Israel Putnam And The Wolf’s Den

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There is a story in south-eastern New England told to most children/youngsters  about one of the great pioneers of the area and his bold courage, and as its being in New England, ends with a bizarre twist. The story is of Israel Putnam, a brave fighter and national hero and a wolf defending its life.  I believe it to be one of the most amazing accounts I’ve heard in recent years of researching the history of  southern New England. Especially the “wolf jubilee” that was held afterward. Here is the full story as is known….

“Israel Putnam moved to Connecticut from Massachusetts in 1740 at the age of 22. He had been living upon his farm two or more years when an incident occurred which was destined to be always closely associated with his name. This was the wolf hunt in the winter of 1742-43. A she-wolf caused Putnam and some of the other settlers great loss by preying upon their sheepfolds. She had repeatedly eluded the hunters, although they were successful in killing most of her young. She frequently returned from the woods in the west and once barely escaped from a steel trap by tearing her paw from her claws which were caught in it. One night when prowling over Putnam’s farm, she killed seventy of his sheep and goats, and lacerated many of the lambs and kids. In this exigency he and five Pomfret men arranged a continuous pursuit by agreeing to hunt alternately in pairs. Fortunately a light snow had fallen and the course of the wolf could be easily traced. The tracks showed one foot to be shorter than the other paws. This was proof that the animal was the same which had previously lost some of her claws in the trap. On reaching the Connecticut River, the hunters found that the wolf had turned in the opposite direction. Following the trail back toward Pomfret and traveling all night, they arrived within about three miles of Putnam’s farmhouse at ten o’clock in the morning, when John Sharp, a lad of seventeen years of age, who had outstripped the other pursuers, discovered the den into which the wolf had been driven by the bloodhounds. The news of the location of her lair spread rapidly, and many persons, armed with guns and supplied with material for smoking her out, hastened to the place, which was among the granite boulders on the side of a steep, craggy hill.

The whole day was spent by Putnam and his neighbours in attempting to dislodge the animal, but the dogs – one of them Putnam’s own hound – which were sent into the den returned frightened and badly wounded and would not go in again. Straw and sulfer were burned within the entrance, but without compelling the wolf to quit her hiding place. Twelve unsuccessful hours passed away. It was already ten o’clock at night, yet Putnam felt the importance of continuing the efforts in the emergency. His servent being unwilling to enter the den and attempt to shoot the wolf, Putnam himself, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his neighbours against so perilous a venture, made ready to undertake it.

He took off his coat and waistcoat; then he tied a long rope around his legs in order that he could be pulled back by it when he kicked it as a signal; he lighted the torch which he had improvised from some strips of birch bark and, holding it in his hand, crawled into the cave. The entrance was about two feet square and very slippery on account of the ice. The den descended obliquely fifteen feet, then ran horizontally about ten feet more and ascended gradually sixteen feet to the end of the opening. It was not more than a yard wide in any part and it was so low overhead that in no place could a person raise himself from his hands and knees.

Crawling slowly down to the level part and continuing until he reached the gradual ascent, Putnam saw the fiery eyes of the wolf as she crouched at the end of the dark cave, gnashing her teeth and growling at him. He gave the signal which he had arranged, but the excited people, hearing the savage sound and thinking that he had been attacked, dragged him out with such solicitous but ill-judged energy that his shirt was stripped over his head and his skin severly scratched. He prepared himself to enter again, this time taking his gun, which he had loaded with nine buckshot. Holding it in one hand and a torch in the other, he advanced farther than before into the den and found the wolf even fiercer, howling, rolling her eyes, snapping her teeth, and dropping her head between her legs. He fired at her just as she was evidently about to spring upon him. Being instantly pulled out, he refreshed himself and waited for the smoke to disappear out of the den. He then made a third venture. When he approached the wolf this time he heard nothing from her and touching her nose with his torch, found that she was dead. He grasped her ears, kicked the rope and was drawn out, dragging his victim into the presence of the astonished and exultant people.

Up the ragged and icy face of the hill and through the wild woodland the wolf was carried to a house a mile distant and suspended from a beam into which an iron spike had been driven. Then at that midnight hour a sort of “wolf jubilee” was held and, for several succeeding days, people came from different directions to see the animal.

The text on the plaque in front of the cave is as follows….

The Plaque In Front

The Plaque In Front

PUTNAM and THE WOLFFOLLOWING HER TRACKS THROUGH ONE DAY AND NIGHT IN THE EARLY SNOW OF DECEMBER 1742 TO THE CONNECTICUT RIVER AND BACK, THE EARLY SETTLERS OF THIS REGION HERE DISCOVERED THE DEN OF THE SHE WOLF THAT HAD FOR YEARS DEVASTATED THEIR FLOCKS AND HAD SO FAR ELUDED ALL ATTEMPTS AT CAPTURE AFTER ALL OTHER METHODS HAD FAILED. WHEN BOTH SERVANT AND DOG HELD BACK. ISRAEL PUTNAM, OF WHOSE SHEEP HAD BEEN SLAUGHTERED, AT 10 O’CLOCK AT NIGHT, WITH A ROPE TIED TO HIS FEET, FIRST WITH A TORCH, AGAIN WITH A MUSKET, ENTERED THIS CAVE, AND BY THE LIGHT OF HER ANGRY EYES, SHOT AND KILLED THE MARAUDER, AND ENTERING – A THIRD TIME, DRAGGED FORTH THE BODY OF THE LAST WOLF IN CONNECTICUT.

