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I find every gradation of colour, placing the cross fox in the centre of the line, from the black at one end to the red at the other, and I defy the keenest and most experienced fur trader to
say, very many instances, to which of the three varieties of fox a skin actually belongs. The red fox, if we admit this opinion to be correct, may be said to have three distinct types of colouration-No. 1, very bright yellowish-red; No. 2, having a dark cross on the shoulders, the prevailing colour of the sides being a yellow-brown; No. 3, sometimes nearly black, at others grey and silvery. The Indians positively assert that it is by no means unusual to see these three varieties of colour exhibited in different cubs of the same litter; and that the black and red varieties constantly interbreed I know to be a fact. I state this from my own actual observation of the animals when I was trapping and hunting on the eastern and western sides of the Rocky Mountains.
Of shy and crafty habits, few fur-bearing animals are more difficult to trap than foxes. The red men in North and NorthWest America employ a fall-trap for the capture of foxes, a trap requiring the greatest care both to bait and to set it. Each foot-print must be brushed over in order to destroy every trace of scent, and this obliteration is accomplished by the trapper as he walks backwards from the trap, using for the purpose a large broom, made of cedar boughs.
The bait, which is usually a skinned ruffed grouse or a rabbit, must not be touched with the fingers. Great care, therefore, is needed during the process of stripping off the skin. The “dead-fall,” so called, is a heavy tree adjusted to tumble upon the animal's back just behind the shoulders, so soon as it unsets the trap. The “red trappers” have an idea that if a fur-bearing animal be not instantly killed the fur looses all its gloss. The same sort of idea is entertained by the metropolitan “white savages," who brutally skin unfortunate cats whilst they are alive. The inhuman monsters' pitiful excuse is, " if the cat was killed prior to its being flayed the fur would possess no gloss,” hence the skin would lose much of its value. For reasons similar to the above North American savagas seldom set steel traps for the capture of foxes, martens, or indeed any of the fur-bearers, the value of whose fur in great measure depends upon its silky and lustrous surface. The skins are stripped off in a peculiar manner, a small incision only being made betwixt the hind legs; the skins are turned with the furside inwards during the act of faying, and they are then dried in the sun, stretched upon a piece of board carefully shaped for the purpose.
To my mind, the prettiest and sharpest fox caught for the sake of its fur is the kitt-fox, or swift fox (Vulpes velox), which is a very much more appropriate name. The vast prairies, not unlike grassy oceans, over which the bisons roam in countless herds, east of the Rocky Mountains, are the favourite haunts of the kitt-fox. The little fellow can outrun the fleetest horse or dog, and even the long-legged and swift-footed greyhoundwolves fail to overtake it in a fair race across the rolling plain. As the trappers aptly say, “ The kitt-fox goes like a ball from a rifle."
As far as my own observations have been able to settle the question, I think I may safely say that the kitt-fox is entirely confined to the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. There is not even any tradition, so far as I know, existing amongst the Red Indians concerning the existence of the kittfox west of the Rocky Mountain range; and, moreover, they do not even know the animal by name. I sought information from the Hudson's Bay Company's traders and the white trappers I from time to time met with, relative to their knowledge of the kitt-fox being known anywhere in our possessions westward of the Rocky Mountains; but in no case could I discover that the animal had either been seen or trapped. The number of kitt-fox skins sold in London annually, when compared with either red or grey fox skins, seems to be a very diminutivo quantity, nevertheless, 8657 skins of the kitt-fox is about the yearly supply sent to our markets.
This quaint little fox differs entirely from all the other furbearing foxes. Firstly, we are amazed at its diminutive size when contrasted with its brethren. The extreme length of the kitt fox, measured from the tip of the nose to the root of the tail, does not exceed twenty-four inches; the tail is likewise remarkably short for a fox, being only from nine to ten inches from its junction with the body to the very extremity of its brush-like termination. The limbs are short, but strongly formed, which gives to the animal an appearance of being disproportionately long for its height. The toes are each armed with a claw, very much curved and always sharp, and during the winter months the soles of the feet are clothed with a perfect mat of hair--a good coating of hair invariably covers the lower part of the feet during the summer, but it is not nearly so thick and so dense as it is in the winter.
We can easily see the utility of this hairy kind of shoe or mocassin--it affords perfect protection to the fleshy “pads whilst the animal is going at full speed over angular stones and rocks, or over that still sharper material, the “crust upon the frozen snow. The fur of the kitt-fox is close, soft, velvety, and very
like dressed seal-fur to the touch. The head is remarkably short, and very
broad between the ears, and the skull exhibits a very close analogy to that of the red fox, except that it is considerably smaller. Professor Baird thus describes the skull of the kitt-fox :-"The upper outline is almost precisely the same as the red foxes, but perhaps more convex about the meatus. The temporal crests in seven skulls before me do not approach each other so much as in the red fox; the shape (lyre-form) and distance of the ridges more like what is seen in the grey fox, although otherwise this is a very different animal. The post-orbital processes of the frontal bone are rather short, and are more obtuse than in the red fox. The temporal fossæ are considerably larger in proportion, and the distance between the zygomata wider. The sides of the skull at the temples are considerably more convex. The forehead is rather flatter. The orbital process is further back. The lower jaw is very similar in shape to that of the red fox, although its lower outline is more curved."*
The dental formulæ differs very little from that of the red fox. The tail looks as if some person had shorn it, so short, and dense is the covering of fur; it is as round as a ruler, and terminates in a blunt tip, as if the end of it had been chopped off with an axe.
