Jeptha Root Simms.

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property had taken. Recovering Dunning's traps.



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 153

they now went to another stream to hunt, where they
had some success. Visiting their haunts one day, they
found one trap had been robbed of its game; and as
it was a very heavy one, the robber not caring to take
it along had left it suspended by the jaws upon a
stump. On their route home, the hunters halted where
the moose had been slain; and here they found fresh
evidence of intrusion upon their rights. Well was it
for the evil doer that he had not lingered there, else
he might have been mistaken for another of Mason's
bears. The moose-skin had been pulled up and some
of it cut off, and the muskrat-skins had found a new-
owner.

Arriving at Dunning's Saturday afternoon, they
learned that two Indian trappers had just come in at
the lake settlement, four miles distant, with fur; at
which place there was a tavern, a small grocery,
store, &c. Capt. Wright kept the tavern, and one
Williams the grocery; the latter dealing principally
in such articles as ammunition, blankets, rum, &c., to
sell to trappers and adventurers. Stoner wished to
visit Lake Pleasant to see whether the hunters had
not got his lost trap and stolen fur; but Wilkins de-
clined going with him, and the younger Dunning
became his companion.

On their arrival at Wright's they learned that the
Indian hunters w^ere Capt. Benedict and Francis, a
large yellow-skin, and that they were encamped in
the woods about one hundred yards from the inn. As



154 TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK.

it was nearly dark, they concluded to defer a visit to
their place of rest until morning. Some time in the
night, a sister's son of Wright awoke his uncle to
inform him that the dogs of the Indian hunters were
killing their sheep. Stoner got up and accompanied
the young man to the field to drive the dogs from the
sheep, one of which they had already slain. In the
morning Stoner visited the Indians at their fire in the
woods. Near it lay the dogs, and at hand were two
rifles, a basket of potatoes, and a piece of pork. The
rifles were resting one on each side of the basket, while
between his knees Francis held a jug of whiskey, over
which he was singing a huntsman^ s chorus.

Capt. Benedict, w^ho was a pretty likely Indian,
was well known to Maj. Stoner, and as the latter ap-
proached, told his companion who he was. In the
group lay a bundle of traps tied together with thongs
of Stoner's moose-hide, and conspicuously among them
appeared his lost trap. It was known the previous
evening in the neighborhood what the object was of
Stoner's visit to the lakes, and when he went to the
hunter's lodge early in the morning, Wright, Wil-
liams, one Peck, and perhaps others who may have
taken a nap the less to enable them to, stole up
behind trees as near as they could without being ob-
served, on purpose, as they afterwards said, to witness
the fun they anticipated would follow^ the interview.

After friendly salutations had passed between Stoner
and Benedict, the former walked to the traps and



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 155

jerked his up from the rest, enquiring sharply how it
came there ? He would have recognized the trap
among a thousand others : it was made by William
Mann, of Johnstown, and had on it Stoner's private
hunter's mark. When blacksmiths made traps for
hunters, they generally put some peculiar mark on
them their own fancy suggested, never placing the
same device upon the traps of different hunters. Seeing
Stoner about to cut it loose, Francis exclaimed, ^^JYo
cut him! J\^o cut himP' extending his hand to pre-
vent the act, at which interference the claimant
raised the whole bundle and knocked the intruder
down with it. Regaining his feet and seeing the
trap already in the possession of its owner, the con-
science-stricken trapper said gruffly, " If trap yours,,
take himP'

Pay was next demanded for the lost fur,, and epi-
thets were bandied between Stoner and Francis,
of which passion was the parent. Benedict, who was
evidently ashamed of his company, now interfered,
and to some extent pacified his old acquaintance, who
accepted the jug of friendship, and drank of its sup-
posed healing and cooling, though very fiery waters.
As readily would oil put out a flame, as alcohol have
quieted the storm of human passion. After a little
further conversation with Benedict, not wishing to be
outdone in generosity, Stoner asked the Indians to go
to the tavern and drink with him. The invitation
was readily accepted, and Francis, as the partne'V of



156 TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK.

Benedict, went along, although at first he pretended
he would not go.

