Dedicated to the History of Maine and the People and Places That Preserve It

Bingham’s Dud

by Sue Melcher
He didn’t want his daughters to grow up to be women who shrieked at the sight of mice, he supplied all of his children with individual fishing poles, and he was perhaps a bit vexed that his only son, as an adult, could not understand that weeding a garden was a “religious duty.” In all of his 37 years serving as minister to an area stretching along the Upper Kennebec Corridor from Solon all the way to Jackman, he never once charged for a funeral. A unique blend of religious spirituality, shrewd intellect, deep compassion, and keen humor, Arthur R. Macdougall was born in Enfield Maine, son of a Scottish emigrant and his native Maine wife. He created a lasting legacy that helped shape the people and landscape of the Upper Kennebec Valley.

Google “MacDougall Pond” and your Internet search will inform you that it’s a small pond just off Route 201 north of Caratunk, the shoreline is undeveloped, and it is an excellent place for coldwater game fish. Search for Macdougall Pond in your gazetteer, cast your eye along the Route 201 corridor which meanders alongside the Kennebec River, follow it northward from Solon, through Bingham, Moscow, and Caratunk, and you will find it tucked in between Route 201 and Wyman Lake, a little blotch of blue, easily overlooked.

Let us now take a vicarious visit to this Kennebec Corridor, circa 1923, wending our way north slowly as we pass spacious farms the Kennebec River slides into view. It’s a time when men wore thick flannel, button-down coats, matching caps, lace-up rubber boots and green woolen pants. They took to the woods with fly rods, guns, and sometimes just their souls, toting camp packs, lard pails full of bait, small fry pans, and aluminum mess kits. Traipsing through the woods, they noted the slant of sunlight in the golden rod, the rise and fall of the land, the sun setting in the western sky. They followed bee-lines in search of wild honey, and they knew where the perfect berry patches were hidden. They canoed, snow-shoed, and found many ways to move through and across landscapes they loved and knew intimately.

Mak after a swim in Wyman Lake. Courtesy of Old Canada Road Historical Society.

It was in 1923 Arthur R. Macdougall, affectionately known as “Mak,”came to Bingham to serve as local pastor at the First Congregational Church. He would make his home in the parsonage, and along with his wife Leah, raise a family of four children – Leah, Jean, Nellie, and Walter. Often the only minister in the area, Macdougall served a parish that stretched over sixty miles, from Solon to Jackman on both sides of the Kennebec River. In the early days, he traveled by horse & buggy. When winter weather dumped its heavy snows, his horse pulled a sleigh into the far reaches of the farms and forests, taking Macdougall to church services, funerals, weddings, and homes where he comforted the grieving, and visited the sick and dying bringing solace and spiritual comfort to people who made their living off the land. Very few families who have roots in the Upper Kennebec Valley have not been touched by the grace and stewardship of Arthur Macdougall.

If Macdougall had left only this legacy of outstanding service to generations of farm, and forest folk it would have been enough for him to be memorialized forever. However, his contribution to Maine literature and lore is also enormous, and explains why a small pond in northwestern Maine bears his name.

Macdougall was as much at home in the sanctuary of the deep and lovely woods fishin’ in a trout stream as he was enrobed in ministerial black within the sanctuary of the church. Creator of Dud Dean, the quintessential Maine fishing guide, Mak crafted an array of stories, the “Dud Dean Tales,” which were initially published in Field and Stream in the 1930’s. Readers throughout the United States and Canada eagerly read about Dud Dean, whose dry, droll wit, fishing expertise, unique vernacular, and knack for spinning yarns brought the sport of fishing into hearth and home of the reading audience. Although Dud Dean was a fictionalized amalgam of people Mak knew, and shared many qualities with Mak’s close friend and neighbor Jack Owen, his authenticity was so tangible that many readers were convinced Dud was a real person, and some wrote letters asking for fishing advice.

Macdougall wrote during the Golden Age of Maine sporting tourism, when people disembarked from northern-bound trains from Boston, New York, and other cities, stepping off at the Bingham Depot, gateway to the Maine forest and the Upper Kennebec Region. The women relaxed and reposed while their husbands, escorted by Maine Guides, ventured out into wilderness to catch fish, shoot game, and contemplate the finer things in life. Maine offered the quintessential outdoor experience for people seeking respite from city life. During this time the art of the raconteur was highly prized, and short stories, especially of the sporting kind, were extremely popular. A prolific writer of many genres, Macdougall became best known for his short, shrewd, funny tales of the outdoors.

