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Document 1706786
Tales from the
Deserted Village
Tales from the
Deserted Village
D
First-Hand Accounts
of Early Explorations
into the Heart of
the Adirondacks
An anthology edited
by Lee Manchester
Tales from the Deserted Village: First-Hand Accounts
of Early Explorations into the Heart of the Adirondacks
An anthology edited by Lee Manchester
Version 1.01, November 5, 2007
Version 1.02, September 2, 2009
Version 1.03, June 15, 2010
Front cover photo: “Adirondack Club(!) House, Village of
Adirondac,” by George B. Wood, 1886, from the collection
of the Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y.
(Inventory #P020888)
Back cover photo: “Old Furnace, Deserted Village, Adirondacks,
N.Y.,” by Edward Bierstadt, 1886, from the collection of Ed Palen
All materials drawn from sources in the public domain,
except the foreword and “From Elba to Adirondac:
The Story of Pioneer Industrialist Archibald McIntyre,”
copyright © 2007 Lee Manchester
Editorial selections and annotations
copyright © 2007 Lee Manchester
Table of contents
Foreword
Authors’ Profiles
1. Journey Through Indian Pass
David Henderson, 1826 .................................................................1
2. First Ascent of Mount Marcy
William C. Redfield, 1836/37.......................................................10
3. Wild Scenes at the Sources of the Hudson
Charles Fenno Hoffman, 1837.....................................................34
4. Visit to the Mountains of Essex
Ebenezer Emmons, 1837 ..............................................................69
5. Exploration of Essex County
Ebenezer Emmons, 1842 ..............................................................74
6. The Adirondack; or, Life in the Woods
Joel T. Headley, 1846 ..................................................................87
7. Adventures in the Wilds
Charles F. Lanman, 1847 ..........................................................115
8. Adirondack Diary
Richard Henry Dana Jr., 1849...................................................132
9. How We Met John Brown
Richard Henry Dana Jr., 1849/1871..........................................146
10. The Adirondack Woods and Waters: A Forest Story
T. Addison Richards, early 1850s ..............................................159
11. A Week in the Wilderness
Henry Jarvis Raymond, 1855.....................................................172
12. The Hudson, From the Wilderness to the Sea
Benson J. Lossing, 1859.............................................................185
13. Wake-Robin
John Burroughs, 1863................................................................202
14. In the Woods: Tramp & Tarry Among Adirondacks & Lakes
E.F.U., New York Weekly Times, 1866 ......................................207
15. The Indian Pass; or, A Tramp Through the Trees
Alfred B. Street, 1868.................................................................224
16. The Military & Civil History of the County of Essex, N.Y.
Winslow C. Watson, 1869 ..........................................................273
17. The Adirondack Wilderness of New York
Verplanck Colvin, 1872..............................................................276
18. Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds
Verplanck Colvin, undated.........................................................284
19. Adirondack or the “Deserted Village,” the Indian Pass, etc.
Author unknown, Plattsburgh Republican, 1872 .......................288
20. The Ruined Village and Indian Pass
Seneca Ray Stoddard, 1873/1880 ..............................................296
21. The Adirondack Village
Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, 1877 .............................................310
22. The Legend of Indian Pass
Henry van Hoevenberg, 1878 ....................................................313
23. Adirondack Park: A Week Among the Mountain Giants
Author unknown, Plattsburgh Sentinel, 1879 ............................319
24. Why the Wilderness is Called Adirondack
Henry Dornburgh, 1885 ............................................................336
25. The Forsaken Village
Henry van Hoevenberg, 1896 ....................................................352
Appendices
A. “The Deserted Village,” a poem
Oliver Goldsmith, 1770.............................................................363
B. From “History of Essex County”
H.P. Smith, 1885
Town of Keene ..........................................................................374
Town of Newcomb ....................................................................381
Town of North Elba ...................................................................392
C. From Elba to Adirondac
Lee Manchester, 2006...............................................................402
Foreword
Like many people, I’ve always been fascinated by ghost towns,
whether they be Old Western, ancient Mayan, or early industrial.
That’s why the famous “deserted village” between Henderson and
Sanford Lakes in Newcomb township, Essex County, New York first
caught my attention some years ago.
Visitors driving along Essex County Route 25, a heavily wooded
dirt road wending its way along the first few miles of the Hudson
River, come suddenly upon the ghostly remains of a nineteenth
century blast furnace rising anomalously from the side of a lonely
road, its four-sided stone tower looking like an ancient Inca pyramid.
The appearance of the furnace serves to announce the forlorn little
settlement to be found just a bit farther up the track, its houses falling
in upon themselves as the forest reclaims the hamlet.
The more I’ve learned about this ghost town in my back yard,
the more intrigued I’ve become. Once an iron-mining settlement, the
site was discovered in 1826 by comrades of Archibald McIntyre, the
man who had established North Elba’s pioneer iron industry, on the
edge of what later became the village of Lake Placid. The Elba Iron
Works operated from 1809 until 1817.
From the late 1820s until 1858, McIntyre’s Adirondack Iron &
Steel Company tried and tried to make a go of forging marketable
iron from one of the richest ore beds then known to exist in the
United States. The remote site’s extreme distance from market,
however, ultimately proved to be its downfall.
Robert Hunter, a master bricklayer at the iron works, stayed on
with his family after everyone else had abandoned the little village,
which was called by several names: first McIntyre; then Adirondac
(no final “k”) when a post office was opened; then Upper Works, to
distinguish it from a second industrial site, the Lower Works or
Tahawus, established by McIntyre ten miles to the south; and,
ultimately, the “Deserted Village,” after a then-well-known poem by
Oliver Goldsmith.
For fourteen years, Robert Hunter and his family watched over
Adirondac, keeping the hamlet and the abandoned works from being
“wantonly destroyed, but allow[ing them] to go to decay properly
and decently,” as one visitor put it. The Hunters left the Upper
Works in 1872; the grave of Robert Hunter’s wife Sarah, 52, who
died that January, was the final addition to the Adirondac cemetery,
nestled in the woods between the abandoned village and nearby
Henderson Lake.1
The next caretaker was evidently not so conscientious as the
Hunters in fulfilling his duties. Most visitors prior to 1872 remarked
on the astonishingly good condition of the village and works, despite
the fact that they had been abandoned for years. Starting in the late
summer of 1872, however, visitors began bemoaning the way the
village’s structures were rapidly falling apart.
In 1877, a sportsmen’s club established by the descendants of
Archibald McIntyre and his partners turned Adirondac into its
headquarters. For a while, club members occupied and renovated
houses left over from the mining days, but a major building drive
around the turn of the 20th century eradicated most traces of the
mining settlement. The club — first called the Adirondack Club, then
the Tahawus Club — continued to occupy the hamlet until the early
1940s, when a new mining operation geared up nearby to extract
titanium from the Adirondac iron ore for wartime use as a pigment in
battleship paint. Titanium-mine workers and their families occupied
the Tahawus Club colony at the Upper Works until 1963, when the
mining company decided to “get out of the landlord business,” as one
of the residents put it. The hamlet has been abandoned ever since.
From the time of the site’s discovery in 1826, a series of
nineteenth century visitors recorded their impressions of the little
village in the woods. It is those literary records that I have gathered
together in this compilation, many of them from sources extremely
difficult to find.
A few observations about those records:
• One cannot tell the story of the McIntyre iron works at
Adirondac without also telling the story of the Hudson River and the
1
It should be noted that Robert and Sarah Hunter’s son David returned to Adirondac
and Tahawus a few years later, eventually becoming chief caretaker of the backwoods
resort colony established by the Adirondack Club, later called the Tahawus Club.
It was David Hunter who drove Vice President Teddy Roosevelt on the first leg of
his wild carriage ride from the Upper Works to the presidency on the night of Friday,
Sept. 13, 1901. TR and his family had been spending a late summer holiday as the
guests of James MacNaughton, president of the Tahawus Club, when word came that
President William McKinley, shot by an assassin several weeks earlier in Buffalo, was
near death. A Tahawus Club guide had to search for Roosevelt on Mount Marcy to
bring him the news.
Robert Hunter’s descendants have continued living and working in the shadow of
the Adirondack High Peaks to this day. David U. Hunter, Robert and Sarah’s greatgrandson, lived with his wife Betty on the Averyville Road outside Lake Placid until
his death in 2006. David and Betty’s son, David W. Hunter, operates a lighting supply
business, Hunter Designs, on Placid’s Cascade Road.
search for its highest source. The famous “iron dam,” the tale of
which first drew McIntyre’s colleagues over the Indian Pass from
North Elba in 1826, was in fact an outcropping of high-grade iron ore
running across the Hudson just a mile or so below the point where it
first flows from Henderson Lake. It was the Hudson’s waters that
provided the mechanical energy needed to operate McIntyre’s
various mills at Adirondac; it was the Hudson’s waters that were
dammed to provide ten miles of slack-water navigation between
McIntyre’s Upper Works at Adirondac and the Lower Works at
Tahawus; it was the search for additional water to supplement the
Hudson’s flow during dry spells that led to the legendary tragic death
of McIntyre’s partner and son-in-law David Henderson in 1845; and
the flooding of the Hudson in 1856 was one of several key factors
that ultimately forced the McIntyre company to finally abandon the
“Abandoned Village” two years later.
• From the beginning, the stories of the Upper Works, Indian
Pass, Mount Marcy, and the search for the source of the Hudson
River have been inextricably intertwined. Most of the accounts
contained in this collection, in fact, were written by folks using the
mining hamlet/abandoned village as a jumping-off point for their
exploration of one or all of the above.
• A charming and enduring character who features
prominently in many of these accounts, from about 1834 until his
death in 1877, is Adirondack guide John Cheney. While the iron
works were still in operation, Cheney and his wife lived in the
settlement of McIntyre/Adirondac. In his later years, the couple
became proprietors of a humble “hotel” at the Lower Works that had
once served as a boarding house for works employees. It’s interesting
to see in the accounts collected here how the same old legends of
John Cheney’s backwoods exploits kept recycling themselves
through the years.
I say that I have “edited” this compilation, but I use that term to
mean only that I have located the sources, selected relevant
materials, and completed their transcription. The text of each piece in
this compilation is exactly as it was published in its original venue,
unless otherwise noted.
Observe that the footnotes in this anthology, unless specifically
noted otherwise, are mine.
At this writing, the future of the again-deserted village is being
considered as part of a conservation plan for the historic district that
has been established around the McIntyre works, the twin treasures
of which are the remains of the 1854 stone blast-furnace tower and
the 1832 MacNaughton Cottage, the only structures surviving in any
form from McIntyre’s nineteenth century mining operation.
Lee Manchester
Lower Jay, Essex County, New York
January 9, 2007
P.S. — Because of the way this book is currently being published, I
am able to easily correct the text. If you notice an error, please send
me a note describing it, and I will see that it is corrected before any
more copies are printed. Please e-mail your correction to
[email protected]
Authors’ Profiles
DAVID HENDERSON (1793-1845). In
1826, 33-year-old Henderson was the
“young Scottish friend of the McIntyre
family” who led the Indian Pass
expedition from North Elba to the “iron
dam” in Newcomb township. Involved
in the pottery business in Jersey City,
N.J., he married Archibald McIntyre’s
daughter Annie. Henderson became
one of the three owners of the
McIntyre iron works, which he
supervised from Jersey City. He died
when a pistol misfired at Calamity
Pond while he was exploring for new
water sources for the iron works.
WILLIAM C. REDFIELD (1789-1857),
one of nineteenth century America’s
leading scientists, first came to prominence for his observation of the whirlwind character of tropical storms. He
was an important but unofficial participant in the New York State Geological and Natural History Survey, led by
Ebenezer Emmons from 1836 to 1848,
and was a member of the party that
first summited Mount Marcy on August 5, 1837. Redfield co-founded the
American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and was elected
its first president in September 1848.
CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN (1806–
1884), born in New York City, was an
American author and poet. Hoffman
had an accident when he was 11 that
required the amputation of one of his
legs above the knee. He studied law at
Columbia College but deserted it for
literature. Editor of the New York
Mirror, a weekly literary newspaper,
he wrote a successful novel, Greyslaer,
and much verse, some of which was
said to have displayed more lyrical
power than any which had preceded it
in America. He spent the last 35 years
of his life in an insane asylum.
EBENEZER EMMONS (1799–1863) was
born at Middlefield, Mass. He studied
medicine in Albany, and after taking
his degree practiced for some years in
Berkshire County, where his interest in
geology led him to assist in preparing
his first geological map. He went back
to school, studying geology at
Rensselaer School (now RPI), from
which he graduated in 1826. He was
affiliated with Williams College when,
in 1836, he joined the New York State
Geological Survey. Later (from 1851 to
1860) he was state geologist of North
Carolina. He died in Brunswick, N.C.
NO PORTRAIT
JOEL T. HEADLEY (1813-1898) was
born in Walton, N.Y. He graduated
from Auburn Theological Seminary
and was ordained to the ministry at
Stockbridge, Mass. Failing health led
him to travel to Europe, where he
wrote Letters from Italy. When he
returned to the United States, he
became associate editor of the New
York Tribune, working for his friend
Horace Greeley. He resigned from the
Tribune after a year and devoted
himself exclusively to authorship,
chiefly on historical topics. He was
among the first to call attention by his
writings to the Adirondack Mountains
as a health resort. He was elected to the
New York Assembly in 1854, and a
year later was chosen Secretary of the
State of New York. He died in
Newburgh, N.Y., at the age of 84.
NO PORTRAIT
CHARLES F. LANMAN (1819–1895) was
an author, government official, artist,
librarian, and explorer. He was born at
Monroe, Michigan. Lanman’s early life
included newspaper work as editor of
the Monroe (Michigan) Gazette,
associate editor of the Cincinnati
(Ohio) Chronicle, and as a member of
the editorial staff of the New York
Express. Lanman studied art under
Asher B. Durand and became an
elected associate of the National
Academy of Design in 1846. He died at
Georgetown, D.C.
RICHARD HENRY DANA JR. (1815–
1882), a lawyer and politician, was the
author of Two Years Before the Mast
and To Cuba and Back. Born in
Cambridge, Mass., he worked from
1834 to 1836 as a common sailor
before returning to Harvard, graduating
in 1837. An ardent abolitionist, he
helped found the anti-slavery Free Soil
Party in 1848. Dana served as a federal
prosecutor during the Civil War, and
was a member of the Massachusetts
legislature from 1867-68.
THOMAS ADDISON RICHARDS (18201900) was born in London, England,
but immigrated with his family to
America in 1831. An artist, travelogue
and short-story writer, and publisher,
Richards initially worked in Georgia
but settled permanently in New York
City in 1844. A highly regarded
chronicler of the American scene, in
1857 he became the editor of
Appleton's Illustrated Handbook of
American Travel, the first major
guidebook to the U.S. and Canada.
HENRY JARVIS RAYMOND (1820-1869)
was born near the village of Lima, New
York, south of Rochester. He
graduated from the University of
Vermont in 1840. After assisting
Horace Greeley in publishing several
newspapers, Raymond founded the
New York Times in 1851, which he
managed and edited until his death. He
served as a New York State
assemblyman, lieutenant governor and
U.S. congressman. His opposition to
retributive action against the South
after the war led him to withdraw from
public life in 1867. He died two years
later in New York City.
BENSON JOHN LOSSING (1813-1891)
was an American historian and wood
engraver, known best for his illustrated
books on the American Revolution and
American Civil War. He was born in
Beekman, New York, and led an active
life as a journalist and publisher.
JOHN BURROUGHS (1837–1921) was
born in Roxbury, N.Y., in the Catskills.
Known best for his writings as a
naturalist, Burroughs worked as a
teacher, a journalist, and a clerk in the
U.S. Department of the Treasury
(where he befriended poet Walt
Whitman) before returning to the
Catskills and devoting himself to his
writing. His first book, Wake-Robin,
was published in 1871. He was buried
on his 84th birthday near the farm
where he was born.
ALFRED B. STREET (1811–1881) was
born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Trained as
an attorney, Street began writing poetry
at 15. His first book of poetry, The
Burning of Schenectady and other
Poems, was published in 1842. He was
New York’s state librarian from 1848
until his death in 1881.
NO PORTRAIT
WINSLOW C. WATSON (1803–?) was
born in Albany, N.Y. Educated at
Albany Academy and Middlebury
College, he was admitted to the bar in
1824. He practiced law in Plattsburgh
until 1833, when he abandoned the
profession for reasons of health. Active
in politics in both Vermont and New
York,
Watson
made
several
contributions to the historic literature
of
New
York
and
the
Adirondack/Champlain region.
VERPLANCK COLVIN (1847–1920),
lawyer and topographical engineer.
Born in Albany, he was admitted to the
bar after joining his father’s law office
in 1864 at the age of 17. At age 25,
Colvin became superintendent of the
legendary Adirondack Survey, a job
that consumed him from 1872 to 1900,
when Gov. Theodore Roosevelt fired
him. He never completed his map of
the Adirondack Park, but his detailed
published reports still serve as
fundamental resources to those
studying the region.
SENECA RAY STODDARD (1843–1917)
is best known for his photographs of
the Adirondack Mountains, but he also
was a cartographer, writer, poet, artist,
traveler and lecturer. A sign painter by
training, he turned to photography in
his twenties. From his business base in
Glens Falls he carried his cameras
throughout the region, capturing the
vistas and scenes of Adirondack life
over a span of forty years. The
thousands of photographs that he
published document not only the
Adirondack wilderness but also the
human story of the region.
NATHANIEL BARTLETT SYLVESTER
(1825–1894), federal judge and prolific
historical writer, was born in Denmark,
N.Y., outside Watertown. He received
his early education at the Denmark
academy, studied law at Lowville, New
York, and was admitted to the bar in
1852. He founded in 1856 and edited
for two years a newspaper at Lowville,
N.Y. In 1866, having been appointed a
commissioner of the United States
circuit court, he moved to Troy, N.Y.
He moved to Saratoga Springs in 1869,
where he died a quarter-century later.
HENRY VAN HOEVENBERG (1849–
1918) was born in Oswego, N.Y.
Working first as a telegraph operator in
Troy, he became a telegraph and
electrical engineer. The onset of a
particularly virulent form of hay fever
in his late twenties led him to relocate
to the Adirondacks. He started building
the Adirondack Lodge on Heart Lake
in 1878 and, once it opened in 1880,
ran the Lodge for nearly two decades.
He made an annual pilgrimage to
Newcomb’s Adirondack Club colony
from the Lodge, hiking the dozen miles
or so miles to the Upper Works
through the Indian Pass. He had to let
the Lodge go to creditors in 1898, but
resumed proprietorship when the Lake
Placid Club purchased it in 1900. In
1903, the Adirondack Lodge was
destroyed in the great Essex County
firestorm. From 1903 to 1917, Van
Hoevenberg was chief engineer at the
Lake Placid Club’s main campus on
Mirror Lake. He was buried in the
family plot in Troy.
NO PORTRAIT
HENRY DORNBURGH (1816-1915) was
born in Montgomery County, N.Y. He
moved to Newcomb township in 1844
and soon became associated with the
McIntyre iron works; Henry’s wife, the
former Phebe Shaw of neighboring
Minerva township, taught school at the
Upper Works. The Dornburghs
returned to Minerva, living in
Olmstedville, after the McIntyre works
closed in 1858. In 1880, the census
listed
Henry’s
occupation
as
“carpenter, builder,” but he served as
Olmstedville postmaster for a time,
too. He died in Ticonderoga.
OLIVER GOLDSMITH (1730–1774), an
Irish poet, dramatist and essayist, was
born to an Anglican cleric. He had a
severe attack of smallpox at the age of
eight that left him badly disfigured. He
graduated from Trinity College,
Dublin, in 1749. He skipped out on a
medical education and worked an
oddly mixed bag of jobs before
publishing his first major work in
1759. His plays and his poetry were
quite popular, but his tastes were
extravagant and he died deeply in debt.
NO PORTRAIT
HENRY PERRY SMITH (1839–1925) was
a prolific historian, authoring at least
twelve histories published by D. Mason
& Co. of Syracuse, most of them the
histories of counties in New York state.
Ironically, nothing is known of Smith’s
personal history.
LEE MANCHESTER was born in
Minneapolis in 1956. In 2000, he left
Southern
California
for
the
Adirondacks, where he worked for the
Lake Placid (N.Y.) News, writing
feature stories on regional history and
historic
preservation.
Manchester
edited “The Plains of Abraham, A
History of North Elba and Lake Placid:
Collected
Writings
of
Mary
MacKenzie” (Utica, N.Y.: Nicholas K.
Burns Publishing, 2007).
DOCUMENT ONE
David Henderson’s journey
2
through Indian Pass (1826)
WALLACE TEXT
Elba, Essex Co., 14th October, 1826.
Archibald McIntyre, New York: —
My Dear Sir. — I wrote you after our arrival here two weeks
ago, and hope you received the letter. We have now left the woods,
and intend returning home for several reasons. We found it
impossible to make a complete search for silver ore this season.
Duncan McMartin’s time will not allow him to remain longer at
present, and to search all the likely ground would take at least a
month longer. But the principal cause of our quitting so soon, is the
discovery of the most extraordinary bed of iron ore for singularity of
situation and extent of vein, which perhaps this North American
continent affords.
