Mourning Memories

My daily morning walk covers more than a mile, less than two. It begins by exiting the inset porch and crossing the front yard, passing a tall pink weigela and splitting a pair of tall Japanese maples to the triangular common on the crotch of Colrain and Green River roads that forms the southern tip of my property.

The neighborhood is sleeping as I walk toward Meadow Lane, where I take a left toward a looming sunrise and walk a couple hundred yards to a farm right-of-way between two nice, circa-1970, colonial-revival homes. There, I follow a nearly invisible double-rutted trail between tall, tidy residential fences and ornamental trees. The access allows manuring and harvesting of vast hayfields. Folks unfamiliar with the place probably pass the lane without notice.

Past the fences, I go left off the trail and, alone with my thoughts, follow the backyard perimeter of a couple of homes toward a small wood line. There, it’s not unusual to see a deer, especially this time of year when fresh, sweet, salubrious clover and rye stubble sprout. Never is it richer in nutrients than during that first spring growth, thus the higher price for “first-cut” hay.

On a recent morning, recrossing the common on my way home, I stopped to chat with a local farmer slowing for the stop sign in his white pickup. In the course of our brief, neighborly conversation, he told me about the deer he had just spotted grazing the field behind his barn. Sighting them through dim dawn light, he first feared his cattle were loose, then realized it was deer. Many of them. So many, in fact, that he took a count: 15, coming off an easy winter.

In this season of budding and mating, nesting and birthing, growth, renewal and blissful morning birdsong, thoughts of a solo, sentient walking man can romp and ramble to the most peculiar places. It’s difficult to predict where such ponderings will lead. I guess it depends on the elements – wind, rain, fog, or perhaps that first pink twinkle peeking through budding trees low on the eastern horizon, illuminating spring pastels to a soft glow.

Turkey gobbles from the ridge recently entered the mix as lustful mating toms assemble their springtime harems. This week marked the opening of the annual, four-week spring hunt, when hunters use an assortment of mouth and friction calls to mimic the sounds of eager hens and entice dominant gobblers to tightly choked shotguns. I’ve been there, done that. Enjoyed it while it lasted. Loved it, in fact. But how many turkeys must a man kill to be considered a good hunter?

If ever I am hungry and destitute, I know I can call in a turkey. That’s good enough for me. Hunting in my world is not competitive. It’s leisure activity. Though killing is a necessary component, to me it’s the most distasteful element of the game. One way around it, of course, is photography, with its benign type of shooting. That alternative satisfied my late Uncle Bob later in life. But it’s not for me. I don’t need it.

On a recent, clear morning, as light crept in, a tom sounded off from the ridge just before I hit Meadow Lane. By the time I reached the open meadow, I had heard two additional gobbles, then another as I circled back on the homestretch toward Meadow Lane. I can’t say why, but that garrulous gobbler spun my wheels into death and dying in the season of life and living. The die cast, I let it ramble as I put one foot in front of the other.

The chain of thought started with my late son Rynie, who had died eight years ago to the day, a day shy of his 29th birthday. Less than three years earlier, his 28-year-old brother had died a similar death, both confined to hospital beds and succumbing to dreaded post-operative infections. I didn’t dwell long on Rynie and Gary. Other deaths have entered my life recently. Isn’t it inevitable as we age? I must admit by now I am hardened to death.

Just in the past year my wife lost a brother and sister, both younger, as well as a slightly older brother-in-law. All of them died at home far too young – one of a hideous cancer fought with dreadful hospital poisons, the other two related to lives lived in the fast lane. Although it’s true that all three made choices that contributed to their demise, that’s life. Get over it. We’re all going to die someday.

Which reminds me, since the death of my sons, I have read the obits of at least four or five of their friends, all of them good kids who enjoyed many happy hours under my roof – blowing out my woofers with high-volume hip-hop and rap, and tearing my tweeters with ear-tickling newgrass and bluegrass selections from my CD collection. If you haven’t noticed, young overdose death before the age of 40 is now a national epidemic. Very sad. Heroin, fentanyl, and crack cocaine are the primary villains. Up and down these young people travel to tragic young demise.

All those thoughts were bouncing and whirling through my inner consciousness on that robust daybreak ramble through short, frosty grass and crisp air – touching on this topic and that like a hummingbird
feeding through morning glories. No, not mourning glories.

Although my inner ramblings began with my dead sons, their aunt and uncles, thoughts of them didn’t linger long. I quickly moved on to my late boyhood friend, Big Stosh, with whom in younger days I played ball, hunted, fished and caroused regularly. He was here today, gone tomorrow – discovered dead at home, likely a heart attack victim. Big Stosh and I had many good days on the Deerfield River and its surrounding hardwood ridges; that, and taking in the sights and sounds while riding on larks around secondary hilltown roads, preferably dirt.

I missed the Big Boy’s funeral, and would have offered my pallbearer services had I not been away at a national outdoor-writers convention. I regret that I couldn’t pay my last respects by lugging him to his grave. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess. Bad timing.

I also thought of friends Fast Eddie and Blue Sky, two men cut from similar, independent fabric. I loved both of them like brothers, warts and all, but have held off mentioning them in print. I suppose enough time has now elapsed to disclose that they both took their own lives. Their choice by different methods.
I hope no one will now object to me making such an acknowledgment in print.

So, there it is, my salute to friends who decided they had had enough. One suffered from multiple health problems that finally wore him down and out. The other had run afoul of the tax man. They chose not to stick around to pay the consequences. Churchgoers would call them cowards. I don’t go there. I’m not wired that way. Genuflecting to crucifixions, dropping to my knees to pray, and feeding the log-handled basket for salvation is for others. A believer I am not.

Looking back, that train of thought that briefly brought the dead to life in my imagination lasted maybe three or four minutes. It was all triggered by that rambunctious tom turkey establishing territory with throaty gobbles. As can happen to receptive beings when the conditions are right, my consciousness welcomed in wafting spirits riding soft, undetectable currents through still morning air. I enjoyed the brief visitations. Then, like the darkness, they disappeared.

I was back at home before the tall clock’s 6:30 gong sounded. I poured a hot cup of coffee, passed the dining-room woodstove into the parlor, maneuvered my power recliner to a comfortable position, propped up the headrest and opened a book about ancient Eurasian/Siberian rock art. Written by art-historian/anthropologist Esther Jacobson-Tepfer, it’s titled The Hunter, the Stag, and the Mother of Animals: Image, Monument, and Landscape in Ancient North Asia.

Now there’s a long-handled basket into which I willfully throw contributions – supporting beliefs grounded in the ancient hunter-gatherer realm condemned by “civilized” religions as pagan and ultimately reduced to ashes, some tied to a wooden stake surrounded by dry, brittle fagots.

Robed Inquisition monsters called it progress. Today it’s a hot mess.

Men, Mastodons and Maybe Sled Burials

Perhaps the best-kept secret in the world of late-Pleistocene archaeology today is the work of independent researcher Dr. Richard Michael Gramly of North Andover, a 75-year-old Harvard Ph.D. hopelessly mired in old ways learned from masters of their field during the late Sixties and Seventies.

What “Mike” Gramly does best is excavate and interpret sites. More importantly, he then promptly publishes his findings in the public domain. He identifies all of the above as lost arts in the field to which he has dedicated his life’s work.

With Gramly, there are no secrets, no dark-shadow whispers. He believes he was placed on this planet and educated by some of the best to make and share discoveries. That’s what separates him from the cultural-resource managers he criticizes for their secretive postures. Gramly does not share their fear that published work will pinpoint important sites and promote “looting” by collectors who hawk their goods in an active marketplace dominated by three-day-weekend shows and eBay.

Take a look someday at the Native American artifacts for sale in cyberspace. Many of Gramly’s scholarly friends routinely peruse these offerings and are upset to find well-known stone tools and weapons culled from important, deaccessioned museum collections for sale to the highest bidder.

But that’s a discussion for another day, one that has absolutely nothing to do with Gramly’s current passion. These days, he’s focused on North American human interactions with ancient proboscideans (mastodons and mammoths), a topic that’s captured worldwide attention from scholars probing the peopling of our planet.

What Gramly has uncovered right here in the Northeast and Great Lakes country is astounding, yet hidden in plain sight and unrecognized. He has put the hands of Clovis hunters all over curated remains of extinct mastodons believed to have died of “natural” causes. Experts have for decades believed that these early elephants died by getting trapped in mucky graves while seeking water during the Ice Age melt some 13,000 calendar years ago.

 

A Familiar Crew

Gramly’s current fascination began in 2014, when he caught wind of an auction that stirred his inquisitive juices. After a Middletown, New York farmer had exposed skeletal mastodon remains while digging a bog with a backhoe on his property, the in situ excavation rights were placed on the auction block. The resourceful Gramly decided to go for it, reaching out to a couple of friends who ponied up just under $25,000 for the winning bid. With it, they secured for Gramly exclusive rights to a site now known in archaeological circles as Bowser Road.

A few months later, in the fall of 2014, Gramly and a familiar crew, comprised mostly of members from the American Society for Amateur Archaeology he founded some 30 years ago, were on-site recovering the remarkably preserved bones of a 13,000-year-old beast.

It takes not only field experience but an open and creative mind as well to manage and accurately interpret what is unearthed at such a site. Gramly meets all the standards with aplomb. Plus, when he forms a new hypothesis that he knows traditional, knee-jerk professionals will challenge, he only grows more determined to prove his point.

The reason Paleolithic researchers have found it difficult to associate ancient proboscidean graveyards with human predation is that stone artifacts are rarely found at the sites. and even when a random stone tool or weapon does come to light, they cannot rule out the possibility that it’s an unrelated, coincidental drop. Thus, human hunting has been routinely doubted.

Gramly was never sure about such conclusions. Was it not a fool’s errand to attribute bone fields containing the remains of many mastodons to the stupidity of ancient beasts that needed water getting stuck in the mud while seeking it? For real? An intelligent animal that needed great volumes of water to survive, dying in the mud? Huh? It made little sense to Gramly.

