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would be proof enough; thinks he said the Indian
suspected something, and put up his hands; he said
he examined the body, and in examination found he
was shot with two balls; he said his rifle never told
a lie; don't know whether this latter observation was
in that conversation; he said they were afraid to take
care of the body, and he went up; found it was a
centre shot; a hole under one arm, close up, and two
on the opposite side; is not clear, but he may have


said that his arm must have been thrown up, or the
ball could not have entered there.

The testimony having closed, Mr. Hurlbut opened
the defence to the jury, and his associates, Spencer
and Hackley, summed up. The cause is said, by spec-
tators, to have been very ably conducted on both sides.

Judge Denio, who was from another county, a
stranger to the parties and unbiased by the prejudices
which made either for or against the prisoner, deter-
mined to try him fairly and impartially. There can be
no greater virtue in any tribunal, than that of impar-
tiality in the administration of justice. ' Indeed, when
other motives influence judicial decisions than those
of equity, and power is warped to favor, rapine and
anarchy stalk the earth unbridled, honesty .wears
weeds, and disinterested benevolence folds herself up
in a garment of sackcloth.

The following is a brief memorandum made by Mr.
Hurlbut, of Judge Denio's charge to the jury.

" The court advise the jury, that the law applies to
the region of country where the offence was com-
mitted. The law pervades every section of the coun-
try. There is no place where crime is not cognizable.

" In regard to the race of men to which the de-
ceased belonged, when the question is, what will
authorize the taking of the life of such an one? we
answer, no one can take such life without such rea-
sons as would authorize the taking of the life of any
other human being.


' There are two cases of killing which is not mur-
der. First J when there is killing in a sudden affray:
it is manslaughter. If, at the time of the rencontre
in the morning, before his passion cooled, the prisoner
had shot the Indian, it would have been manslaughter
only. But if his passion cooled, and contrivance or
malice was aroused, it would have been murder.
Second, a man has a right to kill another in self de-
fence. The court would not abridge that privilege.
If Wood's account be true, if the Indian came with
his knife drawn and offered a fatal blow, and Foster
had not time to retreat, he would have been author-
ized to shoot him dead. That would have been a
legitimate case of self defence. The law of this
country is not, when a man is out of immediate dan-
ger, but has a secret enemy, that he has a right to
kill him. This would not be a good code of laws if
that were so. In a state of nature, it would have
been morally right to have taken the Indian's life in
this case. The principle of self defence applies only
to the case of present attack upon the accused. If
Foster seriously believed he was right and justified,
it makes no difference in law, morally it does.

" These views you have a right to overlook. You
are not bound to pay any further regard to this
opinion, than the superior means of the court of pos-
sessing information may entitle it to."

The jury retired.

Before the trial commenced, Mr. Hurlburt received


from Foster the most urgent instructions to convict
hira of murder or acquit him altogether. He pro-
tested against being found guilty of manslaughter, as
he dreaded imprisonment, even for the shortest term,
worse than death.*

The jury, after a deliberation of two hours, returned
into court with a verdict of acquittal. As they entered
and took their seats, the " cloud of witnesses " be-
came hushed; the moment was one of intense interest;
and to so great a tension had the feelings of the old
gentleman been drawn by the excitement his preca-
rious fate had invoked, that his spirit seemed hovering
between life and death. Says Mr. Hurlbut, " When
the jury came in with their verdict, he was insensible;
and it was with some difficulty he was roused to con-
sciousness, so as to understand the verdict. When
the words not guilty, after being two or three times
repeated to him by his counsel, struck his senses
fairly, he rose up, stretched out both hands wide over
the heads of the spectators, and exclaiming, ^ God
hless you all ! God bless the people ! ' rushed out of
the court room, and strode home his well known hun-
ter's pony."

