Windham Life and Times – November 15, 2019

Catamounts in New England

Puma or cougar or mountain lion or catamount or panther or mountain cat, vintage engraved illustration.

Catamount Rock in Windham NH

With wildlife returning to Southern New Hampshire in abundance can it be long before Catamounts are prowling through our neighborhoods? We are completely overrun by turkeys, coyotes are becoming common, and a pair of bobcats were seen in Westford this past week. The current Yankee Magazine also has an interesting article about the cats. Of course, the fisher cat, the greatest fear of my childhood, thanks to my brother who told me they were going to eat me, is also found here. So what the heck is a “Catamount” anyway?

Morrison tells us in 1883 that, “Wild-cat, Lynx, or Catamount, were once here, but have disappeared with other wild animals as civilization advanced. Periodically the community is startled by the report of the appearance of a lynx or wild-cat, but only at intervals of several years. A catamount was once killed upon a rock in the east side of the town, and the rock is known as “Catamount Rock.” “It is a large circular boulder, and rises some 4 feet above the surface of the ground. It lies in the pasture of L.A. Morrison…”

So what is a catamount? It is basically looks like a panther or cougar and it was once found in New England. According to Helenette Silver, in A History of New Hampshire Game and Furbearers, published by NH Fish and Game in 1957, “The panther. Felis Concolor, is a beast of many names, most frequently referred to in New Hampshire history as catamount, but sometimes known locally as ‘Indian Devil’ or ‘Carcajou,’ under which appellations it is confused with the wolverine, which may never have existed in the state. In other parts of the country it is variously called mountain lion, cougar or puma; the latter name has been generally adopted.”

“The Eastern panther, Felis Concolor cougar, one of the large sub-species was found in New Hampshire at the time of settlement, but has been regarded as extinct by most authorities for many years. It was a slender, long-tailed cat, probably tawny or light brown in color. Preble (1942) indicates that the color of the New Hampshire panthers was unknown, but a specimen now located in the Woodman Museum in Dover, N.H. is of a very light fawn shade without markings. The inscription reads, ‘This Felis Cougar, sometimes called Mountain Lion, was killed in Lee, N.H. by Wm. Chapman of Newmarket N.H. who was hunting in the fall of 1853 accompanied by his dogs.’ A better example of the Eastern panther is that taken at Wardsboro Vt., in 1875, and now in the possession of the Boston Museum of Science. This specimen is somewhat darker than the Woodman Museum panther— practically the same color as a deer—lighter below, blending to a reddish brown along the backbone…”The Vermont panther was smaller, weighing 110 pounds…”  According to Silver they remained in New Hampshire until the 1880’s.”

So are there live cougars in New England today? Well as a mater of fact, yes and no. According to the Massachusetts Fish and Game, there is evidence of Mountain Lions returning to New England.  Confirmed Reports of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts: “There are two records of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts that meet the evidence requirements for a Class 1 or a Class 2 Confirmation. MassWildlife cannot investigate or confirm Mountain Lion reports without any evidence. Case 1: In April 1997, experienced tracker John McCarter found scat near a beaver carcass at the Quabbin Reservation. McCarter sent a sample to Dr. George Amato of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York and Dr. Melanie Culver of the University of Maryland. Both labs confirmed the sample came from a Mountain lion. MassWildlife and the Cougar Network have accepted this record as a Class 1 Confirmation. Case 2: In March 2011, DCR forester Steve Ward photographed a track trail in the snow near the Gate 8 boat launch area of Quabbin were fresh and well photographed. Tracking experts Paul Rezendes, Charles Worsham, George Leoniak, and Dr. Mark Elbroch examined the photos. These tracks may have been made by the Mountain Lion documented in Greenwich, Connecticut on June 5, 2011, and killed by a vehicle six days later.”