Furthermore, Gramly couldn’t comprehend the narrow-minded view that absence of stone artifacts precluded human involvement. Did not ancient man also create bone, antler, and ivory tools, which appear in the archaeological record, and also wooden tools that do not? To Gramly, the mired-in-the-mud verdict bordered on preposterous. Old World hunters for millennia killed proboscideans with primitive tools. So, why would New World hunters be any different. After all, did they not come from the same bolt of cloth?

 

Reopening Cabinets

During the Bowser Road dig, Gramly’s curiosity was stirred by clustered broken rib bones to which he at first paid little attention. Bones lying in a marsh for 13,000 years do, after all, decompose and break over time. But then it occurred to him that there seemed to be too many, and none were intact. Upon closer inspection, he could see evidence that the rib bones had been worked, indicating to him that they were artifacts crafted by human hands. He then put on his thinking cap and came up with a theory related to hunter-gatherers paying ceremonial homage to their fallen prey.

Gramly was soon convinced that what he was dealing with were spear-throwers (atlatls) fashioned by Clovis hunters and ritually broken into many pieces during the butchering process. Old weapons were being had sacrificed in respect to the fallen beast whose fresh ribs could be fashioned into new replacements.

Then Gramly started finding evidence of larger bones that had been used for tool handles and shafts, and who knew what else? He was convinced that these bone artifacts explained the absence of stone tools in mastodon bone fields. How so? Because Clovis hunters were using other suitable or even superior materials from which to craft important tools, weapons, and other useful objects.

To support his argument, Gramly knew he must examine existing evidence in mastodon collections long ago recovered, unrecognized and curated in North American museums. He knew of more than 20 repositories nationwide, and suspected he’d discover other previously unidentified rib-bone atlatl relics among the collections.

His first stop was the Museum of Science in Buffalo, New York, which housed an extensive mastodon collection from the iconic Hiscock Site located along the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Having been a curator there in the 1980s, he knew both the collection and the site, where he had hands-on digging experience in a drained pond basin.

It didn’t take long for Gramly to strike gold in Buffalo, where he spent nearly a month examining a the vast, out-of-sight, out-of-mind collection stored in protective metal Lane cabinets. He was not surprised to find identical broken rib-bone atlatls, not to mention other interesting discoveries, including antler Y-sticks with effigy carvings, bone tools and objects, tooth ornaments and even a tooth tool, along with tusk ivory and, yes, human remains of two individuals that have to this day not been radiocarbon-dated.

Also in the mix, all within spitting distance of human remains, were the skeletal remains of a dog. Wow! Could it have been the grave of a Clovis hunter – maybe even a shaman killed on the hunt?

Gramly first thought the Y-sticks were the remains of a shaman’s headdress. Now he’s leaning more toward the top and bottom ends of a ceremonial staff. Yes, perhaps that of a shaman, but not necessarily so, and very difficult to positively decipher.

Another key discovery involved the ivory components of the Hiscock collection: some large, some medium, some small; some intact, others fragmentary. After examining several examples in the same couple of drawers, Gramly concluded that they had been collected from the same adjacent features. Then, on top of the cabinet, he discovered the largest example of them all, an ivory tusk too long to fit in a drawer.

This long object immediately captured his attention. He could see it had been worked, somehow cut in half lengthwise, a challenging task indeed with primitive Clovis cutting tools. Although another researcher had already loosely identified the object as some sort of digging tool, the more Gramly studied it, the more it screamed “sled runner” to him. Could he be dealing with a previously undetected Clovis sled burial, complete with a sacrificed sled dog to transport the corpse’s soul on a complicated journey through the Underworld to the Milky Way?

If so, it would be the world’s earliest sled burial on record, and perhaps the earliest evidence ever found of domesticated dogs being used as beast of burden. Not even in the Old World has such a burial dating back to Paleoindians been uncovered.

Then, among the bone assemblage Gramly found what he suspected to be crossbeams and other components of an ancient sled, again a cutting-edge discovery, one that he is now even more certain is accurate.

 

Around the World

The story gets better. This past autumn a friend of Gramly’s from Kentucky was visiting the Blue Licks Battlefield Museum only to find a mastodon tusk collected from the Ohio River-side site in 1897. Upon closer inspection he could see that, like the Hiscock ivory he had seen in photos, it had been cut in half lengthwise to create a flat surface – very likely another tusk sled runner, maybe associated with a Clovis burial.

Given the extreme difficulty and danger involved in bringing down large, powerful mastodons with primitive weapons, human mortality would have been no stranger to such Clovis kill sites.

Gramly traveled to the Kentucky museum and confirmed that, indeed, the Blue Licks specimen is another ivory sled runner crafted from mastodon tusk. Now that researchers know what to look for, future sled runners will almost certainly be discovered, perhaps even by Gramly reviewing additional curated mastodon remains.

Plus, there’s another important hat in the ring. Gramly long ago pulled in respected world-religion guru James B. Harrod, who jumped into the project when Gramly was examining the Hiscock collection. Never can there be enough trained eyes examining such collections, and the venerable Harrod did indeed identify portable stone rock art and make other valuable observations about materials in the Hiscock collection.

In the meantime, Harrod has also documented seven Old World sled burials from Siberia and East Asia and three others from the New World, all from the (current) Holocene epoch. The North American examples come from indigenous Inuit and Algonquian cultures in Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the upper Great Lakes.

Ancient customs and spiritual practices die hard. So, if people were burying hunters with their sleds and sled dogs 3,000 to 7,000 years ago, isn’t there reason to believe that the mortuary practice may have been carried down from a much earlier day? Anthropologists agree that a worldwide population of the world’s earliest hunter-gatherers shared remarkably similar cosmos that differ little from those of rare, indigenous jungle cultures that survive today in the threatened Amazonian rain forest and places like it.

Gramly put the world on notice about his exciting new paradigm last year by publishing Late Pleistocene proboscidean ivory artifacts from the Hiscock Site, N.Y., in the prestigious French journal L’Anthropologie. Wait until his new book expanding upon his hypothesis hits the street in the coming months. Yes, Gramly and Harrod are now finishing a work about North American human interaction with proboscideans that promises to rock to anthropological world. As the climate warms and the Arctic permafrost melts, this new book will open the gates for exciting new research.

Dr. Richard Michael Gramly should be proud of what has transpired since the Bowser Road auction, because this is now his baby. A confident archaeologist and unapologetic iconoclast, he has never feared swimming against the current and never will. In fact, he welcomes the challenge.

Bloody Brook’s Old Wright Place is Long Gone

I was on the road around 7:30 a.m. for an hour’s drive up Interstate 91 to Claremont, New Hampshire, a Connecticut River mill town south of Cornish and Windsor, Vermont – Mount Ascutney looming large on the northwestern horizon.

There I would for the first time meet Avis Dodge Rogers, a dignified 92-year-old bundle of historical curiosity and youthful South Deerfield memories, and maybe even a glint of girlish mischief in her light-blue Yankee eyes.

I know them, the eyes of my late father.

A wife, mother, and librarian who dabbled in local history and genealogy in her spare time, Ms. Rogers was born in 1929 to Charles Mason and Dora May (Clark) Dodge. Hers was a youth of cows and horses in the barn, chickens in the coop, and jumping up and down on the hay-wagon to compress loads for transit at her family’s 50-acre farm on the corner of North Main Street and Jackson Road, formerly the road to Whitmore’s Ferry.

When her grandfather lived there during the first half of the 20th century, the farm encompassed about 130 acres split by North Hillside Road, with 80 wooded acres extending all the way to Clapp’s Pond on the upland east side.

I know the acreage on both sides of the road. I often hunted there and knew Ms. Rogers’ father, Charlie Dodge, a well-known South Deerfield character and Oliver Smith Will elector who died in 1980. He was slightly younger than my grandfather, and I can’t imagine they didn’t know each other in passing. It was a small town in their day, and part of mine.

Ms. Rogers graduated Deerfield High School in 1947 and stuck around for a couple of years before marrying Albert H. Rogers, a friend of Deerfield veterinarian Charles Belford, and moving to Claremont, where he and a partner purchased Claremont Paper Mill. The couple remained there long enough to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in 2019, two months before Mr. Rogers’ December death. He had been retired for 25 years, having sold his factory to Ashuelot Paper Company in 1994.

Avis weathered the loss and is still going strong, her memory, mobility, and communication skills remarkable.

I learned of Ms. Rogers last summer from a friend who bought her South Deerfield property about 20 years ago. He provided her phone number and encouraged me to contact her, promising I’d tap into a wealth of South Deerfield knowledge. I called promptly and have been picking her brain ever since, trying my best not to be a pest.

Always engaging and enthusiastic during our discussions, she had on many occasions encouraged me to visit. So, with winter fading into joyous spring – notwithstanding three inches of inconvenient snow that had fallen the previous day – the time was finally right.

I arrived at Ms. Rogers’ secluded, tidy ranch on a peaceful hill before 9 a.m. The gracious hostess was neatly yet comfortably dressed and ready to share information, with photos and records stacked on her dining-room table for the visit.

Tracing the Links

For me, the most pressing topic was the 18th-century gambrel-roofed dwelling that came with the farm bought by her family long ago. Not sure who bought it or precisely when, she knew it was either her grandfather or great-grandfather around the dawning of the 20th century.

The circa-1780 homestead that stood there at the time was identified by George Sheldon, author of the History of Deerfield (1895), as “the old Wright place.” By the time the Dodges bought it, the building was getting old and worn. “I don’t think people painted their homes as often back then,” she explained.

Ms. Rogers believes that in about 1905 her grandfather, Edward Mason Dodge, was faced with the decision of either replacing or repairing the deteriorating building and chose the latter. Why not? He was a carpenter, and likely had a hand in disassembling the old structure and building a new home that’s still standing there.

My primary interest was in the 18th-century building that was removed, a dwelling that would, if extant, be one of South Deerfield’s oldest. In fact, it was probably one of the first dozen or so homes built in Bloody Brook village.

My curiosity had been piqued over the winter after examining two circa-1900 photos of the old building – one from the Pioneer Valley Memorial Association’s Howes Brothers collection and another a lithographic, pre-1909 postcard. My interest only intensified after learning that the farmstead’s first occupant had been the Joseph Wright family, literally giving me skin in the game.

