Jeptha Root Simms.

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generally had the separate interest. White, however, was much
the most successful trapper. He v.ould son^etin:es bring in a
hundred dollars worth of beaver at a time — lay drunk until he


the salmon trout in 100 feet depth of water. [Another
informant says they are caught here weighing fifteen
or twenty pounds.]

" At the head of Seventh lake is a grove of pitch-
pine timber, which timber is not elsewhere seen in
the district. On entering this lake at one time with
Foster, he discovered a deer feeding upon a grassy
beach, nearly half a mile distant. Said he, ' B., put
me on shore and I will give you some venison for din-
ner.' I did so, and then rowed out into the lake, far
enough to see the deer. After remaining some time,
I saw Foster step suddenly from the bushes upon the
beach, some distance from the deer. Almost the very

had spent it all, and then back to the woods. Not so with Fos-
ter: he liked a glass, but would be called a temperate mau.

" I should think White had been dead some fifteen years. He
with another man was coming in from the tract ; they halted by
the way-side, built them a brush shantee and stopped for the night.
During the night, a small stub of a tree fell across the shantee
and broke White's leg. Early in the morning the man with him
came to Boonville about seventeen miles for help. He was brought
in on a litter ; but before a surgeon could be obtained to amputate
it, the limb mortified and he died."

In the fall of 1815, said the surveyor Smith, White came in
from Brown's tract with three hvndred dollars worth of fur, and
as usual on such ocasions, he trained until it was all gone. While
hunting, after the provisions were gone he had taken in from the
settlement, he lived on wild game and fish. This was the usual
fare of hunters in the forest. White is said to have been about
the same age of Foster, and is believed to have followed trapping
about the Fulton lakes a few years earlier than did Foster. There
was a hunter nairea Williams, on and about Brown's tract in 1815.


instant the deer raised its head from feeding, I saw
the flash of his rifle and the deer fall. At Foster's
call I went ashore, he not knowing that I had seen
the deer fall. Well, Uncle Nat, said I, have you
killed him? He straightened up like a soldier, with
his head erect, and eyes glistening; and grasping his
rifle in his right hand and holding it above his head,
he said, ^ B., he never told a lie. When you hear
him speak, he always tells the truth.' I stepped on
shore and found he had put his ball precisely in the
centre of the deer's forehead. He must have been
full twenty-five rods from the animal, and fired the
instant it raised its head. In a very few minutes he
had a fine piece of venison roasting before a good fire,
and ere long we had a sweet morsel to dine upon.

"At another time, while we sat fishing from our boat,
he discovered an old doe with two fawns, the latter
about as large as lambs at two months old. They
were feeding and playing upon the beach, perhaps a
quarter of a mile distant. Foster was on fire imme-
diately. If he could kill the old doe, he said, he could
kill the fawns, and their runnets would bring him fifty
cents each. I remonstrated against killing the little
fellows for so small a gain, and proposed to pay him
the dollar and let them go. But no; nothing would
satisfy him short of a shot. I then rather refused to
row him within shot; but one look from him satisfied
me that I might as well comply. However, I managed
in the operation to make noise enough to frighten the


old doe; but not without strong suspicions on his part,
that it was done intentionally.

" From the Seventh to the Eighth lake is three or
four miles, and the lake is some four or five miles
long. From these eight lakes runs the stream on
which the mills on Brown's tract were erected. A
carrying place from the Eighth lake, some two miles,
brings you to what is called the Racket inlet, running
easterly, down which you can go in a sliifF into Racket
lake, and from thence down Racket river to the St.

" The poor Indian Foster killed, was buried on a
point near where the mill dam now stands, and a rude
cross was erected at his head by his friends. Last
September [1848] , I looked for the grave, but it was
so overgrown with grass and bushes I could not find
it. When he shot the Lidian, he went about five
miles to gain Indian Point before his victim arrived."

The Indian here alluded to, is said to have been
quite successful in killing deer. He often floated for
them. This was done in the night time. In his bark
canoe, behind a few green boughs, he would proceed
as silently as possible along the shore of a lake, and
shoot the timid deer there feeding on grass, or stand-
ing in the w^ater's edge to cool, as they gazed in won-
der at the torch light in the bow of the craft, which
seemed at times to fascinate them. This mode of kill-
ing deer much displeased Foster, and is believed to

have been one cause of difficulty between them.



