The True Heroes.
The Daily papers, especially the Republican, have taken the occasion to belittle
the Gate-keeper, Cheney, in the part he took in saving the lives of those exposed
by the reservoir calamity. But if there was ever a man who acted with promptness
and decision on an important occasion, that man was the Gate-keeper, George
Cheney. We copy from the Northampton Gazette a truthful statement of the parts
performed by Cheney and Graves, whose promptness and decision was the salvation
of hundreds of lives.
George Cheney for three years was the watchman and gate-keeper at the dam.
He was at breakfast on the morning of the 16th, when his father, looking out
of the house, discovered earth sliding down the embankment, on the outside of
the eastern half. There had been at that spot- near the water pipe in the center
of the dam- for three years at least, a leak
resembling a spring. The water was always clear, but the flow constant. When
the discovery of the falling earth was made, Cheney sprang for the key to the
gate-house, and as soon as he could reach the dam, hoisted the gate. The water
then was coming through the dam, at the bottom, in half-a-dozen streams, of
the size of a man's arm. He told his father "the dam was going- there was
no help for it." He at once- in obedience to orders, that if any trouble
happened to the dam that he could not control, to notify Mr. Spellman at the
village-started for the barn, 100 rods from the dam, to get his horse. Previous
to Gov. Hayden's death, he received his orders from him; since then, from Spellman.
The barn was locked and the horse had not been fed. He bridled the horse and
told his father to cut a stick. He mounted and started, going through the lot
to the highway, a distance of one-third of a mile, at a lively trot. When he
reached the highway, he struck into a run, and applied the stick freely, so
that when he reached Williamsburg it was nearly used up. The horse did not stop
running until he arrived at Spellman's house, nearly three miles from the dam.
The horse was then covered with foam and nearly used up. When he left the dam,
the only evidence that was that the dam would break was the half-dozen streams
of water and the sliding down of a section of earth about forty feet long. But
that was enough to satisfy him that the dam was going soon. He neither saw nor
heard any rush of water b before reaching the village. He ran directly to Spellman's
house and told him the dam had broken. Spellman said it could not be possible
and asked him about the break, where it was, how large, &c., endeavoring
to learn the particulars. He did not seem to believe that the break was a serious
matter. (There was a report about three years ago that the dam had broken, which
created considerable excitement in the village. This probably led Spellman to
disbelieve Cheney's story.) Cheney, however, was in earnest, and saw that no
time was to be lost. He therefore asked Spellman what he should do. Spellman
told him to go to Haydenville and notify the people. Cheney said his horse was
used up and could go no further. Spellman then told him to go and get Belcher
to go. Cheney did so, ran his horse down to Belcher's, and found him dressing
himself. Belcher flew around lively when he was told the dam had broken and
told him to ride his own horse to Haydenville, so as to lose no time. Cheney
told him his horse was not fit to go, and Belcher brought form his stable another
and was putting a saddle on him when Graves drove up, inquired the matter was,
and on learning that the reservoir had broken, started for Haydenville at full
speed. Belcher then went to the church and rang the bell.
As soon as the fresh horse was ready, Cheney mounted and also started for Haydenville.
He had gone to nearly to Culver's blacksmith shop, or a little below the site
of the old school-house north of the Dea. Bodman place, when the water was sweeping
across the road before him and it was useless for him to attempt to go further.
Cheney thinks he was ten minutes in coming down to Spellman's- says the road
seemed a long one to him. He thinks he was at Spellman's three to four minutes
and that it seemed a long while. Graves, he thinks, started for Haydenville
two minutes ahead of him. He then went home and found the water all out of the
reservoir when he arrived there. Thinks, from what his folks at home said, that
the dam burst about twenty minutes after he started for the village. The water
seemed to burst out all at once. He could not give the exact time that the first
signs of the break appeared, but thinks it was soon after 7 o'clock.
Cheney's horse is a sharp-boned animal, poor in flesh, and not a pleasant animal
to ride. Yet Cheney rode him, without saddle or blanket- bareback- all the way,
over a rough road, three miles, at a terrible pace, from the effects of which
he suffered severely for several days. Yet notwithstanding, he was anxious to
push on to Haydenville. Let no many say that Geo. Cheney was unfaithful to his
Collins Graves, the milk-peddler, son of Elinathan Graves, was near Cartier's
store when Cheney passed by on his way from Spellman's house to Belcher's. Knowing
the speed at which Cheney's horse went, that there was trouble at the reservoir.
Graves immediately followed him, drove into Belcher's yard, and inquired what
the matter was. Cheney said the reservoir was breaking away. Graves then said:-
"Ain't you wild?" "No," replied Cheney," "I ain't
wild a bit; it is right here." Graves then said, "If that is so, the
people below must be warned at once;" and without saying another word,
he started for his horse, still attached to the buggy in which he peddled his
milk, at full speed toward Haydenville. His purpose was to go at once to the
factories, where the noise and din of the machinery would prevent the operatives
hearing any alarm in the streets, or the noise of the coming waters, and notify
He had a fleet horse and urged him on at his topmost speed. His first stop
was at James' woolen mill. He saw no one on the way. Met Tom Brazill at the
mill and told him to inform the hands, and hunt up Mr. Birmingham and notify
him. He then sped on to Skinner's silk factory, where he saw William Rhoades
and Nash Hubbard and notified them. A little further on he met Geo. E. Smith,
the fish peddler, and without stopping, gave him the warning. Smith barely escaped.
Next he saw Mr. Keplinger's boy, two houses below, and notified him, the horse
still going at full speed. He first heard the roar of the waters when below
Skinnerville. The next place where he stopped was at the office of Hayden, Gere,
& Co. Here he notified the clerks, and they notified the hands in the brass
works. Still on he went and stopped at Hart's barber shop, near the upper iron
bridge in Haydenville, and then on to Dea. Elam Graves' store, notifying Dea.
Graves and his son Charles. He then turned around to return home, and had proceeded
as far as the "dugway," (a roadway on the river bank, made by walling
up on the river side and digging out the hill for a distance of 75 to 100 rods.)
Here he first saw the coming waters. He was about 15 rods along that way when
he saw the on-rushing column, 20 feet in hight, bearing trees, timbers and houses,
and creating a roaring which he described as resembling heavy-rolling thunder.
He then turned around and ran his horse through Haydenville street, toward the
hotel, yelling as he went. Having done all that he could do, he turned up the
street running back of the church where up one high ground a large number of
people were gathered. He says the advance of this monster torrent was accompanied
by a heavy black smoke above it, like that seen above a great conflagration.
From this truthful account the reader will notice how remarkable was the escape
of the 100 persons, mostly females, in Skinner's factory, and of the over 200
men in the brass works. Graves saw Cheney riding at full speed from Spellman's
to Belcher's and knew from that that there was trouble at the reservoir. He
immediately follows-inquires-learns the fact that the reservoir has broken-and,
without a moment's loss in questions suggested by curiosity, dashes on to warn
the people below. Cheney follows as soon as a fresh horse can be bridled and
saddled, but it is too late- the mighty torrent has intervened between him and
Graves, and he retreats. Graves is two minutes ahead of the water! Only two
minutes between the flying messenger and the great destroyer! Precious minutes!
Those two minutes served to empty two factories of over three hundred souls,
so that only one person of all that number was lost. A most remarkable record.
Not in a hundred times could a chain of circumstances be more favorable for
the preservation of life. And as long as the life shall last with those now
living, ought the blessings of the good and just to be showered upon these two
faithful men, and their names handed down to the coming generations, as of those
who unselfishly and fearlessly did their duty.