A murmur of applause ran through the crowd, the
sympathies of which were nearly all enlisted in his
favor, as the old trapper left the court room for the
street, to which he was followed by scores of people
of all ages, anxious to offer their congratulations.
At Little Falls, great was the rejoicing and clapping


of hands, when the new^s reached that place that
Foster was free; indeed his enlargement met with
one universal bm^st of approbation throughout the
county. Not because he had killed a poor Indian,
and been acquitted; but because he was not to be
hung for having killed a man in his own defense, as
they viewed it. There can remain little doubt, when
it is known as a characteristic of the red man that
he never forgives a known or imagined injury, and
seldom a grudge, especially one he has determined to
punish with death, but that he would have killed
Foster "before Christmas," if Foster had not slain
him.* But we leave this case to Him who set his
own mark on the first murderer, Cain; and to whose
mercy Moses was subjected, when he slew and con-
cealed his man in the sands of Egypt.

* The celebrated Joseph Brant, once found it necessary to kill
his own son. The latter had taken umbrage at his parent for
some cause, and on an occasion, pursued him with a knife, bent
on his destruction. Brant retreated to the corner of a room,
armed with a tomahawk; and satisfied the son would execute his
threats, as he rushed upon him, the father sunk the fatal toma-
hawk in his head. — Isaac H. Tiffany.


About the time of Foster's trial, to an interrogatory
from the Hon. Charles Gray, whether he did not con-
sider the lives of the white hunters as greatly endan-
gered, when he directed the balls between them only
a few feet apart, which penetrated the heart of his
victim? he replied, " No, not at all ! my old rifle
never made so great a miss as that!"

Remarking to Maj. Stoner my surprise, that Foster
should have dared to fire between two white men in
a changing position at a third person, the old Natty
Bumpo replied, "Poh! Foster would have shot the
Indian's eye out had he desired to! The truth is,
either of us could send a bullet just about where we
chose to." At an inanimate and fixed target they
were not so remarkably celebrated as marksmen,
but give them game moving sufficiently to excite
their anxiety, and these two modern Nimrods may be
said to have been a dead shot. At a reasonable dis-
tance they would have driven an apple every time
from the head of some young Tell, and scarcely dis-
placed a hail', provided the head was moving.

When a sufficient length of time had transpired

after this Indian's death for intelligence of it to go to

his friends near the river St. Lawrence, a brother-in-


law of his, who was a chief of the St. Regis tribe
and a very likely man, came down to Brown's trac
to remove his sister. He said the deceased was a
times a bad fellow, and had been expelled from thei
tribe for some misdemeanor. He had even threatened
the life of this chief more than once; and he did no
express any regret that he was killed; on the con
trary, he said he thought Foster was justifiable ii
taking his life under the peculiar circumstances
Drid's squaw was present when the body was brough
down, but instead of manifesting sorrow she smilec
and with a pair of scissors she cut out a piece of hi
blanket or shirt, having in it a ball hole, and place
it carefully away in a work-pocket. Her brother ha
the body taken up and interred in Indian style; an
before its reburial he cut out that part of th
blanket having the remaining bullet holes in it
which he carried home with him. Foster had bee
sent to Martinsburg before this Indian arrived; bu
previous to leaving the tract, he advised the member
of the Foster family still living there, to leave th
place, as they were innocent of Drid's death; and i
was possible some of his blood might attempt to re
venge his death. He took his sister and her childre
back with him, that he might provide for their want;
After the death of Drid, Foster visited Brown'
tract but once. He feared the Indians might catc
him napping; indeed it was said that several wer
there in wait for him, but a correspondent who say


he was there the next season, saw no Indians. Fos-
ter removed wdth his family to Boonville, Oneida
county. From thence he went to reside for several
years in the north part of Pennsylvania, where he
again followed his favorite pursuits. His mind seemed
never at rest after killing this Indian, says a friend,
and he would rot, after his return to Boonville from
Pennsylvania, enture out of doors in the dark. He
died at the house of Mr. Edgerton, his son-in-law, in
the western part of Boonville (now Ava), Oneida
county, in March, 1841 3 at the age of about 74 years.
His widow died at the residence of her son, Amos
Foster, in Palatine (near Stone Arabia), Montgomery
county, in December, 1844.

It is the belief of very many of Foster's acquaint-
ances, that Drid was not the only Indian with whom
he had had a fatal rencontre. The follow^ing story
furnished the author by Mr. Frederick Petrie, comes
so well authenticated and corroborated, that there can
be very little doubt of its truth.

