Gopher Count

in Viola, MN, USA

Gopher Count

Voila! No, it's Viola, Minnesota, and there ain't no magic here, though the ghosts of millions of huggable little gophers may very well be haunting the fields around this farming community -- looking for their legs. Legs? In the heart of the Gopher State, the sub-100 person village of Viola has been plagued by galling gophers since local farmers first settled here in the mid-1800s. Not only can a gopher mound really screw up farming equipment, but the little buggers have eating habits that can mean the cancellation of crops. Marilyn Shea, the 1999 Gopher Queen, explains, "They go down the rows and eat up all the little corn kernels and alfalfa seeds that the farmers planted. And they just couldn't get a good crop."

So, like any good Americans would do, Violans put a bounty on gophers' legs and started slaughtering the sons of bitches. Their fuzzy front digits are worth cold hard cash, about $1.25 a pair, which is dished out at the annual Gopher Count celebration held every June. How are they stored until this fateful summer day? Queen Shea explains: "People sometimes stick the legs in a jar and keep them in their freezer until the counting. But some also put them on a line and hang them out to dry. That way they won't smell and the cats won't run off with them from the garage." In 1999 the village paid out almost $1,500.00, which translates into about 1,200 goner gophers.

So it comes as no surprise that as of late the Gopher Count has been targeted by animal rights organizations. But Shea, like all Violans, thinks the outside world just doesn't understand. "We don't, you know, trap gophers here to be cruel to animals. And we're not teaching our kids violence. It was something that was started a long time ago, and we keep it going through thick and thin." Ah, good old tradition, the global excuse.

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