Bénédict Henry Révoil.

The hunter and the trapper in North America; or, Romantic adventures in field and forrest online

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Page 188.








" Hunting he loved ....

It is no gentle chase,
15nt the blunt boar, rough bear, or lion proud."





rcf i

HE volume now submitted to the reader is a
translation from the French of M. Benedict
Revoil, who some years ago traversed many
parts of the United States, intent upon the
pursuit of game. He has recorded his experiences and
adventures in an unpretending but animated and enter-
taining narrative, which is entirely free from exaggeration,
and is commendably characterized by exceeding modesty
in its references to the writer's own achievements.

There can be no doubt about his enthusiasm ; as little
about his powers of endurance. His skill, apparently,
was considerable ; and if he had a quick eye for a victim
to his rifle, he had also a keen perception of the beauties
of Nature. And, indeed, if the following pages contained
nothing more than a mere record of the " heads of game "
daily slaughtered by himself, his hosts, and his friends,
they would be of interest only to a limited circle of
readers, and would scarcely have been worth the trouble
of rendering into English. But M. Revoil had a faculty
of observation which makes his volume pleasant reading,



from the accurate sketches it contains of American
scenery under very various aspects.

And it has other merits : it embodies a large number of
details in reference to the habits and characteristics of the
animals with which our hunter and trapper was brought
into contact; so that it may prove useful, either as an
introduction to the study of Natural History, or as a,
companion and supplement to formal scientific treatises.
We are not without hope that many young readers who
would turn away from the latter with " cold indifference "
will peruse the story of M. Revoil's adventures with
breathless interest, and thereby be led to acquire a taste
for a very agreeable and instructive pursuit, the investi-
gation of the Curiosities of Animal Life.

We have only to add that we have allowed our hunter
to tell his tale in his own way. We have made no alte-
rations except such as were necessary to adapt the book
for English readers, and have endeavoured to render the
original with spirit and fidelity.

W. H. D. A.

o n tents.

I. THE EAGLE, ... ... ... ... ... 9

II. THE WILD HOUSE, ... ... ... ... ... 30

III. THE TURKEYS, ... ... ... ... ... 4'2


V. THE OPOSSUM, ... ... ... ... ... 08

VI. THE RACOON, ... ... ... ... ... 80

VII. THE SWAN THE HEIIOX Til K l-'A F.COX, ... ... 97

VIII. THE PANTHER, ... ... ... ... ... 113

IX. THE PASSENGER-PIGEONS, ... ... ... ... 12<3

X. THE PRAIRIE DOGS, ... ... ... ... ... 138

XI. THE WILD CAT, ... ... ... ... ... 147

XII. THE WILD GOATS, ... ... ... ... ... Ifi2

XIII. THE PECCARY, ... ... ... ... ... 175

XIV. THE STAG, ... ... ... ... ... ... 191

XV. THE ELK, ... ... ... ... ... ... 223

XVI. THE ELK continual, ... ... ... ... 240



XIX. THE GRISLY BEAR, ... ... ... ... ... 282

XX. THE BROWN BEAR, ... ... ... ... ... 315

XXI. THE BISON, ... ... ... ... 346



ILL honour to the lords of earth !

If I commence this record of my adventures
is a sportsman with the history of the eagle,
it is not that I entertain the slightest respect
for this bird of prey, the type of brutal force, of rapacity,
of carnage, of selfishness. But simply because the eagle,
once the symbol of the imperial power of Rome, has
become, since the great war of American independence,
the heraldic emblem of the vast republic of the United


The illustrious Franklin, however, deplored the choice
made by his colleagues and compatriots. Writing to a
friend in 1783, he declared that he would have given the
world the eagle had not been selected as the representative
of his country, for he is a bird of a fierce and shameless
character, who cannot gain his livelihood honourably.
He may frequently be seen, from the top of a decayed
tree, carefully watching other rapacious birds in their
aquatic depredations, with the view of profiting by a
booty which he is too slothful to gain through his own
exertions. The moment that one of these birds has seized
on a fish, which he destines for his brood, the wretch
descends upon him like a thunderbolt, and audaciously
snatches it from his beak. He is not the happier for all
his swiftness in flight and his supremacy over the other
inhabitants of the air. Like the majority of robbers and
vagabonds, he lives in poverty, solitude, and wretched-
ness. In Franklin's belief he was a scoundrel of the worst
kind, whom the tiniest wren, frequently no larger than a
nut, does not fear to attack with the greatest courage, and
to expel from his neighbourhood. The choice of the eagle
was not, then, a felicitous one ; and it is to be regretted
that the founders of American independence, at whose
head was a hero so pure-minded as Washington, did not
choose a more appropriate emblem for the blazon of their

