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THE early history of anyone town on Connecticut River only is repeated in the early settlements of others located in the same vicinity, in the manner in which families lived, and also in the dangers by which they were beset by hostile Indians. Town lines were no barriers to the friendship that one settlement had for another. There were prominent motives which the early settlers had for a pioneer life. One was to better their condition and make a name for themselves; and the other was to get away from the conventionalities of populous towns into an atmosphere of freedom, they could not brook restraint. Many of the early settlers of this town were from the State of Connecticut, who brought with them the frugal, industrious habits of the people of that State, and also the religious sentiments of the Puritans. Another class of settlers came from Londonderry, this state, who were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. They also were frugal, industrious people, and made the old rocky hills yield an abundance for man and beast.
After the lapse of more than a century and a quarter, it is impossible for the historian to tell what character all the early settlers of this town bore, only from tradition. However, it is inferred from their acts found recorded in the records of the town, and such stray information as has been gathered from other sources, that most of the first settlers were men of great force of character, patriotic in their political sentiments, strict in their religious observances, frugal and industrious. The intellectual attainments of the first settlers were not of a high order; but in time men of culture took up an abode here. It may be that some of the first settlers left their country for their country’s good and made a new home for themselves and families; but this is not probable, for only one instance is known of a sherriff dogging the heels of a runaway, and that was Colonel Benjamin Bellows, who afterwards was the most prominent settler that ever settled in town. His great crime was this, he had not ready money sufficient to satisfy all his creditors before he left Massachusetts.
It is not positively known whether the Aborigines ever occupied permanently the territory now embraced by the lines forming the town of Walpole or not; but one thing is certain, that annually, in the months of May and June, very large numbers collected in the vicinity of the Great Falls (now Bellows Falls), for the purpose of catching shad and salmon, it being the best fishing-ground to be found in all New England. The blossoming of the shad-tree (Amelanchier Canadensis) was the signal for all the Indians for many miles around, and even from Canada, to gather about the falls for the purpose of catching shad and salmon. Multitudes of these fish would ascend the Connecticut every spring, to deposit their spawn at its head and at the source of its tributaries. After a long-weary journey from the ocean the shad were barred further progress by the rapid flow of the water. In the basin below the rapids the shad would gather in myriad numbers, and make futile attempts to ascend, but made a failure every time.
The Indians, perched on the rocks below, with their scoop-nets, found no difficulty in appeasing their hunger during the shad season. In time the shad became discouraged in their attempts to ascend the main stream, when they would descend the river till a suitable tributary was found, which they would ascend and fulfill nature’s laws, and return to the salt water in August-shad poor. The salmon, more agile than the shad, bound on the same mission, would ascend the most rapid portion of the falls with apparent ease ; so rapid is the stream that an iron bar suspended over the current will not sink, but. float on the water. It is said that salmon have been seen darting up this cascade with the speed of a locomotive, with two or three lamprey eels in tow, that bad fastened themselves upon the sides of the salmon at the dawn of day by suction.
There is sufficient evidence to warrant the conclusion that there were large numbers of Indians who lived a part, if not all the year, near the railroad station at Cold River. In the immediate vicinity and also a half-mile below, the plough-share of civilization has unearthed Indian skeletons, spear-heads, arrowheads, heaps of clam-shells and numerous other Indian relies, which, together with the rude carvings on the rocks below the Falls, are in dubitable evidences of there having been a famous lodgment for Indians about this vicinity long before the pale-faces’ eyes rested on this natural landscape of beauty. One-half mile south of Cold River is a spring of chalybeate waters, thought by the Indians to possess remarkable medicinal qualities. There was a tribe of Indians who frequented this spring, called the Abanakees or Abanarquis (meaning the pines), from whom the spring derives its name. The Indians drank freely of the water and washed themselves all over with it, claiming it would cure cutaneous diseases. It might have been potent in its effects on the red-skins; but no one ever knew of any sanitary effects it had on white people. It is very offensive to most people, both in taste and smell ; one glass of it being sufficient for a life-time with ordinary people, unless driven to the very verge of death from thirst.