While Macdougall’s stories drew their success from his keen observations of human nature, his droll sense of humor, and his lyrical writing style, they also relied heavily upon his quiet but energetic passion for the outdoors. For Macdougall, spirituality and love of the outdoors were inseparable. In the 1950’s, he inaugurated “Anglers’ Sunday,” choosing a day in June to celebrate fishing in the form of a Sunday church service, a highly popular event that drew audiences from all around New England. The church sanctuary, adorned with cat-o-nine tails, ferns, forest flowers, flora, and even a few trout, was magically transformed into a cool, woodsy retreat. Macdougall preached about fishing, and prayed his original “Angler’s Prayer,” in which he implores the Creator, “If I forget you in the joy of the out-of-doors, do not forget me. Count on me to protect and preserve the green pastures and still waters so long as I live.” Newspaper accounts of the occasion show Macdougall preaching from a pulpit bedecked with greenery, and later, on the church lawn, autographing Dud Dean Books for avid fans.

Much of the inspiration for Dud’s character came from Macdougall’s time spent in his “camp study,” located on the shore of the newly formed Wyman Lake. During the construction of the dam, 1928-1931, the population of Bingham swelled, along with Macdougall’s parish, with construction workers, and a plethora of shotgun houses were built to accommodate the men and their families. Once the dam was completed and the workers had moved away to find other work, some of the vacated homes were sold and moved. Central Maine Power Company sold some lakeside property to a few people, rather reluctantly, as they were unsure how people would react to unpredictable, mercurial rising and falling water levels, and Macdougall was one of the fortunate few. He bought a leftover family dwelling, and moved it to serve as a lakeside camp and retreat. According to Nellie, Macdougall’s daughter, the family made the camp their home during the entire month of August, a vacation that would become a memorable annual ritual. For a family whose mother had been politely but unequivocally asked not to hang out the washing on the parsonage porch where it would be visible during church functions, these lakeside retreats represented sweet freedom. The family packed up the car, took all their animals – which, at any time, might have included a dog, chickens, and a goat – and left for their northern destination, not emerging until the month was over. Macdougall himself left the camp only in the case of church emergencies, funerals, and weddings. The rest of the family traveled only as far as their feet or a rowboat could take them.

A reader does not have to be a fishing aficionado or a lover of Maine literature and lore to enjoy Macdougall’s writing. His lakeside retreat, philosophical outlook, wisdom, humor, and love of language crafted much more than a stereotypical Maine guide drolly enjoying the fishing exploits of people from away. Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House and The Northern Farm, searching for an author who was capable of creating an impeccable, authentic Maine vernacular, was referred to Macdougall, and the two became good friends. Beston became an avid reader of the Dud Dean series, even though he was not an avid trout man.

Macdougall’s son, Walter, notes that later in life, his father’s passion morphed from fishing and wandering through the woods to the farmlands where he had spent so much time ministering to his parishioners. During the last 20 years of his life Macdougall farmed, pruned trees, tended gardens, and put wood away for the long winter months. As evidenced in The Old Lake Road, a book of poignant and quietly powerful poems published in 1977 – Macdougall died in 1983 – his writing shows a depth of respect and admiration for "men who loved

the feel of earth and air, the sun, the rain, and the timber squared."

The man who had written so eloquently about forest glades, trout streams, and sporting types who sought quiet adventures had turned to the farms, fields, furrows and fortunes of those who cultivated the land along the Kennebec River.

Walter recalls that late in his father’s life the two of them were taking a drive through a back road in South Bingham. Pointing out cellar holes, elderly shade maples, and other vestiges of old farms, Mak pointed out the various places where he had conducted a funeral, visited a sick bed, or performed a wedding. One could take such a trip today and see a landscape of lives touched by a man who often walked alongside the horse-drawn sleigh in order to keep warm when he visited outlying farms. One might visit the Old Canada Road Historical Society or the Union Library in Bingham to journey through Macdougall’s magazine articles, books, and memoirs and explore the multifaceted qualities of this great fisher of men.