Table of Contents
OLD JACK, GUIDE AND TRAPPER OF
One moonlight night in late October some weary hunters are trudging up the road, near the foot of the Chocorua Trail. The air is sharp, the breeze penetrating, and the steepled firs stand out in inky blackness against the sky, while the great silver moon causes the frosty road to sparkle. Tomorrow they will be in the Promised Land of hunters, and, perhaps, by another night they already will have brought down a deer. The thought of it somewhat revives their spirits in spite of cold, hunger, and fatigue.
A moonlit clearing opens before them, and the pale rays, falling aslant the few deserted buildings, gives the little cluster of houses a ghostly appearance. But on the right, in the French-roofed house, they will find a boon companion. Here they will spend the hours till dawn, in warmth and comfort.
Upon the front door one of the hunters raps loud and long. But not a stir within. The old man is a sound sleeper and hard of hearing. He is at home, however, because a thin curl of smoke lazily ascends from the chimney. In desperation one of the youths mounts the porch roof, and, with the handle of his belt-ax, beats a sharp tattoo on the wall. This performance is kept up for at least fifteen minutes until, after a series of unusually lusty blows, a voice from within calls: "Here! Here! Boys! Don't make so much noise. I heard you the first time."
The veteran guide always makes it a point to exact from others due respect for his age and white hair, so on this occasion he takes his time about getting up and unlocking the door. "Squeak," goes the bolt, and the hardy old guide welcomes the hunters. Cordially he bids them "set close to the stove." Birch bark is stuffed in among the embers and soon the stove takes on a decidedly pinkish hue, while the venerable host places the coffee-pot on the stove and stows away the baggage of his uninvited guests.
Soon the room glows with warmth and the now jovial boys are waiting with whetted appetites for the goodies which Jack Allen is cooking for them. The hungry trampers fall to, and Old Jack is kept busy re-filling two spiders again and again, while he cheerily calls out from time to time, "Eat all you want, boys, there's plenty more"; which invitation does not go unheeded. At length he cannot force any more food upon them. Tilting back their chairs, the guests tell the veteran hunter of their proposed trip and he reciprocates by reeling off a score of yarns concerning bears and other wild animals. Then "good night" for a few hours' sleep. Light streaks presently appear in the east and the sky begins to display a ruddy glow. Soon Old Sol creeps over the rocky domes of the mountains. If they wish to camp at a certain place the next night the boys must start. Shouldering their packs, they thank their host and wend their way up the road.
A surprise is in store for the trampers, however, for they have not gone more than a mile up the road when one, by chance, feeling in his haversack, finds it nearly empty. Examination reveals that of the three dozen eggs with which they started, only six remain. By counting up the number each has eaten, it is found that Old Jack, who so hospitably urged them to eat heartily, has served them their own rations.
Such was Jack Allen―a bluff, hearty, jovial, fun-loving old man. In stature he was somewhat above medium height, square-shouldered and of powerful frame. His most striking feature was his flashing eye, coal-black, piercing and at times blazing with his fiery spirit; none but an unusual person could possess such an eye. When narrating his war experiences or reminiscences of the trail, his eyes would flash and dance as if he were fighting his battles over again. "Mentally, morally, and physically, he was the embodiment of rugged strength, yet he had a warm heart and generous impulses which endeared him to his friends. Not only was he admired and respected, but deeply loved."1 Jack possessed a keen sense of humor and a fertile imagination which, coupled with a willingness to tell stories and a forceful way of relating them, made him an interesting companion.
Our hero, whose real name was not Jack, but James, first saw daylight in Sebec, Maine, in 1835. He served during the Civil War, followed the sea for over eight years, and, during the last forty years of his life, cast in his lot with the dwellers in the Albany Intervale. For several years he lived a hermit life on Bear Mountain. He looked after George B. James' timber lands and served Mr. James' successor in a similar capacity. During the last few years of his life he was in the employ of A. C. Kennett, who generously provided a nominal and congenial position for the old man.
The foregoing is but the bare outline of a varied and strenuous career, which I shall endeavor to unfold by narrating in detail a few of its principal events. These incidents are almost without exception taken from the lips of the guide himself. In order that the other chapters of this book may be taken seriously, I must waive all responsibility for the truthfulness of these tales, but residents of the valley and other acquaintances of the old man can testify that these things are set down much as the veteran guide himself narrated them.
