Twelve Days in the Saddle
“Medicus” was the pen name adopted by Daniel Denison Slade, an American physician, born in Boston, Massachusetts, 10 May, 1823. After graduating from Harvard in 1844, Slade went abroad for the purpose of higher studies, and on his return in 1852 he settled in practice in Boston.
During the civil war he was appointed one of the inspectors of hospitals under the United States sanitary commission.
Despite his medical success, Dr. Slade gradually relinquished his medical profession in favor of literary and horticultural pursuits, and in 1870 was chosen professor of applied zoology in Harvard, which chair he held for twelve years.
In 1884 he was appointed assistant in the Museum of comparative zoology and lecturer on comparative osteology in Harvard.
Though he is best remembered for his prize winning medical books, Slade also wrote this rare account of equestrian travel. Like his fellow New Englander, Captain John Codman, Dr. Slade was an advocate of the physical benefits of what was then termed equestrianopathy. “No exercise can compare with that of horseback riding,” he wrote.
His short booklet, “Twelve Days in the Saddle,” recalls how in 1883 Slade and his daughters rode through primeval forests, alongside rushing rivers and ventured into the still unspoiled valleys of Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts. Yet in addition to this lovely story, Slade was wise enough to provide would-be equestrian travellers with a list of tips on how to make a successful journey. The “Maxims” provided by the good doctor still hold true today.
TWELVE DAYS IN THE SADDLE
A JOURNEY ON HORSEBACK IN NEW ENGLAND DURING THE AUTUMN OF 1883
“I tell thee, O stranger, that unto me
The plunge of a fiery steed
Is a noble thought – to the brave and free
It is music and breath and majesty –
‘Tis the life of a noble deed;
And the heart and the mind are in spirit allied
In the charm of a morning’s glorious ride.”
To the Readers, and especially to the Young Women, who do or who may enjoy the Noble Exercise of Horseback Riding.
I have written out an account of a journey in the saddle with my daughters and companion, hoping thereby not only to induce those who are familiar with such matters to repeat their experiences, which must have been agreeable, but also to persuade others, and especially. the gentle sex, who are novices, to embrace the first opportunity to partake of pleasures, than which none are more healthful, rational, or delightful. Neither can there be anything in their sex which should debar them from the pursuit of much enjoyment. Quite the contrary; for at no time is the female figure more appropriately draped, or seen to better advantage than in the saddle. Nor does the countenance ever assume more bewitching loveliness, than when the crimson of the cheeks has been heightened by horseback exercise. In the words of Grace Greenwood, -
"Oh, not all the pleasures that poets may praise,
Nor the 'wildering waltz in the ball-room's blaze,
Nor the chivalrous joust, nor the daring race,
Nor the swift regatta, nor merry chase,
Nor the sail, high heaving waters o'er,
Nor the rural dance on the moonlight shore,
Can the wild and thrilling joy exceed
Of a fearless leap on a fiery steed ! "
It needs only the prestige, and I am persuaded that the sight of a female equestrian party, fully equipped for a journey, will be as frequent an occurrence as it is now a rare one.
It would seem hardly necessary to advance any arguments in favor of the hygienic value of such journeys, or of horseback exercise in general, so warmly are these advocated by the best medical authorities, as well as by innumerable persons who have been invalids, and who have found in them a complete restoration to health.
A few words, however, upon this point may not be amiss, and may serve to convince the sceptical or the wavering.
No exercise, especially for the invalid or the convalescent, can compare with that of horseback riding in the way of the variety offered. Mounted upon an animal possessing intelligence and spirit, and so singularly obedient to every whim and wish of man, the mind of the rider is necessarily occupied with the many incidents to which his situation subjects him. New scenes are ever opening to his view, his spirits become elated, and he is unconsciously taking in new energy and new life with every movement. As our own Holmes says, "In riding, I have the additional pleasure of governing another will, and my muscles extend to the tips of the animal's ears, and to his four hoofs, instead of stopping at my hands and feet. Now, in this extension of my volition and my physical frame into another animal, my tyrannical instincts and my desire for heroic strength are at once gratified."
Thus he secures the benefit of exercise, so essential to his well-being, without a sensation of that weariness which so often accompanies other modes, and which thereby become burdensome to the last degree to those who feel that they must pursue them for the sake of health. To the sufferers from dyspepsia in all its protean forms; to the nervous, depressed, and out of sorts; to those whose circulation is feeble, with cold hands and feet; to the narrow-chested, and to those liable to bronchial affections, and, by inheritance, to pulmonary diseases; to the sedentary and overworked, - to any and to all, male or female, young and old, I say, procure a good horse, fit yourself out according to the manner which I shall suggest, choose your companions wisely, and set out upon a horseback journey, following faithfully the maxims which experience has taught me are essential to success. If you do not return from such journey with thanks for restored health and strength and for the new lease of life thus obtained, then there is no virtue in doing well, and there is no possible felicity to be gained by pursuing any course.
As some may be deterred from the thought of undertaking a horseback journey on the score of the greater expense attending it, I can assure such that the daily expenses are not so large as by the usual mode of travelling; at least, they need not be. Thus, if one is not the owner of an animal fitted for the work and is obliged to hire, he can procure a suitable horse at a price varying from one to two dollars per day, and fully equipped with saddle, bridle, etc. The necessary expenses upon the road in New England should not exceed, including the hire of the animal, four dollars a day; and this price comprises liberal gifts to grooms and servants. The system of feeing, although foreign to our institutions, cannot under most circumstances be conscientiously avoided; that is, if we would enjoy uninterrupted peace of mind. Those who maintain otherwise, and who would frown upon the payment of any and all fees have no inconsiderable sum at the end of their journey for other purposes.
