Jeptha Root Simms.

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Indian called Captain John, who was lying upon the
floor in a state of beastly drunkenness. Excited by
the strong waters of death, and impassioned by what
had already transpired, he halted beside the inebriate,
in whose ear as it lay up, was suspended a heavy
leaden jew^el; the weight of which had caused the
boring to become much elongated. Placing one foot
upon his neck, and thrusting a finger into the slit in
the ear, the unpolished ornament was torn out in an
instant, and fell upon the floor. Unconscious of the
injury done him, the poor Indian turned over with a
grunt, and Stoner passed into the bar-room: the place
at that period least calculated of all others, to quiet a
raging mind.



The name of Stoner had doubtless fallen upon the
ear of a half-drunk Indian in the bar-room, while the
kitchen scene was enacting, and reminded him of his
former acts; for he had drawn his scalping-knife to
boast to several by-standers (one of whom was Abra-
ham Van Skiver), af the deeds of blood recorded upon
its handle. JVine marks indicated the number of
American scalps he had taken in the late war; " and
ihis,'' said he, pointing to a notch cut deeper than the
rest to indicate a warrior, " was the scalp of old Stoner P'
Major Stoner entered the room just in time to hear the
savage boast of scalping his father, and as the brag-
gart was dancing before the bar with yells and athletic
gestures, cutting the air with the blade which had so
many times been stained with the crimson torrent of
life: stung to madness by the thought of being in the
presence of his father's murderer, he sprang to the
fire-place, seized an old-fashioned wrought andiron,
and with the exclamation, " You never will scalp
another oneP^ he hurled it, red-hot as it was, at the
head of the warrior. His own hand was burned to a
blister, even by the top of the iron, which, striking
the object of its aim in the hottest part across the
neck with an indellible brand, laid him out at full
length upon the floor; the register of death dropping
from his hand.

The quarrel having arrived at so dangerous a crisis,
some of the friends of Major Stoner succeeded in get-
ting hira out of the house; while other individuals ran


for a physician, restoratives and the like. The In-
dians of the party who were not disabled or too drunk
to stand up, were boisterous in their threats of re-
venge; but being advised to leave town, and possibly
not feeling very secure in their own persons after what
had already happened, they lost no time in preparing
for a departure to the wilderness. A German, named
Samuel Copeland, was employed to carry them in a
wagon to the Sacondaga river, near the fish-house,
where they had left most of their rifles, their squaws
and canoes. It was the opinion of the physician and
others, that the Indian with seared jugular, could not
possibly survive ; but he was, with his fried compan-
ion, taken along by his fellows. It was never satis-
factorily known in Johnstown whether this party of
hunters all reached Canada alive or not, but it was
supposed that at least one of the number died on the

Fearing this party of red men might return and re-
venge the injuries done them on the settlement, if no
notice was taken of the affair, a person in Johnstown
lodged a complaint against him for the part he had
acted at De Fonclaiere's, and he was arrested and
put in jail.* As soori as it became known abroad that
he had been incarcerated, and only a day or two was
sufficient to spread the news, a large number of men

* The wood work of this old stone building, which served as a
fort in the Revolution, was burned in Sept. 1849. The building
nas since been repaired, and restored to its former appearance.


of Revolutionary memory, many of whom had been
sufferers in person, property, or friends, by the midnight
assaults of their country's foes, and who were now
disposed to justify the conduct of their, former com-
panion in arms, in his attempt to slay the murderer of
his father, assembled around the prison and demanded
his enlargement. Of those congregated were several
of the Sammonses, Fishers, Putmans, Wemples, Fon-
das, Vroomans, Veeders, Gardiniers, Quackenbosses,
and a host of others, whose names can not now be re-
membered. The jailer was unwilling to liberate the
prisoner without a formal demand, and the mob, pro-
vided with a piece of scantling, stove in the door and
brought him out.