"Curly Jack"―as he was called in his younger days―grew up to be a youth of powerful physique, widely famed for his strength and endurance; he became an ardent lover of boxing, wrestling, and other red-blooded recreations of the farm and lumber-camp. Often he modestly testified: "When I was young, I was considered the stoutest and best-looking man that ever stepped into the State of Maine."
His first really exciting experience came when, as a lad in his teens, he went to a county fair in New Hampshire. These fairs have been described in song and story. All the people for forty miles around turn out on these holiday occasions. Such an one was this. Here and there a lad, or a group of boys, would be performing feats of strength before admiring lassies. Curly Jack was wending his way in and out among the chattering groups when a boastful voice fell upon his ear. Its owner was a young giant, looming up well over six feet, who was narrating his accomplishments to a bevy of beaming girls. Young Allen thought he would take a reef in the sails of this Iago. Stepping up to the giant, he requested him to confine his conversation to the acre on which he stood and not, with his sonorous voice, disturb people in the neighboring fields. Little heed did the tall one pay to this unasked-for advice. Twice more the huge man was addressed, but the massive human mountain noted not young Allen's words. Considerably irritated, Jack thereupon poked him in the ribs and in no uncertain terms requested him to "Shut up!" but the big boy rattled on "all the smarter." "I hit him acrost the head hard enough to knock down a seven-foot ox," said Curly Jack, in telling the story, "and it never even jarred him. Looking on me as on a toad, he said, 'Young man, if you' d hurt me I’d have cuffed your ears.'" The baffled youngster slunk away, and ever after told this only in tones of the greatest respect for his pacific opponent.
Many of the young men of northern New England and the Provinces go into lumber-camps during the winter. Numerous were Jack's stories of logging on the River Saint John, two of which I will recount. While many of the stories of his experiences seem quite improbable, others equally so are known to be true. Hence, in the following yarns there may perhaps be a grain of truth in a bushel of fiction.
One winter the lumbermen moved into a new camp, leaving many of their spare tools at the old one. The cabin was steaming hot, but outside the wind whistled and roared, and the mercury was steadily falling. Supper over, the boys were lounging around when the door opened and the boss stepped in. "Boys," said he, "we've got to use them big chains to-morrow, so one or two of you must go fetch them." The camp was eight miles below and wolves had been in evidence recently. The lumberjacks, however, did not volunteer all at once; on the contrary, silence reigned supreme! Then up jumped Curly Jack, who, with skates in hand and clad in sheep-skin coat, departed. A thankful sigh of relief rippled around the room.
The keen wind cut the skater's bronzed face like a knife. His powerful strokes soon carried him to the center of the moonlit ice sheet. At times, however, an ugly wind-cloud concealed the goddess of night, making Jack's progress more difficult. Bend after bend in the river rolled by. At times a promontory of fir and spruce would shelter him; at others the wind, sweeping for a mile across the ice sheet, would beat against his breast, holding him back. Onward he plowed and at length the spooky outlines of the moonlit camps were seen. Arriving at his destination, the young lumberman sat down to rest a moment before starting on the return trip. Going back, he would have the wind at his back to help push him.
He found the chains, which weighed fifty pounds each, and returned to the ice, where, with benumbed fingers, he put on his skates again. Shouldering his half dozen chains (of course a load of three hundred pounds was a mere nothing to a Hercules like Curly Jack), he struck out for home. Not more than two miles had been reeled off when a sound like the voice of a distant demon was heard above the clinking and crunch of his speeding skate-runners. Again, but more distinctly now, the sound fell upon his muffled ears. This time he clearly recognized it as the howling of wolves. Glancing over his shoulder, Jack saw his hungry pursuers about a mile behind him. At this particular point the river was exceedingly wide, and "as far back as he could see the ice was black with a tossing, heaving, on-rushing wolf-pack.
It was a sight to make an ordinary man's blood run cold. Not so with Curly Jack, however. Pulling his cap down tighter and clutching his chains with a vise-like grip, he simply "lengthened his throw" and flew on the faster. Now and then dismal howls were wafted down the wind to his ears, but he only skated the faster, until, with a final burst of speed, he skated up to the camp and, without stopping to remove his skates, plunged through the welcome door.
