Jeptha Root Simms.

Trappers of New York; online

. (page 12 of 17)
Online LibraryJeptha Root SimmsTrappers of New York; → online text (page 12 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

at his grave, which is near one corner of the village
grave-yard in Boonville, a marble slab with the fol-
lowing inscription:




Obiit Dec. 19th,


^tat 50.

Herreshoff is said, on good authority, to have manu-
factured just a ton of iron at his forge, from ore ob-
tained on Brown's tract. It was of the very best
quality, and cost, when ready for use, just one dollar a
pound. Says a correspondent, " Black sand found
upon the lake shore, and separated by magnets, was
principally used in making his iron. He, however,
expected to find mountain or rock ore, and in one case
he followed a small vein in the rocks some 200 feet,
at an enormous expense." Some have stated that the
quantity of iron made by Herreshoff was less than is
named above, and a friend writes that " every pound
of iron he made cost him more than an ounce of 2:old."


The cost of his iron gives a principal reason why he
committed suicide. The taxes upon the tract were
also heavy for unproductive property. The assessor's
valuation was oiie shilling an acre. Samuel Giles
went in from Russia two seasons (believed in 1813
and 1814), and collected the tax, which was sixty
dollars each year.

Stephen Smith, 2d, of Russia, was engaged as a
surveyor on Brown's tract, in the years 1815, 16 and
17. He was employed by John Brow^n Francis, a
step-son of HerreshoiF, who has since been governor
of Rhode Island. The tract was divided into eight
townships, numbering from one to eight. Names are
said to have been given to those paper towns, two of
which are believed to have been Economy and Fru-
gality: names very proper for any of those town-
ships, and indicative of the virtues it would be
necessary to practice, in order to live there.

In 1817, Smith was engaged in laying out a public
road through the tract. It began two miles east of
Boonville, and striking the tract it ran through town-
ships number 1, 2, part of 3, and all of 7. From
HerreshofF's mills it ran up on the north side of the
lakes, terminating at the Sacondaga state road, lead-
ing from Russel, St. Lawrence county, to Lake Plea-
sant, in Hamilton county, then being surveyed by
Judge Atwater, of St. Lawrence county, and located
by John Fay, Esq., of Fish House, as commissioner.
This road extended southerly to the tow^n of Wells,


as I have elsewhere shown. The greater part of it
is now overgrown with trees. The road opened by
Smith was forty miles long, and intersected the Sacon-
daga road twenty-seven miles from Lake Pleasant.
Smith was engaged on his road, of which he was also
a commissioner, sixty days, with nine hands. Bridges
and cross-ways were not made by the surveying party.

Moose lake, after which Moose river is called, is
one of the largest and purest lakes on the tract, being
several miles in extent, and very deep. It lies a few
miles south of the western end of the Fulton chain.
Southerly from Moose lake, and farther to the east-
ward, heads what is called the South branch of Moose
river. It is three miles from Moose lake to the South
branch; on which stream, and nearly opposite Moose
lake is a small clearing of several acres, called Cana-
shagala, an Indian name. Some suppose this clearing
was made by the Indians, and others that the timber
was destroyed by fire. The stream at this point is a
remarkable spot for fishermen.

The survey for the road was first extended up on
the south side of the Fulton chain, and north side of
Moose lake, to Fifth lake; but as the route w^as found
impracticable for a good road, on account of the dififi-
culties to be overcome in the make of the land, it was
located on the opposite side of the lakes. The road
laid out by Smith, struck the Black river ten miles
from the starting point: from thence to Moose river,
was six and a half miles; from w^hich place to the


middle settlement, or the Herreshoff dwelling, it w^as
nearly five mi-les more, making the whole distance
from Boonville nearly twenty-four miles. The land
on each side of the road was taxed to defray the ex-
penses of its survey. Going in from the Remsen
road, Moose river is crossed about one mile south of
the clearing. Near the road from the middle settle-
ment (on the right in entering), is a little lake of
several acres, called Huckleberry lake, those berries
growing on its shore The outlet of this pond runs
into the Mill stream.

