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Grocer fleeced in raccoon skin scam

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By The Staff

From the time of the earliest settlements in Fayette County, money was rarely used. The settlers bartered skins for goods.

James Evans, whose father, Akin, was Fayette County’s sheriff and tax collector in 1836-1839, 1846-1849 and 1852-1854, wrote that if you did not have gold or silver to pay your taxes, you could catch a few raccoons and pay your taxes with their skins. You could not pay with paper money, as it was not legal tender.

James remembered there were no banks in those early days, and his father’s saddlebag was his safe. When he made settlement with the state, James said his father rode to Springfield on horseback. He also told that taxes for the entire county in those days was less than half of what Vandalia Township property taxes were in 1910.

Capt. Andrew Ray, in his reminiscences, told that taxes had to be paid in gold and silver, and to get it they had to take their goods to St. Louis.

He wrote that money was so hard to get that Sheriff Akin Evans made arrangements with a fur company to take all the furs he could get. And as raccoons and mink were plentiful, people were helped out in that way. Ray said that the first taxes he paid, $1.60 on 80 acres, was paid with raccoon and mink skins.

A story published in the 1882 "History of Bond and Montgomery Counties," recounts another circumstance where pelts were used for barter. The editors relied on R.O. White for the specifics.

“A story is told of a party of fellows on a Christmas spree, who, finding themselves about out of whiskey, and not having the wherewith to replenish, hit upon the following expedient to obtain a supply.

“They went out one night to a little grocery, having one raccoon skin with them. This paid for whiskey enough to furnish them all a drink or two round, including the proprietor, who, of course, was fond of the article and imbibed rather freely, soon becoming quite hilarious from its effects.

“The party observed this, and each one, on placing the liquor to his lips, merely tasked it, but the grocery-keeper, whenever it came his turn, took a good drink. Consequently, objects soon began to assume a confused appearance to his vision.

“This was just what they wanted, and getting him ‘about right,' as they expressed it, one of them slipped back where the pile of skins lay, took one and put it through a large crack in the wall of the hut, to the outside; then going out of the door he went round, took up the skin, and, after waiting a few minutes, came in – being saluted by the others as a fresh arrival – and presented his raccoon skin in payment of a certain amount of whiskey.

“This offer was readily accepted, the whiskey measured out and the skin thrown back on the heap with the rest. This feat was repeated every few minutes until they obtained the whiskey they wanted, having actually sold the grocery-keeper his own raccoon skin six or seven times in a few hours.

“After the close of the war, money was brought into the country and gradually took place of skins.”