Ever an ardent lover of quiet and solitude―considering himself about the best company to be had―Jack erected a little hut on the bank of the River Saint John and spent a winter here in preference to living in the lumber-camp. One night, while enjoying the congenial society of his corn-cob and the red-hot stove, a wolf howl suddenly broke in upon his reveries. Again the howl was repeated; now two, three, and presently a score of tawny, white-fanged wolves had congregated outside his tiny cabin. The tall forests echoed and re-echoed with weird howls. Presently a scratching was heard, and Jack looked towards the sound only to see fall to the floor a strip of dried clay which had been chinked in between two logs. A dark nose was seen, next a pair of flashing eyes appeared and finally a cruel muzzle was thrust into the breech and then withdrawn. The awful howls outside increased until they were deafening and blood-curdling. Peering out through his tiny window, Jack saw―as it appeared to him―the ground literally covered with great timber wolves.
Again a muzzle was thrust into the aperture, up to the eyes, and again it was withdrawn. Snatching up his hatchet, Jack concealed himself close by the narrow rift. Not long had he to wait before a tawny nose was thrust through, whereupon down went the hatchet! With a snarl of pain the wolf ran off. Jack repeated this performance again and again during the exciting hours of the long winter night. When the sun rose not a wolf was in sight. Snatching up a bushel-basket, the intrepid hermit filled and emptied it into the river twice before the floor was cleared of severed noses!
There is just one more episode in his Maine career which I must mention. While in a lumber-camp a dispute arose in which the young Yankee found himself confronted by the entire camp crew. Hot words were exchanged. Perceiving the impending strife, Jack stepped to the center of the room, crying, "Come on, boys, two or three of you at a time; I won't fight the whole camp at once!" The fiery youth gained his victory by such tactics, for no matter how angry his opponents might be, there were not any two or even three French Canadians who dared to commence the fray. There stood Curly Jack, the defiant conqueror of the whole camp.
During the Civil War the name of "James Allen, Color Sergeant," is said to have appeared on the muster-roll of a regiment of Maine Volunteers. It was that of our friend, Curly Jack, now about twenty-six years old. According to his own modest admission, he never failed to take the most daring risk and was always in the thickest of the fight. Like many another old soldier, Jack could have won the war single-handed had he been allowed his way, for he was a tireless, fearless fighter and a marksman of deadly accuracy.
His regiment was present at the First Battle of Bull Run. Jack fought unflinchingly until the retreat began, when, having won his laurels as a fighter, he next proceeded to win his laurels as a sprinter. For miles he jogged along beside his Colonel, who was on horseback, literally keeping up a running conversation, until at last, finding the pace too slow, he speeded up and left the horse far behind. The aged guide's eyes would twinkle and flash when he related how the "Colonel often complimented me on beating his horse back to Washington."
Then, too, he loved to tell of being at Gettysburg. But here his duties as color sergeant greatly handicapped him; had his superiors given him a rifle in place of a puny revolver the battle never would have lasted three whole days. "I was considered one of the first five shots in the Union Army," was his own blushing confession.
At the Battle of the Wilderness, amid falling trees, blazing brush, and amidst unthinkable sufferings, the doughty color sergeant fought day after day. Well do I recall hearing the old guide, only a few weeks before his death, describe the falling of burning trees on friend and foe, and of his seeing "Johnny Rebs" drop at the "bark" of his revolver. On the third day, amid clouds of smoke, a body of Confederate cavalry attacked the piece of woods which his shattered regiment was defending. Down upon the thinned ranks the Southern horsemen charged. One of the cavalry-men made a vicious downward cut at the Union standard bearer. Instinctively Sergeant Allen put up the flag-staff to ward off the blow. The saber descended, and sank deep into the wood. It is said that this gashed flagstaff and its tattered flag may be seen at the State House in Augusta. But it was not the wood alone which was gashed. The hand holding it was all but severed, and for the rest of his life Jack carried a mangled, scarred hand as a souvenir of this army experience, and as he lay in his casket the poor, crooked hand, resting upon the silent breast, bore mute yet eloquent testimony to a patriot's loyalty. Jack's original regiment was practically cut to pieces during the war, and the battle-scarred veteran was transferred to another regiment. Besides the battles already mentioned, he used to tell of taking part in several other important engagements.
After the war he sailed from Boston and followed the sea for some eight years. Practically nothing is known of this part of his career and he seldom alluded to it.
Many years after the war, some members of a prominent gun-club used to engage Jack during the hunting-seasons. Just before the opening of a certain season, some of the members wrote to the old guide offering him a modern automatic rifle if he would make good his claims of marksmanship, which he had often made. After reading the letter, he took his "old bone-breaker" from its pegs, and paced off across the field opposite his house an even quarter of a mile. Here he found a stump. Standing a few feet off, and taking careful aim, he fired. Chips flew from the stump. A carpenter with a rule could not have found the center more accurately than did Old Jack's bullet.