At this period one Throop kept a tavern near the
centre of the village, with whom sheriff Littel was
then boarding; and thither the party in triumph 'di-
rected their steps to drink with the liberated hero.
After allowing the mob some time to jollify, the jailer
went down, and getting Stoner one side, asked him
if he was ready to return ! " Yes," he replid, and at
once set out with the turnkey for the jail, some forty
or fifty rods distant. He was soon missed, and the
liberators, learning that he was again on his way to pri-
son, once more set the law at defiance, and rescued him
from the custody of the oflficer; when, to comply with
their wishes, he went home to his anxious family, and
there quietly remained. Thus ended an eventful scene

in the old hero's life.


After the incidents above narrated had transpired,
and the Indian trappers returned to their wigwams,
the prowess and fearless acts of the Johnstown warrior
gave him no little celebrity along the water-courses
of Canada; and many a red pappoos was taught in
swaddles, to lisp with dread the name of Stoner.


" Dark green was the spot, mid the brown mountain-heather.,
Where the pilgrim of nature lay stretched in decay,

Like the corpse of an outcast abandoned to weather,
Till the mountain-winds wasted the tenantless clay."

Walter Scott

We are now to consider a peculiarly exciting p(tr-
tion of our hero's life, and may fail to give the reader
but a faint idea of the countless novel incidents fol-
lowing the footsteps of a master hunter, although in
fancy full

"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn,
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn,"

and thus followed him on to the wood-entangled glen;
where the growl of an animal caused a startle and
placed the thumb on the fire-lock; the rustle of a leaf
fevered the blood, and the snap of a forest-twig sent
it tingling to his brain.

In trapping, Major Stoner used heavy steel-traps
with two springs for beaver and otter, and occasion-
ally single spring traps for muskrat, when their fur
would pay. He had one trap four feet long made like
the former, and designed expressly for bears. The
jaws of this U2.1y looking customer, are crossed on the
under side by spikes, which, when an animal is en-


trapped, are driven through the leg and render its
escape impossible, unless it gnaw its ow^n limb off
above the fastening, and thus gain its liberty. To
this trap is attached a chain five feet long, with
two grappling hooks at the end, so shaped as to fasten
either to a tree or the ground, and bring up the game.
The trap and chain weigh nearly forty pounds. It
required two hand-spikes with this trap beside a log,
or in some other favorable position, to set it; on which
account the wary hunter, when the jaws parted, used
the precaution to place a billet of w^ood between them
w^hile adjusting the pan, lest through accident he
might find the spikes boring his own limbs. Nearly
thirty bears have been taken in this trap, one-third
of them by its owner. On one occasion a bear left its
toes in the trap and escaped. For a view of this trap,
doing execution, see cover of the book.

If hunting with a partner, each carried three beaver
traps, and when traces of game were observed the
traps were set in the water, and to them the animals
were lured by a peculiar kind of bait called castoreum,
or beaver-castor, remarkably odorous and attractive
even in the water. That taken from one beaver was
often the agent for exterminating several of its fel-
lows. The usual time of hunting began with cool
weather in the latter part of September, and lasted
about two months, or until the streams and lakes be-
came frost-bound and the hunter's paths obstructed by
snow. The avocation was often renewed for several


weeks with the breaking up of winter, the hunters at
times starting upon snow-shoes.

One of the individuals with whom Major Stoner
sometimes hunted, w^as Capt. William Jackson, a man
of courage and great muscular strength. On one oc-
casion they set out for a hunt towards spring, travel-
ing on snow-shoes. Arriving at a place where they
had to cross a field of ice, Jackson took off his snow-
shoes. With other indispensables he was carrying a
sharp axe, and by some misstep he slipped and fell
upon it, cutting himself under his chin in a shocking
manner. His companion w^as two days in getting him
back to the nearest settlement 5 which was in Chase's
patent, now Bleeker, and about eighteen miles from
where the accident happened. Leaving his wounded
friend well cared for, Stoner retraced his steps to the
wilderness; and Jackson sent James Dunn a few days
after, to supply his place.

