Morningstar Mill: The Last Dragon?

Morningstar Mill Blog Post Last Dragon
The spiral staircase built by Wilson Morningstar, c. 1890

The first thing I do when I get to Morningstar Mill is check all the mouse traps. I always hope that they are empty but on one sad yet ironic occasion, an eastern milksnake met the same fate as the mouse it had been following. When I realized what I was seeing, I shrieked before turning away. Eastern milksnakes are medium-sized snakes about 3 feet long that prey on rodents. I recently came across two references to snakes at the mill that reminded me of that day – one from the Reminiscences of Captain DeCew and the other from a newspaper article about Wilson Morningstar.

 

Decew Falls is named after John DeCou, an early landowner in the Beaverdams area who built the first mill at Decew Falls after the War of 1812.  One day, in the gorge ‘not far below the falls’, Decou was looking for a stone that would be suitable in size and quality to make a grinding stone from.  He did select one, and began shaping it with a pick.  While engaged with this task, he writes… “I heard a rustling in the leaves behind me, and on turning my head I saw an enormous blacksnake reared up looking over my shoulder. As quick as thought I discharged my pick at his head, and laid him dead at my feet.”

Wilson Morningstar also happened upon a large snake while he was surveying the area below the falls.  Wilson was working out an estimate on the winding staircase he was planning to build to provide safe access into the bottom of the gorge.  The Thorold Post on September 10, 1886 reports that after completing this work, Wilson took a few moments to admire the beauty of the morning glories he had planted among the rocks in the spring. ‘While walking around the boulders a snake about 5 feet long came out…from the head to the middle of the body the snake was of a pure scarlet color, the remainder to the tail being a deep black.  On the head was a well-developed pair of velvety horns and a protuberance of blue color resembling a rooster’s comb.  The mouth of the snake, strange to say, was pointed like the beak of a bird.’ Astonished, Wilson killed it ‘with a well-directed blow on the head.’

‘Strange to say,’ absolutely! I was surprised to learn, however, that when I googled ‘snakes with horns’ and ‘snakes with beaks’ that some snakes do indeed have these characteristics, but I couldn’t find anything like what Wilson describes. It actually makes me happy when I see milksnakes sunning themselves outside of the mill, and when I think of the very curious snake that Wilson encountered it makes me wonder if Wilson Morningstar killed the last dragon (or simply licked a toad).

Carla Mackie is the Historical Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre and oversees operations at the Morningstar Mill.

Reference:

Special Collections, St. Catharines Library, Spec Coll 929.2 DeC: John De Cou, Pioneer page 95

A Curious Snake, Thorold Post, September 10, 1886 page 3

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