Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Trappers of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
A Reprint with New Supplementary Matter
Printed by Enterprise and News
St. Johnsville, N.Y. 1935

Albany: J. Munsell, 82 State Street. 1850


Stoner hunts with Griswold-A dog eats a moccasin for Griswold- The loss how repaired-Stoner hunts with Capt. Shew at the Sacondaga Vlaie and there shoots a wolf-Stoner and Poster on a hunt trap an eagle-Different trappers with whom Stoner is associated-With an Indian partner visits the head of Grass river-There met a white hunter with a squaw-Stoner makes a map for him to go to Johnstown-Hunts with the Indian Gill- Latter spears the beaver-Stoner hunts with Obadiah Wilkins who encounters an Indian-Magic of Stoner's name-Stoner's last difficulty with Indian hunters-How he loses a trap and fur- How he gets his trap and pay for the fur-The Sabbath how regarded by hunters-Admonition of a young Indian-Stoner's dog in trouble-Spirit of Mary Stoner.

White hunters as well as Indians wore moccasins on their long hunts; usually making their own from the pelts of wild animals. Aaron Griswold hunted with Maj. Stoner on one occasion, and having killed a bear, as his boots chafed his ankles, he was not long in making himself moccasins from the raw hide, with the fur inside; and hanging up his boots in some secure place, they journeyed on some fifteen miles. Stoner had a favorite dog with him at the time, and in the night the animal ate up one of the newly made moccasins. Griswold was very angry next morning, and swore he would shoot the dog; but Stoner appeased his wrath by cutting the needed garment from his own blanket, which lasted until the return of Griswold to his boots; about which time the major shot a deer, and the breach in his companion's wardrobe was repaired from its skin.

Maj. Stoner was on a deer-hunt many years ago to the Sacondaga vlaie, in company with Captain Henry Shew. At a suitable place to camp out, he collected some dry wood and struck up a fire for their comfort, his companion in the meanwhile, visiting a favorite crossing place of the deer. Having started his fire, he crossed the low ground to the bank of the creek which courses through it. He had scarcely reached the stream, when he saw the tall grass covering the bog on the opposite shore bending towards him. He at once recognized in the undulatory motion of the grass, the probable presence of some wild animal; which he thought hardly lofty enough in its carriage for a deer. He remained quiet, and soon the object made its appearance near the creek. At first sight he thought it a hunter's dog, but its wild appearance undeceived him, and he shot it. This was near night, and the following morning they made a raft of driftwood, on which Capt. Shew crossed the stream to see what Stoner had killed. It proved to be a large she wolf, and a young cub which had just been trying to obtain nourishment from it, fled on the hunter's approach, (as he had not taken his gun along,) and secreted its famishing form in the rank grass. They skinned the wolf, and judge Simon Veeder paid them twenty shillings, the then legal bounty, for its scalp.

Maj. Stoner shot but one other wolf while hunting, although he trapped them often. He never killed a panther, as none were so reckless of life as to cross his path; but he very often heard their startling scream from their mountain haunts. He killed no less than seventeen bears in two seasons.

The celebrated Nathaniel Foster and Maj. Stoner were hunting together one fall, when they trapped a large eagle. They set the trap beside the carcass of a deer the wolves had killed on the ice upon Round lake; and the national bird, as a reward for the low company it kept, was caught in a wolf-trap, and flew off with it; a heavy clog being attached to its chain. The following spring one Barrington visited the place with Stoner, and in searching they found the trap in the bush beside the lake, where the clog had become entangled, else the majestic bird would possibly have soared away to its eyry with its vast load. It was dead when discovered, and the trap, which was Foster's, was restored to him.

During the time he was a hunter, a period of forty or fifty years, Maj. Stoner hunted with very many individuals; among whom were several Indians. He was out some time with a man named Flagg, of whom we can say nothing, except that he wore a curious cap, made from the skin of a loon with its downy coat on. He hunted one season with a St. Regis Indian, named Powlus, and his acquaintances wondered that he dared to do it. With this Indian he explored the head waters of Grass river, which empties into the St. Lawrence. At this place they met with a small area of land with a fine growth of hickory and oak timber. Persons going from Canada to Johnstown in the summer season, either had to go by way of the Sacondaga river, or else far to the west of it, on account of a large territory of drowned lands in the vicinity of Grass river. The latter district was traversed with ease in the winter, however, by hunters on snow shoes, when the low lands were frozen. Near the head of Grass river, the Johnstown trappers met a French Canadian hunter, who had a squaw for a wife. He was desirous of going as far south as Johnstown, and Stoner traced a map of the most feasible route for him, upon a piece of birch bark, to enable him to accomplish the journey. Whether he ever reached the designated point is not known.

