Trapping in the United States

  • illustration of lady dressed in furs

  • illustration of a trap

  • illustration of the Newhouse snare

  • illustration of a trap


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Long before Europeans came to the North American continent, natives were using traps to catch animals and fish.

Eskimos used whalebone nooses to snare waterfowl, the Hopis used dead-fall rock slabs to kill fox and Aleutian Indians used barbed spikes to catch bears.

According to a 1902 Smithsonian report, Traps of the American Indians, the barbed spike technique worked like this: The trap consisted of "a board two feet square and two inches thick, furnished with barbed spikes, which was placed in Bruin's path and covered with dust. The unsuspecting (animal) stepped upon the smooth surface, when his foot sank and was pierced by one of the barbed hooks. Maddened with pain, he put forth another foot to assist in pulling the first away, when that, too, was caught. When all four of the feet were spiked to the board the beast fell over on its back and its career was soon ended by the hunter."

Early 1600s Europeans first use steel traps in the New World.

1670 The Hudson's Bay Company is chartered; furs become the equivalent of cash.

1806 Lewis and Clark return from their epic trip to the West.

1820 The great Rocky Mountain beaver hunt begins, as does the heyday of the mountain man. Beaver hats are the height of fashion.

July 1825 First mountain man rendezvous is held on the Henry's Fork of the Green River in what is today Wyoming.

1840 Last rendezvous is held near the mouth of Horse Creek on the Green River in what is today Wyoming; as beaver falls out of fashion to be replaced by silk.

1851 Traps are mass-produced.

1870s Predator control becomes a priority in the West, with wolves, coyotes, grizzly bears and other large predators targeted by trappers protecting livestock.

1900 The Oneida Community, Ltd. trap company receives a letter from a veteran trapper decrying the cruelty of traps.

1925 The National Association of the Fur Industry offers a $10,000 prize for the invention of a "truly humane trap." No one collects the money.

1925 National Anti-Steel-Trap League is formed.

1930 Massachusetts bans traps that cause "continued suffering and (are) not designed to kill the animals at once." A decade later, the ban is overturned by the legislature.

1930s Families in the Great Depression supplement their incomes by selling fur.

1930s Author and ex-trapper Archibald S. Belaney writes about the cruelty of trapping.

1949 The American Humane Association offers $10,000 reward for the development of a humane trap. Offer stands until 1979. No one collects the money.

1950-1960s Animal-rights groups, including the Animal Protection Institute, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Committee for Humane Legislation, the Friends of Animals, the Fund for Animals, and the Humane Society of the United States, are formed.

1958 The Conibear trap is manufactured.

1960 A large male wolf is trapped on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, Ariz. It is the last wolf trapped by a federal agent in the state.

1980 Oregon voters reject a measure that would have banned trapping.

1992 Arizona voters reject a measure that would have banned trapping.

1994 Arizona voters pass a measure than bans trapping on public lands.

1996 Colorado and Massachusetts voters ban trapping.

1998 California bans trapping.

1998 Alaska voters reject a measure that would have banned neck snares for trapping wolves.

1998 Woodstream Corp., the nation's largest manufacturer of steel-jawed leghold traps, announces that it will discontinue making leghold traps. It will continue to make live traps, marketed under the Havahart trademark.

Sources: Firearms, Traps, & Tools of the Mountain Man, Carl P. Russell, University of New Mexico Press, 1967; The Wolf in the Southwest, David E. Brown, The University of Arizona Press, 1980; The Steel Trap in North America, Richard Gerstell, Stackpole Books, 1985.

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