Steel Traps_

A. R. Harding_

Nineteen and Seven_

Considerable of the information herein in regard to traps, scent, decoy, etc., is gathered from old and experienced trappers from all parts of America as well as from the great trap manufacturers, Oneida Community Ltd., so that readers can rely upon the information imparted in this book as being trustworthy.


To those that have followed the setting of Steel Traps there is a fascination or "fever" which comes over them every fall about the time of the first frosts. The only remedy seems to be a few weeks on the trap line.

While some look upon trapping as an unprofitable business, yet the number is becoming rapidly less, for more and more people are yearly deriving pleasure, profit and health from out-door life such as trapping, hunting, etc. There are thousands of trappers scattered over America who are reaping a harvest of fur each year from their Steel Traps valued at hundreds of dollars in addition to the healthful sport they enjoy.

In some parts of Canada and the Northwest a trapper in a year catches fur the value of which together with the bounty brings him $1,000.00 to $2,000.00. It is said on pretty good authority that a trapper in British Columbia a few years ago caught upwards of $6,000 worth of fur, principally marten, in one season.

There are many thousands of trappers scattered from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean and from the Pacific to the Atlantic that make hundreds of dollars each year with Steel Traps.

There is also a vast number who trap only a few weeks each season. This includes boys and farmers after the busy season.

The actual number engaged in trapping is not known. Neither is the actual value of the raw fur catch, but it is thought to exceed $10,000,000 yearly. Is it any wonder then that so many want to know more about Steel Traps and Trapping?

Considerable of the information herein in regard to traps, scent, decoy, etc., is gathered from old and experienced trappers from all parts of America as well as from the great trap manufacturers, Oneida Community Ltd., so that readers can rely upon the information imparted in this book as being trustworthy. Some books, purporting to be of value to hunters and trappers, are written by men who have never followed a line of traps or been in close touch with trappers.

The author of this work has been engaged for many years in trapping and collecting furs and has come into close contact with many of the leading trappers of the country.

Steel Traps are far superior to Snares or Deadfalls from the fact that they can be used for both land and water trapping while Snares and Deadfalls are adapted to Land Trapping only.

A. R. Harding.

The First of Chapters_

Sewell Newhouse_

Mr. Sewell Newhouse, the inventor of the Newhouse Trap grew up surrounded by the Iroquois Indians of the Oneida Tribe; that tribe which alone of all the Red men cast in their lot with the Americans in our great struggle for liberty.

Mr. Sewell Newhouse

At an early age he learned the gunsmith's trade. In those days guns were all made by hand, and in small shops. Mr. Newhouse soon became very skillful both in making and shooting the rifle. At that time "Turkey Shoots" were very popular, and Mr. Newhouse was always sure of his bird at sixty to eighty rods. It was a puzzle to many of the old hands how he managed to shoot so accurately, even when the wind was blowing "half a gale" till it was finally discovered that he had fitted his rifle with an adjustable wind sight. This was one of his early inventions that has now come into common use in target shooting.

The Indians were very fond of shooting at a mark both with the rifle and the bow and arrow, but they would seldom try conclusions with "Sewell" — as they all called him — for he could always out shoot them with the rifle, and very few of the tribe were as skillful as he with the bow and arrow. In wrestling too, a favorite game of the day, Mr. Newhouse was more than a match for the best men of his time both white and red.

Some time before the year 1840, Mr. Newhouse undertook the manufacture of traps and so popular had his traps become that in 1842 they were well known to all the tribes of the state, so that about this year, when a large part of the Oneidas moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin Territory, an essential part of this outfit was a stock of Newhouse's traps. Thus their fame spread to the West.

It is related that a delegation of chiefs from one of the Algonquin tribes of the Great Lake region once called at Mr. Newhouse's Shop. They had used some traps from a rival manufacturer but were much disgusted with them for in the intense cold of their country the springs would break. "As breaks the pipe of peace in war time." They looked over his stock of Traps, pressed down the springs with their moccasined feet, grunted and shook their heads in disapproval. Then Sewell went out to the frozen creek nearby, the savages watching in silence. He chopped out a huge piece of ice, and bringing it to the shop broke it into pieces which he threw into a large tub of water, then setting half a dozen of the Traps he plunged them into the water, and in sight of the astonished and pleased Red Men he sprung them all off.

This severe test was enough for the visitors, and at his own price Mr. Newhouse sold them his entire stock of traps. The affair greatly pleased the neighboring Oneidas for well they knew when their "Sewell" made and tempered a trap spring by his secret and "magical" process it would stand up to its work under any and all circumstances.

