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


His voluntary marriage-Again a widower-His last marriage-His present residence-Garoga and Fonda plank road-Chase's patent-Foolish expression of Capt. Chase-Stoner a pilot for surveyors-Signification of Piseco-Goes to a settlement for food-Has a warm job of it-Law students in the forest-Ice discovered-4th of July how celebrated-Stoner skins a hedgehog-Description of the country-Prospective view of it -Newspaper notes of Lake Byrn-Sundry other lakes-Lake Goodluck, why so called-Water privileges of Hamilton county-Description of the country, by Dr. Emmons-Stoner and others discover a dead man near Jesup's river- Importance of preserving Indian names.

Maj. Stoner became a widower when he had been married over forty years; after which he lived between fifteen and twenty years with Mrs. Polly Phye, and until her death. Her husband, Daniel Phye abandoned her, for what reason is unknown. He died many years ago at the westward.

After Phye had been gone several years, and dark mystery had drawn her curtain of uncertainty around his fate; gossip sometimes made Mrs. Phye a grass, and at others, a hay-widow. At this period Maj. Stoner paid his addresses successfully, to the supposed widow; and although she considered herself absolved from all farther connection with Phye; still, as he might be alive and possibly return, prudence prevented a ceremonial marriage, which could by law consign her to the inner walls of a prison and they resolved to unite their stock in trade, and move along cheerfully if they could, in the great wake of the human family. Thus did they pass on quietly and happily until separated by death. Let the stickler for a rigid adherence at all times to established laws with" out reference to their operation, imagine this case wholly their own, before they feel prepared to condemn the course of this couple, or brand their conduct with the title of crime.

On the 23d day of April, 1840, having been a second time a widower for several years, Maj. Stoner married his present wife; who is considerably younger than himself. Her maiden name was Hannah Houghtaling, but at the time of their marriage she was the widow Frank.

At the present time (1846), the old trapper resides in the town of Garoga, Fulton county; at a settlement which has recently sprung up, called Newkirk's Mills. He owns a comfortable dwelling in which he lives, draws a pension from the general government, and from keeping several boarders, who work in the Mills, which the industry of a smart wife enables him to do, he passes down the evening of his life very comfortably. Garret Newkirk, the proprietor here, has an extensive tannery, and a sawmill in which two saws are almost constantly rending asunder the trunks of the surrounding forest. The place has some fifteen or twenty dwellings, a schoolhouse, a post- office, (called Newkirk's Mills) &c., and is situated pleasantly on the outlet of the Garoga lakes, two crystal sheets of water, each several miles in circuit, located some twelve or fifteen miles to the westward of Johnstown. Since the above was written, a public-house has been opened at this place, several new dwellings erected, and a plank-road constructed from thence to Fonda, sixteen miles distant.

I have somewhere alluded to Chase's Patent. Wm. Chase, the patentee, was in early life a sea-captain, and in the Revolution became an American privateer. He was captured and taken to Europe, and while there visited France. After the war he removed from Providence, Rhode Island, to Hoosick, New York. At the latter place he built a bridge, by constructing which, he was enabled to purchase some 12,000 acres of land in the western part of Fulton county. A large tract of land adjoining his, and which Chase intended to buy, was subsequently sold in Albany by auction, and was purchased by Barent Bleeker, Cornelius Glen, and Abraham G. Lansing. It was known as Bleeker and Lansing's patent. Failing to secure this tract of land, on which he seems to have set his affections, Capt. Chase was heard to exclaim with an oath, "I would rather have lost my right in Heaven, than a title to this soil!" People when excited often utter expressions devoid of wit and common sense, if not, in fact, foolishly wicked.

In most of the surveys of wild land in and adjoining Fulton county, made since the Revolution, Maj. Stoner, who was peculiarly fitted for the task by familiarity with the forest, and his ability to endure fatigue, acted as pilot for the parties. At one time while engaged in exploring lands with Capt. Chase, the latter lost a gold snuff -box which had been a present in France, a gift he prized far above its real value. Stoner, fortunately for the old privateer's peace of mind, for he was not a little vexed at the misfortune, seeing it glitter in the leaves, picked it up and restored it to the owner, who almost waltzed for joy. This same Capt. Chase was not a little eccentric, and usually got up at least once in the night: to drink and take a pinch of snuff.