The statements which I make of expenses necessary to be incurred, are based upon a payment of two· dollars per day for the use of the horse, with all the requisite outfit for the animal; and the figures are taken from my note-book, kept with accuracy. If, however, the equestrian seeks the large towns or cities, with the idea that he will fare better by putting up at public houses where outside show is the chief attraction, he will be obliged to pay accordingly, and he will find that he has not benefited himself in any way. In the small towns and villages of New England I have invariably found, as a general rule, at the present day, that the innkeepers were courteous and obliging, that the food was sufficiently good, that the beds were clean and comfortable, and that the charges were moderate. And what more can the tired and hungry man or woman require, especially if he or she be disposed to see good in everything, and to take the ills with the blessings of life?
Thus a month's journey in the saddle need not much exceed what is commonly spent in half that period when travelling by the usual modes of conveyance. To be sure, the amount of space passed over in a given time is not so great; but in the one case the traveller has seen the country through which he has passed, and in the other he has seen but little or nothing.
It is essential that the rider should set out on his journey with a fixed determination to take it leisurely, to enjoy the beauty spread out before him, and not to labor under the constant impression that he must accomplish so many miles within a specified interval.
Of course, he must select his own season of the year. For many reasons the autumn is the preferable season - at any time between the middle of September and the third week of October, in New England, the air is bracing, the foliage generally brilliant, the inns less crowded, and the roads are in good condition. The days are of course shorter, but are of sufficient length to accomplish all that is desirable to undertake.
The month of June also offers great attractions. The country is in its maiden beauty, the inns are fresh and clean, and their landlords especially glad to greet their guests. In the selection of the route to be taken, the equestrian cannot well go amiss in New England. It must depend upon the individual taste, whether it shall be along the borders of the sea or among the hills and lakes. If his choice is for the latter, I can recommend the course described in this book, or equally well that of the preceding year, which was to the Connecticut River, having Old Deerfield as the central point, thence northwest to the Hoosac and up the valley: of the Deerfield River, through its primeval forests into Southern Vermont, thence across to the Monadnock and its lovely lake, hence southeast through Massachusetts, keeping the "Greate Wachuset" in view, to our home.
The maxims which I have compressed from well-earned experience and have offered to my readers, will, if followed, be of service to them. I have been astonished at the ignorance shown in the treatment of horses on a journey by individuals who are daily accustomed to use them at home under the saddle, but beyond this know nothing from experience.
I have advised the departure to be made from one's own door, rather than from a distant point to which the animals may have been sent by rail. Unless there are special reasons for the latter course, the first is preferable for many obvious reasons. By all means, take your baggage with you on your own horse's back. This at once gives you a feeling of independence, and imparts a certain indescribable gusto to the whole affair. You are thus thrown upon your own resources, and you must make the best of your situation, for you have nothing to fall back upon.
A servant following or preceding with a pile of trunks, the contents of which will never be needed and can easily be dispensed with, is a nuisance to all those who would enter into the true spirit and freedom of a journey in the saddle.
To those not accustomed to the exercise, or who have been deprived of it for some time, I would advise a gradual training or "breaking in " by moderate riding for two or three weeks previous to going upon the journey. In this way they would avoid the possible discomforts to which they would almost necessarily be subjected during the first few days, and which might be serious enough to cause delay.
The party should not exceed four in number, as there is less liability to delay on the journey from various causes, and as the accommodation at country inns will sometimes not admit of a larger number. An even is far better than an odd number. Be independent of a servant, and start mounted from home.
Select a horse of medium size and weight, in good and healthy condition, of a quiet, tractable disposition, having easy gaits, firm on his feet, and, above all, possessing a fast walk. Make his acquaintance before setting out.
See that your horse's feet are in good order, and start with the shoes firmly and accurately fitted, and without calkins.
The saddle, whether side or man's, should be in perfect order, the straps and buckles sound and accurately fitted to the horse's back. Beneath it should be placed a thick pad or saddlecloth of felt, such as is now manufactured for the purpose.
Carry a halter on the horse's head, beneath the bridle, - either a common one, or, better still, one combined with the bridle. The bits, as well as the stirrups, should be nickel-plated to avoid rust.
Carry your luggage with you on the horse's back, and thus avoid all anxiety as to its arrival or non-arrival by express or other conveyance.
The luggage should consist of a single small leather portmanteau, cylindrical in shape, made waterproof by a rubber covering or in some other way. This is preferable to the rubber portmanteaus or shawl bags, which are not sufficiently strong to resist the wear. This can be easily carried, strapped firmly to the pommel of the side saddle, and below to the girths to prevent motion, or fastened behind to the man's saddle, taking care that it rests upon a pad of felt, which may be either separate or combined with the one beneath the saddle. Without this precaution there is great danger of galling the back of the animal.
For outfit, wear thick or thin underclothes, according to season, a flannel shirt, woollen short coat, waistcoat, and corduroy or woollen trousers, leathern leggings buttoning at the sides, or Wellington boots, and a soft felt hat. Put into the portmanteau a change of underclothing, an extra pair of trousers, a light thin coat or cardigan jacket according to the season, a cotton or flannel night-shirt, thin shoes or slippers, and a light rubber outside coat of good material, which will shed rain and not absorb it. Add other small indispensable articles, not forgetting a small bottle of Vaseline. The entire weight should not exceed ten pounds.
