THE CONSOLIDATED BLACK CAT COMPANY AND THE CAT-RAT RANCH
The cat ranch, which featured regularly in US newspapers between the 1880s and 1910s was a “get rich quick” scheme that turned out to be a hoax. Frequently revived, it parted an unknown number of “investors” from their money. Although attributed the James Wardner, cat ranch stories predate his version. Wardner embellished the story with numerous plausible facts and figures and kept the tale going for a good number of years.
During the late 1800s, cat pelts were often sold as substitutes for, or masquerading as, seal or otter pelts to furriers. The term “cat ranch” was applied to any establishment that had a large number of cats – catteries, cat hoarders, cat-infested farms and cat fur farms. I have separated out the reports of alleged cat fur farms for this article.
The point is, there was no need to farm cats. Cities were infested with stray and feral cats. Even the idlest farmer on the poorest of land could let loose a few cats and see them multiply, consuming any small prey animal in the vicinity. If anything, there was a surplus of the ordinary moggy and anyone who didn’t dispatch newborn kittens was likely to be overrun within a couple of years. In the parlance of the time, a cat ranch often referred to land where nothing would grow, and no stock could be raised … except for cats, which seemed to multiply wherever they were and with the minimum of effort on the rancher’s part.
EARLY REPORTS (PRE-1891)
The Bismarck Tribune of April 20, 1883 reported “An Iowa man has established a cat farm and will raise cats for the market.” A few months early (Jan 1883), a number of papers had reported “Two gentlemen, not of Verona, but of Greene, have purchased a farm of fifty acres for the express purpose of raising pointer pups and raccoon dogs. Can’t some enterprising citizens start a cat ranch too?” The raccoon dogs were, and still are, valued for their fur.
The Oskaloosa Independent (July 11, 1885) makes a passing reference to seeking a location for a cat farm: “Mr. Wm. Scott, the miller, received a very valuable shipment by express. He thinks friends from McLouth are very thoughtful. The contents of the box consisted of one old gray cat, one old yellow cat of the most hideous appearance, and several little cats of mixed origin. Mr. Scott is absent from home and your correspondent thinks maybe he is looking up a locality in which to start a cat farm.”
The Great Falls Tribune (Montana) of December 5, 1885, tells us that “Thomas Sheffery of Orleans, Neb., has a cat farm. He raises cats and ships them by the car load to Denver where those of the male gender sell as high as $5 each,” although this doesn’t appear to be a cat fur ranch and he may have been raising cats to tackle rodent infestations.
The earliest published report of the “black cat scheme” I found is from February 1887, but it is evident that “cat raising” was already familiar to the newspaper because they’ve added some topical comments at the end, for example how to segregate black cats from other colours (refereeing to segregated Alabama and miscegenation) and a reference to Mormon polygamy.
According to ‘A DARK SCHEME’ (Emporia Republican, February 1887): “An exchange says that a company has been organized in Alabama, with a capital stock of $100,000, to breed and raise black cats in order to sell their fur as mink skin. This may not be a wildcat scheme but it is certainly a novel black cat scheme. It is not likely to prove a perfect success, however, for the reason that felines of a sable hue are notorious for their habit of prowling about by the light of the stars. When the night is so dark that even the yell of a black cat cannot be heard, the entire colony of well fed and well kept felines will rise up as one cat and roam afar into strange territory, and many of them will strike up attachments abroad and never come back. Others again will bring friends of various colors home with them, and in consequence the company will soon rind that its stock in trade is composed of spotted cats, yellow-striped cats, brindle cats and cats of all other shades of complexion, and will swear loudly and with much emphasis but in vain. If there was a way to compel a black cat to draw the color line and associate strictly by himself the company would make a success of its enterprise, but there is none. The fact of the matter is, the black cat is a socialist, an anarchist and a Mormon from away back, and it is absolutely impossible to frame a law or build a fence that will prevent him from shaking his tail defiantly in the face of public opinion, and following the bent of his own religious ideas. We predict for the Alabama black cat ranch a disastrous and humiliating failure.”
Just a few months later comes this report from The Times Democrat (October 30, 1887): “There is apparently no end under the sun to countless ways offering for giving the old time honest penny a turn. The very latest thing in this line is the suggestion to open a cat farm, cat yard or cat ranch, as one may choose to call it. Absurd as this sounds, some substantial figures back up the wild idea in handsome style, promising the rear fence commodity par value in the commercial world. Hereafter, instead of wooing the wandering minstrel with old shoes and bootjacks, Tommy will descend from his musical perch to the tune of raw liver and cream. If he sings o’er long his audience will not dare an interruption for fear of wounding sensitive feline feelings and driving the soulful tenor away. Millennium cannot be far off if the boarder and his landlady are to go out in couples to persuade the homeless cat tramp to lodge within their gates. Yet such it seems will shortly be the case, for owning a fur-bearing pussy means ‘money in your purse.’ It appears there is a genuine market for their pelts, black cats bringing as high as fifty cents a skin. Coats, hats, dressing gown linings and carriage robes are made of the gray, black and tortoiseshell fur of common tabbies. There is a schedule with rates grading the black variety highest, with the Maltese, at 10 cents and the mixed colours at five cents apiece. There are parts of the town where one’s purse could fatten in a night over the legitimate game ornamenting the neighbourhood.”
In early 1889, various papers told their readers “A cat ranch is one of the peculiarities of Kansas and is situated in Dickinson county, a few miles north of Abilene.” Similar is “Dickinson county has a cat ranch. It is kept by a man named Howell” (various, March 1889) and “Dickinson, a county to the east of Saline, enjoys an unenviable distinction of having a cat ranch and Rats Burton. The cats are used successfully for fur, while it has not yet been discovered what Rats was born for anyway.” The Abilene Daily Reflector, March 12, 1889 then tells us “Thos. Kirby has sold his celebrated cat ranch north of the city for a good round sum. It is understood that the deed includes all the livestock now on the place — some 87 kittens, cats and felines.” (It is not completely clear what sort of ranch this was)
The following year the Ontario, California, Observer, July 1890 gives us “HIGH THING IN A CAT RANCH – With the present unprecedented demand, the propagation of the feline species would, no doubt, prove highly profitable. Cats are to gophers what the vedolia is to the white scale. They may not propagate as fast, but their life is less ephemeral, and their appetites fully as voracious. Turn 40,000 cats loose in this colony, and they would exterminate every gopher in it within a fortnight. To you fellows who say there is no chance here for a poor man, we say start a cat ranch.”
