The Great Mouse War
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"
The Great Mouse War
On November 24, 1926, as rain began to fall on
Taft, California, an offbeat chain of events was set in motion, the
strangest occurrence of its kind in the United States.
seven miles from the city was a dry lake bed called
Buena Vista Lake,
in which farmers had planted over 11,000 acres of grain. This lake bed,
implanted with so much grain and seed, had became home
to millions of field mice. As the rain came down in earnest the dry lake bed
began to fill with water. Somehow a general distress signal went out among the
mice, and they began a sudden mass exodus from the lake bed—millions of mice
forming a huge undulating ground cover.
Taft, an oil and agricultural town located in the desert of the southern San
Joaquin Valley, was unprepared for what was about to happen. From out of the
barren landscape millions of mice descended on Taft in search of food and
shelter. The oil town was besieged by a living carpet of fur.
advancing mouse army met their first real resistance when they encountered
humans at the Honolulu Oil Lease, located about three miles from
Buena Vista Lake.
At first, the mice were a big joke to the oil workers. But when the men became
completely surrounded by almost solid balls of fur, with small teeth nipping at
their pants legs and ankles and occasionally drawing blood, the joke was over.
The men began to swat at them with shovels. This caused many mouse casualties,
but it was like spooning sand from a beach. So the humans beat a rapid retreat
and quickly organized a plan of warfare against the vast army of mice.
plowed a series of trenches a foot or so deep and sowed them with poisoned
grain. This tactic was so successful, the men
crisscrossed the countryside for miles around with shallow trenches baited with
lethal grain. Even local government bodies set up command posts and dispensed
poisoned grain to the residents. The mice died by the millions but were
immediately replaced by millions more. After about two weeks of intensive
assault, an editorial appeared in Taft's newspaper, the Daily Midway Driller,
pleading for citizens to “page the Pied Piper.” Cats became the pied pipers of
the day, while the piper of literature and legend remained in obscurity.
all the casualties, the little rodents persisted and, with new generations
joining them every month or so, continued to grow in numbers. Millions of
rodents—as many as 100 million—dominated the landscape.
that the population of Taft at that time was under
5,000, humans were outnumbered about 20,000 to 1.
rodents' front line was probably pushed in an ever—widening circle by the
pressure of the multitudes behind them. By January they had invaded Maricopa,
14 miles from the lake. On the San Emidio Ranch,
eight miles away, starving multitudes of mice overcame a penned—up sheep and
quickly consumed it; the implication of famished grain—eating mice becoming
carnivorous was that humans could also be vulnerable. The northern extension of
the hordes swarmed over the Taft—Bakersfield Highway where untold thousands became road casualties. But
the mice continued to run unchecked over the land until January 22, when the
“Pied Piper” arrived.
U.S. Biological Survey had sent an extermination expert to Taft to handle the
army of invading mice. By some trick of fate, his name was Piper. (Stanley
Piper requested, then demanded, that no one refer to
him as “Pied,” but people can't change preconceptions so easily.) With all the
extermination that had been taking place prior to his arrival, Piper concentrated
on the rodents' headquarters, the once—again dried—up lake bed. He estimated
that 45 million to 50 million mice were holed up in that one area and
immediately planned his campaign to combat the mouse army.
Piper could put his plan into action, effective help arrived from a completely
unexpected source. It came literally from heaven. The open sky began to rain
hawks, gulls, herons, owls, roadrunners, ravens, shrikes, eagles—all of which
dived and attacked the mouse legions in the lake bed. When the birds left, it
was because they could eat no more. They ambled or flew feebly away from the
gorging field after their distressingly heavy meal. Some of the mice survived
but later died of disease or were drowned in a sudden outburst of heavy rain in
mid—February that filled the lake bed once again.
quickly as it had begun, the Great Mouse War of 1926—27 ended.