“The Connecticut Mountain Lion is the best documented wild Mountain Lion in New England. The young adult male was killed by an SUV on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Connecticut on June 11, 2011. Someone photographed the animal at the Brunswick School on Greenwich, Connecticut about 40 miles away on June 5th. The USDA’s Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory found that the animal came from South Dakota. This mountain lion was documented by DNA samples from Minnesota and Wisconsin between December 2009 and early 2010.  Sighting of this animal also occurred in Michigan and New York.  Over a period of a year and a half, this Mountain Lion left DNA evidence in at least four states. Mountain lions don’t usually travel more than 100 miles from where they are born. Yet this young male traveled about 1,800 miles. This is the longest documented travel distance of a Mountain Lion.”

New Hampshire Fish and game has the following statement on their website: “Despite numerous reports, the NH Fish and Game Department continues to have no physical evidence of mountain lion presence in the state. The species that once inhabited the Northeast, known as the eastern mountain lion, is now extinct. However, dispersing western mountain lions have left evidence as close as Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.” Want to report a Mountain Lion sighting in New Hampshire? Contact the Wildlife Division at (603) 271-2461 or to request an observation report form.

Do you want to see real, living mountain lions that do exist in New Hampshire.  You can see two of them at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness NH. At I have included a link to the interesting publication by Mass Wildlife called: Mountain Lions in Massachusetts: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction, by Tom French.


Windham Life and Times – November 8, 2019

Get-Away on Cobbett’s Pond

Willis and Edith Low on Rocky Ridge Road

Willis Low was the chief of police in Windham for many, many years and his wife Edith served as a dispatcher. They are shown here enjoying a stay at Cobbett’s Pond. Eventually, they would purchase a property on the very secluded Rock Pond, because it allowed them a private place in town where they could get away from their duties for a little while.

Shoreline of Cobbett’s with Dunkan Beach in the background.

Looking toward the narrows on Cobbett’s Pond

Windham Life and Times – October 25, 2019

Novitiate of the Sisters of  Mercy

Searles Castle, Windham, NH.

I had the occasion to pull out some photographs for Cathy Walsh, with the Sisters of Mercy.  The postcard views of the Novitiate of  the Sisters of Mercy, at Searles Castle, reminded me of a very nice childhood memory of growing up in Windham in the early 1960’s.  At five o’clock, the chimes at the Sisters of Mercy rang out and could be heard in a large part of Windham. When they rang, I knew that if I was out and about it was time for me to get home. I wonder how many people still remember them today?

The Sisters of Mercy have a very interesting and inspiring history. The order’s website states that, “…the Sisters of Mercy was an order founded in Ireland, by a laywoman Catherine McAuley. She spent her inheritance to open the House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland on September 24, 1827. It was a place to shelter and educate women and girls. On December 12, 1831, Catherine and two companions became the first Sisters of Mercy.”

“The Sisters of Mercy arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1843 at the invitation of the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” Frances Ward founded the first Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh…” “Sister Mary Frances (Ward) went to Manchester New Hampshire in July, 1858, and founded a convent where day and night schools were established. In 1859 the sisters began teaching in public schools and received a salary from the city government. The sisters again wore secular dress when teaching and attending staff meetings. In 1863, they were allowed to wear their religious habit in school. Fourteen convents were established from Manchester between 1861 and 1883. Two of these were outstanding in forming new convents Philadelphia and Princeton. Mother Frances travelled with the sisters to each new convent and stayed with them for a month. She held the position of Superior from 1837 – 1884 except for 3 years in Manchester 1880 – 1883. Mary Frances Ward died on the 17th September 1884 in Manchester New Hampshire and was buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery there. A marble cross is erected over her grave…”

So now when you pass McAuley Commons or the Frances Ward Center in town, you will know the reason for the names and the story of the founders of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland and America. Cathy Walsh is working on a multimedia project about the “Sisters of Mercy and their long relationship with Searles Castle.” She is seeking copies of photos of the sisters at the castle and if anybody in town might have any, I would be glad to forward them to her or provide you with her contact information.