Few incidents attending the survey of Brown's
tract are now remembered. A porcupine, one day,
claimed a preemption right to the soil, and evinced
a disposition to dispute the surveyor's title, planting
itself in a bristling posture directly in the road. It
was an ugly customer to handle without mittens, or
rather tongs, and surveyor Smith, acting upon the
forest hunter's rule, that might makes right, wilfully
and maliciously slew the varmint with his compass

Herreshoff was a good feeling man, and at times
rather jovial, liking a little fun withal. On some
occasion. Smith, accompanied by Herreshoff, Vincent
and Silas Thomas, went in a boat to the head of
Fourth lake, to select some pine timber. Passing one
of the islands in the lake, probably Bear island, Her-
reshoff desired to be set ashore on a bluff extending
some rods into the lake. As is generally the case


with foreigners, who find tobacco very cheap in this
country, he was a great smoker, and having lit his
pipe, he concluded to increase the fumigation by also
lighting the grass and dry brush around him. A few
minutes only sufficed, with the breeze then puffing, to
spread the flame over the bluff. The wind drove the
heat toward him, and calling for the boat to come to
his assistance, he gained the extreme point of land,
in the hope of escaping the fire. Before the boat
could get to him, however, the flame drove him out
upon a tree which extended horizontally over the

The craft seemed to him to move like a snail, as the
heat and smoke — of which latter commodity he for
once had enough — became more and more insufferable.
He held on to his footing until he saw a sheet of flame
coming directly in his face, w^hen he sprang off into
the water, among the trout. He did not glide along
as noiselessly though as they did in that element, for
he floundered like a porpoise; and for once, if we
mistake not, quit smoking with tobacco still in his
pipe. He w^as finally rescued by his companions,
though half drowned and half frozen, as he took the
unexpected bath in September, and shivered for hours
to pay for it. This, it is said, was not the only time
he came near being scorched by his great passion for
fire and smoke.


Mr. W. S. Benchley, of Newport, N. Y., who was
well acquainted with Uncle JYat, and who has often
been on Brown's tract with Foster and since his day;
has at my request kindly furnished me by letter with
several incidents in the old trapper's life, and a de-
scription of the tract, or a portion of it, which letter I
shall do my readers a favor to present in his own
words; notwithstanding he tells me at the outset he
is " entirely unused to writing other than common
business transactions." I trust he will pardon me for
the liberty I have taken with his name and letter.

" I have long been acquainted with a part of that
region of country called Brown'' s Tract. At an enor-
mous expense. Brown has opened three roads on to
his tract.* The route now taken to approach it from
this direction is, to leave the northern turnpike at
Boonville, Oneida county. Taking a north-easterly
direction, you pass the last improvement some eight
miles from Boonville, beyond which the road is im-
passable for carriages. Pack-horses, or what we call
drays are used for carrying our provisions, &c., in our

"* The road from Boonville surveyed by Smith, in the employ
of Gov. Francis, I suppose to be one of the roads here alluded to.


hunting and fishing excursions; last September
[1848] I went in with a dray.

" On reachina; Moose river, about five miles from
the last settlement, we have to scow our luggage
over; and frequently to swim our horses. Moose
river at this point is tw4ce as large as the West Ca-
nada creek, and quite rapid. In fact, the entire length
of the river is one continued fall, or succession of
rapids; making sufficient water-power, if improved,
for the use of the whole state of New York. From
Moose river to the first clearing we reach on Brown's
tract, is eleven miles, over a most horribly rocky,
stony, cold region; though very well covered with
timber, such as spruce, balsam, beech, birch, some
maple and hemlock.*

" The first clearing you enter is called Coal hill,
from the fact, I believe, that most of the timber from
this clearing was made into coal for the use of the
iron-works erected by HerreshoflT, son-in-law to
Brown. A short distance from this you enter a large
improvement with one framed house, where Herres-
hoflT used to live. [This is in township number 7.]
In this clearing he expended a large amount of money
in searching for iron ore; blasting and digging at the
base of a rocky hill or mountain running through this

• That much of this tract in an agricultural point of view has
a most forbidding aspect, there can be but little doubt. Judge
Stow, of Lewis county, once observed of it, " that it was so poor
it would make a crow shed tears of blood to fly over it.''


improvement. Failing to accomplish what he ex-
pected, he became discom'aged : his friends at the
same time refusing to advance him any more funds,
and left alone as he was, to bear the blame of a fail-
ure; disheartened and spirit-broken, he died, ' as the
fool dieth,' by blowing out his brains with a pistol.