Although I knew that cooper Joseph Wright and his daughter Miriam Wright Arms were great-grandparents of mine, I knew little else about them, and had no idea where they lived. I knew much more about my Asahel Wright line through Deerfield’s Wapping village. More than likely, the two men were from the same bolt of early Springfield cloth.

There is good reason for my lack of knowledge about Joseph Wright, considered by Sheldon as a “late comer” to town. The Deerfield historian tells us he had resided in Ware and Hadley before arriving in Bloody Brook around 1779, the patriarch then nearing 60. It doesn’t help that Sheldon chose to introduce the “old Wright place” not in his Joseph Wright profile, but rather in that of a Baldwin family I had no previous impetus to examine. But Avis Dodge led me to the Baldwins, and they led me to Sheldon’s mention of the Wright place, which I was able to pinpoint.

Chasing the Goose

I then had ample reason to probe deeper into the Wrights and their farm, and was soon snagged in vexing complications created by what would turn out to be a misidentification on the aforementioned color postcard depicting an historic South Deerfield house. Chalk it up as a classic example illustrating how a published mistake can wreak havoc on a research mission.

This one set me off on a wild goose chase that was difficult to resolve. I found the vertical postcard of the antique, gambrel-roofed structure on eBay. Identified across the bottom left as the “Old Bartlett House in South Deerfield,” it sure looked like the same building my friend Peter Thomas had shown me on the black-and-white Howes Brothers photo with an elderly woman standing in front. Both photos showed the same front and side doors, same center chimney, same front and gable-side windows, and even what appeared to be the same mature trees standing between the home and the street.

Thomas was of the opinion, but not certain, that the photos depicted the same building – specifically the one removed by the Dodge family at the corner of North Main Street and Jackson Road.

I was immediately interested in the Howes Brothers photo for two reasons. First, maybe someone could identify the elderly woman standing in front. Second, the structure closely resembled a distinctive Deerfield homestead known in National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) records as the Locke/Fuller House at The Bars, now the home of octogenarian widow Mary Arms Marsh. The NRHP profile describes that home’s architectural style as unique among Deerfield structures. Although that may well have been the case when it was accepted as a Register building, it would not have been so before the old Dodge place, just three miles south, was demolished.

Despite having different chimneys – central in South Deerfield, dual at The Bars – the two contemporaneous buildings otherwise displayed remarkably similar, gambrel-roofed architecture styles, suggesting that master builder Jonas Locke, owner of The Bars place, could well have had a hand in both. Locke built his home around 1790 and would have known – and possibly even worked with – Joseph Wright’s oldest son Westwood Cook Wright, a joiner who was hired in 1787 to build a new Old Deerfield schoolhouse where Hall Tavern now stands.

Most confusing about the postcard showing what appeared to be the same decaying building as the Howes Brothers photo was seeing the Bartlett name attached. The 1858 Walling and 1971 Beers maps of South Deerfield both show “F. Bartlett” residing on the east side of North Main Street, about a quarter-mile south of the Wright-Baldwin-Dodge place.

Though my deed research has produced no evidence that the property on the corner of Jackson Road ever belonged to a Bartlett, there was a caveat: Avis Dodge Roger’s great-grandfather and great-uncle, Hawley brothers Mason and Alonzo Dodge, moved to South Deerfield in the mid-19th century and married Franklin Bartlett’s daughters.

Nonetheless, when shown the Howes photo, Ms. Rogers could not identify the elderly standing woman. She was certain the woman was not from her Jackson Road gene pool.

Hmmmm?

Perhaps the mystery could be solved in probate records, because by that point, I had still been unable to document a Dodge purchase of the Jackson Road property. My wheels were spinning. Could there have been two nearly identical homes – one belonging to a Bartlett, the other to a Baldwin – in the same North Main Street neighborhood? Was there a hidden Dodge-Baldwin connection that would appear in probate? Though if so, wouldn’t Ms. Rogers know of it?

One and the Same

Perplexed, I fired off a detailed email explaining my dilemma to Thomas, a sophisticated researcher and friend with whom I often share such snags. Maybe he would offer helpful suggestions.

Well, not quite – but he did take a short trip in cyberspace that ultimately solved my mystery. Using Google Street View, he went to the Dodge place now owned by Robert Decker, viewed it from the same perspective as the postcard, and noticed an identical barn in the background. Bingo! Same site, different homestead.

To illustrate the point, he took a screen shot and emailed it to me overnight while I slept. There to greet me in my inbox early the next morning, I realized that my first impression had been correct: the postcard depicted the old Wright-Baldwin-Dodge place.

In dim morning light, I reached for a notepad within reach on my desk. I remembered jotting down notes for future reference on a list of Franklin County Registry of Deeds plans. Noted was a 1968 plan mapping a couple of Dodge building lots to be sold on Jackson Road; on the face was a list of deeds I hadn’t cross-referenced with others I had reviewed.

The first one of these I opened documented a 1901 transfer of the Baldwin property to Edward Mason Dodge, through court-appointed estate administrator Pharcellus Bridges.

The transaction occurred about two years after the death of Joseph A. Baldwin, and two years before the death of his elderly widow and sole survivor, Mary Porter Baldwin.

Joseph A. was the third-generation Baldwin to own the farm. His grandfather John Baldwin was the first, buying the property and moving to Bloody Brook village from Connecticut in 1804. John’s son and Joseph’s father, Augustus Baldwin, was next, followed by Joseph, whose son James G. Baldwin lived next door and likely helped with the farm.

That elderly standing woman displayed in the Howes Brothers photo was widow Mary. Likely starting to fail in old age, the administration of her estate had been transferred to Bridges. She died in 1903 at 81.

So, there you have it – a splendid outcome to a chaotic, helter-skelter chase. Not only had I unraveled an annoying historical rats’ nest tangled in an unfortunate published transcription error but, in the process, I had uncovered a direct genealogical link to the place.

It had been the home of Joseph Wright, whose daughter Miriam in 1779 married my fourth great-grandfather, Eliphaz Arms. That couple had nine children, and lived on the same Bloody Brook Corner lot my widowed, 92-year-old mother calls home to this day.

Yes, a small world, that that of old Bloody Brook village.

Family Matter in Montagnais-Naskapi Land

My overstuffed December woodshed has been hollowed out by now, leaving a tall, thin reminder along the back edges that the happy sound of spring birdsong is near.

“Don’t let the frigid mornings fool you,” I have many times told myself in recent days, looking up at what’s left. “It’ll soon be over.”

That’s obvious, with daylight lengthening and the sun creeping higher in the southern sky. Before long the backyard brook will roar to the accompaniment of lusty daybreak gobbles from the nearby ridge as eager shad migrate up valley to their June spawning beds.

Keeping a good fire is a primitive skill. I pride myself in being a good firekeeper, tending the soapstone woodstove around the clock during the cold months. To me, there’s none better than wood heat. Nonetheless, I can’t say I don’t look forward to the last flame reduced to cold, powdery, dead ash.

Likewise, I can’t lie. No, I don’t eagerly await the sound of the fall dump truck dropping next year’s fuel supply in front of the woodshed door. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s good exercise for a battered old man trying to remain relevant. But still, it’s an annual chore that only masochists welcome. Why? Because it’s hard friggin work, no matter how you view it.

Plus, one must be cautious. Working a woodpile has been the final act for many an unfortunate man trying to do his part, and that includes a few personal friends.

But why fret it? I can think of many worse endings, some of which I have witnessed. There are worse ways to meet one’s maker than by experiencing a sudden onset of weakness or dizziness, a peculiar twinge in the chest, shortness of breath and a sweaty face-first swoon to the next kingdom. We should all be so fortunate. My sons weren’t. They died in hospitals – no place I want to exhale my final breath.

Sorry. Didn’t intentionally drift off to that place. Sometimes it just happens.

What’s nicest to me about spring’s approach is increasingly longer days and earlier daybreaks. Now that I’m retired, I rise daily to the first grey twinkle of morning light. Such early starts provide several uninterrupted hours of blissful silence. I can read, write, research or fire off emails seeking answers to vexing mysteries of the moment. It seems I’m always chasing for answers to something. It’s just another form of hunting and gathering – another primal chore, like fire-keeping, for which I’m wired.

A man on such a mission can accomplish a lot before the midday distractions of television, phone calls, and surprise visits, even those that are welcomed, not to mention unforeseen household problems that demand immediate attention. I savor early-morning stillness, in my world better than that of late night, when I may be tired but can usually rally for engrossing topics.

In recent days, my reading has taken me on an adventure to the north coast of Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway. I was taken there by iconic, early-20th-century American anthropologist and University of Pennsylvania academic Frank Gouldsmith Speck (1881-1950). An expert in Eastern Algonquian and Iroquoian culture in northeastern North America, Speck preferred to study native people who were still practicing their old ways when governments and missionaries were committed to expunging them. The chic term activists today use for that cultural cleansing is “erasure.”

By reading Speck classics like Penobscot Man or Naskapi, about Eastern Algonquian people of the Northwoods, we get a glimpse into the lifeways of the indigenous Connecticut Valley people here before they were driven north and west by 17th– and early 18th-century colonizers lusting for their best land and forcing heartless diaspora upon them.

Even after native people here were forced onto reservations or fled to the hinterlands, the goal of their foreign oppressors was to erase their culture, religion, and language, a task instituted and enforced by uniformed officials of church and state.

By exploring the old ways by which Eastern Algonquians of the Northland were still living when he observed them, anthropologist Speck opens a window into the way of life of the indigenous people who lived here long ago.

Many years ago, I bought and read Penobscot Man: The Life History of a Forest Tribe in Maine (1940), and I still often pull it from my library as a fact-checking reference. The book focuses on Maine’s Eastern Abenaki Penobscot people, coastal cousins of the Western Abenaki of northern New Hampshire and Vermont, and also related by marriage and Eastern Algonquian custom to central Massachusetts’ Nipmucks and the native people from our neck of the woods referred to as the “Pocumtuck Confederation” by Deerfield historian George Sheldon.