When the lands contiguous to Piseco (16) lake, known as the Ox Bow tract, were surveyed, a road, "beginning eight miles northerly from Johnstown," was laid out from thence to Ox Bow lake, a distance of 26 miles and 9 chains. Major Stoner attended the surveyor and commissioners as pilot, and was thus engaged for two seasons. Lawrence Vrooman of Schenectada was the surveyor, and Stephen Owen and James McLalin were the commissioners on the road, as appears by a map of the survey, which was filed in the county clerk's office April 1, 1811. Not a few pleasing incidents transpired in the wilderness during this time, to keep the party, which sometimes numbered nearly twenty, in good spirits. Of the number while laying out the road, who thus enjoyed a portion of the novelty attending a trapper's life, and learned how large mosquitoes will grow in the woods if well fed, were J. Watts Cady, and Marcus T. Reynolds. At that time they were young men, possibly with some "wild oats," but since then they have become legal gentlemen of no little notoriety.

At one time when the surveying party were near the Ox Bow, a name significant of the shape of one of the lakes, and far removed from any human habitation; they got out of provisions, and the packmen, whose duty it was to go after a supply, were unwilling to start, entertaining some doubts about ever finding their way back. In this emergency Stoner volunteered to proceed with as little delay as possible to the nearest settlement, which was Lake Pleasant, and relieve the necessities of his comrades. Arriving just at evening at the house of a pioneer, named Denny, the family baked nearly all night; and early in the morning, with a sack upon his back, containing nearly a dozen large loaves of bread, and a good sized cheese to balance, he set out on his return. Knowing the necessities of his forest friends he did not tarry to let the bread get cold, and as the weather was warm, his back was almost blistered on his arrival. Before he reached the place of destination, he met a messenger dispatched by Vrooman to assist him; bringing a junk-bottle of rum.

Speaking of his experience in surveying in the Piseco country, Cady observed of Stoner, that he would kindle a fire- climb a tree-cook a dinner-empty a bottle-shoot a deer-hook a trout-or scent an Indian, quicker than any other man he ever knew. The old trapper, as he informed the writer, took some pains to show the young men named, (who were law students at the time,) how to catch trout, and in the north branch of the Sacondaga, Cady, under his teaching, caught a bouncing one; of which exploit he was very proud, as in fact he had a right to be; for it made a meal for the whole surveying corps.

Anxious to get through as soon as possible, the party laying out a road, continued their labors in some instances on the Sabbath. Stoner usually carried a small flag, and while crossing a mountain in advance of the men on Sunday, he discovered a mass of ice between the rocks, and gave a shout that at first excited the anxiety of his comrades, lest some wild beast lingered in their path. The next day they captured a large turtle on the shore of Piseco lake, and from it took one hundred and seventy-two eggs, of which they made eggnog; cooled before being served round by ice obtained by letting one of the corps down between the rocks. About twenty individuals partook of the beverage, among whom were Seth Wetmore, the state's agent for opening an intersecting road, and Obadiah Wilkins. The last named gentleman acted as master of ceremonies in dressing and cooking the turtle's meat, which afforded the party a fine repast. This was on the 4th day of July, 1810.

At some period of the survey, Stoner shot a hedgehog, which Vrooman wanted skinned; and besought several to do it, but in vain; they did not dare to handle it. The old trapper volunteered and took off the bristly pelt; which the surveyor, on his return carried home with him.

The southerly portion of country under consideration is hilly and in many places mountainous. The soil is generally stony, though in many instances, fertile; but far better adapted to grazing, than the production of grain. The prevailing rock is of the primitive order, consequently the shores of the lakes which sparkle here and there in the glens, abound in deposits of beautiful sand; which often afford good writing sand. The timber is principally beech, birch, maple, hemlock and spruce, Much of the hemlock is sawed into fence- boards, and acres of the spruce annually wrought into shingles or sawed into floor-plank; all of which find a ready market at the nearest accessible point on the Eric canal: and since the Garoga and Fonda plank road is favorable to its removal, not a little finds its way to Fultonville, where considerable quantities were landed before the plank road was laid out.

Much of this country still has a primeval look, but its majestic forest lords and advantageous water powers, must in time invite in the thrifty artisan and hard-fisted yeoman, to subdue and cultivate it: indeed, the time may not be distant when this new country shall not only "bud and blossom as the rose," but with the rose. It certainly must be a healthy district; for it abounds in waters the most limpid, and breezes the most invigorating. The lakes and their tributaries are stored with an abundance of delicious trout; and if not walled castles, stately mansions may yet rear their imposing fronts in those glens; to be known in future ages as the rivals of the far-famed glens of Scotland; when some Scott or Burns shall rise up, to picture their Indian legends in story and in song.