As I have an hour or two to spare, I will give you a little sketch
of our proceedings.
The next day after we arrived here (Saturday) we went deerhunting. All the settlement turned out and several deer were seen, but
none killed. I had a shot at one, but at too great distance.
On Sunday we went to Squire Osgood’s meeting. On Monday
got all in preparation for the woods pretty early.
Just before we started, a strapping young Indian of a Canadian
tribe, made his appearance at Darrows’ gate. He was the first Indian
that had been seen in the settlement for three years.
Enoch (whom we had been plaguing about Indians and whose
fears on that score were in consequence considerably excited)
2
This is the text that appeared on pages 344 to 350 of the 1894 edition of E.R.
Wallace’s Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks, published in Syracuse by Watson
Gill. Another rendition of the Henderson letter has gained wide circulation by virtue of
its appearance in Arthur H. Masten’s The Story of Adirondac, published in a very
small, private edition in 1923. Masten’s Adirondac was reprinted in 1968 by the
Adirondack Museum; though the book has since gone out of print, it was distributed
widely enough to be accessible today with relative ease. Masten’s version of the
Henderson letter was also anthologized in Paul Jamieson’s The Adirondack Reader,
first published in 1982 by the Adirondack Mountain Club. Masten replicated David
Henderson’s letter verbatim; “the spelling and punctuation of the originals are
reproduced without change,” Masten wrote. Wallace, however, edited the letter for the
reader’s convenience, standardizing spelling and punctuation and introducing
paragraph breaks for readier comprehension.
1
happened to be standing at the door when the Indian appeared, and
made a precipitate retreat to the back settlements of the house.
“Well, now massa Henderson,” he said; “this too bad. Don you
’collect I tells you not to bring me in ’mong Injins. They be a people
I want nothin’ to do with.”
The Indian opened his blanket and took out a piece of iron ore
about the size of a nut, saying:
“You want see ’em ore? Me know ’m bed, all same.”
“Where did you find it?” we asked.
“Me know;” he replied. “Over mountain, whose water runs pom,
pom, pom over dam like beaver dam, all black and shiny. Me find
plenty all same.”
“Does any other Indian know of it?”
“No; me hunt ’em beaver all ’lone last spring, when me find
’em.”
“Have you shown it to any white man?” we anxiously
questioned.
“Yes; me show him ore, but no bed. No white man go see it.”
“How far away is it?”
“Me guess twelve miles over that way.”
The people about here laughed at the idea, and said the ore was
no good, but the Indian had probably chipped it from a rock. But we
had some further talk with him, and found that he had been at
Graves’ that morning, showing the ore to him, who had sent him
after us. It seems that every one to whom he showed it, laughed at
him; and no doubt, as Thompson thinks, Graves sent him to us that
we might be led after the Indian on a “wild goose chase.”
The Indian being a very modest, honest looking fellow, we
concluded to take him along with us at any rate; and inquired how
much he would charge to remain in the woods with us until Saturday
night.
“Dollar, half, and ’bacco,” he replied.
To this moderate demand we assented; so off we started with our
packs on our backs.
Our company consisted of Duncan and Malcolm McMartin,
Dyer Thompson, our valiant nigger, the Indian, John McIntyre and
myself. By the way, the Indian’s name is Lewis; his father’s name is
Elija and he calls himself Lewis Elija.3
3
The full name of the native American who led the Henderson party over Indian Pass
to the iron dam at Adirondac was Lewis Elijah Benedict. Russell Carson, in his Peaks
and People of the Adirondacks (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company,
Inc., 1928) gives the following biographical information about Henderson’s “Lewis
Elija” and his forebears (pp. 36-37):
2
We (the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth) trudged along
the road in a peaceable manner; although it was plain to be seen that
the descendant of Ham eyed the descendant [of] Shem with
suspicion, and kept at a most respectful distance.
We followed the road-way through a clearing to the river, and
wandered along its banks until we reached a point a mile above its
bow. Darkness now approached; and we encamped for the night.
Dyer cut an old birch tree for back and fore-logs — a tree which Mr.
McMartin and I ascertained had withstood the blasts of one hundred
and fifty winters. We procured the middle fire-wood from a huge
pine that had been riven to splinters by the thunderbolts of heaven.
Who could, that night, boast of so sublime a fire? It was indeed a
tremendous one, throwing a broad glare of light into the dark bosom
of the wood. The very owls screeched as if wondering what it meant,
and the blue-jays kept up an incessant chatter. Enoch said little, but
thought much, always taking care not to be within a stone’s throw of
the Hebrew of the wilderness.
But I find that neither time nor paper will admit of pursuing this
train any longer.
“Sabael, an Abenaki Indian lad, was with his father at the battle of Quebec in
1759. He was then twelve years old, and after kept his age from the date of the battle.
Sabael came into the Adirondacks in August, 1762, by way of Lake Champlain,
through the Indian Pass to Lake Henderson, down the Hudson to the mouth of the
Indian River, thence up the Indian River to Indian Lake, where he settled. Thereafter,
he roamed over much of the Adirondacks.”
Carson here cites two sources — the Proceedings of the New York State Historical
Association, Vol. XVI, p. 268; and Summer Gleanings, by John Todd, 1852, p. 261 —
noting, “The two accounts agree in major facts but differ in minor details.”
Carson then resumes his account of Lewis Elijah’s origins:
“[Sabael] was interested in rocks, for it is known that he brought out specimens
from various places. Sabael lived to be a very old man and disappeared under
mysterious circumstances in 1855. He was last seen on the Indian trail from Thirteenth
Lake to Puffer Pond. It is believed that the old Indian met with foul play and that his
body was buried in the woods near Puffer Pond.
“Sabael had a son named Lewis Elijah, who afterward took the name of ‘Lige’
Benedict. His adopted name was for Professor Farrand N. Benedict, of the University
of Vermont, who rendered such valuable assistance to the state geologists. Lewis
Elijah was Professor Benedict’s guide in his Adirondack exploration. Sabael
discovered the rich iron deposits between Lakes Sanford and Henderson, and in
October, 1826, Lewis Elijah showed specimens of the ore to the proprietors of an
abandoned ironworks at North Elba.”
Carson closes his account of Lewis Elijah’s identity with a footnoted proviso:
“There are contradictory statements in early Adirondack literature as to the identity
of the Indian who located the iron mines. Mr. Isaac Kenwell of Indian Lake knew
Sabael’s children and grandchildren and was told by the latter that it was their
grandfather who discovered iron at McIntyre and that it was Uncle Lige who showed it
to the white men. Mitchell Sabbatis, the famous Long Lake Indian guide, told Mr.
Kenwell the same story.”
3
Tuesday and Wednesday were employed in running lines, and
searching from near the ruins of the top of the largest burnt cobble,
examining every ledge as we went along. On Thursday we came
across your old camp, and removed ours to within a gun-shot of it.
Finished the examination of that cobble by the evening. No signs of
what we wanted.
We had a good deal of conversation with the Indian about his
ore-bed, and found him a sagacious and honest fellow, extremely
modest, and willing to do anything. Before going any farther, I wish
you to understand that this is not the same Indian that Malcolm
McMartin had heard had discovered an ore bed near Elba. That was
an old Indian, who showed his bed to one Brigham, but it was not
good.
On Friday morning we all started with the Indian for the ore bed
— our course to a notch in the South mountains where the river Au
Sable has its source. After a fatiguing journey we arrived at the notch
— as wild a place as I ever saw.
We had to travel through a narrow pass, with an immense rock
rising perpendicularly on one side, our way almost blocked in many
places by large masses of what had tumbled down. On the whole it
was a terrific place to think of traveling through. Our descendant of
Ham gazed in a fit of astonishment when he found that we were
scrambling on and must go through that which seemed so dreadful
before him.
“Well, now, dis beat all!” said he. “Fo’ God Almighty’s sake!
How kin a body ever get ober dis? What put it in yo’
compurmhenshun ever to come to sich a place? I never think there be
such horrificable place in all dis world!”
On we climbed, and came to a spot where we were all obliged to
slide down with some caution.
Enoch was brought to his trumps at this necessity; he liked not
the idea of so long a voyage on his beam ends, and declared to me
with a great deal of pettishness that “dis was a complete take-in.”
A few minutes afterward he made good his footing to a tree, but
some green moss at its root having covered a dreadful hole, poor
Enoch’s leg was destined to fill it, and down he came, camp kettle
and all, the one leg pointing to the heavens, the other in the opposite
direction; for it was a dreadful chasm below.
“Well!” said I; “Enoch that is a complete ‘take-in,’ indeed!” At
length we gained the summit of the notch — the very fountain-head
of the Au Sable River where we found another stream running south.
This appears to be the principal source of the Hudson River.
4
We proceeded down the notch on the other side, and about half
way were obliged to camp for the night. Our situation here was grand
in the extreme — encamped at the head of North River in a narrow
pass, the moon glimmering by fits through the forest; the huge,
perpendicular rocks on each side aspiring to the heavens for our
curtains; the clouds for our canopy; the ground our bed and the infant
murmurs of the giant river Hudson the music that lulled us to sleep.
Astir betimes next morning, — it had every appearance of a
rainy day, and we concluded to leave Enoch to make the camp as
rain proof as possible for the night. We took a little biscuit in our
pockets, and left Enoch all alone.
The Indian led us over a hill, and after traveling about four miles
we came to the same stream on which we encamped the previous
night, but of course it was much larger. On crossing this we found a
great many pieces of pure iron ore lying in the channel. Some were
as large as a pumpkin. We traveled down the stream about half a
mile, when, to our astonishment, we found the bed of ore! (We had
hitherto conceived it to be on the other side of the a mountain.)4 The
river runs there nearly north and south and the vein strikes over it in
a north-east and south-west direction. The Indian took us to a ledge
five feet high running into the river, which was nothing but pure ore.
He, however, had no idea of the extent of the vein.
We went one hundred yards below the vein, where is a waterfall
of ten feet. Mr. Duncan McMartin, his brother and the Indian,
proceeded down to a lake below (which is about four miles long) to
make observations. Mr. Thompson, John and myself returned to the
ore-bed to make a particular examination and to await their return.
We found the breadth of the vein to be about fifty feet. We
traced it into the woods on each side of the river. On one side we
went eighty feet into the woods, and digging down about a foot of
earth, found a pure ore-bed there.
Let me here remark; this immense mass of ore is unmixed with
anything. In the middle of the river where the water runs over, the
channel appears like the bottom of a smoothing iron. On the top of
the vein are large chunks which at first we thought were stone; but
lifting one (as much as Thompson could do) and letting it fall, it
crumbled into a thousand pieces of pure ore. In short, the thing was
past all conception!
We traced the vein most distinctly, the veins parallel to each
other and running into the earth on both sides of the stream. We had
the opportunity to see the vein nearly five feet from the surface of it,
4
Wallace’s text here corrected according to Masten’s rendition.
5
on the side of the ledge that falls straight down into the water; and at
this depth we made a cavity of a foot or two, where we found the ore
crumbled to pieces. This, Thompson calls “shot ore.” It was here of
an indigo color. The grain of the ore is large. On the top of the ledge
it seems to be a little harder than below, but not so hard but a chunk
would break easily in throwing it down. Thompson considers it rich
ore, and as we have now ascertained, entirely free from sulphur.
Do not think it wonderful that this immense vein had not
hitherto been discovered. It is an extraordinary place; you might pass
the whole and think it rock; — it has been a received opinion that
there was no ore south of the great ridge of mountains; a white man
or even an Indian may not have traveled that way in years. But
certain it is, here is the mother-vein of iron which throws her little
veins and sprinklings over all these mountains.
Duncan, Malcolm and the Indian returned to us. They paced
from the lake and found it to be nearly a mile and a half from the orebed. The nearest house, where one Newcomb lives, is from six to
eight miles distant. The stream is excellent for works, and there is a
good chance for a road to Newcomb where is a regular road. When
the men returned to us the rain had begun to pour in torrents, and the
day was nearly spent. We removed as much as possible all traces of
work on the ore-bed — should it happen that any hunter might pass
the spot.
Drenched to the skin we hastened on our journey, the Indian our
guide. What a wonderful sagacity is displayed by these
unsophisticated children of the forest! Let them but see sun, rivers or
distant hills, or, failing those, the most indistinct previous tracks —
they are never at a loss. “Here ’em bear to-day.” “Moose here day
’fore yesterday.” “Wolf here hour ago;” were frequent ejaculations of
our Indian. I may here observe, when we were on the other side of
the pass he turned up three tiers of leaves and said, “Brigham and me
here two year ago.”
But to continue my narrative: Darkness came upon us, and we
soon found that we had turned back — for we were going south with
the stream. We made a great effort to return to the camp where we
had left Enoch with our small stock of provisions that we had
brought from our stationary camp; but it rained so hard we were
weighted down with our wet clothes, and it was so dark we could
hardly see our hands before our face. In short, we soon knew not in
what direction we were going. The Indian now was of no more use as
a guide than any of us; for without sun, head-lands or track, what
could the poor Hebrew do?
6
We were indeed on the same stream on which we had left
Enoch; but to travel along its banks in the dark, over wind-falls and
rocks, we found was impossible. As a last resource we plunged into
the stream with the intention of wading up till we came to Enoch, but
soon found that also impossible; and if it had been possible,
dangerous. It was very cold also, for although all of us were as wet as
water could make us, we were in a state of perspiration from the
exertion, and it was consequently impossible for us to scramble up
stream in the cold water. Being all wearied and hungry and Mr.
Duncan McMartin feeling very ill, we halted about eight o’clock
with the intention of waiting till morning. The prospect was very
dreary. We had eaten nothing since early morning but a bite of
biscuit, and all we had for supper was one partridge without any
accompaniment, among six of us. We had great difficulty in getting
fire — everything was wet, and the rain pouring down. The Indian at
last got some stuff out of the heart of a rotten tree, and with some
tow, he at length got a little fire started by the aid of my gun. But we
had no axe, only a hatchet, and it being a place where there was little
rotten wood, we could not with all our efforts make anything like a
good fire.
The rain wet faster than the fire dried us; and to make matters
more unpleasant, it became very cold, with a shower of snow. We
cooked our partridge, divided it into six parts, and I believe ate bones
and all. Small as was the portion for each, it did us much good.
It cleared off toward morning, and you may imagine we gave
day-light a hearty welcome. We found ourselves only a mile from the
place where we left Enoch, and hastened to him as fast as our stiff
legs would carry us.
We found him asleep after a wakeful night of “terrification.”
“The storm howled deadly,” he said, “all night.” He did not shut his
eyes for fear of bears, panthers, wolves and Indians, and the
“horricate” thought of being left alone in such a place. The very first
thing we did was to drink up all the rum we had, raw — about a glass
each; and the breakfast we made finished everything but a piece of
pork about two inches square. We slept about two hours, then set out
on our homeward journey. This was Sunday morning. We all, not
excepting the Indian, found ourselves weak from previous exertion
and fatigue, and we had a pretty hard struggle to get back through the
notch.
Duncan McMartin’s disorder continued, and we all felt that it
would be impossible to reach our stationary camp that evening. So
again we had the prospect of spending a day and a night without
provisions. But we were more fortunate afterward. The Indian shot
7
with the aid of Wallace, three partridges and a pigeon. One of the
partridges flew some distance after it received the shot, and we gave
it up as lost; but Wallace lingered behind, and in a short time brought
it to us in his mouth. In the evening got within about three miles of
our stationary camp, and halted for the night — 5 For the information
of Mrs. McIntyre in the way of cookery, I will state, that with one of
the partridges, the pigeon and a little piece of pork, we made an
excellent soup in the camp kettle. The other two partridges we
roasted in the Indian fashion. This made a plentiful supper for all of
us for which we were certainly thankful.
Next morning we started betimes for our camp, and the first
thing we did upon arriving was to “tap the admiral.” I now felt happy
enough and contented with having witnessed another scene of “Life
in the Woods.”
Thompson declared that he had never experienced such a time.
We had now been out in the woods eight days without having our
clothes off, and we concluded to go into the settlement and recruit a
little.
We arrived there that afternoon, and none of us received any
injury from our little mishap.
Next day the settlement turned out for a deer-hunt. I was on the
opposite side of the river from the deer, — he came running toward
me and I waited, expecting him to come into the river. But upon
reaching the bank he discovered me and turned. When I fired, the
ball broke his hind leg. He bleated piteously, gave a spring, and fell
into the river, head first. Thompson endeavored to get at him, but he
turned about and got to the opposite side of the river out of his reach.
Poor creature! He limped up the hill through the snow, his leg
trailing behind him by the skin. He looked back and lay down two or
three times before reaching the woods. The dogs followed him in and
brought him out again. The poor mangled animal, lacerated behind
by the ravenous dogs, was caught at last, and his throat cut.
Confound the sport! say I, if it is to be managed in this way! Next
morning we set off for the cobbles, over the Packard ridge, where we
have been till this day. Found the thing out of the question to be
satisfied with this season — Believe in it still — Will explain this at
meeting — 6 This enormous iron bed has kept possession of our
minds. I dreamed about it. We judge it best to lose no time in
securing it, if possible. We will take the Indian with us up to Albany
— dare not leave him in this country. Mr. McMartin has made all
observations he can, so as to come at it in Albany, and the Indian has
5
6
The underlined text appeared here in the Masten version, but not in Wallace’s.
The underlined text appeared here in the Masten version, but not in Wallace’s.
8
drawn us a complete map of all the country about. If it has been
surveyed, there will be little difficulty; if not, there will be much —
but it must be overcome. The thing is too important for delay.
Speculation in Essex County is running wild for ore-beds. It would
not benefit the Elba works — no chance of a road. But the vein lies
on a stream where forges can be erected for thirty miles below it. No
ore bed has yet been discovered on that side. We have shown
specimens of the ore to some bloomers, — they said there was no
doubt about it.
I have written you fully, and will write again upon our arrival at
Albany as to what can be done,
In the meantime I am, dear sir,
Yours truly,
DAVID HENDERSON.
9
DOCUMENT TW O
First ascent of
Mount Marcy (1836-37)
Some account of two visits to the mountains
in Essex County, N.Y., in 1836 & 1837;
with a sketch of the northern sources of the Hudson7
WILLIAM C. REDFIELD
Notwithstanding the increase of population, and the rapid
extension of our settlements since the peace of 1783, there is still
found, in the northern part of the state of New York, an uninhabited
region of considerable extent, which presents all the rugged
characters and picturesque features of a primeval wilderness. This
region constitutes the most elevated portion of the great triangular
district, which is situated between the line of the St. Lawrence, the
Mohawk, and Lake Champlain. That portion of it which claims our
notice in the following sketches, lies mainly within the county of
Essex, and the contiguous parts [of] Hamilton and Franklin, and
comprises the head waters of the principal rivers in the northern
division of the state.
In the summer of 1836, the writer had occasion to visit the new
settlement at McIntyre, in Essex county, in company with the
proprietors of that settlement, and other gentlemen who had been
invited to join the expedition. Our party consisted of the Hon.
Archibald Mclntyre of Albany, the late Judge McMartin of
Broadalbin, Montgomery county, and David Henderson, Esq. of
Jersey City, proprietors, together with David C. Colden, Esq. of
Jersey City, and Mr. James Hall, assistant state geologist for the
northern district.
First Journey to Essex [August 1836]
We left Saratoga on the 10th of August, and after halting a day
at Lake George, reached Ticonderoga on the 12th; where at 1 P.M.
we embarked on board one of the Lake Champlain steamboats, and
were landed soon after 3 P.M., at Port Henry, two miles N.W. from
the old fortress of Crown Point. The remainder of the day, and part of
7
Published in The Family Magazine, Vol. V (1838), pp. 345-354; reprinted from the
American Journal of Science and Arts, January 1838 issue; first published serially in
the New York Journal of Commerce starting in August 1837. The entire article is dated
November 1, 1837. Thanks to Jerold Pepper, research librarian at the Adirondack
Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y., for locating this article.
10
the 13th, were spent in exploring the vicinity, and examining the
interesting sections which are here exhibited of the junction of the
primary rocks with the transition series, near the western borders of
the lake, and we noticed with peculiar interest the effect which
appears to have been produced by the former upon the transition
limestone at the line of contact; the latter being here converted into
white masses, remarkably crystalline in their structure, and
interspersed with scales of plumbago.
On the evening of the 13th, we were entertained with a brilliant
exhibition of the Aurora Borealis, which, between 7 and 8 P.M., shot
upward in rapid and luminous coruscations from the northern half of
the horizon, the whole converging to a point apparently fifteen
degrees south of the zenith. This appearance was succeeded by
luminous vertical columns or pencils of the color, alternately, of a
pale red and a peculiar blue, which were exhibited in great beauty.
