'Wild Bill' Barrett, the 'Camden Mountaineer'
In my last book, "Who's who at Mountain View," I wrote a chapter on the Barretts of Hope and Camden.
Since then, I now know the Barrett genealogy of that family beginning with Humphrey Barrett 1592 through several lines to 1974. It includes the ones from Mason, N.H.; Camden; New Ipswich, N.H., and of Barrettstown/Hope. It was done by a reader of my column and the Walsh History Center in the Camden Public Library has it.
My chapter was mostly about Ephraim Barrett, son of Colonel Nathan Barrett. It also mentioned Daniel Barrett who was married to Peggy Grose, and who we should all thank for building the Turnpike at Lake Megunticook. Otherwise, we would have to go over the mountain to Lincolnville.
One of Daniel and Peggy’s sons was called “Wild Bill" Barrett and he is the interesting character about which I write today. When Daniel died in 1850, he left his home and farm property to two of his sons, John and Amos. “Wild Bill” was left the Turnpike Farm property. It was not worth $100, but he was successful in raising grapes and bees.
He was also called “Bill Barrett the Camden Mountaineer.” He had long white hair and a long white beard. One day in 1880, he drove his oxen sled to Camden with a load of apples, and a man from a Boston paper spotted Bill, who was easily identified. They had heard of him and wanted to interview him for an article in their paper. Unless I quote parts of the article, you might miss the flavor of this “Mountaineer.” When they told him, he said:
“Oh, don’t say anything about an old crazy head like me. I’m all used up and you have taken me at a bad time.”
They told him that they wanted to know about the “Turnpike”, about his “Blow Up" and his encounter with the wild cat.
“Hold on, don’t be too fast. You’ve taken me in a bad time. Let’s see. My father’s name was Daniel Barrett, and he came from Concord, Massachusetts before the year 1800 and after clearing a farm in Hope, Maine, he came to Camden and cleared the Barrett Farm just at the foot of the Lily Pond, where they had twelve children. “
William Barrett goes on to tell about his father building the Turnpike, etc., which we have heard before, so I shall omit that part. Their next question of interest was about his fights with wild animals.
“Oh, I never was afraid of them. I was much worser than they were that they were afraid of me. A wild cat jumped my brother, Amos, once, but we all had a hand with the “Indian Devil”, which was the name of the cat. Father said to me that when I saw tracks in the snow to come down with the hounds, and one day in the winter I saw the cat’s tracks off from the mountain, and in the direction of McIntire’s swamp where the cat went after the rabbit. I had the blood hounds ready and got down to Father’s as soon as I could.
"Father told me that I looked tired.
“We fed the five hounds and got the guns ready. I says to John says I, take your dogs and lead them on 'til you start the animals. Then I told Amos to take the dogs. He said that the snow was too deep. The boys were frightened, for Father had told them that he had seen all kinds of animal tracks, but had never seen anything like that. I said to Father to let me take the snowshoes. He said I might have them, I out them on and took the two leading dogs and followed the tracks through Father’s woods up through Kolling’s orchard into McIntire’s woods. [I believe he is talking about the Beauchamp Point area.] Hold on. Look here now. Did you ever see in the winter when the snow would bend the spruce trees down to make a camp? Well under one of these I started that Indian Devil. I had all I could do to hang on to the dogs. I followed the cat about 40 rods during which time he caught the rabbit and ate it. When I came to the spot, the dogs set up a terrible howl, and it was music to see them chase the cat after I took the chains off. The wild cat ran toward Rockport and came out to the shore pretty near where the ice houses now stand and turned down under the shore back to McIntire’s swamp. On the way back, the five dogs met the cat and had a fight with him. I did not dare to fire for fear of killing one of the dogs. Amos came about that time and the dogs stopped barking. Amos took to the swamp and looking up into a hackmatac there he saw the cat on a limb. The cat riz, and as soon as he fired, as quick as a cat, the Indian Devil measured the distance to Amos, but he dodged the cat and brought the stock of the gun down hard on the cat’s head. With the aid of our dogs and gun barrels we finished that wild cat but it was the hardest fight I ever had with a wild animal.”
Next they wanted to know about the rock in his skull that he carried for years. He had had an accident in the mountains when they were blowing up ledges near him.
So, William Barrett told them another story:
“The rock that broke the hole in my head that you see there is there now. Put your finger on that bunch on the other side of my forehead. Feel the ballast? Feel the rock? Well that aren’t all, see where my collar bones on each side were broken, my jaw smashed in, my teeth broken out and all the principal ribs on the left side were started off. Does that tell enough? Well, hold on, you might write about all the scars on my body. The main artery of my left leg was cut. I nearly bleed to death. My left eye was put out, my right eye got small chips in it, and it is so blurred that I haven’t been able to read for fifty years. Do you wonder they call me “Crazy Bill Barrett”? I had to take to the woods and live on wild animals and herbs to help my head. I have been in the woods for a whole year at a time, hunted beaver and otter and foxes and on one of these trips I brought back some $1,600 worth of furs. This paid my doctor bills. It was tough at times living in the wilds of Maine going sometimes for days without even crackers in the way of bread, and sometimes having to eat raw meat but during that time. I discovered a root and made snuff of it that cured my head trouble.”
William S. Barrett was a character, but really very smart in the woods and courageous. He always had many interesting stories to tell. He married Martha Pendleton and they had two daughters: Mary and Josephine. Bill died Nov. 11, 1889, and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery with Martha.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.