That evening the city men arrived. Strapped to one of the suitcases was a new, high-power repeating rifle. The gunners did not arrive until dusk, so there was no time to win the prize that night. But promptly after breakfast next morning their spokesman, holding up the rifle before Allen's admiring eyes, said: "Prove to us your claim of being one of the best shots in the Union Army and this is yours." Old Jack examined the mechanism a minute, then threw a cartridge into the breech. Standing in his doorway, he indicated his intended mark, brought the rifle to his shoulder, and, taking no aim at all, fired, exclaiming, "Guess I hit it!" He led the men to the stump and there, sure enough, was the bullet-hole. The hunters promptly turned over to him the handsome weapon which, although he seldom used it, he prized highly.
Time and again when asked why he preferred to hunt with his old gun he replied: "Why should a man hunt squirrels with a cannon or a Gatling-gun ?" He was not very enthusiastic over modern rifles, thinking them too powerful or too complex for ordinary use. One day a youth asked old Jack's opinion concerning a rifle the former had just purchased. Old Jack replied: "It might be all right for some, but I shouldn't like it."
About 1873 Allen came into our valley. From a humble driver of oxen he gradually evolved into "the Guide and Trapper of the White Mountains," to use his own words. After a lonely existence for several years on the slopes of Bear Mountain, he yearned for the companionship of his fellow-men. He became the very life of the community and never was contented unless starting some joke.
He was a "jack-of-all-trades" and good at all. Hunting, fishing and lumbering were his chief occupations, but anything he turned his hand to he could do skillfully. Summers, he helped with the haying and looked after his garden in winters, he trapped, hunted and cut ice. Each season he filled every spare cubic inch of his cabin with wood before getting snowed in.
One summer, during haying-time, he was helping a farmer, Deacon Annis. Mr. Annis was a devout Christian, while Old Jack, I am sorry to say, occasionally lapsed into profanity. The farm-hands sat down with the family to breakfast. The deacon closed his eyes and, with bowed head, started to pray. Allen's eyes wandered about until they rested on some object out of doors. On and on prayed Mr. Annis, until suddenly the impatient voice of Old Jack irreverently interrupted; "For God's sake, Joe, cut it short; the cows are in your garden." Whereupon the pious farmer remarked: "Oh, Jack, you are an awful man, amen!" Then all rushed out to drive off the cattle.
Possessing a keen sense of humor, nevertheless he had his troubles and they were as tragical to him as ours are to us, and perhaps more so. Most of the time, devoid of money, he was forced to go hunting for a living. So long as he had ammunition he worried little. The guide seemed to have been born a hunter, as some are born soldiers, sailors, etc. Often, starting for the woods, he would say: "I guess I'll go out and get a piece of meat." The wilderness was his market where food was to be bought with a charge of powder. It sorely tried him even to think of being deprived of venison the greater part of the year by "game laws." I suspect, however, that, much as he fretted about it, the paper law was not an effectual barrier and could not prevent the deer from jumping into his fry-pan. He regarded game-wardens with intense loathing.
While scouring the woods one day in search of game, he chanced upon a warden. Recognizing the buckskin-clad hunter, the warden demanded his hunting-license Jack's eyes shot fire as he roared out: "My license is in my gun barrel!" Mr. Warden made a precipitous exit.
One cold morning a man walked into the guide's cabin and sat down. Old Jack had built a fire in the fireplace. The guest explained that he was a tramper from the other side of the mountain (Paugus) who wanted to rest and get warm before proceeding further. As noon approached, Old Jack invited his guest to "have a bite before setting out." When the guest hesitated, Jack intimated that he intended to serve venison. Upon this, the stranger accepted the invitation. The simple meal at an end, the unknown unbuttoned his coat and there shone a warden's badge. Allen was informed that he was under arrest. Old Jack stubbornly maintained, however, that the warden could not prove who had shot the deer and therefore refused to consider himself under arrest. On the other hand, the warden, a small man, pointed out that the possession of venison in closed season was sufficient evidence. Jack could stand it no longer. Picking up the warden bodily, he deposited his ungrateful guest none too gently in the fireplace. Nor did he heed the latter's cries for mercy until the promise had been extracted that the warden would neither report nor trouble him again.
