You hear odd things in the hallways of the History Center. Recently, I heard “The Great Squirrel Invasion of 1822.” That got my attention, so I did some digging.
Though it sounds hilarious, and the picture it paints is even more so, this was a devastating incident for Indianapolis residents and farmers.
We know all about this thanks to Calvin Fletcher as in Fletcher Place. This guy, one of the founders of the Indiana Historical Society, kept a diary between 1817 and 1835. Fletcher was a successful farmer, lawyer, banker and state legislator. He was a huge figure in the growth of the city, arriving in Indianapolis when it was still a new settlement in 1821.
So back to the squirrels. They crossed the river going west. Swimming squirrels “in several places in almost countless numbers.” Swimming squirrels.
In his diary, Fletcher calls the region’s corn crop “literally destroyed.” Did you know 12 squirrels could cause as much damage as one hog? According to Fletcher, one farmer claimed to have killed 248 squirrels in three days without making a dent in the scurry. (A group of squirrels is called a dray or a scurry just some more trivia for you.)
Fletcher’s family donated his diary to IHS in the 1920s, and what a wonderful insight into the times it is. We published them in several volumes between 1972 and 1983. If you want to read them, you can come to our library. You can even look at the originals if you want. Who knows what other bits of knowledge you might pick up?
Note: This squirrel thing happened again in 1945, but the damage was not quite as bad just thousands of dollars’ worth.