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A Cold Experience at the Shepard Site

Richard Slattery

It was one of those Saturday mornings that was chilly and gray; Hugh Stabler and I had planned all week to spend the weekend at the Shepard Site and open up a new area of excavations. Hugh's father had granted permission to use his '32 Chevy, so all was set. We packed our camping goods including canvas cots and cooking equipment. We planned to stay overnight in the abandoned shack that Carter and Wingate, the previous renters, had recently vacated.

We drove up to Poolsville and noticed that the weather had turned noticeably colder so we made the decision to cut short our stay and forget about staying overnight. With this in mind we passed up getting any 5 cent sandwiches at the Poolsville general store with the expectation that we probably would be returning in the early afternoon. We drove on down to the River Road (unpaved at this time) and turned right to cross the slough.

Here you had to be careful for there was a narrow strip of rocks under the water that you must know exactly where they were before attempting to cross. We had negotiated this slough many times before and thought we knew just where they were. We proceeded on with confidence. About half way across, there was a sudden lurch to the left. We had missed the rocks! We tried briefly to go forward and backward to no avail. We got out of the car, luckily wearing boots and tried to lever the left rear wheel up with a long poll we found. The idea was to place rocks under the wheel, possibly get traction and hopefully get out. It didn't work.

Hugh's father's car, stuck in the mud and ice.

Cabin at the Shepard site, cold and well ventilated!

We unloaded most of our stuff and carried it to the shack. At that time there wasn't a house in sight and the Shepard home was far away and back on the bluff. Anyway we didn't want to disturb him with our dumb troubles.

The shack was only a couple hundred feet west of the Sheppard Site so we made a shovel test only to find the ground was frozen! All of this had been for nothing! Now we had to decide what to do.

We were getting hungry and it was evident that we were here for the night. We always took our .22 rifles along for we enjoyed target shooting and hunting crows. There was never anyone else up here along the river in those days so it was perfectly safeto shoot using moderate caution.

First we searched the shack and were fortunate enough to find a fish hook with about 3 feet of line attached. Now we only had to get bait. It wasn't long before a flock of starlings that had been flying around lit in a tree nearby. It took only one shot to supply the source for all the bait we needed. We cut a sapling, tied the line to it and bated the hook with entrails from the starling. Within an hour, to our surprised, we had a 2 lb. catfish on the end our line.

Next we examined the junk pile outside and concluded that the three legged potbellied stove there was useable so we dragged it inside and used a rock for the forth leg. Scattered pieces of stove piping proved to be enough to reach a window pane which we removed. Plentiful wood produced heat and soon we were eating catfish, without salt.

There were plenty of cracks between the boards and of course there was a window missing. We did not sleep well as someone had to stay up to keep feeding the stove. This would lapse at times through the night and frankly we nearly froze.

"We always took our .22 rifles."
When morning finally arrived we discovered that it had snowed during the night and the car was a dismal sight indeed. We had to get out of there somehow. And, as if our prayers were suddenly answered we heard voices and to our amazement three guys, a bit older than our 18 years, appeared out of the cold mists. We exchanged a few words and found that they were running a trap line. They were about to continue on when one of them said, "We can't leave these boys here like this." Thank God one of them said "NO". We never told Mr. Shepard of this experience.

Footnote: The next time we visited the Shepard site the "shack" was all weather striped inside! From the beginning the name "Shepard " was spelled with one "P" as was the site name. However, it is probable that the owner's name was indeed spelled with two P's as the road sign that goes past his former home is "Sheppard" Lane. No change to the site name is recommended..
Richard "Gates" Slattery at the Winslow site in 2003.