The outlets to some of the lakes around which Maj. Stoner used to trap the sagacious, though too often confiding beaver, run off in a northerly course to swell the Hudson, while other lakes send their tribute in a southerly direction to the Mohawk. The most eastern of the latter class are the Garoga lakes, discharging in a creek of the same name, which runs into the Mohawk in the western part of Palatine. Some two or three miles to the westward of the Garogas is a larger lake, known among the early hunters as Fish lake, though often called Canada lake, because it pays tribute to the East Canada creek.

An anonymous writer in the Geneva Courier, over the signature of Harold, has thus pertinently described this sheet of water and its locality, in that paper, bearing date, Oct. 28, 1845. "Two and a half miles from Caroga (Garoga must be the aboriginal word*) is a larger lake, about four miles in length, to which I gave the name Lake Byrn. It takes exactly the form of the letter S. I think this is the most romantic spot I ever visited. The surface of the ground rising back from the shore, is covered with large irregularly shaped rocks, from five to forty feet in diameter, lying entirely above ground, and often tumbling together in mountain masses, lodged and wedged in like driftwood. Many of these rocks are riven asunder and the base of each portion thrown outward from the line of separation, the superior parts resting against each other, thus forming apartments with a solid stone roof large enough to shelter a dozen or twenty men. This I think must have been the work of fire. Strange as it may seem, all this is in quite a dense forest, and almost infinite are the shapes taken by the trees in their turnings and twistings to avoid the numerous rocks. In some instances the roots of a single tree have grown astride a huge rock, the base of the trunk resting on its apex, six or eight feet from the ground. The appearance is the same as if the rock were forced up from the ground beneath, elevating the tree with it, but not a particle of earth attaches to either; and

*Ga-ro-ga creek, "creek on this side;" i. e. of the wilderness, there being no Mohawk towns west of this for a long time. It might also be derived from garagon, "to make something of wood."-Aboriginal Place Names, (N. Y. State Pub.,) by William M. Beauchamp.

these are living, healthy trees. It is in this neighborhood that tradition says large sums of money were buried by certain Spaniards, in the time of the American Revolution; but 'It's sure never a bate o' it did I find at all, at all!' So said a hard-fisted son of Erin, relating the story. Near the centre of Lake Byrn, is a small rocky island, covered with evergreens, birch and flowering shrubs." This island, the reader will remember, I have named Stoner's island. The writer above quoted called on Major Stoner, at the time of his visit, and his Chips of Travel contained a brief summary of the old warrior's military life.

A few miles distant from Lake Byrn, is a body of water of nearly the same size called Pine lake, on account of the lordly pines about the shores: it empties into the former. Two small crystal sheets above Pine lake are called Stink lakes. Their unpoetic name attached from the following incident. Stoner and DeLine were there on a hunt, and discovered many bushels of dead fish, principally suckers, which had got over a beaver's dame in a freshet; and which, being unable to return, had died on the recession of the water, to the great annoyance of those hunters, who thus named the lakes. Their outlet runs into that of Pine lake. Several small lakes in the southerly part of Hamilton county, unite their waters to form the head of West Canada creek. Lake Good Luck, some ten or twelve miles in circumference, which lies only a few miles to the northward of Stink lakes, empties into the west branch of the Sacondaga, one and a half miles below Devereux's mills. This lake derived its name from the following incident. While Vrooman was surveying near it, and several of his party were making a large canoe from the trunk of a tree, John Burgess, his son-in-law, discharged his gun at a loon, off on the water. The piece burst and scattered its fragments harmlessly in every direction. The accident terminated so fortunately, that the name the lake now bears, was entered on the surveyors' field-book.

About two miles below the mouth of the outlet from Good Luck, is a small lake called Trout lake. It abounds in trout, which circumstance originated its name; and not a few anglers visit it to replenish their larder. On the shore of this lake, the reader will remember, a poor Indian once lost a turtles and his own shell. Stoner at different times, killed two moose in the edge of this lake, while the animals were fighting flies. Satterlee's mills are located on West Sacondaga, at a rapid some two miles below the outlet of Trout lake. From those mills to the outlet of Piseco lake, the stream is rapid, affording fine mill-seats. At this rapid was also a carrying place, where the Indian and other hunters carried their canoes over land to get into Piseco lake. It is some twelve miles from the inlet of Piseco lake, to where the east and west branches of the Sacondaga unite.