The First Shop

Early in the fifties Mr. Newhouse removed from his home at The Oneida Castle up the Valley to a spot now known as Kenwood. Here close by the bank of the rushing Oneida he established himself in a little smithey and began to make his famous traps on a larger scale. He was soon after assisted by some of the mechanics of the Oneida Association — as the old Oneida Community was then called — of which Mr. Newhouse had become a member. In a few years it became evident from the increasing demand that the business must be enlarged and a small factory was built for the purpose.

Still the demand continued to increase as the Community began to send out an agent to solicit orders in the West. The great Hudson Bay Company sent in some large orders a custom by the way, which they have continued annually from that early time until the present day.

More shops were erected, water power and special machinery were introduced but still the demand outgrew the supply, till finally the Community was obliged to build on a much larger scale at the present site of its factory, where the waters of Sconondoa Creek furnished for a long time ample power for the business.

Here Mr. Newhouse for many years after he ceased to work at the bench and forge, spent his time in perfecting the manufacture and in the general oversight and inspection of the work. With the eye of a lynx he was ever alert to see that no trap bearing his name went out of the factory except in perfect condition. Here before he left this world for his long, long rest he carefully educated and trained a number of men to continue the business with the same painstaking spirit he had so long maintained.

The Trap illustrated here is one of the earliest made by S. Newhouse after the business was established in the Oneida Community Shops about the year 1853.

Old Newhouse Trap

Every piece was hand forged from wrought iron or steel. It was roughly but strongly made and has endured for over half a century. This trap belonged to one of the pioneers of Wisconsin who had used it for many years. It is still in good working order, the spring being as lively as on the day Mr. Newhouse so carefully and skillfully forged and tempered it.

The Second of Chapters_

Well Made Traps_

Among the first requisites and of the utmost importance to successful trapping is the possession of an outfit of well made Steel Traps.

That the young trappers may understand what are the requisites of a good trap we will describe in detail one that has held its own in the estimation of the professional trappers for sixty years, and then we will endeavor to point out wherein the many so-called "improvements," that have been put on the market, have uniformly failed of success.

What the main spring is to a watch, a trap spring is to a trap, and unless the spring is made of a properly compounded steel and is of the right form and proportion and correctly tempered it will surely fail and make the whole trap worse than useless.

Certain mixtures of pig iron are used in making spring steel and if these mixtures are varied from in any particular or if the steel has a surplus of carbon, or is deficient in that element, it will not take a proper temper and consequently is of no value. A proper manipulation in the rolling mill is also necessary, or the steel may be entirely ruined in rolling.

A good spring when set should show a nearly uniform curve throughout. This indicates that it is properly tapered so as to bring a uniform strain on the steel. The lasting qualities of a spring are greatly dependent on the correctness of this point.

A Well Made Trap

The "bows" or holes in the spring must be of a proportion to properly fit the jaws and have such a "twist" as will allow them to lie flat when set, and the temper must be so moderated as not to be brittle or "high", otherwise they may break if sprung without anything between the jaws. For it is well known that it is a much harder strain on any trap to be sprung thus than to snap on to the leg of an animal.

Another very important thing is to have the strength of the spring proportioned to the size of the trap, for an excessively stiff spring is more apt to break the leg bone of the animal and increase the liability of "legging" as the trappers call it, while a very weak spring may allow a vigorous animal to draw its foot out, especially if caught low down.

And last but more important than anything else, the spring must have just the right temper, for a bad tempered trap spring is like a bad tempered wife, a worse than useless encumbrance. And do not let the tyro imagine that it is easy to temper a trap spring, for it requires a long experience and very expensive and carefully studied conditions and apparatus to produce anything like uniform results.

Few persons realize the unusually trying conditions under which a trap spring has to do its work, and it is safe to say that no mechanical contrivance performs its functions with greater precision than a well made and tempered trap spring.

A No. 1 spring weighs less than three ounces and will exert a force of between 70 and 80 lbs., and one of these has been known to remain under strain for over thirty years and then spring as promptly as though just set.

The jaw of a trap should have a good wide bearing surface, otherwise it will be apt to break the animal's leg bone, a calamity always to be avoided, especially in dry land trapping, for as before remarked "legging" is thus likely to follow. Anything like a sharp cutting edge or a saw tooth is especially objectionable, for our object in catching an animal is to obtain its fur and not to amputate its limbs. As a prevention of "legging" the Nos. 81, 91, 91 1/2 traps, described elsewhere, are especially designed. The pintle or end bearings of the jaws should fit loosely in the holes to allow for rusting and a little freezing, and there should also be a slight end play for the same reason.

