Here’s to the Bull and Richard Smythe

“Here’s to the Bull and Richard Smythe….” by Bradley Harris, Smithtown Historian.

Newcomers to Smithtown always ask about the statue of the bull that stands in the Head of the River Park. What does the bull have to do with Smithtown? The answer is: everything!” For “Whisper,” as the bull is affectionately known, has become the symbol and trademark of the Town of Smithtown. People who visit Smithtown for the first time may not recall anything else about our town but they do remember the town with a statue of a bull in it. And rightfully they should remember “Whisper” because his statue is a constant reminder of the history of the founding of Smithtown. “Whisper got his name years ago when a local newspaper ran a contest for elementary school children and asked them to submit a name for the statue of Richard Smythe’s bull. “Whisper” was chosen because he never makes a sound. Legend has it that “Whisper” was the bull that Richard Smythe, the patentee of Smithtown, rode on his jaunt around the boundaries of Smithtown as he staked out his claim to the land. Although accounts of the legend vary according to the embellishment given by the teller, the most succinct is to be found in J. Lawrence Smith’s book, The History of Smithtown. It is only appropriate that a descendant of the “bull-rider,” as Richard Smythe is known, tell the tale: “Tradition says that he (Richard Smythe) purchased of the Indians as much land as he could ride around on a bull in a day, and, having a trained bull which he used as a horse, he started early, reached the valley between Smithtown and Huntington at noon, rested and took his lunch (thereby giving the valley the name of Bread and Cheese Hollow which it still retains), and completed the whole circuit of the township by nightfall – much to the astonishment of the natives.” Could Richard Smythe have done this? No one will ever know for sure and I for one would not like to debunk such a colorful legend. We do know that Richard Smythe owned a bull and it is possible that he could have ridden this bull just as other colonists did in the absence of horses. To ride this bull a distance of some 35 miles through an untracked wilderness in one day’s time would have required a superhuman effort on the part of Richard Smythe, to say nothing of what it would have done to his bull. The most ardent supporters of the legendary ride look for ways in which Richard Smythe could have accomplished such a superhuman feat. Some say that he wisely chose the longest day of the year, carefully plotted his course, trained his bull and built up his endurance, and then made his mad dash. I like Paul Bailey’s explanation for how Richard Smythe managed to get his pet bull to “scout” round the boundaries of Smithtown:

You’ve heard of Sheridan of course Who rode to glory on a horse,

And Paul Revere who won renown Galloping out of Boston town,

You’ve heard the tale of Austin Roe Riding old Dobbin past the foe,

And many other daring deeds Performed by heroes on their steeds.

But only Smithtown did provide A wild and wooly bullback ride,

And be it history or myth, Here’s to the Bull and Richard Smith.

This Richard Smith, I understand, Was looking for a piece of land

On which to found a sanctuary Only for Smiths (And those they’d marry)

So on his pet bull, in riding togs He went to see the Nissequogs

Who, being gamblers, made a bet

That he couldn’t ride his bovine pet Twixt dawn and dark around the zone

That he said he’d like to own.

The prize was all the land in full,

But should he fail, they’d get the Bull.

Richard agreed, but on the side The night before he made his ride

He marked the boundaries with a plow Hitched to a most alluring cow

And when next day he rode the route My how that Bull did up and scout

With Richard clinging as it went Hot on the trail of Bossy’s scent

O’er hill and dale, thru briny bogs,

And in pursuit the Nissequogs, Not knowing as they ran behind Just what was on the big Bull’s mind.

Altho the branches scratched his face Smith didn’t try to halt his pace;

Altho the briers ripped the stitches From out of his homemade riding breeches Smith thought but of his future town,

He cared not that his pants came down,

Nor did the Bull mind branch or bough For he was thinking of the Cow.

You know the rest, ere sun had set Bold Richard had won his bet

Without an arm or leg disjointed, But my! That Bull was disappointed.

Paul Bailey, ca. 1956

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