How did “Old Bill” become a Berkshire favorite?
Photo by Berkshire Museum
Startling as the sight is, Berkshire residents should not be surprised to spot a moose near their homes.
There are nearly 1,000 in Massachusetts, but 100 years ago, those who caught sight of a certain moose often called him by name. They knew him as “Old Bill,” and a scar across his shoulder made him easily identifiable.
The native moose herd had fled north toward Canada in the early 18th century, as land was cleared for farms, and did not repopulate for 160 years. But Old Bill and a few other Berkshire moose were exceptions, escapees in the early 20th century from the hunting preserve on October Mountain owned by William C. Whitney, secretary of the Navy under President Grover Cleveland. The moose roamed and multiplied.
Among them, Old Bill apparently lost his natural fear of humans and was regularly seen. Locals loved his playful ways, and he wandered wherever he pleased into Lenox and Lee, even onto the railroad tracks where trains would stop until he ambled away.
Old Bill was named after game warden William Sargood, who kept close tabs on the moose that may have weighed 1,200 pounds.
Sadly, Old Bill was shot by hunters in East Otis in 1920, but his fame continued. His massive head was mounted and placed in the Berkshire Museum, where generations of children have seen Old Bill’s impressive antler rack and bell.
His ramblings were memorialized in a 1926 story by Walter Prichard Eaton. Interest was recently renewed in a 2015 children’s book with poetry by Arlo Guthrie and illustrations by Kathy Garren.