My latest Speck read, Naskapi: The Savage Hunters of the Labrador Peninsula (1935), came to me by way of the University of Oklahoma Press’ annual Christmas sale. Because Naskapi were Eastern Algonquian, their cosmos was closely related to that of genetically and linguistically related people from our lower Connecticut Valley. We’re talking about shared customs like ceremonial hunting, butchering, and feasting of bears, fishing for and preparing salmon, trout and sturgeon, and even their nomadic seasonal hunter/gatherer travels and villages.

A peculiar new paradigm shift wants to designate as Abenaki the indigenous people native to this place. The Confederation that Sheldon described was comprised of Pocumtuck, Norwottuck, Waranoke, Agawam, and maybe even Nipmuck people, with longstanding marriage ties to the Abenaki and Pennacook to their north as well as the Mohicans who lived west to the Hudson River.

Not until very recent years has anyone tried to designate them as Abenaki. In fact, experts like Eastern Algonquian linguist extraordinaire Ives Goddard hold that based on language, they represented distinctive groups whose dialects would have bordered on unintelligible.

The current confusion may originate with a band of Abenakis known as Sokoki, who showed up to populate the area of present-day Vernon, Vermont and Northfield before 1640. They are believed by most experts to have come here from southern Maine to flee European plagues brought by sailing ships, though others hypothesize that the Sokoki were from the Wabenaki north.

Is this recent shift being used to buttress a thus-far-unsuccessful effort by Wabenakis from Champlain Country to gain federal recognition as a “tribe,” by linking Abenakis to Historic Deerfield? It’s a hot and divisive topic.

Nevertheless, the Native people who lived here and their cousins from the distant north may have eaten different diets, worn slightly different skins and furs, and built different dwellings dictated by climate, but at their spiritual and ritualistic core they were similar, and thus worthy of comparison.

Something else that caught my attention appeared in a bibliographic Speck footnote naming Life and Sport on the North Shore by Canadian naturalist N.A. Comeau as a source of information about Naskapi custom. Published in 1909 and reprinted in 1923 and 1954, the book is still in print.

What interested me most was the author’s surname Comeau, my maternal grandmother’s Acadian French family from Nova Scotia. When cursory online investigation found a direct link, as I suspected it would, I had skin in the game, always an added enticement.

My grandmother Adele Marie Comeau, was born and raised in Comeauville/Clare County/St. Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Her people were fishermen, mariners, merchant marines, farmers, seamstresses, actors and who knows what else. She and the author were indeed from the same Bay of Fundy roots and neighborhood.

I’m confident that, had I discovered author N.A. Comeau before my grandmother died many years ago, she probably would have recognized him as kin. She was still a young girl living in Comeauville, N.S., when Life and Sport on the North Shore was published.

Napoléon-Alexandre Comeau (1848-1923) was the son of a Hudson Bay Company employee. As a result, he grew familiar with Native villages and customs, eventually living with native hunters in hunting and fishing camps. He was also fluent in five languages, three of them Native languages of the Northland, including Montagnais-Naskapi. French was his native tongue, and he learned English as a teen sent by his father to a school in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. His Comeauville grandfather had moved his family across to the Bay of Fundy’s western shore in Trois-Rivières during the final quarter of the 18th century.

The author Comeau bore witness to and participated in hunting and fishing customs that few white men capable of coherently writing about it have experienced. He knew the ins and out of setting ingenious snares and dead falls to capture furbearers as well as the trapping, spearing, cleaning, preparing and storing fish reserves.

What he wrote more than 100 years ago is still an important window into Naskapi culture, which, when reduced to the lowest denominator, is not much different than that of the Connecticut Valley’s Pocumtucks.

So, there you have it – another day, another log on the fire, another winter reading adventure – all to the faint trickle of sugarbush sap-lines dripping toward another glorious budding of spring.

It never gets old.

Photo Stirs South Deerfield Memories

We’ve all heard the old adage proclaiming a picture’s worth 1,000 words – in some cases, an understatement, like, for instance, the example I’m about to share.

A quick glance at an online postcard depicting a streetscape with old jalopies in mid-1950s downtown South Deerfield was all it took to unleash in me a flood of fond childhood memories. The black-and-white image appeared on one of my daily spins through eBay. It showed a brand spanking new Professional Pharmacy standing on the corner of North Main and Elm. Built in 1952 by downtown landlord Paul Georgiole, it was a low-budget replacement for the stately Bloody Brook Inn, destroyed by an overnight fire on March 14, 1951.

The sight of that intimately familiar building and the bulbous old cars harkening back to my mother’s green 1953 Chevy sedan really stirred my imaginative juices, sweeping me back to a childhood of bicycles, skates and skis, snow forts, mountain hideouts, nickel packs of Topps baseball cards, and double-scoop ice cream cones for a dime. We enjoyed a brand of smalltown freedom that’s unfortunately unavailable to children today. Sad but true. I’m thankful to have been there to experience it before parental paranoia clenched its stifling grip on foot-free childhood freedom.

The photo postcard was shot from the mouth of South Main Street across the downtown four-corners, looking north toward Conway Road on the left. The corner pharmacy luncheonette door is open for business. Route 116 was soon to be rerouted around the outskirts of town as Routes 5 & 10 had been five or six years earlier.

Back then, the main highway from Amherst to Conway still went right through the center of town, passing the east side of the common to a right-angle turn past the Grammar School and over the railroad bridge spanning Bloody Brook. That bridge has been closed for some 50 years, the school demolished about 30 years ago.

For some reason, the internal image that first came to mind looking at that streetscape was a fun-loving downtown character named Mike Rura standing at the corner politicking as a 1960 candidate for State Representative. I will never forget the summer day my father decided to have some fun with Rura, a teammate from the Greenfield Lions semi-pro football team. Our Chevy station wagon’s windows were rolled down as we approached the four-corners stop sign from the north. When my dad spotted the candidate working the sidewalk, shaking hands and passing out political pamphlets and bumper stickers to passersby, he deepened his voice and yelled a hearty “Boorah for Rura.”

My brother and I thought it a hoot, and of course the catchy phrase was immediately imprinted. Rura just looked up, immediately recognized the source, flashed a warm smile and waved with a mittful of political paraphernalia. Little did he know that he had acquired new young fans from whom he could expect to be needled with that playful Bronx cheer for the rest of his downtown campaign. From that point forward, every time we caught him politicking downtown, we’d give him an enthusiastic “Boorah for Rura,” which he took in stride.

Only 7 at the time, I had not yet gained untethered freedom to ride my bike around town, but my friends, brother, and I had pedaled through downtown often enough to have pasted Rura bumper stickers on our bikes. We’d speed noisily past Rura, baseball cards of hated New York Yankees like Micky Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson and Elston Howard clothes-pinned through our spokes for a motor-like sound effect, and holler “Boorah for Rura.” The faster we pumped, the louder the sound from our spokes.

Rura lost the election but remained part of the downtown fabric for more than two decades, by which time we all had driver’s licenses and free-run downtown spirit. As a good friend of devilish pharmacist Billy Rotkiewicz, who ended up across the street at his own Frontier Pharmacy, Rura often found his way to that establishment’s small, hidden room behind the drugstore counter and shelves watching a ballgame or preparing for a Saturday dump run in the pharmacy’s old truck secreted out back.

Rura’s final act in town turned out to be an act of open defiance of a selectmen’s order to clean up his North Main Street property out past the Dry Bridge. Most but not all found it comical. But let’s return to that later, after I’m done discussing boyhood memories stirred by that postcard, Rura’s campaign only the first of many.

Brought to light in that photo were the old downtown homes nestled between Conway Road and the corner of Elm. I remember two homes there, both torn down to make room for the South Deerfield branch of Greenfield Savings Bank. One was the old Leary place, snuggled up to the pharmacy building parking lot north of the attached Suzatek’s Market, then the larger Artemas Williams place on the corner of Conway Road.

Was there in my lifetime a third dwelling standing there, as shown on 1858 Walling and 1871 Beers maps? It doesn’t seem so. Not in my recollection, anyway. But I wouldn’t rule it out. Such insignificant details wouldn’t have been important to a wayward smalltown boy following the Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn tradition.

The eBay postcard photo background isn’t clear, even when enlarged, but it sure does appear to squeeze in three buildings with their gabled ends facing the road. Maybe not. I’d have to see a contemporaneous photo from across the street. That would solve the vexing mystery, which must for now remain unsolved. Does it really matter?

The postcard unveils my hometown embarking upon a new era, one leading faraway travelers around downtown instead of through the heart. As a result, bustling hotels like the Bloody Brook Inn that burned in 1951 and the Lathrop Hotel, which met the same fate in 1875, could no longer cash in at the downtown intersection of southern Franklin County’s two busiest highways.

Perhaps that’s why Georgiole didn’t construct another large hotel at a profitable site, dating back at least to an old-time tavern known as the “Russell Place” in the 1830s. The site became even more lucrative for innkeeping after the railroad came through town in 1846, igniting the glory years of downtown South Deerfield. By the 1950s, it was time to reinvent the downtown business district under a more local paradigm that was mined for gold by Rotkiewicz for decades.

Which brings us back to Mike Rura’s much-publicized spat with the Town of Deerfield. The bone of contention was his family home and unkempt yard at the north end of North Main. I think it all started when selectmen ordered him to “spruce up” his property around the time of the 1973 Tricentennial Celebration.

Feeling unjustly targeted and singled out, Rura responded with open defiance by inviting friends and neighbors to dispose of their Christmas trees on his property. As the blue-spruce mess piled deeper and the selectmen grew angrier, the dispute found its way into the newspapers, and Rura became even more stubborn. It was his property, he argued, and he’d do with it as he pleased. Then he claimed to be creating a wildlife refuge in the spirit of conservation.

The dispute remained active and unresolved for years, turning uglier as it endured. Eventually, perhaps to the selectmen’s delight, the house went up in flames during the wee hours, burning beyond repair. If I can trust my memory, in the days before homelessness became common Rura met his accelerated end as a Deerfield resident living out of his car.

Today, the old Rura lot stands vacant, and few who pass it on their daily rounds likely know the story, or even that a home stood there not that long ago. I think the town ultimately seized the property and removed what was left of the buildings.

So, in the end, affable old Mike Rura of large and eccentric stature didn’t fare any better in his high-profile dispute with the town than he had in his lone political foray. Simply stated, he lost both battles – now just water over the dam, the memories washed to a distant sea. Not yet totally forgotten, I thought I’d briefly resurrect the man who absorbed our childhood “Boorah for Rura” chants with warm aplomb and a friendly smile in the hell-raising town that buried him.