Subsequent to Maj. Stoner's hunting with Mason, Dunn, and Jackson, who were most frequently his companions; he hunted two seasons with another St. Regis Indian, called Capt. Gill; with whom he was very successful. They caught twenty-six beavers and five otters, beside considerable other game, in one spring. Beaver usually sold for about one dollar a pound; and good skins would weigh about four pounds each. Otter skins sold from five to seven dollars the pelt. Stoner has received one hundred dollars for peltries taken in a single season.

Gill had his squaw Molly with him while hunting, and a daughter, or a Molly junior, who, the Indians said, was not his papoose. Indian women usually remained at the camp, and did the cooking for the hunters. Beavers generally built their dams across the outlets of the lakes. Gill was very successful in spearing those sagacious animals in their houses. While together, they once trapped no less than four beavers in a single night. This Indian was a Catholic, and in a thunder shower would cross himself repeatedly. He was in the English service in the war of the Revolution, and was present at the destruction of Stone Arabia; but in the last war he took protection under the authorities of New York. He entertained no little fear, and possibly harbored not much love for his fellow countrymen; and on an emergency, would perhaps have scrupled as little as did his fearless companion, to punish their aggressions.

Eben Blakeman, who several times hunted with our hero, was once on a hunt when the Indians disturbed his traps; but being joined by Stoner, they left the hunting grounds sans ceremonie. Obadiah Wilkins, another lover of the chase, was more than once associated with Major Stoner in trapping excursions. Their wives were cousins. On one occasion when they were hunting in Bleeker, Wilkins, to replenish their larder, took fishing tackle and seated himself on a rock in West Stoney creek, a tributary of the Sacondaga. He had barely gained the position, when a stout Indian came to him and inquired rather insultingly, "What doing here?" He replied, "I am fishing." "Have got gun?" interrogated the visitor. "Yes, at the camp " said Wilkins a little disconcerted at the fierce manner of his inquirer. Observing the advantage he had gained, the red hunter continued, "This Indian's hunting ground-Yankees no business here-you must leave him!" As Wilkins made but little reply to the last remark, the speaker continued "Has white man got partner?" "Yes, at the camp," "What his name?" "Nick Stoner."

Had the witch of endor risen before him, the forest-son would not have been more disagreeably taken aback, and he gave a loud guttural "Umphl" Observing the magic wrought by the utterance of a single name, Wilkins became reassured, and invited the blanketed hunter to go with him to the camp. "No! Indian go to his own camp!" he responded, and soon after disappeared in the wilderness. This Indian had frightened a hunter, named Wheeler, from these grounds not long before; but when he heard that Stoner was in the neighborhood, the air seemed to oppress his lungs; and hastily collecting his traps, he broke up his camp and sought afar off a new forest-home. The reason assigned by Wilkins to his partner for being disconcerted at the interrogatories of this savage hunter was, that the latter was armed with a hatchet, and himself only with a fishing-rod.

The last difficulty Stoner had with the Indians while trapping, occurred at Lake Pleasant. Dunning, who then lived at the Ox-Bow, four miles from Lake Pleasant, had left his traps in the wilderness where he had previously hunted, and was afraid to go after them alone at the return of the hunting season. Obadiah Wilkins left home with Stoner on this enterprise, and leaving him to hunt with Dunning's father nearer home, Stoner and Dunning set out to find and use the hidden traps. Before reaching them, and about thirty miles from the settlement, Stoner set two of his own traps for beaver, one in the stream and the other on the shore of a small lake; a little distance further he set another trap for an otter. Arriving at a pond which lay in their route, not far from where the last trap was set, they found a large moose in it fighting flies, which Stoner, with some twinges of conscience, drew up and shot. They skinned it and sunk the hide beneath the water, to get the hair off; and two muskrat skins they had already secured they hung up in the vicinity. Not more than one-fourth of a mile farther on, they came to a deserted camp, with the appearance of having been recently occupied. Much wearied and the day far spent, they tarried over night at this hunter's lodge.