The idea, and even the practice, of cat ranches was already established, so all it needed was the inventive mind of a successful businessman to make cat ranching sound like a hugely profitable endeavour. That businessman was James ‘Jim’ Wardner. Wardner did not invent the idea of the cat ranch, but his joke interview made it sound plausible.
1891 – THE CONSOLIDATED BLACK CAT CO. LTD.
In 1891, James Wardner of Fairhaven was joking with a young reporter from the Fairhaven Herald, when he announced his new venture on Eliza Island to raise black cats for their fur. He called this “the Consolidated Black Cat Co., Ltd.” Wardner was already well-known as an entrepreneur and canny investor, so the story was reprinted across the nation and attracted numerous investors hoping to cashing in on the novel venture.
The reporter had asked if Wardner had any new business in the pipeline. Wardner had a whimsical streak and the conversation apparently went something like this:
Wardner: I'll give you a story on a whopping big deal I've been keeping under my hat. I've got a 2,000 acre island about six miles from here under option. I'm going to buy it, build a dock and a lot of shelter houses here and there, and raise black cats for their pelts. Thousands of 'em! Maybe a million!
Reporter: What'll you feed 'em, Mr. Wardner?
Wardner: Fish! There's so many salmon around Eliza Island that you couldn't get any more of 'em in the water unless you made 'em smaller. I've hired a real cat man, Sam Weller of Cincinnati, to run the ranch, and he'll have a crew to seine fish and feed the fish to the cats.
Reporter: Who'll you sell the cats to?
Wardner: We won't sell cats, we'll sell their pelts, I figure we'll turn out 500 skins every month after we get rolling, and they are worth $2 apiece on the fur market.
Reporter: What're you going to call the business, Mr. Wardner?
Wardner: Consolidated Black Cat. Co. Ltd. we're issuing $200,000 worth of capital stock and it's a sure-fire deal.
The following week, the story duly appeared on the front page of the Fairhaven Herald. It was then picked up by other editors, appearing in newspapers and magazines, and by that point it had taken on a life of its own. Would-be investors, some of whom had profited in Wardner’s genuine business ventures, wrote for information. Some sent money to purchase stock in the wholly imaginary Consolidated Black Cat Co., Ltd. Bear in mind that there was no shortage of black alley cats and they could be picked up for free from the streets.
Plagued by would-be investors, Warner tried to debunk the fast spreading tale, but it spread faster than the rebuttals, so Wardner told reporters he had "turned over the trials and tribulations of a constantly increasing cat business" to Sam Weller who was a "wizard with cats." Having appointed the (fictitious) ranch manager, Wardner escaped by going gold prospecting in the Cascade Mountains.
In April 1892, a number of papers printed a follow-up satirical report “James Wardner has found a bread mine in Okanagan country. The stuff is a clay, which, when baked, is edible. It will be canned and sent east, along with boned turkey from the cat ranch.”
Newspapers continued to recycle the off-shore cat ranch story. Some told their readers that cat fur made excellent muffs and capes which were quite popular. Some said that people in Missouri and Arkansas created a curative plaster from black cat hide if the cat had been killed in the dark of the moon.
Wardner himself described the cat ranch in Chapter 20 of his autobiography “Jim Wardner, of Wardner, Idaho, 1900”. To be more accurate, Wardner, with tongue firmly in cheek, quoted newspaper reports about his supposed enterprise.
Then I started my cat ranch. Much has been said and much has been written about my celebrated cat ranch, located on an island about six miles from Fair haven, Washington. So many bright writers have been there, and have seen my novel experiment and speculation, that I will let them tell the story themselves. I must, however, remark that, although the product did not equal my anticipation, I cannot blame Mr. Samuel Weller, of Cincinnati, who was my sole manager and purveyor to the cats. "This gentleman was a cat man, and his father was a cat man before him.,, If he finally erred in judgment it was from excessive zeal, and I forgive him. Now, as all my visitors, like my cats, had tales, let us listen a bit :
From the New York Tribune: " BLACK CATS FOR PROFIT.
"A new industry is always interesting. And it is especially attractive if it shows great possibilities and hints of perhaps becoming a source of national wealth. There comes at this time from the new State of Washington a report of such an industry. We refer to the black-cat ranch just established at Fairhaven by the Consolidated Black Cat Company, Limited.
We trust that our readers will understand that the organization of this company is a fact. Mr. James F. Wardner, of Fairhaven, is president. The names of the other officers are not given in the San Francisco dispatch which brings the intelligence, but the plan and the object of the company are quite fully explained. The company has bought an island in Puget Sound, and is already taking steps to secure all of the black cats in the neighborhood.
Several carloads will be shipped from San Francisco next week. The cats will all be placed on the island and shelter provided for them. An island is selected in preference to the mainland, that the cats may be kept separate from others and the pure black cat propagated. Men will be employed to take care of the cats and to feed them regularly three times a day. They will live mostly on fish caught in the surrounding waters, so the expense of keeping them will be small.
We should bear in mind that cats are extremely fond of fish and invariably thrive on it. During the day the cats will wander about the island, sun themselves on the rocks or lie in the shade of the trees, as the condition of the weather may dictate. An hour before sundown the men will go out and gradually scat them into their quarters. The natural tendency of the cat is, of course, to roam about at night, and to howl in a heartrending key, and fight others of it species with great vigor. This undoubtedly improves both the voice and the fighting qualities of the animal, but as the Consolidated Black Cat Company is not raising its cats for either their vocal or belligerent qualities, it is thought best to inclose them at night if the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not interfere. In rounding up the cats at night the men will not be allowed to use bootjacks or other missiles usually employed in the treatment of these animals, and no dog will be allowed on the island.
Of course it is entirely too early for any valuable speculation as to the probably financial success of the company. After it has placed its first shipment of black cat-skins on the market, perhaps some definite conclusion can be arrived at in this regard. It is a new industry, but that is no proof that it may not be a brilliant success. There is always a considerable demand for black cat-skins in certain parts of Missouri and Arkansas for medical use, a plaster made on the hide side of the skin of a black cat killed in the dark of the moon being greatly esteemed by many local practitioners, but the home supply probably fully meets the demand. A general demand must be created. In some respects the time seems to be ripe for the Consolidated Black Cat Company, Limited.