The two friends before the bar soon held each a
tumbler of liquid fire, and Stoner asked Francis to
pour out and drink with them. He declined in a very
insolent manner, w^hereupon the former smashed the
tumbler he held, liquor and all, against his head. The
Indian, as soon as he could regain a standing posi-
tion, enraged at the act, closed with his adversary,
and in the short scuffle which followed, the latter
proved too smart for his yellow antagonist, and pitched
him neck and heels out of the bar-room door upon
the ground. He had a hard fall, and when he rose
up several gravel stones remained half buried in his
cheek and temples. The fight would no doubt have
become a deadly one, had it not been arrested at this
point by the by-standers, who held the parties asunder
until their ardor and passion had a little time to cool
down.

When reason began to assume her throne, Stoner
demanded of Francis either the furs stolen from his
traps or the money for them. The parties now went
to Williams's store, where they found the green bea-
ver-skin stolen from the heavy trap, w^hich the Indian
had there sold the previous afternoon. He finally
admitted having taken that skin from the trap men-
tioned, but denied having taken the two muskrat
pelts, although several were among the fur he had
sold "Williams, saying that probably some young



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 157

Indians who were then hunting in the woods had
taken them. A compromise was now made, and
Francis paid Stoner a certain sum to settle their diffi-
culties, a receipt for which was drawn up by Williams,
as dictated by Stoner. About this time the young In-
dians referred to, five in number, came in. They had
several marten-skins, but more fully to establish the
guilt of the accused they had not the pelt of a single
muskrat. One of the boys, a likely young Indian,
who answered to the name of Lige Ell, and who w^as
a son of Benedict, when told that he had been accused
by Francis of having taken Stoner's fur, seemed highly
offended by the insult. The truth was, the traps of
Francis being fastened together by strips of the moose-
skin, near which the lost pelts had been left, if it did
not prove his guilt, was at least strong evidence
against him.

Lige Ell went to the store to buy a pocket-knife,
but did not like any there. He said of all Williams
had, " there wasnH no more fire in 'em than there was
in his nose.'' Hunters wanted a heavy knife, with
which they could not only skin large game, but one,
the back of which would elicit from flint the spark of
comfort in the wilderness. Stoner handed the lad his
own knife, with which he seemed delighted, and as
the old trapper was rather partial to the boy, he made
him a present of it. The young Indian then, to cap
the climax of his happiness, bought a quart of the

red man's exterminator, rum, and a cake of maple
14



158 TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK.

sugar, got pretty drunk, and with his no less tipsy
companions went to shooting at a mark.

Here is no doubt given a true picture of the manner
in which the Sabbath is too often kept, or rather,
broken, on the outskirts of civilization. Benedict's
son told Francis, after a knowledge of all that had
transpired between him and " Old Stoner," with whom
by repute he was no stranger, that if he desired to
live, he must never show his head in that region again j
as, if he did return, he would certainly be killed. It
is believed he never afterwards intruded on the hunt-
ing grounds of the Johnstown trappers; if he did, he
certainly was cautious not to disturb either their traps
or their furs.

It was customary some twenty years ago, in the
summer season, for Indian families to come down from
the north and locate themselves for weeks, and some-
times for months, in the neighborhood of the Mohawk
river settlements and make baskets, which they ex-
changed at the nearest villages for trinkets, gay
calicoes, liquor, tobacco, scarlet cloth, &c. Three
of a party that had taken up their residence one sum-
mer to make baskets in Stoner's neighborhood, lodged
in his barn. The major had a large dog at the time,
and his guests a small one. One day when he was
gone from home, his dog, not pleased with the In-
dians' canine friend, which he considered intruding
upon his rights, took him by the neck and gave him
a hard shaking. The owner of the little yelper, armed



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 159

with a knife, set out to revenge the insult with the
death of the offender.

This incident happened when Mary Stoner was in
her teens, and at the time, she and her mother were
at home alone. Hearing an unusual noise, Mary
opened the door, and seeing the Indian in pursuit of
their dog, she called it into the house and fastened
it in. Arrested at the door, he uttered numerous
threats, and several times stuck his knife into it, at
which moment Stoner approached. Seeing an Indian
armed with a long knife, attempting to enter his
dwelling, he ran up and knocked him down, and was
giving him a few hasty kicks, when the other two
Indians came to the rescue of their comrade. Hearing
her father's voice, Miss Stoner looked out, and seeing
two Indians hold of him, she feared they would kill
him, and hastened to place in his hand a heavy fire-
shovel for his defence. The act proved the girl " a
chip of the old block," but he told her to carry back
the weapon, that the Indians would not hurt him.
They did not seek his injury, but to rescue their friend.
The day after this dog difficulty the Indians in the
neighborhood all disappeared, and one of the party
who had borrowed a blanket of Stoner to go deer-
hunting, forgot to return it.

