Skip to content

Skunk Anyone?

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, November 2, 1982

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 176)


The “Burlington Farmer” for Sept, 29, 1892 contained an article, “Something About Hunting in Burlington,” in which the author, a great-grandson of Jotham Johnson, whose house on Lexington Street still stands, writes:

“Wolves, moose and beaver have long since vanished from Massachusetts; bears, deer and wildcats have left this part of the State, though it may be news to most people that deer have reappeared this year in one part of this county.”

Parker Converse, writing at the same time, notes that the last bear was killed on Jacob Ames’ farm in New Boston in 1775, and the last deer was shot in Woburn by one of the Fiske boys on the mountain opposite the old Tay Tavern in No. Woburn in 1885. That mountain may be the one over which Peach Orchard Road now runs.

Johnson also writes:

“The last wild turkey in Middlesex of which I have knowledge was in 1842, the last one in Massachusetts in 1865; no longer do immense flocks of wild pigeons appear like clouds, the last great flight here having been in 1870.”

Converse evidently liked to go hunting, for he mentions that Woburn, in 1830 could have been called the “Happy Hunting Grounds” because of its abundance of game; pigeons, quail, partridge, muskrat, mink, raccoon, fox, weasel, sometimes an otter, rabbit, squirrel, skunk and woodchuck.”

Years ago, every boy brought up on the farm learned to handle a shotgun or rifle at an early age. Hunting not only helped replenish the larder with fresh meat but gave teenagers a chance to earn a little extra money by selling pelts. Hunting at times became a necessity for farmers because both woodchucks and deer could do a tremendous amount of damage to growing crops.

A yard (herd) of 25 deer has been known to destroy three acres of beans in one night. Thus hunting for food, profit and survival is an old American tradition. In spite of what Johnson and Converse have said, deer, until very recently, had never totally left the Burlington area, but did appear here from time to time, much as the moose which wandered into Lowell only two weeks ago.

In the early ’50s the Pattisons had a cornfield where Al Ferrari’s house was built later, and for three years in a row a doe with twins were seen frequently there. In 1951 an eightpoint buck was sighted in Pinewold, and in 1954 Ernie Taylor and Bernie Dupuis tracked a buck and doe from Pinewold through Seminatore’s farm to Pidgeon Hill and only lost their tracks after they crossed into Billerica. But they weren’t hunting, for hunting about that time was banned here.

When this writer was a boy and living on Locust Street, there was a den of foxes approximately where the Marvins have built their new home on the rising ground between Winn Street and Center Street. Mr. Cabral, who used to raise chickens then at the turn of the road on Locust Street, could never catch them stealing his chickens, but they did.

Talking about fox-hunting in his day Converse said:

“To outwit the fox required no small experience. He would make long jumps, double on his tracks, walk in the water, and then jump out onto a ledge, skulk under walls, and under ferns, in going by the gunners, in fact practice a hundred devices to throw the hounds off the track, or deceive the hunters.” Thus the word “foxy” has come to mean crafty, wily and sly.

A good hunter knows game, spends time studying it and consequently develops a deep respect for the animals and birds he hunts. Certain Burlington men over the years have acquired the reputation of having been exceptionally good hunters. Long before the turn of the century there was Uncle Jesse Fowle, Wyman Skelton, Abner Shed, Jeff Carter and the Bennetts.

At a later date Johnson asks:

“Is there a woodcock or partridge in town that Charles Fowle does not know by name? Is there a fox that has not been educated to fear the name of Bennett? Is there a cunning coon that Walter or Lester Skelton cannot find ?”

That was almost a century ago, but all our wildlife has not been scared away by urban sprawl and business development as many in town who have visits from raccoons can testify. Driving into the garage one night some two years ago I was astounded to come face to face with an opossum with a rat’s tail a foot long. And Bernie remembers the time Mrs. Sarah Bustead on Wilmington Road fed three baby possums living in a basket at her back door.

And only a week ago a flock of fine big Canadian geese came to rest on the grounds of the Memorial School which gave a number of people a chance to take pictures. And the pheasants are still here, although not in such large numbers as used to inhabit the fields and woods which once bordered the turnpike.

In the ’50s, irresponsible hunters were coming to Burlington and using their shotguns to hunt pheasant in the very back yards of local citizens and often on the posted fields of small farmers with little regard to either safety or legal quota. Two local men, both good hunters, became upset with this unlawful and careless procedure. One was David Skelton, whose love for wildlife came from his father and uncle; the other was Bernard Dupuis, raised on a Vermont farm where hunting was a way of life and whose love and interest in wildlife has made him a welcome visitor to Burlington classrooms from time to time.

The two of them appeared before the Board of Selectmen to ask that something be done to curb such adventures in Burlington’s fields and woods. The selectmen responded by banning all hunting in town.

Inveterate hunter Dupuis still goes to either Vermont or New Hampshire each fall hopefully to take a deer. He firmly believes that is not wrong to hunt deer, primarily because unless the deer population is kept within bounds, they starve during a severe winter which is a fate far more cruel than a quick end with a well-placed bullet.

In Massachusetts today hunting is confined mostly to the western parts of the state. There are three different deer seasons: the archery season, the first 20 days in November when only bows and arrows are allowed to be used and requires the skill of an Indian to get anywhere near an alert buck; the shotgun season for six days in December in which bows and arrows still can be used; and the primitive firearms season, for three days the latter part of December when only flintlocks and caplock muskets using black powder may be used. Fish and Wildlife Laws now are very strict and require that any citizen, age 15 or older, must have a Firearms Identification Card or License-to-Carry for both hunting or target shooting.

To return to former days, Converse tells an amusing story which he called a “Wild Pig Hunt.” It seems that Col. Leander Thompson, who has been mentioned in the column before, purchased a young pig early one spring:

“This pig escaped from the sty, into the woods, where, during the summer, he lived in a wild state, growing more and more savage, from being pursued and shot at, till in the fall, he became dangerous, and the hunters determined to take him dead or alive. At this time he would run before the hounds like a fox, stopping occasionally to beat them off.

“After a half day’s running, he was driven onto Ragrock, where several armed hunters were waiting for a shot. As he came down the side a man from behind a tree sprang onto him, and a desperate struggle ensued, but assistance being promptly afforded, he was thrown on his back, bound with ropes to a plank, and escorted through Woburn with music and the firing of guns, above all of which was heard the shrill defiant screams of the still resolute rebellious captive.”

And both hunters and gourmets might ponder the following tidbit which Converse also gives us:

“The skunk, the seecawk of the Indians, usually hunted by moonlight in the fall, (and) the woodchuck (are) both good eating when young, especially the skunk, which looks and tastes like chicken.”