From the Sioux City Journal: " A company was organized with a capital stock of $200,000, and an island of about 1,000 acres in extent, located in Bellingham Bay, in the upper part of Puget Sound, was obtained to carry on the farming. Then a grand skirmish was made to get black cats. The Pacific Coast States were ransacked, and nearly every incoming train was loaded with black cats, which were immediately taken to the island, or ' cat factory,’ as we called it. They were in charge of a number of men, who furnished food by seine-fishing in the bay, and a certain number were killed during the year to pay current expenses. When I left, a good black cat's pelt was worth $2, and the company was making a mint of money. "
Cats' fur makes up elegantly into muffs and capes, and I see they are beginning to be quite popular. The pelts that are spotted are colored black, and sold as a cheap grade. There is going to be plenty of money in the industry for Jim Wardner and his company, and I think it will only be a matter of a short time until other companies are formed and like industries established on some of the numerous islands in the Sound. It beats skunk and rattlesnake farming ten to one, and is less disagreeable and much more profitable.’
From Col. W. J. Parkinson's speech in Rochester before the New York Fur Men's Association : "Imagine two thousand acres of land devoted entirely to the cultivation, or rearing, of cats; black cats, gray cats, torn cats, and yellow cats, the ten thousand already supposed to be there being daily added to by the myriad agents Jim has constantly in the field. Imagine these two thousand acres cut up into convenient divisions, with drying sheds and barns, meat and slaughter houses, grass and sand lots, for these feline pets to whisk about in. Every thirty days, or each month in the year, five hundred of these cats are presumed to be killed, and their hides hung up to dry, or got ready otherwise for the market. In no other place in the world is another such industry to be found; and the 95 interesting part of the whole business is, how, when your expert fur dealers from the East send their agents out through the Northwest for skins of various kinds, you pick up bale after bale of Jim Wardner's cat skins at different points along the coast, and when they reach you and your customers they become known as 'hood seals,’ (Laughter.)
"Of course, not being an expert, I know nothing about this part of the trade, but I never visit Puget Sound without going to Jim Wardner's cat ranch. You will find Jim a most genial fellow, the head of a delightful family, and always enthusiastic over this pet project of his life, his cat ranch. You who are in the fur trade should write to him, as it may be for your interests to do so. His address is ' Jim Wardner, Fairhaven, Washington, care Wardner's cat ranch.' "
From the Glasgow Herald : "There is an island in Bellingham Bay where a local statute forever enjoins all residents and casual visitors from exclaiming 'rats!' Not that any one having the least regard for the amenities of good society or the refinements of polite conversation would ever be guilty of uttering an expression so uncouth, but, perhaps, the statute is framed solely as a means of self-protection, and as a means of preventing a riotous outbreak among the colonists.
"A thousand black cats, and every one of them as black as fabled Erebus! Enough to supply all the old hags and beldames who have bestrode broomsticks and whirled dizzily around in the wild dances of ' Walpurgis Night ' or at the diabolical orgies of the ' Witches' Sabbath,' with Satanic companions into which to transform themselves, upon occasion, from the days of the old woman at Endor to those of the prophetess of the Seattle fire.
"Some dozen or more men are said to be now employed in caring for these imps of darkness; and the in closure which confines them " the imps, not the men " is of large extent, covering nearly as much ground as a Seattle block."
From the Seattle Times: " BLACK CAT COMPANY SELLS ITS RANCH.
"We are reliably informed by Mr. Samuel Weller, late general manager and purveyor to Wardner's black cats, that the vicious and cannibalistic experiment of putting cat into cat by means of soup resulted disastrously to the cats. He says that Mr. Wardner's idea of an endless chain won't work in this industry. He says that any company can make a conservative profit raising black cats on fish and selling their hides only, but to use these cats as an article of food for one another is avarice, and promotes cannibalism.
"Good-bye, Mr. Weller ! Good-bye to you! Goodbye to the cats forever. In good Latin, ' Scat, get out in peace! ' After Mr. Weller had taken up the cat man's burden and I had sloughed off the trials and tribulations of a constantly increasing cat business, I found time to prospect a little.
Wardner managed to keep the joke going from its birth in Fairhaven in 1891 through to at least 1900 when he published his memoirs. Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say that the joke simply grew legs and ran, just as modern urban legends continue to run. Even the more recent abbreviated biographies of entrepreneurs and saloon owners of the frontier state, without checking the veracity of the story, that “James Wardner […] founded one of the most bizarre business of the West, the Consolidated Black Cat Company, Ltd., a firm that sold as material for gloves the skins of cats he kept and slaughtered on his own island off the coast of Washington.” Wardner died in El Paso, Texas, in 1905 and is also remembered for his “International Candy Bank” in St Louis.
The Consolidated Black Cat Company became one of the most famous legends from the history of Fairhaven and later generations of cat lovers in Fairhaven were inspired by the folklore to adopt stray, black cats – descendants of presumed survivors of the ranch - and give them safe homes. Today there are many feral cats roaming Fairhaven and some locals would have you believe these are the descendants of cats brought back from the island to Fairhaven when the venture failed.
Here’s an example of the widely reprinted versions: “A company has just been organized on Puget Sound under the title of ‘The Consolidated Black Cat Company.’ The company proposes to buy an island in the [Puget] sound, stock it with black cats from Holland, and go into the business of breeding black cats for their fur. The surrounding water will protect the ranch from the admixture of undesirable breeds, and will furnish abundant fish to feed the stock. The projectors say there are millions in it.”
BUDDING A CAT ENTERPRISE – The Leavenworth Times (and others), November 20, 1891. San Francisco, Nov. 19.—James Warder of the Consolidated Black Cat company, is here from Fair Haven, Wash. He is one of the stockholders of a novel company, just organised, of Puget sound, for the propagation of black cats. An island is to be purchased and the black breed is to be perpetuated. These black cats will live on fish and the expense of running this big cat ranch will be reduced to a minimum. The cats are to be raised for their fur, and the proprietors expect to make millions out of the venture. Most of the original stock will be brought from Holland.
Why on earth would black cats need to be imported from Holland, when the USA already had plenty of black cats locally? Evidently the “ordinary back-fence yowlers” weren’t good enough, hence the need for investment in stock! The story bounced from editor to editor, with many adding their own tweaks.
The Ogden Standard Examiner of December 23, 1891 carried this version. As well as a short critique regarding the cheapness of cats, it had many additional details such as floating the bonds in London, the island’s pleasant setting, the number of imported cats (“capital”) on the ranch and how to calculate the increase in feline “capital”. It also mentioned a prospectus, the stock-holders and the reaction of the Alaska Fur Company to this competitor!
“THE BLACK CAT MARKET. (Ogden Standard Examiner, December 23, 1891) It is rumoured that the ‘Consolidated Black Cat Company’ of San Francisco is about to make an application to have its bonds listed on the New York Stock Exchange. An effort will also be made to float blocks of ‘Consolidated Black Cat’ stock in London. The attention of English syndicates will likewise be invited to gilt-edged Consolidated Black Cat securities and a favourite form of investment.