A woman should carry, in addition to underclothing and other essential articles, a Jersey and a plain black silk skirt, which will serve as an occasional change from the habit, which, as now made, fortunately answers all the purposes of a dress. A felt hat and a light outside jacket, with the necessary rubber garment with hood and sleeves, complete her equipment.
Always detail one of the party to see that the horses are well cared for, that their legs and bodies are thoroughly rubbed, that their food and water are abundant and suitable, that they have plenty of bedding both by day and night, that they are not exposed to cold currents of air, and, above all, that the feet are free from stones. Do not trust to anyone, but see to the matter yourself, especially as regards the quantity and quality of the grain given, which should always consist of good sound oats. Otherwise it is very possible that you may pay for what you did not receive, to your own detriment and especially to that of the horse.
On coming into the stable, it is best to unbuckle the girths, but not to remove the saddle at once, until the back has cooled. If the saddle is removed, the pad or saddle-cloth should be retained for a time, and then the back well rubbed afterwards. Pads and saddles should be exposed to the sun, and never put into use in a wet and filthy condition.
If by any chance the horse's back becomes inflamed, immediately foment the part with warm water, and then bathe it with a lotion of tincture of arnica and water, one drachm to half a pint. Carefully avoid all direct pressure upon the part. If this is not possible, it would be advisable to avoid the use of the saddle for a day or two, rather than, by riding the animal, to lose his services for an indefinite period.
Water your horses frequently while on the. road. A small quantity at a time from the roadside trough or brook is far better and more refreshing than copious draughts, taken before or after rest, and, more important than all else, far less dangerous.
Dismount frequently, particularly in descending steep hills, and walk by the side of your horse. In this way your own limbs are relieved by the change in muscular action, and at the same time you favor the body and limbs of the animal.
Having marked out your journey before starting, carry a reliable, recently published pocket-map of the district, with the roads laid down upon it. On setting forth in the morning, always ascertain where you will find accommodations for the night, and govern yourself accordingly.
* * * * * * * *
"We ride and ride. High on the hills
The fir-trees stretch into the sky;
The birches, which the deep calm stills,
Quiver again as we speed by."
It was one of those glorious mornings in early October which characterize New England at that season, and which are found in no other climate. The atmosphere tempered by the gentle breezes from the southwest, the smoky haze which softened and subdued the surrounding hills, the mellowed tints which clothed the forests on every side, and the few purple clouds which floated motionless in the heavens, rendered it a day fit for poet's praise or painter's brush. Our horses, equipped with all things necessary for the long-anticipated journey, stood before the door. No mortals ever started upon an adventure with lighter hearts than the four who passed out of the portal of our home at Chestnut Hill on that eventful morning. Our steeds even partook of the spirits which animated their riders; and the first twenty miles were easily accomplished at the hour appointed for the nooning. In the course of the afternoon we passed through the village of Southborough. Here we hailed our boy friends of St. Mark's School, who were deeply engaged in a game of football in· a neighboring field, and were making the welkin ring with their shouts. Farther on, we made a brief visit at the hospitable mansion of a well-known and much-esteemed gentleman, whose excellent tastes have done much to beautify and improve the surrounding country.
Upon our right, at no great distance, and in the midst of a charming region beautifully diversified by hills, valleys, lakes, and meandering streams, we passed a solitary grave in a pasture. Familiar with the sad story of its occupant, I related to my companions the following bit of true history in connection with a visit to the spot in my boyhood. Although nearly one hundred and twenty years had passed since friendly hands had raised its mound and marked it with rough stones, it was even then plainly to be seen, its turf green in the lovely light of a June morning. Above and around, huge trees outstretched their protecting arms; and close at hand the swollen waters of the brook, once reddened by the blood of the victim of savage revenge, were hurrying along in their course, filling the air with their lulling murmurs. The songs of birds, the chirping of the early crickets, the numerous flowers and shrubs which so inimitably adorn our Northern pastures; all combined to impress the scene indelibly upon my young heart. Then the very solitariness of that burial-place, so far from kindred and friends, so far even from the travelled road, at once invested it with an amount of interest and pathos not easily expressed in words.
It was in Queen Anne's War, in the early years of the last century, that the French and Indians made numerous incursions into the colony of Massachusetts, killing and carrying into captivity many of its inhabitants. The town of Marlborough, being on the frontier at this time, particularly suffered from these incursions. The General Court, being aware of its exposed position, had made some slight provisions for its defence. In addition to this, the inhabitants had also erected for their safety several garrison houses, or forts, in different parts of the township, to which they could resort in time of danger. These garrisons, as they were termed, were simply pickets of timber enclosing the houses and having a gate for entrance. In order to secure a suitable defence, and to prevent confusion in case of an attack, families were assigned to their respective forts. One of these garrisons was situated in the westerly part of the town, near Stirrup Brook, and was known as Samuel Goodnow's garrison.
It was on the 18th of August, 1717, that the following events occurred. Miss Mary Goodnow, the daughter of Samuel Goodnow, and Mrs. Mary Fay were gathering herbs in a neighboring meadow, when a party of twenty or more Indians were seen issuing from the woods and coming towards them. They immediately ran for the fort, which Mrs. Fay succeeded in reaching, and in closing the gate. Fortunately there was one man in the garrison at the time, the rest being at work in the fields. The savages in vain attempted to break through the enclosure, and were repelled by the heroism of the two defenders within. Mrs. Fay loaded the muskets and handed them to her companion, by which means he was able to keep up a brisk fire upon the savages until friends came to their relief, and the enemy fled.
