Thursday, January 25, 2018

The White Squirrels of Olney Illinois.

Why are there so many white squirrels in Onley, Illinois? There are two theories that offer some historical perspective.

The William Yates Stroup Theory
While William Yates Stroup was hunting squirrels in the woods near his home in the southeast Olney Township he saw a gray squirrel run into a nest and shot the den killing the mother and knocking out two pure white baby squirrels. He put them into the pockets of his game bag and took them home with him, turning them over to his sons, George and Era Strop who raised them by hand feeding them milk by a spoon. The little squirrels lived, thrived and grew well. That fall farmer Stroup brought the squirrels to Olney and presented them to the Jasper Banks Saloon (JAP's Place) and displayed them in his window. They attracted attention and were a fine drawing card for JAP's Place. 
The albinos were finally released when the Illinois legislature passed a law prohibiting the confinement of wildlife, which included squirrels. The squirrels were taken to Oakwood, the home of Thomas Tippit commonly called Tippit's Woods and released. The Tippit residence was located at 802 N. Silver Street, but has since been torn down.

The George W. Ridgely Theory
George W. Ridgely moved to a farm about six miles southeast of Sumner, In 1899 George discovered a cream-colored squirrel and a white squirrel playing on his farm near Sumner. He tried to capture them but was unsuccessful. Finally he asked his neighbor John Robinson to help him, but they were unsuccessful. Finally the men constructed a box-like trap and a cage eight feet by six feet. They captured them and were able to raise several litters before bringing a pair to Olney in 1902. Mr. Ridgely sold the pair to Jasper "Jap" C. Banks for $5 each. Mr. Banks made a green box for his albinos and displayed them in his saloon window, hoping they would attract customers and cause them to go inside and get a better look and have a drink.
When the Illinois state legislature passed a law prohibiting the containment of wild animals, Mr. Ridgely released all his squirrels from his cage near Sumner. They wandered in his woods and neighboring lands, and the squirrels were no longer to be found.
Jap Banks also disposed of his squirrels, giving the pair to the sons of Thomas Tippit Sr., a former mayor of Olney. Thomas Tippit had a woods near his home then located at 802 Silver Street His sons placed the open green box in one of the nearby trees, liberating the squirrels.
Thomas Tippit Jr. and his brother watched the male white squirrel leave the cage. Just then a large female fox squirrel attacked the male albino, "tearing him to shreds" and dropping him to the ground. Tom threw something at the fox squirrel and drove her into her den. They he ran to the house and got a shotgun. His father had allowed him to shoot it for the first time the day before. Fourteen-year-old Tom drew aim and shot the fox squirrel as it approached the white female. The albino produced a litter of all white squirrels establishing the Olney albino colony.
About 1941, there were 800 white squirrels. In the mid-1970's, John Stencel, instructor at Olney Central College, received a small grant from the Illinois Academy of Science to study the white squirrels. 
A squirrel count is held each fall. Both white and gray squirrels are counted in addition to cats. The number of squirrels has dropped causing concern. When the white squirrels dip below 100, Stencel said, they are concerned about genetic drifts, a biological force that speeds up the extinction of a small population. 
In 1997, the Olney City Council amended its ordinance which disallowed dogs from running at large to include cats. The 1997 squirrel count realized a decrease in cats. Dr. Stencel is hopeful this will have a positive affect on the white squirrel population. 
In an effort to help the white squirrel population, City Clerk Belinda Henton has obtained a permit to rehabilitate wildlife from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources. Residents are asked to contact Mrs. Henton when they discover white squirrels that have been abandoned or hurt.

White Squirrels and the Law

White squirrels have the right-of-way on all public streets, sidewalks, and thoroughfares in Olney, and there is a $750 fine for accidentally running one over.

The police department badges and squad cars have a picture of a white squirrel on it. 

The white squirrel has proved to be an enduring symbol of Olnean pride, and stands as Olney's most defining feature.

Albino or white squirrels are on the endangered species list since 2014.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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