On the 14th, we left Port Henry on horseback, and, after a ride of
six miles, left the cultivated country on the borders of the lake and
entered the forest. The road on which we travelled is much used for
the transportation of sawed pine lumber from the interior, there being
in the large township of Moriah, as we were informed, more than
sixty saw-mills. Four hours of rough travelling brought us to
Weatherhead’s, at West Moriah, upon the Schroon river, or East
Branch of the Hudson, thirteen miles from Lake Champlain. An old
state road from Warren county to Plattsburgh, passes through this
valley, along which is established the line of interior settlements, in
this part of the county. Our further route to the westward was upon a
newer and more imperfect road, which has been opened from this
place through the unsettled country in the direction of Black river, in
Lewis county. We ascended by this road the woody defiles of the
Schroon mountain-ridge, which, as seen from Weatherhead’s,
exhibits, in its lofty and apparently continuous elevations, little
indications of a practicable route. Having passed a previously unseen
gorge of this chain, we continued our way under a heavy rain, till we
reached the dwelling of Israel Johnson, who has established himself
at the outlet of a beautiful mountain lake, called Clear Pond, nine
miles from Schroon river. This is the only dwelling-house upon the
new road.
To travel in view of the log fences and fallen trees of a thickly
wooded country, affords a favorable opportunity for observing the
specific spiral direction which is often found in the woody fibre of
the stems of forest trees, of various species. In a large proportion of
the cases which vary from a perpendicular arrangement, averaging
not less than seven out of eight, the spiral turn of the fibres of the
11
stem in ascending from the ground, is towards the left, or in popular
language, against the sun. It is believed that no cause has been
assigned for this by writers on vegetable physiology. It may be
remarked, incidentally, that the direction, in these cases, coincides
with the direction of rotation, which is exhibited in our great storms,
as well as with that of the tornado which visited New Brunswick in
1835, and other whirlwinds of like character, the traces of which
have been carefully examined.
We resumed our journey on the morning of the 15th, and at 9
A.M. reached the Boreas branch of the Hudson, eight miles from
Johnson’s. Soon after 11 A.M., we arrived at the Main Northern
Branch of the Hudson, a little below its junction with the outlet of
Lake Sanford. Another quarter of an hour brought us to the landing at
the outlet of the lake, nine miles from the Boreas. Taking leave of the
“road,” we here entered a difficult path which leads up the western
side of the lake, and a further progress of six miles brought us to the
Iron Works and settlement at McIntyre, where a hospitable reception
awaited us.
Settlement at McIntyre;
Mineral Character of the Country
At this settlement, and in its immediate vicinity, are found beds
of iron ore of great, if not unexampled extent, and of the best quality.
These deposites have been noticed in the first report of the state
geologists, and have since received from Professor Emmons a more
extended examination. Lake Sanford is a beautiful sheet of water, of
elongated and irregular form, and about five miles in extant. The Iron
Works are situated on the north fork of the Hudson, a little below the
point where it issues from Lake Henderson, and over a mile above its
entrance into Lake Sanford. The fall of the stream between the two
lakes is about one hundred feet. This settlement is situated in the
upper plain of the Hudson, and at the foot of the principal mountain
nucleus, which rises between its sources and those of the Au Sable.
A remarkable feature of this mountain district, is the uniformity
of the mineral character of its rocks, which consist chiefly of the dark
colored and sometimes opalescent feldspar, known as labradorite or
Labrador feldspar. Towards the exterior limits of the formation, this
material is accompanied with considerable portions of green augite
or pyroxene, but in the more central portions of the formation, this
feldspar often constitutes almost the only ingredient of the rocks. It
seems not a little repugnant to our notions of the primary rocks, to
find a region of this extent which is apparently destitute of mica,
quartz, and hornblende, and also, of any traces of stratified gneiss.
12
This labradoritic formation commences at the valley of the Schroon
river, and extends westerly into the counties of Hamilton and
Franklin, to a limit which is at present unknown. Its northern limit
appears to be at the plains which lie between the upper waters of the
Au Sable and Lake Placid, and its southern boundary which extends
as far as Schroon, has not been well defined. It appears probable that
it comprises an area of six or eight hundred square miles, including
most of the principal mountain masses in this part of the state. So far
as is known to the writer, no foreign rocks or boulders of any size or
description are found in this region, if we are not to except as such,
the fragments of the dykes, chiefly of trap, by which this rock is
frequently intersected.
The surface of the rock where it has been long exposed to the
weather, has commonly a whitened appearance, owing to its external
decomposition. Blocks and boulders of this rock are scattered over
the country in a southerly and westerly direction, as far as the
southern boundary of the state of New York, as appears from the
Report of Professor Emmons and other observations; and they are
often lodged on the northern declivity of hills, high above the general
level of the country. But it is not elsewhere found in place within the
limits of the United States; the nearest locality at present known,
being about two hundred miles north of Quebec, on the northeastern
border of Lake St. John, from whence it appears to extend to the
Labrador coast.8 The most eastern of these transported boulders
known to the writer is one of about one hundred tuns weight, at
Cocksackie, on the Hudson, one hundred and thirty miles south from
the labradoritic mountains. This block is found on the northern
shoulder of a hill, three hundred feet above the river, and one
hundred and fifty feet above the general level of the adjacent
country.9
8
Redfield: See Lieut. Baddeley’s communications in the Transactions of the Quebec
Literary and Historical Society, Vol. I.
9
Redfield: The rocks found in the interior of the United States, west of the Hudson
river, exhibit strata composed of shells, and other marine remains, which in some
unknown period have evidently formed the floor of the ancient ocean. Geologists and
other well-informed persons, will therefore find little difficulty in ascribing the
extensive transfer of these heavy boulders to the agency of floating icebergs, or large
masses of ice which were borne by the polar currents on the surface of the ancient sea,
while the great part of our continent was yet beneath its waters.
To those who think the climate of these parallels an objection to this theory, it may
be remarked that bilge glaciers are still formed in the mountain ravines at the head of
the numerous bays which penetrate the southern extremes of the Andes, in a climate
less rigid than that of the Essex mountains; and that icebergs are still met with in the
Southern ocean, in latitudes as low as that of North Carolina, in cases where they have
not been intercepted in their course by a warm current like that of the gulf stream.
13
First Expedition to the Mountains; Encampment
It has been noticed that the north branch of the Hudson, after its
exit from Lake Sanford, joins the main branch of the river, about
seven miles below the settlement at McIntyre. Having prepared for
an exploration up the latter stream, we left McIntyre on the 17th of
July, with three assistants, and the necessary equipage for
encampment. Leaving the north branch, we proceeded through the
woods in a southeasterly direction, passing two small lakes, till, at
the distance of three or four miles from the settlement, we reached
the southern point of one of the mountains, and assuming here a
more easterly course, we came, about noon, to the main branch of the
river. Traces of wolves and deer were frequently seen, and we
discovered also the recent tracks of a moose, Cervus Alces, L. We
had also noticed on the 16th, at the inlet of Lake Sanford, the fresh
and yet undried footsteps of a panther, which apparently had just
crossed the inlet.
The beaches of the river, on which, by means of frequent
fordings, we now travelled, are composed of rolled masses of the
labradoritic rock, and small opalescent specimens not unfrequently
showed their beautiful colors in the bed of the stream. As we
approached the entrance of the mountains, the ascent of the stream
sensibly increased, and about 4 P.M., preparations were commenced
for our encampment. A shelter, consisting of poles and spruce bark,
was soon constructed by the exertions of our dexterous woodsmen.
The camp-fire being placed on the open side, the party sleep with
their heads in the opposite direction, under the lower part of the roof.
On the morning of the 18th, we resumed the ascent of the stream
by its bed, in full view of two mountains, from between which the
stream emerges. About two miles from our camp, we entered the
more precipitous part of the gorge through which the river descends.
Our advance here became more difficult and somewhat dangerous.
After ascending falls and rapids, seemingly innumerable, we came
about noon to an imposing cascade, closely pent between two steep
mountains, and falling about eighty feet into a deep chasm, the walls
of which are as precipitous as those of Niagara, and more secluded.
With difficulty we emerged from this gulf, and continued our upward
Even on the American coast, and between it and the gulf stream, large ice islands were
found in the summer of 1836, almost in the latitude of Albany.
It is worthy of notice that the labradoritic boulders abovementioned, instead of
being brought from the N.W. and N.N.W., as in the case of the boulders of rocks in
lower positions which are found so frequently in New England, have evidently been
carried by a north or northeast current in a south or southwesterly direction, and
corresponding nearly to the present course of the great polar current, along the coast of
Greenland, Labrador, and the shores of the United States.
14
course over obstacles similar to the preceding, till half past 2 P.M.,
when we reached the head of this terrific ravine. From a ledge of
rock which here crosses and obstructs the stream, the river continues,
on a level which may be called the Upper Still Water, for more than a
mile in a westerly and northwesterly direction, but continues pent in
the bottom of a deep mountain gorge or valley, with scarce any
visible current. To this point the river had been explored by the
proprietors on a former occasion.
Lake Colden; Mountain Peaks
Emerging from this valley, we found the river to have a
meandering course of another mile, in a northwesterly and northerly
direction, with a moderate current, until it forks into two unequal
branches. Leaving the main branch which here descends from the
east, we followed the northern tributary to the distance of two
hundred yards from the forks, where it proved to be the outlet of a
beautiful lake, of about a mile in extent. This lake, to which our party
afterward gave the name of Lake Colden,10 is situated between two
mountain peaks which rise in lofty grandeur on either hand. We
made our second camp at the outlet of this lake, and in full view of
its interesting scenery.
Previous to reaching the outlet, we had noticed on the margin of
the river, fresh tracks of the wolf and also of the deer, both
apparently made at the fullest speed, and on turning a point we came
upon the warm and mangled remains of a the deer, which had fallen
a sacrifice to the wolves; the latter having been driven from their
savage repast by our unwelcome approach. There appeared to have
been two of the aggressive party, one of which, by lying in wait, had
probably intercepted the deer in his course to the lake, and they had
nearly devoured their victim in apparently a short space of time.
The great ascent which we had made from our first encampment,
and the apparent altitude of the mountain peaks before us, together
with the naked condition of their summits, rendered it obvious that
the elevation of this mountain group had been greatly underrated;
and we were led to regret our want of means for a barometrical
measurement. The height of our present encampment above Lake
Sanford was estimated to be from ten to twelve hundred feet, and the
height of Lake Colden, above tide, at from one thousand eight
hundred, to two thousand feet, the elevation of Lake Sanford being
assumed from such information as we could obtain, to be about eight
10
Named for David C. Colden, of Jersey City, a friend of David Henderson and a
member of Redfield’s exploratory party in August 1836.
15
hundred feet. The elevation of the peaks on either side of Lake
Colden, were estimated from two thousand, to two thousand five
hundred feet above the lake. These conclusions were entered in our
notes, and are since proved to have been tolerably correct, except as
they were founded on the supposed elevation of Lake Sanford, which
had been very much underrated.
August 19th. The rain had fallen heavily during the night, and
the weather was still such as to preclude the advance of the party.
But the ardor of individuals was hardly to be restrained by the storm;
and during the forenoon, Mr. Henderson, with John Cheney, our
huntsman, made the circuit of Lake Colden, having in their course
beaten up the quarters of a family of panthers, to the great
discomfiture of Cheney’s valorous dog. At noon, the weather being
more favorable, Messrs. McIntyre, McMartin and Hall, went up the
border of the lake to examine the valley which extends beyond it in a
N.N.E. and N.E. direction, while the writer, with Mr. Henderson,
resumed the ascent of the main stream of the Hudson.
Notwithstanding the wet, and the swollen state of the stream, we
succeeded in ascending more than two miles in a southeasterly and
southerly direction, over a constant succession of falls and rapids of
an interesting character. In one instance, the river has assumed the
bed of a displaced trap dyke, by which the rock has been intersected,
thus forming a chasm or sluice of great depth, with perpendicular
walls, in which the river is precipitated in a cascade of fifty feet.
Before returning to camp, the writer ascended a neighboring
ridge for the purpose of obtaining a view of the remarkably elevated
valley from which the Hudson here issues. From this point a
mountain peak was discovered, which obviously exceeded in
elevation the peaks which had hitherto engaged our attention. Having
taken the compass bearing of this peak, further progress was
relinquished, in hope of resuming the exploration of this unknown
region on the morrow.
Avalanche Lake; Return to the Settlement
On returning to our camp, we met the portion of our party which
had penetrated the valley north of the lake, and who had there
discovered another lake of nearly equal extent, which discharges by
an outlet that falls into Lake Colden. On the two sides of this lake,
the mountains rise so precipitously as to preclude any passage
through the gorge, except by water. The scenery was described as
very imposing, and some fine specimens of the opalescent rock were
brought from this locality. Immense slides or avalanches had been
16
precipitated into this lake from the steep face of the mountain, which
induced the party to bestow upon it the name of Avalanche lake.
Another night was passed at this camp, and the morning of the
20th opened with thick mists and rain, by which our progress was
further delayed. It was at last determined, in view of the bad state of
the weather and our short stock of provisions, to abandon any further
exploration at this time, and to return to the settlement. Retracing our
steps nearly to the head of the Still Water, we then took a westerly
course through a level and swampy tract, which soon brought us to
the head-waters of a stream which descends nearly in a direct course
to the outlet of Lake Henderson. The distance from our camp at Lake
Colden to McIntyre, by this route, probably does not exceed six
miles. Continuing our course, we reached the settlement without
serious accident, but with an increased relish for the comforts of
civilization.
This part of the state was surveyed into large tracts, or
townships, by the colonial government, as early as 1772, and lines
and corners of that date, as marked upon the trees of the forest, are
now distinctly legible. But the topography of the mountains and
streams in the upper country, appears not to have been properly
noted, if at all examined, and in our best maps, has either been
omitted or represented erroneously. Traces have been discovered
near Mclntyre of a route, which the natives sometimes pursued
through this mountain region, by way of Lakes Sanford and
Henderson, and thence to the Preston Ponds and the head-waters of
the Racket. But these savages had no inducement to make the
laborious ascent of steril mountain peaks, which they held in
superstitious dread, or to explore the hidden sources of the rivers
which they send forth. Even the more hardy huntsman of later times,
who, when trapping for northern furs, has marked his path into the
recesses of these elevated forests, has left no traces of his axe higher
than the borders of Lake Colden, where some few marks of this
description may be perceived. All here seems abandoned to solitude;
and even the streams and lakes of this upper region are destitute of
the trout, which are found so abundant below the cataracts of the
mountains.
Whiteface Mountain; the Notch
At a later period of the year, Professor Emmons, in the execution
of his geological survey, and accompanied by Mr. Hall, his assistant,
ascended the Whiteface mountain, a solitary peak of different
formation, which rises in the north part of the county. From this
point, Prof. E. distinctly recognised as the highest of the group, the
17
peak on which the writer’s attention had been fastened at the
termination of our ascent of the Hudson, and which he describes as
situated about sixteen miles South of Whiteface. Prof. E. then
proceeded southward through the remarkable Notch, or pass, which
is described in his Report, and which is situated about five miles
north from McIntyre. The Wallface mountain, which forms the west
side of the pass, was ascended by him on this occasion, and the
height of its perpendicular part was ascertained to be about twelve
hundred feet, as may be seen by reference to the geological Report
which was published in February last, by order of the Legislature. It
appears by the barometrical observations made by Prof. Emmons,
that the elevation of the tableland which constitutes the base of these
mountains at McIntyre, is much greater than from the result of our
inquiries we had been led to suppose.
Second Journey to Essex County [August 1837]
The interest excited in our party by the short exploration which
has been described, was not likely to fail till its objects were more
fully accomplished. Another visit to this alpine region was
accordingly made in the summer of the present year.11 Our party on
this occasion consisted of Messrs. McIntyre, Henderson and Hall,
(the latter at this time geologist of the western district of the state,)
together with Prof. Torrey, Prof. Emmons, Messrs. Ingham and
Strong of New York, Miller of Princeton, and Emmons, Jr. of
Williamstown.
We left Albany on the 28th of July, and took steamboat at
Whitehall on the 29th. At the latter place an opportunity was
afforded us to ascend the eminence known as Skeenes’ mountain,
which rises about five hundred feet above the lake. Passing the
interesting ruins of Ticonderoga and the less imposing military works
of Crown Point, we again landed at Port Henry and proceeded to the
pleasant village of East Moriah, situated upon the high ground, three
and a half miles west of the lake. This village is elevated near eight
hundred feet above the lake, and commands a fine view of the
western slope of Vermont, terminating with the extended and
beautiful outline of the Green Mountains.
We left East Moriah on the 31st, and our first day’s ride brought
us to Johnson’s at Clear Pond. The position of the High Peak of
Essex was now known to be but a few miles distant, and Johnson
informed us that the snow remained on a peak which is visible from
near his residence, till the 17th of July of the present year. We
11
That is, 1837.
18
obtained a fine view of this peak the next morning, bearing from
Johnson’s N. 20° west, by compass, a position which corresponded
to the previous observations; the variation in this quarter being
somewhere between 8° and 9° west.
Descending an abrupt declivity from Johnson’s, we arrive at a
large stream which issues from a small lake farther up the country,
and receiving here the outlet of Clear Pond, discharges itself into the
Schroon river. The upper portions of these streams and the lakes
from which they issue, as well as the upper course of the Boreas with
its branches and mountain lakes, are not found on our maps. From
the stream beforementioned, the road ascends the Boreas ridge or
mountain chain by a favorable pass, the summit of which is attained
about four miles from Johnson’s. Between the Boreas and the main
branch of the Hudson, we encounter a subordinate extension of the
mountain group which separates the sources of these streams,
through the passes of which ridge the road is carried by a circuitous
and uneven route.
We reached the outlet of Lake Sanford about noon on the 1st of
August, and found two small boats awaiting our arrival. Having
embarked we were able fully to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the
lake and mountain scenery which is here presented, all such views
being, as is well known, precluded by the foliage while travelling in
the forests. The echoes which are obtained at a point on the upper
portion of the lake, are very remarkable for their strength and
distinctness. The trout are plentiful in this lake, as well as in Lake
Henderson and all the neighboring lakes and streams. We arrived at
McIntyre about 4 P.M., and the resources of the settlement were
placed in requisition by the hospitable proprietors, for our expedition
to the source of the Hudson.
Barometrical Observations on the Route
The following table shows the observations made with the
barometer at different points on our route, and the elevation above
tide water as deduced from these observations and others made on
the same days at Albany by Matthew Henry Webster, Esq. No
detached thermometer was used, the general exposure of the attached
thermometers to the open air being such as to indicate the
temperature of the air, at both the upper and lower stations, with
tolerable accuracy. In the observations with the mountain barometer
a correction is here made for variation in the cistern, equal to one
fiftieth of the depression which was found below the zero adjustment
at thirty inches.
19
It is proper also to state, that the two mountain barometers made
use of, continued in perfectly good order during our tour, and agreed
well with each other in their zero adjustment, which is such as will
give a mean annual height of full thirty inches at the sea level; but,
like other barometers which have leather-bottomed cisterns, are
liable to be somewhat affected by damp and warm weather when in
the field, and it is possible that this hygrometric depression may have
slightly affected some of the observations which here follow.
It appears from the above that the two principal depressions in
the section of country over which this road passes, west of the
Schroon valley, are in one case two thousand and in the other
eighteen hundred feet in elevation.
12
Redfield: Four hundred and ninety eight feet above Lake Champlain.
Redfield: Seven hundred and ninety feet above Lake Champlain.
14
Redfield: Mean of the two sets of observations two thousand feet, nearly.
13
20
Second Expedition to the Mountains
We left the settlement on the 3d of August, with five woodsmen
as assistants, to take forward our provisions and other necessaries,
and commenced our ascent to the higher region in a northeasterly
direction, by the route on which we returned last year.
We reached our old camp at Lake Colden at 5 P.M. where we
prepared our quarters for the night. The mountain peak which rises
on the eastern side of this lake and separates it from the upper valley
of the main stream of the Hudson, has received the name of Mount
McMartin, in honor of one now deceased,15 who led the party of last
year, and whose spirit of enterprise and persevering labors
contributed to establishing the settlement at the great Ore Beds, as
well as other improvements advantageous to this section of the state.
On the 4th, we once more resumed the ascent of the main
stream, proceeding first in an easterly direction, and then to the
southeast and south, over falls and rapids, till we arrived at the head
of the great Dyke Falls. Calcedony was found by Prof. Emmons near
the foot of these falls. Continuing our course on a more gradual rise,
we soon entered upon unexplored ground, and about three miles from
camp, arrived at the South Elbow, where the bed of the main stream
changes to a northeasterly direction, at the point where it receives a
tributary which enters from south-southwest. Following the former
course, we had now fairly entered the High Valley which separates
Mount McMartin from the High Peak on the southeast, but so
enveloped were we in the deep growth of forest, that no sight of the
peaks could be obtained. About a mile from the South Elbow we
found another tributary entering from south-southeast, apparently
from a mountain ravine which borders the High Peak on the west.
Some beautifully opalescent specimens of the labradorite were found
in the bed of this stream.
High Valley of the Hudson
Another mile of our course brought us to a smaller tributary
from the north, which from the alluvial character of the land near its
entrance is called the High Meadow fork. This portion of our route is
in the centre of this mountain valley, and has the extraordinary
elevation of three thousand and seven hundred feet above tide. We
continued the same general course for another mile, with our route
frequently crossed by small falls and cascades, when we emerged
from the broader part of the valley and our course now became east15
Judge Duncan McMartin Jr., brother-in-law of Archibald McIntyre and, with
McIntyre, one of the primary owners of the Adirondack Iron & Steel Company.
