Stearns Oxen Walk Killingly to Mansfield

Historical Article Series April 6, 2020 > Stearns Oxen Walk Killingly to Mansfield

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 38, No. 4, July 2002

In 1772, Boaz Stearns, at the age of 70, journeyed with his family from Killingly to his new home in Mansfield.  He established a farm high on a hill in Mansfield with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.  Today that farm is Mountain Dairy Farm, one of the largest dairies in Connecticut.  Two hundred and thirty years later, it remains in the same family.

In recognition of Mansfield’s 300th anniversary, 10th generation descendants of Boaz Stearns – 8-year-old Timmy, his mother Carolyn, and an uncle, 13-year-old Shepherd Stearns – recreated their ancestor’s journey.  They were accompanied by two pairs of young oxen, 7-month-old twins Shaggy and Scooby Doo and 10–month-old Zeke and Shin, all raised and trained by the boys as 4-H projects.  The entourage traveled by foot for almost 30 miles, traveling mostly on trails and back roads.  For the protection of the children and calves, everyone was trucked home each night and then returned to where they had left off the next morning. Each night Carolyn Stearns sent e-mail updates to her family and friends.  Below are excerpts from her e-mail journal of their great adventure.  Enjoy!

Stearns Oxen Walk
Timmy Stearns leads Scooby Doo and Shaggy. Shepherd Stearns brings up the rear.

Saturday, June 15 – We did it! Day one complete! We are tired and satisfied with an adventure going well despite weather delays.  All the oxen made the trip well. We rested the youngest one many times and all were troopers. I’m proud of the boys for slogging through water for 7 or so miles and making a biggest day of their young lives pleasant and fulfilling.  Scooby Doo and Shaggy never tired.  I really wonder now how many miles that would take?

We have decided to change our plans for Sunday. We are letting everyone rest more and will leave around 12 tomorrow. We will go as far as Goodwin Forest Nature Center. That way we can enjoy more of Father’s Day with the dad’s in our lives. The oxen will appreciate a half day and their own field at night.  With little Al, the youngest ox, we only made about one mile per hour.  But we enjoyed the scenery. We thank those that found us and walked with us. We really enjoyed the company.  My strongest impressions of the day – There are a lot of woods in Connecticut and Scooby needs to move over and get me out of the puddles!

Sunday, June 16 – Day 2 complete! Our abbreviated trip for day two was four miles from Kenyon Rd., Hampton to Goodwin Forest. We finished just before the rains came and enjoyed the pavilion at the park waiting for our trailer home which pulled up right after the calves had their water. We still average only one mile each hour what with rest stops and lunch on the trail. 

Monday, June 17 – Hi all and a new installment in the continuing saga of the Stearns family oxen drive! We are on the town line!!! And I still have my sense of humor. So tomorrow we will do the length of Bassetts Bridge Rd. in Mansfield Center up to the cemetery to lay flowers at Boaz Stearns’ grave.  Then we will cut in behind the post office to load for the road home. We will leave at 10 a.m.  It will take 2-4 hours for the 4 mile trip. 

Today was great! Zeke and Shin, another pair of oxen owned by Shepherd, came with us. They are bigger and stronger and came along at a good speed. We left Goodwin Forest and came into N. Windham. The trail was beautiful. We saw turkeys and box turtles (4).  We crossed two bridges and passed through the boughs of a down tree – all good maneuvers in instructing the oxen and us.  Today was 4-5 miles. We thank those who got out to visit with us.  A friendly face waving an arm in greeting in the distance sure is a happy sight.  We left a letterbox in our wake so others later will share in a piece from our trip. Feet tired bur spirits soar – tomorrow we walk in Mansfield! 

Tuesday, June 18 – What a perfect summer day to be out on the way toward home. I was grinning ear to ear as the oxen stopped to look at the Mansfield town line sign. Maybe they can read too!  It was surely a great feeling to know we are indeed one leg from being home on our farm.  We came off the trails and onto Bassetts Bridge Road. today and traveled through Mansfield Hollow Park. We watered at the boat launch and had a relaxing picnic at the main gate with many friends stopping by to see us. Thanks to all who came out to be a little part of our adventure. We finished up today with a stop at the old Center Cemetery where Timmy laid a bouquet of sunflowers at Boaz Stearns’ grave.  Then we loaded by the old post office and enjoyed an ice cream cone at the general store. 

Wednesday, June 19 – The final leg of the journey. In a bittersweet moment we reached the front lawn of the farmhouse at Mountain Dairy today. The boys and their oxen posed just as family members had in a photo taken in 1876. 

We began the day at the Congregational Church in Mansfield Center – long the foundation of our family and the town.  It was a fitting place to begin our last day.  As cars whizzed by the oxen were posed on the front lawn, the spire reaching high above them.  Then turning, off they walked – two hills and two miles to home. 

With a send off from the Minister (Lindsey Fulmer) and others, we head up the hill. Tail car flashing for safety, we pass the old town pound and ruins of the horse sheds, once accommodations for animals at church time. Upward we climb; a few neighbors join to walk a bit and we climb rather quiet. What do the boys think in this last piece out of the woods and onto roads they know like the back of their hand? We climb onward, leveling off and taking the turn onto Crane Hill. Aptly named, the large hill lies ahead. We stop at the base at George Bailey’s home and water the oxen. We cross the brook, climb the hill, Scooby still rushing all the way pulling and tugging to get Shaggy to go faster.  We take one breather, then finish the hill and stop again for water. No problems and there in the distance is the farm.  Generations have come up the hill and seen the farm rise in the distance but no view sweeter than that we saw today after the journey of a lifetime to mark the ages and our family tree.   

At my sister-in-law’s the cousins and daycare kids sit out like waiting for a great parade. They wave, call our names, and cheer.  We are a few hundred feet from done. The last bit, and the oxen run up onto the lawn.  Somehow they know we have finished. They know we are taking their pictures. They bellow to the cows in the valley below. Were they shouting, “We did it?”  So many photos and then we unyoke for the last time in our journey. The oxen hop happily into the trailer for a ride to their pastures.  We celebrate the finish with pizza and cake at the picnic table under the spreading branches of the trees which have watched the century come and go.  We wash it all down with milk and talk of the trip only a little. The finish seems to rob us of words and we visit some but are unable to express the awe at the walk we took. Awe at the walk our ancestors took.

One thought on “Stearns Oxen Walk Killingly to Mansfield

  1. Love this! Found article searching for Shepherd Stearns that settled in Erie county Pennsylvania from Wilkes barre and earlier ancestors from Connecticut.

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