Back before the Revolutionary War, back before Connecticut became the Land of Steady Habits and the Provisions State, its history sometimes sounds slightly like myth. A ship named Onrust, restless; a banished peddler named David the Jew; a promise from the King, secreted in a tree; outlaw judges hidden in a cave; and a young farmer who trekked for miles into the woods and vowed to fight – alone – the Colony’s last wolf.
That farmer, Israel Putnam, went on to become the General Putnam of “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes” fame, the namesake of the town of Putnam and of Putnam Memorial State Park. But in the mid-18th century, he was just another man living on a farm in Pomfret, contending with the weather and the rocky soil and the wild animals of the wild woods. His nemesis was a particularly intelligent and determined wolf, who had been hunting the livestock of local farmers for years. She had been caught once, but escaped, undaunted by the loss of part of her foot in the trap. (Later, Putnam would narrowly escape captivity himself, eluding death at the hands of the Mohawks during the French and Indian War.)
The breaking point with the wolf – said to be the last of her species in Connecticut – came on a winter night in 1742, when Putnam discovered 70 of his sheep and goats had been killed. He and a neighbor, or a posse of them, tracked her through the snow. They traveled three miles, or six. They chased her to her den, or followed her there, and waited. When the wolf did not emerge, Putnam – then about 24 years old – went in with a torch and a gun. When he was pulled out dragging the wolf’s body, he earned the nickname “Wolf” and the den earned a place on the long list of peculiar Connecticut tourist attractions.
Today, it is still an attraction, a legitimate historic site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But no one has paved a road to it, or erected lights to illuminate it’s creepiness at night. It is still remote, nearly concealed deep in the woods of what is now Mashamoquet Brook State Park. There are several hiking trails leading to it; the most straightforward is the Red Trail, about a mile long, which climbs up and down rocky inclines and cuts through lush greenery beneath the shade of the dense forest.
What strikes you when you reach the den is how untamed this place must have felt then; how fierce the wolf would have looked, protecting her cubs; and how courageous – or desperate – Israel Putnam and the men pursuing her must have been.
Sadly, or comfortingly (or both) there are no wolves in Mashamoquet Brook State Park today. There are only imposing natural rock formations, and campgrounds, and the brook, which tumbles over smooth rocks past an old grist mill. But if the wolves return, and seek out hiding places in Connecticut’s wilderness, this seems a likely place to find them.
Address: 276 Mashamoquet Road (Route 44) Pomfret, CT, 06259
Website: Mashamoquet Brook State Park