If different religious sects prevail among the foxes, the kitt-fox should assuredly belong to the “ Society of Friends," always supposing we were to guess its creed from the style of its dress. No showy colours bedeck this tiny dweller upon the prairies, but clad from head to foot, in a suit of the soberest grey, it is in nothing conspicuous; neither has it anything to be proud of, save it be the quiet neatness of its exterior. The colour of the entire upper surface, together with the fore and hind legs, is a grizzly kind of grey, but this is overcast with a faint shade of brownish yellow; if the very thick fur be drawn apart with the fingers, or puffed open by blowing into it, it will be seen that the lower portion of the hairs are pale lead colour, whereas the tips are yellowish brown; whilst the longer hairs, interspersed amongst the fur, are of one uniform shade of brown to near the tip, which is reddish yellow, the shade usually designated “carroty” will best express my meaning. The under fur is pale yellow, but in old animals it becomes nearly white; a faint tinge of reddish brown overspreads the cheeks and lips, and extends nearly to the crown of the head. The colour of the tail, viewed from above, is precisely the same as that of the back, its inferior surface, however, is nearly white. The whisker hairs are unusually long and quite black. The kitt-fox more closely resembles the corsac fox (Canis corsac) than it does any of the North American foxes, the structural resemblance betwixt the skulls is very striking, and it is very difficult to discover any characters sufficiently defined to justify our making a separation specifically between the kitt-fox common to North America and the “corsac-fox," a native of Tartary.
* “North Am. Mam.,” p. 135.
The food of this singular fox is of the most varied character; sometimes it devours prairie-mice, and the smaller kinds of spermophiles; when luck befriends its efforts, a grouse is nabbed, and then the hunter feasts royally ; but when times become disagreeably hard, and the larder is badly stocked or altogether empty, then in these straits grasshoppers and field crickets (Acheta nigra) are greedily devoured, and even old leather, or the hide of an animal, hair and all, comes not amiss, in the absence of more toothsome viands. The kittfox is a thief by nature and profession ; hence anything, or I may say everything stealable, is most unscrupulously appropriated. Should you in an unguarded moment tether your horse with a lasso or hide “lariat," and a kitt-fox discovers your imprudence, you will most certainly find only the remnants of the tether; the horse which you expected to find safely fastened has gone you know not where. The robber, having gnawed the tether line in two parts, feasts himself upon that portion attached to the picket, or tree stump, to which you so carefully tied it.
If a hunter quits his camp in the morning, heedlessly leaving his mocassins or saddle, or food of any sort, within the reach of quadruped thieves, the first to discover it is pretty sure to be a prowling kitt-fox. Far from being content to dine respectably off tough mocassin or indigestible saddle, the glutton must needs taste everything he can find, with a reckless disregard to future consequences. A trapper is safe to pay dearly for thus carelessly leaving his camp, and returns to find his saddle with pieces bitten from out different parts of it, his mocassins minus toes, his bridle-reins nibbled into sundry pieces, the leather “possible sack” torn open, and its contents bestrewing the grass, and, to pile up the agony still higher, a dainty piece of buffalo meat that the hunter has probably been mentally grilling and eating during the homeward route, is borne off by the rascally kitt-fox. It is of little or no use to hide anything eatable, the kitt-foxes are sure to find it; the only safe plan is to place whatever you are desirous to keep upon a stage lashed securely to upright poles, and the stage must be at least six feet above the ground. I have often known kitt-foxes steal the bait from out a badly set fall-trap; and, moreover, they travel so swiftly and traverse such long distances when searching for food, that it is never safe to leave any articles within their reach, though you may feel quite confident that there is not a kitt-fox anywhere in the neighbourhood.
The female usually has young in the month of April, at the bottom of a deep hole, which she either excavates for herself, or she appropriates the abandoned residence of a badger or a marmot. The locality mostly chosen for the nursery is a steep earth-bank, beetling over a stream. The hole is dug in an oblique direction into the ground often to a depth of six feet. The number of cubs brought forth at a litter ranges from four to six, although the red men informed me that it was no unusual occurrence to find as many as eight. By exercising extreme caution, the woolly little family may occasionally be watched gambolling like so many kittens at the mouth of the hole, the slightest noise, even a stick snapping beneath your tread, sends them helter-skelter into the gloomy confines of their subterranean abode.
The grey fox (Vulpes (urocyon) Virginianus), so far as I know, is never found in Canada, but is extremely plentiful in the Northern and Southern States; it has been also found in Texas and Oregon. Some idea of the abundance of this fox may be learned by referring to the Catalogue of the March fur sales of 1866 ; 17,212 skins of the grey fox were then disposed of. The extreme length of the grey fox, exclusive of the tail, is about twenty-six inches, the tail measures about fourteen inches. I have previously described the curious mane-like arrangement of stiff hairs which grows along the upper surface of the tail. The grey fox is very distinct from the red fox, but it would not prove of any interest to the general reader were I to point out in detail the osteological differences, which undeniably prove that the red and grey foxes are specifically different. It is rather difficult to define the colour of the grey fox's fur, black, white, red, and brown, are so jumbled together, that it is next to impossible to convey by words what the shade actually is. Dark grey decidedly predominates along the line of the back, but at the nape of the neck it shades off into cinnamon yellow, which colour likewise tints the head, legs, and under parts. The tail is grey like the back, its inferior surface being a rusty kind of yellow. The hairs growing upon the back are about two inches in length, and some of them are quite black, whilst others are ringed with white from base to tip; the mane hairs extending along the tail are about three and a quarter inches long, and are generally of one uniform shade of colour, although annulated hairs are frequently observable. The short under fur is mostly of a yellowish brown colour.
I do not know a ore wary animal than the grey fox; ever on the watch and sly to a proverb, is by no means an easy beast to trap. Its fur is principally consumed in the manufacture of sleigh rugs, and for lining overcoats, cloaks, and