A man with a gun one afternoon knocked at Jack's door. The old guide welcomed the stranger heartily and insisted that he should stay to supper. At the table the host apologized for not serving fresh meat, but promised his guest that, if he would remain over night, he should have venison for breakfast. The innocent-looking hunter, who was in reality a game warden, accepted, inwardly rejoicing over an opportunity to secure so easily incriminating evidence. In the gray dusk of early morn two fine deer came into the yard. "You take that one and I'll take the other," whispered Old Jack. "All ready,―fire!” Jack brought down his animal, but the guest did not shoot. For the first time suspecting the real character of his visitor, the irate veteran leveled his repeating rifle at the latter, roaring, "Shoot, or I will!" The warden fired into the mist, and though not intending to kill the deer, was so frightened that he actually shot it. Needless to say there was no arrest made in this case.
One warden was a real bugbear to him. Try as he might, he could not seem to shake off this pest. Whenever or wherever he went, this officious official seemed to know of it. Desperation drove Old Jack to borrow a bear-trap from a neighbor. Finding out the warden's daily route, he set his trap accordingly, placing it in the youngster's path. Next morning Mr. Warden experience the pleasure of feeling two huge jaws close upon his shins. Fortunately for the victim, Old Jack had padded the teeth so that the jaws, although holding the victim in a viselike grip, did not penetrate the flesh. That the youth might have plenty of time to think, the guide waited until almost dark before visiting the trap. When he did arrive, he found that his ruse had worked. The victim was pale and penitent. On seeing the other's plight, Old Jack exclaimed: "I set that trap for a bear and caught a darned skunk!" Then he helped the lad home. The warden was a changed man; he realized that promotion gained by jailing a white-haired old man was likely to prove a pretty expensive promotion. Jack was not again molested by this fellow, who shortly after resigned.
For all Old Jack delighted in drawing the long bow concerning his hunting trips, he was in reality one of the best hunters in the state. Not until age began to prey upon him was his table devoid of game. He seemed to be more fortunate than anybody else. For days at a time he would be the only member of a party to bring in game. Game seemed to run right within his range. Yet he never wasted a particle, or killed simply for the fun of killing.
Of his first day's hunting-trip in the Albany Valley he used to tell thus: The river was high and several times he was forced to ford it. While effecting one of these crossings with his game―three partridges, six squirrels, a quail, a coon, four rabbits and a fox―a flock of geese flew over. Firing, he was gladdened by the sight of four tumbling into the river. These he secured. But just then the trout were running plentifully and they filled his trousers so full that, upon reaching the shallow water, a button flew off and killed a mink. By tying the trousers tightly around his ankles he was able to carry the trout home, so that with the game that he had shot he could live like a prince for many a day.
Once when returning from an unsuccessful hunt on Paugus, Old Jack discovered a deer following on the same path. He went on down the trail, towards home, and the unsuspecting deer kept on following. This performance continued until the road in front of the guide's house was reached. Concealing himself, he awaited the advent of his prey. Haughtily the buck came on and then Old Jack fired. "I guess the deer had a fit!" he was wont to exclaim at this juncture of the story. The hunter had only to drag the carcass a few remaining rods to his shed. He always did believe in conserving his energies, in making his head save his heels!
For a time the buildings on the Hill Farm were unoccupied. This farm, between the former Passaconaway House and Mr. Kennett's bungalow, is so situated that from the guide's kitchen the east and west windows of the farmhouse are in one or two cases in direct line. While eating breakfast one morning, Old Jack saw a reddish-brown animal pass the window on the farther side of the house. Then it was gone. Jack took "Old Bone-breaker" and, sitting in the open door, waited; it seemed ages, but by and by an animal's body came into his zone of vision. Drawing bead carefully, he blazed away. When the smoke had cleared, both windows were seen to be shattered, but no anima! was anywhere to be seen. The quarter mile between the two houses flew under Old Jack's racing feet. There by the Hill House lay the deer kicking in its death-throes and Old Jack speedily put it out of misery.
There was at the lumber store, so a story goes, a long-barreled gun which the veteran longed to possess. Although the price was moderate, it might just as well have been in the thousands. One wintry morning, while caressing this gun-which he feared he probably never would possess-a deer came into sight, bounding about in the light snow, a long distance from the rear of the store. Allen at once struck a bargain with the clerk, offering the bounding deer in exchange for the gun. The offer was accepted. The old hunter stepped to the back platform and fired. Noon saw him carrying the long-desired firearm home.
