April 15, 2010
Animals of the Area
Hopedale in April
Ellen Fettig’s 100th birthday
Thanks to Richard Bodreau for this link to the Virtual Vietnam Wall.
Alexander Scammell, born in what was then Mendon, now Milford, somewhere near the Larches, was adjutant general of the Continental Army from January 1787 until he was captured at Yorktown in 1781. Click here for more about him and more of the local story on the war, in an article by Dick Grady titled Mendon’s Role in the American Revolution.
Since Adin Ballou’s birthday is this month, I thought it would be appropriate to include a few sentences about him. Here they are, in his own words, from a history of Worcester County. Adin Ballou, born in Cumberland, R.I. April 23, 1803, of uncollegiate education, but a persistent student of useful knowledge and self-culture; commenced preaching in his nineteenth year; has been a minister of New Testament Christianity as he understood it, over sixty-seven years, chiefly in the southeastern section of this county; is author of a “History of Milford, Mass.,” a “History and Genealogy of the Ballous” and many minor works; and holds too many peculiarities of faith and practice to be classed very exactly with any religious denomination.
In his History of Milford, written as part of the Milford Centennial of 1880, Adin Ballou included two pages on the animals found in the area when the early settlers arrived. He seems to have had a particular fascination with snakes.
The Aboriginal Animals
I need not particularize many of these, whether land, water, or amphibious creatures. They were such as generally inhabited the inland parts of southern New England. Several species of the more formidable and dangerous have been extinct for more than half a century, having; been fairly exterminated. I include in this class the bear, wolf, panther, and smaller ferocious beasts. The harmless deer and admirable beaver disappeared much earlier. Nearly all the ordinary wild animals, such as the fox, woodchuck, rabbit, skunk, squirrel, musquash, mink. etc. have been hunted down to a comparatively thin remnant. They now scarcely hold their own from year to year. The larger birds of prey are rarely seen. The eagle, perhaps, never had a home on our humble hills, and was only a transient visitor in wilderness times. The great owl is nearly or quite extinct. The cranes and larger fish-eating birds only come and go on infrequent occasions. Wild geese, ducks, and other birds of passage, which in olden times are said to have rested themselves often in our ponds and meadows, now ordinarily hold on their flight to safer regions. Hawks, crows, partridges, and numerous kinds of smaller birds, are still among us. Some of them rather sparsely, and others more plentifully, but none of them in great abundance.
Of serpents we have few. They have been sedulously exterminated from generation to generation. Tradition tells that in early times there were many large black snakes, — some of them eight to ten feet long. Now their descendants are comparatively few and small. Rattlesnakes once abounded, especially in the vicinity of the Cedar Swamp, east and north of Pine-Grove Cemetery, in Rocky Woods, in the ledges towards Hopkinton, and all up and down Deer Brook. In that neighborhood the early settlers made it their business to hunt them vigorously in the months of May and early June. About that season they would crawl out of their winter dens to sun and limber their torpid bodies for summer dispersion in all directions. Many scores of them are said to have been drawn out with snake-hooks, and killed, by expert hunters, in a single day, and large numbers in the course of a few favorable weeks. Yet. for two or three generations, they continued to be a terror, and especially in haying-time, when they haunted the meadows amid water-brinks in quest of food and drink. It was then that the mowers and haymakers never felt safe without leather moccasins, reaching almost to their thighs, and similar protectives for their hands and arms, being liable at any moment to stir up one of these venomous reptiles. Sometimes they quartered about their barns, woodpiles, and even their houses, — crawling in at the open doors. The old people tell startling stories of rattlesnake adventures, either of their own experience or that of their progenitors. But the rattlesnake is now almost extinct within our borders, even in its old favorite haunts. When I first came to reside in Milford, in 1821, I was told that rattlesnakes were still to be found not far from what was called the Wild Cat neighborhood. I was somewhat astonished, and, as I had never seen one, had a strong curiosity to find a specimen. My friend Carmel Cheney said if I would go on a hunt with him he was sure we might kill some. So, toward the end of May he took me along with himself and one or two others to their old dens in Rocky Woods, east of the now beautiful Pine-Grove Cemetery. There we succeeded in finding and dispatching one. He then took us to a known resort of these reptiles, west of Deer Brook, and considerably north of the ancient Day place, — though perhaps on the farm. — to a thinly wooded, ledgy hill, sloping southward. There we killed four or five more, and returned satisfied. Now and then a wanderer has been killed, from time to time, since. Latterly I have heard of few. We have some hateful water snakes, and considerable numbers of the garter and smaller harmless kinds. Of tortoises, lizards, frogs, toads, etc., we have the several varieties common in this general region.
Of fish, the principal kinds sought after —i.e., natives of our waters—are the black sucker, pickerel, pout, perch, and eel. These have not multiplied in proportion to consumption, but still are of some importance. The precious trout, I think, never abounded in our waters, and now is scarcely found at all. Our inferior and smaller kinds of fish are numerous enough, but of little account unless as bait for the larger species.
It is obvious that the contrast must be great between the present meagre show of wild-animal life, on our nineteen square miles, and that which presented itself to the Nipmucks two centuries and more ago. Then the dense and towering forest teemed with ferocious bears, wolves, panthers, and venomous reptiles, as well as the more harmless multitude; and then fish and fowl abounded. Let us indulge a momentary glance at the scenes of the aboriginal wilderness, only to rejoice the more gratefully that we live amid the innumerable blessings of a hard-earned civilization. The old savage grandeur and wealth of vegetable and animal life presents but a beggarly exhibition, compared with the fruits of cultivation and our manifold domestic animal wealth. Adin Ballou, History of Milford, pp. 25 – 27.
Lillian M. (Morrill) Hixon, 88, April 10, 2010.
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