Besides the lakes already named in the region of
country under consideration, there are several others
of greater or less importance. The Jerseyfield lake,
a handsome sheet of water some two miles long, and
around the shores of which Foster, in his earlier days,
used to hunt, lies in the easterly part of Salisbury.
Black creek, which is one of the tributaries of West
Canada creek, has its source in the Jerseyfield lake.

Jock's lake, so called after Jock (Jonathan) Wright,
an early trapper upon its shores, is a very pretty lake,
five or six miles long, though not very wide; and is
situated in the north-eastern or wilderness portion of
Herkimer county, some ten miles from a place called
Noblesborough. Its outlet is one of the sources of
the west branch of West Canada creek. Some four
miles south of Jock's lake is a small sheet of water
called Little Salmon lake, and about two miles to the
westward of Jock's lake, is another trout inhabiting
pond, called Black River South lake. Around those
lakes, and along their streams, were favorite haunts
of the trapper W^right.

Of the physical outline of 'Hamilton county and the
northerly part of Herkimer, Prof. Lardner Vanuxem,
thus remarks in his volume of the Geology of New
York. " The most interesting feature of the wilder-
ness region is its chain of lakes, placed so nearly
upon a level that but little labor from man is required
to connect those of three counties together. The
lakes of Herkimer and Hamilton are arranged upon


a line which is parallel with the St. Lawrence river
and Ontario lake, and with the Ohio, &c.; appearing
not to be accident merely, but the result of a law
whose operations were in their direction, and on
several parallels. These lakes, were a communica-
tion opened from east to west, would be much resorted
to. The beauty of their waters, their elevation, and
the wild scenery which surrounds them, would not
fail to attract visitors."


With the death of its proprietor, the HerreshofF
settlement on Brown's tract became tenantless, and in
a short time all the improvements were going to
waste and destruction. Hunters occasionally visited
the place, and when there, camped in the deserted
dwellings. In May, 1830, the premises were leased
for a small sum, and in February 1832, Nathaniel
Foster, who had for years traversed this region, pur-
chased an assignment of the lease and moved his
family there; that he might with greater convenience
follow his favorite avocation of a wilderness trapper.
His family, consisting of himself and wdfe and his
son David and wife, occupied the HerreshofF dwelling
nearest the forge. In a hut not far from Foster dwelt
an Indian hunter named Peter Waters, familiarly
known in the forest by the name of Drid; and in an-
other house erected by the original proprietor, resided
three old bachelors, William vS. Wood, David Chase,
and Willard Johnson. Johnson first entered the forest
with HerreshofF, to work at his forge. Some part of
the time there were three or four other persons on the
clearing, increasing the population to some fifteen in-
habitants, all of whom depended principally upon
hunting and fishing for their support. Johnson, who


was a man somewhat advanced in life, often hunted
with Foster; and Wood, of whom we know but little
else, would have frozen to death on one occasion, but
for the attentions of Foster.

The condition of the other settlers at this period on
Brown's tract, was rendered the more comfortable by
the family of Foster, whose women were able and
ready to dispense the numerous little comforts the sex
can command. A difficulty arose between Foster and
his Indian neighbor, which, from one of a trifling na-
ture, assumed a most serious aspect. A feeling not
the most friendly began to gain a place between
them, and some person, either from motives of mis-
chief or terror, took occasion to tell Drid that Foster
wa^ unfrimdly to him-^that he did not like other
hunters-was a dead shot, and the like. It was a per-
son or persons, no doubt, who had had some misun-
derstanding with the Indian, and adopted this method
to excite his fears without intending Foster any m-
jury; possibly the informer was merely desirous of
intimidating him, by making him feel conscious that
one man, at least, who did not fear him, had the
ability to punish him; whatever the motive was is
unknown, but the red hunter's worst passions were
now aroused, and ere long he resolved to destroy a
supposed foe, at whatever hazard. On several occa-
sions, when intoxicated, he threatened the life of
Foster, and to such a state of feverish excitement had
he arrived, that he only seemed desirous of an oppor-



tunity for executing his diabolical threat. The hunter
Johnson, on several occasions, accompanied Foster to
prevent a surprise from his avowed enemy.

