The bounty laws of Tennessee
What were our ancestors scared of?
Or, put another way, what threatened them, their children, their livelihoods?
It’s a story we don’t often tell in our genealogical research… but it’s one where the evidence can be found.
Right there in the law books.
Yep, The Legal Genealogist is playing in the law books again this week, this time the Tennessee law books since I head off tomorrow for a wonderful weekend with the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society. It’s the society’s 29th Annual Genealogical Seminar, it’ll be at the FiftyForward Martin Center in Brentwood (and there’s room for walk-ins if you can handle your own lunch and maybe not having a handout ready for you!), and it’s going to be great fun.
Just as much fun as looking back at those law books and what they tell us about our ancestors and what they were scared of… what threatened them, their children, their livelihoods.
One of the clearest pieces of evidence on that score are the bounty laws of the regions where our ancestors lived. The states or the counties paid bounties on the scalps of animals that threatened the lives and the economic well-being of the residents of those areas.
In Tennessee, for example, the laws of 1797 allowed residents to pay their taxes in the scalps of animals that were pests to agriculture: crows and squirrels,1 and by 1811 a bounty of $3 for an adult wolf and $2 for any wolf under four months old was authorized to be paid out of the state treasury.2
By 1858, the bounty on wolves was $6 for an adult wolf and $4 for a wolf under four months old, to be paid from state funds,3 while a county could give a credit against the poll tax of the same amount for anyone killing a wild cat and a credit of up to $1 for anyone killing a red fox.4
In 1860, the bounty law was changed so that anyone who wanted to be paid for a wolf, wild cat or red fox had to go before the magistrate with the scalp with both ears attached, pay a fee of 10 cents to file, and get a certificate. For a wild cat or fox, the bounty was $1 each.5
In 1879, the bounty was $2 for every wolf or panther, $1 for a wildcat and 50 cents for every fox running wild in the State.6
By 1889, the bounty on red fox and wildcat scalps had been repealed,7 signaling a change there. You can pretty much bet that the population of wildcats and red foxes had been reduced in populated areas to the point where neither was any longer a major threat to the lives and livelihoods of Tennesseans.
But a bounty was still being paid on wolves and panthers as late as 1918: $2 each, according to the laws published that year.8
What were our ancestors scared of? What threatened them, their children, their livelihoods?
Take a look at the laws of the day.
- See §1, Chapter 4, Laws of 1797, “Wolves, Crows and Squirrels,” in John Haywood and Robert L. Cobbs, compilers, Statute Laws of the State of Tennessee (Knoxville : F. S. Heiskell, 1831), I: 378; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Nov 2017). ↩
- §1, Chapter 51, Laws of 1811, in ibid. ↩
- §1677 in Return J. Meigs and William F. Cooper, compilers, The Code of Tennessee (Nashville : E. G. Eastman & Co., state printers, 1858), 353; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Nov 2017). ↩
- §§1680-1681 in ibid., at 354. ↩
- Chapter 78, Laws of 1860, in Public Acts of the State of Tennessee, 33rd General Assembly (Nashville: E. G. Eastman & Co. public printers, 1860), 59; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Nov 2017). ↩
- §§1-3, Chapter 139, Laws of 1879, “Wolves, Wildcats, Foxes, and Panthers,” in W.A. Milliken and John J. Vertrees, compilers, The Code of Tennessee, §2195 (Nashville: Marshall & Bruce, 1884), 384; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Nov 2017). ↩
- See Acts of 1879, chapter 200, referenced in D. L. Grayson, compiler, The Annotated Constitution and Code of the State of Tennessee, 2 vols. (Chattanooga: p.p., 1895), I: 256; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Nov 2017). ↩
- §2875, in Frank M. Thompson, et al., compilers, Thompson’s Shannon’s Code of Tennessee (Louisville, Ky. : Baldwin Law Book Co., 1918), 5: 1124; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Nov 2017). ↩