The letter in which Franklin recorded his sentiments
was shown to me by a celebrated Philadelphian book-
seller, who preserved it in his collection of autographs ;
and I confess I am entirely of the opinion of that eminent
statesman. My bookseller knew me to be a passionate
votary of the chase, and, at my request, he furnished the


following particulars relative to the history of the great
American eagle :

" I descended the Mississippi some three years ago," he
said, " in the month of November, in a small, light boat,
rowed by a couple of negroes, for the purpose of visiting
Memphis. As it was the beginning of winter, the entire
surface of the majestic river was covered with battalions
of aquatic birds, which had abandoned the northern seas


and the great frozen lakes to seek a less rigorous refuge
in the temperate climates of our Southern States. Sud-
denly one of the boatmen pointed out with his finger a
gigantic eagle, which, perched on the loftiest branch of
an old oak, with keen eye surveyed the rolling tide, and
listened intently to every distant sound. A moment
afterwards the other boatman directed my attention to
the opposite bank, where, perched at an equal height to


her impatient mate, a female eagle seemed anxious to
persuade him not to abandon his watch, and accord-
ingly uttered, at three slow intervals, a keen strident
cry, which resounded along the river-border. At this
signal the male partly opened his wings, and responded
with a similar cry, which I can only compare to the wild
shriek of laughter that occasionally breaks forth in a
lunatic asylum.

" While, with their hands upon their oars, my negroes
abandoned the boat to the current of the river, I followed
with my gaze every movement of the eagles, who suffered
to pass by them undisturbed myriads of ducks and teals,
as prey unworthy of their appetites : so I understood a
moment later.

" At length my ears were rent by a piercing cry, that
of the female. At the same time I heard, like the hoarse
sound of a trumpet, the voice of a troop of swans, which
were cleaving the sky with snow-white pinions. Turning
my eyes northwards I quickly caught sight of the voyagers,
beating the air with their short wings, their necks out-
stretched, their feet closed up against the belly, and their
glances ranging the horizon in fear of danger. The flock
was composed of five swans flying, as is their custom, in a
triangular or wedge-like phalanx ; but the one at the head
of the convoy seemed more fatigued than the others. It
was this poor wretch whom the eagles selected as their prey.

" At the moment of his flight past the oak where the
male bird was in ambush, the latter suddenly unfurled
his wings, raised a formidable cry, and, like a gloomy
meteor, darted on his resigned victim, while his four
companions allowed themselves to drop into the waters
of the Mississippi.


" The swan made a vain attempt to escape ; but his
enemy, striking him under the belly and under the wings,
with restless eagerness, contrived in four or five minutes
to fling him downward, with his back upon the earth.

"The most hideous spectacle possible was then pre-
sented to our horrified gaze. The fierce bird clasped the
bleeding body of the beautiful northern pilgrim with his
greedy talons ; he muttered with a terrible delight, as if
enjoying the sight of the last convulsions of his victim.
Meantime the female remained perched upon her tree,
calm and indifferent, trusting to the strength of her Lord
and master for the successful issue of their stratagem.

" But from the moment the swan ceased to move, she
understood that the banquet was ready for her partici-
pation ; and flinging herself into the air, she crossed
the river in the twinkling of an eye, descended on the
shore like an aerolite, and took her seat at the board
without being invited and without inviting permission.