The Piseco is the largest of a cluster of lakes in Hamilton county, which empty into the west branch of the Sacondaga, and is some nine miles long, and in places, nearly three broad, or twenty miles in circumference. Of the lakes in the neighborhood of Piseco, are Mud lake, so called because its shores are muddy; Spy lake, so named by the surveyors, because approached so unexpectedly by them; Round lake, the name indicating its form; and Ox-Bow lake. The last mentioned is three or four miles long, though not very wide, and shaped like the bow of an ox-yoke. In the territory adjoining, and known as the Ox- Bow tract, Seth Wetmore, a former sheriff of Montgomery county, owned some thousands of acres, a considerable portion of which was received from the state as compensation for opening a road, the survey of which I have alluded to, from the shore of Piseco lake to the Bleeker settlements. Lake Pleasant, another large and beautiful sheet of water, lies off to the northeast of the Piseco; and its outlet, with other streams, forms the eastern branch of the Sacondaga: to the westward of Lake Pleasant, some ten or twelve miles, is a pretty lake, called Louis's lake, after a Canadian Indian, who formerly hunted upon its shores.

The land in the Piseco country, though hilly and often mountainous, is said to be less stony and more fertile than that of the Garoga and Bleeker territory; and when New England gets her telescope upon it, it will beyond all doubt, be thickly peopled by enterprising inhabitants. Many acres of the soil are covered with a heavy growth of pine and spruce timber, which only needs an avenue to market richly to reward the pioneer for the blows of his axe and saw.

From the lakes of Hamilton county, streams run off in almost every point of compass. Besides the lakes named, there are numerous others in different parts of this county; among which are Lake Janet, named after the accomplished wife of Professor James E. De Kay, zoologist of the state in her late scientific survey; Lake Catharine, named after a multitude of good Dutch women, and one in particular; Racket and Longlakes. The two last named are the largest in the county, being one fourteen and the other eighteen miles in length. Hamilton county, from her isolated situation with regard to the export of her products; being too far removed to warrant a transport by land to a good market, is mostly in a wild and unsettled condition; she having only one legal voter to every twenty-six hundred square acres of her territory; but could a communication by railroad or canal be opened to some good market place, it would soon teem with a busy population. That a connected water communication is feasible, is thus hinted at by Professor Emmons, in his volume of the New York Geology. He observes, speaking of the waters of Hamilton county: "These lakes, together with their bays, inlets and outlets, and other waters which may be connected with them, are capable of forming an extended line of water communication, by which a large portion of this section of country may be traversed; and probably the time may not be far distant, when it will be thought expedient to form and perfect some of the other waters which may be connected with them, are capable of forming an extended line of water communication, by which a large portion of this section of country may be traversed; and probably the time may not be far distant, when it will be thought expedient to form and perfect some of the natural channels of communication which intersect this part of the state."

In one of his animal reports during the geological survey, Dr. Emmons thus describes this region of country. "I have the pleasure of stating that it is far from being the wet, cold, swampy and barren district which it has been represented to be. The soil is generally strong and productive; the mountains are not so elevated and steep, but that the soil is preserved of sufficient thickness to their tops to secure their cultivation, and most of the marshy lands may be reclaimed by ditching; by this means they will become more valuable than the uplands for producing hay. In fine, it will be found an excellent country for grazing, raising stock, and producing butter and cheese. The strength of the soil is sufficiently tested by the heavy growth of timber, which is principally of hard wood, as beech, maple, yellow birch, butternut and elm. The evergreens or pines, are confined mostly to the lower ranges of mountains. Some of them are of the largest growth of any in the state, and are suitable for the main shafts of the largest of the cotton mills. In the main, the county resembles the mountainous districts of New England, and like these produces the same intermixture of forest trees, and has about the same adaptation for the production of the different kinds of grain, as wheat, rye, oats, peas, barley, together with fine crops of potatoes."

Comparatively little is yet known of northern New York, indeed, a great part of what has heretofore been known, was only so in error; this is my apology, for saying so much about it.

In a hunting excursion accompanied by Lieut. Wallace and one Coffin, Major Stoner went down to Jessup's river, some fifteen miles below Fish House; and in the woods between that river and the Sacondaga, they found the body of a white man they supposed had possibly been insane; and had strayed into the wilderness and there died: but he may have been a hunter and crossed the track of one of like craft, who revenged with death a real or supposed injury.

The local Indian names Garoga, and Kennyetto, I have sought in vain to get the English definition of. If any individual can give the signification of either of them, they will confer a favor by communicating the same to my address. It is not only important that Indian names be preserved, but that their true meaning be handed down to future generations, which, divested of the prejudices that influence the present, will drop a tear of pity over the wrongs and injuries done this brave, indeed once noble but now degraded race; and cherish the significant and purely American names they once gave to our lakes, rivers, and mountains, as they would their household goods.

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