The Rat Whisperer

September 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

The end of the Civil War brought rats, Reconstruction and Republicans to Austin. Reconstruction was the inevitable outcome of war’s end, and Republicans were the inevitable outcome of Reconstruction, because there was no one else to run the state. All of the Democrats had been disenfranchised. The four-legged rats came later, probably via the railroad, which rolled into town on Christmas evening, 1871.

Interestingly, news of the first Chinese and first rat sighted in Austin came in the same issue of the Austin Democratic Statesman, on October 30, 1874.

CHINAMEN. – Austin has now four Chinese residents, three men and a woman. The latter has a lovely little foot, about as long as a local’s pencil. The aforesaid are starting a laundry on Pecan street, adjoining Platt’s livery stable, and have already had some cards printed at the Statesman office.

RATS IN AUSTIN. – Austin is certainly getting to be an attractive place – a metropolitan city – for even Chinamen and rats have commenced to immigrate to this corner of creation; but whether they came over in the same boat and train or not, we are unprepared to say. Austin can no longer boast that she is exempt from rat depredators, for a cat belonging to Mr. Barnes, the groceryman, brought in one a day or two ago, and her catship and family feasted on it as the rarest luxury of the season – indeed, it is supposed to be the only rat ever chewed up in this city. Mr. Barnes thinks it immigrated to this city a few days ago in a crate of stoneware which Mr. Bell received from St. Louis. It seems to us that cat is not living for the good of her posterity.

The Statesman, not surprisingly, did not have anything good to say about rats for the better part of the next decade, until this heartwarming little story appeared. Little Emma didn’t need a pipe to work her magic, and her dress was probably calico rather than pied.

September 9, 1883
A Strange Rat.
James Milan, a farmer who lives about 12 miles from this city, was telling a Statesman representative of a singular rat which his little daughter Emma had tamed. The rat was caught when it was very young and raised by the little girl as a pet. It is tame and playful as a kitten, and little Emma has taught to perform all manner of tricks. At her bidding it will stand on its hind legs and walk about like a little boy; it will also lay down and roll over. When she commands, it will pretend it is dead. His ratship will climb a rope or string whenever the little girl requests it to, and seems to understand as well as a trained dog does all of these several tricks. The most wonderful of all, however, is that Emma has trained the rat to play hide and seek. His ratship will hide his head under her mother’s dress and Emma will go and hide. When she says “whoop” the rodent will scamper off in the direction of the sound and find the hidden child, and seems to enjoy the play as much as the little girl, who has educated him in his remarkable feats. It is strange to what extent a rat can be educated.

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