Editor’s note: This piece and one to follow, “The Pied Piper of Pepperell”, we believe were written by Ray during the time he was also writing “Uncle Bart” stories for an area newspaper circulated in the towns mentioned in the stories. Several of those stories have already been entered here under Raymond J. Harding, Short Stories, in the blog index.
These stories are examples of how he was always a willing participant in local community activities and how he could poke fun at the foibles and miscues often encountered in local politics. Occasionaly “fun” observations carried respectful, but sharp edges. These latest offerings are, for us, new items only recently discover among his papers. The three short stories and one lengthy poem are probably the last “short” items we have. These remaning items will be posted here over the next several weeks.We will eventually post all 6 of his never published novels, which we feel are worth the time and energy he put into their writing and we his siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews have lovingly restored and digitized, so his prose may reach a readership he might not ever have imagined.
Thanks to all who have read along with this effort. I promise you will not be disappointed for investing your time and enegy as well. Happy reading. rdh
Raymond J. Harding
Pepperell, MA 01463
Episode 1 The Great Dunstable Indian War
There were quite a few very interesting things that took place in our little corner of New England. Unfortunately, most of them got turned into very boring accounts, buried in history books because many participants didn’t want the truth to come out at the time lest it lead to divorce, law-suits, or domestic mayhem. Which, I suppose, is understandable. However, during an interview I did recently with an elderly gentleman in a local nursing home, I was given access to an original journal handed down from father to son in his family. This journal gives the true account of the Great Dunstable Indian War.
What you are about to read had been taken from that chronicle almost verbatim. (I have removed all the Ye’s, Yo’s, (1), Thou’s, Forsooth’s, and those quaint expletives used by whacking one’s thumb with the flat side of a tomahawk.)
It all began around 1724 when Goodie Thomilson returned from Northampton where she had heard the Reverend Johnathan Edwards deliver his famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. Goodie, fired up with religious fervor, convinced the other good wives of Dunstable that they were being exploited, and the whole community was in deep trouble. “From this time on, she had declared, “There will be no more sin in Dunstable!” Now, you all know what that meant.
In those days Dunstable took in, not only the present township, but also a goodly chunk of Groton, Pepperell, Westford, Chelmsford, and, of all places, Nashua, New Hampshire.(2) Right about the time that Goodie’s ultimatum was beginning to show results, Young Cosgrove Brown called a meeting of the Good Old Boys’ Rod and Gun Cub at the Grange Hall which stood smack in the middle of Route 3-A near the Tyngsboro Bridge.(3)
Now, the men were understandably a little up-tight. Cold showers helped, but were hard to come by. Also, life was getting a little boring. The past hunting season had been a great one. Records for that year tally the following: 350 deer, 2,450 squirrels, 900 grouse, 16 moose, 27 wild boar, 900 lbs. of shad, 3 tons of trout, 600 lbs of salmon, and one whale taken during an excursion to Nantucket. They had enough meat and fish to feed Chicago for a year, if there had been a Chicago. (4)
According to my journal it was one Jebediah Jones who got things going when he complained, “Goin’ to be a long, cold winter. Wife’s already naggin’ me about all the time I’m spendin’ round the house. Just ain’t no action around here.”
The only teen-ager in the group was a pimply faced youth named Jud Wilkinson who echoed Jones’ lament with, “Yeah, bore-ring!”
Now, old Colonel Frie knew how it was. It was he who suggested the Indian war. “Been talkin’ t’ Chief Runningtrout, boys. Seems they’re just about as bored out of their skulls as we are. Got me an idea.”
The idea was that the GOB Rod and Gun Club would chip in and pay Runningtrout £600 (5) to stage a mock raid. The Indians were to run through town, shooting and screaming. They agreed to aim high, take no prisoners, and just to make it look good, burn down Josh Rutland’s barn.(6)
When the big night came, the Indians took to the scheme like born actors. Bullets whizzed harmlessly into kitchens, blood-curdling screams and war-whoops filled the night air, and Rutlan’s barn went up like a rocket.(7)
The next morning the men gathered on the town common. Colonel Frie called the roll, and every able-bodied man for miles around was there with the exception Josh Rutland who had decided to set up business in other parts.
