My Grandfather Roth lived almost a hundred years ago. I was five when he died, so I did not remember a personal connection to him. In 1882, when he was six years old, he emigrated with his parents from Switzerland. He was a concrete mason by trade and was very creative in his many interests. One of those interests was raising skunks! He descented them and sold them for pets and for the skins. There were many other stories of his life that only had a sentence or two in a family history. I decided I wanted to take those small pieces that I could gather from my oldest cousin, and other family members, and embellish them with my own imagination to make a set of stories of his life. This book is the 108 page fictional biography that I compiled as a result.
I am including the story of the skunks for you to read if interested. See what you think.
I can just imagine the day my grandfather, Christian Roth, told his wife Linda, “I think I am going to raise skunks and sell them for pets!” That must have been a real shocker for her. Being a very expressive person, I am sure she probably exclaimed, “Now why in the world would you want to do a thing like that?” She made it very clear that she did not want skunks anywhere near her house.
Grandpa and Grandma Roth lived in a two story frame house, surrounded by shady maples, at the south edge of Allensville, Pennsylvania. On their property stood a small barn, along with a few outbuildings, space for a garden, and a few small fields behind the barn.
Grandpa was a concrete finisher by trade. He did a great variety of concrete and block work for farmers in Big Valley. In his down time he pursued a great variety of personal interests, one of which was raising skunks. He believed that he could raise skunks, by removing their scent glands. When the young ones were half grown, he would operate on them and remove their stink glands. Then they would grow up to be like cats or ferrites and become pets to keep in the house.
This sounds like a risky, stinky, far out idea to most of us, but not to Grandpa Roth. You see, when he was growing up his Father, Benjamin Roth, was a veterinarian in Logan County, Ohio. Emigrating at the turn of the century from Alsace in Germany, to Berne Switzerland, and then to America, he brought his family and his veterinary skills along with him. Christian learned from his father how to do simple procedures on animals. It was this experience that birthed the idea that he could operate on skunks and turn them into pets.
Skunks were very common on the farms throughout Big Valley. They nest in groundhog holes, near a fence row, or under a stone wall. Skunks are a real nuisance to farmers. They liked to eat whatever was thrown out in the garbage, and, if given the chance, they would steal eggs from the chickens or ducks. Their diet consisted of a variety of grubs, plants, and even honeys bees.
Grandpa trapped a female skunk and operated on her, taking out her stink glands. He kept her penned up in a skunk yard he built out behind the garage. Using a dog chain, he fastened her to a post near the field. The neighborhood male skunks came by and mated with her. The pregnant skunk was then kept in the skunk yard behind the garage.
The skunk yard was made by burying chicken wire in the ground so she could not dig her way out and escape. Wire covered the whole yard. He dug trenches in the middle of the yard and buried some drain tile that opened to the surface. This created a place where she could make a nest when her babies were due about sixty-six days later.
The new little ones stayed with their mother until they quit nursing. Young skunks’ stink glands are not fully developed. As the young skunks grew bigger, Grandpa thought it was time to operate. Using his simple veterinary tools, he was able to operate on them removing their stink glands.
A mother skunk could have six to eight babies in one litter. Once their skunk’s glands were removed, the mother rejected them, so Grandpa kept them in a separate area. The descented skunks made great pets. He repeated the process over and over again providing skunks for pets and some for hides which he sold.
My father, Paul Roth, told of a time when he was feeding the skunks and accidently stepped on one of the young skunks. This was before Grandpa operated on it to descent it. The skunk sprayed him with a stinking stream before he could move away. He had a difficult time getting the smell off of him and out of his clothes.
Grandpa Roth was an enterprising man. He advertised in national magazines and shipped skunks for breeding and hides to anyone interested in his unique and unusual hobby.
When my father Paul was ten years old, Robert Huey, who owned the general store, sold off building lots in the town of Allensville. All the lots along the highway sold quickly. There were ten more one acre lots in the field behind the others. They lay adjacent to Grandpa Roth’s property. Grandpa saved enough money, and with the help of his skunk business, purchased ten lots at $100 an acre. These were added to the original six acres he owned. Another lot may have been added years later making the total 17 acres.
What does one do with an old dead horse? Grandpa Roth’s creative mind allowed him to be a very enterprising person who did things the average person would not think of doing. One of these was getting an old horse that was ready to be put down from a neighboring farmer. Most people view a dead horse as a disposal problem, but Grandpa saw it as an opportunity.
He took the children’s pony cart and tied the old horse to the back. Together they clopped home. He led the horse down around the barn to the edge of the field where he killed it. They skinned the hide off of the horse and stretched it out to dry, nailing it to the back side of the barn. The hide was later sold to make straps and harnesses.
The boys helped him cut up the horse. The meat from the shoulders and hind quarters was sliced into strips and hung on racks to dry. He made racks out of long poles mounted on A-frame and laid the meat over the racks. The meat dehydrated after several days into narrow strips like beef jerky. He used these strips to feed his growing skunk population.
In a large cast iron kettle he cut up and boiled the remaining parts of the horse. The fat separated and was skimmed off. The cooked meat scraps were pressed to squeeze out any remaining fat. The fat called tallow was put into cans or glass containers.
Grandpa used the tallow grease to coat his shoes and boots that he used in his concrete work. This kept the leather from drying out and cracking as well as waterproofing them. He sold some of the boot tallow to friends and neighbors as well.
The remainder of the horse was recycled and buried in the field. During the Great Depression, he had to do whatever was necessary to make ends meet.
Selling Star Black Skunk pelts was one of the things he did to bring in extra cash. He fed the skunks the dried horse meat and they seemed to thrive on it. People liked his silky black furs, especially since they did not have any smell of skunk on them. He advertised in national magazines and shipped both skunks and hides to interested buyers.
All rights reserved: (c) 4-2017 Dwight L. Roth