There are many large and successful cattle raising companies in the United States, but there has never heretofore been a cat growing company. Large amounts of capital and many broad, blue-grass acres are employed in rearing fine horses for the market. Thoroughbred dogs are bred by fanciers and sold at bench shows and on the streets. Yet no-one has ever thought it worthwhile to engage in the culture of cats. The financial reason is that cats are so plentiful that it would be difficult to give them away. This phenomenal cheapness of cats has hitherto prevented capitalists from entering the cat industry. Unlike dogs, cats have had up to the present time no commercial value in the world’s market.
Of all cats, the black cat has been the most despised and the most feared. In early colonial times the only people who would keep black cats were witches. They were supposed to be the silent partners of people whose business occupations were of a supernatural character. Until a comparatively recent period black cats had been the recipients of more objugations and bootjacks than any other kind. Yet it is precisely the scorned and despised black cat that is the most valuable of them all.
The gray cat, the yellow cat, the dappled cat, and the steel-blue cat have no market now. But it is entirely different with the jet black cat. This cat that travels about clad in the mystery of darkness, and at night is but a pair of eyeballs and a voice, is valuable for its fur. The glossy and shining coat of the black cat is made into ladies’ muffs and ladies’ furs. It keeps ladies’ hands warn when its owner’s ninth life has departed.
The ‘Consolidated Black Cat Company’ has been incorporated to found a cat raising industry in the northwest. It will engage exclusively in the culture of black cats. Most of the large stock-holders live around Puget Sound, though there are a few gentlemen holding blocks of stock in San Francisco. Great care will have to be taken to prevent the black cats from becoming white or gray, and therefore the black cats will be kept on an island in Puget Sound, miles away from all other cats. The Tommy cats will stay home nights and the Tabby cat [females] will not have to regret the absence of their liege lords.
The island is a well wooded and pleasant one, and on moonlight nights the Tommy and Tabby cats may sit on the branches of a tree and sing to the pale moon. The black cats will be the nightingales in the little Elysium in Puget Sound.
Tabby cats are good mothers, and they often raise and educate fifteen young and attractive kittens a year. The Consolidated Black Cat Company will start with a working capital of 1,000 black cats imported from Holland. It is estimated in the prospectus of the company that at the end of the first year’s business there will be 8,500 cats. At the close of the second year, this number will have increased to 63,750. When the books are balanced at the Christmas end of the third year it is believed there will be the handsome balance of 510,000 black cats in favour of the company. The probable number of cats at the end of a twelvemonth is found by multiplying the present number be 7 and-a-half and adding the original capital, for cats, like money, increase at compound interest.
The theoretical number of cats is greater than the actual number will be, for the Consolidated Black Cat company will harvest a large number of black cats every autumn for the fall and winter fur trade. However, they will keep a good stock of cats on hand to guarantee the fur supply. Furs will become cheap, and may be worn by people of limited means. A rug made of the electric skins of black cats will make a fine rug to lay before the cheerful fireplace where, on long winter nights, it may scintillate with electric sparks.
The Consolidated Black Cat company is regarded favourably by investors, for the cats cost nothing, or next to nothing. They are almost self-supporting, for they will subsist by catching birds and tree mice. The company will buy fish for them, and in Puget Sound fish are cheap. The island itself is not good for much except to raise cats, and it was purchased for a small sum.
The Alaska Fur Company, which obtains sealskins beyond Sitka, has shown a small and jealous spirit towards the Consolidated Black Cat company, but all public-spirited American citizens wish the new enterprise success. It is proposed to ask Congress to put a high tariff on foreign black cats so as to protect the well-fed American black cats from the pauper labor black cats of Europe. (Reprinted from the Reno (Nev) Gazette)”
There would indeed be a tariff on imported foreign cats. The Tariff Law of 1897 excluded importation of feline livestock into the USA and necessitated the setting up of studbooks for pedigree cats that were exempt from import tariffs.
The York Daily (March 30, 1892) reprinted a sceptical version from the New York Tribune: “There is in the State of Washington a corporation with a $200,000 capital, known as the Consolidates Black Cat Co., of Fairhaven, a town of the State which, by the way, has sprung into corporate existence since the last census was taken. The purpose la to propagate black cats on a cat ranch on an island in Puget Sound, the cats to be killed for their skins. White cats are to be tabooed. The scheme is based on a showing that the world is very short on black cats. But that is not a merely curious corporation. The propagation of black cats for this purpose is a prosperous industry in Holland. It was tried some years ago in Chesapeake Bay, but was a failure in consequence of the ill-advised action of the cats themselves in forming an Irish Republic and introducing home Rule on the Island. ‘Irish Republic? Home Rule. What do you mean?’ ‘You see these black cats were of the Kilkenny breed and killed each other as fast as they propagated.’”
The tone suggests the NY Tribune reporter half-believed the story, but wanted to inject a degree of scepticism into it just to be on the safe side!
Here is one of Wardner’s rebuttals, this one from the Times Picayune of January 17, 1893: “A story telling about the establishment of a ranch on an island in Puget Sound, by James Wardner, a wealthy citizen of Fairhaven, Washington, for the propagation of black cats for their alleged valuable fur, was printed, with considerable detail, in a Washington state paper about a year ago. The story, copied all over the country, turned out to be a fake and alleged “joke.” But for months afterwards, Mr. Wardner was annoyed by letters from all over the country making inquiry about the ranch, offering cats for sale, making all manner of propositions touching the novel industry. The denials of the whole thing were printed, but they never completely caught up with the story. Now an Iowa paper gives the picturesque fiction all over again, and adds that the writer has been to the ranch and seen the cat colony, and that a black cat-skin is worth $2.”
The Salt Lake Herald of July 19, 1893 gave this version, using the cat ranch story to poke fun at a plan for a goat ranch: “It turns out now that the goat ranch of which the Clear Creek cacklers spoke some time since, is more than a goat ranch. It is rumored that a fish pond and a cat ranch will be run in connection therewith, the young goats to be fed to the fish and cats. This is a new departure, but no doubt will be a success. I heard a man say today that it would be a great paying business. It is figured that a hundred pound goat will make ten pounds of trout worth $2, or feed three cats to skinning time, the hides of which will bring $2.10 to $3.00. This will furnish a ready market for all the increase from one thousand goats.”
