Outdoors: By request, here are a few tales of the old-time trappers

Last week, I had several members of my audiences ask me to go back in time and reminisce about how trapping was many years ago. They also wanted to know who did it back then.

Since I am getting close to my 80th birthday, I searched my brain and came up with many of the old-timers. Actually, 55 years ago trapping was a profitable job. It also was labor intensive, and it still is today.

I fondly remember some of the old trappers such as Sonny Price and Fat Morello, both from Marseilles. These guys leased a slough north of Marseilles and put up 50-60 muskrats a year. Morello continued to trap on the Illinois River until about 1975. Price went into carpentry work and gave up trapping.

Then there was Joe Bentz from Seneca. Bentz ran a mink farm and trapped, too. Bentz always was willing to pass on trapping knowledge to young folks, and he was well liked by all.

Then there was Bill Brookman, also from Seneca. Brookman was one of the oldest trappers back in those days. He was a hardy soul, as he fell out of his boat one day and swam to shore, towing the vessel by hand, then went home to dry off.

My father, Theodore Krause, was considered a long-line trapper. He started trapping above Johnson Island on the Illinois River and traveled clear to Morris by boat. He then trapped ditches and creeks north and south of Marseilles on foot. I remember one year he caught 425 muskrats, nine mink and six beaver.

Lonny Repine was also a Marseilles trapper. Repine trapped raccoon, coyote and fox. He was good at it, too, as he put up a large amount every year. This guy trapped with a wooden leg after losing one during the Korean War.

All of these guys were tough individuals, as after a day running traps, they had all of that skinning, scraping and stretching to do. Most furs were graded by the fur buyer. They started out by selling to Henry Jofey from Sandwich. Then Glen Earp – don’t remember where Glen was from – and finally to Groenwold Fur and Wool of Forreston.

Soon after that the fur market took a tumble, and many of the old-timers died. Many gave it up. Those who were in it for the money were disappointed. The fur market still is depressed today. Some furs such as coyote were valuable for about three years, and now I have been told that market also is depressed.

Part of the reason the fur markets became depressed include animal rights activists in Europe convincing their country folks not to buy raw furs. Europe purchased furs for fashion.

Also, some years ago Russia occupied a portion of the country of Ukraine. As a result, the U.S. placed sanctions against Russia, which bought a lot of our furs back then for warm clothing. Russia would not buy any of our furs. This was retaliation over our sanctions. That scenario remains today.

Today there are few trappers left. Most who still are doing it are animal damage-control trappers. They charge a fee to catch problem animals, using their skills to do the job.

• Fred Krause is a Shaw Media correspondent.

Fred Krause

Fred Krause

Fred is an avid outdoorsman who has been writing about his passion for decades.