Excerpt from “Ninety Pounds of Fight,’ by Tom Wallace, Nature Magazine, Feb. 1942
Because of politics Kentucky’s anti-steel-trap law, passed nearly four years ago, hangs in the balance. The Legislature meets in January. Between the law, which has not been fully enforced, and repeal, sought by conservatives who want to continue using steel traps, stands Lucy Furman. She weighs, maybe, ninety pounds, but is as full of fight—her kind of fight—as anybody in the Cumberland Mountains.
Miss Furman was educated at fashionable Sayre Institute, Lexington, and took a literature course at the University of Cincinnati. Early in life she began writing fiction. Soon after publishing ‘Stories of A Sanctified Town,’ in 1897, she became a worker in Hindman Settlement School, in the Kentucky Mountains.
There she wrote ‘Mothering on Perilous,’ ‘The Quare Women,’ ‘The Lonesome Road’ and other novels. These established her as an interpreter of mountain life. She became interested in conservation of wildlife when in contact with mountain trappers.
In 1928, she wrote an article, published by ‘The Atlantic Monthly,’ on cruelty of trapping. The late Commander Edward Breck, who had founded the Anti-Steel-Trap League three years before, read the article and made its author Vice-president of the League.
In 1933 Vernon Bailey, chief naturalist of the United States Biological Survey, invented the humane leg-hold animal trap, not for profit, but in behalf of animals caught—at the rate of many millions every year—in traps that caused many of them to gnaw off the leg between the vice-like jaws of the steel trap and brought slow death in the trap to others. Foxes caught in steel traps sometimes die of burst ventricles of the heart, so great is their fear and suffering.
The less nervous animals manage to chew the flesh of the trapped leg, sometimes tearing the flesh from the bone and breaking the bone, leaving a paw in the trap when they hobble off, to die of starvation because they no longer have the physical equipment they must have to find their food. Not until the leg-hold trap was invented, and made available to manufactures by the inventor, was there hope of outlawing the steel trap.
There seemed to be little ground for hope that it would be outlawed in Kentucky when Miss Furman came to Frankfort and set up headquarters there. In 1934 her bill was beaten. She then began the work of an evangelist. By 1936 the Kentucky Federation of Women’s Clubs and many other organizations were her supporters.
She had only to call upon daily newspapers for editorial support and news column space, because all of them knew and valued her.
Foxhunters were her champions because steel traps catch and mutilate many fox hounds that have considerable money value and the deep affections of owners.
The bill failed in 1936.
In 1938 the Animal Trap Company of America, which had been the world’s largest maker of steel traps, began making leg-hold traps as a result of the intervention of R.E. Hinman, of the Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company, of Louisville. Mr. Hinman was a Nature lover and Miss Furman took her story of the new trap and the tortured animals to him, after 1936.
In 1938 Miss Furman, who had been known at two earlier sessions as ‘the trap woman,’ got her bill passed, to take effect in 1940.
Other traps designed to take furbearers without torture are now in the market. Several of them, for the smaller animals, have won annual prizes offered by the American Humane Association. An argument in behalf of such traps is that pelts are not injured by animals gnawing off legs, and that annual production of furbearers is not diminished by starvation of injured animals that escape, three-legged, from steel traps.
But trappers are ruralists. Ruralists do not like change under statutory compulsion. So, Miss Furman is on guard at Frankfort to prevent, if possible, repeal of the anti-steel-trap law.
If this stalwart crusader is able to keep the Kentucky Legislature under her influence until the trappers become used to the new-style traps nothing, presumably, would ever repeal her law.
Miss Furman accomplished, between 1934 and 1938, a task that seemed at first impossible of accomplishment.
Moneyless people as lobbyists for moneyless enterprises—people who have nothing to barter in the trades of politicians—are at a disadvantage at sessions of legislatures, and Lucy Furman pleads only a cause.
When, single-handed, she began asking law-makers to consider the situation of wild furbearers—“varmints” to ninety-nine of one hundred Kentucky legislators—her project seemed, to most observers, a more hopeless one than the education of Huckleberry Finn.
Will she now be able to persuade the legislature not to repeal her law when steel trap users, fearing its better enforcement, and utterly unconcerned about humaneness to wild animals, exert pressure?