The Foster family had always been very kind to
that of Drid, and when the latter was gone on a long
hunt, his squaw depended almost entirely upon the
former for the support of herself and children. As
Foster kept a cow, the family of the Indian neighbor
w^as supplied with milk free of charge; while not a
few necessaries dealt out to them when Drid was from
home, had been carried into the clearing by Foster,
upon his back. Of the latter articles he made a
charge, and embracing some favorable opportunity,
he asked the Indian to pay the account, in amount
about seventeen shillings; the latter promised to pay
a part of it. Foster now told the Indian that he had
heard of his having threatened his life; this he ad-
mitted, said they lived there retired from any settle-
ment, w^/i ere there was no law, and added, " If I kill
you, I kill you ; and if you kill me, you kill me ! "
Foster told him he would make no such agreement,
that he did not wish or design to injure him, and he
must not harbor such feelings.

One of the earliest causes of difficulty between these
hunters originated as follows; nearly a year before
his death, Drid took Foster's boat without permission
and left it in the river a mile below where he had
taken it. He was admonished that he must not re-
peat such an act if he would not be punished for his


temerity, at which just reproof he was very indignant;
and soon after was heard by several persons to say,
'^Me got a bad heart, me put a bullet through old Fos-
ter.'' It was about the time of the boat disturbance,
that certain individuals attempted to terrify Drid by
threats of Foster's vengeance.

In July, and about two months before his death,
Drid was returning to the tract in company with a
man named John Carpenter, when, as he drew near
his home, he fired off his rifle, reloaded and carefully
primed it. His companion inquired why he did it ?
saying they would then find no game. The Indian
replied, " Me going to old Foster's, me shoot him else
he shoot me ! " He did go to Foster's dwelling, and
standing at a little distance from the door, he hailed
several times, to draw the object of search to an ex-
posed situation. Mrs. Foster came to the door, and
was alarmed to see the threatening attitude of her
neighbor. He inquired for her husband, and being
told that he was not at home, he exclaimed as he
turned to go away, " Me shoot him if he had been ! "
Next morning the family of Drid being out of pro-
visions, applied as usual to Foster's family for food.
Informed of the Indian's conduct by his wife and
Carpenter, Foster took some flour and in company
with Carpenter, sought the red man's cabin to relieve
the wants of the family. In the presence of the wit-
ness he asked Drid if he had not called at his door
intending to shoot him ? He admitted that he had,


and assigned as a reason, that he had been told that
Foster had threatened to kill him for taking his boat.
" I made no such threat^'' said the old trapper, " /
said it would not he well for you or any one else, to
take my boat a second time and fasten it a mile from
Tny landing. ^'^

In August following the above incident, Drid re-
turned from Racket lake with furs, and halted at
Foster's door, at which were several neighbors ; when
the old trapper very civilly asked him to pay his ac-
count. " You are d — d liarf said the Indian, " me
douH owe you cent I " He raised his tomahawk to
strike the old man, who sprang into the house. He
opened the door with his rifle in hand, when his foe
sullenly fell back and exclaimed, " If you ever go to
Seventh lake, or to Racket lake, me kill you ! " Fos-
ter threatened to complain of him before a justice of
the peace, and he replied, " Vll get there soon as you
do—haint no law in woods here f " The Indian with
many threats then went oflf to his cabin.

Soon after this encounter with his adversary, Fos-
ter went before Joshua Harris, a justice of the peace
in Brantingham, Lewis county, twenty miles from his
own residence, although the nearest one, and com-
plained that this Indian had then a third time sought
his life, on which account he demanded his arrest.
The magistrate declined issuing a process against
Drid, saying that if he proceeded against him, the
latter would be as likely to kill him as complainant.