The unfortunate Miss Goodnow in the meantime, being lame, was unable to escape from her pursuers, who seized and dragged her across the brook, to a wood on the hillside, where she was killed and scalped. Her fate was not discovered for several days. In an attack made in a different part of the town on this same day, two men and a woman, at work in the fields, were surprised and carried away captive. One of the men escaped, and, conveying back the information, about forty of the inhabitants started in pursuit of the enemy, and overtook and drove them off after a brisk skirmish. They captured twenty packs from the Indians, in one of which was found the scalp of Miss Goodnow, which was the first intelligence of her untimely ending.
After much search her mangled body was found, and buried on the spot; and the grave which I have described is still visible, though the summer showers of nearly half a century have mingled with its sods since my visit on that June morning.
The setting sun found us at Northborough, - the haven selected for our first night's repose. It was in this town that the writer, many years ago, passed some of his happiest school-days, under the guardianship of the old pastor, who was the true pattern of a Christian gentleman. There stood, as of yore, on the hillside, the parsonage overlooking the brook and the meadows where we fished in summer and where we always hoped to find ice for our skates on Thanksgiving morning. There still were the very woods in which we constructed huts, built fires, roasted potatoes and apples, made milk toast, and stealthily smoked the sweet-fern leaves. And there, too, was the meeting-house, from whose belfry rang out the evening nine-o'clock bell, as it always had, and whose sounds awakened many slumbering associations of joy and sadness. Behind, were the rickety, propped-up horse-sheds, where we had played many a game of "I spy" in the moonlight evenings, unawed by the immediate contiguity of the graveyard, whose long withered grass and brambles rustled and nodded to the night winds as they passed. The good old man has long since departed, and with him many of his pupils.
Refreshed by a night of quiet rest, we were off at a seasonable hour on the following morning, with a bright sun and the fields glittering with dew. As we left the village upon roads well known nearly half a century since, we passed the cottage where dwelt in former years the daughter of the butcher, whose beauty had captivated the susceptible heart of one of our boy companions, inducing him to write to his parents, requesting that a ring might be sent with his usual package of clean clothes, allowance of pocket money, and sweets, to be presented to his lady-love. The ring was accordingly sent, presented, and in due time returned to him. It was one of those boyish episodes which stick in the memory when matters of graver importance are forgotten. Our destination was Petersham, a ride of forty miles or more. At noon we drew rein at the only inn in Holden, prettily placed in the midst of several fine oaks. The premises were well filled with horses and carriages which had brought the farmers of the neighboring towns to a grange meeting which was in session in the adjacent hall.
By dint of personal attention to the matter, as was invariably our custom at all times throughout the journey, our animals, upon whom our pleasure and comfort in every way depended, were first well cared for; and then, in addition to the consciousness of work well done, our own felicity was materially increased by the copious refreshing ablutions which preceded the frugal noonday meal. Our afternoon course in a northwest direction, through a pleasing country in the very heart of the Commonwealth, was uneventful, and the full orb of the hunters' moon illumined our path through the majestic pine woods long before we arrived at the coveted hostelry. These woods are the beauty and boast of Petersham; and their preservation from destruction for greed of gain is due to the efforts of one man, well known for his public spirit. Previous experience had told us that here we should find excellent cheer and good company. And if we linger for a moment to speak a word in praise of the Nichewaug, it is for the benefit of' our readers, and with the hope that many similar houses may spring up in our country towns. Of moderate dimensions and of unpretending exterior, the house is pleasantly situated upon a well-kept lawn on the principal street, which, overshadowed by venerable elms, runs through the village. Within, order, regularity, and cleanliness prevail. The rooms are commodious, and tastefully furnished without any pretence or show; and, more than all, each apartment has a generous open fireplace. Modern æstheticism has done nothing more worthy of general imitation than the re-introduction of the fire on the hearth, around which and under whose genial influence, at all seasons, friendships are strengthened, good purposes formed, and the ills of life made more supportable.
The country about Petersham, diversified as it is between hills and dales, is most charming; and as we pursued our journey on the following morning, accompanied by friends, also mounted, we were particularly impressed with the brilliancy of the autumnal tints, and by the graceful outline of the" Greate Wachusett," seen in the eastern horizon through the purple haze. This mountain, isolated and occupying a position almost in the geographical centre of the Old Bay State, seems by its commanding elevation to lord it over the surrounding country, and to form the same distinguishing landmark to us that it did to the red man, and to Governor Winthrop when first seen by him in 1632, and of which he makes the following entry in his Journal:
"Jan. 27. - The Governor and some company with him went up Charles River, about eight miles above Watertown; they went up a very high rock, from whence they might see all over Neipnett and a very high hill due west about forty miles off."
