- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

Keeps fading trade alive amid rural black exodus

VIENNA, Md. — Pulling his skiff closer to the shoreline of marsh reeds, trapper Nathan “Bobby” Molock steps from the bow with his right foot into the slick, black and pungent mud flat.

The boot slides effortlessly halfway up to the knee into the smooth cold mud with the consistency of cream cheese. Mr. Molock leans forward and tugs on a slender pole made from a sapling, freeing and pulling it from the hard marsh. Dangling at the end is a steel trap, framing a dead muskrat.

For more than a half-century, Mr. Molock has tended his traps, continuing a way of life in the old Eastern Shore tradition. Along the way he has made history: He is among fewer than 20 professional trappers in all of Dorchester County and is the last trapper who is black.

That’s important, he said, because it reflects the social changes in the country in the past 50 years. He remembers when black families spent the warm months farming and the cold months hunting, trapping and fishing. Yet, as the generations have come and gone, more and more families abandoned their modest farms and moved to urban areas.

“The young ones didn’t want to learn to do this, so when the old trappers died, that was the end of it for some families,” he said.

Soon to be 62, and now thought to be the oldest of the trappers, Mr. Molock began working the marsh when he was 7.

He now lives on Weston Farms, just across Wapremander Creek from the home where he grew up along the Nanticoke River. His father, Olis, taught him the ways of the muskrat, finding the choice runs, the techniques of trapping and skinning.

Mr. Molock has 160 traps set along 300 acres of marsh, and the daily catch is a modest 10 to 18 muskrats.

He is a gentleman trapper of sorts, having the luxury to set most of the traps along the creek’s shoreline and the ability to tend them from the ease and comfort of his boat. He is after muskrats, and in his land traps he snags foxes and raccoons.

At the end of the day, he retires to his little workshop. Near a small wood stove, where red coals are visible through cracks in the sides, he works under the light of a single naked bulb.

It is a skill, skinning and dressing the furry animals and then stretching their hides to cure.

“I sell the meats to my local customers I have built up over the years,” he said. Truth is, the local customers are also old customers who share his taste for fresh-cooked muskrat, made the old-fashioned Shore way. “Most younger people don’t know how to cook mus’rats,” so the demand is fading, he said.

There is a strong but limited market, too, for raccoon.

“You fix him like fried chicken,” Mr. Molock said, a leg-puller comment that is tinged with the wit and humor that has made him famous in this part of the county.

Mr. Molock is also the caretaker of Weston Farms, a 1,150-acre hunting reserve and one of the Shore’s historically important estates along the Nanticoke River.

Fellow trapper and longtime friend Willey Abbott of nearby Elliott’s Island said Mr. Molock is a living legend.

“He’s one of the nicest guys I ever met, an original down-to-earth top-shelf person. Bobby’s one of the best hunting guides on the Shore and a heck of a trapper. He can get ‘em, and he can still go after ‘em — he can trap and truck for 62 — ain’t much Bobby can’t do,” Mr. Abbott said.

Mr. Molock is proud of his trapping heritage.

“Black or white, there’s not many of us around still trapping today, and I want to keep doing it long as I can,” he said. “I’m happy. This is what life is all about, doing what you like. You ain’t got to make a lot of money, but you’re doing something you like.”

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