"Since Herreshoff's death, the improvements made
by him have been mostly abandoned, except by hunt-
ers and fishermen. There is still one settler residing
there, however, a Mr. Arnold, who has a large family.
He accommodates fishermen with boats. He keeps
several cows, horses, &c., and raises a large quantity
of oats yearly, which he draws to market in the win-
ter. On leaving this clearing you cross one branch
of Moose river, which is the outlet of eight small
lakes, of which I shall speak hereafter. Passing
through several improvements for two and a half
miles, you reach the spot where once stood the forge,
a saw-mill and grist-mill, with several dwellings ; but
now entirely gone with the exception of one barn-
frame with the roof on, otherwise entirely stripped of

" All the improvements at one time must have cov-
ered some two thousand acres, with about forty fami-
lies upon them. All the buildings now remaining
are two dwellings, one barn, and two frames of barns
divested of covering. When Foster left the tract
[1833], some remains of the forge, mills, &c., were

still standing. Iron was manufactured at this forge


of a good quality, though said to be at a cost of one
dollar per pound. I have no doubt iron ore abounds
in this region, in inexhaustible quantities, with other
valuable ores, waiting for enterprise to develope them,
after the gold fever has subsided. Where Herreshoff
erected his mills, is one of the best water powers in
the w^orld. A dam some forty feet long is still stand-
ing, and when first constructed, raised the water in
the Fourth lake about two feet. This dam is about
three miles below the First lake. [The lake usually
denominated the First lake in this chain, is, in truth,
the last, or Eighth lake; but approached as they
generally are from Moose river, the last is recognized
as the first, and the reader will understand when the
relative numbers of those lakes are given, that they
number upward, or from west to east.] After this
dam was built, it was three months before the w^ater
flowed over it; in fact, search was made supposing
the w^ater had found some other outlet.

" At HerreshofF's dam we take boats for fishing
excursions, and three miles up the stream we enter
the First lake, a beautiful pond, say one mile by one
and-a-half miles in extent, containing one small is-
land, called Dog island; a dog having been found
upon it by an early visitor. About half a mile down
the outlet, and near a point of land now called In-
dian's point, Uncle Nat shot the Indian. Leaving
this lake you pass into the Second lake, separated
from the First by sand-bars, with a narrow channel


some twenty feet wide. This lake is some longer
than the First, but is not as wide, and has no islands.
Along the north shore of Second lake, rises a most
grand and sublime mountain, presenting a front of
naked rock for nearly one mile, at a height of several
hundred feet. On its summit Uncle Nat told me he
had often been, ' that from it he could see numbers of
lakes; and that there he could enjoy himself, and not
be troubled by the d — d Indians.' [This bold pro-
montory I shall take the liberty to call Foster^ s Ob-

"From the Second you enter the Third lake by
passing through a strait of some ten rods. It is a
pretty, pure, deep pond, about the size of the First
and Second. In this lake is a small island, called
Grass island, because it is well covered with grass,
and has few trees or bushes upon it. Leaving the
Third you pass up a stream some fifty or sixty rods,
and enter the Fourth lake, which is seven miles long,
and from one to two miles w^ide. It has four islands,
the first of which in ascending is called Deer island,
containing about 100 acres of well timbered land."

Desirous of permanently fastening the names of
the most celebrated Nimrods of this region upon its
scenery, I shall take the liberty to call this island
Benchley's island, after George Benchley; who
shantied at the head of Third lake, but a short dis-
tance from the island, and who perished in the wil-
derness vAiild following the fortunes of a trapper.


George and Joseph Benchley (brothers of my cor-
respondent), were engaged in trapping in the fall of
1819, in the region of country under consideration.
George, who was the oldest, possessed a roving and
very romantic disposition. For a while he was en-
gaged in a sea-faring life, but tiring of its monotony,
he severed the halliards which bound him to the " roll-
ing deep," and returned to the home of his childhood.
The pursuit of a forest-hunter seemed well suited,
from its excitement, to his danger-daring tempera-

The brothers had a line of marten traps, extending
from the Fulton lakes to some point on the State road,
running from Wells to Russel, not far from Racket
lake, where they had a shantee. The line of traps
extended thirty or forty miles, with several hunters'
cabins on the route. They were engaged in their
pursuits until the last of November, having two men
employed to assist them. They took turns in travers-
ing the route, and George was alone on the eastern
end of it, when a heavy fall of snow suspended their
operations. Joseph and the assistants were at the
main shantee, at the head of Third lake, where they
remained several days anxiously awaiting the return
of the senior hunter. As he did not come in, two
unsuccessful attempts were made to seek for him; but
the great depth of snow in that direction prevented
the possibility of reaching him without snow-shoes,
and they had not a pair with them.