It is to be regretted that in New England, at least, we lack the legends and bits of historical lore which in older countries are so intimately connected with the mountains, lakes, and rivers, and which impart a fascination to objects which otherwise would have little or no claim upon our attention. The few narratives that we do possess, are based for the most part upon the privations and sufferings of the early colonists. As they are all too true, and have but little of the mythical element combined with them, - an element which invariably fixes and familiarizes them in the minds of the common people, - it is not strange that they are but little known. Where they are recognized, they invariably add new interest to the localities, with which they ever afterwards become associated. Thus, under the very shadow of Wachusett, and near the borders of the lovely lake which laves its northern base, may still be seen the large flat rock upon which the red man lighted his council fires, and near which tradition affirms that the brave, courageous woman, Mrs. Rowlandson, who had been captured by the Indians at the burning of Lancaster, on the 10th of February, 1676, was, after several months of great suffering, redeemed from her captivity. In her narrative, which, as Edward Everett remarked many years ago,"is not to be read without tears after the lapse of nearly two centuries," having described her capture and her many weary wanderings in the wilderness with the savages, during which she carried for nine days her wounded daughter, six years old, until death relieved the child, she says: "They said, when we went out, that we must travel to Wachuset this day. But a bitter, weary day I had of it, .travelling now three days without resting any day between. At last, after many weary steps, I saw Wachuset hills, but many miles off. Then we came to a great swamp, this which we travelled up to our knees in mud and water, which was heavy going to one tired before. After many weary steps we came to Wachuset, where my master was, and glad was I to see him. He had been gone from us three weeks.” Mrs. Rowlandson had been captured by a Narragansett Indian, and had been sold by him to Quannopin, who was a Sagamore, and who had married King Philip's wife's sister. She describes a grand powwow which the Indians held at this camping-ground previous to the attack on Sudbury. "To my thinking, they went without any scruple but that they should prosper and gain the victory. And they went out not so rejoicing, but they came home with as great a victory; for they said they killed two captains and almost an hundred men. One Englishman they brought alive with them; and he said it was too true, for they had made sad work at Sudbury, - as indeed it proved."
Shortly after this comes her redemption. "On a Sabbath day, the sun being an hour high in the afternoon, came Mr. Hoar (the Council permitting him and his over-froward spirits circling him) together with the two afore-mentioned Indians, with the third letter from the Council. In the morning Mr. Hoar invited the Sagamores to dinner; but when we went to get it ready we found they had stolen the greatest part of the provisions Mr. Hoar had brought. And we may see the wonderful power of God in that one passage, in that when there was such a number of them together, and so greedy of a little food, and no English there but Mr. Hoar and myself, that there they did not knock us on the head and take what we had, there being not only some provision but also trading cloth, a part of the twenty pounds agreed upon." After much parley and indecision, the savages finally consented to release Mrs. Rowlandson. "So I took my leave of them, and in coming along my heart melted into tears more than all the while I was with them, and I was almost swallowed up with the thoughts that ever I should go home again."
The thoughts of the sufferings of this devoted woman were uppermost in our minds as we rode through a region over which she had travelled more than two centuries ago under circumstances so widely different. We dined at the pretty village of Shutesbury, which boasts of having been the residence of a man who attained the age of nearly sixscore years.
Dr. Dwight, in his Travels, says: "He was of middle stature, firmly built, plump, but not encumbered with flesh, less withered than multitudes at seventy, possessed of considerable strength, as was evident from the grasp of his hand and the sound of his voice, and without any marks of extreme age. His memory was still vigorous, his understanding sound, and his mind sprightly in its conceptions. He had been a laborious man all his life, and had been uniformly temperate. Ardent spirits he rarely tasted; cider he drank at times, but sparingly. Milk, which had always been a great part, was now the whole, of his diet. He was never sick but once, and then with the fever and ague. He was naturally cheerful and humorous, apparently unsusceptible of tender emotions, and not much inclined to serious thinking. When he was ninety-three years old, he made a bargain with his host (who told us the story), ~hat he should support him during the remainder of his life for £20. It was said that his descendants, some of whom were of the fifth generation, amounted probably to more than fifteen hundred."
Although the weather was extremely warm, we hurried on in the afternoon, that we might cross the Connecticut at Sunderland bridge before the day was spent. We were well rewarded for our efforts. The view, when half-way across the bridge, looking up and down the river, its banks fringed with overhanging trees, its meadows and waters bathed in the rosy light of the setting sun, the neighboring heights of the Sugarloaf range clothed in its sombre forests, and the distant spires of a village, was one of rare beauty, and worthy of the brush of Claude Lorraine. The unusual warmth of the weather invited us to spend the evening upon the piazzas of the inn until a late hour.
A misty morning veiled the charms of the Deerfield valley as we crossed it, and struck due west for the town of Ashfield, passing over the hills and through the vales of Conway, the forests on all sides all the more gorgeous in their colors from the excessive moisture of the atmosphere. The blue gentian, which we had first observed as we approached the valley of the Connecticut, now opened its fringed blossoms in great numbers along the roadsides. We were tempted by the thousand objects of beauty seen on this morning's ride to loiter longer than usual, and it was much after our accustomed hour that we made our noon-halt.
The rain, which the gathering clouds of the morning had threatened, began to fall at intervals in the early afternoon; and as we found the inn particularly cheerful and homelike with its open fires, excellent fare, and obliging host and hostess, we very wisely concluded to remain and partake of its hospitality. The delay would also afford our young companion a chance to carry out a cherished plan of visiting a friend in an adjacent village, which was away from our contemplated course of travel.
The afternoon passed quietly, occupied in walks through the town, in which we saw the residences of Professor Norton, of Cambridge, and of Mr. George W. Curtis. We met the latter gentleman, with whom we had a most agreeable chat on Bryant, whose birthplace was in the neighboring village of Cummington, which we intended to visit on the morrow. We also found the public library open, and spent some time in its rooms, looking through its alcoves. The stranger observes at once the good influences brought to bear upon a country town by the presence of even a few men of refinement and culture, although their sojourn in it may be for a very limited season. In Ashfield, for example, the establishment of a public library, the neat and well-ordered inn, the houses, gardens, streets, and embellishments, show evidence of the existence of a public spirit due to such a cause.