THIS TABLET IS PRESENTED TO THE ELIZABETH-PORTER PUTNAM CHAPTER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, BY COLONEL DANIEL PUTNAM ASSOCIATION INC., AND THEIR FRIENDS TO PRESERVE THE MEMORY OF AN ACT OF COURAGE AND OF PUBLIC SERVICE BY A YOUNG FARMER, WHO WAS IN LATER YEARS TO WIN FAME AS A WISE LEADER, A BRAVE FIGHTER, AND A NATIONAL HERO.

“HE DARED TO LEAD WHERE OTHERS DARED TO FOLLOW”

People wishing to visit the actual wolf’s den can plot out a course to Mashamoquet State Park in northeast Connecticut. There will be signs upon arriving. The hike is short to the den. Happy hiking!

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A Camera’s View Of The Quiet Corner Of CT

On another recent trip I traveled south to my neighboring town of Thompson, CT. This area is known as the “Quiet Cornet Of Conncticut”, and  with just cause. There are two stores in Thompson and both are next to the border with Massachusetts. This leaves the town center and many of its roads untouched by commercialism., that is except for Thompson International Speedway. The speedway was one known as the “Indy Of The East” and was the first oval track in the U.S.  My visit was in October and the racers had long since departed for the year. While I was at the common there was a scarecrow festival that can be seen in the background of some of the pics. This was just one more spot I wanted to hit before moving on up to Maine. The following are a selection of pics I took then. These pics are of the town common, congregational church and buildings surrounding the common and the racetrack. Enjoy!

Pictures From The Ghost Town Of Bara Hack, Pomfret, CT

In August of this year my exploratory team and I took a trip south to Pomfret, CT to see the much fabled ghost town of Bara Hack. It was a early Welsh settlement that was abandoned in the early 1900’s. Here is an excerpt from barahack.com –

“The name “Bara-Hack” is associated with Harry Chase, a local Pomfret historian/recluse who claimed the village was so named.  There is no evidence that the Higginbothams named their little two home village “Bara-Hack”.  It sounds more scary than the “Higginbotham’s abandoned settlement” though.  Using a Welsh to English language converter: bara= bread, drylliad= breaking, torri= to break, tor= break, and hac=cut, notch, or hack.  Thus Bara Hac=cut bread.  The Higginbothams were of Welsh descent so they must have “cut bread” there, but most likely would not have named their settlement Bara Hac.

On August 30th, 1971 three Rhode Island parapsychology students visited “Bara-Hack” looking for evidence to verify whether or not the rumors of its’ haunting were true.  They met with Harry Chase and went to the Lost Village. They encountered the following: a sense of depression when entering the area, constant barking of dogs, lowing of cows, strange human voices, and a complete absence of birds.  They explored for a couple of hours and came back at night.  They heard spooky voices coming from the Nightingale Brook.  They came back October 30th and 31st with more investigators.  They lost their way walking towards the burying ground even though they had been there before.  One of their new team members became frozen in place on the trail and could not be physically moved by anyone there towards the direction of the cemetery.  One of the investigators wrote about the experience in a book called Faces at the Window, Paul F. Eno, 1998. The premise for the Blair Witch Project is thought to come from the accounts of this “investigation”.

The Lost Village or Bara Hac is located in a hilly area surrounded by many brooks and streams, voices and other sounds carry for miles in these areas.  There are still even today working dairy farms and hobby farms in Pomfret which is part of the Last Green Valley.  Pomfret is a rural area and as such almost everyone has dogs and other animals.  Since much of Pomfret and Windham County is a National Heritage Corridor and the Last Green Valley much of the land is protected from development.  There are coyotes, fisher cats, bobcats, black bear, and recent sightings and tracks from mountain lions.  A common sign of a predator being in the area is an absence of normal forest noises, a strange stillness devoid of sound.

The Lost Village is located on private property and may soon be open to the public because there is such an interest.  The area is currently being logged and the forest thinned out.  You still need permission to go there, and I suggest not going as the area is closely watched.  There are no town police in this part of Connecticut, but there are plenty of shotguns.  The owner has written a book based on her own research into the Higginbothams life and death in Pomfret.  The Lost Village of the Higginbothams, Doris B. Townshend, Vantage Press, NY, 1991. The book is a historical fictional novel based on  facts the author was able to uncover and is a good fast read that provides an intimate look into 18th and 19th century rural colonial life.

I am a Pomfret resident and have been to Bara Hac many times including after sunset and have never encountered anything unexplainable.  My family came over on the Mayflower in 1620, and has lived in the Eastern part of Connecticut since 1637.  I have spent a good portion of my life exploring the New England forests and countryside.  Even scarier than Bara Hac… I live on Pomfret’s very own Witches Hill.  Suspected witches were put to death in Connecticut before the Salem Witch Trials ever happened.  Unfortunately, nothing even remotely paranormal has happened here either.  ”

I managed to get some great pictures and was intrigued by the place and its tranquility. Quite a remarkable place. Especially the face carving on the rock. Again from Barahack.com –

“Such stone carvings are called petroglyphs by archeologists.  Many of these stone carvings have been found out west in Indian territory, and are thought to have been carved thousands of years ago.  Others were found to be of more recent Indian history of 200 to 300 years ago.  The age of a carved stone is it’s biggest mystery.  Some carvings are signify sacred sights, and tributes to great spirits of long ago.  Other carvings have been found near burial sights, and as tributes to ancient leaders.  Others may simply be directional markers. ”

Here are the pics……

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