The Three Musketeers on the Long Trail

The Three Musketeers

Three Musketeers sitting at Hazens Notch, Theron S. Dean, carton three, Long Trail photos and slides, box 3, http://cdi.uvm.edu/collections/item/deanb03102 (accessed January 18, 2014)

The Magpie recently came across this image at Global Art Junkie and became transfixed. Everything about the image made her want to know more. Who are these women? Where was this photo taken? What do they do when not hiking and looking indomitable?

Some hunting and pecking turned up the original digitization found at the University of Vermont Libraries Center for Digital Initiatives. It was there that the Magpie uncovered all kinds of delectable facts. First of all, the digital image was made from an original 1927 hand-colored lantern slide, just one image from the large Long Trail Collection:

The Long Trail Collection includes over 900 images of the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States: Vermont’s Long Trail. The collection is mainly comprised of black-and-white and hand-colored lantern slides derived from photographs taken between 1912 and 1937. It documents the Green Mountain Club’s building of original trails and shelters and illustrates the enthusiasm for the Long Trail project (and hiking in general) at the turn of the century.

Theron S. Dean

Photographer, Theron S. Dean, was also a member of the Green Mountain Club and presented slideshows and gave talks about the Long Trail throughout Vermont, often to hundreds of people. In fact, the original slides can still be viewed in the Dean and Congdon collections at the University of Vermont Special Collections in the Bailey Howe Library. (photo credit: Theron S. Dean scouting a trail on Couching Lion (Camel’s Hump), Herbert W. Congdon, Carton Three, Longtrail photos and slides, Box 2, Sub-box 6, http://cdi.uvm.edu/collections/item/hwccr03b02044)

Dean is credited with a few more photos of the merry troop above who had become known by the nickname, The Three Musketeers. It is from his notes that we learn their names: from left to right in the colored slide above, they are Catherine Robbins, Hilda Kurth, and Kathleen Norris.

In 2010, Vermont Public Radio did a piece on these intrepid hikers, and that uncovered more interesting information on the young women themselves. Ms. Norris was only 18 years old and had just graduated from high school, while Ms. Robbins and Ms. Kurth were both 25 and school teachers. In 1927 when they hiked the trail from end to end, they were the first women ever to do so, and they got a lot of media attention. The San Francisco Examiner’s headline gasped, “They Carried No Firearms and Had No Male Escort!” They covered 280 miles in 27 days to end their historic hike on Sept 4, 1927.

Part of their appeal, obviously, was that they were the epitome of the young, liberated women who were at that very moment in history shedding the confines of Victorian clothing and manners, striking out on their own and proclaiming their rights and their individuality.

As one would expect, they carried only necessities, with the exception of Ms. Kurth’s 4oz ukulele seen in one of the images above. When they got tired, they’d sit for awhile at trailside and sing until they felt rested and refreshed. Then they would continue on.

The Green Mountain Club still exists and promotes the Long Trail today. The route follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses the highest peaks in Vermont. It was the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail, which coincides with it for one hundred miles in the southern third of the state. The Long Trail is the also oldest long-distance trail in the United States.

In the early days, the club created guide books that give us a good idea of what it would have been like to tackle this trail in the early 20th century before current clothing and equipment for backpacking existed. The 1921 edition suggested the following gear as necessities:

WEAR ON PERSON:

Thin woolen underwear, knitted wool socks, well-oiled army shoes (Munson last), flannel shirt with breast pockets, (sleeves and collar necessary in fly-time). Khaki trousers or breeches and belt (avoid shorts in fly-time), bandanna neckerchief, headgear at will (Duxbak fisherman’s hat recommended), wrist-watch.

CARRY IN POCKETS:

Left shirt: handkerchief, postals, notebook, pencil. Right shirt: guide-book, money securely pinned in bag or envelope. Left trousers: matches in flat tin box, waterproof. Right trousers: pocket knife, strong twine. Left hip: toilet paper. Fob pocket: compass on lanyard.

CARRY ON BELT:

Camera in holster, sheath-knife if used, field-glasses in holster to replace camera for one member of party. Axe or hatchet in sheath may be carried on belt, but avoid long handle or heavy weight.

The guide also advises carrying many pounds of food for a two week trip which surely must have been the bulk of the weight a summer hiker would have to endure.

The Long Trail continues to be very popular today, and many people hike all or part of it. Amazingly, just this past summer, it was attempted by the granddaughter and great-grandson of Catherine Robbins, herself. They’ve documented their experiences at Musketeers Too. In fact, Cara Nelson had already done the hike once before with her sister in 1997 for the 70th anniversary of the completion by the famous Three Musketeers.

Catherine Robbins

Catherine Robbins

The Magpie assumes these three amazing women have left us by this time, since if living, two of them would be 112 years old and the youngest would be 105 years old. However, as luck would have it, we can hear directly from Catherine Robbins as she was interviewed  as part of an oral history project in preparation for a radio program sponsored by the Vermont Historical Society entitled Green Mountain Chronicles. Of course, a radio show must be edited down to only an hour or two, but the transcripts from her 1987 interview (Part 1 and Part 2) go into far more detail and make for fascinating reading. Robbins was about 85 years old at the time of the interviews, and she shares many details about her background and how she came to be one of the first three women to hike The Long Trail.

The Magpie would love to know more about Hilda Kurth and Kathleen Norris, so maybe a bit more research is in order. But for now, it’s clear that these three individuals made quite an impact on the hiking world and on women’s history in the United States! Thanks to the Center for Digital Initiatives at the University of Vermont Libraries for putting the digital images out on the web, so they and the Three Musketeers can be rediscovered.

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2 comments

  1. Beautiful story and a very beautiful trail. I met a little group (two men and a woman) of walkers who called themselves the Three Musketeers when I thru-hiked the Long Trail while taking a short break from my northbound A.T. thru-hike in 2006. I now realise the true origins of their name.

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