While in a feverish state of anxiet}' about their
absent friend, not caring or perhaps not daring to
return home without some tidings of him, an old
hunter, named Morgan, arrived at their lodge on
snow-shoes. He had come, he said, directly from
their eastern shantee on the State road, and assured
Joseph that his brother was well, and had gone out to
Lake Pleasant to obtain food. Giving full credit to
Morgan's statement, Joseph and his men returned

The winter wore away, and nothing further was
heard from the absent hunter by his friends at New-
port; but, as he was a single man, and well weaned
from home, little anxiety was felt about him, as they
supposed him safe at the house of some back-w^oods-
man in Hamilton county. In the spring a message
reached New^port, that the body of a man had been
found by Indian hunters, in a shantee near Racket
lake. The probability was, that Benchley's shantee
was indicated, and his brothers Jenks and William,
anxious to know his fate, made a jom'ney out there,
in company with two other persons. The body, which
had been buried, was exhumed, and their worst fears
were realized — the remains were those of their kins-

Dark mystery has ever hung over the last moments
of this unfortunate hunter, and suspicion over the
character of Morgan, who was doubtless the last indi-
vidual who saw him alive. That hunter was not very


scrupulous of his acts, as was well known, and it has
ever since been surmised that he seriously injured
Benchley in some manner, took his fur, if he had any,
and left him to perish. The Indians found his gun in
the shantee, but no fur; and, as he had gone over the
whole line of traps, it seemed impossible that he
should have taken none. Morgan had considerable
fur when he left the forest. That Benchley suffered
most acutely in his last hours, there can be no doubt.
He had, with his hunter's knife, evidently cut small
pieces of wood to feed his fire, from the logs of which
part of the hut w^as built, w^hile he had strength to do
so; but, how long he hungered — how keenly he suf-
fered, in body and mind — how many cold, dark and
dreary nights he lay shivering, without an earthly
" eye to pity, or arm to relieve," is only known to
Him to w^hom no mortal's fate is a mystery.

Joseph Benchley was a musician ; and the fall he
was hunting wuth his brother, he had his violin with
him, and often played it, " to drive dull care away,"
and afford a pastime for the wild animals within its
hearing. Orpheus, a celebrated Greek musician of
lang-syne, is said to have called down the mountains
to listen to the melody he discoursed in the valleys.
It would have troubled him, we opine, to have started
any of those on Brown's tract, as their roots were too
long; and Benchley, aware of the fact, very properly
chose his position, not at their base, but upon their


The hunter Morgan, was a morose and rather petu-
lent fellow, and not very popular among the craft.
He traversed the forest for several years, on and about
Brown's tract, but finally went off to Canada and died
there. He was pretty successful in taking fur, and at
times was accused of getting it unjustly. He was
one of those devil-daring woodsmen of whom the
Indians stood in awe. From this digression I returD
to Benchley's description of the country.

" The next island in Fourth lake [above Benchley's
island], contains about one quarter of an acre, is a
pile of bare rocks, and is known by the name of Elba;
which name can not fail to remind the reader of the
ambitious and unfortunate Buonaparte. It produced a
solitary pine, which for many years was its only object
of attraction. A Vandal hand has lately cut it, to
the deep regret of all sentimental hunters. (App. E.)

" The third island in Fourth lake contains ten or
fifteen acres of land, and is called Bear island, an early
hunter having killed one of those animals upon it.
Near the head of this lake, and some fifty or sixty
rods from Bear island, is a small island called Dollar
island, from its rotundity of shape. There is, in shoal
water, between Elba and Bear island, and about a
mile distant from the former a bare rock, called Gull
rock. This rock is said to be on the line between
Herkimer and Hamilton counties. Brown's tract ex-
tends across Herkimer, and into the counties of Lewis
on the west, and Hamilton on the east.