Old Jack was very pronounced in his likes and dislikes and would persist in using one gun, one ax, or one fish-pole, and never use others even when he had them. I am now the proud possessor of his favorite fish-pole, with its home-made reel. This was presented to me by his son after the old guide's death. His pet rifle was "Old Bone-breaker," which he claimed never failed to kill. But as he got older he could not carry this heavy firearm, which shot a half-inch ball, so he became attached to a smaller rifle. This, his 30-30 Winchester, is the one he holds in the picture. He loved this rifle like an old friend and would not have traded it for a life of luxury and ease. Then, too, it was a rifle with a record to be proud of. Old Jack claimed that it had slain sixty-six deer and over twenty bears―which, in consideration of the game he shot in the course of a season, was not impossible. No wonder he cherished such a rifle!
One spring Jack and his son were fishing through the somewhat rotten ice on Church's Pond. The beloved rifle was lying beside them. Suddenly the ice gave way, and the fishermen found themselves splashing about in the pond. The rifle had sunk immediately. Old Jack was nearly disconsolate, but he stuck a pole into the mud near the place where his trusty gun had disappeared. Just as soon as the pond was free from ice, Jack poled the raft out to this buoy. Repeatedly he grappled for the rifle and at length succeeded in rescuing his precious weapon from its muddy bed. He bore it home in triumph and tenderly nursed and oiled it, day by day, until its natural complexion had returned. Apparently "Old Trusty" was none the worse for its long cold bath, and Old Jack would use no other as long as he lived.
His son tells how he and his father discovered the tracks of a huge bear under the brow of Green's Cliff. All day they followed the trail. At nightfall they camped on Bear Mountain. The second day the bear led them a long chase along the sides of Paugus, Hedgehog, Potash and Tripyramid. Night saw them sleeping high up on the slopes of Tripyramid, beside some fresh tracks. At daybreak they set out again. Following a tiny brook-bed, they found tracks exceedingly fresh. Under the very summit the aged father's keen eyes spied a shaggy animal close to a huge boulder. His beloved Winchester clicked, and the bear, shot behind the ear, dropped dead. This rifle is now the property of the author's father, having been bought by him after the old guide's death.
While Old Jack was helping cut the hotel's supply of ice, a cake of unusual size was reached. Two of the younger men could not budge it. The powerful Allen braced himself, and in all seriousness addressed the others thus: "You three men take that side and I'll take this."
One of Allen's keenest delights was to guide parties, especially schoolma'ams. He was not only handsomely rewarded, but loved to play the hero in their eyes. Many a time he marched up the road with a dozen or so flocking about him, listening breathlessly to his stories of hand-to-hand victories over blood-thirsty beasts. If game or excitement were lacking, he would manage to "start something." His subtle sense of humor never permitted a minute to go to waste. He would either scare his party half to death or play some practical joke which never failed to produce a laugh.
Some "city folks," having vainly searched the woods for the sight of a deer, stopped before the guide's house and inquired of him if there were any deer in that part of the state. "Deer!" roared Old Jack. "There goes one now!" Instinctively they faced about to look in the direction indicated by his finger, but in vain. "His tail disappeared behind that brushy pine just as you turned round," explained the guide.
Upon receiving news that some youngsters were coming up to camp with him, the aged guide went out in search of game. But for once he was forced to return empty-handed. In due season the young chaps were deposited at his door by the stage-driver. The lads' mouths were watering for a game dinner. Horrors! What sort of a guide would this old man be if he could offer no game? Bringing in three steaming platters, he exclaimed: "Now, boys, we have here three kinds of meat, venison, bear, and salt pork; take either one or all three, and don't be afraid to eat hearty." But no matter from which platter the unsuspecting lads helped themselves, in reality they partook of the meat which, under Jewish law, is forbidden food, for the meat was all salt pork, cooked in three of the many different ways in which the old guide knew how to serve it. The city fellows never suspected the deceit.
A party which was going up to camp on Owl Cliff had an exceptionally large amount of baggage, and Old Jack, as guide, was supposed to carry it all. It does seem as though some people hire a guide in place of a truck-horse! Weighted down with a crushing load and with dozens of things dangling from pack, belt, rifle and climbing-stick, the aged guide had to pick his way carefully and for once lagged behind his party. To hurry him up, a fresh little snob playfully struck him a resounding crack across the legs with a switch. As quick as lightning the luggage was on the ground, and, with flashing eyes, the patriarch refused to proceed another step. After the lad had apologized and the incensed guide had cooled off somewhat, he was prevailed upon to continue. But he did not forget the episode and stored up his revenge until a more opportune time.