Before the American Revolution there dwxlt about
two miles from the present village of Little Falls, an
Indian named Hess, w^ho took an active part in that
contest as a hireling of Britain; and W'ho undoubted-
ly w^as one of the most cruel and blood thirsty of his
race. Some ten or twelve years after the w^ar, this
Indian returned to his former hunting grounds, to pro-
secute his favoi-ite employment. A country inn at
this period was, for the spread of knowledge to he


smoked in and watered, a kind of " circulating me-
dium," a place w^here in the absence of our now
thousands of newspapers, the people of the surround-
ing country met to learn new^s from quidnuncs; and
as Little Falls, with possibly her dozen (much scat-
tered) insignificant dwellings, was then a place of
some notoriety, on account of her nev) inland locks,
and old moss-clad rocks, the bar-roon of the village
one-story tavern became the place where all the clas-
sic events of olden time, and all the improvements of
mgdern days, particularly those which aided the river
sailor in navigating the far famed Mohawk, were,
sans parliamentary forms, freely discussed.

On a certain occasion Foster met the Indian Hess
in the bar-room of the Little Falls tavern, and observ-
ing that his dress a-la-mode was that of a hunter, he
attempted to engage him in a conversation. He
feigned ignorance of the English language, however,
until his white competitor in beaver skins oiled his
tongue freely at the bar, when lo! the seal upon his
lips was broken, and he spoke English tolerably w^ell.
The tw^o hunters soon after left the village and tra-
veled some distance together, when the conversation
turned upon Revolutionary scenes: boasting of his
individual exploits on the frontiers of New York,
the Indian exhibited a tobacco pouch. "This,"
said the crafty warrior, " me got in the war. Me
kill white woman; rip open belly; find young pap-
poose; skin him some; make pouch!" He also



Opened the box in the breech of his rifle, and exhibit*
ed some evidence he there carried of the number of
prisoners and hmnan scalps taken by him in the war;
the tally ran up to the almost incredible number of
forty4wo. Just before parting, the Indian inquired
of Foster his name, and on hearing it he exclaimed,
" Ha ! Kat Foster ! y m bad man; you kill Indians /"

On the Indian's miking the recognition of him,
Foster thought he detected in his look and manner a
lurking devil that seemed to say, " if ever you fall in
my power you will feel it;" and hearing himself
called an Indian killer, he believed the old hunter, if
opportunity presented, would not scruple to take his
life. The boast of murdered innocence drew a frown
across the sunburnt brow and stern features of the
young hunter, that seemed to send back defiance to
the red man's look of meditated death. They parted
soon after, and if not as friends, certainly not as
avowed enemies; but each no doubt felt apprehensive,
that a second interview might not terminate so for-
tunately for them both ; and certain it is, that one at
least resolved not to be over-reached by the other.

Not long after the above incidents transpired, Fos-
ter Avas threading the forest alone, in the northerly
part of Herkimer county, in the pursuit of game. In
a secluded spot, he came unexpectedly upon and shot
a moose cow. While securing the noble game, its
mate, a most ferocious bull, attracted to the spot by

the bellowing of the dam, attacked him with great


fury. In a dodging fight, the hunter was obliged to
make some half a dozen shots in rapid succession.
Foster reloaded his rifle before he ventured to ap-
proach an animal that had been so tenacious of life,
although dying (he seldom changed his position in
the woods without a charge in his gun); and while
advancing to it, he was startled to hear a footstep
within pistol shot distance of him, and was possibly
not less surprised to find in the person of his new
visitant, the muscular form of the Indian Hess.

Supposing, as is presumed, that Foster's rifle was
unloaded, his recent acquaintance, who now experi-
enced no diflSculty in " murdering the King's Eng-
lish," at the end of a whoop that told credibly for his
lungs and the absence of balsams, shouted aloud,
^^ JVoto Foster me got you! me kill you now!^^ Be-
tween Hess and his intended victim there was a
marsh, over which was a fallen tree. Mounting the
log to approach the white hunter, with uplifted toma-
hawk and death-boding mien, the report of a rifle
again echoed amid the fir-tops of the forest, and up
sprang the Indian high in air from the log. A bullet
had plowed its way through his heart, and with a
guttural groan, the dark warrior fell dead upon the
marsh. Lest Hess might not be unattended in the
forest, the eagle-eyed marksman, whose rifle had not
only been quickly loaded but q^ jckly discharged,
stamped the carcase of his victim deep into the mud.
Dark mystery hung over the fate of this lone hunter


for years. Many remembered that his disappearance
was sudden and unexpected; and others that they had
heard Foster say, shortly after his interview with him
at Little Falls, that he had met him once, and only
once after that time. He confidentially communicated,
many years after, to Jacob I. Christman, with whom
he was hunting, the fate of this unfortunate savage,
for whom

N0 solemn bell's metallic tongue

E'er toird its death note on the breeze •.

