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Cabot's Bear Story -

"Judith Lyford and the Bear Cub"

By: John M. Fisher - 1881

Credit - History of Cabot, VT. :

"Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Washington County Vol. IV. No. 1. August, 1881." Edited by Abby Maria HEMENWAY Published by Miss Hemenway, Montpelier, VT.. Printed by Joseph POLAND, Montpelier, Vt. pp 105, 106, 107 & 108

**Special thanks to the Cabot Public Library and the Cabot Historical Society. [BSD]

Judith Heath Lyford - dau of Lt. Jonathan Heath

Photo Credit - Cabot Oral History Committee

Two humble log-cabins in the heart of the great wilderness was the beginning of the town of Cabot; for miles in every direction there were no signs of civilization; but there on West Hill, where David LYFORD and his neighbor BLANCHARD had built their rude dwellings. Mr. BLANCHARD's family was himself, his wife and 2 children, David LYFORD's, himself and his wife Judith. The LYFORD and BLANCHARD cabins stood not more than 30 rods apart, facing each other, on the opposite sides of a swamp, through which a narrow foot-path led from one to the other. At the end of each cabin, partly in the rear, was also a barn, built of logs.

It was the third birth-day of this settlement; each had cleared away several acres from around his buildings, and earned sufficient for the subsistence of his family. Both had been fortunate and had suffered no losses but some slight damage to their crops of corn by the bears. The men often saw them in the woods, and it was no uncommon experience for the two to go out hunting in company, and return in an hour with a dead bear slung between them, and fresh bear-tracks would be seen every morning at some seasons of the year about the house and barn. But our men were inured to peril and toil by early training; and their wives were not a whit inferior to them.

One drizzly day in August, just after David LYFORD and his wife had finished their dinner of hasty-pudding and milk, Mrs. LYFORD laid her wooden spoon back into the squash-shell bowl, and said:

"What are you going to do this afternoon, David?"

"I was thinking of going to work in the burnt piece."

"It's too wet for that; why not break the flax? I will hatchel it, and then I can go on with my spinning."

"Well, perhaps that is best. These old clothes are almost gone, and I must have some new ones;" and David rose from the table and went out.

His wife cleared away the dishes, and was soon ready. It was last year's flax; had been "rotted" during the winter and spring, gathered up, tied in bundles and laid away in the barn till David could find time to break it.

David went to the barn to "unlumber" his flax-break. The sun came out; so he carried the "break" to the corner of the house, and brought a bundle of flax from the barn.

The "break" was a sort of wooden mallet, on a long wooden frame, or "horse." The long, thin, parallel handles of the mallet were pivoted into the end of the frame, and when the machine was at rest, these blade-like "handles" lay lapped between other blades, which were set edge upward firmly along the top of the frame. When the machine was at work, the two sets of wooden blades played upon each other with every lift and fall of the Mallet, very much like the opposite edges of a pair of very large and very dull shears. Every stalk of flax that was caught between, had its back effectually broken, and was rendered very limp and soft.

Taking a wisp of flax in his left hand, the farmer thrust it into the break, and with his right, brought down the mallet with heavy thumps. By the time his wife had brought the hatchel from neighbor Blanchard's, David had quite a pile of broken flax. David fastened the hatchel on a stump, within a few feet of where he was at work, and Judith, seizing a quantity of broken flax, laid it over the end of an upright board, and with a long wooden knife or swingle, beat the fibers, to clear away the greater part of the bark and "sliver," and the swingling finished, she began to hatchel the flax. Holding a handful firmly by one end, raising and striking the other end down on the long, glittering teeth of the hatchel, drawing the flax towards her, to comb out the rest of the woody particles, leaving only the soft, yellow-tinted flax ready for the spinning wheel.

I can fancy just how the worthy couple looked, in their old-time habliments, as they stood there bare-headed, in front of their cottage of logs -- he plying the break with steady stroke; she striking the flax down, and drawing it through the long teeth of the hatchel, preparing the raw linen for the wheel and loom. Hour after hour they continued their work, as cheerfully as if theirs was the happiest lot in the world. Suddenly David spoke out,

"Hark! What is that?"

"I did not hear anything; what did you think you heard?"

"I thought I heard a bear right here in the swamp," said he, pointing down the path that lead to Blanchard's.

"I guess not," replied his wife, after they had listened a minute or two and heard nothing. "I don't think a bear would come so near in the daytime."

"Well, perhaps I was mistaken," replied David; and the two went on with their work.

More than half the afternoon was gone when they finished the flax. Mrs. Lyford carried it into the house and laid it away until she could spin it, and leaving the plank-door of the house wide open went out where David was.

"While you are putting the breaks away," she said, "I will carry the hatchel home;" and started across the swamp, singing as she went.

Mrs. Lyford was a strong, and very active woman, and always in good spirits. As soon as she returned the hatchel she turned back through the swamp home. The swamp was really a bit of forest; large trees and the bushes on either side of the narrow foot-path were very thick. About half way home, passing a short bend in the path, she found herself within arm's length of a cub-bear, weighing perhaps 15 or 20 pounds. At the same moment, through the bushes, she caught a glimpse of the old bear and another cub not 3 rods distant.

Most women would have run, but the sight of a bear, or even two bears, more or less, had no such effect upon Judith Lyford. Not in the least intimidated, and obeying a kind of defiant impulse, she snatched up the cub by the hind legs and run. The cub squealed, and began to scratch and bite so vigorously, she swung him into her stout tow apron; but without stopping, gathered both arms around him, and kept on at her utmost speed. She heard the old bear crashing through the bushes behind her, and knew unless she dropped the cub, she would have to run a desperate race, but had no intention of giving up her game. The same impulse that had impelled her to seize the cub, impelled her to keep it; and keep it she did. With almost superhuman speed she dashed along the path, conscious the furious beast behind was gaining on her every leap. She reached the house, darting through the open doorway, flung the cub from her arms, swung the plank door to, and dropped the leverwood bar into its socket, none too soon. Scarcely was the bar in place, when the enraged mother-bear threw her great weight against the door outside. But the door had been made for such an emergency, and stood as a rock against all the brute's efforts.

The cub, as soon as his captor dropped him, darted into a corner of the room, where he kept up his cries, rendering the old bear more frantic every moment.

David had just put away his flax-break, and was coming out of the barn, when his wife approached the house, running her singular race. I imagine his astonishment as he caught a glimpse of her darting in at the door, with a fully-grown bear not a rod behind her.

Dropping the pitch-fork in his hand, he ran to the window behind the house. Quick though he was, Judith was there before him, ready to pass the gun, always loaded for instant use. A moment later David was at the front corner of the house. The bear was so frantic to break through the door and reach her cub, she did not see David; one well-directed shot laid her dead. The whole affair was over in scarcely five minutes between Judith's capture of the cub and David's shot that killed its dam at the door.

The cub in the house soon shared the same fate, and David went to the swamp to find the other, but that had taken alarm and escaped.

Mrs. Lyford lived many years afterward in the same neighborhood, long enough not only to see the wilderness disappear, but to raise a large family of children, to whom she often related her droll but dangerous adventure. The above particulars were furnished me by one of her sons, who still lives in St. Johnsbury.

David LYFORD lived where Daniel KIMBALL now lives, and BLANCHARD where Caleb NOYES lives; the swamp spoken of is the low land between the two places. Mrs. LYFORD was the mother of the late Mrs. Stephen HOYT.


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