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(Ealrinrt Efcttuw


The Bee-hunter


James Fenimore Cooper

Dana Estes & Company






Photogravure from Darley steel plate


From painting by W. L. Shepard



Photogravure from Darley steel plate


IT ought to be matter of surprise how men live in the midst
of marvels, without taking heed of their existence. The
slightest derangement of their accustomed walks in political
or social life shall excite all their wonder, and furnish
themes for their discussions, for months; while the prodi
gies that come from above are presented daily to their eyes,
and are received without surprise, as things of course. In
a certain sense, this may be well enough, inasmuch as all
which comes directly from the hands of the Creator may be
said so far to exceed the power of human comprehension,
as to be beyond comment; but the truth would show us that
the cause of this neglect is rather a propensity to dwell on
such interests as those over which we have a fancied con
trol, than on those which confessedly transcend our under
standing. Thus is it ever with men. The wonders of crea
tion meet them at every turn, without awakening reflection,
while their minds labor on subjects that are not only ephem
eral and illusory, but which never attain an elevation higher
than that the most sordid interests can bestow.

For ourselves, we firmly believe that the finger of Provi
dence is pointing the way to all races, and colors, and na
tions, along the path that is to lead the east and the west
alike to the great goal of human wants. Demons infest
that path, and numerous and unhappy are the wanderings of
millions who stray from its course; sometimes in reluctance
to proceed; sometimes in an indiscreet haste to move faster
than their fellows, and always in a forgetfulness of the great
rules of conduct that have been handed down from above.


Nevertheless, the main course is onward ; and the day, in

the sense of time, is not distant, when the whole earth is to
be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, " as the waters
cover the sea."

One of the great stumbling-blocks with a large class of
well-meaning, but narrow-judging moralists, are the seem
ing wrongs that are permitted by Providence, in its control
of human events. Such persons take a one-sided view of
things, and reduce all principles to the level of their own
understandings. If we could comprehend the relations
which the Deity bears to us, as well as we can comprehend
the relations we bear to him, there might be a little seem
ing reason in these doubts; but when one of the parties in
this mighty scheme of action is a profound mystery to the
other, it is worse than idle, it is profane, to attempt to ex
plain those things which our minds are not yet sufficiently
cleared from the dross of earth to understand. Look at
Italy, at this very moment. The darkness and depression
from which that glorious peninsula is about to emerge are
the fruits of long-continued dissensions and an iron des
potism, which is at length broken by the impulses left be*
hind him by a ruthless conqueror, who, under the appear
ance and the phrases of Liberty, contended only for him
self. A more concentrated egotism than that of Napoleon
probably never existed ; yet has it left behind it seeds of
personal rights that have sprung up by the wayside, and
which are likely to take root with a force that will bid defi
ance to eradication. Thus is it ever, with the progress of
society. Good appears to arise out of evil, and the inscrut
able ways of Providence are vindicated by general results,
rather than by instances of particular care. We leave the
application of these remarks to the intelligence of such of
our readers as may have patience to peruse the work that
will be found in the succeeding pages.

We have a few words of explanation to say, in connection
with the machinery of our tale. In the first place, we would


remark, that the spelling of "burr-oak," as given in this
book, is less our own than an office spelling. We think it
should be "bur-oak," and this for the simple reason, that
the name is derived from the fact that the acorn borne by
this tree is partially covered with a bur. Old Sam John
son, however, says that " burr " means the lobe, or lap of the
ear; and those who can fancy such a resemblance between
this and the covering of our acorn, are at liberty to use the
two final consonants. Having commenced stereotyping with
this supernumerary, for the sake of uniformity that mode of
spelling, wrong as we think it, has been continued through
out the book.