The next morning, on leaving this pretty town, the sun came forth in all his glory, to gladden us on our ride through the dales and forests of Cummington, made memorable by the verse of our nature-loving poet. "The complaining brooks that make the meadows green," swollen by the recent rain, seemed to breathe his name as they brawled over rock and wild cascade.
"The mountains that infold
In their wide sweep the colored landscape round,
Seem groups of giant kings in purple and gold,
That guard the enchanted ground."
All spoke of him. We could not wonder that he had found inspiration for his early poems amidst the surroundings of his boyhood home. Beautiful as they now were, still grander must they have been when the forest stretched away unbroken from his father's door. It was while straying therein, that his thoughts found utterance in the words of the" Thanatopsis."
We passed along the roads adorned by trees, planted under his direction and leading to his prettily sheltered home, which had been rearranged for the comfort of his wife shortly before her death. We saw the substantial stone library, a gift to his native town. On all sides were evidences of the former presence of the man who had done much to make himself endeared to his countrymen.
Leaving the quiet regions of Cummington, we pursued our journey to Pittsfield, having for our destination the Shaker village, a few miles beyond, where we wished to pass Sunday. Heavy rains began before nightfall; and as we trotted through the mud and mire of the lighted streets, enveloped in our grotesque suits of rubber, the footfalls of our horses awakening strange echoes, we could easily imagine ourselves to be a picket guard on duty, or the advance guard from some neighboring cavalry outpost.
It was late when we arrived at the first family of Shakers; and, much to our disappointment, it was not convenient for them to afford us shelter. They, however, directed us to the next family, at a little distance, who, although they had retired, arose and ministered to the wants of ourselves and beasts. The extreme neatness and nicety of everything, and the kind attentions of the sisters soon made us feel at our ease; and we congratulated. each other at having our lot cast in such pleasant places. The Sabbath was spent in quiet walks in company with an Elder, who showed us the sleek cattle upon the hills, their excellent barns and outbuildings, their substantial walls and well-cultivated gardens and fields. Everywhere were to be seen the same thoroughness, stability, and exceeding neatness which distinguish the sect, - qualities which we wish could be more universally diffused among the world's people. We noticed, with regret, that the pursuit of various manufacturing interests had been given up, owing, as we learned, to a gradual diminution in their numbers, and to the necessity of calling upon outside help, thereby showing a weakness which foretells the certain decay of their institutions, and their disappearance at no distant day.
A bright Monday, with a brisk northwest wind, invited us to an early start over the mountain into the valley of Lebanon. For several miles the solid stone walls of the Shakers mark the extent of their possessions on both sides of the road.
Passing through the extensive settlement of Lebanon Shakers, we came, after a half-hour's ride, to the deserted halls of the hotel at the Springs, which, now silent, formerly echoed to the revelry and gayety of fashion. As we drank of the beautiful spring which wells up in great abundance directly in front of the building, we naturally thought of the many who had done the same in years gone by, - some with the hope that it would prove to them a perpetual fountain of youth, while others as vainly dreamed that its waters would cleanse them from all inherited or self-inflicted disorders.
Upon the now forsaken colonnades we pictured to ourselves the elegantly dressed throngs which once promenaded by the light of the moon that had risen above the mountain tops, and listened to the strains of music as they came up from the crowded ball-rooms below; and we saw among them the German Baron and his lovely lame daughter, Meeta, of whose career Willis tells us in his sprightly "Inklings of Adventure."
At our suggestion, the guardian of the place, an old man, escorted us to an adjacent, strange, mysterious building, and, taking a key from his pocket, opened a door that, creaking on its rusty hinges, disclosed to us the interior, which contained enormous plunge baths and the accessory dressing-rooms, in former years resounding at all hours with laughter and frolic, but now dismal and noiseless.
Returning by the same road over the mountain, until within a mile of our starting-point in the morning, we turned off abruptly, and, crossing a charming country, ascended by a winding pass the mountainous ridge which separates Richmond from Lenox, from the summit of which we looked directly down upon the latter village with its tasteful· homes and well-cultivated grounds. A walk, after an early dinner, gave us an opportunity to see its natural beauties as well as those which have been so lavishly contributed by art. But the glory of this day was the ride to Stockbridge in the afternoon. Nothing could exceed the beauty of Lake Mahkeenac, embosomed in the surrounding hills, and reflecting upon its quiet surface the gorgeous colors of the forests which bordered its shores. Its praises have been often sung.
We lingered long, enjoying the loveliness of the scene, until the early sunset admonished us that if we would see fair Stockbridge before the fading of the day, we must hurry on. This famous old town is too familiar to need any extended notice here. The comfortable, cosy, home-like inn, with its old furniture, open wood-fires, and excellent fare, is a model in its way. Before the daylight had vanished, we sallied forth to visit the Indian burial-ground and its appropriate unhewn shaft of stone erected to the memory of the red men, to see the bell-tower with its chime, and to get a glance at the substantial residences which, overshadowed by magnificent old elms, border the broad street. This was once the home of Jonathan Edwards, and where he completed that wonderful, mental production, "The Freedom of the Will." Here lived and wrote Catherine Sedgwick; and others have made its beauties the subject of their theme. The full moon added its glory to the scene before we returned to the pleasant fireside. The evening passed quickly away, surrounded as we were by pleasant friends and amidst books and games.
