An article about Chatham County’s once brisk trade in rabbits in the April issue of Our State magazine sparked us to dig through our collection for reminders of that history.
According to Fred J. Vatter’s Tales Beyond Fried Rabbit: Chatham’s Historical Heritage, W.S. Durham (the man soliciting for rabbits in the ad above) opened his business on the west side of South Chatham Avenue in Siler City in 1895. The town was the center of the rabbit trade. The animals were sought for both their skins and their meat. They were dressed by removing their internal organs and then packed in barrels for shipment by train to cities along the Eastern Seaboard. The trade was seasonal, from November to January. Vatter writes:
The emergence of the lowly rabbit as a major commodity of Chatham was cause for considerable humor in other parts of the state. The Chatham Record of February 4, 1884, reported that a prominent Raleigh merchant had been engaged in a friendly conversation with a country man. After they parted, his associates inquired about the identity of his companion. He replied that he didn’t know the man’s name but knew the fellow was from Chatham because ‘his breath smelt of fried rabbit and corn whiskey.’
Unfortunately, the Our State article on the Chatham rabbit is not available online. It’s worth checking out the print edition. There’s a diagram of a trap often used to snare the rabbits.