One hundred and thirty-six years ago, (in May or June), if a person with a good field glass had been perched on the highest point of Fall Mountain (now called Kilburn Mountain), a bird’s-eye view would have revealed to him, near where Cold River station now is, several scores of wigwams ; their dusky owners crossing and re-crossing the basin below the falls in their bark canoes ; while their squaws were on shore doing their drudgery ; their papooses wallowing in the filth around the wigwams, and the Indian maiden loitering about in the shade of the stately elms, stringing her ornaments and wampum. A few rods south from the Indian camping-ground were the now fertile plains, then studded with dwarf pitch-pines and an uneven growth of white birch. In turning to the east, a gloomy forest of hemlock, which was the home of the gaunt, ravenous gray wolf, that made the night hideous with his howl, presented itself to view. In the far distance down the river, a shadowy view of the towering pines on Boggy Meadow was seen. This is the most arable, productive section of the town ; but it was not cleared for more than eighty years after the first settlement of the town. The reasons were : first, the great amount of labor necessary to remove the heavy timber growing there and, secondly, the unhealthiness of the atmosphere which arose from decaying vegetable matter, producing malaria.
The glass, when pointed to the southeast, would bring to view the highest elevation of land in town-Derry Hill-the altitude of which is more than thirteen hundred feet above the level of the sea. This tract of land was covered with a heavy growth of beech, birch and sugar-maple timber, which has been mostly cut off, and now a second growth is almost ready for the axe. On looking to the west, almost under one’s feet is the narrow defile between Fall Mountain and Connecticut River, where the St. Francis Indians, from Canada, used to travel, before Walpole was settled, on their marauding expeditions to the border settlements in Massachusetts. Many were the captive whites who plodded along this narrow defile on their way to Canada, to be sold to the French, downcast, weary, footsore and hungry. The territory north of Walpole to Canada line was one unbroken, gloomy forest, excepting No. 4 (now Charlestown). Game was plenty. There were the stately moose and his third cousin, the sprightly, graceful red deer, that lived on the scanty, uncut herbage of the openings in summer and browsed on the twigs of deciduous trees in winter. The flesh afforded appetizing viands for the hungry pioneer. The huge, ungainly black bear was frequently met, seen moving about with his shuffling, plantigrade gait, hunting for some fresh esculent or newly-fallen nuts from the beech-tree or acorns from the oak.
Bear steak then, as now, was considered a delicacy. The smaller game embraced the raccoon, the gray and black squirrel, the quail and partridge-all of which the ready fowling piece would bring to the sportsman’s feet. The smaller streams were crowded with spotted trout, which had never been lured by the seducing fly of Isaac Walton. Among the carnivorous animals were the lynx, the wild-cat and catamount; the latter had his lair on Fall Mountain. The woodlands wore a weird appearance -old. decaying trees, which had fallen in every conceivable direction, fantastic forms of withered limbs and old standing trees, denuded of their bark, contrasted strangely with the fresh ness of later youth. Reptiles sported in the slimy pools of the lowlands or crawled unharmed over piles of decaying timber. The rattlesnake lay coiled asleep in some sunny nook, or was noiselessly drawing his hideous form over mouldering vegetation, in quest of some luckless frog. His general habitat, in summer, was in the vicinity of Cold River, but in winter he sought repose in the clefts of rocks on Fall Mountain. Nights were made hideous by the dismal moan of the catamount or the howl of the gray wolf, when hunger forced them in squads or packs to seek something to sustain life. Silence reigned by day, save occasionally the roar of the ” Great Falls,” or broken, perhaps, by the often-repeated tattoo of the male partridge, morning and evening cheering his mate.
The red man was the sole occupant of the soil, and was as wild as the savage beasts around him-a predatory vagabond, in constant warfare with his own race; seeking the destruction of the early settlers, or leading them into a captivity worse than death ; the bark of the white-birch his canoe ; strings of shells his ornaments, his calendar and his coin; huts made of bended saplings and evergreen boughs, roofed with the skins of animals and the rind of trees, his habitation ; leaves of the forest his bed; his religion, if any, the adoration of nature; his morals not much above the instinct of intelligent animals; disputing with them the occupancy of the forests, and dividing with the squirrel and bear the fruits of the hills-lazy, improvident, wicked.
