There’s no shortage of crazy animal tales in Washington County. Be it a common bird, deer or something as exotic as an opossum, our ancestors were regularly amazed by the antics of other species.
In May of 1910, 7-year-old Kenneth Barber of Exeter went out to his family’s chicken coop to collect eggs. He hadn’t been outside for long when he returned to the house, excitedly informing his mother that there was a fox in the henhouse. The other members of his family went back outside with him but it was quickly agreed the animal was not a fox. As they stood looking over the strange creature, they were at a complete loss as to its identity.
The animal was put into a box and once word made its way around town about the mysterious discovery, people began coming to view it and venture their own guesses. Soon, it was determined to be an opossum. However, no one could imagine how such an animal would be present here in Rhode Island. Opossums were rampant in the south but it was a rare sight indeed to see one this far north. The tips of the animal’s ears were frostbitten and a section of its tail was missing. The consensus was that a local must have had the animal in captivity and it had gotten free.
While some animals appeared here without explanation, others refused to leave. In December of 1917, 49-year-old Allen Caswell Barber sold his dog to a man who took the animal back to his house in Providence. Two days later, Barber was shocked to look outside and see his dog. The canine had walked all the way back home to Hopkinton.
In February of 1916, William Sherman of Liberty decided to go and do some fox hunting on the Hillsdale property of Theakston DeCoppet. While there in the woods, he discovered an abandoned well with the hind legs of a deer sticking up out of it. He did nothing that day, but returned the next and attempted to pull the obviously deceased deer out of the hole. When he was unable to budge the animal, he walked on to DeCoppet’s house for assistance. Unable to locate anyone who could help him, he headed back toward the well and crossed paths with the mailman, John Cottrell. He told Cottrell about his discovery and asked if he might be willing to help extricate the deer. The two men returned to the well carrying Cottrell’s tire chains with them.
After fastening the chains to the deer’s legs, they pulled hard but it still wouldn’t move. Procuring a large stick, they wedged it under the body and maneuvered it around with great difficulty until they were able to move the deer up toward the top of the well. But there, it became lodged once again.
Having no idea what could be weighting the deer down, the men peered into the darkness of the well. Beneath that deer was another, their antlers locked together. As the deer at the top was about 250 pounds and much larger than the one on the bottom, the men surmised that the two had probably gotten into a scuffle, locked antlers, and the bigger one had pushed the smaller one toward the well, falling in right behind him.
Most locals, like everyone else, loved birds. However, 45-year-old Maude Buteau of Hopkinton realized one Saturday evening in the spring of 1920 that she loved them more when they were outdoors. Buteau had just arrived home and passed through her dark entryway when something flew at her delivering a violent blow to the face. Most likely, it was assumed, a bird had accidentally been trapped inside the house and was desperate to get back out. Due to the cut she received beneath her eye, the shaken up woman was lead to call a doctor.
On Sept. 10, 1909, 55-year-old widow Theodore Hoxsie was out in the open meadow near his Canonchet home preparing to move a four-year-old Jersey bull calf to a different location. The bull was tethered to an iron bar but the rope was kinked so Hoxsie unfasten the bar so that he could straighten it out. As he began to wind the rope, it got caught up beneath one of his feet and he bent down to disentangle it. Suddenly an angry roar that echoed across the entire village shot out of the bull and he sprang at Hoxsie, striking him violently in the chest and knocking him to the ground.
The bull pinned the farmer down with his two horns and trampled his legs with sharp hooves. Nearby witnesses watched helplessly as Hoxsie was rolled back and forth, being pounced on by the bull as he held his head protectively in his hands. The angry roars continued while Hoxsie did all he could to save his own life. He grabbed the bull’s nostrils with one hand and attempted to grab at its eyes with the other. This caused the bull to pull its head up and Hoxsie to lose his grip.
Quickly, Hoxsie grabbed hold of a horn and when the bull raised his head again, the terrified man was pulled up into a standing position. He grabbed the iron bar and jumped back. When the bull came at him again, he swung the bar, hitting the animal between the horns and breaking the weapon. The angry beast staggered, lowered his head, then sprung at him again. He hit him once more with what was left of the bar, striking him on a horn.
Suddenly, Hoxsie’s dog “Baby” came running to the rescue, biting at the heels of the bull until the huge animal became so irritated, it turned and walked away. Hoxsie was then able to drive him into a corner and get him tethered once again. The farmer’s life had been spared, thanks to “Baby.”
Kelly Sullivan is a freelance history and features writer for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.