What sort of person falls for these schemes? Wardner had plagued by letters and offers for stock in his Consolidated Black Cat Company based on his previous success as a prospector, banker and entrepreneur. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on November 17, 1894: “Another scheme, apparently wild, but undertaken in good faith, has been promulgated by Judge E.C. Goodpasture. Judge Goodpasture will go into the business of breeding pure Maltese cats. The site for the cat farm is ten acres of out-of-town lots left from the boom of 1887. There are very few of these cats seen now and the demand for them is always good.” While it isn’t completely clear that this was a fur ranch, the Salt Lake Herald, June 13, 1895 also gives us a report regarding Maltese cats: “A Sutter county (Cal.) man has a ‘cat ranch,’ upon which he annually raises thousands of Maltese pussies for the fur market.”
1900 – A TOUCH OF SATIRE
By 1900, the story should have got around that the Consolidated Black Cat Company was just a tall tale. The (NY) Times, July 2, 1900, and various others, printed a satirical article where the Livestock Census collides head-on with cat ranching (of the “residence overrun with cats” variety).
‘LAWTON BRANDED HIS CATS - Farmer Compiled With Every Requirement of the Livestock Census.
The troubles incident to the taking of the livestock census of the United States have claimed “Farmer” George Lawton, the veteran Western Union telegrapher, as their latest victim, says the Denver News. Not that Mr. Lawton is not entirely conscientious in his endeavors to fulfil the government requirements, but rather that the Federal authorities will not give him enough time.
It so happens that “Farmer” Lawton is possessed of two livestock establishments — a stock farm in Missouri and a cat ranch at his residence in South Denver. Consequently, when Secretary Charles F, Martin, who has charge of the Western portion of the census, forwarded him blanks in which to state his possessions in the way of livestock, Mr. Lawton was greatly perplexed as to how he should answer. He finally decided on the cat ranch as being purely local, arguing that Mr. Martin and the Federal authorities would have more interest in the felines than the far-away livestock.
The telegrapher’s troubles commenced from the time he first studied the census blanks. "Branded or not branded,” read one question, “and if not, why not?” Mr. Lawton averred to his family and intimates that he had never heard of branded cats. “How many died during 1899?” read another query. Mr. Lawton indignantly demanded through the mails of Secretary Martin whether a cat who had been robbed of four of its nine lives should be registered as dead or living.
Mr. Martin cogitated and resolved to visit the cat ranch to examine thoroughly into the mutter. He wended his way southward and came upon the pleading spectacle of the head of the feline incubating establishment at play among his stock. Clad in “chaps,” blue shirt and wide-brimmed sombrero, Mr.
Lawton looked the up-to-date cattleman in the midst of his domain rather than the agricultural factor with which personality his associates have always delighted to consider him.
Mr. Lawton had deftly roped the rear leg of a gray tommy as Mr. Martin approached, and with the assistance of a colored gentleman had deftly inserted the head of the animal in a capacious boot when he espied the census man.
“Hello, Martin,” said he, cheerily. “Come right in and watch the process.”
“What are you doing?” inquired Mr. Martin, with interest.
“Branding ’em, of course,” returned the telegrapher-cat rancher, contemptuously.
“Well, I’ve come to tell you that the Federal authorities at Washington are tired waiting for your reports,” said Mr. Martin, with firm intonation.
“Well, I‘m getting through as fast as anyone could,” answered Mr. Lawton as he deftly grabbed a branding iron from the fire and imprinted it firmly on the cat’s off hind-quarter, despite the yowling that arose. “Great scheme this,” continued the desecrator of Egypt’s ancient sacred animals, as he jerked the cat out of the boot and roped another. “I’m complying with all government regulations, depend on that.”
In view of such perseverance Mr. Martin could not well find fault, and he returned to his office somewhat crestfallen, but energetic enough to forward a minute report of Mr. Lawton’s activity to Washington in order to allay the anger of the powers of the Interior Department.’
1905 - Revival of the Island Cat Ranch
In the 1900s, Wardner’s tale was revived, with the addition of facts and figures, and was circulated by mailshots. I have no idea how many of these parted people from their money.
Hoibe Tortgen’s “scheme” reads like an update of Wardner’s hoax.
RAISING OF CATS. – The Sedalia Democrat, October 10, 1905
Ranch On Small Island In Puget Sound - Raises Tabbies For Skins - A Bright Young Man Who Has Engaged In a New Business That May Bring Good Returns.
The latest product of the glorious climate of the West is a cat ranch, says the Minneapolis Tribune. This old maid's paradise is located on a small island in Puget Sound, and the ranch occupies the whole island. This was necessary in order that there may be no neighbors to complain, for the nightly concerts of several thousands of cats would naturally bring forth complaints and make the life of a municipal court judge one round of misery.
Hoibe Tortgen, the young ranchman, has been the guest of Minneapolis, and who is on the fair road to wealth by the originating of a new industry, that may develop into something very large before he finishes with his idea. Young Tortgen was formerly a resident of Minneapolis, when he first came over from the old country, but he did not remain here long, preferring to take his chances in the new West, where there were chances for a life on the ocean wave, for he had been brought up in nautical pursuits. So he went to Washington, tried Seattle, and drifted about a bit, until the cat idea struck him.
He located a little shanty on the island, built himself a fine sail boat, and was monarch of all he surveyed. He knew something of furs; having been mixed up in that business in his own country, and when he found that black cat skins brought as high as $1.70 at times, and never less than a dollar, it looked to him like a good thing. It was six years ago when the first bunch of cats were taken over in a boat to the island, and naturally there are plenty of black cats now. It is a veritable “Hoohoo” ranch, and the squawls of the felines often reach to the main land when the wind is right.
“I have made it a paying business,” said Mr. Tortgen, speaking of his plant. “I now employ seven boys and men to help me, and have no trouble finding a market for my skins. The fur is much better than the average cat fur, because I use care and keep the cats well fed and where they will not fight, so that the fur and skins are perfect. We feed chiefly fish, as there is an abundance of it handy waiting for the nets, such fish as is not marketable, and I work the two things together, fish and cats. There is nothing a cat would rather have than fish to eat, and they keep fine and glossy on it. They breed rapidly, and I have taken pains to raise only the largest kinds, so that the skins sell are the best on the market.
‘I have just been East, in the fur markets, looking over the demand for fur to use for imitation seal. The black cat is valuable because it does not have to be dyed, but there is so much imitation seal being used, that I have thought there might be money in raising a cat fur that would have a uniform color that would dye like seal.
Many of the imitation seals are made from rabbit skin, but cat is much more durable and stronger. My idea was to begin the breeding of Maltese cats in another part of the island, and separate the two by wire fences. The color would dye very nicely. I left some skins to be treated and dyed, and the report will decide what I will do.
“No, there is no cruelty in killing the animals. We want to preserve the skins intact, so we kill by the use of sulphur fumes in a large room with low ceiling. The fumes kill the animals painlessly, and they are good for the fur also.”