On the following morning, as the distance was not very great, Dunning went back to the place where the nearest trap was set, but could not find it; and before renewing the journey for his traps, they returned together, if possible to learn the fate of the one, and recover the other two traps. The trap set for an otter was indeed clear gone, and about it were Indians' tracks, but the other two were safe. In the one left in the creek a beaver had been caught that proved wise enough to gnaw its own leg off, and escape by leaving its foot in the trap; and in the other they found an otter.

While on their way to obtain their traps, they heard the report of a gun fired in the distance, which they thought might possibly tell what direction the lost property had taken. Recovering Dunning's traps, they now went to another stream to hunt, where they had some success. Visiting their haunts one day, they found one trap had been robbed of its game; and as it was a very heavy one, the robber not caring to take it along had left it suspended by the jaws upon a stump. On their route home, the hunters halted where the moose had been slain; and here they found fresh evidence of intrusion upon their rights. Well was it for the evil doer that he had not lingered there, else he might have been mistaken for another of Mason's bears. The mooseskin had been pulled up and some of it cut off, and he muskrat-skins had found a new owner.

Arriving at Dunning's Saturday afternoon, they learned that two Indian trappers had just come in at the lake settlement, four miles distant, with fur; at which place there was a tavern, a small grocery, store, etc. Capt. Wright kept the tavern, and one Williams the grocery; the latter dealing principally in such articles as ammunition, blankets, rum, &c., to sell to trappers and adventurers. Stoner wished to visit Lake Pleasant to see whether the hunters had not go his lost trap and stolen fur; but Wilkins declined going with him, and the younger Dunning became his companion.

On their arrival at Wright's they learned that the Indian hunters were Capt. Benedict and Francis, a large yellow- skin, and that they were encamped in the woods about one hundred yards from the inn. As it was nearly dark, they concluded to defer a visit to their place of rest until morning. Some time in the night, a sister's son of Wright awoke his uncle to inform him that the dogs of the Indian hunters were killing their sheep. Stoner got up and accompanied the young man to the field to drive the dogs from the sheep, one of which they had already slain. In the morning Stoner visited the Indians at their fire in the woods. Near it lay the dogs, and at hand were two rifles, a basket of potatoes, and a piece of pork. The rifles were resting one on each side of the basket, while between his knees Francis held a jug of whiskey, over which he was singing a huntsman's chorus.

Capt. Benedict, who was a pretty likely Indian was well known to Maj. Stoner, and as the latter approached, told his companion who he was. In the group lay a bundle of traps tied together with thongs of Stoner's moose-hide, and conspicuously among them appeared his lost trap. It was known the previous evening in the neighborhood what the object was of Stoner's visit to the lakes, and when he wen to the hunter's lodge early in the morning, Wright Williams, one Peck, and perhaps others who may have taken a nap the less to enable them to stole up behind trees as near as they could without being observed, on purpose, as they afterwards said, to witness the fun they anticipated would follow the interview.

After friendly salutations had passed between Stoner and Benedict, the former walked to the trap and jerked his up from the rest, inquiring sharply how it came there? He would have recognized that trap among a thousand others: it was made by William Mann, of Johnstown, and had on it Stoner' private hunter's mark. When blacksmiths made trap for hunters, they generally put some peculiar mart on them their own fancy suggested, never placing the same device upon the traps of different hunters Seeing Stoner about to cut it loose, Francis exclaimed "No cut him! No cut him!" extending his hand to prevent the act, at which interference the claimant raised the whole bundle and knocked the intruder down with it. Regaining his feet and seeing the trap already in the possession of its owner, the con science- stricken trapper said gruffly, "If trap yours, take him!"

Pay was next demanded for the lost fur, and epithets were bandied between Stoner and Francis, of which passion was the parent. Benedict, who was evidently ashamed of his company, now interfered, and to some extent pacified his old acquaintance, who accepted the jug of friendship, and drank of its supposed healing and cooling, though very fiery waters. As readily would oil put out a flame, as alcohol have quieted the storm of human passion. After a little further conversation with Benedict, not wishing to be outdone in generosity, Stoner asked the Indians to go to the tavern and drink with him. The invitation was readily accepted, and Francis, as the partner of Benedict; went along, although at first he pretended he would not go.