When darkness closed in upon their cozy little camp. that evening the wind tossed the frosty trees and they snapped and cracked. The youngsters, unaccustomed to this life, became uneasy. They huddled close around the fire and Old Jack added to their nervousness by rehearsing some terrible adventures. Ever and anon he gazed out into the darkness, and, listening until the wind snapped the trees again, would remark in a hoarse whisper: "Bears coming up through the woods, boys." Whereupon he would commence another thriller. Having drawn them close to the glowing embers, Old Jack suggested that, before turning in, they should enjoy some roasted eggs. None of them had ever eaten any roasted eggs, but all enthusiastically ratified the guide's proposal. The old joker raked out some red-hot coals and, placing a dozen eggs in the hottest part, covered them over. Then, as if seeking something in the tent, he left the group. No sooner had the folds of the tent-door closed behind him than, "Bang! bang! pop, pop, pop, pop!" went the eggs, while an ash-covered sticky substance flew in all directions, plastering the boys completely. A chuckle of smothered laughter came from the tent. Old Jack was having his revenge. There was not a man in the town who was the guide's equal in playing tricks.
During his life in our valley he resided on Bear Mountain, in the French-roofed house at the foot of the Great lntervale, in the Carrigain House where he took boarders, in the cottage near Kennett's bungalow, and one winter (1911-1912) in the little Post Office building opposite the hotel.
Once when game was scarce Old Jack had hard work to live up to his reputation of being the "guide and trapper of the White Mountains," which he felt implied that he must get more game than anybody else. He trapped a mink, however, and mink are now rare in our valley. This little creature he "carried about in his overalls pocket until the hair wore off" (so the natives claim). Each morning he would hail passers-by, and, pulling the mink out of his pocket, he would exclaim, "I've got a mink this morning."
Deep in the recesses of one of his pockets an old-fashioned silver watch used to nestle. This was almost as large as a coffee cup. He prized this ancient time-piece and, although it was not what one might truthfully call an expensive chronometer, he often produced it and read the time, especially in the presence of admiring strangers. He came into possession of this watch when he was a stripling in Maine. A few days later he was invited to a New England harvest celebration, with cider and nuts among the attractions. Nuts were passed around uncracked, and tools were then furnished with which to crack them. Jack was near the end of the line, and the supply of tools had long since given out before reaching him, so he was left to his own resources. Pulling out the watch, he cracked his nuts with it to the tune of "Ping! Ping! Ping!" (as he used to express it).
One of Jack's pronounced characteristics was his frankness. He has often been heard to say to his guests, if he considered that they were staying too late, "Well, good-by, boys; come in again soon." With that he would open the door and start to light their way out; even before they had made the slightest move to leave. He also would allow no trifling with him. While bending over a campfire, a friend, had-come up, greeted him with a sound spank on what Dr. Talmage used to call "the God-ordained spot," and a hearty "Good-morning, Mr. Allen!" Like a flash his fist flew past M―'s face, missing it by a hair. "I never allow anybody to lay a hand on me," Old Jack snapped out to his companion, who was an old acquaintance and whom he would not have hurt for the world. He would stand no fooling.
He was one of the "tallest" story-tellers that ever lived, but no matter how apocryphal his tales, no one cared or dared to smile or in any way display a doubt while in his presence as to the truth of these yarns.
While cutting ice, a would-be joker said: "Say, Mr. Allen, what are you putting the ice in there now for, when it is so long to summer? Ain't you afraid it will get wormy?" A knowing smile spread over his venerable face as the patriarch replied: "Wormy I no, sonny, mountain ice doesn't get wormy!"
One time, however, a neighbor got the better of him. While P― was plastering some cement in a mold at the base of a beam which supported the barn floor, Old Jack's shadow darkened the doorway. "Good-morning, Mr. P―. What are you doing with the mud?" "This isn't mud, Jack; it's cement," replied the worker. "Well, to common folks mud and cement appear to look a pile alike. Do you expect that mud to hold up your barn floor?" Here the younger man had him, so he replied: " Mr. Allen, if you will bring your sledge-hammer down here in a week I will give you leave to knock my cement down and erect a support to your liking." A week later, almost to the hour, saw Jack triumphantly marching down towards the hotel with his hammer. Try as he might, however, his resounding blows made not the slightest impression, and at length, breathing heavily, he stopped to gaze upon the crackless "mud" in amazement.