There is nothing imaginary in the fertility of the West.
Personal observation has satisfied us that it much surpasses
anything that exists in the Atlantic States, unless in excep
tions, through the agency of great care and high manuring,
or in instances of peculiar natural soil. In these times,
men almost fly. We have passed over a thousand miles of
territory within the last few days, and have brought the
pictures at the two extremes of this journey in close prox
imity in our mind s eye. Time may lessen that wonderful
fertility, and bring the whole country more on a level; but
there it now is, a glorious gift from God, which it is devoutly
to be wished may be accepted with due gratitude and with
a constant recollection of his unwavering rules of right and
wrong, by those who have been selected to enjoy it.

June, 1848.



How doth the little busy bee

Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day,

From every opening flower.


WE have heard of those who fancied that they beheld a sig
nal instance of the hand of the Creator in the celebrated
cataract of Niagara. Such instances of the power of sensible
and near objects to influence certain minds, only prove how
much easier it is to impress the imaginations of the dull
with images that are novel, than with those that are less
apparent, though of infinitely greater magnitude. Thus it
would seem to be strange indeed, that any human being
should find more to wonder at in any one of the phenomena
of the earth, than in the earth itself; or should especially
stand astonished at the might of Him who created the
world, when each night brings into view a firmament stud
ded with other worlds, each equally the work of His hands!
Nevertheless, there is (at bottom) a motive for adoration,
in the study of the lowest fruits of the wisdom and power
of God. The leaf is as much beyond our comprehension of
remote causes, as much a subject of intelligent admiration,
as the tree which bears it: the single tree confounds our
knowledge and researches the same as the entire forest;
and, though a variety that appears to be endless pervades
the world, the same admirable adaptation of means to ends,


the same bountiful forethought, and the same benevolent
wisdom, are to be found in the acorn, as in the gnarled
branch on which it grew.

The American forest has so often been described, as to
cause one to hesitate about reviving scenes that might pos
sibly pall, and in retouching pictures that have been so fre
quently painted as to be familiar to every mind. But God
created the woods, and the themes bestowed by his bounty
are inexhaustible. Even the ocean, with its boundless waste
of water, has been found to be rich in its various beauties
and marvels; and he who shall bury himself with us, once
more, in the virgin forests of this widespread land, may
possibly discover new subjects of admiration, new causes to
adore the Being that has brought all into existence, from the
universe to its most minute particle.

The precise period of our legend was in the year 1812,
and the season of the year the pleasant month of July, which
had now drawn near to its close. The sun was already ap
proaching the western limits of a wooded view, when the
actors in its opening scene must appear on a stage that is
worthy of a more particular description.

The region was, in one sense, wild, though it offered a
picture that was not without some of the strongest and most
pleasing features of civilization. The country was what is
termed "rolling," from some fancied resemblance to the
surface of the ocean, when it is just undulating with a long

Although wooded, it was not, as the American forest is
wont to grow, with tall straight trees towering toward the
light, but with intervals between the low oaks that were
scattered profusely over the view, and with much of that
air of negligence that one is apt to see in grounds where
art is made to assume the character of nature. The trees,
with very few exceptions, were what is called the "burr-
oak," a small variety of a very extensive genus; and the
spaces between them, always irregular, and often of singular


beauty, have obtained the name of "openings"; two
terms combined giving their appellation to this particular
species of native forest, under the name of " Oak Openings."

These woods, so peculiar to certain districts of country,
are not altogether without some variety, though possessing
a general character of sameness. The trees were of very
uniform size, being little taller than pear-trees, which they
resemble a good deal in form ; and having trunks that rarely
attain two feet in diameter. The variety is produced by
their distribution. In places they stand with a regularity
resembling that of an orchard; then, again, they are more
scattered and less formal, while wide breadths of the land
are occasionally seen in which they stand in copses, with
vacant spaces, that bear no small affinity to artificial lawns,
being covered with verdure. The grasses are supposed to
be owing to the fires lighted periodically by the Indians in
order to clear their hunting-grounds.

