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


While Maj. Stoner was living in Johnstown, and not long after he commenced housekeeping, a large bear came into his wheat-held, doing no little mischief. To destroy this grain destroyer he erected a staging and watched repeatedly for him, but his vigilance 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 husbandmen 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 ball 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 watchdog confined in the house was let out by Mrs. Stoner, and as the interloper retreated from the corn, 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 animal 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 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 custom, lodged another charge in his rifle. To his chagrin he found that the stopple to his powder horn was broken off, and he was obliged to cut a hole in the horn to obtain a charge of powder. This occasioned 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 do- in distress never fails to bring down the vengeance of its owner upon the object causing it, and hurrying to the tree where 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 animal's mouth, he discharged it and blew out his brains. The yell of the dog attracted the attention of several neighbors, and just as Stoner fired a second time, Lieut. Wallace and his hired man, Hulster, arrived at the scene of action, armed with pitchforks.

The bear proved to be very large, and had one white paw. On examining, to learn the cause, it was found that one of the bullets fired at him in the cornfield, had passed through the center of a forefoot while in an erect position, and the animal had sucked it until the inner part was white as snow.

Major Stoner was not only a trapper, but in the proper season he indulged frequently in a deer or a fox hunt; in which he was generally successful. On a certain occasion many years ago, accompanied by Benjamin DeLine and Jacob Frederick, he went to hunt deer around the shores of the Canada Lake, since by some called Fish lake, and by others, Byrn lake. They succeeded in killing two noble deer, and started toward night to cross the lake in the direction of home. Their water-craft, a tree canoe, when they were all in with their game, was loaded almost as heavily as she could float; and the wind causing the waves to roll, made the voyage a dangerous one. Stoner managed the canoe, while his companions, seated on its bottom, used the utmost caution to preserve its equilibrium: but long before the little barque neared her destined landing, she began to dip water. Safety required that his comrades, whose seat became uncomfortable as the water ran round them, should keep quiet, while Stoner renewed his exertions at the paddle to gain the opposite shore. As it became doubtful whether the destined haven could be gained, Stoner steered for the nearest land, which proved to be a projecting point of a small rocky island, which, in the absence of a better name, I shall call Stoner's island.

The farther they sailed, the more the gale increased, and as wave after wave left a portion of its crest in the overloaded canoe; the situation of its inmates became one of the greatest peril. DeLine and Frederick, substituting their hats for basins, used their utmost exertions to keep the boat afloat by bailing, while Stoner, urging upon his friends the necessity of coolness and a uniform position, sent her forward rapidly. Still several rods from the land, and already up to his knees in water, as the canoe was nearly full; DeLine sprang out and found bottom, although the water was several feet deep. Fearing that if their craft foundered they would lose their guns and game, and observing that DeLine got on so well, Frederick also jumped into the lake; but a little distance made quite a difference in the depth of water, for he found no bottom. He was unable to swim, and seeing him sinking below the surface, Stoner leaped out to his rescue. His hair fortunately was done up in a cue, wound with an eel-skin, and at this his deliverer made a successful grab and swam to the shore. All having gained the land, the canoe, which had been guided along by DeLine, was drawn up on the beach, its valuables removed to a place of safety, and its water emptied out. Frederick whose powers of suction had gained him one swell too much, soon disgorged the contents of his stomach; and when he could again speak, he broke out with an oath in imperfect English, "I cross de ocean all safe from Sharmany, and 0, musht I pe drown in dish tam vrog-pont!"

Stoner's island, although preferable to the bottom of the lake, was far from affording the weary hunters a very comfortable night's rest. It had indeed some trees and wild- wood vines, but nothing like a human habitation; still, as the gale continued with unabated violence, and it was now almost night, it was out of the question to think of proceeding farther that evening: they therefore set about making themselves as comfortable as circumstances would permit, As not only their guns and ammunition were wet, but their materials for kindling a torch, they were obliged to camp down with their clothes saturated and their bodies shivering, without one blazing faggot to dry their garments or cheer the midnight hour.