 

Whitmore’s Pond Poachers

With daybreak near, the tall clock will soon strike six in accompaniment to freezing rain drumming on the kitchen roof. I just returned from there with a cup of black, unsweetened coffee in hand, now steaming on a desktop coaster to my left.

To me, early morning is the best time for introspection and creative thought, the perfect setting from which to set the imaginative wheels awhirl, be it on a secluded forest stand or at the desk where I now sit.

I awoke not long ago from a whimsical little dream, about which I remember little, except that it was me and a boyhood pal we called Count fishing a posted North Sunderland trout pond called Whitmore’s before the spring-morning fog had lifted. About all I can recall is him struggling in thick gray light to tie a blood-knot and asking me for help. I completed the chore for my appreciative friend and I opened my eyes for the new day, wishing I could ride it out a little longer. No such luck. Too late. The dream was over.

As daring teens, the Count and I infrequently snuck into that forbidden pond along the Connecticut River in the extreme northwest corner of Sunderland. Our goal was to be on the water’s edge before the birds sang, and home with a few big, beautiful, tasty Eastern brook trout before our South Deerfield neighbors had risen for breakfast.

Passersby know Whitmore’s Pond by its picturesque waterfall, which slips through a slim ledge gap and tumbles some 15 feet before underflowing Falls Road into the Connecticut below the old Whitmore Tavern. Long ago drained, this tidy impoundment had an east-west orientation with a swampy neck at the rear, curling south toward the feeder stream. We liked to fish at the point protruding from the inner elbow, casting into an open, C-shaped spring hole bordered by cattails on three sides. The cold-water outflow surging to the surface and attracting trout was only about 15 yards from shore, easily within range of our soft, snappy roll-casts.

Though it was not the type of sparkling water where you’d expect to find trout, we learned they were there to feed by hearing, then seeing, them rise for aquatic insects. When we first gave it a try with the treble-hooked Thomas buoyant lures that worked well on open water, they got snagged in submerged vegetation on every retrieve, telegraphing our presence. We thus opted for plan two – dry-fly fishing with the Count’s late father’s fly rods and flies – the flies contained and organized in fancy silver-colored boxes taken from his fishing vest hanging in the garage.

Like catching fish from a 10-foot-diameter barrel, its wide mouth inviting us in, we recognized this as an ideal training ground for a couple of veteran spincasters seeking to improve their fly-fishing skills. It worked to perfection.

Count was proud to say that his dad swore by the tiniest midges in his flybox for such endeavors, advice we found helpful despite simultaneously discovering that old standards like White Wulffs, Royal Coachmen, and Light Cahills and Hendricksons worked as well. We’d focus on the insects coming off the water and try to find flies duplicating their size and color in a process known as “matching the hatch,” which brings rewards.

To keep the delicate dry flies afloat we’d dress them in silicon, or whatever that floatation salve in his dad’s vest was, and we’d catch beautiful trout hand over fist. In the process, we perfected our casting, presentation and hook-setting skills, all of which were transferable to the stream fishing we both preferred.

It was great fun for impish teens willing to roll the dice on posted waters, and capable of daring escape when caught in the act.

Not long after we stopped fishing the place due to fear of the consequences, the dam broke, and now the pond has been drained for decades. I can’t say what the basin looks like today because I haven’t viewed it. Most likely all that remains is a thin spring-stream, slicing through a grassy basin-turned-meadow toward the waterfall.

I’m sure the impetus for my dream was a recent round of deed research that brought me back to Whitmore’s Pond and its early 18th-century beginnings. But there was also a symbolic aging theme involved, harkening back to the good old days of youth, when I walked without a limp, ran fast, hit the ball hard and could, using the thinnest tippets, tie all the difficult fishermen’s knots in the dimmest light without the aid of glasses.

Even though I long ago accepted that those days are far in my rearview, it does no harm to reminisce. No need for envy or a sense of depressing loss. Joie de vivre doesn’t end with youth.

As a teenaged Whitmore’s poacher on high alert for neighborhood enforcers, I knew nothing of its history as a millpond, or the place’s history as a mill village with a busy ferry between Deerfield and Sunderland. I only knew that the pond held some of the nicest “squaretails” in the valley. The bold, black posters only added to the allure for boys who had grown up reading about rascals like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Plus, the squaretails were worth the risk, comparable in every way to those chased far and wide by gentlemen of high status and haughty sporting tastes. Can it get any better and tastier than Eastern brookies and ruffed grouse? Not in my world.

What I have learned in adulthood is that the North Sunderland neighborhood surrounding the pond had acquired its own placename by 1800. On the North Sunderland site stood a cluster of fancy dwellings, a busy river tavern and associated ferry, and industry as well, with Slatestone or Mill Brook over time supporting two gristmills, a sawmill, and a fulling mill.

The first sawmill there was “erected (by Manoah Bodman, Daniel Russell and Nathaniel Gunn) and in operation in 1726,” according to John Montague Smith’s History of Sunderland, which credits brothers Joseph and Jonathan Field for building the first gristmill 12 years later.

John Oaks came to Sunderland from Petersham before 1750, buying and likely making improvements to the mills before dying in 1767 and leaving his properties to son Jonathan, who retained a one-third interest in the sawmill when he sold it to Elijah Billings of Montague a year later.

Billings moved to Conway, and in 1773 sold it to Daniel Whitmore from Middletown, Connecticut, retaining half-interest in the mills. Whitmore heirs still own the 50-acre parcel and the colonial dwelling, once a tavern, nestled up to the falls along the east side of the road.

The Oaks connection is what led me to my old Sunderland fishing haunt. Researching the mills at what would become “Mill Village at Stebbins Meadow” in Deerfield’s South Meadows, I found the 1770 sale of the mill site by Nathan Oaks of Deerfield to Capt. Jonas Locke of Shutesbury. The purchase price was 150 pounds, more than 10 times what Oaks had paid for it three years earlier. Hmmmm?

I knew of Locke, a millwright and housewright who in about 1790 built the old Fuller Homestead, now occupied by widowed Fuller descendant Mary Marsh. Known today as the Bars Farm, it’s abutted north by Melnik’s Barway Farm.

So, who was this dude, Nathan Oaks?

Well, as it turns out, Nathan was the younger brother of Sunderland miller Jonathan Oaks. Both men were carpenters, perhaps millwrights as well, and both were members of master-builder Locke’s Deerfield carpentry crew that built The Manse, the Joseph Stebbins house, and the church steeple in Deerfield before the Revolution. Short-lived Deerfield residents, the Oaks brothers likely had a hand in a lot of the building that took place in town between 1765 and 1775.

From a distinguished Lexington/Woburn family, Locke built the gristmill at Locke’s Pond (now Lake Wyola) in 1754, and probably contributed to other structures in the surrounding Locke’s Village on the Wendell/Shutesbury line. By 1770, he had been in Deerfield for about six years and was running the gristmill at Stebbins Meadow, likely also tuning up the buildings and apparatuses that provided the burgeoning community with meal and flour for the larder.

Locke’s crowning achievement, around 1790, was building the distinctive, Federal, hip-roofed Bars dwelling he called home, known today on the National Register of Historic Places as the “Locke-Fuller House.”

Who knows? Perhaps Locke the millwright helped old John Oaks and his boys bring their North Sunderland mills up to snuff. Back then – before Roadtown became Shutesbury in 1761, and before Leverett separated from Sunderland in 1774 – Oaks’ Mills would have been short piece from the Roadtown-Sunderland line.

Something else you can take to the bank is the fact that beautiful brook trout were there for the taking from the millpond that became Whitmore’s.

Wendell Lad Rides Rails to Fame & Fortune

I have happened upon another interesting historical character – one who passed through South Deerfield on his way to railroad immortality. His name was Jonas Brown Wilder II (1813-1906).

I discovered Wilder during Greenfield-newspaper research on my Arms family. Searching for information on Dennis Arms, credited as the founder of South Deerfield’s 19th-century pocketbook-manufacturing industry, I saw the byline “J. Wilder” appear atop an 1894 Gazette and Courier guest column titled “Ten Years in the South.”

The dateline read “Bristol, Tenn., and Va.” So, which was it? Was he from Virginia or Tennessee? Come to find out, the state line runs right down Main Street of these “Twin Cities,” with Bristol, Virginia on the east side and Bristol, Tennessee on the west. Though Wilder lived in Virginia, it’s not unlikely that his expansive landholdings crossed into Tennessee.

It was not easy to find J. Wilder’s first name. The search took me on fruitless genealogical journeys through Conway and Sunderland Wilders before finally discovering my man was from Millers River country.

Jonas Brown Wilder II was the youngest of his namesake father and Rebecca Leach’s four children, all sons born in Wendell. His father was a farmer who dabbled in shoemaking and coopering, the son of Nathaniel Wilder, who was born in 1751 in Princeton, grew up in Belchertown and settled as a young adult shoemaker in Ware, according to Wendell, Massachusetts: Settlers and Citizenry, 1752-1900 by Pamela A. Richardson. Before the Revolution, Nathaniel moved to Wendell, where he is buried.

The Jonas Wilder farm was located snuggled up to Shutesbury in the southwest corner of town, according to Jonas II, about a mile north of “Locks Pond” and “Locks Village.” Those two places show up on modern maps as Lake Wyola and Lockes Village. (Regarding the proper spelling of the surname Lock, well, flip a coin. There seems to be no consistency when reading through genealogical records, which use Lock and Locke for the same people, the latter presumably gaining traction in Wendell and Shutesbury in modern days.)

The elusive Jonas Wilder identification came by way of a Gazette and Courier column published some 10 years after the first one I first discovered. Wilder, quite proud of his accomplishments, seems to have been a prolific newspaper contributor. His 1904 column titled “A Typical Yankee Career: Former Wendell Boy Tells his Life History” was penned two years before his death. The long narrative ended with a boldfaced shirttail identifying the author as Jonas Wilder.

