The Norris Skunk Farm Juniata, Nebraska


The majority of early 20th-century Adams County residents were farmers, but while searching for postcards of Juniata, Nebraska I found two cards showing the Norris Skunk Farm.  That piqued my interest so I decided to see what I could learn about Mr. Norris and skunk farming in the area.

Osea D. Norris was born in December 1868 in Illinois to Ira M. and Laura A. (Adams) Norris.  The family moved to a farm in Juniata Township, Adams County in 1880.  Osea married Laura Belle Lancaster in 1893.  She died in 1907 and is buried beside her parents in the Juniata Cemetery.  They had no children.  He died May 6, 1949, and is buried beside his parents in the Juniata Cemetery.

The Hastings Daily Republican of January 17, 1914, carried the following story on the front page.

Race of Odorless, Domesticated Skunks Developed by Local Farmer

   “Osea Norris, Adams county farmer residing near this city, has bred a race of odorless skunks with which he is developing an industry which promises him a fortune.  The domesticated mephitis mephitica as they are technically known are docile and affectionate making pets which children of the household play with the same as the ordinary cat or dog.  The animals are omnivorous but will fatten on food on which dogs or cats would starve to death rather than eat.  In the fall of the year, regardless of scanty food supply, they will lay on fat which together with their skins make them most valuable.

  Starting with a pair of thoroughbred skunks Mr. Norris removed the small sacs containing the objectionable fluid with which Mr. Skunk makes life in the immediate atmosphere unbearable, and after repeated experiments has succeeded in developing a race free from odor.

   Last fall he butchered those not wanted for breeding purposes, removing the pelts and frying out the oils.  Disposing of the pelts readily at $5 each and the oil at $4.00 per gallon, Mr. Norris has left a net profit of several hundred percent.

   Though the pure food laws may possibly object to the sale of the meat for food purposes, there is another possible source of revenue on an article of food said to be quite as delicious as young chicken.

   It requires but little capital, the business grows rapidly and of course, I have as yet no competition.  The pelts according to their size, color and stripe, vary in price from $3 to $6.  I raised over seventy this year and this is only my second season.

   Drouths or wet seasons are said to have no effect on the new industry on which Mr. Norris realized more profit last season than from his entire farming operation.  He said the longer hair of the furs was sought by hat manufacturers and that the fur itself was highly prized by fur manufacturers who dispose of their goods to the discriminating society women under popular names.”

I wonder if the “discriminating society women” knew that their hats and furs were made from skunks.

On January 2, 1915, the Hastings Daily Republican reported that Art Beard, a young farmer living southwest of Hastings, had imported some “star-faced breed” skunks from Spencer, Indiana.  Evidently the skins “commanded $8 on the fur market.”  He reportedly had been in the skunk-raising business since “last year” when he caught a couple of skunks along Elm Creek.  He fed his skunks dead poultry which he got from the Hastings poultry businesses. Skunk raising must not have been as profitable as anticipated as the James Arthur Beard family disappeared from Adams County in 1917.   He died in May 1959 at Spokane, Washington, and is buried in Greenwood Memorial Terrace

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