Finding an inviting prospect for their business on
the Sacondaga, they began to set their traps. Hunters
erected lodges for their accommodation at suitable
distances from each other. They were small huts
made of bark, peeled for the purpose, hence the ne-
cessity for an axe; besides, it was needed in preparing
fuel, and also in making canoes; which they con-
structed by digging out a suitable log. Stoner and
Dunn, after building huts, preparing for each a tree-
canoe, and securing the pelts of some six or eight

beavers, left their traps set and came out to the settle-


ment on Chase's patent for provisions. They left
their canoes in their absence, in a stream running from
Trout lake into the Sacondaga. Their journey to ob-
tain food, principally bread, as hunters could generally
supply their larder with fish and wild-game, occupied
only a few days; yet on their return they soon dis-
covered that all was not right. The first trap they
looked for was one that had been set by Dunn, on the
outlet a little distance from the lake 3 it was gone.

Leaving their canoe in an eddy made by a deposit
of drift-wood, they landed and proceeded with caution
up the creek. Arriving near the lake they heard a
loud halloo ! to which Stoner responded, although his
companion thought it a loon. They now halted and
awaited in silence, to learn what human voices be-
sides their own, broke the general solitude of the forest.
Soon the light dash of a paddle w^as heard, and im-
mediately after an Indian in a bark canoe rounded a
point of land, and a few strokes from his brawny arm
sent his fairy craft into the outlet of the lake, beside,
and very near the white hunters. Scarcely had the
shoal navigator gained the point named, when another
Indian, on foot, rounded the point also, and stood
within a few paces of the pale-faced strangers. At
the feet of the Indian in the canoe lay a rifle and one
of Stoner's traps. The hunter on shore was armed
with a tomahawk, carrying in one hand the shell of
an immense turtle, w^hich the water had drifted upon
the beach. Both parties evinced surprise at the meet-


ing; but the Canadian trappers, who proved to be St.
Regis Indians, appeared least at ease.

Hunters, as a class, are very tenacious of their
rights, and priority of occupancy usually establishes
a claim to hunting grounds. Some of their traps
had been left along the shore of the lake, in the di-
rection from whence the Indians made their appear-
ance ; and after a most formal meeting, the Johnstown
hunters charged the strangers not only with appro-
priating their fur to their own use, but also their traps
in which it had been taken. This was denied on the
part of the accused, notw^ithstanding one of the traps
w^as in their possession, and a fierce quarrel of words
followed, graced by an exchange of harsh epithets,

" Revenge impatient rose."

The Indian on shore, who was nearest to Stoner,
and on whom the latter vented not a few wicked say-
ings, declared that he had seen the traps alluded to at
some distance above, and that they had not been
molested. The white hunters insisted upon having the
accused go back with them to see if the traps w^ere
as they had been left; this the other party attempted
with sundry excuses to evade doing. The one on land
then endeavored to gain a little distance under some
pretext, and the other, saying he would go back as
desired after gathering some bark, was observed to
grasp his rifle, abandon his canoe and leap from it to
the shore opposite Dunn.


At this instant the sharp crack of a rifle was heard,
and in the echo sent back by the hills came a yell
from the quivering lips of the Indian on the lake
shore, not unlike that of a savage in his last mo-
ments вАФ the tortoise-shell falling unreclaimed from his
hand. Indeed, human bones might have been seen
on this spot long after the incident here related had
transpired. Dunn was a man of small stature, but
made up in nerve and agility what he lacked in
physical strength; and seeing the Indian leap from
his canoe, he sprung into it in his pursuit, thinking thus
to cross the creek dry-shod and detain him. But the
frail barque would not withstand his weight, aug-
mented with his descent from the shore, and he went
through it plump up to his waist in the water. Ob-
serving that his antagonist was fleeing, without
waiting to extricate himself from his unpleasant
dilemma, he raised his gun and snapped it, but as the
priming had been wet by his fall, (percussion locks
are an invention of a later date,) the trapper escaped.
Had he looked back and observed the plight of his
pursuer, he would no doubt have halted long enough
to have sent a bullet through his head. Whether
these two Canadians were alone on this hunt is not
known, but their loud halloo would seem to indicate
that they were not.