Windham Life and Time – September 18, 2019

Granite State Grove

A large picnic gathering with everyone in their finest attire at Granite State Grove

A rare photograph of the grove taken from the boat docks on the lake.

Rural Oasis updated Leonard Morrison’s Windham History and was written by a committee. The effort was actually very effective with various committee members researching and writing their sections. I was in high school and I was to write about Canobie Lake and “Granite State Grove,” which luckily had quite a bit of coverage by Will Harris in his columns from the late 1800’s. It took quite a bit of imagination to bring the old grove back to life in words, since there were so few pictures of the place. All we had for Rural Oasis was an old menu. Over the years, I came across one photo of a picnic at the grove and a couple of postcard views. Recently, David Demers and Michael Mazalewski were kind enough to provide me with some copies of old photographs to share, that added  much more detail to the faded memories of the place.  From Rural Oasis:  “Nearly fifty years before Canobie Lake Park’s conception, Windham’s amusement park, Granite State Grove, was providing a beautiful recreational area for the general public…” Canobie Lake Grove operated under various names such Dow’s Grove and as Policy Pond Grove when it opened in 1850. Abel Dow saw the most success after the Boston and Maine Railroad added a stop at Canobie Lake Station just down the road.

The boat-dock and a building in the grove. (Demers-Mazalewski)

  “…A refreshing swim in the lake began the day (the lake was not closed to swimming until 1903.) At the grove you could enjoy bowling alleys, a shooting alley, (yes its what it sounds like), a roller skating rink or you could “hire a boat late in the afternoon for a leisurely row around the lake.” The Dow’s had a restaurant at the grove that in 1892 offered upscale dishes such as Woodcock on toast, lobster salad and Boiled salmon and fresh peas.  The dance hall was built in 1885 and attracted the headliners of the day. The beautiful house built by Mr. William Smith in 1867 still stands on the property on the corner of Range Road and North Policy Street. The grove operated for almost 60 years until it went up in flames on July 21, 1909.


Windham Life and Times – October 4, 2019

Nutfield 300

A Maine Indian from the Norridgewock tribe with a scalp.

Jamie Cochran Indian Captive

The first section below is taken from the History of Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell, Maine, by George Wheeler.  The next accounts are from John Gyles and John Wentworth concerning the exploits of James Cochran and are contemporaneous with his captivity by the Eastern Indians. It is important to remember that Cochran was just sixteen years old at the time of his captivity. His mother had a dream that he was killed and scalped by the Indians prior to his being taken. Scalping was practiced by both the Indians who used them as proof in order to receive their bounty from the French and the English, in order to receive their bounty from the government in Massachusetts. Bounties on scalps were quite large, making the practice quite worth the gruesome effort.  “This attack upon the settlement at Brunswick is supposed to have been specially in in retaliation for that upon Norridgewock, the preceding year, by Colonel Westbrook.” (He had killed and captured several Indians there and burned the village and church to the ground.)

“No further fighting is known to have occurred in this vicinity until 1725. On April 13th of that year two Indians captured a man belonging to the garrison at Maquoit, named James Cochran, about eighteen years of age. He was on the marshes in pursuit of fowl when he was surprised by two Indians. He was pinioned, taken to the carrying-place, put in a canoe, and carried up to Ten-Mile Falls. There the Indians made their arrangements for the night. A fire was made and supper prepared. Cochran expected all this time he would be killed when the savages met some of their companions, and determined, in consequence, to make his escape, if possible. The second night his bonds were removed and he was placed between the two Indians to sleep. Each of the savages slept with his hatchet under his head and his gun by his side. Cochran feigned sleep, while in reality he watched every movement. As soon as he found his captors asleep he rose up. This movement awakened one of them, who, seeing their prisoner suffering from cold and endeavoring to warm himself went to sleep again. When all was again quiet, Cochran took the hatchet from under the head of the one who had waked, and killed him instantly. He killed the other as he was getting up. He then scalped them both, took both, took their guns and hatchets, and went down the river in great haste, fearing lest he should meet their companions. In fording the river on the way, he lost a gun and one of the scalps. When he arrived opposite the fort, he shouted, and a boat was sent across for him. He narrated his adventure to Captain Gyles, and some men were sent up river, who found the bodies of the dead Indians, and also their canoe which they brought back. He was rewarded for his bravery and promoted in rank.


