat population had become a real menace. Fern Creek and Jeffersontown are about 10-miles from Louisville. The other towns are closer to the city.
Students in all of the designated schools went to work and became known as small game hunters. It was not specified if the small game hunters meant the small animals that the students tried to catch or if it was the small persons who were trying to catch them.
By the time the story of the little game hunters was in the Courier Journal, one boy had already brought in 128 mouse tails. Back in the spring of 1946 one cent for those mouse tails was nothing to sneeze at. Several feed companies were helping with the finances and pay for the grand prize, which was a $25 War Bond. James Farmer, principal of Fern Creek Grade School, told the Courier Journal that one boy had set 25 traps at home, neighborhood, and in neighbors’ barns.
Besides the bounties and grand prize, other cash awards were given for the three best essays by high school students on rat control or grade school students could make posters about the mouse and rat problems.
The Commander of the Jefferson Post of the American Legion announced that the “much ballyhooed campaign” by the schools in the city (of Louisville) was not progressing very well. On April 3, 1946 the story about the Fern Creek Grade School was in the newspaper with the photograph.
The winning boy – George Stout, 13, of Buechel – was winning with 41 rat tails and 99 mouse tails. When he found a rat’s nest he was afraid jealous competitors would accuse him of passing off mouse tails as rat tails if he de-tailed the baby rats, so he brought the rat’s nest he had found to school. He said he caught his mice in traps using cheese for bait, but the rats were caught by hand.
“You can catch a rat by hitting him with an ear of corn,” said Stout.
The newspaper reporter wrote, “The leading girl contestant is Miss Patricia McIntyre, 10, Jeffersontown, who has brought in 13 mouse tails to Fern Creek Grade school. Describing her experiences, she said, “No, I am not afraid of mice. My papa catches them for me, but I cut off their tails.”
Now, 75 years later, I can tell the truth to people that I never called my dad “Papa” in my entire life, and never cut off a mouse’s tail either. I don’t know why the reporter wrote that about what I said. Maybe the reporter (Marion Porter) just thought that sounded better.
The story and photo of the event had been lost for a number of years, so I contacted my school’s Internet site and asked if anyone might know how to get that photo and story from the paper’s archives. Only a few hours later, I got an answer from Eva Galloway who assured me that she would get the photo. A half-hour later she sent it to me. Eva also went to Fern Creek and goes to the University of Louisville. I am very grateful to Eva.
Friends have guessed many things regarding what’s in the jar I’m holding, but not one guessed it was mouse tails. Here are some of the guesses I received: June bugs (several guessed this), pennies you collected for a good cause, homemade jam, moonshine, fireflies (7), March of Dimes, insects of some kind, a small frog, a photograph, a spider, a bee or butterfly for collecting, 4-H Fair entry, change to make first deposit to savings, something for a time capsule, money for polio victims, a science project, UNICEF.
No one guessed mouse tails!