The weight and strength of a jaw should be sufficient to prevent it from being sprung or bent enough to throw it out of its bearing when it is set or when sprung by the animal.

Much diversity of opinion obtains regarding the proportionate size of the pan or treadle. Some trappers like a large pan similar to that used in the Jump trap, but it is safe to say that the greater majority, especially among the old and experienced trappers, prefer the smaller sizes, and for obvious reasons. When an animal steps on a small pan he is caught to stay, but with a large one he may be "nipped" or his foot may be thrown out altogether. At any rate his education has been immensely advanced and it will take a trapper with a "long head" to get him into a trap next time.

The pan should fit loosely in its bearing for as is well known, rusting increases the size of a piece of iron and as there are four surfaces to rust in a pan bearing, ample room must be left.

Limb Growing Thru Jaws

This trap was made about 1875 and no part had given way from the tremendous pressure.

Surely a good Newhouse.

The dog or latch should be thick and narrow rather than wide, as presenting less surface for the animal to step on. It should be curved and pointed in such a way as to hold up the pan but so as to "go off" "easy" or "hard" in proportion to the size of the animal trapped for. This is a nice point for each trapper to decide for himself and it is this susceptibility to adjustment by curving or straightening the dog that makes this old "trigger arrangement" superior to any other that has been invented. Of course, the cross and bottom pieces must be made in proportion to the other parts of the trap and the experienced trapper or inspector knows how to so bend them as to make them conform correctly therewith.

The chain should be strong enough to hold any animal for which the trap is designed.

It goes without saying that a good swivel is indispensable, as well as a reliable ring and wedge for fastening, and the "S" Hook sometimes furnished will be found very convenient as a means for attaching the trap to a drag.

The Third of Chapters_

A Few Failures_

We present herewith a few photos taken from a collection of experimental traps and will endeavor to point out wherein these failed to prove themselves of practical value.

"Bob Tail" Trap

This trap was sometimes called the "Bob Tail" on account of its lack of a dog, and this feature was thought to be a valuable one as there was nothing to throw the animal's foot out, but it was found to  be deficient in that it was not sensitive enough and it lacked any adjustability in its setting device.

Defective Pan Bearing

This model was put on the market and sold for some time and seemed to be a very good trap. It was discovered, however, that the bearing of the pan was too low down for a delicate set and also sometimes caused trouble by freezing in mud.

The All Steel

This trap was at one time thought to be good and was tried by many trappers. It was found, however, to be very faulty in many respects. The bearing of the pan lay flat in the mud and would freeze. The setting device lacked any kind of adjustability and might either go off so hard that nothing could spring it or so easily that it would not stay set at all. The jaws which were made of thin sheet steel were not durable.

The Modified All Steel

In this trap the method of attaching the pan was changed and the jaws were rendered more durable, but as the holding edges were made much thinner they were more liable to cut the animal's legs and on the whole the trap was not improved.

Poor Setting Device

This trap was invented to do away with the throwing out motion of the dog. It accomplished it, however, at such a sacrifice of other valuable features as to render it a useless invention. Its pan like others mentioned was liable to freeze up and it also lacked in easy adjustability and sensitiveness. Few of them were sold as they did not meet the approval of trappers of experience.

Double Jaw Without Dog

A Double Jaw Trap was made without a dog as shown by the setting device, although ingenious in construction, was not sensitive. The holding power of the double jaw was good, especially in a dry land set, as all know who have tried the Newhouse No. 91 or 91 1/2.

The Duplex

This trap was designed by a man who thought it desirable to fasten the bait to the pan. Only a novice at trapping would think of doing such a thing as that, as drawing the animal's attention to the trap is sure to excite his suspicion and to catch him by the head is not desirable, even if possible. A common trap is quite certain to only nip him and slip off. The trap as will be seen could be used also like a common one, but presented a very awkward appearance. A few experienced trappers gave it a trial but none of them seemed to favor it.

The "No Cross"

This style was never put on the market. There have been invented quite a number of traps that have no cross piece but we do not know that any of them have been sold.


... and last but more important than anything else, the spring must have just the right temper, for a bad tempered trap spring is like a bad tempered wife, a worse than useless encumbrance ... and do not let the tyro imagine that it is easy to temper a trap spring, for it requires a long experience and very expensive and carefully studied conditions and apparatus to produce anything like uniform results ...