" I had waited until now to act on my own behalf,"
continued my Philadelphia!! friend ; " and I ordered my
negroes to row softly in the direction of the spot where
the two birds of prey thought themselves entirely free
from danger. Without taking heed of our approach, they
gorged themselves with blood and fragments of flesh,
and we were able to drop down within range. My car-
bine was loaded with deer-shot. I raised it, took aim, and
fired. My dear sir, it was a splendid shot. The female
never stirred ; she had been struck dead. As for the
male, it was quite another affair. I had broken .his two
wings, but not hit his body ; and we had to finish him
off with a blow or two from our oars. This coup de
gT(\ce we gave with all possible care, for I wanted to


stuff my birds, and, consequently, to get hold of them
without injuring their form or plumage. I succeeded
beyond all expectation ; and see," said my interlocutor,
throwing open the door of his dining-room, " here are
the two feathered murderers of the Mississippi, stuffed
and prepared by one of our most skilful naturalists."

I could not but admire the beauty of these two speci-
mens of the great species of eagles, vulgarly called, in the
United States, the Bald-headed Eagle, although the head
is garnished with feathers ; white, it is true, which, at si
certain distance, gives it the appearance of baldness. I
had never seen such enormous wings. From tip to tip
they measured, when expanded, upwards of eight feet.

The first time I myself came in sight of one of these
North American lammergeiers was on the border of Eagle
Lake, in Adirondack County, at the foot of the Catskill
Mountains, in the State of New York. Let my readers
figure to themselves a sheet of water three times as broad
as the Lake of Enghien, and as round as a crown-piece,
encircled by precipitous rocks, and bearing a close re-
semblance to a funnel about two-thirds full of water. On
one of the wave-washed rocks had nourished for cen-
turies, to judge from its girth, a venerable oak, whose
roots had obtruded themselves into every fissure and
cavity, whose bark had flowed like lava over the wall of
stone, where it adhered as if it had been rivetted with
iron bands. This oak was some ninety feet high, and
planted on the very edge of the abyss.

I found myself in this romantic scene one morning,
with a celebrated English hunter, an enthusiast, named
Whitehead, who, probably as a satirical antithesis to his



name, covered his
wrinkled brow with
a wig blacker than
bony. One of our
hunting - companions,
the famous Herbert,
surnamed Frank For-
ester, who was tern-
porarily absent, jested j
with Whitehead on
this useless append-
age to his toilet, as
much too fantastic for
a man of such grave
and decorous charac-
ter. In their quips
and jibes I had borne
a part ; but assuredly,
when laughing at my
brother in the frater-
nity of Saint Hubert, I
never once suspected
that to his artificial
scalp he would owe (
his life.

From five o'clock
in the morning we
had been traversing
hills and valleys in
pursuit of widgeons
and qu ail s. Our game-



bag was already three-quarters full, and we were think-
ing of rejoining Frank Forester at our hut, when sud-
denly, as he passed near the oak of which I have
spoken, Whitehead raised his eyes in the air, and
uttered an exclamation of joy. On one of the highest
boughs of the time-honoured tree he had descried, and he
pointed out to me through the branches, an eagle's nest.
He had no doubt the eyrie was inhabited, for he had
remarked an oscillation among the twigs of which it
was composed. There were eaglets in the nest.

To throw aside his. gun and his hunting-bag, to mount,
or rather haul himself up the trunk of the tree, was but
the work of a moment ; and my comrade executed this
gymnastic feat without consulting me, without listening
to the cautions I thought it necessary to address to him.
After disappearing for awhile in a labyrinth of verdure,
I saw him at the edge of the nest, raising his head so as
to look into the interior.

" Good ! good ! " he cried. " Here are a couple of
eaglets, and they open their bills as if they would like to
swallow me."

" Take care ! take care ! " I replied. " I see the male
or female bird I cannot exactly say which is coming
in all haste towards the nest. Come down, I tell you
come down ! "

It was useless to call him. The madman would pay
no attention, and continued climbing. Eventually, how-
ever, and just as he had stowed away one of the eaglets
in his flannel shirt, and was preparing to seize the other,
the male eagle for it was he swooped down upon the
tree, and with a blow of his huge wing made my daring
companion reel. But Whitehead did not lose his pre-


sence of miiid, and drawing his hunting-knife from its
sheath, prepared to defend himself. He drove the blade
into the eagle's side ; but the wound was not mortal, and
the bird rose anew in the air to hurl himself again on
the imprudent hunter.