21
southeast and southeast, with a steeper ascent and higher and more
frequent falls in the stream. The declivity of the mountain which
encloses the valley on the north and that of the great peak, here
approximate closely to each other, and the valley assumes more
nearly the character of a ravine or pass between two mountains, with
an increasing ascent, and maintains its course for two or three miles,
to the summit of the pass. Having accomplished more than half the
ascent of this pass we made our camp for the night, which threatened
to be uncommonly cold and caused our axemen to place in
requisition some venerable specimens of the white birch which
surrounded our encampment.
Phenomena of Mountain Slides
A portion of the deep and narrow valley in which we were now
encamped, is occupied by a longitudinal ridge consisting of boulders
and other debris, the materials, evidently, of a tremendous slide or
avalanche, which at some unknown period has descended from the
mountain; the momentum of the mass in its descent having
accumulated and pushed forward the ridge, after the manner of the
late slide at Troy, beyond the centre of the valley or gorge into which
it is discharged. It appears indeed that the local configuration of
surface in these mountain valleys, except where the rock is in place,
ought to be ascribed chiefly to such causes. It seems apparent also,
that the Hudson, at the termination of its descent from the High
Valley, once discharged itself into Lake Colden, the latter extending
southward at that period to the outlet of the Still Water, which has
been noticed in our account of the former exploration. This portion
of the ancient bed of the lake has not only been filled, and the bed of
the stream as well as the remaining surface of the lake raised above
the former level, but a portion of the finer debris brought down by
the main stream, has flowed northwardly into the present lake and
filled all its southern portions with a solid and extensive shoal, which
is now fordable at a low stage of the water. The fall of heavy slides
from the mountains appears also to have separated Avalanche lake
from Lake Colden, of which it once formed a part, and so vast is the
deposit from these slides as to have raised the former lake about
eighty feet above the surface of the latter. In cases where these slides
have been extensive, and rapid in their descent, large hillocks or
protuberances are formed in the valleys; and the denudation from
above, together with the accumulation below, tends gradually to
diminish the extent and frequency of their occurrence. But the slides
still recur, and their pathway may often be perceived in the glitter of
the naked rock, which is laid bare in their course from the summit of
22
the mountain toward its base, and these traces constitute one of the
most striking features in the mountain scenery of this region.
Main Source of the Hudson; Fall of the Au Sable
On the morning of the fifth, we found that ice had formed in
exposed situations. At an early hour we resumed our ascending
course to the southeast, the stream rapidly diminishing and at length
becoming partially concealed under the grass-covered boulders. At
8.40 A.M. we arrived at the head of the stream on the summit of this
elevated pass, which here forms a beautiful and open mountain
meadow, with the ridges of the two adjacent mountains rising in an
easy slope from its sides. From this little meadow, which lies within
the present limits of the town of Keene, the main branch of the
Hudson and a fork of the east branch of the Au Sable commence
their descending course in opposite directions, for different and far
distant points of the Atlantic Ocean. The elevation of this spot proves
by our observations to be more than four thousand seven hundred
feet above tide water; being more than nine hundred feet above the
highest point of the Catskill mountains, which have so long been
considered the highest in this state.
The descent of the Au Sable from this point is most remarkable.
In its comparative course to Lake Champlain, which probably does
not exceed forty miles, its fall is more than four thousand six hundred
feet! This, according to our present knowledge, is more than twice
the descent of the Mississippi proper, from its source to the ocean.
Waterfalls of the most striking and magnificent character are known
to abound on the course of the stream.
High Peak of Essex
Our ascent to the source of the Hudson had brought us to an
elevated portion of the highest mountain peak which was also a
principal object of our exploration, and its ascent now promised to be
of easy accomplishment by proceeding along its ridge, in a W.S.W.
direction. On emerging from the pass, however, we immediately
found ourselves entangled in the zone of dwarfish pines and spruces,
which with their numerous horizontal branches interwoven with each
other, surround the mountain at this elevation. These gradually
decreased in height, till we reached the open surface of the mountain,
covered only with mosses and small alpine plants, and at 10 A.M. the
summit of the High Peak of Essex was beneath our feet.16
16
The members of the second expedition who first summited Mount Marcy, the
highest point in the state of New York, were state geologists Ebenezer Emmons and
23
The aspect of the morning was truly splendid and delightful, and
the air on the mountain-top was found to be cold and bracing.
Around us lay scattered in irregular profusion, mountain masses of
various magnitudes and elevations, like to a vast sea of broken and
pointed billows. In the distance lay the great valley or plain of the St.
Lawrence, the shining surface of Lake Champlain, and the extensive
mountain range of Vermont. The nearer portions of the scene were
variegated with the white glare of recent mountain slides as seen on
the sides of various peaks, and with the glistening of the beautiful
lakes which are so common throughout this region. To complete the
scene, from one of the nearest settlements a vast volume of smoke
soon rose in majestic splendor, from a fire of sixty acres of forest
clearing, which had been prepared for the “burning,” and exhibiting
in the vapor which it imbodied, a gorgeous array of the prismatic
colors, crowned with the dazzling beams of the mid-day sun.
The summit, as well as the mass of the mountain, was found to
consist entirely of the labradoritic rock, which has been mentioned as
constituting the rocks of this region, and a few small specimens of
hypersthene were also procured here. On some small deposites of
water, ice was found at noon, half an inch in thickness. The source of
the Hudson, at the head of the High Pass, bears N. 70° E. from the
summit of this mountain, distant one and a quarter miles, and the
descent of the mountain is here more gradual than in any other
direction. Before our departure we had the unexpected satisfaction to
discover, through a depression in the Green mountains, a range of
distant mountains in nearly an east direction, and situated apparently
beyond the valley of the Connecticut; but whether the range thus
seen, be the White mountains of New Hampshire, or that portion of
the range known as the mountains of Franconia, near the head of the
Merrimack, does not fully appear. Our barometrical observations on
this summit show an elevation of five thousand four hundred and
sixty-seven feet.17 This exceeds by about six hundred feet, the
elevation of the Whiteface mountain, as given by Prof. Emmons; and
is more than sixteen hundred and fifty feet above the highest point of
the Catskill mountains.18
James Hall, state botanist John Torrey, official artist Charles Ingham, William
Redfield, iron-works manager David Henderson, iron-works guide John Cheney, and
Keene guide Harvey Holt.
17
At final determination, the U.S. Geological Survey has placed the altitude of Marcy
summit at 5,344 feet.
18
Redfield: The High Peak of Essex is supposed to be visible from Burlington, Vt.,
bearing S. 63° or 64° W. by compass; the variation at Burlington being 9°45’ west.
24
Wear of the River Boulders
The descent to our camp was accomplished by a more direct and
far steeper route than that by which we had gained the summit, and
our return to Lake Colden afforded us no new objects of
examination. The boulders which form the bed of the stream in the
upper Hudson, are often of great magnitude, but below the
mountains, where we commenced our exploration last year, the
average size does not much exceed that of the paving stones in our
cities; — so great is the effect of the attrition to which these boulders
are subject in their gradual progress down the stream. Search has
been made by the writer, among the gravel from the bottom and
shoals of the Hudson near the head of tide water, for the fragmentary
remains of the labradoritic rock, but hitherto without success. We
may hence infer that the whole amount of this rocky material, which,
aided by the ice, and the powerful impulse of the annual freshets,
finds its way down the Hudson, a descent of from two thousand to
four thousand seven hundred feet, in a course of something more
than one hundred miles, is reduced by the combined effects of air,
water, frost, and attrition, to an impalpable state, and becomes
imperceptibly deposited in the alluvium of the river, or continuing
suspended, is transferred to the waters of the Atlantic.
Great Trap Dyke
On the 7th of August we visited Avalanche lake, and examined
the great dyke of sienitic trap in Mount McMartin, which cuts
through the entire mountain in the direction from west-northwest to
east-southeast. This dyke is about eighty feet in width, and being in
part broken from its bed by the action of water and ice, an open
chasm is thus formed in the abrupt and almost perpendicular face of
the mountain. The scene on entering this chasm is one of sublime
grandeur, and its nearly vertical walls of rock, at some points actually
overhang the intruder, and seem to threaten him with instant
destruction. With care and exertion this dyke may be ascended, by
means of the irregularities of surface which the trap rock presents,
and Prof. Emmons by this means accomplished some twelve or
fifteen hundred feet of the elevation. His exertions were rewarded by
some fine specimens of hypersthene and of the opalescent
labradorite, which he here obtained. The summit of Mount McMartin
is somewhat lower than those of the two adjacent peaks, and is
estimated at four thousand nine hundred and fifty feet above tide.
The distance from the outlet of Lake Colden to the opposite
extremity of Avalanche Lake is estimated at two and a quarter miles.
The stream which enters the latter at its northern extremity, from the
25
appearance of its valley, is supposed to be three fourths of a mile in
length, and the fall of the outlet in its descent to Lake Colden is
estimated, as we have seen, at eighty feet. The head waters of this
fork of the Hudson are hence situated farther north than the more
remote source of the Main Branch, which we explored on the 4th and
5th, or perhaps than any other of the numerous tributaries of the
Hudson. The elevation of Avalanche Lake is between two thousand
nine hundred and three thousand feet above tide, being undoubtedly
the highest lake in the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains.
The mountain which rises on the west side of this lake and
separates its valley from that of the Au Sable, is perhaps the largest
of the group. Its ridge presents four successive peaks, of which the
most northern save one, is the highest, and is situated immediately
above the lake and opposite to Mt. McMartin. It has received the
name of Mt. McIntyre, in honor of the late Controller of this state,19
to whose enterprise and munificence, this portion of the country is
mainly indebted for the efficient measures which have been taken to
promote its prosperity.
Ascent of Mount McIntyre
On the morning of the 8th, we commenced the ascent of Mount
McIntyre through a steep ravine, by which a small stream is
discharged into Lake Colden. The entire ascent being comprised in
little more than a mile of horizontal distance, is necessarily difficult,
and on reaching the lower border of the belt of dwarf forest, we
found the principal peak rising above us on our right, with its steep
acclivity of naked rock extending to our feet. Wishing to shorten our
route, we here unwisely abandoned the remaining bed of the ravine,
and sustaining ourselves by the slight inequalities of surface which
have resulted from unequal decomposition, we succeeded in crossing
the apparently smooth face of the rock by an oblique ascent to the
right, and once more obtained footing in the woody cover of the
mountain. But the continued steepness of the acclivity, and the
seemingly impervious growth of low evergreens on this more
sheltered side, where their horizontal and greatly elongated branches
were most perplexingly intermingled, greatly retarded our progress.
Having surmounted this region, we put forward with alacrity, and at
1 P.M. reached the summit.
19
Referring to Archibald McIntyre, head of the Adirondack Iron & Steel Company,
who had been state comptroller between 1806 and 1821. When Redfield called
McIntyre “the late Controller,” he meant “the former Controller,” not “deceased.”
McIntyre lived until 1858.
26
The view which was here presented to us differs not greatly in
its general features from that obtained at the High Peak, and the
weather, which now began to threaten us with a storm, was less
favorable to its exhibition. A larger number of lakes were visible
from this point, and among them the beautiful and extensive group at
the sources of the Saranac, which are known by the settlers as the
“Saranac Waters.” The view of the Still Water of the Hudson, lying
like a silver thread in the bottom of its deep and forest-green valley,
was peculiarly interesting. The opposite front of Mount McMartin
exhibited the face of the great dyke and its passage through the
summit, near to its highest point, and nearly parallel to the whitened
path of a slide which had recently descended into Avalanche Lake. In
a direction a little south of west, the great vertical precipice of the
Wallface mountain at the Notch, distinctly met our view. Deeply
below us on the northwest and north, lay the valley of the west
branch of the Au Sable, skirted in the distance by the wooded plains
which extend in the direction of Lake Placid and the Whiteface
mountain.
Mount McIntyre is also intersected by dykes, which cross it at
the lowest points of depression between its several peaks, and the
more rapid erosion and displacement of these dykes has apparently
produced the principal ravines in its sides. The highest of these peaks
on which we now stood, is intersected by cracks and fissures in
various directions, apparently caused by earthquakes. Large blocks
of the same labradoritic rock as the mass of the mountain, lay
scattered in various positions on the summit, which afforded nearly
the same growth of mosses and alpine plants as the higher peak
visited on the 5th. Our barometrical observations show a height of
near five thousand two hundred feet, and this summit is probably the
second in this region, in point of elevation. There are three other
peaks lying in a westerly direction, and also three others lying
eastward of the main source of the Hudson, which nearly approach
to, if they do not exceed, five thousand feet in elevation, making of
this class, including Mount McMartin, Whiteface, and the two peaks
visited, ten in all. Besides these mountains there are not less than a
dozen or twenty others that appear to equal or exceed the highest
elevation of the Catskill group.
Visit to the Great Notch; Return to the Settlement
The descent of the mountain is very abrupt on all sides, and our
party took the route of a steep ravine which leads into the valley of
the Au Sable, making our camp at nightfall near the foot of the
mountain. The night was stormy, and the morning of the 9th opened
27
upon us with a continued fall of rain, in which we resumed our
march for the Notch, intending to return to the settlement by this
route. After following the bed of the ravine till it joined the Au Sable,
we ascended the latter stream, and before noon arrived at this
extraordinary pass, which has been described by the state geologists,
and which excites the admiration of every beholder. Vast blocks and
fragments have in past ages fallen from the great precipice of the
Wallface mountain on the one hand, and from the southwest
extension of Mount Mclntyre on the other, into the bottom of this
natural gulf. Some of these blocks are set on end, of a height of more
than seventy feet, in the moss-covered tops and crevices of which,
large trees have taken root, and now shoot their lofty stems and
branches high above the toppling foundation. The north branch of the
Hudson, which passes through Lakes Henderson and Sanford, takes
its rise in this pass, about five miles from McIntyre, and the elevation
of its source, as would appear from the observations taken by Prof.
Emmons last year, is not far from three thousand feet above tide.
Following the course of the valley, under a most copious fall of
rain, we descended to Lake Henderson, which is a fine sheet of water
of two or three miles in length, with the high mountain of Santanoni
rising from its borders, on the west and southwest. It is not many
months since our woodsman, Cheney, with no other means of
offence than his axe and pistol, followed and killed a large panther,
on the western borders of this lake. Pursuing our course along the
eastern margin of the lake, we arrived at the settlement about 3 P.M.,
having been absent on our forest excursion seven days.
Elevation of the Mountain Region
The following table of observations, as also the preceding one, is
calculated according to the formula given by Bowditch in his
Navigator, except for the two principal mountain peaks, which are
calculated by the formula and tables of M. Oltmanns, as found in the
appendix to the Geological Manual of De la Beche, Philadelphia
edition. For the points near lake Champlain, the height is deduced
from the observations made at the lake shore, instead of those made
at Albany, adding ninety feet for the height of lake Champlain above
tide. The barometrical observations made at Syracuse, N.Y., at the
same periods, by V.W. Smith, Esq., (with a well adjusted barometer,
which has been compared with that of the writer,) would give to the
High Peak an elevation of five thousand five hundred and ten feet.
The observations at Albany have been taken for the lower station,
because the latter place is less distant, and more nearly on the same
meridian. Perhaps the mean of the two results may with propriety be
28
adopted. In most of the other cases, the results deduced from the
observations at Albany agree very nearly with the results obtained
from the observations made at Syracuse.
Bald Peak, and View of Lake Champlain;
Routes to the Head of the Hudson
Bald Peak is the principal eminence on the western shore of lake
Champlain, about seven miles N.N.W. from Crown Point, and was
ascended by the writer on our return to the lake. A good carriage
road leads from East Moriah nearly to the font of the peak, from
whence the ascent by a footpath is not difficult, and may be
20
Redfield: 1,974 feet above Lake Champlain.
29
accomplished even by ladies, without hazard. The summit commands
a view of some of the principal peaks in the interior, among which
the High Peak is conspicuous, bearing N. 80° West, by compass. The
prospect of the prolonged basin of lake Champlain, which is obtained
from this point, is well worth the trouble of the ascent, and is worthy
the attention of tourists who can find it convenient to land either at
Port Henry or Westport.
The source of the Hudson and the High Peak of Essex, can be
most conveniently reached from Johnson’s, at Clear Pond, by a
course N. 20° W.; or by landing at Westport, or Essex, and
proceeding to the nearest settlement in Keene. By landing at Port
Kent, and ascending the course of the Au Sable to the southeast part
of Keene, and from thence to the Peak, the most interesting chain of
waterfalls and mountain ravines that is to be found, perhaps, in the
United States, may be visited. At Keene, Mr. Harvey Holt, an able
woodsman, who was attached to our party, will cheerfully act as
guide and assistant, in reaching the mountain. From the valley which
lies southward of the peak, and near to the head waters of the Boreas
and Au Sable, may be obtained, it is said, some of the best mountain
views which this region affords. But travellers in these wilds, must
be provided with their own means of subsistence, while absent from
the settlement.
The above sketch21 must be considered only as an approach to
correctness of topography, and is based in part upon the old survey
lines, as found on the county map; but the geographical position is
approximated to Burr’s Map of the State of New York, by means of
bearings from known objects on the borders of Lake Champlain.
Mountains of New Hampshire
The only point east of the Mississippi which is known to exceed
this group of mountains in elevation, is the highest summit of the
White mountains in New Hampshire; the elevation of which is given
by Prof. Bigelow, from barometrical observations reduced by Prof.
Farrar, at six thousand two hundred and twenty-five feet.22 Prof.
Bigelow adduces the observations of Capt. Partridge, made several
years since, as giving an elevation of only six thousand one hundred
and three feet. But the writer is indebted to Dr. Barrett for a
memorandum of observations made by Capt. Partridge in August,
1821, which gives the height of the principal peaks of the New
Hampshire group, as follows: —
21
22
A map of the High Peaks region, created by Redfield.
Redfield: New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, Vol. V., p. 330.
30
Mount Washington, above the sea, 6,234 feet
Mount Adams, above the sea, 5,328 feet
Mount Jefferson, above the sea, 5,058 feet
Mount Madison, above the sea, 4,866 feet
Mount Franklin, above the sea, 4,711 feet
Mount Monroe, above the sea, 4,356 feet
From this it appears most probable that there are a greater number of
peaks in the Essex group that exceed five thousand feet, than in New
Hampshire; although the honor of the highest peak is justly claimed
by the latter.
Imperfect State of Geographical Knowledge;
Resources of the Mountain District
It appears unaccountable that the elevation of this region at the
sources of the Hudson should have been, hitherto, so greatly
underrated. Even Darby, in his admirable work on American
geography, estimates the fall of the rivers which enter Lake
Champlain from the west, as similar to those on the east, which he
states to be from five hundred to one thousand feet.23 The same
writer also estimates the height of the table land from which the
Hudson flows, at something more than one thousand feet.24 The
mountains of this region, appear to have almost escaped the notice of
geographical writers, and in one of our best Gazetteers, that of Darby
and Dwight, published in 1833, the elevation of the mountains in
Essex county, is stated at one thousand two hundred feet. In
Macauley’s History of New York, published in Albany in 1829, there
is however, an attempt to describe the mountains of the northern
district of the state, by dividing them into six distinct ranges. This
description is necessarily imperfect, as regards the central portion of
the group; but this author appears to have more nearly appreciated
the elevation of these mountains than any former writer. He states the
elevation of Whiteface at two thousand six hundred feet, and the
highest part of the most westerly or Chateaugua range at three
thousand feet. To the mountains near the highest source of the
Hudson, including probably the High Peak,25 he has given the name
23
Redfield: Darby’s View of the U.S. p. 242.
Redfield: Ib. p. 140.
25
In his article, Redfield refers only to “the High Peak of Essex.” In Emmons’ official
report of the following February, however, Emmons notes that he has named “the
High Peak of Essex” Mount Marcy after Governor William Learned Marcy.
24
31
of the Clinton range, and has estimated their elevation from six
hundred, to two thousand feet!26 He also describes the West Branch
of the Hudson which rises near the eastern border of Herkimer
county, as being the principal stream. The Northwest Branch, which
unites with the main North Branch, a few miles below Lake Sanford,
he describes as rising on the borders of Franklin and Essex counties
and as pursuing a more extended course than the North Branch.
Perhaps this description may be found correct, although information
received from other sources does not seem to confirm the position.
It is understood that Prof. Emmons, in pursuing his geological
explorations, has ascended another of the principal peaks situated
easterly of the highest source of the Hudson, and made other
observations which will be of value in settling the geography of this
region. The professor finds the northern district of the state, to be one
of great interest to the geologist, and although from the deficiencies
of our maps, he is constrained to the performance of duties which
pertain to the geographical, rather than to the geological department
of science, yet all that can be accomplished in either branch, with the
means placed at his disposal, may be confidently expected from his
discriminating zeal and untiring perseverance.