Zephyrs alone his requiem rung,

Where ivy green her mantle hung
Mid plumed and bowing trees.

Foster, although a man of undoubted veracity,
when speaking of his own exploits, made use of
aphorisms, or such unexplained expressions, as left
them a mystery to his auditors. This was particu-
larly the case where legal advantage could be taken
of his sayings and doings; hence, it is impossible to
arrive with positive certainty, as is believed, at some
of the most interesting incidents in his life. On this
point, says a correspondent, " Foster would occasion-
ally tell some of his exploits, but in such a way you
could hardly guess his meaning. For instance, " The
best shot I ever made, I got two beaver, one otter,
and fifteen martin skins; but I took the filling out of
a blanket to do it !' And again, ' 1 was once in the
woods, and saw an Indian lay down to drink at a
brook; something was the matter; he dropped his face


into the water and drowned; I thought I might £is
well take his fur, gun, blanket, &c., as leave them
there to spoil.' "

Says the same correspondent, " On his way to jail,
I saw Foster; he said to me, ' Brother B., / am the
man that pushed the bull off the bridge ; I never liked
Indians /' While confined at Herkimer, he was ask-
ed how he fared? He replied, " O, very well, only I
don't like to be stall fed among gentlemen ! "

About the time of Foster's trial, while some friends
were speaking of his success as a hunter and extra-
ordinary skill as a marksman, he said the greatest
-shot he ever made was at otters, securing eighteen of
their valuable pelts at a single shot. Although the
fame of the (then) old hunter was very great, this
story seemed to stagger the faith of his most confi-
dential auditors; and when one ventured to express a
doubt as to the truth of the assertion, he explained as
follows. In a hunting excursion he had once fallen
in with an Indian, who carried upon his back eigh-
teen otter skins ; that he had no intention of harming
the Indian; did not know that he had killed him; but
that he never let an otter skin escape him alive. He
fired; they all fell; he picked them up and came away.

In the latter part of his life, Foster's sight began
to fail him. His brother, Shubael Foster, who is
many years younger than Nathaniel, says he was deer
hunting with the latter, not many years before his
death, in St. Lawrence county, on the Oswegat-


chie/ in which excursion they killed twenty. Informant
shot several before his brother got any; when they
came together, the latter procured a good slice of
venison, saying that if he could get a piece of deer into
him, he could see to shoot them. During this hunt,
they one day cornered a flock between them and a
ledge, exposing the innocent creatures to their cross-
fire. They drove the terrified animals from one to
the other until they secured five of their number, four
of which fell before the old rifle of the senior hunter.
So much for eating a good steak of venison.

Foster and Stoner were both remarkably expert at
loading their rifles, but the former most so, at least if
it became necessary to make several shots in hot
haste, and at a short distance. Foster has been known
repeatedly, upon a wager, to commence with his rifle
unloaded and fire it of^ six times in one minute. This,
to the reader, if a modern marksman and unaccus-
tomed to taking game upon foot, seems incredible,
but it is nevertheless true. While hunting he usually
wore three rifle balls between the fingers of each
hand, and invariably thus in the left hand, if he had

* Os-we-gatchie or Ogh-swa-gatchie, an Indian name, the his-
torian James Macatjley, informed the author, which signifies
going or coming round a hill. The great bend in the Oswegat-
chie river (or the necessity of it), on the borders of Lewis county,
originated its significant name. An Indian tribe, bearing the
name of the river, once lived upon its banks-, but its fate, like
that of many sister tribes, has been, to melt away before the pro*
gressive step of the Anglo-Saxon.


that number of balls with him. He had a large bony
hand, and having w'orn such jewels a long time, they
had made for themselves cavities in the flesh, which
concealed them almost as eifectually as they were,
when hid in the moulds in which they were run from
the fused lead. The superficial observer would not
have noticed them.