They all marched out of town (heading north as agreed upon with the Indians) each man carrying the following: a tent, sleeping bag, blunderbuss, shot and powder, fresh underwear and sox, provisions, and one gallon each of rum. Children stared, and women wept as the men marched off to war. It was several weeks later that Goodie Thomilson was heard to remark to Hester Primly, “I just didn’t like that silly smirk on my old man’s face! Matter of fact, they all looked a little simple.” But the women bravely carried on the work of the village and farms while the men were off risking their lives in ‘mortal combat’ with the wiley redskins.
At the end of the first week, the raiding party arrived at the shores of Lake Winnepisockee where they had planned a rendezvous with Chief Runningtrout and his braves. “Nice piece of real estate, Colonel?” the chief asked. “For another £200 we’ll give you a package deal for this, plus Conway, New Hampshire, and a sizeable piece of Maine.” The deal was struck, and the party began. It lasted for three days and two nights and finally ended when young Jud Wilkenson shot himself in the foot, showing off his fast draw with an old dueling pistol to a very cute, little Indian Girl.
“Good,” said Colonel Frie, “we needed a casualty to make it look authentic. Who’s going to volunteer to help Jud home?” There were no takers. Finally, the cute, little Indian girl offered to help hobble home with poor Jud. (8)
For two more weeks, the raiders and the Indians traveled east together, exploring new territory, drinking run, and occasionally firing shots into the air to warn the locals to stay out of the way. They were all having a great time.
When they reached the banks of the Saco River, in what is now Fryeburg, Maine, Colonel Frie took stock of his situation. There was still a fair supply of meat and grain on hand, but in spite of the plentitude of game in the area, he and his men were running short of shot since they had been firing merrily into the air at will. Also, they were running out of rum. “Time to head home,” the good Colonel announced.
“Not me!” at least a dozen voices chorused.
“Good,” said the Colonel, “me neither. We can be the fatalities. Now, boys,” he warned the stalwart few who chose to return to Dunstable, “get your stories straight. We all died as heroes, even old Runningtrout, here. We want monuments and pensions for our widows. Damn government down in Boston’s been penny-pinchin’ us for years. ‘Bout time we got even!”
With that, the Colonel and an adventurous group of men whose names can still be found as early fatalities in the annals of early America, along with their Indian friends, began the long, hard trek north into Canada.
When the ragged band of ‘survivors’ staggered back through the portals of Dunstable, they were welcomed with open arms by the good women of that town.(9) Goodie Thomilson had run off several weeks before with a roving rug merchant, and with her went the last of the ladies’ scruples. Sinning in moderation, became the new philosophy, at least for a few wild weeks.
Thus ended the Great Dunstable Indian War. I do realize that some local descendants of those brave souls presumed dead in that historic encounter may be shocked at the true account. But look at the bright side. Those heroic forefathers of yours that you thought had died so young, so tragically, lived long and happy lives, and you might even have a slew of great-grand-cousins seven times removed alive and well and living in Montreal!
- “Yo!” A response to one’s name in a roll call.
Ex. (Sergeant-at-arms): Hoffstadter!
(Hoffstadter): Yo! (This response is still extant.)
- There was only one mall in Nashua at that time, and it didn’t do very much business.
- It didn’t matter since there was very little traffic then.
- Actually, there was a Chicago, you just couldn’t get there from Dunstable. The Indians pronounced the name as ‘Sheesh, Car-no-go’. They got this from an itinerant tinker who had sold them an early Model T, but no gasoline.
- Vermont was later purchased for £500, so we’re talking big bucks here. (No pun intended.)
- Josh was not a member of the GOBR&GC, and was much disliked around the village.
- Unbeknownst to the club members, Rutland had over 220 gallons of sour mash and a goodly sized still on the premises.
- The trip took them seven weeks.
- As well as by several of the not-so-good women.