Maj. Stoner was a very successful trapper, and
frequently brought in such large quantities of fur that
many suspected he had obtained it unfairly from other
hunters, but such he declares was never the case.



CHAPTER XL

Maj. Stoner became a widower when he had been
married over forty years; after which he lived be-
tween fifteen and twenty years with Mrs. Polly Phye,
and until her death. Her husband, Daniel Phye,
abandoned her, for what reason is unknown. He
died many years ago at the westward.

After Phye had been gone several years, and dark
mystery had drawn her curtain of uncertainty around
his fate; gossip sometimes made Mrs. Phye a grass,
and at others, a hay-widow. At this period Maj.
Stoner paid his addresses successfully, to the supposed
widow; and although she considered herself absolved
from all farther connection with Phye; still, as he
might be alive and possibly return, prudence prevent-
ed a ceremonial marriage, which could by law con-
sign her to the inner walls of a prison; and they re-
solved to unite their stock in trade, and move alono-
cheerfully if they could, in the great wake of the
human family. Thus they did pass on quietly and
happily until separated by death. They had no chil-
dren by this voluntary marriage. Let the stickler for
a rigid adherence at all times to established laws
without reference to their operation, imagine this
case wholly their own, before they feel prepared to



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 161

condemn the course of this" couple, or brand their con-
duct with the title of crime.

On the 23d day of April, 1840, having been a
second time a widower for several years, Maj. Stoner
married his present wife; who is considerably young-
er than himself. Her maiden name was Hannah
Houghtaling, but at the time of their marriage she
was the widow Frank.

At the present time (1846), the old trapper resides
in the town of Garoga, Fulton county; at a settle-
ment which has recently sprung up, called Newkirk's
Mills. He owns a comfortable dwelling in which he
lives, draws a pension from the general government,
and from keeping several boarders, who work in the
mills, which the industry of a smart wife enables
him to do, he passes down the evening of his life
very comfortably. Garret Newkirk, the proprietor
here, has an extensive tannery, and a saw-mill in
which two saws are almost constantly rending asun-
der the trunks of the surrounding forest. The place
has some fifteen or twenty dwellings, a school-
house, a post-office, (called Newkirk's Mills) &c.,
and is situated pleasantly on the outlet of the Garoga
lakes, two crystal sheets of water, each several miles
in circuit, located some twelve or fifteen miles to the
westw^ard of Johnstown. Since the above was writ-
ten, a public-house has been opened at this place,
several new dwellings erected, and a plank-road con-
structed from thence to Fonda, sixteen miles distant.
14*



162 TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK.

I have soaiewhere alluded to Chase's Patent. Wm.
Chase, the patentee, was in early life a sea-captain,
and in the Revolution became an American privateer.
He was captured and taken to Europe, and \vhile
there visited France. After the w^ar he removed
from Providence, Rhode Island, to Hoosick, Ne\v
York. At the latter place he built a bridge, by con-
structing w^hich, ne was enabled to purchase some
12,000 acres of land in the w^estern part of Fulton
county. A large tract of land adjoining his, and
which Chase intended to buy, was subsequently sold
in Albany by auction, and was purchased by Barent
Bleeker, Cornelius Glen, and Abraham G. Lansing.
It was known as Bleeker and Lansing's patent. Fail-
ing to secure this tract of land, on which he seems to
have set his affections, Capt. Chase was heard to ex-
claim with an oath, " 1 would rather have lost my
right in Heaven, than a title to this soil I " People
when excited often utter expressions devoid of wit
and common sense, if not, in fact, foolishly wicked.

In most of the surveys of wnld land in and adjoin-
ing Fulton county, made since the Revolution, Maj.
Stoner, who was peculiarly fitted for the task by his
familiarity with the forest, and his ability to endure
fatigue, acted as pilot for the parties. At one time
while engaged in exploring lands with Capt. Chase,
the latter lost a gold snufF-box which had been a pre-
sent in France, a gift he prized far above its real
Talue. Stoner, fortunately for the old privateer's



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 163

peace of mind, for he was not a little vexed at the
misfortune, seeing it glitter in the leaves, picked it
up aud restored it to the owner, who almost waltzed
for joy. This same Capt. Chase was not a little ec-
centric, and usually got up at least once in the night,
to drink and take a pinch of snuff.

