Flunky Jim was one of the pieces featured in a Winnipeg Singers concert I attended on June 30 in Gimli. The lyrics of the Western Canadian folk song talk about a man called Flunky Jim whose wardrobe is in tatters. His hat has no brim. He wears shabby overalls and doesn’t own any shirts. But the song says this will all change in the fall when he sells his gopher tails and buys new clothes.
The song is referring to the fact that starting in the 1920s the government gave people a bounty payment when they turned in the tails of gophers they had killed. There were so many gophers on the prairies they were destroying millions of bushels of grain a year and the government wanted to provide an incentive to get rid of them so they rewarded people for killing them. This continued for decades.
The song struck a personal note with me. I remember as a child going gopher shooting with my grandfather in the village of Gnadenthal, Manitoba. He would give me the tails of the gophers we shot and I could get seven cents for each one at the village store. If I had several I could buy a bottle of pop and a chocolate bar. Like the Flunky Jim of the song the gopher tails were a kind of currency for me courtesy of the provincial government.
I am the flunky of the house, they call me flunky Jim,
You’ll find me knockin’ around the yard, me hat without a brim.
Me overalls are shabby, and I have no shirt at all,
But I’m goin’ to get a new outfit with me gopher tails this fall.