It was conjectured that the hunter who had just
escaped from Dunn had fled directly to the Indians'
camp; and with his trusty piece well loaded, Stoner


left his companion at their own canoe to get dry as
best he could, and being set on the opposite shore,
proceeded in search of said camp. To seek this wil-
derness lodge alone, without knowing its whereabouts
or how it might be guarded, was, after what had
transpired, one of the most presumptuous and daring
feats any individual could perform, as a concealed foe
might have detected an approaching footstep and
speedily revenged the fall of a friend j but the mission
was just suited to the spirit of the trapper who had
undertaken it, and onward he went, regardless of
peril. In a secluded spot some half a mile or more
from its outlet and not far distant from the lake shore,
he arrived at the object of search. It was a well
built cabin for comfort, constructed principally of bark
and set against a bold rock, so as to make that subserve
the purpose of one wall. It had evidently been aban-
doned with precipitation, for it was not only cheered
by a blazing fire, but in it had been left a beautiful
bark canoe, finished and decorated in the most tasteful
Indian style, a trap with one spring, a spear, and a
scalping-knife. The latter instrument had no doubt
been forgotten in the hot haste, attendant on removing
fur, eatables, etc., as so indispensable an article to an
Indian's full equipment for the chase would not have
been left intentionally, unless it were a duplicate. The
articles found in this camp became a lawful prize,
according to the custom prevailing at that period
among trappers, predicated on the rule of might and


riffht. The Indians' canoe at the outlet of the lake


was constructed of spruce bark, and made near there,
but the one at their wigwam was of birch or some very
light bark, and had doubtless been transported from
Canada. Launching his trophied craft on the bosom
of the sheen lake, this white forest son returned in it
to his anxious companion.

The Johnstown hunters, reclaiming all their own
traps but one, after continuing their avocation a while
longer with some success undisturbed, indeed
Sole monarchs of those crystal streams,

set their faces towards home, to relieve the solicitude
of their families and engage in cultivating the soil.

After another seed-time and harvest had gone by,
Maj. Stoner, accompanied by William Mason, his
brother-in-law, returned to the same hunting grounds
that himself and Dunn had visited the preceding
spring. Expecting again to renew^ the exciting avo-
cation of a trapper, Stoner concealed his traps in the
spring in some safe place near Trout lake, after
greasing them thoroughly to prevent injury by rust.
Loaded with provisions and Mason's traps, having
said the necessary good-byes, the trappers buried them-
selves in the dark forest, the one familiar with the
destination acting as pilot,

" Their clock the sun in his unbounded tower."

The Johnstown trappers struck the Sacondaga,
where, discovering signs of a beaver, they set one of


Mason's traps, and with a vigilant look-out for other
evidences of the desiied game, they proceeded on in
the direction of Stoner's traps. Next day Stoner sent
Mason down several miles, to see if the first trap set
did not contain a beaver. He returned with an
assurance that the trap was not sprung, and whether
it had been or not he could not determine; but that
on a log which crossed the river near it, he had noticed
the tracks of a bear. Stoner thought it strange that
a beaver had not sprung that trap, and still more won-
derful that a bear should prowl around it; and the
morning after Mason's return they visited it together.
The instant the practiced eye of the senior hunter
caught a glimpse of the foot-print pointed out by his
partner, provoked at his stupidity in not determining
more readily what animal had made it, he demanded
with a look of surprise, in rather ill humor and possi-
bly at the end of an oath, if hears wore moccasons ?
Mason, who now rightly divined how the tracks came
there, was almost as much surprised at his dullness of
perception as his companion had been. On examining
the trap, the discriminating eye of the master hunter
also discovered that it was not in the position in which
it had been left two days before, and it was conjec-
tured that a beaver had been taken from it and the
trap again set.

Stoner now proposed to Mason that he should re-
main concealed and await Bruin's return to obtain an
interview; but the latter, who was a very strong man,


though timid, refused to remain alone. " Well," said
the former, " then I will lay near the trap and see
what kind of a bear comes to it." He secreted him-
self, with the young trapper in his rear, and had been
there about half an hour, when he heard on the oppo-
site side of the stream the muffled and cautious tread
of the anticipated bear. At this most exciting mo-
ment might have been heard a noise in the morning
stillness, resembling that of one iron slipping suddenly
against another. The delicate ear of the visitant
caught the sound, and listening, with head bent for-
ward, surveyed with scrutiny every surrounding object.
All was again silent as death, save the murmur of the
rippling rivulet; and reassured that he was alone, and
that the click which fell upon his acute organs was
made by the leap of a squirrel, or some small animal
that had suddenly broken a dry twig. Mason's bear,
with an eye oft scanning the direction of the trap
under consideration, stealthily approached the fallen
tree, which served as a bridge to cross the limpid river.
The bear, which, as we have already seen, wort
moccasons, was tall, very erect, with long, black
straight hair, and was clad in a smutty blanket,
strongly girdled at the waist. In one of its huge paws
it carried a dangerous weapon sometimes called a
tomahawk, and beneath the bosom of the blanket
above the girdle, peered out the hairless tail and pos-
sibly hind legs of a muskrat. A rifle that seldom
required a second poise at the same object, was steadily


