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


Hunter's law-How accoutered for he forest-In temperance an attendant on war-De Fonclaiere keeps a tavern in Johnstown-How his horses ran away-Indian hunters at his house-Stoner obtains an ear jewel-An Indian boasts of killing his father-Is branded with a fire-dog-The Indians leave the place-Stoner In jail-How liberated-His celebrity in Canada.

I have chosen, in this narrative, to present Major Stoner's military life connectedly, although some of the incidents which follow, transpired between the wars.

Fond of novelty and adventure, and inured to privations and hardships in the Revolution, which peculiarly fitted him for a life so full of excitement and peril, Maj. Stoner became a celebrated hunter. Nor was he the only gamester who traversed the then wilderness of North-Eastern New York: several of his companions in arms were often by his side, threading their own intricate footpaths along a score of crystal lakes, the greater part of which are now situated in the present counties of Fulton and Hamilton. There were both Nimrods, or master spirits, in this particular avocation, two of whom were Nathaniel Foster and Green White. The former lived in Salisbury, Herkimer county, and the latter in Wooster, Otsego county. The Johnstown sportsmen not only met Foster, White and other sportsmen associated with them-as they usually went in pairs for the greater security in case of sickness, accident or difficulties with individuals of the craft-but white men and Indians from the shores of the St. Lawrence.

Difficulties sometimes arose between these strangers of like avocation, and in the absence of any other tribunal, might made right. Trouble seldom originated between the white hunters, however, as the more noted were not only known to each other, but their traps readily recognized by some peculiar mark, were not molested, unless it were to take out game in danger of being lost; in which case some token was left to apprise the owner who had it, and that it would be accounted for at a subsequent meeting. Over-jealous of their rights, the New York and Canadian trappers did not at all times scruple to avenge an injury done them, with the lifeblood of the offender, as I shall have on several occasions to show.

The class of men of whom I am speaking, not only entered the forest with their traps, their rifles, and a good supply of ammunition, their hatchet and knife, and often a jug of rum; but what was all important, a pocket compass and some sure means of kindling a fire. Friction matches were then unknown, but fire was soon kindled with flint, steel and tinder, or touch-wood; and now and then when they become wet, by a flash in the pan of a gun. If trappers chanced to visit the water courses alone, they almost invariably took with them a well trained dog. Pack horses were often employed to carry provisions to the hunters' canoes, which were usually moored in some little eddy, contiguous to which the trapping began.

One of the evils if not entailed upon us, at least greatly augmented by war, is that of widespread INTEMPERANCE; and few who had been served for years with a daily ration of rum or whiskey, could refrain from its use in after life: indeed soldiers had not only to drink with each other after the Revolution, as a matter of courtesy, but every one esteemed it a privilege, nay a duty, to treat a hero who had periled his life for his fellows: hence many of them who could not say NO when invited to drink, had to become a walking slop-bowl, and receive flip, kill devil, punch, or the raw material divested of its lure. Many a scar-honored veteran filled a drunkard's grave, because custom compelled him, of all others, to drink; and not a few more of the same band would have found such a grave, had not temperance hung her rainbow along Heaven's blue arch, inscribed-My worthy, it shall not only be your privilege, but creditable for you to refrain from the use of that which sets the brain on fire, destroys domestic happiness, and causes premature death.

Vaumane Jean Baptiste De Fonclaiere, a Frenchman who had emigrated to this country in the Revolution, married in New England, and after the close of the war kept a public house in Johnstown for many years. The first house he occupied is still an inn, and is yet standing, a few doors south of the court house (14). The Canadian hunters, who were familiar with the forest between Montreal and Johnstown, from having traversed it repeatedly to obtain American scalps, not infrequently visited the latter place when peace returned, to sell their furs, where they found a ready market. A party of seven arrived there in the spring of the year soon after the Revolution, with a large quantity of fur, and put up at the inn mentioned; disposing of their wealth to John Grant, then a village merchant. He was enabled to carry on the traffic, through the agency of Lieut. Wallace, who could speak the Indian tongue.