Failing to get a precept against his dusky antago-
nist, some of his acquaintances advised Foster to re-
move his family from the forest, but he declared " he
would not he frightened off by an Indian.^' He was
very malicious, so much so that Aleck Thompson, an
Indian hunter, who Lad a shantee near his, would have
nothing to do wnth him, at least, so say the friends of
Foster. The apprehensions of the Foster family were
such all the latter part of the summer, that they sel-
dom lit a candle in the evening, from fear that Drid
would fire in at their windows. Indeed, he had threat-
ened to enter the house in the night time, and stab
him in his bed. He had even inquired on which
side of the bed Foster slept, that he might make
sure of his victim. When told that so rash an act
would endanger the life of Mrs. Foster, he repl'.ed,
" She good woman — me no care to hurt her — but ra-
ther kill 'em both, than not kill himf

On the morning of Drid's death, Foster w^as, agree-
ably to an arrangement made the evening before, to
accompany Wood and Chase on a hunting excursion
to Fourth lake. The Indian had left his traps and
rifle at Racket lake, some twelve miles beyond the
intended destination of the party, but concluded to
go up w^ith them as far as they w^ent. Foster called
in the morning to see if the bachelors were ready for
a start, and the Indian being present, renewed his
quarrel w^ith the former and attempted his life. He
was a stout young man, between twenty-five and


thirty years of age, and Foster was upwards of sixty.
He succeeded in getting the old man down upon the
floor, but was foiled in taking his life by the interj
cession of the by-standers, who drew them apart, not
however until the Indian had cut his arm, in the
attempt to thrust a knife into his heart. Thwarted
when he thought his victim sure, he threatened ven-
geance, and declared at the end of a horrid oath,
^' you no live till Christmas P^ Foster, whose worst

passions were now excited, retorted, " you'll do d

well if you see another moon !"

Foster retired after the difficulty with the Indian,
and did not join the party, increased on its setting
out by several others, who were going a few miles on
a fishing excursion; but well satisfied that his foe
would return and lurk about his dwelling to shoot
him, as soon as he had obtained his rifle, he at once
resolved to destroy the Indian, and thus prevent the
possibility of a future surprise. He accordingly pro-
ceeded up the river nearly to the First lake, where,
upon its northern shore, a point of land projected into
the river, now known among hunters and fishermen
as Indian's point. With his rifle carefully loaded
with two balls, Foster obtained a commanding posi-
tion on the point, to await the arrival of the party.
After some delay in getting ready they left the dam
at the forge, Drid in a light bark canoe. Wood and
Chase in a large bark canoe, and the fishing party,
consisting of four persons, in a boat.




The Indian, fearing no doubt from the morning's
encounter and Foster's threat, that his personal safety-
was in jeopardy, kept his little craft near that of
Wood and Chase. At length the party neared the
point, at which its present occupant knew the white
hunters must land to get some concealed traps. The
fishing party rowed on as the canoes put in for the
shore, and passing the point they discovered the old
trapper in the bushes, and pointing in the direction
of the bushes, they said to the hunters, " there's old
Foster .'" This announcement caused the Indian, who
was then between the other canoe and the shore, to
change his position, and take the lake side of his
companions. The object of Foster's visiting the
point was rightly divined by the white trappers, who
landed and obtained their traps without loss of time,
and put off from the shore, when Drid placed his
canoe along side of theirs, so as to bring himself
about midway between them, if possible to endanger
their lives should a shot be attempted at himself.

Although Foster was several rods distant from the
canoes, still the position of his foe did not secure his
safety. The Indian's eye caught a glimpse of the
fearful figure in the bushes just as the rifle was poised,
and he threw up his arms in terror at the moment of
the explosion. Both bullets entered his left side near
the arm pit, passed through his heart and went out
just below the right arm. They entered in the same
spot, but left two places of egress opposite. The


Indian fell backwards, with his head and shoulders in
the water, his feet and legs remaining in the canoe.
He fell so dead that his-position continued unchanged,
the fairy craft preserving the cradling motion com-
municated to it by his fall, for some length of time
after the spirit of its owner had winged its flight,

"To range the circuit of the sky."