" On the forest-bound Elba of Fourth lake, I have
shantied several times with Foster, On one occasion,
when there, the Indian (whom he afterwards killed)
and his squaw, came and spent the night with us,
taking from the lake their bark canoe and dried moose-
skin for a shelter. I have spent several days upon
this lake with Foster. He conversed but little, and
his restless, roving eye was never still. With his rifle
beside him, he seemed ever anxious to discover some-
thing on shore, worthy of his never erring aim.

" The bald-eagle, which frequents this region, he
would never disturb, for he thought those noble birds
were made to live unmolested by man, ' although,' as
he said, * the c — d Indians killed them.' He seemed
to feel as though he was lord of Brown's tract, and
that no one else, especially an Indian, had as good a
right there. With the Indian he shot, I w^as well ac-
quainted. He was indeed a noble looking fellow in
appearance. He was of the St. Regis tribe, with a
cross of French blood. [Says Mr. Graves, in a com-
munication to the author, " I have often seen the In-
dian Foster killed. He was a very friendly, intelli-
gent man, and belonged to the St. Regis tribe on the
St. Lawrence."] His w-ife was slender and very
feminine. She was under the most perfect subjection
to her husband, and was no doubt often ill treated by
him when tipsy: in fact, I believe that his and Foster's
difficulties first commenced when they had both been


" Frequently, when on these waters, Foster would
direct my attention to an object on some distant, grassy
beach, saying, ' See! there is a deer: watch, and you
will see it move.' He was never mistaken; still a man
unacquainted with the wood, would very seldom sup-
pose that any thing of the kind w^as in sight.

" At the head of Fourth lake was formerly a grove
of white pine. [To this grove HerreshoiF was going
when he was compelled to take a cold bath.] Five
distinct echoes to the human voice may be heard at
this place, and here I have repeatedly discharged a
gun, to hear mountain after mountain send back its
tardy response, until my rifle's shrill note had been
mimicked by five (as I suppose) mermaid hunters.

" Lying parallel to the Fulton chain, and mostly op-
posite Fourth lake, say tw^o miles to the north of it, is
a chain of three small lakes, several miles in extent,
which also discharge their waters into Moose river.
The stream is called the North branch, and the lakes
are known in the forest by the name of North Branch

" Leaving the Fourth, you pass up the inlet some
half a mile, into the Fifth lake, a small pond of eight
or ten acres. From the Fifth to the Sixth lake, is a
continued fall of three-fourths of a mile. Here is a
carrying place; and Foster, at the age of sixty, would
take his skiff upon his head and shoulders and carry
it from one lake to the other, with but one stop. In
fact, at that age, Foster was known to carry a deer


three miles on his back. With a single lock between
Fifth and Sixth lakes, a water communication might
easily be obtained the whole extent of the eight lakes.
" The Sixth lake is quite small, and after wading
and pushing up a narrow, rapid stream, say one and a
half miles, you enter the ' Noble Seventh,' as Uncle
Nat called it. The visitor on entering this lake, meets
with a grand and beautiful view\ The lake is about
four miles long and two wide, with a nameless island
near its centre, of some fifty acres, covered with rocks
and pine timber. [I have mentioned in these pages a
forest-trapper named Green White, who was often on
the island under consideration. With the reader's
permission, I will call this island White's island.*]
Near this island, on its south shore, we frequently get

* White was rather under the middling stature, with a dark
complexion, and possessing a very keen, dark eye. He was a
man of few words, but celebrated for his shrewdness. He learned
the blacksmith's trade at Schenectada in his early life, and always
made his own hunting-knives and hatchets. He was a very suc-
cessful hunter, was extensively known, and by Indian hunters he
was universally feared. The Indians^ he said to his friends, never
stole his fur but once. He occasionally crossed the track of Maj.
Stoner, to whom he was well known, but as he hunted to the
westward of Stoner, they did not often meet.

Says ii'jnry Graves, of Boonville, "I was well acquainted
with Green White, who was a great trapper on and about Brown's
tract. He hunted some in connection with Foster, but they

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryJeptha Root SimmsTrappers of New York; → online text (page 12 of 17)