During the stay of these northern hunters in Johnstown, Maj. Stoner, then a deputy sheriff under Littel, was there on professional business. A constable whom he desired to see, he found seated in De Fonclaiere's kitchen, near a table, on which stood several flasks of liquor, furnished at the expense of the Indians. About the room were several Indians, and perhaps some female members of the family, as they were preparing dinner for their red customers. Maj. Stoner, who was not then altogether free from the maddening influence of those flasks or some others, observing one of the strangers near Thompson to be of light complexion, addressed him in a friendly, perhaps playful manner, about his origin; and the Indian, not appearing offended in the least, replied that he was part white. At this juncture, up came another of the party, and in an insolent manner demanded of Stoner in broken English, Indian and French, what business he had to interrogate his comrade. "Out, you black booger!" said the major, who never would take an insult from an Indian with impunity; rolling together threateningly at the moment the bones of his right hand.

<- Stoner avenging his father's murder.

Liquor is brought forward to cement friendship, yet it often produces an adverse result, for men influenced by it need little provocation to fight. Face to face the two, now foes, grappled to test their physical powers. The major was too much for his antagonist, and in the scuffle which followed, threw him headlong upon the table, oversetting it and dashing its quadrangular, half-filled bottles into scores of angles never heard of in geometry. Quick as thought, the red man was upon his feet and leaping the table had again clenched with his adversary. Cooking stoves are an invention of the last forty years, and in the kitchen where this scuffle took place, yawned a huge fireplace filled with blazing faggots; while upon the hearth before it stood a platter of fried pork swimming in hot fat, and a dish of wilted salad, just taken from a bed of coals by some member of the family, who was providing dinner for the fur-sellers. Stoner attempted to cast the Indian into the fire, but falling a little short of the aim, the latter fell plump into the dish of gravy, burning his back adown in a most frightful manner.

The fracas had occupied but a few moments, yet the whoops and loud threats of the combatants, with the why and wherefore of spectators, and screams of women, had been sufficient to throw the whole house into one of uproar and confusion. The honest landlord entered the kitchen trembling between contending emotions of fear and passion, believing that the character and business of his house would be ruined; and with numerous threats against Sheriff Stoner, uttered in broken English, as soon as the storm began to subside, ran off to get a writ of Amaziah Rust, Esq., then a lawyer of the place. Now Squire Rust, as it happened, was a particular friend of our hero, and knowing what an untamed spirit he possessed, and withal how he felt toward the race who had murdered his father, he was probably not much surprised to hear that the major had worsted an Indian; and laying down his pen and assuming a thoughtful mood he gravely inquired, "Do you not know, sir, that Captain Stoner is apt to be deranged with the changes of the moon?" "No monsieur," replied Fonclaiere, "me did not know that. 0! le diable, vat shall I does then? me ruined sartain!" With kind assurances from Mr. Rust (who was less anxious for business than are some professional men), that all would soon be forgotten-that Stoner would no doubt make full reparation for the property destroyed, and that the reputation of his house would not receive any lasting injury on account of the morning's frolic; the landlord was persuaded to go home and overlook the matter.

On returning to his dwelling, how provokingly wrong did the poor Frenchman find things had gone in his absence. Leaving the kitchen after his second encounter with the intrusive Indian, Major Stoner entered the hall where he almost stumbled upon an 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 jewel; 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 q grunt, and Stoner passed into the barroom: 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 barroom, while the kitchen scene was enacting, and reminded him of his former acts; for he had drawn his scalping-knife to boast to several bystanders (one of whom was Abraham Van Skiver), of the deeds of blood recorded upon its handle. Nine marks indicated the number of American scalps he had taken in the later war; "and this," said he, pointing to a notch cut deeper than the rest to indicate a warrior, "was the scalp of old Stoner!" Major Stoner entered the room just in time to hear the savage boast of scalping his father, and as the braggart 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 fireplace, seized an old-fashioned wrought andiron, and with the exclamation, "You never will scalp another one!" 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 indelible 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 getting him out of the house; while other individuals ran for a physician, restoratives and the like. The Indians of the party who were not disabled or too drunk to stand up, were boisterous in their threats of revenge; 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 companion, taken along by his fellows. It was never satisfactorily 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 way.

Fearing this party of red men might return and revenge 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 (15). As soon 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 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 companion 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, Fondas, Vroomans, Veeders, Gardiniers, Quackenbosses, and a host of others, whose names can not now be remembered. The jailer was unwilling to liberate the prisoner without a formal demand, and the mob, provided with a piece of scantling, stove in the door and brought him out.

At this period one Throop kept a tavern near the center of the village, with whom Sheriff Littel was then boarding: and thither the party in triumph directed 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 replied, 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 prison, once more set the law at defiance, and rescued him from the custody of the officer; when, to comply with their wishes, he went home to his anxious family, and there quietly remained. Thus ended an uneventful 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.

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