The young cat raiser made no secret of his business, because he said the demand for cat skins is so great that there was little chance of the business ever being overdone.
THE SELF-SUSTAINING FOOD CYCLE (1907)
Then it mutates again. No longer did you need an island, you just needed a carp farm alongside the cat farm.
Then we have The Houston Post, May 24, 1907: “One of the talesmen summoned on this panel is preparing to urge his employment as an excuse for not serving. He says that he has a rat ranch up on the hills. He raised black cats for their pelts. He has invented a gastrologic endless chain in connection with the operations of his ranch. He has stocked a little pond with carp. These he feeds to the cats. When the pelts are in their best condition he kills the cats, skins them and feeds their carcasses to the carp. Thus carp feeds cat and cats feed carp ad infinitum. The cat rancher holds that if he gets stuck for the jury both cats and carp will starve and his business will be ruined.”
In the Topeka Daily Capital (April 18, 1909), the cat ranch appeared in story form, in dialect, under the heading “JABE TROTTER MAKES A NEW PROPOSITION”
“Jabe Trotter was down below the dam on Fall river fishing yesterday, and during a lull in the business he set his hooks and sauntered up to the water plant to look over the new filter and settling basin, says an exchange. After a careful survey of the plant, he came up town and tried to find some of the city authorities in order to lay a proposition before them which occurred to him while making his observations. He was unsuccessful in getting a hearing, but imparted his ideas to some friends on the street, and hopes to get his scheme before the council later.
“It’s just like this,” said Jabe. “I’d like to rent that 'ere settlin’ basin, or big hole, you alls has got down thar. It would make a ideel place to raise bull frogs in, pervided I could git it to hold water and I think I could do that by corkin’ up the cracks with rags and smearin’ clay over ’em. You understands the water would not need to be more’n a foot deep for frogs, and by stockin’ it up airly in the season I would have a fine lot to turn off by the middle of August. I’d be willin’ to go pardners with the city and give them half for furnishin’ the pond and pumpin’ in a little fresh water occasionally as it leaked out. Or, lookin’ at it another way. I'd pay ’em whatever is right fer the use of the basin.
“I don't know whether sich a dicker as I’m offerin' would go or not, but it ort to. It would be a lot better’n not to git nothin’ outen it a tall. I would be willin’ to make a contract that if I got it so it would hold water clar to the top and then the city was to take a notion to use it, I would seine my bull frogs out and give it up. But I don’t think there is any danger of that for awhile yet, jedgin’ the future by the past. Then in case it would hold water enough to raise fish in, I could put in a few channel cat[fish] and bass and sich like and have a fish pond. I understand the water is pumped to town straight from the river anyway, and that the basin hain’t used only oncet in a great while, and I figgered that if people had to use dirty water most of the time they’d as soon use it all the time.
“In case I could make a deal I would move either into town or clost by and would combine my bull frog and fish pond business with my cat ranch. I could skin my cats and sell the hides and use the cat meat to feed my frogs and fish and when I got ready to market my frog legs I could feed the balance of the frog to the cats, thareby utilizin’ all the byproducks, like the Standard Oil company and the big packin’ houses does. I don’t see how the city can afford to turn sech a offer as mine down, ’cause it will be bringin’ a new Industry to town and at the same time relievin’ ’em of what looks now like a mighty big elephant on their hands."
In 1910, came this appeal for cats to stock a ranch. “The Parley's Canyon Pussy Cat Ranch company will have a number of select felines on display to prove to the public that the corporation is in earnest. Some of the cats will be given away as souvenirs. The agents of the company have advertised in the daily papers of the city for some time for cats, but the supply is not yet equal to the demand. One hundred more felines are wanted before noon Saturday. These will be purchased if brought to the Elks’ club before 10 o’clock Saturday morning.” -Salt Lake Tribune, May 19, 1910
According to The Kennewick Courier, August 11, 1911, “H. B. Scudder of North Yakima has made arrangements to start a cat ranch on Grays Harbor. In his prospectus which he sends to the Yakima Republic, he says: ‘We will have 1,000,000 cats to start with [etc]. Mr. Scudder says stock in the concern can be had from any of the late townsite and irrigation ditch promoters until business picks up a little in their own lines.’ ” In other words, no need to buy stock – there are plenty of cats around (many in water-filled ditches).
1911 – MAILSHOTS AND CIRCULARS
To save constant repetition, in general, the following “ranches” would be “started” with 100,000 cats producing 12 kittens annually, producing 12 million skins per year averaging 30 cents/skin. Labor cost $2 per man per day, and the daily profits were $9,800 after labor was paid. For those without an island or a carp pond, the self-sustaining food cycle involved rats fed to cats and cat carcasses fed to rats (though it overlooked the impact of the regular removal of biomass in the form of skins).
In 1911, some papers were printing the content of a circular letter that was doing the rounds in their locality. The mailshots began “Dear Sir, Knowing that you have had some interest in the fur business I take the liberty of presenting you with what seems to me a most wonderful business proposition and in which, no doubt, you will take a lively interest and perhaps wire me the amount of stock that you wish to subscribe towards the formation of this company.” Then the usual figures, costs and profits and “Awaiting your prompt reply, and trusting that you appreciate the opportunity that I give you which will get you rich quick. I remain, etc.”
This piece from the El Paso Herald of January 8, 1912, poked fun at the hoax by suggesting ways to extract even more money from the cat-rat cycle: “WOULD GENERATE ELECTRICITY ON KID HADLOCK’S CAT RANCH. El Pasoan Has a Plan for Further Making Money Out of the Great Get-Rich- Quick Invention by Working Cats While They Eat.
‘Kid’ Haslock figured better than he knew when he began figuring on the establishment of his cat ranch, for, if this enterprise is a success, another ingenious El Pasoan has a plan for making still more money out of the same proposition. Elmer Stearns is the promoter of the newest proposition, which contemplates utilizing the same cats that Hadlock would raise for their skins, in the manufacture of electricity for storage batteries. He says this byproduct of the cat ranch could be generated without any additional cost save that for the construction of the necessary apparatus for catching the electricity, as he would make the cats generate the electricity while chasing their food. Here is his plan as unfolded to The Herald:
‘After much hard work and deep study I have finally perfected a scheme for cheap electric generation which needs exactly the cat ranch to complete its usefulness. The machine can be constructed quite cheaply and is serviceable for years. As every one knows who knows a cat at all, by rubbing its back you can get electric sparks. It occurred to me that by arranging a series of metal brushes, and a storage battery I could utilize all that the cats could produce, so I went to work, using our Tom Cat as the generator.