The next morning equalled in beauty any that we had yet enjoyed. The air was fresh and invigorating, and the white frost glistened in the sunlight, as we passed under the singularly picturesque cliffs of Monument Mountain,
"Shaggy and wild
With mossy trees and pinnacles of flint,
And many a hanging crag,"
and following the Housatonic as it winds among its luxuriant meadows, rode into the valley and attractive village of Great Barrington. Turning thence to the right, we pursued our way through Egremont, and soon found ourselves among the mountainous passes of the Taghanic range, ascending through which we had, at intervals, fine views of the Dome, and the more distant mountains with their intervening ravines and valleys. Noon had passed when we alighted at the house of an enterprising farmer, who received us very hospitably and gave us excellent cheer. After an hour's rest we started for the Falls of the Bash-Bish, the sight of which had been the object of our wishes for many years. Our road continued along the mountainous ridges, and through passes as grand and wild as any of Northern New Hampshire. Ravines, streams, cascades, forests, crags, and peaks were on every side. Nothing in autumnal scenery could be finer than that which met our gaze at one point where, in descending into a deep gorge, the road makes a sudden bend. Through a narrow valley hemmed in by opposing mountains, gorgeous in coloring, a vast extent of country was opened to view, bounded in the extreme horizon by the noble Catskills, the whole softened and subdued by the light of the descending sun.
Arriving at the base of the gorge, we turned from the travelled road and entered a cul-de-sac, formed by the rocky mountainous sides, clothed in the resplendent colors of the forest. In the centre of this, and from a height of several hundred feet, amidst majestic sombre evergreens, leaped in cascades the rushing waters of the Bash-Bish, terminating their headlong career by a final plunge over a lofty perpendicular precipice into the dark pool beneath. We were much impressed with the grandeur and beauty of this spot, far exceeding even our anticipations. A noted geologist who visited this region more than half a century since, when its existence was scarcely known to the nearest hamlets, in his report pronounces it "the most interesting gorge and cascade in New England," - in which decision we most heartily coincide, adding, at the same time, that its very inaccessibility in these days renders it the more worthy of a visit. "Nature cunningly hides the gems of her landscape a little away from the noisy and dusty paths."
We lingered, gazing upon the charms which entranced us, until the coming on of evening warned us that we had still a long ride before the day should be closed. Gathering a few flowers and fern leaves from the edge of the pool, we remounted, and, soon emerging from the forest, pursued our route over a more level country. Any sense of weariness which we might otherwise have suffered, was dissipated by the sight of beauties still in store for us. In the western horizon, rendered more grand and distinct by the gray twilight, loomed up the distant Catskills, "printing their bold outlines on the clear evening sky." We gazed upon this glorious scene until it faded away in the gathering darkness. Then the light of the moon, rising over the summits of the neighboring range, imparted weird and uncertain aspects to the landscape, while, later on, its beams glanced in silvery columns across a lake whose waters were in part overshadowed by a craggy peak which rose abruptly from its shores, along which our road skirted.
The feeling of uncertainty as to our destination for the night also imparted a certain stimulus to any flagging of spirits; for we had been many hours in the saddle, and were informed that we had yet several miles before us ere we could reach suitable accommodations. We passed through the disputed territory, selected not many years ago by two celebrated champions of the ring as the location where they might carry out their pugilistic encounter unmolested by any State authorities, and arrived late at Millerton, a small, uninteresting commercial town.
A goodly portion of the inhabitants assembled about the hotel on the following morning, at our departure, incited thereto by that interest and mystery which are inseparably connected with the movements of all travelling exhibitions in our country, and to one of which of course, in their supposition, we were attached. In fact, we had been thus classified during the entire journey; and no small amusement had been afforded us by confirming this belief in the minds of youth and small boys by the tenor of our conversation in their hearing. We pursued our course along the northern portions of Connecticut, through a charming country abounding in mountains, lakes, and streams. Passing through the village of Canaan, we took our nooning at Norfolk, and in the afternoon, striking northeast, we descended into the valley of the Farmington at Colebrook River. Following up the Farmington River, we soon found ourselves in an extremely wild and picturesque region, hemmed in on all sides by mountains.
Darkness came upon us at an early hour, and we were not sorry to see the summits on the opposite side of the valley lighted up by the rising moon, and to watch the effects of the light upon the glens and forests, as it gradually crawled down the mountain sides and finally illuminated our obscure road, which led along the banks of the brawling river. The air was unusually sharp and frosty, and we were obliged to dismount frequently in order to quicken the circulation in our benumbed extremities by running and stamping. The evening was far advanced when the brisk trot of our horses across the bridge broke the silence of New Boston, and, making a slight ascent through the quiet village, we stood at the door of an unpretending old-fashioned inn, whose landlord soon made ourselves and animals in every way comfortable. The township of Sandisfield, in which this village has sprung up, was originally an Indian hunting-ground and was granted to its white proprietors in 1735. The first white child born in the town was named Lot Smith, because the proprietors, meeting on the day of his birth, voted to give him a lot of land.
The night was extremely cold for the season; but the morning sun shone bright and warm, the frosty fields sparkled, and the frozen ground, besprinkled with the withered leaves, reverberated to the hoofs of the horses, as we recrossed the stream and ascended the steep mountainous road leading eastward to Tolland. The country was far less interesting than that through which we had lately passed, as the inhabitants had committed that sad mistake of clearing it of all its forests, and its bare and rocky pastures presented a bleak and sterile appearance. However, as we climbed the long and frequent hills, we were amply rewarded by extensive views of the mountain ranges over and among which we had lately wandered. Passing through the township of Granville, which was sold by an Indian chief to the whites in 1686 for a gun and sixteen brass buttons, we came to Southwick, where we took our midday repast. We had often been at a loss to understand why our pious Commonwealth had been allowed to take such a goodly bite out of her neighbor's territory as she does at this point, which fact may be verified by reference to the Atlas. Being upon the spot, our inquiries were satisfied by learning that this section, of about two miles square, had been originally acquired by Massachusetts through erroneous surveys, and that, although commissioners were appointed on both sides at different times to arrange matters amicably, it was not until 1804 that the present boundary between this State and Connecticut was definitely settled. Massachusetts had given other lands in the western part of the Province in 1713 as equivalent for its encroachments.