At the time of the column, Wilder was living out his final years with a son in Woodstock, Vermont. He hadn’t in fact submitted the piece to the newspaper. He sent it to the Wendell postmaster desperately seeking any information about potential survivors from his old Wendell/Shutesbury neighborhood. Impressed by the letter’s local-history content, the postmaster must have shared it with the Gazette and Courier editor, who in turn published it as a guest column.

So, nearly 120 years later, I had my man – a fascinating local subject worth sharing with readers.

Our Jonas Wilder story begins in South Deerfield, his first stop as a wage earner. The Deerfield village was known as Bloody Brook upon his arrival as a 13-year-old, trees budding and blooming in the spring of 1827. He wouldn’t turn 14 until leaves were wearing their fall colors on October 2.

Bloody Brook was then known for its shoemakers and leather craftsmen, most notable among them Dennis Arms (1790-1854), who enjoyed a shoemaking partnership with older brother Erastus (1785-1930), my third great-grandfather. Because Erastus died young at 45, he is forgotten in history, but not in land records. From what I’ve seen, without exception Erastus is the first named on several joint deeds with Dennis, whose name would have appeared first if they were listed alphabetically.

Wilder chose the well-known and respected Arms shoe shop as the place to refine shoemaking skills he had picked up from his father. He names Dennis Arms as the shop owner, and never mentions the last name of another man working at the shop, which employed 15 journeymen cordwainers.

The shop didn’t offer apprenticeships, per se, but did take in Wilder as a 25-cents-per-day boarder and assigned him an instructor. His job – an early example of assembly-line shoemaking when most country shoemakers were likely still crafting entire shoes one at a time – was attaching leather soles to “ladies prunella shoes” made of strong silk or worsted fabric.

Interesting anecdotal information supplied by Wilder in his 1894 newspaper narrative speaks to what he believed to be alcoholic abuse by his fellow Bloody Brook workers. He could see that, minus drink, the workers would have been far more productive. Chalk it up an early life lesson that helped shape a successful, teetotaling businessman and likely temperance supporter. Politically, Wilder was an outspoken abolitionist and fervent Lincolnian Republican who was not bashful to express his views.

Wilder’s depiction of the Arms shoe shop employees as heavy drinkers begs the question of whether old Erastus Arms had a drinking problem, which might have contributed not only to his early death, but also to the financial difficulties revealed in his and brother-partner Dennis’s public record.

Jonas Wilder didn’t stick around South Deerfield long. His goal was to pay off his father’s debt of some $900 on the family’s 172-acre Wendell farm that extended into Shutesbury. After three years, at age 16, he decided that the shoemaking assembly line was harmful to his health and well-being. He remedied the problem by taking a job as a teenage peddler, starting on foot with a tin suitcase in each hand before working up to a team of horses and wagon that supplied merchants and his own four-man crew of foot-peddlers.

The traveling-salesman work generated enough income to pay off his father’s debt by his 21st birthday, at which time he took a job clerking at Ivory Howe’s store at Whitmore’s Mills in North Sunderland, almost halfway home to his family’s Wendell farm from South Deerfield.

Wilder had known Howe as a Wendell storekeeper, and ended up managing the store briefly while Howe was away. As a gratuity, Howe then set him up at a friend’s Athol store before Wilder moved on to clerkships at stores in Jaffrey, then New Ipswich, New Hampshire, where he again went into peddling before selling out in 1843. That’s when he embarked on a distinguished, 40-year railroad career, moving from dusty roads to the steel rails of a burgeoning transportation industry that promised riches.

Wilder built an impressive list of accomplishments while serving in many roles on many different rail lines. Perhaps most notable was his invention of the refrigerator car, designed for the “butter trains” transporting the best butter money could buy from northern New York State farms across Lake Champlain and on to the Boston market.

Unfortunately, Wilder never “cashed in” with a patent on his invention, or others noted by author Pamela Richardson for train buckboards and self-inking stamps. Apparently, he couldn’t be bothered to apply for patents – he had work to do. Instead, Western meat-packers such as the Swift Meat Co. became the impetus for the lucrative refrigerator-car patent secured in later years by W.A. Chandler of Union Star Lines.

The modest one-and-a-half-story farmhouse in the south of Wendell where Jonas and his father were born was still standing, minus the barn, when he wrote to the postmaster in 1904. According to Richardson, contacted by phone at her winter Florida residence, only the cellar hole survives today. When I told her I had discovered her book after completing the first draft of this piece, and feared that Jonas Wider might be old news in Wendell, she assured me that was not the case. She had only mentioned him in passing.

So, there you have bits and pieces of the story of Jonas Brown Wilder II, a Franklin County man worth memorializing. Newspapers at the time of his July 7, 1906 death, a couple months before his 93rd birthday, treated him with dignity and respect. His obituary graced the front page of the Gazette and Courier in Greenfield, the Daily Saratogian in Saratoga Springs, New York, the Bennington Banner in Vermont, and likely many other papers of the day. Although he didn’t make the front page of New York City papers, they spared no ink in lengthy obits for a great railroad man from the rolling hills of Wendell and Shutesbury.

Millers River Memories

That unfortunate, 6,000-gallon Athol diesel spill into a Millers River tributary named Mill Brook on Dec. 22 sent my wheels awhirl.

The tanker-truck rollover that required Jaws of Life driver extraction unleashed reminiscence about my earliest newspaper days at the Greenfield Recorder. That means it took me back to the early 1980s when a previously near-dead Millers River, fouled by industrial pollution, human waste, and years of neglect, was reborn for trout stocking after a two-decade hiatus. The recent catastrophe especially reminded me of affable old pal Peter Mallett, whose animated calls I answered many times on deadline when I didn’t have time to talk or the heart to tell him so.

Mallett, 70-year-old founder of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association and self-appointed watershed watchdog, has devoted many years into making the Millers River watershed better for everyone. He seems to know every spring hole, squaretail brook, fiddlehead patch, and big old Hen of the Woods oak in the watershed; that and deer runs, berry patches, pheasant and partridge coverts, and maybe, just maybe even hot spots for arrowhead hunters. Who knows? The man may have even bumped into a hidden marijuana patch or two while bushwhacking the terrain.

Mallett not only has a wealth of knowledge to share. He’s put his money where his mouth is – personally buying, raising, and releasing trout of all sizes into the watershed, while raising a ruckus when anyone dares to disrespect his favorite river system.

I never met Mallett during my coverage of the Miller River renaissance. We crossed paths well after restoration and restocking was underway. By the time we met through many phone calls, faraway anglers were once again traveling to fish a trout stream that had once attracted the likes of Red Sox Hall of Famer and noted flyfisher Ted Williams and cohort Curt Gowdy, longtime voice of the Red Sox and host of ABC TV’s The American Sportsman in the 1960s and ‘70s. If the likes of Williams and Gowdy were fishing the Millers River during the glory years of our Grand Ole Game, then it had to be special, and was.

My first professional foray into Millers River country resulted in my first front-page story, and over time led to a Hampshire-Franklin District Attorney’s office investigation. Enlightened by a streamside tip that I chased and confirmed, I had become embroiled in a spicy newspaper war with a group of Millers River trout-fishing advocates from Wendell, whom I dubbed “Wendellites” in my Thursday Greenfield Recorder outdoor column On the Trail. The continuing story spawned many columns, which in turn drew angry letters-to-the-editor retorts in an entertaining and very public spat.

The type of controversy columnists dream about, it all began when I broke the unwelcome news that human consumption of Millers River fish was unsafe due to sedimentary PCB and heavy-metal poisoning. With half-lives in the thousands of years, the hazardous chemicals weren’t going anywhere soon. In fact, if we continue to give global-warming deniers a seat at the public-policy conference table, these river carcinogens may just outlast humanity on this planet.

Obviously, the Millers River activists who had worked hardest to put their free-flowing stream back on the Massachusetts trout-fishing map were not happy when the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife was forced to post streamside public-health warnings cautioning anglers that eating fish from the river could be hazardous to their health. As a result, I became Public Enemy No. 1 to the political Wendellites. It was fun. I rode the public debate in glee for some time in bold, black print.

Although I have largely lost touch with the Millers in recent years, I presume streamside warnings are still prominently displayed along the “major” river, a status that ensures it receives the biggest and best trout MassWildlife hatcheries have to offer, and plenty of them.

When I recently mentioned to Mallett the media war I ignited back in the ‘80s, he didn’t seem to associate me with those familiar streamside warnings he most likely resents. Originally from Athol, he may not have read the Recorder back then. So, I gave him a brief overview, beginning with how the whole fiasco started with a surreptitious streamside tip delivered by an unimpeachable source at the festive first stocking of the river below the Farley Flats railroad trestle in Erving.

That day at the popular fishing hole produced a celebratory scene – with stocking-truck motors purring, netsful of trout being dumped into the river, TV crews from Boston, Worcester, Springfield and maybe even Hartford filming the event for the nightly news. Scribes were there interviewing sources and scribbling notes in pads, while politicians, fish and wildlife officials and local gawkers schmoosed in the small, gravel parking area off Route 2. Yes, it was a glorious day in eastern Franklin County. After decades as an open industrial and human sewer before the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 kicked in, the proud Millers River was back.

Or, was it?

As it turned out, unbeknownst to those in attendance, including me, what is known in newsroom parlance as a “scoop” was about to rear its ugly head and rain on the parade.

Though after 40 years I may not recall every minute detail from that day, it seems to me that my source, a distinguished, bespectacled man getting on in age, was wearing a tweed jacket and tie with a gentleman’s top hat. He had spotted me talking to sources, recognized me from my weekly column sig, and approached me furtively away from the action as things were winding down. We had never met, but I was familiar with his son and his landed estate near the confluence of the Millers and Connecticut rivers. Identifying himself as a former chemist for Erving Paper Mill, he had some information I might find interesting.

When we slithered away from the mass, he delivered his bombshell. Although the decision to again stock the river was in his opinion a good thing, it was, he opined, irresponsible. He had fished the Millers since youth and was happy it was being reborn, but there was an important problem that was being ignored – or maybe even, dare say it, covered up. According to him, the river was contaminated with PCBs. He was certain the state Department of Environmental Quality Engineering (DEQE) – now the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – had records to prove it.

It was big news that had to be investigated, confirmed or denied – my new task.