My machine was a circular tube, about 100 feet around, made of wood about five inches wide and eight inches high, and the top of this tube was fitted to a continuous metal brush, connected with a storage battery. To generate the electricity I first put the rat in the tube, and started him on the round and immediately behind him came the old Tom, then the race began and as Tom went around the tube, the metal brush was taking off his electricity. Sometimes old Tom would be pumped dry of electric juice and the rat would get away, but in that event I always gave Tom a good feed anyway.
Rats when properly fed to cats will run very high in electric juice and with proper storage batteries we could easily supply all the power needed for Long‘s poultry farm, the street railway lines and for lighting the city, for, contrary to the custom of the cat, cat electricity will not go out at night.
By this method we could have the cat ranch so arranged that the cats would have to run through a long series of tubes to catch their rats and the juice would be going cut in great gobs all the time, for we could arrange the feeding so that some of the cats would be running all the time. This same juice could be used in the operation of the machinery in the skinning department.
It is a great scheme and, next to the scheme of the cat farm, is the greatest I have ever heard of, with all due modesty on my part. I would thank the promoters to reserve me a block of promoter's stock and a directorship and then I will talk business with them.”
Thank you El Paso Herald for injecting a goodly dose of the absurd into the story! The following suggests a source for the “facts and figures” in the cat-rat ranch tall tale – John Nordstrom, another person of dry wit and plausible writings.
“IOWA FARMER INVENTED THE CAT AND RAT SCHEME
The Des Moines Register, January 21, 1912
Who would imagine that a Kentuckian would go to the trouble of purloining a perfectly good Iowa idea and shipping it back into this state as his own? But one Kentuckian has done that very thing and has been caught with the goods.
On Jan. 4th, The Register and Leader published a letter received by Geis Botsford, secretary of the Commercial club, from a Kentuckian, suggesting an enterprise of stupendous proportions. He proposed a cat ranch out of which, by judicious feeding of the cats with rats and the rats with the flayed carcasses of the cats, a net profit of $9,800 could be extracted promptly and effectively.
Now it develops that this scheme originated in the fertile imagination, and mind also, of a northern Iowa farmer, John Nordstrom of Kurt, and was submitted by him to the good people of the vicinity in a signed communication published in the Burt Monitor, edited by R. S. Sherwood, on Nov 14th, 1911. In some manner the Kentuckian heard of the plan - probably some of the southern papers reprinted Mr Nordstrom’s letter and the result was the letter from Dixie to Botsford. To give him the benefit of the doubt, and to be charitable too, it is probable that the scheme was published, or got to the Kentuckian, without the signature of the Iowan attached.
Mr. Nordstrom’s plan was to establish cat ranch near El Paso, Tex., where land is cheap. He would start the enterprise with [100,000 cats etc, net revenue after labor = $9,800 per day, fed on rats that were fed on cat carcasses]. That, said Mr Nordstrom, would make the project self-supporting [etc].
The Register and Leader is indebted to Mr. Sherwood for information about Mr. Nordstrom, inventor of this idea. He said: “Now we have no bone to pick with the Kentuckian other than he has copied Farmer Nordstrom’s article and springs it the product of his own brain. We object to the boosters giving this man credit for the great money making scheme, for we believe that Mr. Kentuckian is filching the labor of Farmer Nordstrom's fertile imagination and wants the credit. If the boosters are going to take this matter up let them consult Farmer Nordstorm, whose experience with the raising of cats and extermination of rats is not equaled in the United States."
Mr. Nordstrom is a first class, successful farmer, he is a writer of ability and furnishes some pretty good reading matter, most of which is along the line of a certain dry humor that attracts attention and his writing for local and county papers is eagerly read. He is considerable of a student and is a man well posted on the doings of the day.”
Like Wardner’s version, the car-rat ranch fell on fertile ground and did the rounds, being updated as pelt prices, and wages, rose or fell.
Various papers published reports along these lines in February 1912: “There is something that looks very practical in the plan of the California rat and cat ranch man to feed the carcases of the rats to the cats and the carcases of the cats to the rats, making his profit by marketing the skins. Of course it will be assumed that as the animals increase and multiply, the multiplication of each species will insure the food supply of the other. Isn't it fascinating? And all the time the checks will be coming in for the skins. There is nothing exclusive about this Ingenious Californian. He is willing to allow the investing public to purchase some of the shares in his industrial enterprise, which is organized in the form of a stock company.”
The Independence Daily of 27th September 1912 tells us “GET RICH CAT RANCH PROVES TO BE MYTH.” At first glance it looked as though details of the scheme were being mailed to members of the public, but a footnote showed a more cunning use of this appeal to avarice. “When Lee Holt read his mail this morning, starting to peruse one letter he thought an opportunity to get rich had really come, and visions of at last throwing off the yoke of pounding pills behind the prescription counter and serving cream and tidbits after the airdome and Beldorf show was off with him. The proposition was described as the ‘Greatest Proposition on Earth.’ The introduction asked him to wire the amount of stock he would take and then gave the prospectus which read as follows:
The object of this company is to operate a large cat ranch in or near Oakland, California, where land can be purchased for this purpose.” Then came the usual 100,000 cats producing 12 kittens annually. The skins were valued at 10 cents for white ones and 75 cents for pure black ones i.e. 12 million skins per year averaging 30 cents/skin. Once again, the revenue from the ranch was $9,800 after labor was paid and there would be a rat ranch next door. When the recipient got to the bottom of the letter, he found it to be a cigar advertisement.
PLANS BEING MADE FOR A BIG WILD CAT RANCH. Company Would Make This City Their Headquarters — Said to be a Very Profitable Business (The Leavenworth Echo, April 10, 1914):
This week we have story to offer our readers on the location of a big new enterprize in this city, which if successfully carried out will probably be the biggest money maker in the whole Wenatchee valley. Give the letter you will find in connection with this article careful perusal, after which if you are favorably impressed, you will doubtless want a big block of stock. The promoters of this new industry had not intended that the news of their company should be made public for several weeks, but, as in other cases, the Echo reporter got a tip, and, well it had to come out. While it is not definitely known who the officers of the company will be, it is rumored that L. J. Nelson has become deeply interested in the movement and will probably take a large block of stock and become president of the company. Mr. Nelson, who is an attorney at-law by profession, is known to be an honest and conscientious business man and those who contemplate purchasing stock can rest assured that this is no swindle or get-rich-quick Wallingford scheme. While the reporter did not get an interview from Mr. Nelson, believing he would have nothing to say on the matter, our informant tells us that the following letter is responsible for the whole thing. The letter which was from the Washington Fur Co., reads as follows: “Dear Sir - Knowing that you have some interest in the fur business I take the liberty of presenting you with what seems to be a most wonderful business proposition, and which, no doubt you a will take a lively interest in and subscribe toward the formation of this company. The object of this company is to operate a large cat ranch in or near Anacortes, Washington, where land can be purchased for this purpose [etc – usual figures on cat-rat ranch and $9,800 profit a day], Yours truly, Washington Ranching Co.”