Owing, perhaps, to the soda and lime which are constituents of
the labradoritic rock, and its somewhat easy decomposition when
exposed to the action of the elements, the soil of this region is quite
favorable to the growth of the forests as well as the purposes of
agriculture. The beds of iron ore which are found on the waters of the
Hudson, at McIntyre, probably surpass in richness and extent, any
that have been discovered in other countries. In future prospect, this
may be considered as the Wales of the American continent, and with
The popular “Indian” name for Mount Marcy, “Tahawus” — the subject of much
self-righteous pulpit pounding by several later writers — was bestowed upon the
mountain a month later by journalist Charles Fenno Hoffman. It was a purely literary
creation of Hoffman; it had never, so far as any researcher knows, been used by any
native Americans to refer to “the High Peak of Essex.” Its first-ever use, as such, was
by Hoffman himself in an October 1837 story in the New York Mirror.
In his Peaks and People of the Adirondacks, Russell Carson reports that he has
found two authentic native-American names for Mount Marcy:
“Mount Marcy, in the language of the St. Francis Tribe, was known as Wah-umde-neg, meaning ‘it is always white’ [footnote: New York Sun, July 22, 1900]. J.
Dynely Prince gives Wawobadenik as the Abenaki name for Marcy though it probably
included the neighboring peaks [footnote: ‘Some Forgotten Place Names in the
Adirondacks,’ published in the Journal for American Folk-lore for 1900, pp. 123-28].
The literal meaning is ‘white mountains.’ This name was also the Abenaki term for the
White Mountains of New Hampshire.”
26
Redfield: Macauley’s History of New York, Vol. I. p. 2 to 9 and 20, 21, Albany,
1829.
32
its natural resources duly improved, it will, at no distant period,
sustain a numerous and hardy population.
New York, November 1, 1837
33
DOCUMENT THREE
Wild Scenes at the
27
Sources of the Hudson (1837)
CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN
Chapter I: The Land of Lakes
“The Land of Lakes,” as the region of country which now forms
the state of New York is termed in one of our aboriginal dialects,
could hardly be characterized by a more appropriate name; as
without counting the inland seas which bound her western shores, or
pausing to enumerate the willowy ponds which freshen the verdure
of her lowlands, or these deep and caldron-like pools which are so
singularly set here and there upon the summits of her mountains,
New York may still count a thousand lakes within her borders. Upon
some of these fleets might engage in battle; and their outlets, broken
at first by cataracts which Switzerland alone can rival, soon swell
into rivers upon which the voyager may safely glide to climes a
thousand miles away: while the Ohio, the Susquehannah, the
Delaware, Hudson, and St. Lawrence, whose tributaries all interlace
within a circle of a dozen miles in the heart of the state, give him a
choice between the frozen shores of Labrador and the tropic seas of
Mexico, in selecting the point where he would emerge upon the
Atlantic main.
In connecting these wonderful links of internal navigation,
whose union an enlightened policy has now effected, it is singular
that in the various topographical reconnoissances of the state the
sources of so important a stream as the Hudson should only during
the last year have been fully and satisfactorily explored. One would
think that however the subject might be overlooked by the
legislature, it could never have escaped the Argus eyes of our
inquisitive, fidgety, and prying countrymen, until the year of grace
[18]37.
27
Pages 1-122 of Volume One of Wild Scenes in the Forest and Prairie (London:
Richard Bentley, 1839), dated 1837 here because Hoffman’s trip occurred in
September 1837, a month after the historic first summiting of Mount Marcy by the
Ebenezer Emmons party. This is the first substantial published account, not only of the
McIntyre iron works and the Indian Pass but of travels through the Adirondacks in
general, preceding John Todd’s Long Lake by six years. (Todd’s book has been widely
but incorrectly cited as “the earliest Adirondack book.”) The Adirondack portion of
Hoffman’s Wild Scenes has been replicated here in its entirety, in part because the
complete 1839 volume is extremely rare and very difficult to find.
34
Everybody was, indeed, aware that the Hudson rose among a
group of mountains in the northern part of the state of New York;
and if you looked upon the map some of the lakes which formed its
head waters seemed to be laid down with sufficient particularity.
Few, however, until the legislature instituted the geological survey
which is now in progress, had any idea that the mountains upon
which this noble river rises overtopped the Catskills and the
Alleghanies, and were among the loftiest in the United States; or that
the lakes from which it draws its birth were equally remarkable for
their prodigal numbers, their picturesque variety, and their wild and
characteristic beauty. Tourists steamed upon the estuary of the
Hudson, or loitered through the populous counties between the cities
of New York and Albany, and, ignorant or unmindful that in
ascending to the head of tide-water they had not seen quite one-half
of the lordly stream, discussed its claims to consideration with an
amiable familiarity, and, comparing its scenery with that of other
celebrated rivers, they settled its whole character after a most
summary fashion.
The worthy Knickerbockers were therefore not a little surprised,
when they learned from the first official report of the surveying
corps, that their famous river was fed by mountain snows for ten
months in the year;28 and that there were a dozen cascades about its
head-waters, to which Glen’s falls, however endeared to association
by the genius of Cooper, must hereafter yield in romantic interest and
attraction. Many were eager at once to visit the sources of the
Hudson; and, having in very early youth been much in the then
savage district where some of the northern branches take their rise,
the writer was so eager to penetrate farther into the same region, and
behold the real head of the river, that he found himself rambling
among the mountains of Essex county, within a few days after the
state geologist had pronounced upon it as now distinctly ascertained.
The Hudson is formed by three mountain-torrents which unite
within a few miles of their birthplace. The source of the highest fork
is proved by observation to be 4700 feet above tide-water. It rises in
an open mountain-meadow with two adjacent mountains swelling in
easy slopes from its sides. There is a still larger fountain-head west
of this, in the same vicinity, rising in a singular gorge called “The
Indian Pass”; while the northernmost source is in Lake Colden, or
rather in Avalanche Lake; a small mountain tarn separated from the
former by heavy earth-slides from the adjacent mountain summits,
whose granite rocks glitter where the soil and trees have been swept
28
Hoffman: Snow remained on Mount Marcy until the 17th of July, and appeared
again on the 11th of September, 1837.
35
down their denuded sides. The elevation of these two lakes, which
have a fall of eighty feet, between them, is between 2900 and 3000
feet above the ocean; being undoubtedly the highest lakes in the
United States of America.29
Chapter II: The Excursion
It was early in September when, accompanied by a friend — the
companion of more than one pleasant ramble — I started upon the
brief but novel tour. The winter sets in so early in the high mountainregion for which we were bound, that deeming we had no time to
lose we struck for it by the nearest route; and instead of following the
various windings of the river — which offer a delicious summer
excursion for the man of leisure — we left tide-water at
Lausingburgh, and passing eastward of Lake George, went directly
north by the way of Lake Champlain.
Embarking upon this lake at Whitehall, a few hours brought our
steamer abreast of Port Henry, a small village which heaves in sight
immediately after passing the crumbling fortifications of Crown
Point. A pretty cascade tumbles from the rocks near the landing, and
is the first thing that strikes you when approaching the shore. Several
wooded hills rise in succession behind it, and give a picturesque
appearance to a straggling hamlet along their base. Our route hence
was due westward, and the evening being fine we engaged a
conveyance to carry us on at once some twenty miles, through an
almost unbroken forest, into the interior.
The autumnal moon was shining brightly as we commenced
ascending the hills in the rear of Port Henry, rising continually until
we reached the village of Moriah, situated about three miles from the
lake. The rearward view, in the meantime, was exceedingly fine.
Indeed, I do not hesitate to say, that Lake Champlain, as seen from
those hills, presents one of the very finest lake views in the United
States. Broad enough for majestic effect, yet not too broad for the
picturesque character, which, I think, is worth every thing else in
scenery, the placid sheet of the lake lay silvered by the moonbeams
below us. The promontory of Port Henry, with a headland of rival
rock and forest opposite, nearly locked it upon the north. On the
south, the narrow peninsula of Crown-Point, projecting
longitudinally several miles into the lake, divided it into two friths,
which gradually disappeared amid hill and forest, far in the distance;
while immediately in front, though far beyond the broad, bright
expanse of water, a dozen spurs of the Green Mountains, and a dozen
29
Hoffman: Emmons’s Report — Redfield, &c.
36
main peaks beyond them, loomed in the dewy atmosphere of
evening, like some vast Alpine chain.
It was after midnight when we stopped at a log cabin about
twenty miles from the lake. The hospitable settler, although his house
was already filled with neighbours, who had come in to help him
with his harvest, seemed to take the being roused from his slumbers
at that late hour, to accommodate us, very kindly. A log-cabin and a
pair of saddlebags are never so full, but that room can be found for
something more, and we were soon packed beneath the same roof
with the rest.
Let me here initiate the reader into a mode of travelling which is
much in fashion about the sources of the Hudson. Did he ever see a
teamster riding upon a buckboard? a stout, springy plank, laid upon
the bare bolsters of a waggon! Well, now just spread a buffalo-skin
upon that buckboard, and rig the iron chain from the fore and aft
stakes, so as to form a stirrup for your feet, and you have the best sort
of carriage that can be contrived for rough roads. Upon such a
convenience our luggage was lashed about six o’clock the next
morning, and the active little settler, our host of the log-cabin, taking
his axe in hand to remove any fallen tree that might obstruct our road
through the woods, whistled to his dog, Buck, jumped on the board
beside us, cracked his whip, and off we went into the forest. Our
driver was a right-merry, stout-hearted, dashing little fellow; he had
been brought up in the “Schroon country,” as he called it, and had
cleared every acre upon his thriving farm with his own hand; and
after roughing it for several years in his log-cabin, was now prepared
to build a snug framehouse upon his own ground. Our road was the
worst that I ever saw, except a turnpike through the bed of a
mountain-torrent, which I once travelled in Eastern Kentucky. But
stony declivities, stumps, quagmires, or fallen trees, had no terrors
for our little Schroon hero; and his lean, but mettlesome horses,
dashed through every thing. Such was the road, however, that as it
slammed about among trees and logs, the motion of our vehicle was
as much lateral as forwards, and we were several hours in making the
first eight miles.
Accomplishing this stage at last, however, we came to an
opening in the forest, where, upon the bank of a lake, and in the
midst of a clearing of about a hundred acres, stood the log-cabin of a
settler, at which we stopped to dine. The lake, or pond, as the people
call it, was a limpid pool upon the top of a mountain, or rather an
immense globular hill, flattened at top like an old-fashioned goblet,
and surrounded with mountain peaks from which it stood wholly
isolated.
37
Upon the outlet of this lake was a saw-mill, and we here saw a
model of a wooden railroad, contrived by a forester who has never
seen a specimen of either, but whose ingenuity has found a field for
its exercise, even in the depths of the woods.
After refreshing ourselves and our horses at this place, we
started again, and by nightfall accomplished twenty-three miles
more, the whole distance being through a continuous forest, with not
a single house by the way.
About twilight we emerged from the forest, at the base of a lofty,
cleared, and grassy hill, with a log-cabin on the summit, prettily
situated in front of a grove of tall maples, called, in the language of
the country, a “sugar-bush.” This grassy domain — for the whole
clearing of several hundred acres, produced hay only — had a most
singular effect in the bosom of a dark forest, surrounded, as it was,
upon every side by mountains, which lapped each other as far as the
eye could reach.
This farm — if so neglected a tract could be thus characterized
— presented a scene of solitude and desertion, not uncommon in this
part of the State. It had been cleared some ten or fifteen years since,
but the original settler, seized with the emigrating fever which carries
so many from our woodland region to the prairies of the far-west,
had long deserted his mountain-home; and the place had been so
neglected until the present season, that it was in danger of relapsing
into the half-savage and almost irreclaimable state of what in the
language of the country is called “a dead clearing.” That is when
thickets and briers so overrun the land and spread their roots and
tendrils through the soil, that they become more difficult to eradicate
than the original forest-growth, which yields at once to the axe of the
woodman.
The new owners of the property, however, had now sent in some
labourers from a more flourishing settlement to harvest the wild hay
— the native grasses of these mountains being peculiarly fine — and
the overseer of the proprietors being present — a frank, intelligent
yeoman, to whom we had a letter from his employers — our
reception was as hearty and hospitable as he could make it with the
rude appliances about him. There was no womankind about the
establishment, and after eating a hearty supper of fried pork and
potatoes, cooked by a young hunter, of whom I may speak hereafter,
we made a bed of fresh hay in a corner, and stretching a buffalo-skin
over, by way of ticking, threw ourselves down and slept with a
soundness that would have been commendable in either of those
celebrated disciples of Morpheus, the seven sleepers.
38
During the last day’s drive we had crossed many of the streams
which form the head waters of the Hudson; and on the morrow, we
for the first time saw one of the most beautiful of the lakes which
form its sources. Hereafter, therefore, I shall copy the scenes that
came under my observation as taken down separately in my notebook upon the spot.
Chapter III: Lake Sandford
Striking the outlet of Lake Sandford where it flows through a
forest of dark cedars, our luggage was shifted from the buckboard
and transferred with ourselves to a canoe; we embarked at the foot of
a steep hill, but our course lay for some time through low swampy
ground, where the canoe could sometimes with difficulty find a deepenough channel through the sedge and water-lilies that by turns
covered the surface. This amphibious track, however, soon
disappeared where the hills again coming down to the edge of the
stream confined and deepened its current; and now, after a pull of a
few hundred yards through a straight narrow passage, we launched
out upon the bosom of one of those beautiful lakes with which this
region abounds. Not a sign of a house or a clearing, nor any mark of
the handiwork of man was to be seen any where, save in the rude
shallop that bore us. The morning was still and lowering. There was
not breeze enough to lift the fog from the mountains round. Every
rock and tree was reflected, with each leaf and wild flower however
minute, in the glassy surface; the islands among which we wound our
course, floated double; the hermit-like loon that glanced from
beneath their embowering shelter, and sent his wild cry with a dozen
echoes far among the hills, was the only object that moved or gave a
sound of life across the waters.
We landed upon one islet, and I paused to observe what I have
never been tired of studying, the manner in which nature effects her
work of clothing the barren crags with soil.
Here, on this rocky islet, some fifty feet in diameter, the whole
process may be seen — the first covering of moss and lichens; the
larger growth of the same; the light black soil that is formed from
their decay; the taller plants that again, in succession, are doomed to
die and be decomposed, and afford earthy nourishment to the first
hardy forest growth; still, in its turn, to be succeeded by softer
woods, may all be traced upon Inch-Hamish.
Here, on this little spot, where you can run a stick some three
feet down, through the primitive mosses that form the first covering
of the rock; you have, also, the towering spruce, the ragged arborvitae, and several other hardy evergreen varieties; while a single
39
delicate white-ash has put forth its deciduous leaves, and hung its
scarlet berries over the lake. An accomplished botanist has, I am told,
found upwards of a hundred varieties of plants and trees upon this
islet, which is less than an acre in extent.
Cruising leisurely up the lake in this way — pausing ever and
anon to admire the change of prospect as we wound round some
green head-land, or lying upon our oars while trying the fine echoes
which the mountains gave back to our voices whenever our course
lay far from the margin, — it was afternoon before we reached the
point for debarking, which we attained by piercing deep within a
forest that overshadows the inlet. Our canoe left the cheerful lake,
and floating beneath the boughs of ancient trees that sometimes
interlaced above our heads, startled the trout from the black pools
which bathed their roots, and grated at last upon a gravelly bank
where it was drawn up and secured.
Not far from this point a portage of a few hundred yards enables
the hunter to launch again upon lake Henderson, and strike the first
link in a chain of lakes, which with a few more brief portages will
float his shallop all the way to the St. Lawrence.
Chapter IV: M’Intyre
The portage to Lake Henderson is occasioned by rapids which
extend for about half a mile between that water and Lake Sandford.
They run over a bed of iron-ore which ribs the sides of two
mountains that overhang the valley through which the Hudson flows
from one lake into the other.
This little valley which is already cleared and under partial
cultivation, is the site of a projected manufacturing town, and here
we made our head-quarters at a comfortable farm-house. We were
inducted into them by the overseer already mentioned, and under his
cordial auspices, my friend and myself for some days enjoyed the
hospitality of the proprietors of the M’Intyre iron-works. The
situation abounding, as it does, in excellent iron-ore, and affording a
dozen mill sites, is admirably adapted for a manufacturing town, and
might form the site of one of the most romantic villages in the Union.
The newness of the improvements, and the large clearings,
marked only by stumps, give the place, as yet, a somewhat desolate
appearance; care and capital will, however, soon remedy this, and
when the legislature does justice to this much-neglected portion of
the State, and opens a good road or canal along the beautiful lakes
with which it abounds, M’Intyre will become one of the most
favourite places of resort near the sources of the Hudson.
40
Its present loneliness and seclusion, however, would render
M’Intyre not less pleasing to some tastes; while though the hand of
improvement may soon make the district in which it lies, more
accessible than it now is, and add some features of cultivation to the
adjacent scenery, it can never soften its wildness. In fact, a partial
clearing of the country will, in this region, only serve to heighten the
bold features of the landscape. For the trees whose foliage now
softens the sharper outlines of the mountains, and curtains many a
tall crag and deep fell from view — will, when swept away, reveal
scenes of desolate grandeur, which no culture can rob of their
sternness. In some places the hunters’ fires have already bared the
pinnacles of some of these granite mountains: and earth-slides,
caused by frequent rains, or slight earthquakes, which still prevail in
this region, strip them here and there of their verdurous vesture,
leaving only parapets of naked rock frowning upon the deep forests
below them.
Chapter V: An Inkling of an Earthquake
Apropos to earthquakes, we had an inkling of one on the first
night of our arrival at M’Intyre. The shock, if so slight a tremour may
be thus characterized, took place about midnight; and though it woke
me, I deemed it at the time the effect of fancy, until I compared notes
in the morning with my fellow-traveller, who, having experienced
the sensation while in Caraccas some years since, could readily
recognise it now. We occupied two rooms communicating with each
other — the outer one, where my friend had his bed, opened upon the
clearing. The door of this latter chamber being badly hung, shut with
great difficulty, and was generally left ajar; but on this occasion, the
night being cold and frosty, I took particular pains to secure it —
driving it to by planting my foot against it, and forcing the latch
completely home. We retired early that night, and the fatigue of
travelling made our sleep particularly sound, when suddenly, about
an hour after midnight, both of us were awakened at the same
moment, and, notwithstanding both were struck by the circumstance,
the cause did not occur to us till the morning, though our surprise
was expressed after the wonted manner of sleepy men when startled
from their slumbers.
“Hallo!”
“Hallo!”
“What’s that?”
“Are you up?”
“No! are you?”
“My bed shakes!”
41
“It’s that infernal hound, he’s pushed my door wide open, and I
must get up and shut it.”
“There’s no dog here in my room.”
“The rascal’s cleared out, then. — Confound the door, I can’t get
it close again.”
“How’s the night?”
“Clear and starry — , and still as one in the tropics, but devilish
cold.”
With these words, my friend commenced jamming at the door,
secured it anew, jumped into bed again, and we were soon after
dreaming as before. No noise accompanied this tremour; but they tell
us here that a sound like that of a heavy waggon upon a frozen road
is often heard among these mountains, where there are no roads
which a waggon can traverse. I need hardly add that no dog could
have opened the door which it cost me so much trouble to shut; nor,
in fact, would the well-trained hound have ventured upon leaving his
quarters to disturb ours.
Chapter VI: An Unfinished Country
Admitting the existence of occasional slight earthquakes in this
region, I am not enough of a naturalist to surmise what maybe their
effect upon the geological features of the country. They seem,
however, among other things, to indicate the unfinished state of the
country, if I may so express myself.
They are among the agents of nature, still at work in completing
a portion of the world hardly yet ready to pass from her hands into
those of man. The separation of the water from the land, which
classic cosmogonists tell us followed the birth of light, in evolving
the earth from chaos, is not here completed yet. There are lakes on
the tops of mountains, and swamps among wildernesses of rocks,
which are yet to be drained by other means than the thick exhalations
which carry them into the atmosphere, or the dripping mosses
through which they ooze into the valleys, where day by day the new
soil for future use accumulates.
Had our New York Indians, who now find it so difficult to hold
on to their level and fertile lands in the western part of the state, but
“located” their reservations among these mountains, they might have
escaped the cupidity of the whites for centuries yet to come, and have
hunted the deer, the moose, and the bear, or trapped for the martin,
the sable, and the ermine, all of which still abound here, without
molestation, save from the occasional white hunter that might intrude
upon their grounds when chasing the wolf or panther from the settled
regions, to the east and west of them. There are settlements upon
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some of these lakes, which were commenced more than thirty years
since, and which can now boast of but two or three families as
residents, and these are isolated from the rest of the world, with
twenty miles of unbroken forest between them and more prosperous
hamlets. But the immense beds of iron-ore and other minerals
recently discovered, with the increased demand for timber in our
Atlantic cities, and of charcoal to work the mines here, must now
bring the country into general notice, and hasten its settlement. The
demolition of the pine forests, and the conversion of less valuable
wood into charcoal, will rapidly clear the country, and convert the
lumber-men and charcoal-burners into farmers; while the old race of
hunters already begin to find a new employment in acting as guides
to the owners of lands, and projecting roads for them through
districts where an ordinary surveyor could hardly be paid for the
exercise of his profession. One of these hunters, a sturdy original, by
the name of Harvey Holt, a redoubtable hunter and celebrated axeman, has already marked out a road for some of the large landed
proprietors through the very heart of the region. He is said to have
run his lines with the skill and accuracy of an accomplished engineer;
and, before another year elapses, the road will probably be opened.