The party in company with the Indian at the time
of his death, either from fear or some other motive,
did not offer to touch the body, but returned as
speedily as possible to the place of starting. Leaving
their boats, several proceeded directly to Foster's
house, where they found him lying on a bed. The
distance from the dam to Indian's point by water is
greater than by land, and the old trapper having
finished his morning's work, had gained his own
dwelling, wiped out his rifle and prepared it for other
game, ere the messengers arrived there. Foster ex-
pressed some surprise at seeing the party return so
soon, and enquired what brought them back. He
was answered, that a dead man was up the lake, the
Indian Drid, and they desired him to go up and aid
in getting him down. Agreeably to the request,
Foster went up with the party to get the body, and
himself took it into the boat, as the rest seemed afraid
to touch it. He also aided in burying it, near the
Indian's former residence. For killing this Indian,
Foster was arrested soon after, by the authori^^ies of


Lewis county; but when it was ascertained that the
scene of blood was not within the jurisdiction of that
county, he was removed from Martinsburg to Herki-
mer, where he gave bail for his appearance when
required, and returned to his family.

Note, explanatory of the engraving. A friend who
made a little drawing of the Fulton chain of lakes,
to give the writer an idea of the position of the
parties, inadvertently placed the point on the south
side of the lake, which led to an error in the cut
representing this scene, as the point is on the north
side The cut, though an ideal one, is said (by per-
sons who have been on the ground) to give a very
striking representation of the point, as Foster came
out between two trees. A row of fir trees are seen
in the distance, said to be more numerous than are
here represented. The cut is rather a spirited one
and if the reader will imagine the point transposed
to the opposite shore, and the position of the parties
changed accordingly, he will get a good idea of the
tragic scene.



Having been indicted for murder, at a court of
general sessions, in Herkimer county, on the third day
of February, 1834, for killing the Indian Drid, or, as
called in the indictment, Peter Waters; Nathaniel
Foster was arraigned for trial at the circuit court held
in that county on the fifteenth day of September fol-
lowing. The trial, which lasted nearly two days, was
one of very great interest, and drew together an im-
mense crowd of anxious spectators. Several indi-
viduals, some of whom were hunters, were subpoenaed
to prove the quarrelsome disposition of the Indian killed
by Foster; but they were not called upon the stand.

The court consisted of his honor, Hiram Denio, cir-
cuit judge, and Jonas Cleland, John B. Dygert, Abijah
Osborn, and Richard Herendeen, judges of the bench
of common pleas. After setting aside eleven jurors,
who were challenged on the ground of having pre-
judged the cause, the following jurors were impan-
neled: Jacob Davis, John Harder, Henry Ostrander,
James F. Fox, William Bouck, Peter Rickert, Wil-
liam Shoemaker, James Shoemaker, Lester Green,
Nicholas A. Staring, Earl Trumbull, and Peter Bell.
From the fact that so great a number of jurors were
disqualified for the reason assigned, we may properly

tkappeks of new ^oek. 219

infer that the circumstances which induced Foster to
take the Indian's life, were generally known; and it
may be questioned whether any twelve freeholders,
called promiscuously from the county, would have ren-
dered a different verdict from that given by the jury

James B. Hunt (district attorney), and Simeon
Ford, were counsel for the prosecution. The prisoner
was defended by E. P. Hurlbut, with whom were
associated J. A. Spencer, A. Hackley and Lauren Ford
Mr. Hunt opened the cause by observing that the pri-
soner was arraigned for murder, a rare crime in that
county; stating in a brief and pertinent manner, the
facts he expected to show in the progress of the trial.
Having cited from the statute laws what would and
what would not be justifiable homicide, he adduced
the follow^ing testimony:

DAvro Chase, sworn. — Was at West Brunswick on
the 17th of September last; there saw Peter Waters;
knows the prisoner; saw him also that morning. Jona-
than Tyler, William Tyler, Hiram Thomas, and Nelson
Stimpson, started together in one .boat to go up the
lake; Wood and witness were in a bark canoe; Wa-
ters was in a canoe [of bark] alone; they started from
the forge in company, and kept up the pond, east,
until they came to a point of land about two miles
from the forge, when they stopped to get their traps;
witness and Wood were going to trap with the Indian
in partnership; Waters's boat was six feet from wit-


ness and along side; the other boat was opposite four
or five rods. At this point of land, First lake com-
menced; as Wood stepped out to get the traps, wit-
ness heard a rattling in the bushes and looked up the

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Online LibraryJeptha Root SimmsTrappers of New York; → online text (page 13 of 17)