I dared not lire for fear of wounding my comrade ; but
I held my gun ready to succour him at the proper time
and place. What I most feared was that the eagle might
stun Whitehead, and the latter, losing his hold, might
fall into Eagle Lake. This apprehension was partly rea-
lized ; for at the moment I was about to pull my trigger,
the " bird of Jove," hoping to crush the skull of his
enemy with one blow from his formidable beak, struck
violently, and plucked away, not a piece of bleeding ilesh,
but well the defensive wig of my companion.

The latter must have lost his footing, and infallibly fallen
into the lake, from an elevation of six hundred and fifty
feet, if his leg had not caught in a massive branch, to
which he clung stoutly, and which became his plank of

At the same time I had shouldered my carbine, taken
;iiin at the eagle, and shot him in his right wing, so that,
wheeling round and round, it dropped into the middle of
the lake. Whitehead, recovering from his emotion, let
himself down as quickly as possible from his oak, carry-
ing a young eaglet, which he had choked during his
struggle with the parent bird.

Very great caution was necessary in lowering himself
into the Eagle Lake, where the bird, after a painful con-
vulsive effort, had yielded up its last sigh. I sprang into
the water, and swimming lustily for some twenty fathoms,
louclied tlio extreme feather of the eagle's whig, and bore
f-iii) 2


it back triumphantly to land. Its left pinion still adorns
the inkstand into which I dip my pen to write this nar-

As for my friend Whitehead, thanks to his splendid
ebon-hued wig, he escaped without a scratch. But he
afterwards died, while hunting, of a stroke of apoplexy.

The eagle of the United States, like its European con-
gener, rarely lives alone, and, according to Audubon,
the illustrious naturalist, whose premature death is to be
regretted, the mutual attachment of the male and female
seems to last from their first union down to the death
of one or the other. Eagles hunt for their food, like
a couple of piratical confederates, and eat their prey
together. Their love-season commences in the month of
December, and thenceforth both male and female become
very noisy. You may see them flying in company, whirl-
ing in the azure space, crying with their uttermost force,
playing and even fighting with one another (but in per-
fect good temper), and finally retiring to rest on the dry
branches of a tree, where the two have prepared the first
layer of their nest. Or, perhaps, they have contented them-
selves with repairing that of the last incubation. The
incubation begins, I may add, early in January. The
nest is composed of sticks about three and a quarter feet
in length, of fragments of turf and shreds of lichen ; and
it measures, when completed, about five to six feet in
circumference. The eggs deposited by the female in this
shapeless thicket are two, three, and sometimes though
rarely four in number, are of a greenish white, equally
rounded at the two extremities. Incubation occupies
from three to four weeks.


When the eaglets are hatched, they are covered with a
reddish down, and possess legs and beak of most dispropor-
tionate length. Their parents do not drive them out of the
eyrie until their plumage is complete and they are able
to fly. But before this decisive moment, when they in-
troduce their progeny into society, the eagles abundantly
provide them with game of every description, so that the
edges of the nest are covered with fragments of bone and
skin and putrid flesh.

I was returning one winter evening, in the month of
February, from trout-fishing in the mountains of Cum-
berland, and we were descending, two friends and myself,
from the abrupt escarpments abutting on the valley in
whose midst was built the house of the farmer who gave
us lodging, when I pointed out to my companions certain
long whitish and chalky lumps of ordure, undoubtedly
proceeding from a bird of prey.

The peasant accompanying us informed me that there
were eagles in the midst of these rocks, and pretended
that he had seen them that same evening, but out of

" The robbers," he added, " have carried off more sheep
and poultry of my master's than they are worth dollars."

I resolved, while listening to our guide, to seize this
opportunity of observing the habits of the American
eagles, and after persuading my friends to halt, we con-
cealed ourselves under a projecting crag, and remained
there for what seemed to us a very long period. To say
nothing of the weariness of " hope deferred," I was
forced to listen to our peasant, who poured into my
cur all his private woes, and his particular grievances


against, not only the feathered denizens of the rocks,
but the entire family of Falconidce. The garrulous
Yankee assured me that, in the days of his grandfather,
who had been a soldier in the armies of Washington, a
child, two years old, had been seized by an eagle in the
State of Connecticut, and had owed his salvation to the
great difficulty experienced by these birds in taking to
the wing from level ground. The father of the inno-
cent victim had slain the would-be ravisher with a stick.

