Varmint of Burke's Garden

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The 'varmint' mounted and on display at Crab Orchard Museum.

The Varmint of Burke's Garden was the name given to a coyote that terrorized the community of Burke's Garden, Virginia, in 1952. The animal killed over 400 registered sheep and caused damages in excess of $32,000 before being killed.

To aid in the creature's capture, the board of supervisors of Tazewell County contacted Clell and Dale Lee, two of the best-known big-game hunters then active in the United States; their dogs were well known for being able to track most kinds of animals. The men were residents of Arizona, but were requested to come to Virginia to help local residents. Dale Lee was in Venezuela hunting jaguars, but his brother Clell was available and answered the call. He arrived in Bluefield to find himself coolly received by local farmers; however, Mrs. Meeks, the wife of one of the men, was kinder, and invited him to stay at her home.

Lee identified the animal by a track that had been left in a block of ice. His diagnosis shocked many, as no coyotes had been seen in the area in memory. Accompanied by the sheriff, as well as by local farmers, hunters, and game wardens, Lee and his dogs soon found the scent, following it for around five hours before nightfall.

Lee ordered all parties back to the hunt at dawn the next morning. The sheriff objected, saying that nobody in the county hunted on Sundays; Lee, however, explained that he had found a fresh scent, and saw no reason to impose upon locals any longer than necessary. Learning that the animal had struck again that night, killing two sheep, Lee stationed hunters near the site of the attack and set his dogs back on the scent. A Burke's Garden resident, Alfred Jones, killed the coyote after a chase of a few hours. Alfred was accompanied by Dewey Tibbs and Hugh Cox. The Varmint was killed in the Joe Moss Cemetery.

The creature was found to be quite large - it was nearly four-and-a-half feet long and weighed 35 pounds, and its fangs were an inch long.

Local residents were jubilant, and a dinner was held in Lee's honor. The coyote was strung up and hung from a tree near the courthouse, and nearly 7,500 people came through to see both the hunter and the dead animal. The animal was stuffed and is currently on display at the Crab Orchard Museum in Tazewell, Virginia.[1]


In 1993, Burke's Garden began hosting the Varmint Half Marathon and 5K race, held annually in June. Winners receive trophies in the shape of sheep to commemorate the destruction caused by the Varmint.[1]


  1. ^ a b Varmint: Road race returns for 14th year. Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 2007-06-07. Retrieved on 2008-11-05.


  • Sharon Cavileer. Virginia Curiosities. Guilford, CT; The Globe Pequot Press, 2002.