As we were anxious to see once more the noble river before the close of the day, we rode forward more rapidly in the afternoon than was our custom, and arrived at the bridge crossing the Connecticut at Longmeadow, just in time to catch the enchanting views along the river, with the towers and spires of Springfield in the near distance, gilded by the last rays of the departing sunlight. Soon after leaving Longmeadow, the darkness made our road indistinct and uncertain, and it was not until the friendly moon lent its light that we could make satisfactory progress. At Hampden, a small village of Wilbraham, we found very neat and homelike quarters for the night.
The morning of October 19 was warm. and cloudy, with threatening rain; but the sun appeared at our usual time of starting, which was between 8.30 and 9 o'clock in spite of efforts to do better. We passed through the territorially large and prettily situated town of Monson, a name given by Governor Pownal previous to 1760. This was a favorite resort of the Indians, the remains of one of whom was not long since exhumed on the banks of the Chicopee, placed in a sitting posture with gun and bottle by his side, fit symbols of the effects of civilization upon his race.
We observed the extensive quarries of gneiss, which for its singular beauty and durability is now largely used for architectural purposes. A ride of over twenty miles brought us to Sturbridge, where we dined at an inn sheltered by magnificent old elms, and made famous as having been the resting-place for a day or more of both Washington and Lafayette. The house was built for one of public entertainment, and has been continuously used as such for more than a century. The town of Oxford, which we reached in the latter part of the afternoon, was one which had always excited our interest from the fact of its having been the abode of several families of French Huguenots, who came from Rochelle in consequence of the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in 1684.
The territory called by the Indians Mauchaug was originally granted to Governor Joseph Dudley and others of Roxbury, and was named Oxford from the seat of the University in England. The original proprietors took to the grant thirty families of French Protestants, and set apart for their use between eleven and twelve thousand acres in the eastern portion. All the records of their life in this new home have been lost; but it is certain that they erected a meeting-house, built mills, as well as forts for defence against the Indians, and, as souvenirs of their old home, planted vineyards and orchards, the remains of which are still to be seen. In 1693 they sent a representative to the General Court. In 1696 the plantation was entirely broken up by an incursion of the Indians, who massacred a family living in a house somewhat removed from the main village. A recent historian gives the following account of the event. Mr. Jeansen had left his house in the morning to go to Woodstock, Connecticut, for provisions, leaving his wife with three young children at home. While she was engaged in her household duties, a party of Indians burst into the kitchen, and, seizing the children, dashed their brains out upon the fireplace stones; the mother ran from the house through the back door, and took the road to Woodstock, in search of her husband. In her fright she took the wrong path, and they passed each other upon the way, Mr. Jeansen returning to his house to be murdered by the Indians lying in wait. This attack, and other signs of hostility from the savages, quite unnerved the settlers, who immediately abandoned their homes, and retired to Boston, never returning to Oxford as a body. The surviving Mrs. Jeansen married a Johannot, whose descendants are still living. In fact, many distinguished families of Boston boast of their descent from these French refugees. In the words of Mrs. Sigourney,
"Full many a son
Among the noblest of our land looks back
Through time's long vista, and exulting claims
These as their sires."
Oxford is now a most thriving modern town, with enormous brick mills, stores, and sidewalks, with all their accompaniments, and affording very little satisfaction to the man of archaeological or æsthetic tastes.
The early darkness again impeded our progress until night's luminary, which had so often befriended us, enabled us to quicken our pace, and without incident except that of narrowly escaping the disagreeable consequences of crushing beneath our horses' feet a nocturnal animal, to arrive safe and sound at Sutton. Here we found excellent accommodations, and, what is worth all to tired and belated travellers, a most obliging host and hostess.
The morning of the last day of our journey was warm, cloudy, and misty, with occasional light showers. Donning our rubber garments, we left at an early hour and trotted on towards home. Thus arrayed, our appearance, as we passed through several manufacturing villages, afforded the operatives much delight; for they crowded every window and door of the mills, and gaped at us until we were out of sight. We were not sorry to grant them a moment's relaxation from their toils at so little cost to ourselves.
Riding through a portion of Hopkinton, the Magunkaquog, or "place of great trees," of the Praying Indians, where John Eliot, their apostle, established a church, where Sir Charles Henry Frankland with the fair Agnes once astonished the good Puritans with their worldliness, and where, in still later days, the votaries of fashion endeavored to find health as well as amusement about its mineral springs, - we arrived at Ashland, fully prepared for a substantial repast. In the afternoon the rain, which at intervals during the morning had caused us some inconvenience, ceased; and our animals seemed to acquire renewed spirits as they recognized the well-known roads in the vicinity of our homes. The evening closed upon us; but splash, splash, through the mud and darkness we hurried on, unmindful of consequences. Soon the lights of suburban towns and streets rendered our way more safe and agreeable, objects became more and more familiar; and at last the ringing of the door-bell summoned the entire family circle to greet us, and the twelve days in the saddle were over.
Main Stories from the Road page
Top of page