Toward one of these grassy glades, which was spread on
an almost imperceptible acclivity, and which might have
contained some fifty or sixty acres of land, the reader is
now requested to turn his eyes. Far in the wilderness as
was the spot, four men were there, and two of them had even
some of the appliances of civilization about them. The
woods around were the then unpeopled forest of Michigan;
and the small winding reach of placid water that was just
visible in the distance, was an elbow of the Kalamazoo, a
beautiful little river that flows westward, emptying its trib
ute into the vast expanse of Lake Michigan. Now, this
river has already become known, by its villages and farms,
and railroads and mills; but then, not a dwelling of more
pretension than the wigwam of the Indian, or an occasional
shanty of some white adventurer, had ever been seen on its
banks. In that day, the whole of that fine peninsula, with
the exception of a narrow belt of country along the Detroit
River, which was settled by the French as far back as near
the close of the seventeenth century, was literally a wilder-


ness. If a white man found his way into it, it was as an
Indian trader, a hunter, or an adventurer in some other of
the pursuits connected with border life and the habits of the

Of this last character were two of the men on the open
glade just mentioned, while their companions were of the
race of the aborigines. What is much more remarkable, the
four were absolutely strangers to each other s faces, having
met for the first time in their lives, only an hour previously
to the commencement of our tale. By saying that they were
strangers to each other, we do not mean that the white men
were acquaintances, and the Indians strangers, but that nei
ther of the four had ever seen either of the party until they met
on that grassy glade, though fame had made them somewhat
acquainted through their reputations. At the moment when
we desire to present this group to the imagination of the
reader, three of its number were grave and silent observers
of the movements of the fourth. The fourth individual was
of middle size, young, active, exceedingly well formed, and
with a certain open and frank expression of countenance,
that rendered him at least well-looking, though slightly
marked with the small-pox. His real name was Benjamin
Boden, though he was extensively known throughout the
northwestern territories by the sobriquet of Ben Buzz ex
tensively as to distances, if not as to people. By the voy-
ageurs, and other French of that region, he was almost uni
versally styled le Bourdon, or the " Drone " ; not, however,
from his idleness or inactivity, but from the circumstances
that he was notorious for laying his hands on the products
of labor that proceeded from others. In a word, Ben Bo-
den was a " bee-hunter," and as he was one of the first to
exercise his craft in that portion of the country, so was he
infinitely the most skilful and prosperous. The honey of
le Bourdon was not only thought to be purer and of higher
flavor than that of any other trader in the article, but it was
much the most abundant. There were a score of respectable


families on the two banks of the Detroit, who never pur
chased of any one else, but who patiently waited for the ar
rival of the capacious bark canoe of Buzz, in the autumn, to
lay in their supplies of this savory nutriment for the ap
proaching winter. The whole family of griddle cakes, in
cluding those of buckwheat, Indian rice, and wheaten flour,
were more or less dependent on the safe arrival of le Bour
don, for their popularity and welcome. Honey was eaten
with all; and wild honey had a reputation, rightfully or not
obtained, that even rendered it more welcome than that
which was formed by the labor and art of the domesticated

The dress of le Bourdon was well adapted to his pursuits
and life. He wore a hunting-shirt and trousers, made of
thin stuff, which was dyed green, and trimmed with yellow
fringe. This was the ordinary forest attire of the American
rifleman ; being of a character, as it was thought, to conceal
the person in the woods, by blending its hues with those of
the forest. On his head Ben wore a skin cap, somewhat
smartly made, but without the fur ; the weather being warm.
His moccasins were a good deal wrought, but seemed to be
fading under the exposure of many marches. His arms were
excellent; but all his martial accoutrements, even to a keen
long-bladed knife, were suspended from the rammer of his
rifle; the weapon itself being allowed to lean, in careless
confidence, against the trunk of the nearest oak, as if their
master felt there was no immediate use for them.

Not so with the other three. Not only was each man well
armed, but each man kept his trusty rifle hugged to his
person, in a sort of jealous watchfulness; while the other
white man, from time to time, secretly, but with great mi
nuteness, examined the flint and priming of his own piece.

