Stop the presses! We have more armadillo news!
It turns out that the armadillo spotted (and photographed) on New Year’s Day near Christiansburg is not the first armadillo in Montgomery County.
Belinda Harris, the former librarian for The Roanoke Times, calls our attention to a story the newspaper ran on May 1, 1932, about an armadillo sighting in Montgomery County.
How did people in 1932 react to an armadillo waddling around in the New River Valley? Umm, not well. The headline on the story gets to the essential gruesome point: “Slays Armadillo in Montgomery.”
Really? Slays? We’re talking armadillos here, not dragons. Poor little ‘dillo. Anyway, what’s done is done, and that armadillo sure got done.
The story described the heroic armadillo slayer as Walter Carden of Radford. He was returning home from a visit with his mother near Childress, a community near Christiansburg, when about 5 miles north of Radford he “observed an animal alongside the roadside which looked unusual.” Naturally, Carden stopped his car, “obtained a stick and killed it.”
He then took the carcass into Radford and showed it off where “it was immediately recognized by a number of citizens, who were on the Texas border, while in the service, as a half-grown armadillo, or anteater. How it got to Montgomery County is a mystery unsolved.”
We probably don’t need to wonder long. In 1932, armadillos were no farther east than Louisiana but armadillos are notorious hitchhikers, even if they do lack thumbs. A 1996 paper in the Journal of Biogeography says that “in rail shipments of cattle from Texas to Mississippi during the 1930s armadillos ‘frequently were aboard and escaped from box cars at the destination.’” It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture some armadillo hopping on a freight train in Texas and hopping off in Virginia only to find the welcoming committee was a man with a stick because it’s well-known that the proper response to something new and different is to kill it immediately, right?
In Radford, the dead armadillo was “viewed with great interest,” The Roanoke Times reported. The paper went on to describe the species: “When attacked, it rolls into a ball and the shell-like armor affords protection.” (Although apparently not against a determined man with a stick.) The paper assured readers: “They are harmless and are eaten by the Spaniard and the Mexican.” Texans, too, although we don’t recommend this. That is how, during the Great Depression, armadillos came to be known as “Hoover hogs.”
We are seeing Virginia sanction a new wave of historical markers to make up for lost time and recognize events that have previously escaped official attention. Perhaps here’s one more: Five miles north of Radford, the first reported sighting of an armadillo in Virginia. Or at least someone could erect a makeshift memorial – made out of sticks.