The Indian, naturally sullen, morose and mercenary in his disposition, and having been driven from time to time from the graves of his fathers, and his fishing and hunting-grounds by the encroachments of the whites, needed but little to incite him to plunder and the most cruel barbarity; consequently he was found continually harassing the frontier settlements, in small predatory bands, burning the habitations of the early settlers, destroying their cattle, killing men, women and children or forcing them into captivity, where they would be held for many years away from their children and friends.
It seems truly wonderful, to many persons in these “piping times of peace,” that any one could be found who had the courage, hardihood or even temerity to plant himself in a howling wilderness, far removed from any friendly neighbor and almost under the tomahawk of merciless Indians, the white man’s deadly foe. But when it is considered that many pioneers in a new country, like ours, had everything to gain and nothing to lose but their scalps ; that familiarity with danger, as with everything else, breeds contempt ; that the early lessons of children in bygone days were the stories of murder, treachery, pillage and rapine perpetrated by Indians ; that such stories were recounted the hundredth time by the gray-haired grandsire to his grandson on his knee, so that at an early age the child became thoroughly schooled in the habits, artifices and wiles of the red man, and at manhood, being thus taught, lie held the Indian in contempt, and believed he could check-mate his foe on his own ground ; wonder ceases that pioneers could be found, who were ready to brave the dangers of a pioneer’s life. At any rate such persons were found, and among them was JOHN KILBURN, who was born in Glastonbury, Conn., 1704 ; consequently he was fortyfive years old when he came to Walpole, in 1719. He had built himself a log cabin on the fertile intervale, about three-fourths of a mile south of Cold River, and about the same distance from the place where the Indians, in large numbers, sojourned in the summer through the fishing season. His family consisted of himself, his wife, his daughter Mehitable (Hetty) and his son John.
Thomas Kilburn was the first settler of the name in this country, who came to America from England in 1635, bringing with him his wife and five children. John Kilburn, Sr. was the fourth remove from Thomas. The name of Kilburn can be found among the English nobility to the time of Chaucer, and the line of descent can be directly traced from that time to the present. The name is spelled in different ways by the old English families, as well as in this country ; but the sound is the Kilburn, Kilborn, Kylbourne, Kilborne are some of the various ways the is found spelled. The origin of the is the same. The name is made up from two words, Kale and Bourn, which signify, the former cold and the latter water,-cold water. The coincidence of the names of the first two settlers of this town, meaning about the same thing, is quite singular; Belle Eau, pluralized, meaning beautiful waters, and Kule Bourn, meaning cold water or cold stream. What is in a name?
Kilburn had lived in town some three or four years before Colonel Benjamin Bellows settled in town, without communication with friend or foe; although he had often sought intercourse with the Indians, they had studiously avoided him. During this period lie had no rest day nor night. He was not only exposed to the inclemency of severe storms in his rude hut, and all the hardships and privations incident to frontier life, but was living day and night in constant fear of the tomahawk or the scalping-knife. During the day he did not dare to go a few rods from his cabin without his gun, and at night his bed was the cold ground, a bear skin for his covering, and a cartridge box for his pillow ; nor did tie dare camp two nights in the same place, while the Indians were lurking in ambush, ready to strike the deadly blow at the first opportunity. Many times during his absence they visited his cabin in the dead of night, and stole everything they could find and carry away.
Some time in 1754, a company of Indians came down the river, landed above the falls and invited Kilburn to trade with them. He visited their boats, bought some skins, and made some presents of flints, flour and fish-hooks. For a while the Indians continued to hunt and encamp about the neighborhood, and, as no mischief was done, he felt more secure as time passed on, the sight of wigwams becoming familiar to his eyes and the sound of guns an every-day occurrence to his ears.