This second pale-face was a very different person from
him just described. He was still young, tall, sinewy,
gaunt, yet springy and strong, stooping and round-shoul
dered, with a face that carried a very decided top-light in


it, like that of the notorious Bardolph. In short, whiskey
had dyed the countenance of Gershom Waring with a tell
tale hue, that did not less infallibly betray his destination
than his speech denoted his origin, which was clearly from
one of the States of New England. But Gershom had been
so long at the Northwest as to have lost many of his pecul
iar habits and opinions, and to have obtained substitutes.

Of the Indians, one, an elderly, wary, experienced war
rior, was a Pottawattamie, named Elksfoot, who was well
known at all the trading-houses and "garrisons" of the
northwestern territory, including Michigan as low down as
Detroit itself. The other red man was a young Chippewa,
or O-jeb-way, as the civilized natives of that nation now tell
us the word should be spelled. His ordinary appellation
among his own people was that of Pigeonswing; a name
obtained from the rapidity and length of his flights. This
young man, who was scarcely turned of five-and-twenty, had
already obtained a high reputation among the numerous
tribes of his nation, as a messenger, or " runner."

Accident had brought these four persons, each and all
strangers to one another, in communication in the glade of
the Oak Openings, which has already been mentioned,
within half an hour of the scene we are about to present to
the reader. Although the rencontre had been accompanied
by the usual precautions of those who meet in a wilderness,
it had been friendly so far ; a circumstance that was in some
measure owing to the interest they all took in the occupa
tion of the bee-hunter. The three others, indeed, had come
in on different trails, and surprised le Bourdon in the midst
of one of the most exciting exhibitions of his art an exhi
bition that awoke so much and so common an interest in the
spectators, as at once to place its continuance for the mo
ment above all other considerations. After brief saluta
tions, and wary examinations of the spot and its tenants,
each individual had, in succession, given his grave atten
tion to what was going on, and all had united in begging


Ben Buzz to pursue his occupation, without regard to his
visitors. The conversation that took place was partly in
English, and partly in one of the Indian dialects, which
luckily all the parties appeared to understand. As a mat
ter of course, with a sole view to oblige the reader, we shall
render what was said, freely, into the vernacular.

" Let s see, let s see, stranger" cried Gershom, emphasiz
ing the syllable we have put in italics, as if especially to
betray his origin, " what you can do with your tools. I ve
heer n tell of such doin s, but never see d a bee lined in all
my life, and have a desp rate fancy for larnin of all sorts,
from rithmetic to preachinV

"That comes from your Puritan blood," answered le
Bourdon, with a quiet smile, using surprisingly pure Eng
lish for one in his class of life. "They tell me you Puri
tans preach by instinct."

"I don t know how that is," answered Gershom, "though
I can turn my hand to anything. I heer n tell, across at
Bob Ruly (Bois Brule *) of sich doin s, and would give a
week s keep at Whiskey Centre, to know how twas done."

"Whiskey Centre" was a sobriquet bestowed by the
fresh-water sailors of that region, and the few other white
adventurers of Saxon origin who found their way into that
trackless region, firstly on Gershom himself, and secondly
on his residence. These names were obtained from the
intensity of their respective characters, in favor of the bev
erage named. L eau de mort was the place termed by the voy-
ageurs, in a sort of pleasant travesty on the eau de vie of their
distant, but still well-remembered manufactures on the banks
of the Garonne. Ben Boden, however, paid but little atten
tion to the drawling remarks of Gershom Waring. This
was not the first time he had heard of " Whiskey Centre,"

* This unfortunate name, which it may be necessary to tell a portion of our readers
means " burnt wood," seems condemned to all sorts of abuses among the linguists of
the West. Among other pronunciations is that of " Bob Ruly "; while an island near
Detroit, the proper name of which is " Bois Blanc," is familiarly known to the lake
mariners by the name of " Bobolo."