Other foresters, again, finding their ancient haunts thus invaded
by the pioneers of improvement, have fled to wilds beyond the
Wisconsan; and a friend who hunted lately upon a tract a little to the
north-west of this, in Hamilton county, told me that he heard a
veteran hunter of seventy complaining bitterly that he was too old to
move, now that the settlers had pushed within thirty miles of him. It
seems strange to find so wild a district in “one of the old thirteeners,”
the “empire state of New York.” But the great western canal, in
facilitating emigration to the new states, has retarded the
improvement of this region for at least one generation, luring off the
young men as fast as they become of an age to choose a home for
themselves. Some, however, like the mountaineer who is the subject
of the following sketch, are so attached to the woods and streams of
their native hills, that no inducement could lure them to the prairies.
Chapter VII: A Mountaineer of the Hudson
I was lately looking over Mr. Cooper’s “Pioneers,” and rereading it after the lapse of years found myself as much delighted as
ever with the best character he ever drew — “The Leather-stocking.”
If it did not involve an anachronism, I could swear that Cooper took
the character of Natty Bumpo, from my mountaineer friend, John
Cheney. The same silent, simple, deep love of the woods — the same
gentleness and benevolence of feeling toward all who love his craft
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— the same unobtrusive kindness toward all others; and, lastly, the
same shrewdness as a woodman; and gamesomeness of spirit as a
hunter, are common to both; and each, while perhaps more efficient,
are wholly unlike the dashing swash-buckler of the far west, the
reckless ranger of the prairies. In appearance, dress, language, and
manner, those two varieties of the genus venator are totally different.
Mr. Irving in his account of Captain Bonneville’s expedition has
given the best description of the latter; but though the pen of Cooper
has made the former immortal, I think his genius might gather some
new touches from John Cheney. Worthy John! if he chances to see
himself thus drawn at full-length, I hope he will not take it amiss. I
had heard of some of his feats before coming into this region, and
expected of course, to see one of those roystering, cavorting, rifleshirted blades that I have seen upon our western frontier, and was at
first not a little disappointed when a slight-looking man of about
seven-and-thirty, dressed like a plain countryman, and of a peculiarly
quiet, simple manner, was introduced to me as the doughty slayer of
bears and panthers; a man that lived winter and summer three-fourths
of the time in the woods, and a real bonâ fide hunter by profession.
Nay, there struck me as being something of the ridiculous about his
character when I saw that this formidable Nimrod carried with him,
as his only weapons and insignia of his art, a pistol and a jack-knife!
But when, at my laughing at such toys, I was told by others of the
savage encounters which John, assisted by his dog, and aided by
these alone, had undertaken successfully — not to mention the
number of deer which he sent every winter to market — my respect
for his hunting-tools was mightily increased, and a few days in the
woods with him sufficed to extend that respect to himself.
We were on a fishing excursion one day on a lake near M’Intyre;
and after storing our canoe with a good supply of brook and lake
trout, we weighed anchor, and pulled for a romantic promontory,
commanding a delicious prospect, where we lay under the trees for
hours, enjoying our pic-nic, and listening to hunters’ stories. The air
being cool and bracing, did not make the fire by which we cooked
our dinner unacceptable. Our cloaks were stretched beneath a clump
of cedars, and, after taking a plunge into the lake, which I was glad to
make as brief as possible, I laid by the fire, watching the blue smoke
curl up among the trees, or listening to my fellow-traveller, as he
discoursed curiously with John about his cooking, or plied him from
time to time with questions, that elicited some anecdotes of wildwood sports, of which my quiet friend has been no feeble practiser
himself.
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“Well!” said Cheney, after he had cooked the trout to a turn, and
placed a plump, red, juicy fellow, upon a clean cedar chip before all
of us, with an accompaniment of roast potatoes and capital wheaten
bread; “now isn’t this better than taking your dinner shut up in a
close room?”
“Certainly, John,” said I. “A man ought to go into a house
except he is ill, and wishes to use it for a hospital.”
“Well, now, I don’t know whether you are in airnest in saying
that, but that’s jist my way of thinking. Twice I have given up
hunting, taken to a farm: but I always get sick after living long in
housen. I don’t sleep well in them; and sometimes when I go to see
my friends, not wishing to seem particular-like, I jist let them go
quietly to bed, and then slip out of a window with my blanket, and
get a good nap under a tree in the open air. A man wants nothing but
a tree above him to keep off the dew, and make him feel kind of
homelike, and then he can enjoy a real sleep.”
In Tanner’s narrative, that singular character makes nearly the
same remark, when speaking of the usages which annoyed him while
trying to abandon the habits of a free hunter, and conform to the
customs of civilized life.
“But are you never disturbed by any wild animal when sleeping
thus without fire or a camp?” one of us asked.
“Well, I remember once being wakened by a creetur. The dumb
thing was standing right over me, looking into my face. It was so
dark, that neither of us, I suppose, could see what the other was: but
he was more frightened than I was, for when I raised myself a little
he ran off so fast that I couldn’t make out what he was; and seeing it
was so dark, that to follow him would be of no account, I laid down
again and slept till morning, without his disturbing me again.”
“Suppose it had been a bear?”
“Well, a bear isn’t exactly the varmint to buckle with so offhand; though lying on your back is about as good a way as any to
receive him, if your knife be long and sharp; but afore now, I’ve
treed a bear at nightfall, and sitting by the root of the tree until he
should come down, have fallen asleep, from being too tired to keep
good watch, and let the fellow escape before morning, but if I had
such luck as to have a good fat bear come to me in that way I would
never let him go as that man did down at Ti.”
I asked the story of this unworthy follower of the chase at Ti,
into which familiar monosyllable, Cheney abbreviated the celebrated
name of Ticonderoga, and give it here to the reader as nearly as
possible in worthy John’s own words.
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Chapter VIII: A Bear Story
“I don’t want to say any thing against any man, but some people,
till they get lost in them, seem to think a knowledge of the woods a
mighty small matter; but this is neither here nor there though, but it’s
a fact that, however big they may talk at home, folks that ain’t used
to the woods, sometimes get mightily flurried when they meet with
these wild animals: There now’s a man in the next town who went
out after moose, and when he heard one trotting along the same trail
he was travelling, squatted behind a stump to shoot him; but the
fellow having never seen a moose, had no idea of the sort of game he
was after; and when a great bull, six year old, bigger than a horse,
with horns that looked for all creation as if they never could pass
between the trees of these woods, came crashing the branches with
his broad hoofs, the mankinder shrunk behind a log, and says he to
the moose, ‘If you’ll only let me alone, I’ll let you alone!’ Now, the
fellow in Ti only knew about bears as he had heard us trappers speak
of them, as carrying a half-a-dozen balls in their bodies, and
sometimes killing our dogs for us when we go to take them out of
our traps, after being held there by the paw, starving, you don’t know
how many days. Well, this man was on a lake watching in his boat
for deer, when hearing a plunge and a splash, he pulls round an
island, and finds a great she-bear swimming straight across the lake.
Being a good fellow with his oars, he pulls at once to cut off the bear
from the opposite shore, which made the creetur change her course
and try and swim round the boat. The man, however, again turned
her, and the bear once more altered her course, but still kept for the
same shore to which she had been steering. Gathering spunk now, the
man, turning the third time, rowed nearer to the beast, expecting in
this way to drive her back a little, so as to keep the bear out in the
middle of the lake until some one could come to help him. But when
the starn of the boat, in swinging round, came near the bear, she put
paws upon it, and raised herself right into the boat, and there she sat
on eend, looking the man in the face jist as quiet, now, as a bear
could look. Well, the man, if he’d only know’d where to hit a bear,
might have brought one of his oars down on the back of her skull,
just as easy as say so; and tough ash is better than a rifle-ball with
these varmint. But he didn’t like that kind o’ quiet look the creetur
gave him; and there they sat, the bear looking at the man, and the
man looking at the bear. At last, when he got over his fright a little,
he began to move his oars slowly, in order to creep toward the shore
from which the bear had started; but the creetur wouldn’t allow this;
she moved from her seat a little toward the man, and showed her
teeth in a way he didn’t like; but as soon as the man turned the boat,
46
the bear took her old place again, and sat there jist as contented as
you please; so the man pulled for the shore to which the bear had
been swimming, watching the bear’s face all the while. And would
you believe it, now, that bear made him back his boat in toward a
rock, upon which the creetur stepped from the starn, and turning
round, gave the man a growl for his pains afore she walked off into
the woods. Tormented lightening! to be treated so by a bear! Why, I
would have died upon the spot before that bear should have left the
boat without our trying which was the best of us.”
Chapter IX: Lake Henderson
Leaving the cleared fields of M’Intyre one morning under the
guidance of John Cheney, we struck the arm of a lake entirely
surrounded by primitive forest, and locked up in mountains wooded
to the summit. The frith upon which we embarked was the outlet of
Lake Henderson; and emerging from its shadowy embrace as we laid
our course up the lake, we soon shot out upon the bosom of that
beautiful water.
The form of the lake, for want of a better simile, I can only
compare to that most respectable ancient head-gear, a three-cornered
hat, a little knocked out of shape. Its several friths, too, strike in
among the mountains with the same sort of devil-me-care air that a
fiercely-cocked beaver did whilome put on. Yet so completely do the
dense woods around soften away all the harder lines of the
landscape, that the general effect is that of beauty rather than
savageness in the picture. We pulled for about two miles through this
lake, where at each boat’s length some new fold of mountain scenery
was unfurled upon our left, while the two peaks of the Indian Pass
and the Panther Gap kept their bold heights continually in view upon
our right. We landed upon the margin of a heavy swamp, near the
inlet of the lake, floating some twenty yards within the forest, and
mooring our boat at last among ancient trees, whose long moss
sometimes swept the water.
We were bound for “The Indian Pass,” one of the most savage
and stupendous among the many wild and imposing scenes at the
sources of the Hudson. It has been visited, I believe, by few except
the hunters of these mountains, but it must at some day become a
favourite resort with the lovers of the picturesque. It is a tremendous
ravine, cloven through the summit of a mountain, presenting the
finest piece of rock scenery I ever beheld — a cradle worthy of the
infant Hudson.
Many of the difficulties in exploring this scene will probably
vanish in a few years; but as the wildness of the approach now adds
47
not a little to its majesty, I can best convey the true character of the
place by leading the reader thither in the mode I reached it.
Chapter X: A Rough Tramp
The walk to the Indian Pass is difficult enough at any time, but,
soon after leaving our boat at the inlet of Lake Henderson, the
morning, which had hitherto been cloudy, broke into a cold rain,
which, wetting our clothes through, increased the weight that we had
to drag through a primitive swamp, where each step was upon some
slippery log, affording a precarious foothold; some decayed tree, into
whose spongy body you would sink kneedeep, or upon quaking
mosses that threatened to swallow one up entirely. Here, though,
while wading through the frequent pools, or stumbling over the fallen
boughs which centuries had accumulated, I would often pause to
admire some gigantic pine, which, drawing vigour from the dankness
and decay around it, would throw its enormous column into the air,
towering a hundred feet above hemlocks and cedars near, which
would themselves seem forest giants when planted beside the modern
growth of our Atlantic border.
After a mile of such walking, the ground began to rise, and,
instead of wading through pools, we now crossed several brisk
streams, which murmured among the rocks, as their pellucid waters
ran to join the main inlet of the lake. Our path lay next along the
border of this inlet, which is, in truth, the main branch of the Hudson.
Sometimes we would ascend for several hundred yards among
mossy rocks, thickets of white cedar, and an undergrowth of juniper;
then we would come to a sort of plateau of swampy land, overgrown
with moose-maple, or tangled with fern and interspersed with
cranberry bogs. Another slope of rocky ground, seamed with
numerous rills, that gurgled beneath the roots of hoary birches, or
amid thickets of young maple, succeeded; while again and again we
would cross and recross the main stream, upon fallen logs, generally
lying either immediately upon or below one of the numerous
cascades which diversify the river. Now we would scale some rocky
hill-side, and hear the torrent roaring far beneath us, and now we
found a narrow passage-way between its border and the impending
cliffs.
In the mean time, though winding up and down continually, we
were in the main ascending gradually to a lofty elevation. The
number of the swamps were diminished, the frequent rills flashed
more rapidly amid the loose boulders of rock, which soon began to
cover the soil entirely; while the boulders themselves became lofty
hillocks of solid stone, covered with moss, and sustaining a vigorous
48
growth of the birch, the mountain-ash, or clumps of the hardy white
cedar upon their summits.
Wet, bruised, and weary, we sat down beneath one of those
enormous masses of displaced rock, after scaling a difficult ascent,
and purposed to encamp there for the night; but, looking up through
an opening in the trees, we saw the cliffs of the Indian Pass almost
immediately above us, as they were swathed in mist, and the heavy
scud, impelled by the wind which drew strongly through the gap,
drifted past the gray precipice, and made the wall look as if in motion
to crush us when just entering the jaws of the ravine.
But there were still two hours of daylight left, and though the
mile that was yet to be traversed before we gained the centre of the
pass, was the most arduous task of the whole route, we again
commenced the ascent. It took the whole two hours to accomplish
this mile, but as the glen narrowed, our further advance was animated
by a new object of interest, in the shape of a fresh moose-track; and
we followed the trail until it broke abruptly in a rocky gorge, wilder
than any I had yet beheld.
Chapter XI: A Wild Gorge
It was new to me to find the footprints of so large an animal
among rocks that seemed only accessible to a goat. We saw several
places where the moose had slipped upon the thin and slimy soil, or
dashed the moss from the crags with his hoofs as he leaped a chasm.
Following on the trail with caution, our guide held himself in
readiness to shoot, confident that we must soon overtake our noble
quarry as no animal of the kind could possibly make his way
completely through the defile; but we soon came to a passage among
the rocks, where the discreet brute, perceiving that there was but one
way of returning if he ascended higher, had, after making a slight
attempt to force himself through, struck into a lateral ravine, and
sought some other path down the mountain.
I must adopt a homely resemblance to give the reader an idea of
the size of the rocks, and their confused appearance in this part of the
defile: he may imagine, though, loose boulders of solid rock, the size
of tall city dwelling-houses, hurled from a mountain summit into a
chasm a thousand feet in depth, lying upon each other as if they had
fallen but yesterday; each so detached from each, that it is only their
weight which seems to prevent them from rolling further down the
defile: their corners meeting in angles that defy the mathematician to
describe, and forming caverns and labyrinthine passages beneath
them that no draughtsman could delineate. The position of these
tremendous crags seems so recent and precarious, that were it not for
49
other indications around them, you would almost fear that your
footsteps might topple over the gigantic masses, and renew an
onward motion that was but now arrested. But Time has stamped the
date of ages in other language upon their brows. Their tops are
thatched with lichens that must be the growth of centuries; ancient
trees are perched upon their pinnacles, and enormous twisted roots,
which form a network over the chasms between them and save your
limbs from destruction when stepping over the treacherous moss that
hide these black abysses, prove that the repairing hand of nature has
been here at work for ages in covering up the ruin she has wrought in
some one moment of violence.
But we are now in the bosom of the pass, and the shadows of
night are veiling the awful precipice which forms the background of
the picture. We have climbed the last ascent, steeper than all the rest,
and here, in a clump of birches and balsam-firs, surrounded by steeps
and precipices on every side, is our place to bivouac for the night.
Chapter XII: Camping Out
“It ain’t so bad a place for camping out,” said John Cheney, as
he rose from slaking his thirst at a feeble rill which trickled from
beneath the roots of a rifted cedar over which he leaned — “it ain’t
so bad a place to camp, if it didn’t rain so like all natur. I wouldn’t
mind the rain much, nother, if we had a good shantee; but you see the
birch bark won’t run at this season, and it’s pretty hard to make a
water-proof thatch, unless you have hemlock boughs — hows’ever,
gentlemen, I’ll do the best by ye.”
And so he did! Honest John Cheney, thou art at once as stanch a
hunter, and as true and gentle a practiser of woodcraft as ever roamed
the broad forest; and beshrew me when I forget thy services that
night in the Indian Pass.
The frame of a wigwam used by some former party was still
standing, and Cheney went to work industriously tying poles across it
with withes of yellow birch, and thatching the roof and sides with
boughs of balsam-fir. Having but one axe with us, my friend and
myself were, in the mean time, unemployed, and nothing could be
more disconsolate than our situation, as we stood dripping in the cold
rain, and thrashing our arms, like hackney-coachmen, to keep the
blood in circulation. My hardy friend, indeed, was in a much worse
condition than myself. He had been indisposed when he started upon
the expedition, and was now so hoarse that I could scarcely hear him
speak amid the gusts of wind which swept through the ravine. We
both shivered as if in an ague, but he suffered under a fever which
was soon super-added. We made repeated attempts to strike a fire,
50
but our “loco foco” matches would not ignite, and when we had
recourse to flint and steel, every thing was so damp around us that
our fire would not kindle. John began to look exceedingly anxious:
“Now, if we only had a little daylight left, I would make some
shackleberry-tea for you; but it will never do to get sick here, for if
this storm prove a north-easter, God only knows whether all of us
may ever get away from this notch again. I guess I had better leave
the camp as it is, and first make a fire for you.”
Saying this, Cheney shouldered his axe, and striking off a few
yards, he felled a dead tree, split it open, and took some dry chips
from the heart. I then spread my cloak over the spot where he laid
them to keep off the rain, and stooping under it he soon kindled a
blaze, which we employed ourselves in feeding until the “camp” was
completed. And now came the task of laying in a supply of fuel for
the night. This the woodman effected by himself with an expedition
that was marvellous. Measuring three or four trees with his eye, to
see that they would fall near the fire without touching our wigwam,
he attacked them with his axe, felled, and chopped them into logs,
and made his wood-pile in less time than could a city sawyer, who
had all his timber carted to hand. Blankets were then produced from
a pack which he had carried on his back; and these, when stretched
over a carpeting of leaves and branches, would have made a
comfortable bed, if the latter had not been saturated with rain.
Matters, however, seemed to assume a comfortable aspect, as we
now sat under the shade of boughs, drying our clothes by the fire;
while John busied himself in broiling some bacon which we had
brought with us. But our troubles had only yet begun; and I must
indulge in some details of a night in the woods, for the benefit of
“gentlemen who sit at home at ease.”
Chapter XIII: A Night in the Woods
Our camp, which was nothing more than a shed of boughs open
on the side toward the fire, promised a sufficient protection against
the rain so long as the wind should blow from the right quarter; and
an outlying deer-stalker might have been content with our means and
appliances for comfort during the night. Cheney, indeed, seemed
perfectly satisfied as he watched the savoury slices which were to
form our supper steaming up from the coals.
“Well,” said the woodsman, “you see there’s no place but what
if a man bestirs himself to do his best, he may find some comfort in
it. Now, many’s the time that I have been in the woods on a worse
night than this, and having no axe, nor nothing to make a fire with,
51
have crept into a hollow log, and lay shivering till morning; but here,
now, with such a fire as that.”
As he spoke a sudden puff of wind drove the smoke from the
green and wet timber full into our faces, and filled the shantee to a
degree so stifling, that we all rushed out into the rain, that blew in
blinding torrents against us.
“Tormented lightning!” cried John, aghast at this new
annoyance. “This is too pesky bad; but I can manage that smoke if
the wind doesn’t blow from more than three quarters at a time.’’
Seizing his axe upon the instant, he plunged into the darkness beyond
the fire, and in a moment or two a large tree came crashing with all
its leafy honours, bearing down with it two or three saplings to our
feet. With the green boughs of these he made a wall around the fire
to shut out the wind, leaving it open only on the side toward the
shantee. The supper was now cooked without further interruption.
My friend was too ill to eat; but, though under some anxiety on his
account, I myself did full justice to the culinary skill of our guide,
and began to find some enjoyment amid all the discomfort of our
situation. The recollection of similar scenes in other days gave a
relish to the wildness of the present, and inspired that complacent
feeling which a man of less active pursuits sometimes realizes, when
he finds that the sedentary habits of two or three years have not yet
warped and destroyed the stirring tastes of his youth.
We told stories and recounted adventures. I could speak of these
northern hills, from having passed some time among them upon a
western branch of the Hudson, when a lad of fourteen; while the
mountain-hunter would listen with interest to the sporting scenes that
I could describe to him upon the open plains of the far west; though I
found it impossible to make him understand how men could find
their way in a new country where there were so few trees! With
regard to the incidents and legends that I gathered in turn from him, I
may hereafter enlighten the reader. But our discourse was suddenly
cut short by a catastrophe which had nearly proved a very serious
one. This was nothing more nor less than the piles of brush which
encircled our fire, to keep the wind away, suddenly kindling into a
blaze, and for a moment or two threatening to consume our wigwam.
The wind, at the same time, poured down the gorge in shifting, angry
blasts, which whirled the flames in reeling eddies high into the air,
bringing the gray cliffs into momentary light — touching the dark
evergreens with a ruddy glow — and lighting up the stems of the
pale birches, that looked like sheeted ghosts amid the surrounding
gloom.
52
A finishing touch of the elements was yet wanting to complete
the agreeableness of our situation, and finally, just as the curtain of
brush on the windward side of the fire was consumed, the cold rain
changed into a flurry of snow; and the quickly-melted flakes were
driven with the smoke into the innermost parts of our wigwam.
