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Trapping — a pure history and lost art

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Darrell Cureton Mug

Darrell Cureton

Trapping has been part of North American history since before it was claimed by explorers for themselves. This article is going to dabble into the history of trapping in the United States as well as follow a trapper from the time he grew from a young boy to when he took the time to teach the art to his grandson.

This man is very humble, and I wouldn’t be afraid to say that, in my opinion, he is the best raccoon trapper I have ever come across. For him, it has never been about the money but more of a way of life. He is what I would call a true mountain man. He lives life the way he wants how he wants and still lives a simple and fulfilled life. When he started trapping, there were no mobile phones or internet, yet he still found his way down rivers and through mountains to find whatever game, fish, or plant he was looking for to help him survive.

Indians used the hunting and trapping of game to survive daily life. This way of life allowed them to survive life without grocery and hardware stores. The Indians used every part of the animal not only for food but to create tools with their bones and clothing with their fur. While doing this, the Indians learned all about the land. Where animals can survive, so can humans, so everything the Indians learned, they were able to teach explorers about where to travel and how to travel throughout North America. With this, the fur trade was created within North America by the American Indians and the explorers.

Throughout the late 1800s and the early 1900s, trapping continued to be an important part of both commercial and private uses. As the turn of the century came and went — along with the industrial revolution — lots of manmade products were brought on that made the fur trade not as important an industry. Of course, at times, these fluctuations in the fur market can be attributed to lots and lots of different reasons, but slowly but surely, it started to chip away at a tradition born before we ever even thought of becoming a nation.

Cary, my father-in-law, has been trapping ever since he was 11 years old, taught by his father and older brother. He has caught pretty much every type of mammal in Missouri that can be trapped at least a time or two. But he specializes in catching raccoons. Not only does he specialize in catching them, but he also helped test one of the most advanced traps to come to market in years. The (Little Grizz) dog-proof trap was designed to catch raccoons without having to risk catching anyone’s dog in the process.

Cary took many years trapping hundreds of miles of rivers throughout the states of Arkansas, Missouri, and Iowa. Over the years, he used different methods of trapping — whether that be by road lines, creeks using a canoe, or using his jet boat on larger rivers. He had success using all of these methods throughout his life, along with all of his experience to polish off what method works best in what areas, as well as how to catch the most in the shortest amount of time and be most cost-effective.

Through the years of polishing his methods and procedures, he has become one of the most successful raccoon trappers in the state of Missouri. He has caught well over a thousand raccoons for multiple years in a row. Not only does he catch a lot of raccoons, but he catches quality raccoons. When he takes his pelts to market, they are always scraped, dried, and well prepared for the buyers to know that he has a quality, well-taken-care-of pelt. This well-planned quality of work has always gotten him top dollar when the fur buyers have been able to give it. Even in today’s market, Cary still gets the best price at market because of his quality.

One of his favorite things to say about trapping is, “I’ve trapped when coon pelts were $4 and when they were $40. It’s not about the money, it’s about the tradition, and you have to love it to do it.”

This speaks a lot about the man because there have been years more recently that fur prices have been lower than they have ever been, making it impossible to make any money trapping. But like the man says, it has never been about the money. It’s always been about the tradition. Many trappers have hung up their boots, and many fur buyers have shut their doors.

In the last 20 years or so, Cary has taken the time to show his son Brian, his grandson Garrett, and myself all how to trap. His grandson took to it pretty well. Of course, girls and life, in general, have taken up pretty much most of his time, but one thing he will never forget is the times he has spent on the river with his grandpa learning about canoeing rivers and catching raccoons. To speak to him, he is very humble about the success he has had, but the proof is in the pudding. You will not find a better raccoon trapper out there than he is.

In conclusion, over the last 100 years or so, the trapping industry has gradually declined, whether it be from lack of end-of-the-line customers, new man-made products replacing fir or just hippies trying to take the rights of men helping control the animal population. Yet there are still men out there doing their best to carry on their multi-generational traditions. They call it a lost art, but this man and others call it a way of life.

Darrell Cureton is a retired veteran of the U.S Army, which he says, "gives me the time to do everything I love to do in the outdoors." Married to his wife Melissa for 15 years, the couple has four children and a grandson. Cureton looks forward to providing readers with information about the outdoors throughout Missouri. If you have a subject you want to hear about, email him at darrell@missourionthefly.com or check out his website at www.missourionthefly.com.

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