though the first time he had ever seen the man himself.
His attention was on his own trade, or present occupation ;
and when it wandered at all, it was principally bestowed on
the Indians; more especially on the runner. Of Elk s foot,
or Elksfoot, as we prefer to spell it, he had some knowledge
by means of rumor; and the little he knew rendered him
somewhat more indifferent to his proceedings than he felt
toward those of the Pigeonswing. Of this young redskin he
had never heard; and, while he managed to suppress all
exhibition of the feeling, a lively curiosity to learn the
Chippewa s business was uppermost in his mind. As for
Gershom, he had taken his measure at a glance, and had
instantly set him down to be, what in truth he was, a wan
dering, drinking, reckless adventurer, who had a multitude
of vices and bad qualities, mixed up with a few that, if not
absolutely redeeming, served to diminish the disgust in
which he might otherwise have been held by all decent
people. In the meanwhile, the bee-hunting, in which all
the spectators took so much interest, went on. As this is
a process with which most of our readers are probably unac
quainted, it may be necessary to explain the modus operandi,
as well as the appliances used.

The tools of Ben Buzz, as Gershom had termed these
implements of his trade, were neither very numerous nor
very complex. They were all contained in a small covered
wooden pail like those that artisans and laborers are accus
tomed to carry for the purpose of conveying their food from
place to place. Uncovering this, le Bourdon had brought
his implements to view, previously to the moment when he
was first seen by the reader. There was a small covered cup
of tin ; a wooden box ; a sort of plate, or platter, made also of
wood ; and a common tumbler, of a very inferior, greenish
glass. In the year 1812, there was not a pane, nor a vessel, of
clear, transparent glass, made in all America! Now, some
of the most beautiful manufactures of that sort, known to
civilization, are abundantly produced among us, in common


with a thousand other articles that are used in domestic
economy. The tumbler of Ben Buzz, however, was his
countryman in more senses than one. It was not only
American, but it came from the part of Pennsylvania of
which he was himself a native. Blurred, and of a greenish
hue, the glass was the best that Pittsburg could then fabri
cate, and Ben had bought it only the year before, on the
very spot where it had been made.

An oak, of more size than usual, had stood a little remote
from its fellows, or more within the open ground of the
glade than the rest of the "orchard." Lightning had struck
this tree that very summer, twisting off its trunk at a height
of about four feet from the ground. Several fragments of
the body and branches lay near, and on these the spectators
now took their seats, watching attentively the movements of
the bee-hunter. Of the stump Ben had made a sort of table,
first levelling its splinters with an axe, and on it he placed
the several implements of his craft, as he had need of each
in succession.

The wooden platter was first placed on this rude table.
Then le Bourdon opened his small box, and took out of it
a piece of honeycomb, that was circular in shape, and
about an inch and a half in diameter. The little covered
tin vessel was next brought into use. Some pure and beau
tifully clear honey was poured from its spout into the cells
of the piece of comb, until each of them was about half
filled. The tumbler was next taken in hand, carefully
wiped, and examined, by holding it up before the eyes of
the bee-hunter. Certainly, there was little to admire in it,
but it was sufficiently transparent to answer his purposes.
All he asked was to be able to look through the glass in
order to see what was going on in its interior.

Having made these preliminary arrangements, Buzzing

Ben for the sobriquet was applied to him in this form quite

as often as in the other next turned his attention to the

velvet-like covering of the grassy glade. Fire had run over



the whole region late that spring, and the grass was now as
fresh, and sweet and short, as if the place were pastured.
The white clover, in particular, abounded, and was then
just bursting forth into the blossom. Various other flowers
had also appeared, and around them were buzzing thousands
of bees. These industrious little animals were hard at
work, loading themselves with sweets; little foreseeing the
robbery contemplated by the craft of man. As le Bourdon
moved stealthily among the flowers and their humming visi
tors, the eyes of the two red men followed his smallest
movement, as the cat watches the mouse ; but Gershom was
less attentive, thinking the whole curious enough, but pre
ferring whiskey to all the honey on earth.

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperOak openings, or, The bee-hunter → online text (page 1 of 41)