Conversation was now out of the question. John did, indeed, struggle
on with a panther story for a moment or two, and one or two attempts
were made to joke upon our miserable situation, but sleet and smoke
alternately damped and stifled every effort, and then all was still
except the roar of the elements. My sick friend must have passed a
horrible night, as he woke me once or twice with his coughing; but I
wrapped myself in my cloak, and placing my mouth upon the ground
to avoid choking from the smoke, I was soon dreaming as quietly as
if in a curtained chamber at home. The last words I heard John utter,
as he coiled himself in a blanket, were —
“Well, it’s one comfort, since it’s taken on to blow so, I’ve cut
down most of the trees around us that would be likely to fall and
crush us during the night.”
Chapter XIV: The Indian Pass
The ringing of Cheney’s axe was the first sound that met my ear
in the morning, which broke excessively cold. The fire had burnt
low, though frequently replenished by him during the night, and he
was now engaged in renewing it to cook our breakfast, which was
soon ready, and for which the frosty mountain air gave me a keen
appetite. The kind fellow, too, prepared some toast and a hot draught
for my enterprising companion, whom nothing could prevent from
further exploring the pass.
With this view we began descending a precipice in the rear of
our camp, to a place called the ice-hole. The trees on the side of this
precipice have a secret for growing peculiarly their own, or they
could never flourish and maintain their place in such a position. The
wall, some sixty or eighty feet high, and almost perpendicular, is
covered with moss, which peels off in flakes of a yard square, as you
plant your heels in it in descending; yet this flimsy substitute for soil
supports a straggling growth of evergreens, that will bear the weight
of a man as he clings to them, to avoid being dashed to pieces in the
glen below. The snow of the last night which covered the mountaintops made the stems of these saplings so slippery and cold, that our
hands became numb in grasping them before we were halfway down
the descent. The river runs through the bottom of this ravine, but its
passage is so cavernous, that it is only by letting yourself down into
the fissures between the immense boulders, which are here wedged
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together in indescribable confusion, and crawling beneath the rocks,
that you can obtain a sight of its current. From this chasm you view
the sky as from the bottom of a well. A pair of eagles that have their
nest in the cliff above, showed like swallows as they hovered along
its face. The sun never penetrates into this gloomy labyrinth; and
here, unless the waters are unusually high, you may find cakes of ice
at Midsummer.
Emerging from this wild chaos of rocks we clambered a short
distance up the sides of the glen, and penetrated a few hundred yards
further into the pass to a sloping platform amidst the rocks, where the
finest view of the whole scene is to be obtained. And here, within a
few yards of its first well-springs, you behold one of the strongest
features of the mighty Hudson developed even in its birth. It has
already cloven its way through a defile as difficult as that through
which it rushes near West Point, and far more stupendous. A rocky
precipice of twelve hundred feet rises immediately in front of you,
and the jaws of the pass open barely wide enough to admit the egress
of the stream at its highest stages of water. The cliff opposite looks
raw and recent as if riven through but yesterday; and ponderous
blocks of stone, that would almost make mountains themselves,
wrenched from their former seat, in what is now the centre of the
pass, stand edgwise leaning down the glen, as if waiting some new
throe of this convulsion of nature to sweep them further on their
terrific career. Many of these features of the place you have already
seen while climbing to the point where we stand; but now, upon
turning round as you gain the head of the pass, and look out from its
bosom upon the mountain region below, a view of unequalled beauty
and grandeur greets the eye. The morning sun, which will not for
hours yet reach the place where you stand, is shining upon airy peaks
and wooded hills which shoulder each other as far as the eye can
reach, while far down the glen, where the maple and beech find a
more genial soil to nourish them, the rainbow hues of autumn are
glistening along the stream, which, within a few miles of its fountainhead, has already expanded into a beautiful lake.
Chapter XV: Mount Marcy
The group of wild hills among which the Hudson rises stand
wholly detached from any other chain in North America. The highest
peak of the Aganuschion range, or the Black Mountains, as some call
them, from the dark aspect which their sombre cedars and frowning
cliffs give them at a distance, was measured during last summer, and
found to be nearly six thousand feet in height.
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Mount Marcy, as it has been christened, not improperly, after the
public functionary who first suggested the survey of this interesting
region, presents a perfect pyramidal top, when viewed from Lake
Sandford. Its alpine climate is very different from that prevailing in
the valleys below, and I observed its cone sheathed in snow one day
when I found the water temperate enough to enjoy swimming in the
lake. The effect was equally beautiful and sublime. The frost had
here and there flecked the forest with orange and vermilion, touching
a single sumach or a clump of maples at long intervals, but generally,
the woods displayed as yet but few autumnal tints: and the deep
verdure of the adjacent mountains set off the snowy peak in such
high contrast, soaring as it did far above them, and seeming to pierce,
as it were, the blue sky which curtained them, that the poetic Indian
epithet of Ta-ha-wus (he splits the sky), was hardly too extravagant
to characterize its peculiar grandeur.30 The ascent of Mount Marcy,
and the view from the summit will hereafter puzzle many an abler
pen than mine in the attempt to describe them.
The wild falls of Kas-kong-shadi (broken water) — the bright
pools of Tu-ne-sas-sah (a place of pebbles) — and the tall cascade of
She-gwi-en-dankwe (the hanging spear) — will hereafter tempt many
to strike over to the eastern branch of the Hudson, and follow it up to
Lake Colden; while the echoing glen of Twen-un-ga-sko (a raised
voice), though now as savage as the Indian Pass already described,
will reverberate with more musical cries than the howl of the wolf or
the panther, whose voices only are now raised to awaken its echoes.
The luxurious cit will cool his champagne amid the snows of Mount
Marcy: and his botanizing daughter, who has read in Michaux’s
American Sylva, of pines some two hundred feet in height! will
wonder to pluck full-grown trees of the same genus, which she can
put into her reticule.
At present, however, the mountain is a desert. Wolverines,
lynxes, and wild-cats, with a few ravens, who generally follow in the
track of beasts of prey, are almost the only living things that have
their habitations in these high solitudes; and save when their
occasional cry breaks the stillness, the solemn woods are on a calm
day as silent as the grave. The absence of game birds, and of the
30
According to Russell Carson’s Peaks and People of the Adirondacks, “Ta-ha-wus”
and the other four supposed Indian names for features in the vicinity of Mount Marcy
— “She-gwi-en-dankwe,” “Tu-ne-sas-sah,” “Kos-kong-shadi,” and “Twen-un-ga-sko”
— were literary inventions of Hoffman, lifted from an 1827 book, An Account of
Sundry Missions Performed Among the Senecas and Munsees, by the Rev. Timothy
Alden. The “place names” were selected from a list of Iroquois personal names then in
use in Tonawanda, in western New York state; each name was given the same
translation in Alden’s 1827 book as Hoffman gave in his 1837 account.
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beasts of chase, which give his subsistence to the hunter, prevents
him from wasting his toil in climbing to the loftiest pinnacles; and so
far as I learned, it is only lately that curiosity has prompted those
who have passed a great part of their lives in the neighbourhood to
make the ascent. The view, however, when once realized, seems to
strike them not less than it does more cultivated minds. “It makes a
man feel,” said a hunter, to me, “what it is to have all creation placed
beneath his feet. There are woods there, over which it would take a
lifetime to hunt; mountains that seem shouldering each other up and
away, heaven knows where. Thousands of little lakes are let in
among them. Old Champlain, though fifty miles off, glistens below
you like a strip of white birch-bark; and the green mountains of
Vermont beyond it, fade and fade away, till they disappear as
gradually as a cold scent when the dew rises.”
Chapter XVI: A Wolf Encounter
The hunter, Holt, of whom I have before spoken, has had some
strange encounters with wild animals among these lonely defiles
which I have attempted to describe; and John Cheney had, sometime
since, a fight with a wolf, which is almost as well worthy of
commemoration as the doughty feat of old Putnam.
It was in winter; the snows were some four or five feet deep
upon a level, and the hunter, upon whom a change of seasons seems
to produce but little effect, could only pursue his game upon snowshoes; an ingenious contrivance for walking upon the surface, which,
though so much used in our northern counties, is still only
manufactured in perfection by the Indians; who drive quite a trade in
them along the Canada border. Wandering far from the settlements,
and making his bed at nightfall in a deep snowbank, Cheney rose one
morning to examine his traps, near which he will sometimes lie
encamped for weeks in complete solitude; when, hovering round one
of them, he discovered a famished wolf, who, unappalled by the
presence of the hunter, retired only a few steps, and then, turning
round, stood watching his movements.
“I ought, by rights,” quoth John, “to have waited for my dogs,
who could not have been far off, but the creetur looked so sarcy,
standing there, that though I had not a bullet to spare, I couldn’t help
letting into him with my rifle.”
He missed his aim; the animal giving a spring as he was in the
act of firing, and then turning instantly upon him before he could
reload his piece. So effective was the unexpected attack of the wolf,
that his forepaws were upon Cheney’s snow-shoes before he could
rally for the fight. The forester became entangled in the deep drift,
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and sank upon his back, keeping the wolf only at bay by striking at
him with his clubbed rifle. The stock was broken to pieces in a few
moments, and it would have fared ill with the stark woodsman, if the
wolf, instead of making at his enemy’s throat when he had him thus
at disadvantage, had not, with blind fury, seized the barrel of the gun
in his jaws. Still the fight was unequal, as John, half buried in the
snow, could make use of but one of his hands. He shouted to his
dogs; but one of them only, a young untrained hound, made his
appearance; emerging from a thicket he caught sight of his master
lying apparently at the mercy of the ravenous beast, uttered a yell of
fear, and fled howling to the woods again. “Had I had one shot left,”
said Cheney, “I would have given it to that dog instead of
despatching the wolf with it.” In the exasperation of the moment,
John might have extended his contempt to the whole canine race, if a
stancher friend had not opportunely interposed to vindicate their
character for courage and fidelity.
All this had passed in a moment; the wolf was still grinding the
iron gun-barrel in his teeth: he had even once wrenched it from the
hand of the hunter, when, dashing like a thunderbolt between the
combatants, the other hound sprang over his master’s body, and
seized the wolf by the throat. “There was no let go about that dog
when he once took hold. If the barrel had been red hot, the wolf
couldn’t have dropped it quicker; and it would have done you good, I
tell ye, to see that old dog drag the creetur’s head down in the snow,
while I, just at my leisure, drove the iron into his skull. One good,
fair blow, though, with a heavy rifle-barrel, on the back of the head
finished him. The fellow gave a kind o’ quiver, stretched out his hind
legs, and then he was done for. I had the rifle stocked afterwards, but
she would never shoot straight after that fight; so I got me this pistol,
which being light and handy, enables me more conveniently to carry
an axe upon my long tramps, and make myself comfortable in the
woods.”
Many a deer has John since killed with that pistol. It is curious to
see him draw it from the left pocket of his gray shooting jacket, and
bring down a partridge. I have myself witnessed several of his
successful shots with this unpretending shooting-iron, and once saw
him knock the feathers from a wild duck at eighty or a hundred
yards!
Chapter XVII: The Dog and the Deer-Stalker
The Deer-stalkers, or “Still-hunters” as they are called in this
part of the country, are very inveterate against those who hound the
deer. For even in these woods, where you travel through twenty
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miles of unbroken forest in passing from house to house, people
array themselves in factions, and indulge their animosities by acting
in separate bodies with true partisan spirit. In fact, the deer-drivers
and the still-hunters, only want their poet, or historian, to make their
interminable bickerings, as celebrated as those of the Guelphs and
Ghibbelines, or any other redoutable bone-breakers whose feudal
“yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
“What business has a man got in the woods,” quoth the stillhunter, “who can’t take home a piece of venison to his shantee
without scaring all the deer for ten miles around before he gets at it.
The flesh of the poor creeturs is worth nothing neither, after their
blood is heated by being driven to death with dogs.”
“How can a man sleep sound in the woods,” saith John Cheney,
on the other side, “when he has had the heart to lure the mother of a
fawn to the very muzzle of his rifle by bleating at her: or who has
shot down the dumb brutes by torchlight, when they come to the
waterside to cool themselves at nightfall? It ain’t nateral, and such
hunting — it hunting they call it — will never prosper.” Honest
John! whatever may be the merits of the question, he has reason to
feel sore upon the subject, from the sad and ignoble death which the
hound who played so gallant a part in his wolf encounter, met with at
the hands of the still-hunters.
Some of the best hounds in the country having been killed by
these forest-regulators, Cheney would never allow his favourite dog
to wander near the streams most frequented by them; but it chanced
one day that the poor fellow met with an accident which withdrew
his care from the dog. The trigger of his pistol caught against the
thwart of a boat while he was in the act of raising it to shoot a deer,
and the piece going off in a perpendicular direction, sent the whole
charge into his leg, tearing off the calf, and driving the ball out
through the sole of his foot. With this terrible wound, which,
however, did not prevent him from reloading and killing the deer
before he could swim to the shore, Cheney dragged himself fifteen
miles through the woods, to the nearest log cabin. A violent fever,
and the threatened loss of the limb, confined him here for months.
But his dog, to whom, while idling in the forest, he had taught a
hundred amusing tricks, was still his company and solace; and
though Tray looked wistfully after each hunter that strayed by the
cabin, no eagerness for the chase could impel him to leave his
master’s side.
At last, however, upon one unfortunate day, poor Cheney was
prevailed upon to indulge a brother sportsman, and let him take the
dog out with him for a few hours. The hunter soon returned, but the
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hound never came back. Under his master’s eye, he had been taught
never to follow a deer beyond a certain limit; but now, long
confinement had given him such a zest for the sport, that he crossed
the fatal bounds. The mountain-ridge of a more friendly region was
soon placed between him and his master — the deer took to the
treacherous streams infested by the Still-hunters, and the generous
hound and his timorous quarry met the same fate from the rifles of
their prowling enemy.
Chapter XVIII: Crusting Moose
“Crusting” is the term applied to taking large game amid the
deep snows of winter, when the crust of ice which forms upon the
surface after a slight rain is strong enough to support the weight of a
man, but gives way at once to the hoofs of a moose or a deer; while
the animal, thus embarrassed, is easily caught and despatched with
clubs. In our northern states more game is destroyed in this way than
in any other; and you may read in the newspapers every winter some
account of the inhabitants of a whole village turning out and
butchering hundreds of deer when thus entrapped. Only a few years
since, it was said that more than a thousand were so destroyed in the
township of Catskill in one season. All true sportsmen, however,
hold “crusting deer” in contempt and abhorrence for the venison is
generally not in season at the time of year when it is thus procured;
and this mode of taking it belongs rather to the butcher than to the
hunter.
Crusting moose is rather a different thing, as it requires both
skill and courage on the part of the hunter, and the animal has a
chance at least of escape or resistance. Still, as the law will not, or
cannot protect this noblest of all forest game from destruction in this
manner, it must at no distant day become extinct within the
boundaries of New York. The broad west has no moose-ground so
celebrated as that in our northern counties, and when you leave the
sources of the Hudson, you must travel westward to those of the
Mississippi before you find the gigantic moose as numerous as they
were in our forests but a few years since. The woods of Maine,
however, are probably richer in this noble game than any within the
United States’ territories.
The moose, who is both more shy and more sagacious than the
deer, has his favourite haunts in the depths of the forest. He moves
about, not like the elk, in roving gangs, but stalks in lonely majesty
through his leafy domains; and when disturbed by the hunter, instead
of bounding away like his kinsman of the forest and prairie, he trots
off at a gait which, though faster than that of the fleetest horse, is so
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easy and careless in its motion, that it seems to cost him no exertion.
But though retreating thus when pursued, he is one of the most
terrible beasts of the forest when wounded and at bay; and the
Indians of the north-west, among some tribes, celebrate the death of a
bull-moose, when they are so fortunate as to kill one, with all the
songs of triumph that they would raise over a conquered warrior.
The deepest snows of winter of course offer the best occasion
for moose-hunting. The sagacious animal, so soon as a heavy storm
sets in, commences forming what is called a “Moose-yard,” which is
a large area, wherein he industriously tramples down the snow while
it is falling, so as to have a place to move about in, and browse upon
the branches of trees, without the necessity of wandering from place
to place, struggling through the deep drifts, exposed to the wolves,
who, being of lighter make, hold a carnival upon the deer in crustingtime. No wolf, however, dare enter a moose-yard. He will troop
round and round upon the snow-bank which walls it, and his howling
will, perhaps, bring two or three of his brethren to the spot, who will
try to terrify the moose from his ’vantage ground, but dare not
descend into it.
But, when the hunter, prowling about on his snow-shoes,
discovers a moose-yard, he feels so sure of his quarry, that he will
sometimes encamp upon the spot, in order to take the game at his
leisure; and, when there have been several hunters in company, I
have heard of their proceeding patiently to fell the neighbouring
trees, and form a lofty fence around the yard, which enabled them to
take the animal alive, when subdued by long confinement and
starvation. An opportunity of doing this occurred near M’Intyre last
winter, when a yard, with three moose in it, an old cow-moose and
two yearlings, was discovered and surrounded by a band of hunters.
Some of the party were desirous of taking them alive, as one of the
proprietors of this extensive property — a gentleman of great public
spirit — wishes to make an attempt to domesticate the animal, and, if
possible, introduce the use of it to agricultural purposes. This is an
exceedingly interesting and hardly doubtful experiment, for the
moose has been frequently tamed, and, unlike the common deer, can
be halter-broken as easily as a horse.
The hunters, however, were too excited with their good luck to
listen to any suggestion of the kind — few of them had ever killed a
moose. Their rifles were in their hands, and they were bent upon
having a shot at the game, which dashed to and fro, snorting and
whistling, within the snowy bounds of the yard. The whoops and
shouts of their enemies, redoubled by the echoes from the adjacent
mountains, made them furious at being thus beset; and, at each
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discharge of a gun, they would plunge at the assailing marksman so
desperately, that he would be compelled to take refuge behind the
nearest tree. The scene became thus so exciting, that all order was
lost among the huntsmen. Each fired as fast as he could load, hardly
waiting to take aim, lest some quicker-sighted comrade should bear
off the prize. The moose, though repeatedly wounded, would charge
again and again into the snow-banks around them, and drive their
enemies from the brink, retiring, at each turn, to a corner of the yard
where they were least molested, and there rally at once for another
charge. Faint with the loss of blood, however, they were successively
discomfited and borne down by the hunters, who, retreating upon the
crust when pursued, would turn upon the moose the moment they
tried to retrace their steps, and assail them with axes and bludgeons
while floundering in the snow to recover the vantage ground of the
yard. The two yearlings, with their dam, after making a most gallant
resistance, were ultimately despatched.
Such was the description which I had one day from a veteran
hunter, while lying round a fire discussing a venison steak cut from a
fine buck, whose death had been compassed after the curious fashion
described as follows.
Chapter XIX: Withing a Buck
After a week of fine trout-fishing, alternated by such picturesque
rambles as I have attempted to describe, we could not leave the
sources of the Hudson without devoting our last day to a deer-hunt,
which had only been hitherto deferred from Cheney’s hounds being
absent with a brother hunter.
Taking an early breakfast, my friend and I, accompanied by John
Cheney, another forester of the name of Linus Catlin, and our
hospitable host, separated at the inlet of Lake Sandford, to take our
different stations. Cheney, with three hounds, was to rouse the deer
from his lair upon an adjacent mountain; Catlin was to take post in
his skiff, behind one of the islets of the lake; and the rest of us were
to watch in the canoe, under the shelter of a bold promontory,
opposite which the deer was expected to take the water.
Before entering his boat, Catlin, who appeared to be one of those
quiet fellows that say little and do much, having no gun with him,
proceeded to cut down a birchen sapling, and strip it of all its
branches except two, the elastic wood of which he twisted together,
so as to form a large noose upon the end of the pole. As he was
laying this weapon in the stern of his skiff, and preparing to push off,
his preparations did not seem to meet the approbation of his friend
Cheney.
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“What, Linus, you are not a-going to withe the deer?”
“And why not?” answered Catlin, taking his seat, and placing
the oars in the rowlocks.
“Because I never see any good in withes; a man that can’t tail a
deer oughtn’t to hunt him.”
“Why, John, you couldn’t hold a fat buck by his tail long enough
to cut his throat with your hunting-knife.”
“Can’t I? I’d like to see the time! Well, if I know’d I could never
tail another, as I have thousands, the cretur might go afore I’d be the
man to drown him with a withe!”
The quiet Linus only replied by pushing off into the current and
dropping down the stream, and we immediately followed, while
Cheney, whistling to his dogs, plunged into the forest and
disappeared.
The boats kept near each other for some time, and we landed
together upon a sunny point to deposit a basket of bread and
vegetables, an iron pot, and some other culinary apparatus which we
had brought with us, under the confident promise of John that we
should surely have a venison dinner in the woods that day, if he had
to drive a dozen deer before we could kill one. Our craft being
lightened of her lading, Catlin pulled for the islet which was yet a
mile off down the lake, and we, after watching his oars flashing in
the sunshine for a few moments, embarked anew and paddled round
a headland; when running the canoe under the trees, whose morning
shadows still hung over the lake, we stretched ourselves upon the
grass, listening and looking with the most eager attention for the first
intimation of approaching sport.
