To Encourage the Destruction of Mountain Lions

panther01

As I mentioned a month or two ago, I’m building a digital collection containing legislative session laws passed by the Colorado General Assembly starting with territorial laws and going forward. This past week I was doing some review of 1881 and found some pretty fascinating Acts…

Apparently selling counterfeit butter was a thing people were doing back in the late 19th century. Or at least the problem was bad enough that they had to pass a law making it a misdemeanor to do so. According to “An Act to Prevent the Fraudulent Sale of Oleomargine as butter” anyone caught selling adulterated butter was subject to a hundred dollar fine.

Swainsona_galegifolia_(Edwards)

When I came across this law providing for a reward to persons contributing to the eradication of loco weed, I wondered what loco weed was. After rooting around in some old horticulture books from the period I discovered that it is a scrub bush which, taken in large quantities, is poisonous to grazing animals. Typically they won’t eat it, but if no other food is to be found, horses and cattle have been known to try it. I assume that’s why the reward is only made available during the summer months, when conditions are dry in Colorado and proper grasses may be scarce. The reward for digging up loco weed was a penny and a half per pound. As far as I can tell, nothing in the law prevents someone from cultivating the loco weed intentionally and selling it in great quantities to the county for immediate disposal. I wonder if anyone tried that. You could see how a law like this might actually incentivize people to disseminate the plant on purpose.

But the best by far was this one: “to Encourage the Destruction of Mountain Lions.” The act specifies that a resident of the state could collect $10 from the county treasurer in exchange for a scalp, “with the ears entire” of a mountain lion. Actually it says, “any mountain lion or lions within the state,” so in the event that you came across an African lion in the mountains of Colorado, you could kill this too to claim the bounty. One assumes this law served a similar function as the one mentioned above regarding loco weed. Mountain lions likely posed a major threat to live stock and horses and were probably hated and persecuted by ranchers. Then again, it is perhaps meaningful that the law instructs the scalping of the mountain lion, since this is very often what mountain lions do to people when they attack. Most big cats, when they attack humans, will for some reason scalp the victim. Perhaps there is, in this law, some sense of retribution, as well as practical concern for chattel property. Whatever the case, the mountain lion problem must have been urgent in Colorado in 1881 because the law indicates that the Assembly is responding to an emergency with the bill’s passing and that the law shall go immediately into effect after adoption.

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