The way the settlers met and overcame the wild animals is well described in the following story by the late Hon. D. P. Thompson, and printed in the Montpelier Argus and Patriot in 1867, of “The Great Wolf Hunt on Irish Hill in Early Time.”
One Saturday night, about dark, in the month of February, 1803, a smart resolute boy, who was then eleven years old, who is still alive and one of the most honored citizens of Montpelier, Hon. Daniel Baldwin, and who had been boarding out to attend the district school on the lower part of Dog river, started on foot and alone to go to the house of Israel Dewey, his brother-in-law, three or four miles up the river, over a road leading mainly through a dense forest, to his destination near the borders of Northfield. Not anticipating the least difficulty in accomplishing his undertaking, he pushed confidently forward till he reached the log-cabin of old Mr. Seth Johnson, which was the last house on his way before entering the long woods separating the lower settlements from those in the vicinity of Northfield Falls whither he was bound. As he came up Mr. Johnson, who was in the yard, on learning his destination, ominously shook his head, and said, “Daniel. you must not try to go through the long woods to your sister’s tonight, for the varmints will catch you.” But the boy not frightened by the warning, was for going on, when Mrs. Johnson came out and interposed by “Now, Seth Johnson, if that boy will go, you must go with him, or the varmints will certainly have him; have been prowling in the woods every night for a week.” Well, I would go if I could not do better by him, but I can contrive to furnish him with a better safeguard than my company will afford,” returned the husband. “Daniel, you hold on a minute and I will show you.” So, saying, he ran into the house and brought the firebrand of a stout sapling club, with one end well on fire, and putting it into the boy’s hand, said to him, “There, take that and begin now to swing it enough to keep it alive, and if the savage brutes beset you on your way swing it round you like fury and run the gauntlet, and I’ll warrant they won’t dare to touch you.”
The boy who had been a little staggered by what he had heard, now, however, as he was armed with the efficacious firebrand, as he was told it would prove, again went fearlessly forward. But the events of the next half hour were destined to change his feelings of confidence into those of lively apprehension, for he had not gone more than half-a-mile after entering the woods, before his ears were greeted by a long shrill howl rising from the forest a short distance to his left, bringing the unwelcome conviction to his startled mind of the near vicinity of one at least of the wild beasts against which he had been warned, the terrible wolf. And to add to his dismay, the howl be had heard was almost instantly answered by a dozen responsive howls from various points more or less distant, on the wooded sides of Irish Hill, which rose immediately from Dog river on the east; while these ominous sounds, growing louder and more distinct every moment, very plainly indicated a very large troop of these savage brutes were rapidly closing in on his path with a purpose of which he trembled to think. Believing it would be as dangerous for him to retreat as advance, he quickened his walk into a run, and commenced swinging his firebrand as he went, hoping thus to get through the woods before the gang would beset his path. But he soon found that neither his speed nor his firebrand were sufficient to ensure him against the threatened danger. He had not gone another half-mile before a fierce and hungry yowl, issuing from a dark flitting figure in the road a few steps in advance brought him to a stand. He recoiled from the frightful cry and began to retreat, but his steps were quickly arrested by another fierce yowl, apprising him that the enemy were in possession of the road behind as well as before him, while out there on his left, out here on his right and everywhere around, rose in full chorus the same shrill, eager, hungry yowl; yowl; yowl for his blood. Having become perfectly desperate under these appalling surroundings, which plainly told him that a struggle for his life was now at hand, he made a wild rush forward, swinging his firebrand around him with all his might, and uttering a fierce yell at every bound both to keep up his own courage and frighten away the wolves which were keeping pace with him, galloping along on each side of his path, or leaping into the road behind and before him, besetting him so closely and with such boldness and determination, that it often required an actual contact of the firebrand with their noses to make them yield the way for his advance. And thus for the next half mile he ran the fearful gauntlet through this terrible troop of infuriated brutes till almost dead with fright and exhaustion, he at length reached the home of Israel Dewey his brother-in-law, with joy and gratitude for his preservation from a terrible death which no words could describe.
This event, which of itself was sufficiently romantic and thrilling to deserve a place among the striking incidents of the early settlements, was the more noteworthy on account of the memorable affair to which it directly and almost immediately led, the great wolf hunt on Irish Hill in the winter of 1803.