Before the Internet and email era of news-gathering, I distinctly remember going home to South Deerfield, calling DEQE on the phone, and by dumb luck being connected to a spokesman whose Whately family I knew. Although I didn’t know the source himself, I did know his younger brother and sisters, and he knew who I was. He said he wasn’t familiar with any Millers River studies off the top of his head but would check into it. I gave him my phone number. He’d get back to me.

A day or two later, his call came. He said I was onto something and asked for my snail-mail address. He’d immediately send copies of records documenting Millers River PCB and heavy-metal pollution. These poisons were long-lasting, destined to remain in the sediment for millennia, contaminating all life feeding in the ecosystem. Though such pollution status does not preclude stocking or angling on a stream, state mandate demands that such waters be posted with warnings for anglers who may eat its fish.

I can’t say I was shocked. The Millers River had been my personal poster child for local polluted rivers, worse even than the Connecticut, into which as a teen I wouldn’t have dipped my pinky under the Sunderland Bridge. Younger folks today have no perception of this, but I do, because I lived it, as did Mallett.

As an Athol boy, Mallett says he saw raw sewage flowing through town in the ‘60s. Downstream, below Erving Paper Mill, the river’s color signaled to Route 2 travelers the color of toilet paper being producing on any given day. Mallett recalls the time when big suckers around the Starrett Tool Company dam were “committing mass suicide” by jumping out of the river to escape dreadful industrial chemicals dumped into the water.

So, no, I can’t say I was shocked to get confirmation of PCB contamination from my DEQE source, and likely neither were the people living in the Millers River valley. That doesn’t mean the news was welcome. Uh-uh. They didn’t want to hear it. At least not my Wendellite foes who had worked hardest to bring trout fishing back to their neighborhood for selfish reasons. That is, they wanted their own major river to fish, eliminating travel to the Deerfield River. It only got worse as I continued piecemealing out additional news and barbs they objected to, at time vociferously.

The Wendellites responded with hateful personal attacks in letters to the editor, and the entertaining battle went on for months, if not years. Every chance I got, I’d poke them, and they’d poke right back. Finally, though, they took the argument a step too far. Or at least that was the opinion of then-Recorder publisher Alexander Hutchison.

What stirred Hutchison’s ire and brought in the DA’s office was a terrorist note that arrived at my Recorder desk. As I recall, my name and Recorder address was typed onto the envelope’s face, and the threatening note inside was composed of bold letters cut and pasted from magazine headlines. Though I can’t quote the message verbatim, it was a warning from the sender that he knew my work schedule and where I lived and was tired of my Millers River columns. The pasted-on signature read “Abu Nidal,” whom I recognized as the Palestinian terrorist of the day.

To be honest, I was humored, not scared, by the letter and showed it around the newsroom with a chuckle. My Wendellite friends were all wound up, and I thought it was hilarious.

Not so with “Hutch,” by far the best of six publishers for whom I worked. When he caught wind of the threatening note, he marched it straight to the DA. Apparently, the DA’s office didn’t pursue it, because I was never aware of it being pursued.

All I can now say, decades later, is that I’m still kickin’ and Millers River sediment still holds PCBs and heavy metals. All it took to stir those contaminants back into the flow of my column was the unfortunate Dec. 22 oil spill, one that will likely have long-term effects on a proud and defenseless trout stream.

Frankly, the Millers River can’t seem to catch a break. The classic old trout stream bordering the ancient Mohawk Trail deserves better.

Old Roads Have Stories To Tell

One never knows where a road will lead them. Especially an old road. So, let’s talk about roads. Old roads. Ones that began as indigenous paths or, before that, game trails carved into Mother Earth’s skin by migrating herds. The discovery potential in such ancient trails is nearly limitless for those who maintain an open mind and harbor a curious spirit.

I learned that roads could tell fascinating stories during my brief days as a young surveyor still searching for my identity. That was back in the late Sixties and early Seventies, when I rose in status to transitman before moving on to other adventures. It all began with summer jobs as a high school and college student, when I learned the skills of a rodman, a job description that may well have changed today with all the new technology. I don’t think surveyors still use plumb bobs and 200-foot chains, standard tools of the trade in my day.

Back then, a good rodman was a valuable commodity. He was a man who knew the woods and understood terrain features valued by mapmakers. Though I didn’t know of any female rodmen when I was cutting line and giving backsights, I’m sure there are many today.

In those days of turning angles on circular Gurley transit scales, the rodman was a laborer who carried a sharp machete to cut sight lanes for the transitman, lugging and pounding in hubs and stakes to identify traverse stations along the perimeter. During detail work with a boldly calibrated 16½-foot rod in hand, the rodman would record contours along with natural and manmade features.

Among the natural features were brooks, springs, swamps, outcroppings of ledge, and distinctive trees. The manmade items include roads, stone walls, cellar holes, old wells, and buildings. All of this information was recorded in field notes and submitted to office draftsmen who drew maps and plans of the surveyed acreage.

Although many of the roads we marked through forested hilltown terrain had been long ago discontinued or abandoned, they needed to be recorded nonetheless. These roads passed through and bordered expansive old New England farms that had been worked by the same families for several generations and were about to go on the market. Remarkably, many of those roads were then and likely still are today fit for travel by four-wheel-drive trucks and recreational vehicles, not to mention navigable by dirt- and mountain-bikers, hikers, hunters and snowmobilers.

Unfortunately, many of the old four-wheel-drive roads I explored as a teen and young man are now sealed off by sturdy, locked metal gates erected to eliminate all but “official” motorized travel by forest stewards and departments.

I guess it was inevitable once recreational rough-riders came onto the scene. They loved to rev their muscle trucks and spin their big, knobby, mud-splattering tires through boggy depressions while displaying total disrespect for private property. The problem was only exacerbated by inconsiderate gangs of four-wheeler enthusiasts who cut fences and new forest trails. Some even disassembled narrow openings in stone walls for their recreational vehicles to pass through. This raised the ire of landowners, and resulted in many road closings.

Carving Deep History

I can’t say I was aware as a young surveyor that some of the old roads I marked on detail duty – even discontinued portions of old county roads that had been rerouted over the years – had originally been Native paths.

I suppose it’s possible that some astute party chief introduced me to the deep-history context of some roads. If so, the memory escapes me. But it most likely never happened. Too esoteric for the average modern surveyor. No, it seems to me that I employed my own idiosyncratic, autodidactic methods to arrive at that profound and exciting discovery that puts a different spin on old roads.

There is now a sophisticated cult of true believers who promote the idea that some stone walls and mysterious stone structures hidden on landscapes predate 16th-century European emigration by a long shot. Although it’s possible some were indeed Indigenous creations, I’ll reserve judgment for now. I need to know more, must see unimpeachable evidence that isn’t based on bare speculation and hypothesis. As old Muskie used to say in the Saturday morning cartoons, “It’s possible,” an assessment that applies to many mysteries.

What brought me to this topic of old roads and antiquities is my recent, perhaps pandemic-driven, probe into the history and settlement of South Deerfield and north Whately. This sliver of the Connecticut Valley is my place and that of my father’s family. We have been here since the colonial beginning – a short time on the deep-history scale – and were led here by 17th-century Indigenous trails, including the so-called Pocumtuck Path.

This local trail, which connected Old Deerfield to Umpanchala’s Fort on the edge of Hatfield, was already thousands of years old when found by my European ancestors. It ran through Hatfield and Whately as we now know them on Straits and Long Plain roads, then traveled right through the heart of South Deerfield on Main Street, and on to Mill Village Road and Old Deerfield through the Bars and South Meadows.

So important was this meandering north-south Native path – on which the Bloody Brook Massacre unfolded on September 18, 1675 – that it was established as the dividing line between the eastern and western layout of the May 20, 1688 Long Hill Division. This land division allotted parcels in the south end of town to 48 Deerfield proprietors. Then, some 70 years later, after years of passing through, the nascent village of Muddy Brook, now South Deerfield, was born.

Underneath it all to this very day, up and down Main Street, is that same Pocumtuck Path, buried under layers of gravel and asphalt.

Furthermore, that main artery was just one tiny segment of a well-defined network of Native trails that served as the foundation of Whately, Conway, Ashfield, and all settlement of Franklin County townships. Though there is little mention of such trails in the public record, they were here when colonials first entered the valley, and they were followed far and wide into the wild, ultimately determining the settlement pattern of our county. I know that was the case near my Greenfield Meadows home, and the same was true of the home I sold in South Deerfield. The dynamic exists throughout the surrounding hills and dales, ridges, and swamps I got to know as an observant and curious hunter passing cellar holes, old mill sites, and abandoned orchards along fading roads buried deep in the forest.

Up Into the Hills

One of my favorite haunts, with or without a gun, has for more than 50 years been the forested acres surrounding Conway State Forest and Henhawk Trail. It’s a broad swath of upland landscape that touches Williamsburg, Whately, and Conway and Ashfield not far away. This mixed forest of splendid hardwood ridges and foreboding hemlock swamps is traversed by many double-rutted roads, barely discernible today.

The best time to find such old roads, often with a small, indiscrete cellar hole or two along them, is after a fresh, shallow snow that reveals their outline. Thus, I most often discovered such roads with gun in hand during deer season. The ones that don’t appear on early maps must have been private roads to secluded upland farms, abandoned long ago for the more fertile Ohio Valley and beyond.

To learn about this local landscape, I used to study pre-1940 topographical maps, which showed the old orchards, pastures, and farms. There and in town histories published at the turn of the 20th century I’d gather information and build a new level of understanding.

In the process, I learned that Henhawk had been an ancient Indian trail leading to Ashfield, the upper Deerfield River Valley, and beyond. During colonial days it had evolved to a cart path, and eventually became a main road for motor cars between Whately, Williamsburg, and Conway that was used into the World War II era.

It made sense. Our hunter-gatherer Native people, before and after they became farmers of corn, beans and squashes, would have carved paths through their sheltered, upland, winter refuges. There they maintained sugar orchards, nut groves, and berry patches which served two important purposes: producing wild food and attracting important game that also valued it as a food source. This network of well-defined upland trails also led colonials to food, water and observation points, and were thus followed by scouts and adventurers who eventually built their first dwellings on home sites requiring minimal clearing.