. Foster's quick shooting was in the days of flint
locks. He had a powder flask with a charger, and
with six well pared balls between his fingers, he
would pour in the powder, drop in a ball that would
just roll down without a patch, and striking the
breech of his gun with his hand, it was primed; soon
after which the bullet was speeding to its mark.
These rapid discharges could only be made at a short
distance, as to make long shots it became necessary
to patch the balls and drive them down with a rod,
the latter being dispensed with in the former case.

Foster would make his six shots, so as to kill so
many men, within one minute, at a distance not ex-
ceeding ten rods. A regiment of such riflemen, in
close action, would soon decide the fate of a battle.

In the second American war with Great Britain,
the following incident, says Shuhael Foster, took
place in Manheim, Herkimer county. A company
of riflemen^underCapt. Forsyth, passed through that
town on their way from the Mohawk valley to the
military lines betwean New- York and Canada, and
encamped there over night to wash their clothes.


The celebrity of Foster, as a marksman, coming to
the ears of Capt. Forsyth, as the hunter was in the
vicinity, he had him called to the camp. The most
expert rifleman in the company was a man named
Robinson, from South Carolina. The Captain was
desirous of seeing whether Foster or Robinson could
make the most effective shots in a minute, at a tar-
get ten rods off, each commencing with unloaded
rifles. They began to load at a given signal, and
Foster sent six bullets into the target within the
minute; his competitor putting the sixth bullet into
his piece, as that of his own rifle sped to the mark.
The whole company was astonished to see their fellow
member — able, as was supposed, to make the most
shots in a given time of any man in the world — fairly
beaten by a New-York trapper. A murmur of ap-
plause ran through the ranks, and Foster at once
became a lion in the camp. Surprised at the unex-
pected skill of a New-York woodsman, and anxious
to secure his services, Capt. Forsyth offered Foster
thirty dollars a month to join his company with the
complimentary assurance that he should eat at his own
table; but as Foster did not approve of the war, he
could not be prevailed upon to adopt the life of a

When hunting, Foster would make his camp in
forty-five minutes, where the snow was a foot deep.
He usually set up two crotches, laid a pole across
them, and others from thence to the ground upon the


sides and one end; covering the whole \vith hemlock
boughs. In front of the open end, for his own com-
fort and security against Avild beasts, he built a good
fire. Provisions placed under his head for a pillow
at night, were often frozen hard in the morning. In
cold weather, he carried a blanket, strapped upon his
shoulders as a knapsack. He usually wore a hat, but
at times a cap, and uniformly a coat w^hen hunting;
over his shoulders were strapped a powder horn and
bullet pouch, of sufficient dimensions to warrant a
lengthy hunt. He w^as always very careful to have
a pocket compass with him when in the forest.


Since the preceding chapters were written, Col.
Daniel C. Henderson, of Norway, has kindly furnish-
ed me with some interesting memoranda in the life of
Jonathan Wright, a hunter previously named; and
several incidents worthy of notice, of several others of
like craft, who followed trapping many years ago on
and contiguous to Brown's tract. From Henderson's
manuscript I glean the following facts.

Jonathan Wright, or Jock, as he was called in the
wilderness, was a native of Hinsdale, Cheshire coun-
ty. New Hampshire; and of respectable parentage.
He was about five feet ten inches in height, rather
stoutly built, with a sallow complexion. In the latter
part of his life, and when known to my correspond-
ent, he had a very stooping gait, and a walk pecu-
liarly his own; lifting his feet high as though
treading upon something light. His peculiarity of
motion was no doubt acquired by carrying, as silently
as possible, heavy burthens upon his shoulders in the
forest, such as traps, wild game, provisions, canoes,
&c. He had a keen eye shaded by heavy brows; and
upon the whole was rather good looking. He Avas a
man of few words, but they were pithy and uttered

with energy. His education was such as the com-


mon schools of New England afforded at that earl
day, he being a school-boy just before the Revolu

But little is known of Wright's youthful days, ex

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Online LibraryJeptha Root SimmsTrappers of New York; → online text (page 15 of 17)