The sun once more came peering o'er the earth, sending his light in golden streams through the primitive forest which covered the surrounding hills, to reflect their mellowed rays on the glassy waters of Lake Byrn; in the bosom of which Stoner's island lay reposing, as calmly and as quietly as an infant nestled to sleep in its mother's arms. The deerhunters rose betimes, and although their study of cause and effect, as we may suppose, had been somewhat limited, still the contrast of nature's dramatic scenes since the previous evening had been so great, that they could not fail to mark the change, and look with an admiring eye on the rich and varied scene Heaven had spread before them. Once more embarked with their treasures, they gained the lake shore in safety, and proceeded home without further adventure. For the kind services rendered him at the lake, said Frederick, on his arriving at his own dwelling, "Now, Nick, schurst so long ash I has von cent in de vorld, so long you shall never wants for any ting, for bulling me out from dat tam vrog-pont mit mine eel-shkin dail."

For saving his life in the manner here related, this worthy German proved the sincere and grateful friends of our hero to the hour of his death, just before which event he urged upon his children as a debt due to himself, that they should never see his lake savior want the comforts of life. It is gratifying to observe that the Fredericks (a very respectable name in Fulton county) have honored their father, even in death, by remaining the warm friends of the old trapper, their father's friends; having ever held themselves responsible for the proper fulfillment, if needs be, of their parent's unostentatious wish.

On the eve of our last war with Great Britain, Major Stoner and William Mason entered the wilderness with their traps, and were gone over two months. Their stay was protracted several weeks beyond the time intended, and their anxious friends, who had heard nothing from them, began to consider them as lost forever.

Hunters usually carried fishing tackle, and although they often had to do without bread in long hunts, they could generally procure a supply of fish or wild game. Their food frequently consisted of either deer's or bear's meat, and not unfrequently of squirrels, rabbits, ducks, partridges, and possibly the flesh of beaver. Meats were usually roasted before the fire on a spit of wood, one end of which was planted in the ground .

If the reader will just peep in at the entrance of a well regulated hunter's camp, he will see at a glance how the disciples of Nimrod live in their wilderness, womenless home. He will observe that excitement renders them not only contented but comparatively happy, in a little hut, destitute of a chair, table, or bed. Should the visitor accept an invitation to step in and dine, he may expect to receive a liberal slice of meat, scorched upon one side and nearly raw on the other, with a reasonable allowance of salt and a morsel of stale bread, if not too late in the hunt, served with a hearty welcome upon the inner side of a clean piece of bark; while he is seated upon a large stone, or block of wood. If he tarried over night, for an evening's entertainment, he would listen to not a few perilous adventures in unexpected encounters with wild animals, or novelties attending the chase; and at early bedtime, he would find himself stretched upon a hurdle of hemlock boughs in one corner of the lodge, gathering himself into as small a heap as possible; with a secret prayer that no hungry wolf would thrust its nose beneath the blanket or pelt that covered him, while midnight visions of squaws and beaver-skins haunted his brain.

Out of provisions and almost out of their reckoning, Stoner and his friend, having hung up their fur in some safe place which they could again find, were making their way to one of the nearest white settlements, when suddenly they came upon an Indian in the forest, whom the major mistaking for some other animal, possibly a bear, was about to fire upon. The Indian, whose name was Anderly, proved to be one of the Caughnawaga, tribe, from Grand river in Canada. He had with him a little daughter, his wife having died in the forest. The sudden appearance of two white men greatly terrified this little forest flower; but her fears were quieted with an assurance of friendship, and the white hunters shared the hospitality of their dusky friends over night. This Indian first communicated to the Johnstown trappers the fact, that hostilities had commenced between England and the United States. Knowing this fact, and thinking that possibly the whites were either spies or foes, was what at first caused the fear of the young wood-nymph. Parting with their new friends, with whom they were much pleased, Stoner and Mason journeyed on, and finally came out in Norway, Herkimer county; where they obtained provisions, and where too, they saw several families that were removing from the Black river country to the Mohawk valley, They also came in contact with a body of United States drafts marching to the line between New York and Canada.