" Silence !" I exclaimed; " eagles can see and hear at
a very great distance."

" Be not afraid," he replied, " I am keeping my eye
open ; and the moment a bird hovers in sight, I will be
as mute as death."

Our loquacious narrator was about to resume his
maundering narrative, to the great displeasure of my two
friends and myself, when suddenly a shrill whistling was
heard on one of the cornices of the rock near which we
were hidden.

I put my hand on the Yankee's mouth, and looking
up, I caught sight, on the edge of the crag, among some
faggots of wood, of a couple of eaglets, whose sharp cries
and fluttering wings announced the coming of one or
other of their parents, a black point in space, which
gradually grew larger and larger, and became clearly
defined against the azure of the heaven. In a few
seconds the eagle alighted as softly as possible on the
stony ridge nearest to his eaglets. He carried in his
talons a piece of raw flesh, which he hastened to offer to
his fledgelings, already covered with feathers, and very
bold. As I put forth my head to see more distinctly,
the female in her turn appeared, descried us, uttered a



shriek of alarm, dropped the prey she was carrying, and
suddenly the little ones vanished in the chink of the rock.
The male flew away with his utmost speed, but soon,



with an inexplicable instinct, as if both were convinced
that we bore no fire-arms, they drew near, sweeping
round and round above our heads, and giving utterance
to loud unearthly screams, which seemed like a menace.

We promised ourselves the satisfaction of returning
next day, armed with rifle and carbine ; but on the mor-
row a terrible storm was raging, and a week passed
before we could undertake the expedition. I had taken
care to suggest to my companions the advisability of
taking with us some rope-ladders, and all the apparatus
necessary for escalading the cliff, and while some of the
people of the farm climbed the summit of the mountain,
the others stationed themselves at the foot of the rock.
For ten hours did we wait with admirable patience, and
nothing appeared on the horizon ; and when, by means of
the ladders, we descended to the nest, we found it empty.
The eagles, with their usual sagacity, had profited by our
long interval of compulsory inaction, and carried off
their progeny to some secure retreat, afar from human

During my sojourn at New York, I often amused my-
self with a trip on board one of the numerous steam-boats
which plough the bay to the extreme point of Staten
Island; and there, with no companion but my dog, I
would make my way towards the basaltic rocks washed
by the roaring waves of the Atlantic. Among the almost
innumerable islets which cluster about this spot, from
New York to Key West, I had discovered a little island,
about a mile in length and breadth, and separated from
the mainland by a channel of some three hundred yards,
half empty at low water. Here, however, when the tide



flowed in, the tumult and fury of the groat billows was
like a seething chaos.

In this wild solitude, remote from all civilization, and
having no contact with the rest of American society, rose
a small rude hut; and in this hut, in 1846, abode a
young woman of _^
twenty-two, a mascu- -, \ \/// v-.-
line creature, of an.
aspect severe and yet
gentle, and possess-
ing a peculiar sympa-
thetic voice, which re-
minded me of the
babbling of the Ame-
rican thrush when
watching over her

Jessie for such
was the name of the
lonely inhabitant of
this sea-side hut had
lost her mother; while
her father, an aged
invalid, dragged out
the last sands of life,
crouching before the
fire, smoking his pipe, and wrapped in a dismal silence.
Grief had unsettled his mind ; the strings of the brain
were loosened ; he was almost imbecile. Jessie had
bravely taken charge of her four brothers ; and thanks
to the abundance of fish, to the sea-birds' nests, and
the stags which she caught in snares, good and plentiful



food was never wanting in the hut. The eldest of
the lads was about twenty years old, and the youngest,
in giving birth to whom his mother had lost her life, was
about fourteen. This little fellow he was so little that

Online LibraryBénédict Henry RévoilThe hunter and the trapper in North America; or, Romantic adventures in field and forrest → online text (page 1 of 25)