The Olive Tree
An order for muskrat glands is certainly not what we expect to see in today’s high tech, dot.com world, but it was all in a day’s work for Walter Arnold. A Maine guide, fur trader, and trapper, Arnold also had a nation-wide mail order business selling animal scents and lures which he made himself. His records and papers, documenting his long and adventurous outdoor life, are found in Fogler Library’s Special Collections Department and have recently been processed as part of a grant received from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Arnold, born in 1894 in Willimantic, Maine, was the son of Alonzo Arnold, himself a market hunter in the 1870’s. Walter learned his skills as a young man while trapping, hunting, and guiding with his father. After service in World War I, he started his mail order business and also was one of the original founders of the Maine Trappers Association. He became acquainted with some of the best trappers in the country from Maine to California to Alaska, maintaining a lengthy correspondence with many although they never met in person. He was also an author; his book, Professional Trapping, which appeared in four editions between 1935 and 1947, was widely used by state and federal officials to train trappers to handle troublesome wild animals. Arnold wrote many articles for magazines as well, and their titles give the flavor of his life: Backwoods trapline, Old eagle eye, Winter beaver sets. Even while he was living them, Arnold sensed his adventures would be of interest to a wider world. He annotated his papers carefully, telling why he thought they were important or interesting, and he kept a daily diary from 1919 through 1976 in which he recorded his activities, the weather, and the wildlife he saw and hunted. His entry for Wednesday, October 4, 1967 reads in part: Worked this forenoon on furnace at sap house. At dusk paddled down to Herriman Camp. When I got back there were 2 bear up in the big oak back of camp. Too dark to see if it is the mother with cub or the two other bear. Even as I am writing I can hear them breaking limbs. Another entry, from Friday, September 13, 1929, is more succinct: Went to Moose Pond, 18 trout.
In the late 1950’s, Arnold sold his mail-order business and went back to the woods to live full-time in one of Maine’s northern townships, accessible only by snowmobile or airplane. In a letter to the Library in 1971, after being asked to donate his papers, he replied, “Now as for records I have slugs of them. I live back here in the woods, no phone or road in here, am serviced by a Folsom plane out of Greenville every week or two weeks ... so you just do not drop into Greenville and talk with me. It costs money to get in here and out.” In spite of these difficulties, the Library did receive his papers shortly thereafter. Included were his scrapbooks, diaries, correspondence, business records, catalogs, and copies of his books and articles. Books from his personal library also came along with the papers and include such memorable titles as Expert Skunk and Opossum Trapping; Foxology: A Complete Guide to Successful Fox Trapping; and Profitable Outdoor Pursuits.
Walter Arnold died in July 1980, at age 86, having spent the previous fall and winter, as he had so many before, alone at his home on Indian Pond. He had remained active until his death, writing a few years before, “I am not like all these woods hermits you hear about that sit around, grow fat and pass on. I am 78 and still do probably more hard work summer and winter than nearly all the men in the state do at the age of 45.”
(Written by Brenda Howitson Steeves, Processing Archivist, Special Collections Dept.)
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