Fox & Wolf Scalp Orders


  During the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods, and on into the late-1800s, the common farmer had very few ways that he could acquire cash. The farmer did not need much cash for the basic necessities of life, such as shelter, food and clothing. He had ample trees and stones in order to construct his house and outbuildings. Being a farmer, he raised his own vegetable and grain crops and maintained enough cows for milking and to provide meat when needed. Every farmstead bred sheep and chickens and other domestic animals for food. The farmer could always supplement his familyís diet with wild game that he could shoot in the nearby woods and forests. The farmerís wife and daughters made most, if not all, of the familyís clothing from cloth woven from the yarn they spun on their home spinning wheels. The farmer grew flax and raised sheep for the linen and woolen yarn spun by the farmerís wife. The somewhat isolated farmsteads had to be self-sufficient in order for the settlers to survive.

  But there were some things that the farmer and his family might not have been able to produce themselves. Not every farmer had his own blacksmith shop on the farm, nor was every farmer skilled in the making or repairing of shoes. As a result, skilled artisans and craftsmen settled in the vicinity of the farmsteads and offered their products and services for sale. These craftsmen would accept food and clothing as barter for their products and services, but there were times when currency, in the form of printed money or milled coinage was necessary.

  The county courts provided the means for the settlers in their regions to obtain the currency they could seldom otherwise obtain. The frontier of Pennsylvania abounded in natural wildlife. Among those animals were many fox and wolves. Being carnivorous and predatory animals, the fox and wolf would attempt, and sometimes succeed, in killing and eating the domesticated animals on the local farmsteads. To curb the population of the predatory wild animals, the county courts offered what were known as fox and wolf scalp orders. The court would pay a certain amount of currency to a farmer who would bring to the court the scalps of the various animals he had killed. The courts would pay for the animal pelts also, but they were not so much interested in them for the sake of the fur trade as they were to simply have proof that the farmer had actually killed the animals he was claiming to.

  The rates that the courts paid varied from one county to the next, and from one type of animal to another. Some examples can be seen in the Bedford County Court House. There are boxes of the fox and wolf scalp orders stored in the Vault #1 in the court houseís basement.

  While researching Smith lines in Bedford County, the author found the following: In 1792 a man by the name of John Smith received 50 shillings for the scalps of two grown wolves. In 1803 a Jacob Smith received $2.50 for one wolf puppy. In 1809 Jacob Smith received $26 for one grown and six puppy wolves. In 1816 Jonathan Smith was rewarded with sixty-five cents for two red fox scalps. In that same year Charles Smith received ten shilling for one old and eight young foxes. In 1817 Jacob Smith, of Bethel Township, received $26 for one grown and six puppy wolves, the same amount that the man by the name of Jacob Smith had received in 1809 for the same number of animals. In 1820 Jacob Smith of Bethel Township received $54 for two grown and six puppy wolves. In 1826 David Smith was given thirty-nine cents for one red fox scalp. In the next year John Smith received the same amount for a red fox scalp he brought to the court house. Although the amounts do not seem very much now, it must be remembered that that was possibly the only hard cash those men were able to come by. And although the fox and wolf scalp orders do not provide a wealth of genealogical information, they do provide evidence of the hard life that our ancestors had to endure in Old~Bedford.