The story that appeared in The Parson’s Daily, March 24th, 1919 has given the laborers a $1/day pay rise! Although it refers to the “far famed Duncanson industry” the fame (if any) seems to have been extremely local.
“AUTO SHOW DOUGH INTO CAT RANCH. PROCEEDS MAY BE INVESTED IN FAR-FAMED DUNCANSON INDUSTRY. The automobile show was a pronounced success. The committee reports the proceeds derived from the show are far in excess of their expectations and the committee has been looking around to find something in which to invest this surplus money — some paying proposition — and they are now considering buying stock in the far-famed Duncanson cat farm. The investing of money in this proposition is bound to double and the profits will enable the auto dealers to put on the biggest show next year that Parsons has ever known.
The following letter has been received from Bud Duncanson of the cat farm by the committee and is being published for the benefit of anyone who wants to invest in this farm.
Dear Sir: —
Knowing that you have some, money to invest, I herewith submit for your approval and consideration what seems to me to be a wonderful proposition in the fur line. A company is to be formed to operate a large cat ranch near Sulphur Springs, Ark., where land can be purchased cheap for that purpose. [etc – skins being 10 – 75 cents apiece, the white ones being cheapest, averaging 30 cents apiece, 100 skinners being paid $3/day resulting in $9,700 profits per day and the usual cat-rat blurb]
This stock is not for sale but any offer you may wish to make will receive due consideration from the president of the company. The company which will be incorporated for $100,000,000 will not consider a sale of its stock for less than $50,000 to one person. Awaiting your action and trusting that you will appreciate the opportunity that I am offering you to get rich quick, I remain, Yours very truly, Bud Duncanson, President and Treasurer.”
I only found the tale published once in the British press, and that was towards then end of its run, after it was known to be a myth. It was evidently treated with scepticism, in part because cats had long been self-perpetuating in cities where they were snatched from the street for their fur. Why on earth pay for something that could be had for free?
CAT-RAT RANCH PAYS - ON PAPER (Detroit Free press, May 4, 1919)
British Firm Receives Queer Prospectus for Industry.
London, May 3. — The proposal to commercialize cat skins as a fur for ladies’ wear has had no success. The question now arises: “What is the price of cat skins?”
The British Skin company at Walham Green has received the following suggestion from New York: "The object of this company is to operate a large cat ranch near New York, where land can he purchased for this purpose. To start with, we shall collect, say about 100,000 cats. Each cat will average 12 kittens a year. The skins will sell for 75 cents for the white ones and over 25 cents for the black. There will be about 13,000,000 skins to sell at the average price of 50 cents apiece, making our average about $10,000 a day gross.
A man can skin 50 cats a day; he will charge $2 a day for his labor. It will take 100 men to operate this ranch; therefore, the profit will be about $18,000 a day, or $6,500,000 a year.
We shall feed the cats on rats, and start a rat ranch adjoining the cat ranch. The rats will multiply four times as fast as the cats, and if we start with 100,000 rats we shall have four rats a day for each cat, which is plenty. In turn we shall feed the rats on the stripped carcasses of the cats. It will be seen by these figures that the business is self-acting and automatic. The cats will eat the rats, and the rats will eat the cats, and we shall get the skins.
Officials are wondering whether the proposal is meant seriously or as a joke.”
By then, most people knew the cat-rat ranch was a fake. The hoax was satirized, used in advertising other products and even used to show people how gullible (or greedy) they were when presented with a “get rich quick” scheme or scam.
The Humeston New Era of May 19, 1920 printed this version – note the signature:
“LIBERTY BONDS TAKEN. We are starting a cat ranch in Colorado with 100,000 cats. Each cat will average twelve kittens a year. The cat skins will sell for thirty cents each. One hundred men can skin 5000 cats a day. We figure on a net profit of $10,000 a day. 200 per cent profit guaranteed. Stock salesmen wanted.
To feed the cats we shall start a rat ranch next door with 1,000,000 rats and the rats will breed twelve times as fast as the cats so we will have four rats to feed each day to each cat, and we will feed the rats the carcasses of the cats after they have been skinned. Deliveries of cats and rats in quantities solicited. Payment made in preferred stock.
Shares in this mammoth enterprise are now selling at 5 cents each, but the price will soon go to one dollar. Invest now while opportunity knocks at your door. Oil stock taken at ninety-five per cent discount. Adv. O. U. SUCKER!”
From the La Grande Observer of February 20, 1920, “THE CAT RANCH WAS A LESSON ON INVESTMENTS. The advertising manager of a big savings bank, wanting to teach a lesson on the subject of unsafe investments, placed a big sign in the window headed ‘Glorious Opportunity to Get Rich Quick. Invest Now!’ which announced that the ‘California Ranching Company’ was being organized to go into the business of raising cat fur for the market.” After giving the usual facts and figures (skins selling for 30 cents) the notice read “Shares are selling at 5 cents each, but the price will go up soon. Invest now while opportunity knocks on your front door” Then below that statement the notice warned “Some gullible people will try to buy this stock. It’s a foolish fake, of course, but no more foolish than many wildcat schemes being promoted today. Investigate before investing. Don’t hand your money over to any unknown glib tongued salesman.” But guess what happened? The news report goes on to say “Now what do you suppose the public did about it? The ad remained in the window four days and then the bank people had to take it away because they were bothered so by people coming in and trying to buy stock in that imaginary company!” The bank manager said “Up to the time we removed it we received 60 serious inquiries. And you’d be surprised at the character of the inquiries. They were almost without exception business men of considerable standing. Some of them had read the warning, but they believed the ad and didn’t believe the warning. No wonder the ‘wild cat’ companies are fleecing the American people out of half a billion dollars a year!”
A “TAME CAT” SCHEME (Boston Post, August 29, 1920) “I walked over to the bookcase and read the poster as follows: ‘Invest in the California Ranching Company now being organized to start a cat ranch in California. We will collect 100,000 female cats. Each cat will average to have 12 kittens a year. Cat skins sell for an average of 30c each. 100 men can skin 5000 cats and we figure a daily net profit of over $10,000.’ I turned and looked at Mr. Hammond, and we both laughed. ‘It’s an old hoax,’ he said, ‘but you’d be surprised at the number of people that have been fooled by it.’”