When the lands contiguous to Piseco* lake, known
as the Ox Bow tract, were surveyed, a road, " begin-
ning eight miles northerly from Johnstown," was laid
out from thence to Ox Bow lake, a distance of 26 miles
and 9 chains. Major Stoner attended the surveyor and
commissioners as pilot, and was thus engaged for two
seasons. Lawrence Vrooman of Schenectada was the
surveyor, and Stephen Owen and James McLalin were
the commissioners on the road, as appears by a map
of the survey, which was filed in the county clerk's
office April 1, 1811. Not a few pleasing incidents
transpired in the w^ilderness during this time, to
keep the party, w^hich sometimes numbered nearly
twenty, in good spirits. Of the number while laying
out the road, who thus enjoyed a portion of the
novelty attending a trapper's life, and learned how
large mosquitoes will grow in the woods if well fed,
were J. Watts Cady, and Marcus T. Reynolds. At

• Pi-se-co is an aboriginal word, and in their pronunciation,
the Indians speak it as though spelled Pe-sic-o ; giving a hissing
sound to the second syllable. It is derived from pisco^ a fish,
and therefore signifies fish lake.— ./oAti Dunham.

Piseco, says Spafford in his Gazetteer of NeiuYork, and which
he spells Pezeeko, is so called after an old Indian hermit who
dwelt upon its shores.



164 TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK.

that time they were young men, possibly with some
" wild oats," but since then they have become legal
gentlemen of no little notoriety.

At one time when the surveying party were near
the Cx Bow, a name significant of the shape of one
of the lakes, and far removed from any human habi-
tation; they got out of provisions, and the pack-men,
whose duty it was to go after a supply, were unwil-
ling to start, entertaining some doubts about ever
fmding their way back. In this emergency Stoner
volunteered to proceed with as little delay as possible
to the nearest settlement, which was Lake Pleasant,
and relieve the necessities of his comrades. Arriving
just at evening at the house of a pioneer, named
Denny, the family baked nearly all night; and early
in the morning, with a sack upon his back, contain-
ing nearly a dozen large loaves of bread, and a good
sized cheese to balance, he set out on his return.
Knowing the necessities of his forest friends he did
not tarry to let the bread get cold, and as the
weather was w^arm, his back was almost blistered on
his arrival. Before he reached the place of destina-
tion, he met a messenger despatched by Vrooman to
assist him -, bringing a junk-bottle of rum.

Speaking of his experience in surveying in the Pi-
seco country, Cady observed of Stoner, that he would
kindle a fire — climb a tree — cook a dinner — empty a
bottle — shoot a deer — hook a trout — or scent an In-
dian, quicker than any other man he ever knew.



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 165

The old trapper, as he informed the writer, took some
pains to show the young men named, (who were law
students at the time,) how to catch trout, and in the
north branch of the Sacondaga, Cady, under his
teaching, caught a bouncing one; of which exploit
he was very proud, as in fact he had a right to be;
for it made a meal for the whole surveying corps.

Anxious to get through as soon as possible, the party
laying out a road, continued their labors in some in-
stances on the Sabbath. Stoner usually carried a
small flag, and while crossing a mountain in advance
of the men on Sunday, he discovered a mass of ice
between the rocks, and gave a shout that at first ex-
cited the anxiety of his comrades, lest some wild
beast lingered in their path. The next day they cap-
tured a large turtle on the shore of Piseco lake, and
from it took one hundred and seventy-two eggs, of
which they made egg nogg; cooled before being
served round by ice obtained by letting one of the
corps down between the rocks. About twenty indi-
viduals partook of the beverage, among whom were
Seth Wetmore, the state's agent for opening an
intersecting road, and Obadiah Wilkins. The last
named gentleman acted as master of ceremonies in
dressing and cooking the turtle's meat, which afford-
ed the party a fine repast. This was on the 4th
day of July, 1810.

At some period of the survey, Stoner shot a hedge-
hog, which Vrooman wanted skinned; and besought



166 TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK.

several to do it, but in vain: they did not dare to
handle it. The old trapper volunteered and took off
the bristly pelt; which the surveyor, on his return,
carried home with him.