Up to that time it was not known with any certainty that there were wolves in this section of the country. Several settlers in the vicinity of the extensive mountain forest called Irish Hill, had lost sheep; whether they were killed by bears, catamounts, or wolves was a matter of conjecture; but the boy’s perilous adventure which spread rapidly among the nearest settlements and was implicitly believed at once, established the fact in the minds of all that there was really a gang of wolves in the vicinity, and Irish Hill was probably their chief rendezvous. The settlers one and all eagerly expressed their wish to join in a hunt for the extermination of the destructive animals.
A rally was made on the following Tuesday, but not extensive enough to form a ring around any large portion of the forest where the wolves were supposed to be lurking. Having assembled at Berlin meeting house, they, however, marched into the woods and shot two wolves, when they postponed further operations till the following Saturday, when a grand hunt was proposed in which all the settlers from the adjoining towns within 20 miles were to be invited to partictpate, what they had done being considered merely a reconnoisance. Early Saturday morning, the well-armed settlers, having ambitiously responded to the call, gathered at the house of Abel Knapp, Esq., the town clerk, living very near what was then termed Berlin Center meeting-house.
The assembled forces numbering 400 or 500 then formed themselves into two equal divisions, and chose leaders or captains for each, with a general officer to remain at the starting point and give out the order or signal cries to be passed round the ring proposed to be formed. The two captains then led off their respective divisins, one to the south, along the borders of the woods, and the other to the west for a short distance and then south, each leaving a man every 50 or 60 rods, to keep his station till ordered to march inward, when the ring was completed. After waiting two hours or more to give time for the divisions to station their men so as to form an extended ring round the forest proposed to be enclosed, the word was given out by the general officer, “Prepare to march.” This was uttered in a loud cry at the starting point, and repeated by the next man left stationed to the south, and soon, if the ring had been perfected by every man, round the ring. As had been expected, the sound of this watchword gradually grew fainter and fainter in the distance, and then ceased to be heard at all. Then followed a moment of anxious waiting with those at the starting point, for if the watchword was not soon approaching from the west it would show the ring not perfected, and all success in enclosing the reputed wolves a hopeless affair. But they had not long to wait. In a short time a faint sound was heard on the west side of the ring which grew louder and louder till it reached the starting point in full tone. All was now animation and expectancy on this part of the ring, and almost instantly the next watchword ”march” rang through the forest, and eaeh man, as he repeated it, advanced rapidly into the interior of the ring a quarter of a mile as near as he could judge, and then commanded the “halt” as agreed at the outset. This word was promptly sent onward and returned like the others, when another command to march was uttered, and all again advanced towards the supposed center of the ring. And thus rapidly succeeded the watchwords march and halt, till the ring was so nearly closed that it was seen and announced that there were enclosed several wolves, in the same, which ran galloping round the centre, as if looking for a chance to escape through the ring, now become a continuous line of men. But the frightened animals could find no outlets, and were shot down with every attempt to escape. Two wolves and a fox or two were killed in this way, but by this time bullets flew so thickly across the ring that it was seen that some change of plan must he made, else as many men as wolves might be killed. By common consent at this crisis the late Thomas Davis, a well-known marksman and a man of steady nerve was requested to go inside the ring and shoot the wolves. This he did, and accomplished all that was expected of him. He shot five wolves and endangered no man. The whole number of the victims of the hunt were then found to be seven wolves and ten foxes. The company then took off the scalps of the wolves and took up their line of march for the house of the town clerk, where bounties for the slain wolves were to be allowed and of the avails some disposition made. It was announced that money to the value adequate had been advanced sufficient to pay for a supper for the whole company. These arrangements were soon effected and while the supper was being cooked a keg of rum was opened and distributed, which being taken in their exhausted condition, on empty stomachs, thus upset a large number who were never so upset before that it was said that Esquire Knapp’s haymow that night lodged a larger number of disabled men than were ever before or since collected in Washington County.
Thus was ended the great Wolf Hunt on Irish Hill in 1803, which was the means of routing every wolf from this region of Vermont, and from that time to the present day at least none have been known.”
D. P. T.
Montpelier, July 12, 1881.
The above is certified to, 78 years after by the actor in the scene, as substantially true.