Trappers in their excursions seldom take shaving utensils with them, and not unfrequently on their return home, they might have been mistaken for the prototype of Lorenzo Dow, of long-beard memory. The Johnstown friends had wandered so long in the forest, that their clothes were much worn; and Mason whose appearance was perhaps the most ragged, was arrested on suspicion of being a spy, and his gun taken from him. Stoner having been a hero of the preceding war, was fortunately known to some of the soldiery, and succeeded in effecting the liberation of his comrade and the restoration of his gun; and after liberally replenishing their larder, they again buried themselves in the moaning wilderness, In this hunt, Stoner carried his rifle and Mason a fowling-gun with which to shoot small game for food. On their way back to the place where they had secreted their fur, and when in a gloomy, mountain-encompassed dell, they accidentally fell in with two Indians, who were there on the same errand as themselves. It seems to be a pretty true, though stale maxim, that two of a trade can not agree. The strangers were Canadian hunters, having very little fur, one of whom was armed with a rifle. Scarcely had the parties met, when the one last alluded to commenced a fierce quarrel with Stoner. He took the latter for Green White, another bold trapper, and accused him of plundering and then burning their camp some two years before. Stoner, enraged at the false charge, retorting the harsh epithets of his accuser, denied being White; or having stolen the fur of any one. The other Indian, who said he had seen White, told his companion that he was not the hunter before them, but this the passionage savage would not admit, and the dispute continued.

Observing that his partner would not be appeased, and that the quarrel must prove a serious one, the Indian without a rifle approached Mason, who, as we have seen, was a little timorous in such an emergency, and desired to look at his gun. His object undoubtedly was to arm himself. This seemingly small favor would possibly have been indulged, had not a caution from Stoner, in the Low Dutch tongue, reached his friend to beware of a treacherous design. The master-hunter could not only understand, but spoke the Indian dialect very well. Determined to possess himself of Mason's gun, his antagonist grappled with him to wrest it from his hands. A shrill rifle-shot now rang among the towering hemlocks, followed by a yell so loud and deathlike, as to startle the wolf and panther in their mountain lair. A moment after and the figure of an Indian was seen receding in the forest with the fleetness of an antelope, and the click of a gunlock fell on the ear; but its priming having been lost in his scuffle with Mason, it missed fire, and the dark form vanished in safety and alone.

After this adventure, the Johnstown trappers pursued their way, without further molestation, to their fur and their traps, and ere long they returned home, to the great joy of their friends; bearing a most valuable lot of fur, and a spare rifle. It is not improbable that their store of fur was augmented some in that lone spot, where they had left a human carcass to return to its earthly affinity.

Major Stoner was gone so long that a rumor pre judicial to his character was put in circulation in Johnstown just before his return. It was reported, and perhaps by some believed, that he had been engaged in the contraband trade of smuggling goods from Canada to that village, for Cornelius Herring and Amaziah Rust. He says the accusation was

false, and although he saw goods carrying in the wilderness at this time, which may have been destined for Johnstown; they were in the hands of individuals who were strangers to him. Squaws generally started with the merchandise from Canada, and at some designated place they met and gave it over to men employed to ran it through.

It is not unlikely that Green White, to whom allusion is made in these pages, who was a celebrated and successful trapper, traversing the wilderness from Otsego county to the shores of the St. Lawrence, had numerous and sometimes fatal quarrels with rival hunters. John G. Seely informed the writer that he once playfully, though ironically, remarked to White, "he did not like it that he was killing off all his nation." The hunter replied,"D---n them, they must not search my traps then. The last one I saw was peeking over the bushes to look into one of my traps, and soon after my dog was shaking his old blanket!" Some further account of this hunter, with his melancholy fate, is given in another part of this volume.

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