Letter from Co John Wentworth.

Fre. Portsmouth April 21th, 1725.

“Yesterday was with me a young man, who is a Soulder in Your Servis by Cocharain An Ireish lad, Two Indians Took him at Maquoite and carried him up Abroscogen river a Day & a halfe Journy. The Second Night, this Cocharam (sic. Cochran) found The Indians fast asleep, went around em feeling for a hatchet, at length found one with which he Dispachrd em boath & has brought away there Scalps, but makes the Story more Manly, this Cocharam lost one of his Scalps in his March home so that when he came to Our Garrison he got three men more of his minde and went up to the place which they Judge Neer forty Miles from Mequoite, and there found the Indians as he had Saide, So they Took Another part of his Scalp and brings with, I Sent them Down Yesterday in Order to get a passage to Boston, where I hope You will See him this Evening. It was a Manly Action and doubt not but You will reward Accordingly, but in these cases our hands are Tied up, which is very greaveious to me. I think Such actions should be bountifully rewarded, it would Animate our Captives and put em upon Desperate attempts which would Discourage our Enemies…”


May it Pleas your Honour,

April 15, 1725. This Day a soldiar taken from Maquaitt Made his Escape to this Garrison, who informs me yet he was taken by two Indians ye 13 Currant, one spake good English & asked him many questions Particuler Concarning myself & this fort, he being well acquainted & told him he kil’d Moses Eaton & a negro & an English Man at Black Point, & he tould him yet six Indians wear now gon towards falmouth to kill & take, and yet our Gentlemen Commitionars wear Return’d from Canaday and yet ye Indians wear Resolved for war, & yet many Indians & Mohewks would be Down this summer to Destroy ye English & their Cattle, and now their wear 50 or 60 Indians with a friar at Narangawock, & several Indians at a Village up this River (Part of his Discours I take to be french Aier, tho My humble opinion is as I mention in my mean Lines to your Honour, December 12: 1724 Date) the second night after ye Presonar was taken, ye about said 2 Indians after hunting & killing several beauer & authers* in ye Evening they being tir’d, then, Camp* about 15 or 20 mile up this River above our fort, and when found on sleep, ye youth James Cochron ye Prisonar Rise & nockt them bouth in ye head, & took of their sculpt, one he brought to this Garrison, ye other Lost by yr way, and a fm gun in a small River Palling over. I adis’d ye Presonar to give a full accompt of to ye Colenel by ye furst — he being now much tired, I have also Rate again to ye Cololonel of affears since ye Presonar Came in, I thought also to send to Captian Heath for Men, to go up & secure ye Canew & anthers. Left with ye Corps of, but it being Difucult sending to Ritchmond, I thought it Proper to mustar a few hands of my Little number & from maquaitt, to Prevent ye anther Indians  getting ye Plunder. April 18th  this Day our People Went up ye River to Vew ye Indians Corps & bring of ye Plunder, and if any further Discovery.

April 17″‘, then Return’d, but no furthir Discoury; they brought of ye anther gun hatchets, knives & stone; ye Canew brought ye auther sculp, skins etc. in all to ye Value of 6 or 8 Pounds. I have often Prayed for a Reinforcement of men to this Garrison to scout & ambush this River & anther Places Which Depending on anthers for it. I now renew my humble Request for your Honours feauer to this Garrison.

Fort George.

April 16th 1725.

I am your honours, Most Dutyfull servant John Gyles.