A few years" before his death Old Jack was taken for his first automobile ride. Before he came into sight we could hear the wildest hooting and screaming. When, going at furious speed, the auto spun into sight, there was Curly Jack standing upright, tightly clutching the rod across the back of the front seat, with his long white locks standing out horizontally and his ruddy cheeks aglow. Passing us, with howls of glee, his eyes sparkled and he jovially waved his broad-brimmed hat. He was having the time of his life. "I felt as if I was shot out of a cannon through a Christmas tree," was his terse description of the mad dash along the tree-fringed road. He could not be induced ever to take another ride, however. "Enough is enough," was his watch-word.
One of the crowning adventures of his life was when he left his mountain hut for a visit to his son in Dover and to Boston from which he once had sailed. Very late in life this trip was taken, and many of his tales from that time on were concerning the unbearable features of city life. He never tired of depicting the horrors of civilization. A mill-owner took Mr. Allen through his plant and after that the guide was disgusted with city life. "Why, the girls' faces in that mill were as white as a sheet." He was irritated by the harsh noises, could not sleep nights, and experienced a stifling sensation, as if not getting enough pure air; in short, he was thoroughly uncomfortable.
For forty years Old Jack―"The Guide and Trapper of the White Mountains"―had not been in a city, so his son took him to Boston. All was so different that the modern Rip Van Winkle was sadly disappointed. The old streets and buildings were not there, and he could not go down a street without being bumped into or trampled on-streets which in his youth , he might walk down with elbows extended and encounter no jostling. Often he remarked: "I don't see what they all do there or where they stay." He experienced one ray of pleasure, however, when he saw a "blue-coat nip a buzz-car" (auto) because it did not wait for the pedestrians to pass.
While riding in a trolley-car he was delighted until it began to rock, then he promptly jumped off.
His son persuaded him to take an elevator en route to the top of a skyscraper. The "lift" had reached only the second story when the old guide demanded to be let out, remarking: "I will elevate myself up the rest of the way." He climbed the remaining dozen or so flights without a murmur. Upon gaining the roof he gazed about, then having satisfied his curiosity he settled down as if to stay there. His son asked if he was not ready to go down, to which Old Jack replied: "I am going to wait here and hear the angels sing." Such were the eyes through which he viewed civilization.
During the winter of 1911-1912, the old guide became severely ill from cancer of the intestines. He went to Dover, where he was tenderly cared for, but he suffered terribly. Everything that medical science could do, was done. Temporary relief from pain being obtained, the old mountaineer longed to get back to Passaconaway. He was seriously ill, but stoically bore the pain. No man ever was happier than was he when he kindled the fire once more in the little cozy mountain cottage at Passaconaway. He was home again―home to die.
A week before he passed away we saw him, with shouldered rifle, walking down the Mast Road. Upon our greeting him he stated that he had been up to the top of Mt. Passaconaway before breakfast. This summer he was seen carrying whole tree trunks on his shoulder to be sawed and split for his next winter's fuel. He walked down to the post office two days before his death, and on his last morning, though suffering agonies from the disease which was rapidly sapping his life, he walked to the store; from here medical aid was summoned, but too late. That afternoon, Saturday, July 20, 1912, he passed away.
On Monday following many of us in the intervale turned out to gather wild flowers, evergreens and fir boughs. Loving hands transformed the little schoolhouse into a veritable bower of beauty, evergreens and wild flowers completely covering black-boards and bare walls. The aged guide could not have imagined a more beautiful and appropriate and satisfying setting for his funeral service. In the afternoon, after a prayer, his body was taken from the little house which had been his home and carried to the schoolhouse. The entire community turned out for the last earthly expression of affection, and even strangers were deeply moved by such a spontaneous outpouring of unfeigned love. After a brief and touching service, conducted by clergymen friends of Old Jack from New York and Chicago, all formed in procession and marched across the street to the little (Russell) cemetery, where the casket was lowered to its last resting place. Nothing could be more beautifully impressive than this summer afternoon scene in the tiny grave-yard, surrounded by his beloved mountains, where stood the sorrowing group of sincere friends with bared heads, gazing reverently upon the flag-covered casket in which reposed the body of their comrade, fellow-citizen and friend.
Thus ended the life of one who really belonged to an earlier type of men. He was of that breed who braved the dangers of the wilderness to help lay the foundation of a great nation. Few indeed are these "oldtimers" remaining to-day.
There was a delightful out-of-door-ness about this man that was infectious and gratifying. Bluff, hearty, brave, loyal, of pronounced convictions and utter frankness, a magnetic sort of a sunbeam was he. His passing took from the valley its most picturesque personality, and the Passaconaway Intervale does not seem quite the same without "dear Old Jack Allen" to welcome us.
1. North Conway Reporter, August 1, 1912, written by C. E. Beals.