Under the Pavement

The same was true in early Muddy Brook, now South Deerfield, and likewise in settlements along the periphery. We’re talking about Mill River, along West Mountain, and Pine Nook along the Connecticut River, places also located along well-established Native paths that soon became roads.

The same can be said for East Whately, Whately Center, West Whately, and Indian Hill, where the first roads were all former Native paths – roads like Mount Esther, Grass Hill, Dry Hill, Poplar Hill, Chestnut Plain, and Whately Glen, where Leicester miller Adonijah Taylor was, according to Deerfield town records, working on the road to Conway from his Indian Hill grist and sawmills soon after settling there in 1760s. Take it to the bank that the road he was opening followed the same Native path that had led him to his new home and business.

Deeds seem to indicate that South Deerfield’s Pleasant Street – which today passes the elementary school, and wasn’t connected to North Main Street by a bridge over Bloody Brook until the 1830s – was a Native path, forking west just north of the bridge where Bloody Brook Monument now stands. It also seems more than likely that Elm and Sugarloaf streets had a history as at the very least secondary Native paths from the Connecticut River to the uplands.

Like their long-abandoned upland tributaries traversing hilltown forests, the narrow Native footpaths pressed into the largely wet, fertile bottomlands had been here for thousands of years by the time they were first trekked by colonials. Over time, these paths were widened for horses and horse carts. Later still for motor cars.

So, when passing through downtown South Deerfield today, be aware that those ancient Native paths are underfoot. It’s a deep-history perspective that can take you to places exciting to visit.

We must never forget that from these paths governed by the lay of the land was born a town, a county, a state, a region and, two centuries later, the United States of America – a deep-history perspective that’s easy to get your head around.

It’s too bad the proud, dignified people whose moccasins laid the groundwork were denied a seat in council reinventing their defiled place.

Writer’s-Block Ramble

Daybreak Friday. Light creeping in over the horizon, sneaking through the tall white pines across the street.

Waiting for the coffee-maker to gurgle its last breath, I’ve already been to Springfield and back. Deer hunters are just now entering the woods, trying to be quiet, hoping this will be the day. Tomorrow will be even better. Saturdays bring more hunters into the woods, which tends to move deer from their beds. Honestly, I can’t say I miss deer hunting. I’ve turned the page. Don’t need it. Been there, done that. Enjoyed it while it lasted. Love the woods, the solitude, the critters. Maybe too much to kill them.

I also love the slow, quiet transition from night to day on the way into a morning stand. Daybreak is the best time of day in my book. And not only for hunting. Mind sharp, body rested, it’s ideal for writing, too. One never knows where the inner consciousness will dance off to at the crack-of-dawn keyboard.

In fact, that’s the problem confronting me this very moment as I sit here trying to settle on a column topic. It happens from time to time, deadline looming, procrastination calling the shots. I’ve been here before, even on a much tighter deadline, pondering where my swirling thoughts will ramble off to. The seat I’m now occupying is couched in uncertainty. Better than being lost in the woods with nightfall near. That’s for sure. Been there, too.

There’s no time for delay. A three-cord load of primo cordwood, seasoned oak and rock maple, will be dropped in front of my sliding woodshed door tomorrow morning. After that, with rain forecast Monday, my first priority will be to get the load under cover. Thus, I must get something written today, anything, a first draft to be revisited at my convenience before Monday’s deadline. That’s my writing routine: blow out the first draft, akin to a black-and-white sketch, then pick away, adding a dab of color here, a dab there during rewrites, all the while tweaking the narrative. Fortunately, it’s not my first trip down this road.

 

It’s not like I don’t have anything to write about. I’ve been on overload in recent weeks unraveling the settlement of Muddy Brook, a mid-18th-century Deerfield village that became Bloody Brook and is now known as South Deerfield, or in the eastern European dialect that arrived at the turn of the 20th century, “Sowdeerfeel.”

Closing in on a year of intense deed research, I still have more questions than answers. Truthfully, it sometimes feels like a losing battle – like the more I learn, the less I know. Have you ever been there, looking for the next pebble to overturn, the next hintful thread to pull and see what unravels?

Along the way, I’ve learned of many new people, folks I’d never heard of who were big Muddy Muddy and Bloody Brook players. What makes it even more interesting to me is that some are my ancient grandfathers, and many others are related, from peripheral tendrils growing off my root ball. But I’m not ready to write about them quite yet. Maybe never will be, if I can’t pin down their occupations, their trades, their places of worship and political leanings during the Revolution and Shays’ Rebellion. Little details to build an accurate profile.

I’m talking about members of the families named Arms, Frary, Barnard, Cooley, Russell, Dickinson, Dwelley, and Billings, to name some, also Parkers and Shattucks, Hardings and Andersons, and, yes, even my own Sandersons – all of them fascinating hometown pioneers. To me, researching these people, their place and mine, is addictive, an unquenchable thirst that intensifies with each forward step.

Take for example placenames that have been lost over time, hometown locations through which I have certainly traveled and never heard of. That would include Indian Plain, Sugarloaf Gore and Willis Hill, to name the first three that come to mind. I want to pin these places down. Get it right. So, give me time. It’s a laborious process.

I’ll get there, though, and will, with historian friend Peter Thomas, lay out the so-called Long Hill Division of 1688. That land allotment divvied up among 48 early Deerfield proprietors a large chunk of land that became South Deerfield, including the outlying neighborhoods of Mill River, Pine Nook, and Sugarloaf.

Nothing against newspapers, but I don’t believe a column with space constraints like this could ever do justice to what I’ve learned thus far, never mind what’s yet to come. The story of South Deerfield, largely ignored by haughty Old Deerfield-centric George Sheldon, is too comprehensive – of book-, not newspaper-length. Maybe I could piecemeal it out once I understand the whole picture. But can I do so in a paper that doesn’t serve Deerfield? It doesn’t seem to fit.

Still, a South Deerfield addendum to Sheldon’s tired old History of Deerfield should be published. And what better time to do so than in conjunction with the town’s upcoming 350th birthday celebration in 2023? It needs to be done for posterity, and we’re on our way.

But enough of that. I just couldn’t resist providing a little nibble into my current preoccupation, and the fact that I am at this very moment infected with writer’s block, which, I suppose, is better than the Omicron variant.

 

Too bad I can’t get out of this doldrum by going full Hunter S. Thompson on our current state of affairs in Washington DC. Isn’t the time ripe for a full-frontal Gonzo attack on the Supreme Court, the Trump Crime Family, Fox News and the racist Southern foundation of the Republican Party, otherwise known these days as the Trump base? Formerly the George Wallace, Southern wing, which was not insignificant, it seems to be gaining steam these days – even in places where one wouldn’t expect it to catch hold. Yes, even here.

The late Hunter Thompson was on to it way back in 1968, teargas in the air. That’s when Nixon pulled Wallace’s loyal Dixiecrats into the Republican fold to defeat Humphrey in a razor-tight race. Now Thompson is dead, hostile right-wingers rule the GOP, and many respectable, dyed-in-the-wool, New England Republicans with both oars in the water are still onboard. Yes, even after witnessing the Capitol insurrection in vivid hi-def, with the Stars and Bars flapping in the breeze like they did at Gettysburg and Bull Run.

You must be kidding me? Is this unlikely GOP support blind partisanship? Can these loyal partisans not see that the party of Lincoln is now ruled by the secessionists who went to war against him? Are they not aware that home-grown fascism and right-wing thuggery is in the air? Oh my! Where will it end?

It’s crazy-making. Where’s Dr. Gonzo when you need him?

The problem as I see it is that Hunter S. Thompson is the only person who could get away with telling it like it is, in his spicey, unedited diatribes. We need the story told in a style free from heavy-handed, self-appointed arbiters of good taste and bad words sitting in staid editors’ chairs. When HST spoke, people listened, and it resulted in millions of dollars in profit. Yet now an industry on life-support won’t print new voices with Gonzo mojo and moxie. Go figure.

As the timid print-media establishment gasps for air, social media wingnuts and Fox News execs are raking in the millions for quite intentionally poisoning the well. Why does the “objective” print media insist upon keeping it clean while the other side muddies the water with raw sewage from the likes of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, to name a couple? Has the word objective come to mean afraid to tell the truth?

It now looks like Mitch McConnell’s Supreme Court is going to reverse Roe vs. Wade. Really? Is McConnell Joe Q. Average American these days? The polls indicate otherwise. So how can this be happening in a country that elects its leaders? No clue. You tell me.

All I can say is that I grew up in the ’60s and early ’70s, and never in my wildest dreams thought this could happen here. I thought Joe McCarthy, the Nixon Administration, and J. Edgar Hoover were dead and buried, never again to be heard from. Well, guess what? They’re back, and the tribe is growing like COVID.

Which reminds me, has anyone else had their fill of “balanced” reporting about global warming and climate change? Could you live without the annoying auto-insert disclaimer that reads, “some scientists question whether global warming is caused by human beings.” The obvious question to that cautionary garbage is: who signs these “experts’” checks? It’s beyond ridiculous. There is no denying that humans are destroying our planet on many levels, including global warming.

What we don’t need now is a GOP takeover of Congress in 2022 and a second Trump term in 2024. If that comes to fruition, some may decide it’s time to flee the country or, heaven forbid, even go so far as re-enacting HST’s final act that unfolded on Feb. 20, 2005 at his secluded Owl Farm refuge in Aspen, Colo. There, the high priest of Gonzo journalism treated the media to a front-page story with one thunderous roar of his .357 magnum.

In a flash, the life of a visionary New Journalist was over. Sad and sudden. A great loss to many who gobbled his prose, wanted more. He must’ve had his fill and sensed what was coming down the pike. He didn’t want to stick around for fascist takeover.

Enough! I don’t want to get carried away.

But first, please, just one more little digression – a recommendation for those who enjoy classical country music. So, if it’s pickin’ and grinnin’ at its finest that you seek, go to YouTube on your Smart TV, crank up the volume as loud as you can stand it, and take a listen to Norman Blake and the Rising Fawn String Ensemble in concert at Ohio University. Taped in 1980, it never gets old.

 

 

 

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