The southerly portion of country under considera-
tion is hilly and in many places mountainous. The
soil is generally stony, though in many instances,
fertile; but far better adapted to grazing, than the
production of grain. The prevailing rock is of the
primitive order, consequently the shores of the lakes
which sparkle here and there in the glens, abound in
deposites of beautiful sand; which often afford good
writing sand. The timber is principally beech, birch,
maple, hemlock and spruce. Much of the hemlock is
sawed into fence-boards, and acres of the spruce
annually wrought into shingles or sawed into floor-
plank; all of which find a ready market at the nearest
accessible point on the Erie canal: and since the
Garoga and Fonda plank road is favorable to its re-
moval, not a little will find its way to Fultonville,
where considerable quantities were landed before the
plank road was laid out.

Much of this country still has a primeval look, but
its majestic forest lords and advantageous water powers,
must in time invite in the thrifty artisan and hard-
fisted yeoman, to subdue and cultivate it: indeed, the
time may not be distant when this new country shalj
not only " bud and blossom as the rose," but ivith the
rose. It certainly must be a healthy district; for it



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 167

dbounds in waters the most limpid, and breezes the
most invigorating. The lakes and their tributaries
are stored with an i bundance of delicious trout; and
if not walled castles, stately mansions may yet rear
their imposing fronts in those glens; to be known
in future ages as the rivals of the far-famed glens of
Scotland; when some Scott or Burns shall rise up, to
picture their Indian legends in story and in song.

Tne outlets to some of the lakes around which Maj.
Stoner used to trap the sagacious, though too often
confiding beaver, run off in a northerly course to swell
the Hudson, while other lakes send their tribute in a
southerly direction to the Mohawk. The most east-
ern of the latter class are the Garoga lakes, discharg-
ing in a creek of the same name, which runs into the
Mohawk in the western part of Palatine. Some
two or three miles to the westward of the Garogas is
a larger lake, known among the early hunters as Fish
lake, though often called Canada lake, because it pays
tribute to the East Canada creek.

An anonymous writer in the Geneva Courier, over
the signature of Harold, has thus pertinently described
this sheet of water and its locality, in that papei",
bearing date, Oct. 28, 1845. " Two and a half miles
from Caroga [Garoga must be the aboriginal word] is
a larger lake, about four miles in length, to which I
gave the name of Lake Byrn. It takes exactly the
form of the letter S. I think this is the most romantic
spot I ever visited. The surface of the ground rising



168 TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK.

back from the shore, is covered with large irregularly
shaped rocks, from five to forty feet in diameter, lying
entirely above ground, and often tumbling together
in mountain masses, lodged and wedged in like drift-
wood. Many of these rocks are riven asunder and
the base of each portion thrown outward from the line
of separation, the superior parts resting against each
other, thus forming apartments with a solid stone roof
large enough to shelter a dozen or twenty men. This
T think must have been the work of fire. Strange as
it may seem, all this is in quite a dense forest, and
almost infinite are the shapes taken by the trees in
their turnings and twistings to avoid the numerous
rocks. In some instances the roots of a single tree
have grown astride a huge rock, the base of the trunk
resting on its apex, six or eight feet from the ground.
The appearance is the same as if the rock were forced
up from the ground beneath, elevating the tree with it,
but not a particle of earth attaches to either; and these
are all living, healthy trees. It is in this neighbor-
hood that tradition says large sums of money were
buried by certain Spaniards, in the time of the Ameri-
can Revolution; but ' ifs sure never a bate o' it did I
find at all, at all P So said a hard-fisted son of Erin,
relating the story. Near the centre of liake Byrn, is
a small rocky island, covered with evergreens, birch
and flowering shrubs." This island, the reader will
remember, I have named Stoner's island. The writer
above quoted called on Major Stoner, at the time of



TRAPPERS OF NEW YORK. 169

his visit, and his Chips of Travel contained a l)rief
summary of the old warrior's military life.

A few miles distant from Lake Byrn is a body of
water of nearly the same size called Pine lake, on ac-
count of the lordly pines about its shores: it empties
into the former. Two small crystal sheets above Pine
lake are called Stink lakes. Their unpoetic name at-
tached from the following incident. Stoner and De
Line were there on a hunt, and discovered many
bushels of dead fish, principally suckers, which had
got over a beaver's dam in a freshet; and which, be-


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