Beginning during the second half of September 1822, Indianapolis residents witnessed a massive westward migration of gray squirrels, crossing “the river at several places in almost countless numbers” and swarming through the town. Local attorney Calvin Fletcher reported “many people lost whole cornfields” and that the region’s corn crop was “literally destroyed,” noting that 12 squirrels were capable of as much devastation as one hog. Fletcher cited one local farmer who “killed around one cornfield 248 [squirrels] in 3 days.” Others who hunted in their fields observed that the “massacre made no impression on their countless numbers.”

Grey squirrel, indigenous species in Eastern U.S., n.d.
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The migration could be attributed to the failure of surrounding woodlands to produce sufficient mast (nuts) to support the squirrel population. Several other migrations occurred over the decades, most notably in 1845. Even though the latter “invasion” was less extensive and destructive than the 1822 occurrence, the squirrels caused thousands of dollars in damage as they swept through town.

Revised March 2021

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