Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883

Volume II, Page 582.-- A Bear Story.-- In 1814, Henry I. Failing, a respectable farmer resided two miles westerly from Fort Plain, on the road leading thence to Dutchtown; at the place now owned a occupied by Abram Moyer. One morning in the fall of that years, just before daylight, he was called up by Charles, a Negro slave owned by Maj. Charles Newkirk of Palatine church, to shoot a bear. Charles was well known to Mr. Failing as Newkirk's pet slave, whom he had taken pains to educate; and as it was no uncommon event at that period for bears from the north to cross the river, Failing, giving credit to the Negro's story that he had only escaped from Bruin by flight, resolved to shoot it. His musket was loaded with small shot, which were quickly drawn out, and as he was going to the door to discharge the powder, the Negro said cunningly as well be seen--"Don't do that, you'll frighten de bar away." It was then discharged into the fireplace, two shot in the gun, leaving an indelible mark. The gun was reloaded with two ounce balls, and ready for use. Mr. Failing had called up his hired man, Fredrick Weaver, who, armed with an axe, joined his employer to share in the unlooked for excitement.

At this period a dense wood extended along the north side of the road, and following the Negro he took them over a log fence into a field on the south side of the road only a few rods from the house, and just where a small brooklet crossed the road the object of search was found. Daylight was just beginning to disclose objects shaded by the forest In the excitement Failing was not surprised to hear the Negro say: "Dar is de bar just where I saw him last," not thinking it strange the animal should not have changed its position at all in more than half and hour. There was remaining passive, a suspicious something three or four rods distant, but it was difficult to determine its character. "Weaver, do you think that can be a bear?" asked Failing. "It looks something like one," was the reply. "Don't I know it's a bar?" chimed in Charlie, "when it chased me eber so far, don't you see his eyes?" he asked pointing toward the object. Sure enough the coming light disclosed a couple of bright spots, that imagination might easily define as eyes. The object had remained so long passive, that Failing still had his doubts--Charley all the while urging him to shoot lest the animal should escape. Failing called Weaver to him and asked what he thought it best to do, who replied that he thought there could be no harm in firing at it; and aiming between the supposed eyes he fired and the object fell upon the ground without a struggle or a groan. The party leaped the fence when lo! a dead man laid in the road before them; who on examination proved to be a Negro named Frank, then owned by Henry Garlock, of Canajoharie, who at the time had on a new suit of clothes, and the bright gilt buttons on the back of his coat were the supposed eyes, between which two balls passed through his body and lodged in his clothing. This was a sad an unlooked for event, and the party did not go back to bed.

Attending Circumstances.-- About half a mile west of Failing resided Henry Keller, and a little further on in a log house lived Ned Green a Negro (where a schoolhouse was afterwards erected), at whose house the night before there had been a dance of colored citizens, and at which Charlie and Frank had been guests. It became known subsequently, that about a year before the event named, these Negroes had had a fight in which Charlie had been worsted, to which he had never been reconciled. Frank from some motive left to return home before the party broke up, and soon after, Charlie tore himself away from the happy circle and followed him. When shot Frank was sitting on a butter firkin, inside of which were his new shoes worn at the dance. This firkin was left by the Keller family to soak over night in a watering trough at their door: which of the Negroes had taken it away is unknown, but it is probable Charlie did, if he had already conceived the plan he executed, on arriving thus far on Frank's trail, the shoes being put into the tub to show Frank's economy, and divert suspicion from himself.

At this period, now more than 68 years since the event transpired, I have no doubt but what Charlie killed Frank--probably with a club, and getting him into a sitting position on the tub, he called on Mr. Failing to shoot him in the manner described, and thus lull suspicion of his own guilt. A coroner's inquest was called on the day of the killing, but no search of the body took place to look for other wounds, and although there was no testimony of any death struggle or flow of blood, yet the shooting was not denied, and a verdict was rendered that Frank was killed by Mr. Failing. The body was buried in the Sand Hill burying ground, but some weeks after when the circumstances attending Frank's death were better known, the Coroner, Henry Richtmyer, who resided below Fall Hill, was called on to hold another inquest, and parties assembled to do so, but an ugly storm coming on at the time the ceremony was postponed, and as he was but a slave and not malevolently killed, no further attempt was made to look for a new verdict.

Garlock prosecuted Failing to recover the value of the slave who was very likely Negro, and the matter came to trial in the Supreme Court, in Johnstown. The shooting was admitted, and as there was no proof of his having received any injury before, a verdict of $250 and costs followed. James Cochrane was Failing's attorney, and it is believed that Daniel Cady was the opposing counsel.

This was a very interesting trial; indeed the event leading to it was an exciting theme for many years afterward, and much sympathy was felt for Failing by those who learned the circumstances which time developed. The Negro Charles is said to have stolen a horse and ran away, was arrested and sent to State prison; and after serving his time came back, when Mrs. Henry Timmerman, of St. Johnsville, a sister of Mr. Failing asked him why he got her brother into such trouble? He professed great friendship for her and replied that "had he known that Failing was her brother, he would have called on someone else to shoot the bar." He is said before death to have confessed the murder of Frank. This matter, into which he was so innocently drawn, crippled Mr. Failing ever after in his business. He came to his death August 11, 1828, from the sting of bees. Cutting grass he mowed over a nest of bumble bees,which he lingered, if possible, to exterminate so that they should give no further trouble. He was at work without a hat on, and being somewhat bald, several bees stung him on his head causing his death. Facts from Simeon and Jeremiah, sons of Henry I. Failing, corroborated by others.

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