|A Day in Indiana History - September|
Squirrel migrations in the early times of settlement in North America were common occurrences. During these mass movements, thousands of squirrels moved en masse through the forests in late summer and autumn. In Indiana, there were two recorded migration, 1822 and 1845. The 1822 migration, which began on September 14, was the most devastating.
The eastern region of the United States at the time of settlement was one almost continuous forest. Biologists feel that migrations in pre-colonial times were common; however, the Amerindians have made little or no mention of them. Squirrels could, in theory, migrate from the eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River and never leave the leave the leaf canopy.
Squirrel Migrations and Corn
Most scientists believe that the squirrels migrated when their massive numbers created pressure on food supplies. At these times, the squirrels would migrate in huge numbers from one area to another. When European colonization began, these migrations would cause serious problems. One of the most important crops the colonists grew was corn, a crop obtained from their Amerindian neighbors early in the colonization period. Squirrels love corn and one squirrel can eat a lot of corn. Thousands of squirrels descending on a cornfield can result in a total loss of the crop in a short period.
Squirrel Migration of 1822
The squirrels began swarming across the forests and cornfields of southern and central Indiana on September 14, 1822, according to accounts. The squirrel migration, which locals soon called the Great Squirrel Invasion, moved across cornfields. As the thousands of rodents traveled, they ate. The hungry animals destroyed many fields. Some farmers patrolled their fields with rifles, killing them in great numbers. Some reported that these squirrels, normally a tasty treat, were worthless as food.
In modern times, squirrel migrations have become rare. There have been none reported in Indiana since 1845, with the last known migration near Lake Michigan in 1985. The squirrel populations today are much lower than in the Nineteenth Century, probably resulting in a more stabeler population and food supply.