Conway Cats

Looks like the late Ted Cromack from up on the Mohawk Trail across from Call’s Corner in Shelburne wasn’t the only local fella hunting bobcats back in the day. Not only that, but I guess that 38-pound cat I long ago witnessed Conway trapper Ed Rose carrying out of the Williamsburg woods wasn’t that big after all.

These new revelations arose from one quick look at the classic black-and-white photo emailed this way last week by Bill Burnett of the Conway Burnetts, whose old South River-side farm and sugarhouse embrace the confluence of Poland Brook.

The photo from the Burnett family archives shows Bill’s grandfather, Frank Burnett, standing between a shed and his vintage Ford sedan sporting a 1939 license plate. There, the man displays a 45-pound bobcat he and veterinarian brother Dr. Russell Burnett shot on a hound-assisted hunt through the Conway woods. Peeking out from behind the proud hunter, hanging bobcat’s back legs tied to a thick stick, is one of the happy hounds that likely treed the cat.

Above the attached email photo is an explanatory note beginning with, “In response to your recent articles about bobcats,” and proceeding to describe his grandfather and great uncle as “avid hunters and trappers who supplemented their income by selling furs.” It all made a lot of sense in rural pre-World War II America, which was still digging itself out of the Great Depression.

Burnett then shares a recent sighting: “On the afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 8, at about 3 p.m., my sister and I saw three bobcats of all the same size cross our field on the Ashfield/Conway town line on Route 116. We called neighbor (and retired game warden) Tom Ricardi, who said it was a rare sighting, probably a family unit.”

I would have shared this Burnett email last week had I not already jumped into another interesting bit of feedback that had arrived a day earlier by snail-mail from Haydenville. Unwilling to switch gears with a story underway, I decided to let the Conway tale ferment for a week.

When I phoned Burnett last week to tell him I was going to run the photo, I disclosed that I knew his property well from fishing in my youth. There, wearing hip boots at dawn, I often bumped into old pal and baseball/football coach Tommy Valiton deftly lifting trout from the streams with his long flyrod baited with nightcrawlers. It was also not unusual to run into Whately brothers known in South Deerfield lingo as the “Sudsy Twins,” whose real names were Don and Dave Sadoski, now passed, but for decades a fixture on local hilltown trout streams.

I most often bumped into the “Sudsies” on the lower end of West Whately’s West Brook, but South River and Poland Brook were also on their circuitous weekly tour. Many Franklin County fishermen knew the twins’ Chevy or GMC pickup with a large camper reaching back over the top of their cab, and the wise ones knew enough to fish elsewhere.

Funny how an old photo like Burnett’s can evoke fond memories.


Sticking to bobcats and moving a bit north and east to my own upper Greenfield Meadows neighborhood, I have to assume that the two cats that left tracks crossing my daily path last week were same two neighbor Anne Echeverria reported seeing out her kitchen window a few weeks ago. The two cats, one lager than the other, had covered the entire meadow, meandering throughout while slipping in and out of the narrow bordering wetland. The cats were likely hunting mice, rabbits and squirrels, all of which flourish in this terraced riverside plain of mixed hardwoods, wild grapes, sumac, fruit and berries, and croplands.

The tracks of a cottontail rabbit told me all I needed to know about the bobcats’ riverside mission. Typical tracks of a cottontail hopping through a meadow are a foot or less apart. Not so in the southwest corner of the first field I walked. There, the prints in the snow were a full five feet apart.

Obviously, that bunny knew it was in the company of dangerous predators, and was fleeing for safety. No sign of blood or hair anywhere.


More leftovers: In a “Country Journal” article mentioned here last week and written by Mike Donovan about his native Woronoco — a quaint Russell village located at the base of Mount Tekoa, where timber rattlesnakes are known to lurk — Donovan writes that “some believe the word ‘Tekoa’ meant ‘place of the snakes’ in the (Eastern Algonquian) language of the Woronoak Indians,’” who populated the Westfield River watershed. Well, that got my wheels spinning and sent me off on a Google and library search aimed at confirming or denying the Native American origin of Tekoa.

The first source I dug out was a fresh new (2004) University of Oklahoma Press compendium written by William Bright and titled “Native American Placenames of the United States,” which did not list the word Tekoa or anything resembling it.

“Hmmmmmm? Very unlikely the word was of Algonquian origin,” I surmised, before digging deeper and going to a couple of old standbys, first J.C. Huden’s “Indian Place Names of New England (1962),” then J.H. Trumbull’s “Indian Names of Connecticut (1881),” neither of which produced a word resembling Tekoa.

Then, off on a cursory Internet search to see what I could find on the word Tekoa, and — Bingo! — there it was: a biblical origin.

So, it looks like the Native American origin is a creative myth.

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One Response to Conway Cats

  1. Eric Giebel

    Ah, how we age challenged do like to reminisce. I knew Donnie Sadoski well. He hunted “our” area of the Pocumtuck Ridge, along with the bandit, Teeter Hudyma. Now Donnie’s son Bobby, and the latter’s son Kyle cross paths daily with my son and myself during deer season.

    And more fond memories of Poland Brook.

    Thanks, Eric

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