The two friends before the bar soon held each a tumbler of liquid fire, and Stoner asked Francis to pour out and drink with them. He declined in a very insolent manner, whereupon the former smashed the tumbler he held, liquor and all, against his head. The Indian, as soon as he could regain a standing position, enraged at the act, closed with his adversary, and in the short scuffle which followed, the latter proved too smart for his yellow antagonist, and pitched him neck and heels out of the barroom door upon the ground. He had a hard fall, and when he rose up several gravel stones remained half buried in his cheek and temples. The fight would no doubt have become a deadly one, had it not been arrested at this point by the bystanders, who held the parties asunder until their ardor and passion had a little time to cool down.

When reason began to assume her throne, Stoner demanded of Francis either the furs stolen from his traps or the money for them. The parties now went to Williams's store, where they found the green beaver-skin stolen from the heavy trap, which the Indian had there sold the previous afternoon. He finally admitted having taken that skin from the trap mentioned, but denied having taken the two muskrat pelts, although several were among the fur he had sold Williams, saying that probably some young Indians who were then hunting in the woods had taken them. A compromise was now made, and Francis paid Stoner a certain sum to settle their difficulties, a receipt for which was drawn up by Williams, as dictated by Stoner. About this time the young Indians referred to, five in number, came in. They had several marten-skins, but more fully to establish the guilt of the accused they had not the pelt of a single muskrat. One of the boys, a likely young Indian, who answered to the name of Lige Ell, and who was a son of Benedict, when told that he had been accused by Francis of having taken Stoner's fur, seemed highly offended by the insult. The truth was, the traps of Francis being fastened together by strips of the moose-skin, near which the lost pelts had been left, if it did not prove his guilt, was at least strong evidence against him.

Lige Ell went to the store to buy a pocketknife, but did not like any there. He said of all Williams had, "there wasn't no more fire in 'em than there was in his nose." Hunters wanted a heavy knife, with which they could not only skin large game, but one, the back of which would elicit from flint the spark of comfort in the wilderness. Stoner handed the lad his own knife, with which he seemed delighted, and as the old trapper was rather partial to the boy, he made him a present of it. The young Indian then, to cap the climax of his happiness, bought a quart of the red man's exterminator, rum, and a cake of maple sugar, got pretty drunk, and with his no less tipsy companions went to shooting at a mark.

Here is no doubt given a true picture of the manner in which the Sabbath is too often kept, or rather, broken, on the outskirts of civilization. Benedict's son told Francis, after a knowledge of all that had transpired between him and "Old Stoner," with whom by repute he was no stranger, that if he desired to live, he must never show his head in that region again; as, if he did return, he would certainly be killed. It is believed he never afterwards intruded on the hunting grounds of the Johnstown trappers; if he did, he certainly was cautious not to disturb either their traps or their furs.

It was customary some twenty years ago, in the summer season for Indian families to come down from the north and locate themselves for weeks, and sometimes for months, in the neighborhood of the Mohawk river settlements and make baskets, which they exchanged at the nearest villages for trinkets, gay calicoes, liquor, tobacco, scarlet cloth, &c. Three of a party that had taken up their residence one summer to make baskets in Stoner's neighborhood, lodged in his barn. The major had a large dog at the time, and his guests a small one. One day when he was gone from home, his dog, not pleased with the Indians' canine friend, which he considered intruding upon his rights, took him by the neck and gave him a hard shaking. The owner of the little yelper, armed with a knife, set out to revenge the insult with the death of the offender.

This incident - happened when Mary Stoner was in her teens, and at the time, she and her mother were at home alone. Hearing an unusual noise, Mary opened the door, and seeing the Indian in pursuit of their dog, she called it into the house and fastened it in. Arrested at the door, he uttered numerous threats, and several times stuck his knife into it, at which moment Stoner approached. Seeing an Indian armed with a long knife, attempting to enter his dwelling, he ran up and knocked him down, and was giving him a few hasty kicks, when the other two Indians came to the rescue of their comrade. Hearing her father's voice, Miss Stoner looked out, and seeing two Indians hold of him, she feared they would kill him, and hastened to place in his hand a heavy fire-shovel for his defence. The act proved the girl "a chip of the old block," but he told her to carry back the weapon, that the Indians would not hurt him. They did not seek his injury, but to rescue their friends. The day after this dog difficulty the Indians in the neighborhood all disappeared, and one of the party who had borrowed a blanket of Stoner to go deer-hunting, forgot to return it.

Maj. Stoner was a very successful trapper, and frequently brought in such large quantities of fur that many suspected he had obtained it unfairly from other hunters, but such he declares was never the case.

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