Hunting and Gathering on Campus: New Insights from Old Sources
This past year, I wrote a blog post detailing several stories of hunting and gathering on campus that I had uncovered while researching food practices on MSU’s early campus. I have continued to explore this aspect of campus and recently discovered some new information that sheds a little more light on these activities!
It is well documented that the first students and faculty on campus supplemented their diet with fruit and game animals from the surrounding area, but the motivation behind this was not completely clear. Within Madison Kuhn’s book Michigan State: The First Hundred Years, there is a passage that discusses the student reactions to the board rate increase from $2.50 per week to $3.15 in the early 1880s. The students were outraged that the raise in rate did not correspond with the quality of food that they were being served. A student committee investigated the university accounts and discovered the university steward “paid excessive prices, that he failed to enter all receipts, and that he bought canned goods while vegetables rotted in the field, and that he charged the boarding-hall for the feed of his personal driving-horse” (Kuhn, p.126). All of these irregularities resulted in the resignation of the steward. This hefty price, plus the less-than desirable taste of the dining hall food, could have been a key factor in the student’s motivation to supplement their diet from the surrounding area.
As Susan mentioned in her blog post last week, students would steal food from different areas around campus including bread, cakes, and fruit from the MSU Orchards (Kains, 1945). In addition to swiping food from around the college, students would also forage across several of the neighboring farms. Using spare clothing as impromptu bags, students would raid nearby fields, coming back to campus with apples, musk melons, and occasionally a stray chicken (Kuhn p. 46).
However, this less than legal practice was not the only way that students added variety to their diet. In the 1870s, a competitive “grand match hunt” was commonly held in October. In 1873, the hunt “bagged seventy-nine squirrels, twelve pigeons, nine quail, six partridges, four turkeys, eight ducks” and the winning team was treated to an oyster dinner by the losers (see Mari’s blog post about Oysters!; Kuhne, p.99). This and other hunting stories are made all the more interesting since, according to the rules and regulations established by the College in 1857, students were not supposed to possess or use firearms on campus (Meeting Minutes 1857, p.32). Because of this rule, students used other means, such as building pens to capture wild turkeys or getting faculty assistance, in order to feast on wild game (Kuhn, p.45). Like smoking and alcohol, the use of firearms was either not strongly enforced or was easily kept secret on a sparsely populated campus. Maybe the promise of a few choice cuts of meat was enough to make faculty members look the other way when it came to hunting on campus.
Author: Autumn Painter
Kains, Maurice G., editor.
1945 Fifty Years out of College: A Composite Memoir of the Class of 1895 Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. New York: Greenberg.
Kuhne, Madison 1910 Michigan State: the first hundred years, 1855-1955. Michigan State University Press .
Meeting Minutes, 1857, Offices of Board of Trustees and President, UA 1 http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/3-F-1D9/meeting-minutes-1857/
Turkey Photo, date unknown: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-74C/student-with-turkey-presents-to-onlookers-date-unknown/
MAC Gardens and Orchard, date unknown: http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-6A2/mac-gardens-and-orchard-date-unknown/