The Astonishing Life of a Maine Pioneer and Wildlife Writer
Born in New Sharon, Maine, close to my Mount Vernon home, Joshua Rich experienced a life I can only envy.
Rich hunted, fished, trapped, guided, and farmed. At times he owned a hotel, general store, and what may have been Maine’s first sporting camp. He served as a trial justice, pension agent, humane officer, and newspaper columnist. Well, I have that in common with Rich!
William “Bill” Krohn, whose fascinating account of Manley Hardy remains among my all-time favorite biographies, has given us another interesting look at a Maine pioneer and sportsman who lived from 1820 to 1897. Joshua Cross Rich – The Life and Works of a Western Maine Pioneer and Wildlife Writer, was published in paperback by the Maine Folklife Center in 2010.
Bill has done a superb job of capturing the excitement of Rich’s life in the pioneer’s own words. Rich was a prolific writer who published many articles, some of which are reprinted in their entirety.
Bill starts us off with a good biographical sketch of Rich, followed by a collection of six of Rich’s articles on topics from brook trout to an early season trapping expedition. You will be stunned by Rich’s account of his hand-to-paw battle with a black bear and captivated by his Maine caribou story.
But it was Rich’s four-part series on brook trout and arctic char that really grabbed my attention. During Rich’s time, western Maine became a destination for the world’s anglers, thanks to its abundant and exceptionally large brook trout – a fishery that is long, and lamentably, gone today.
The third section of the book is an annotated bibliography of Rich’s published works. In “Killed the Bear with an Axe,” published in Forest and Stream in 1894, Rich recounts the story of a woodcutter who did just what the article's title says. “The cash proceeds of the affair, besides the winter stock of bear meat, was a $15 bounty and $20 for the old bear’s hide,” Rich writes.
In “Canada Lynx in Maine,” published in Forest and Stream in 1892, Rich reports the lynx were “so plentiful… that one could not cross a lake or enter the thick woods in winter without seeing their tracks in the snow. They often traveled in squads of from two to five.” Rich trapped and shot 49 lynx in his second trapping season. In that same article, Rich writes, “I have trapped and killed several hundred of these lynx in the twenty years spent in the early days of the history of the Rangeleys, when the wolf had driven the red deer from the State and moose occupied every mountain for their winter yards.”
Rich was a very innovative and creative man. For a time, he grew snowshoe hares and sold them all across the United States, for restocking depleted populations. He sold many wildlife specimens to Harvard and the Portland and Boston Societies of Natural History. Many can still be seen at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.
In allowing Rich to tell us his own stories in his own words, Bill Krohn has taken us into the Maine woods with a very remarkable Maine legend. I read the entire book during a long day of flying from Maine to North Dakota where I hunted pheasants with a group of friends.
I just couldn’t put the book down. And I know I’ll be dipping onto it again and again in the future. You should dip into it too.