Dakota Datebook

Mr. Muskrat

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What is a muskrat? Native to North America, muskrats are aquatic animals that live near bodies of water. In some areas of the United States, they are known as “Swamp Bunnies,” though they do not resemble a bunny. Like a cross between a beaver and a rat, the muskrat is larger and heavier than a normal rat, and lacks the flat tail of a beaver. If asked today, many North Dakotans could describe the creature as one they had seen along rivers and streams.
On this day in 1922, one family described the muskrat as their very own family pet.
It seems that George L. Hutchins, whose family lived near Hamilton, North Dakota, came across a muskrat while he was out driving late one night. The muskrat appeared in the road and ran forward into the headlights, as if bewildered.
Hutchins stopped the car, got out, and struck the little animal over its head with the car’s auto crank, knocking it out cold. He tossed it into the back of his car, and continued on his way.
When he got back to his house, Hutchins said, the muskrat had revived. It was walking around, happy as a muskrat.
Hutchins took the muskrat into the house, where his family grew to love it. They fed the muskrat milk and crackers and vegetables, and they filled their bathtub full of water for it to play in. The muskrat swam around in their tub, and tried to dive into it. It stayed tame, following members of the Hutchins family around.
The family dog did not like the muskrat as much as its owners seemed to. However, “in an encounter between the two, the dog came out second-best.”
The muskrat did not try to escape, and except for that first encounter with the auto crank, the Hutchins reported no need to restrain it. Mr. and Mrs. Hutchins even said that when they drove their car to town with the muskrat between them in the front seat, it sat there, happy, not moving, not trying to escape.
After a few days, the Hutchins family returned the tamed muskrat to the wild. They left it near the Tongue River in the woods. As they drove away, it sat by a tree, “taking a farewell look at them.”
On a side note, striking any animal over the head and removing it from its habitat is generally frowned upon. This author suggests that with the advancements of technology, those seeking a new or even exotic pet try searching their computer rather than using the same technique. Yet, in that time, one happy little muskrat joined a family for a short time only, easily tamed by a rap on the head.
Written by: Sarah Walker
The Minot Daily News, Wednesday Evening, November 15, 1922, p. 4

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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