aimed at this old bear from the time of his appearance
until he reached the centre of the log ovei the stream,
when it suddenly exploded, and unable longer to re-
tain an upright position. Bruin reeled and fell off with
a death-groan, his life-blood crimsoning the pure
waters of the Sacondaga.

The traps of the Johnstown hunters were not again
disturbed this fall, and at the close of the trapping
season they returned home bearing a valuable lot of
fur, among which there was at least one muskrat's
pelt. The junior trapper, notwithstanding his bear
had met with a fate " which," to use the words of
his partner, " would let the succotash out of his
stomach and the eels in," could not be induced to
visit his traps alone in this excursion after the second



While Maj. Stoner was living in Johnstown, and
not long after he commenced housekeeping, a large
bear came into his wheat-field, doing no little mis-
chief. To destroy this grain destroyer he erected a
staging and watched repeatedly for him, but his vigi-
lance was all in vain, and the wheat, when ripe, was
harvested. As the corn began to fill in the ear. Bruin
again thrust himself upon the hospitality of the major.
His bearship soon found, however, as have some more
worthy though less courageous, that the charities of
the world are granted grudgingly to strangers. For
several evenings after his first entrance, the husband-
man vainly sought an interview with his unwelcome
guest, with malice aforethought rankling in his breast,
death intent absorbing all his thoughts, and a rifle
loaded with two balls resting in his arms.

At length, in one of his nightly watchings, he heard
his dusky visitant testing the quality of the tender
ears, and although the night was dark, he approached
sufficiently near to gain an indistinct view of him, and
instantly leveled and fired. At the report of his rifle,
agreeably to concert, a large watch-dog confined in
the house was let out by Mrs. Stoner, and as the
interloper retreated from the .orn, was soon yelling


at his heels. He leaped a fence into a field where a
lot of flax had been spread, and after pursuing some
distance the dog returned home. In the morning,
blood was observed on the fence where the anima]
had crossed, and it was conjectured that if wounded
he would not return. Imagine Stoner's surprise,
therefore, the very next day, when a neighboring
woman came running to his house, near which he
chanced to be at work, to tell him that the bear had
come back, and was then in their orchard, but a short
distance off.

Leaving the dog confined in his dwelling, to be let
out if he fired, armed with his rifle, he ran to the
orchard. He was not long in getting a shot, and soon
the dog was at his side. The bear, badly wounded,
was overtaken by Growler at the roots of a dry tree,
and several times, as the former attempted to ascend,
the latter pulled him back. Without leaving his
tracks after he fired, the sportsman, as was his cus-
tom, lodged another charge in his rifle. To his
chagrin he found that the stopple to his powder-horn
was broken ofif, and he was obliged to cut a hole in
the horn to obtain a charge of powder. This occa-
sioned some delay in loading, and by the time he had
finished, his dog was crying most piteously. Not
pleased with being so unceremoniously drawn back,
the bear turned upon his adversary, and succeeded in
getting a paw of the latter in his mouth.

A dog in distress never fails to bring down the


vengeance of its owner upon the object causing itj
and hurrying to the tree w^here was enacting the tug
of war, he thrust the muzzle of the piece into Bruin's
mouth to pry open his jaws and liberate his canine
friend. Not altogether pleased with the interference,
the grain and apple-eater struck a blow at the intruder
with one of his monstrous paws, tearing off one leg
of his pantaloons, and leaving the prints of his nails
on the flesh. The end of the gun being still in the

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Online LibraryJeptha Root SimmsTrappers of New York; → online text (page 8 of 17)