There was a slight ripple upon the lake, which was not
favourable to our seeing the deer should he take the water at any
great distance from us; and the incessant call of the jay, with the
ever-changing cry of the loon, created so many noises in the woods,
generally so still, that the opening of the hounds might have escaped
us unheard. These early sounds, however, soon ceased as the sun
came marching up above the mountain tops, and spread the silver
waves from the centre of the lake far and wide, into all its sheltered
bays and wood-embowered friths. The faint ripple of the waters upon
the rocky shore was the only murmur left.
My companions were conversing in a subdued voice, and I was
lying a little apart from them revelling in the singular beauty of the
scene, and trying to fix in my memory the peculiar outline of a ridge
of mountains opposite, when I heard the faint crashing of a bough
upon the other side of the lake, and running my eye along the water,
discovered a noble buck, with fine antlers, swimming beneath the
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bank. My comrades caught sight of him a moment afterwards, and
we all waited with eager anxiety to see him put out far enough for us
to row round him, and cut him off from the shore. But the buck had
evidently no idea of making a traverse of the lake at this time. He
was far in advance of the hounds, and had taken the water at this
place not from being hotly pursued, but only to throw them off the
scent, and then double on his own track. He, therefore, kept
swimming along the shore, close under the steep bank, looking up at
it every now and then, as if in search of a “runway” which would
carry him back again into the depths of the forest. This runway was
in a little cove immediately opposite to us, and though it was almost
impossible now to cut him off from reaching it, yet the moment we
saw his object, we determined to make the effort.
The position of each in the canoe had of course been previously
arranged; we accordingly crept into our seats, and pushed out into the
lake, without making a sound that could attract the attention of the
deer. The little islet of Inch-Hamish lay but a few yards out of our
course, and we slid along as quietly as possible, until we could get
under cover of this, and then gave way with all our strength. The lean
craft glanced like an arrow through the rippling waters. We were all
three familiar with the use of oar or paddle, and the buck would have
had no chance of escape from that canoe had we been a hundred
yards nearer. Our hopes were high in the brief moments that the islet
shut him from view, but he had just reached the shore when we shot
from its cover. We now threw up our paddles in despair, and paused
to take a fair view of him as he escaped from the lake. It was
beautiful to see him lift his arching neck from the water when he first
touched the bottom; and his whole form was brought to view while
he made a few steps through the shallow waves, as leisurely as if no
pursuers were near. Throwing his antlers, then, upon his shoulders to
clear the boughs above him, he bounded over a fallen tree near the
margin, and disappeared in the forest.
Looking now to the point where he had entered the lake, we saw
one of the hounds standing out on a rock, with nose uplifted to catch
the vanished scent of his quarry. The dog saw us pulling for the
runway, and, dashing into the lake, swam for the point to which we
were steering, and reached it just as our boat grated upon the beach.
A moment sufficed to put him again upon the scent. He opened with
a joyous yell — his mouthing soon became deeper, and more distant
— it neared again — and the two other hounds, who, while following
some other trail, had now, for the first time, struck his, joined in the
chorus. The echoes in the upper part of the lake are the finest that I
ever heard; and as the morning breeze had now lulled, they were all
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awakened by this wild music. The deer was evidently making for the
inlet; and, indeed, before we could pull out far enough to command a
view of the point where he would probably cross, he had made the
traverse, and we only caught a glimpse of the dogs thrashing through
the wild grass upon a tongue of land upon the opposite side of the
inlet.
“You may give up that buck,” said our host; “he has gone over
to Lake Henderson, and the best thing we can do is to start another.”
Almost as he spoke, a clear whoop rang through the forest, and
soon after we saw John Cheney waving us to the shore we had just
left.
“Tormented lightning! what are ye doing there, when the deer is
going down the lake?”
“Down! why he has just crossed at the upper end, and gone over
to Lake Henderson.”
“I tell you he hasn’t. No deer will go there when the water’s so
high that he would be entangled in the bushes before he could swim
beyond his depth. I know the natur of the cretur; and that deer has
gone round to the lower end of the lake, to cross back to the
mountain, where I started him.”
With these words Cheney waded into the water without waiting
for us to approach nearer the shore, jumped into the canoe, seized a
paddle, and away we sped again over the waves. The event proved
that he was right. The buck after crossing at the inlet, made a circuit
of several miles, and before we could pull half way down the lake,
took the water at a runway opposite to the islet, behind which Catlin
was watching in his skiff.
Cool and experienced in the sport, this hunter never broke his
cover until the deer got fairly out into the lake, when he launched out
and turned him so quickly, that the buck made for the island which
his pursuer had just left. Linus, however, was too quick for him, and
threw his withe over the deer’s antlers before he could touch the
bottom with his feet. But the buck was a fellow of great weight and
vigour, and feeling himself thus entangled, he made a lateral spring
into deeper water, which dragged the hunter out of the boat in an
instant. Linus fortunately seized one of the oars, which, being rigged
with swivels instead of row-locks, still kept him connected with the
skiff. But his situation was a very precarious one; the buck becoming
the assailant, struck at him with his forefeet, and got him again fairly
under water. He rose this time, however, with the oar between
himself and his antagonist, and while clutching the gunwale of the
boat with one hand, seized the withe which had escaped from his
grasp, in the same moment that the buck made a pass at him with his
64
horns, which ripped up the bosom of his shirt, and was within an inch
of goring him to death. But before the desperate animal could repeat
the thrust, the hunter had gained the skiff, now half full of water, and
seizing the first missile that came to hand, he dealt the buck a blow
upon the head, which, followed up by a slash from his hunting-knife,
put an end to the encounter.
The conflict was over before we could reach the combatants; but
the carcass was still warm when we relieved the leaky boat of Catlin
by lifting the buck into our canoe; and his eye was so bright, his skin
so smooth and glossy, and his limbs, not yet stiffened in death,
folded so easily beneath him, that it was difficult to imagine life had
departed.
When we landed at the spot before selected, it required the
united strength of the whole party to lift the buck up the steep bank,
and suspend him upon the timbers, which Cheney prepared,
secundum artem, for scientific butchery. The eloquent Bucklaw, by
whose learned discourse upon this branch of “the gentle science of
venerie,” the reader has been enlightened, when reading Scott’s
“Bride of Lammermoor,” could not have been a more thorough
practitioner of the art than John Cheney.
A group worthy of Inman’s pencil was collected around the
roaring fire; by which the dripping Catlin was drying himself; while
Cheney, with the fat buck before him, and the dogs licking the blood
at his feet, as ever and anon he paused in his operation, and turned
round to us, to point out some graceful line of fat with his huntingknife, would have formed the prominent features of the picture.
The potatoes, in the mean time, were roasted whole or sliced up
with various savory matters, which were put into the kettle to boil;
and though we had omitted to bring tumblers with us, Cheney’s axe
hollowed out and fashioned some most ingenious drinking-cups,
which were ready by the time divers choice morsels of venison had
been grilled upon the coals. There were a few drops at the bottom of
an old flask of cognac for each of us; we had Mackinaw-blankets,
stretched upon balsam branches, to recline upon; there was no call of
duty or business to remind us of the lapse of hours; and stories and
anecdotes of former huntings in these mountains, with practical
discussions as to what part of a deer afforded the most savory
venison, prolonged the repast till sunset.
The haunch of the buck, wrapped in its clean skin, was left
untouched for future feasting. “Well, John,” said I, as I tried in vain
to lift it into the boat, by the short, fat tail, “how could you ever have
taken such a fellow as this by ‘tailing him,’ as you call it?”
65
“It’s all knack — it’s being used to the thing only. Not but that I
always said that withing is a good way.”
“No, no, John!” we all exclaimed, “you said just the reverse.”
“Well, perhaps I did, and without meaning to discredit Linus,
who, for certain, has been the man among us this day, I still say that
withing only does for those that don’t know how to tail a deer. And
now let’s take the old hounds in the boats and pull homewards.”
Chapter XX: The Departure
The hunters with whom we had enjoyed our last day’s sport
upon Lake Sandford, accompanied us some forty miles through the
woods, when we started next day upon our homeward journey. John
Cheney, like the rest, trudging along on foot, found an opportunity of
shooting several partridges by the way, picking them from the trees
with his pistol with as much ease as an ordinary sportsman could
have effected with a fowling-piece (admitting the thick cover to give
the bird such a chance of life as to warrant a sportsman to take him
sitting). After killing three or four partridges, however, John could
not be prevailed on to shoot at more. I several times called his
attention to a good shot, but he always answered shaking his head.
“It’s wrong, it’s wrong, sir, to use up life in that way — here’s birds
enough for them that wants to eat them, and that saddle of venison on
the buckboard will only be wasted, if I kill more of these poor
things.”
About noon we halted by a brook which ran through the forest
near a clump of maples which grew so widely apart as to let the
sunshine down upon a grassy spot, where we spread our table upon a
fallen tree, and kindling a fire proceeded to cook our dinner. All
found something to do, while this was in preparation; one attended to
the comforts of the horses, another kept the fire supplied with fuel,
some shot at a mark with Cheney’s pistoI, while worthy John himself
watched with the most sedulous care over the venison and partridges,
which he roasted after a fashion peculiarly his own, and which, with
four or five large trout that we had brought from the lake, and the
customary accompaniment of roast potatoes and wheaten bread, all
being flavoured with good humour and keen mountain appetites,
made the repast a delicious one.
The day was fine, the air clear and remarkably bland for the
season, and I don’t know how long we should have protracted our
wood land revel, as Cheney exercised his skill and ingenuity serving
up every moment some tempting morsel of venison, pressing my
friend and myself particularly to eat, as “we didn’t know when again
we might have a real nateral dinner in the woods, and it was a
66
comfort to him to see gentlemen from the city take things in the
woods as if they liked them.”
No town-adoring cockney, nor patriotic villager, nor proud
Castellan, could imagine himself more thoroughly identified with all
the honours and glory of his distinct and especial dwelling-place,
than does this genuine forester with every thing that appertains to the
broad woods through which he ranges. Cheney was now, as he told
me when walking by my side, after resuming our journey, going out
of the woods for the first time in three months, to visit his father,
who lived some sixty miles off. He was very old, and John had not
seen nor heard from him for some time previously to his last visit to
the settlements which we were now approaching, and from which his
father lived still another day’s journey distant. He seemed quite
anxious as to the tidings he might hear about his venerable parent,
and talked of remaining to spend a month with him. Such was the
complexion of the hunter’s feelings when we came out of the forest
at nightfall upon what is called the Schroon-road, where we found a
good inn to receive us. Here, my friend and I, after securing a
conveyance which should enable us to follow down the course of the
Hudson instead of returning home through Lake Champlain, invited
Cheney to take a seat in our vehicle, which would carry him some
thirty miles on his next day’s journey. He was so eager to see his
father, that the proffer was at once accepted, and all our mutual
arrangements were completed for the morrow. But just as we were
on the point of starting, and had shaken hands with our hearty host of
MacIntyre and his party, Cheney was hailed by a brother hunter,
who, rifle on shoulder, trudged up to the inn door upon the road we
were about to travel.
“Hullo, Bill!” cried the filial John, advancing to shake hands
with him. “Come up from Ti’, eh? and how’s the old man?”
“Right well, I tell ye,” replied Bill; “he’s killed six bear this fall,
and thinking the creturs must be pretty well routed out among our
mountains, I’ve struck over the ridge to see what I can find among
your’n.”
“Tormented lightning! six bear!” quoth John. “Why, the raal old
chap; his grain is as tough and springy as ever. Well, Bill, if you’ll
hold on till I can speak a word to these gentlemen in the waggon, I’ll
turn round with you, and back into our woods again.”
Saying this, Cheney came up to us, and repeating what we had
just overheard as the reason for changing his intentions, he shook
hands with us, and we parted upon our separate journeys.
We reached Lake George that night, our road winding side by
side with the Hudson for many miles, passing several picturesque
67
lakes, crossing mountain ridges commanding the most superb bird’seye views, or descending into valleys, where the painter might find
an ever-varying novelty for the exercise of his art; but as the reader is
perhaps already fatigued with these loose sketches, and as the
prominent figure which gave them animation has disappeared from
the scene, we will here conclude our notes upon THE SOURCES OF
THE HUDSON.
68
DOCUMENT FOUR
Visit to the Mountains
31
of Essex (1837)
EBENEZER EMMONS
During the month of August last [1837], I visited the mountains
of Essex with a view of determining the position and height of some
of the most conspicuous elevations at the source of the Hudson.
This tour of exploration was made in company with a party
devoted more or less to scientific pursuits, a part of whom were also
personally interested in the survey.
In the prosecution of our objects, it is but justice to notice in this
place, the aid we received of the Hon. A. McIntyre, of this city, and
D. Henderson, Esq. of New-York, inasmuch as they liberally
supplied every thing necessary to secure the success of our
enterprize. Indeed, the party were but their guests, whether at the
little village of McIntyre or on the mountain summit: an instance of
liberality I take the liberty thus publicly to acknowledge.
It is not my object to write an account of this tour; this has
already been given to the public by Mr. Redfield, of New-York, in
the Journal of Science,32 and is a valuable document. Notes of a visit
to this romantic region have also appeared in the New-York Mirror,33
in the beautiful style of the editor of that popular periodical. They
contain a fund of pleasing anecdote.
The points of greatest interest to us were, to determine the height
of three or four peaks in the neighborhood of the source of the
Hudson, and also the height of one of its sources at its extreme point
or origin. To accomplish these objects, we ascended the east branch
of the Hudson to its source, which we found to be in a small
mountain meadow, 10 or 12 miles N.E. from the iron works at
McIntyre, and at the base of the summit of what finally proved to be
the highest point in the group of mountains. In the same meadow,
one of the branches of the Ausable takes its rise; so that it constitutes
the pass, and probably the highest, between the waters which flow
31
From the report of the New York State Geological Survey, 1837-38, Assembly Doc.
No. 200, pp. 240-244, written by Ebenezer Emmons. Dated February 15, 1838,
Emmons’ report covered the Geological Survey’s 1837 expedition, including the first
summiting of Mount Marcy.
32
The January 1838 issue of the American Journal of Science and Arts.
33
The first installment of Charles Fenno Hoffman’s account of his September 1837
visit to McIntyre and the Adirondack mountains appeared in October 1837 in the New
York Mirror, which Hoffman edited.
69
into the Atlantic on the south, and those which flow into the Gulph of
St. Lawrence on the north. The height of this meadow is 4,747 feet.
Our route up the east branch was one which furnished many
interesting facts in a geological point of view, one in particular, the
effect of attrition on the boulders which are in their course down to
the lower levels. It seems that although at the commencement of their
journey they are huge and unwieldy, yet before they reach their final
resting place, they are reduced to the size of what we call stones, and
even in many instances to gravel. As the rock is peculiar, and well
characterized through the whole region of the upper Hudson, it is
very easy to recognize it. It is, however, rare that we meet with it far
down the main branch of the Hudson; in fact I doubt whether it is
possible to find a pebble of this rock in the course of this river below
Glen’s Falls. The fact is, before they reach the wide and deeper
portions of it, they are ground to powder. If this is not true, we
should frequently find masses of this rock along the shores of the
Hudson, which have been transported either by the force of spring
freshets, or by ice at the breaking up of the streams.
The region in which the east branch of this river rises, it seems
had never been explored previous to our visit; and it is not
unreasonable to suppose this, for all our writers on geography have
uniformly underrated its height, have made incorrect statements in
relation to the origin and course of the principal branches of the
Hudson, and also in relation to the character of the whole mountain
group in which they rise.
This being the case, it is not surprising that names have not been
given to the highest points of land in the State. This privilege belongs
by common consent to the first explorers. This, to be sure, is of but
little consequence; still, as things must have a name, the party saw fit
to confer upon a few of the highest summits designations by which
they may in future be known. As this tour of exploration was made
by gentlemen who were in the discharge of their duties to the State,
and under the direction of the present Executive, whose interest in
the survey has been expressed both by public recommendation and
private counsel and advice, it was thought that a more appropriate
name could not be conferred on the highest summit of this group
than Mount Marcy. Its approximate bearing from Bald Peak, in West
Port,34 so well known on Lake Champlain, is N. 81° W. Its true
bearing from the Dial Mountain is N. 73° 13’ W., and the bearing of
Bald Peak from the last named mountain is S. 85° 48’ E.; and from
the same, White Face bears N. 13° 47’ W., with an angle of
34
Emmons: This mountain is six miles from Moriah Four Corners, bearing N. 20° E.
(Magnetic.)
70
depression = 0.15’. The bearing of White Face from Mount Marcy on
the magnetic meridian is N. 10° 30’ E., and of Bald Peak, S. 80° E.
Clear Pond, at Johnson’s, S. 21° E. and Mud Pond, 2½ miles N.
towards the Dial Mountain, S. 51° 30’ E. The Newcomb farm and
clearing, S. 61° W., and Pendleton settlement S. 65° W.; Camel’s
Rump,35 in the Green mountains, N. 87° E.; Mountain Meadow,
source of the Hudson and Ausable, N. 70° E.
Another remarkable mountain, bearing N. 47° W. was named
Mount McIntyre. It was supposed to rank next in height to Mount
Marcy. Its true bearing from the Dial mountain is N. 66° 36’ W. The
bearing of White Face from Mount McIntyre, on the magnetic
meridian is N. 20° E., and the Notch, or as it is now called, the Indian
Pass, S. 85° W. North Peak of Santanoni, S. 72° 30’ W, and the
South Peak S. 65° W. N.W. point of Lake Placid, N. 5° E.; Long
Pond,36 in Keene, N. 50° E.
An insolated mountain, situated between Mount Marcy and
Mount McIntyre, has been named Mount McMartin, in honor of one
now deceased, whose enterprize and spirit, in conjunction with two
others, whose names it is unnecessary to mention, has contributed
much to the establishment of a settlement at the great ore bed, as well
as to other improvements, advantageous to the prosperity of this
section of the State.
A distant view of this mountain is given from Lake Henderson.
It is particularly remarkable for its trap dyke, which is about eighty
feet wide, and which has apparently divided it into two parts near its
centre. A portion of this dyke is visible from Lake Henderson, a
distance of about five miles. A fine and spirited view of it has been
furnished me by Mr. Ingham of New-York, who was one of the
exploring party. It was taken near the base of the mountain, at
Avalanche Lake, and is merely an exhibition of the termination of
the gorge which has been formed by the breaking up of the dyke by a
small stream of water, assisted by frost and other agents.
The cluster of mountains in the neighborhood of the Upper
Hudson and Ausable rivers, I proposed to call the Adirondack Group,
a name by which a well known tribe of Indians who once hunted here
may be commemorated.
It appears from historical records that the Adirondacks37 or
Algonquins, in early times, held all the country north of the Mohawk,
35
More commonly known today as Camel’s Hump.
Somewhat later referred to as Edmond’s Pond(s), today known as the Cascade
Lakes.
37
A derisive name given to the Algonquin by the Iroquois, roughly meaning “bark
eater,” implying that the Algonquin were poor hunters.
36
71
west of Champlain, south of Lower Canada, and east of the St.
Lawrence river, as their beaver hunting grounds, but were finally
expelled by the superior force of the Agoneseah, or Five Nations.
Whether this is literally true or not, it is well known that the
Adirondacks resided in and occupied a part of this northern section
of the State, and undoubtedly used a portion at least of the territory
thus bounded as their beaver hunting grounds. This name is not so
smooth as Aganuschioni, which has been also proposed as a name
for the group, but the above historical fact has induced me to propose
the one given above.
A correct idea of this central group of mountains, or the
Adirondacks, as we shall hereafter call them, may be gathered from
our profile view. It is strictly alpine in its essential features, but in
fact, when absolute height is considered, only so in miniature. It is,
however, the only one in the State which approaches at all to this
character.
It will be perceived, by inspecting the table of heights on the
next page, and comparing them with the measurement of last year
[1837], that no less than four of the summits exceed that of
Whiteface. One of them, viz. Mount Marcy, is the peak Mr. Hall and
myself pointed out last year as the highest point in view from that
summit, and as exceeding it also in elevation by six hundred feet, as I
have this year shown by measurement.
The group, taken as a whole, is more lofty than the White Hills38
of New-Hampshire, though the main summit, Mt. Washington,
exceeds Mount Marcy by 767 feet; for there remain unmeasured
many peaks which will exceed or come up to 5,000 feet, besides
those now given in the table.39
It will be interesting to the meteorologist to study the effect and
influence which this section of high land must have on the mean
temperature of the surrounding region. It must necessarily reduce it
perceptibly over a wide extent of country. This position will be
admitted more readily when I state the fact, that large banks of snow
remain on Mount Marcy until the middle of July, or until the 17th, as
was observed by Mr. Johnson at Clear Pond, this last year; besides
we have reason to believe that ice is formed there every night during
the summer.
I give below the result of a part of the observations on the
topography of Essex, selecting those which relate to the height of the
38
I.e., the White Mountains.
In the final measure of the U.S. Geological Survey, only two summits in the
Adirondacks rose 5,000 feet or more: Mounts Marcy (5,344’) and McIntyre (today,
usually called Algonquin) (5,112’).
39
72
most elevated peaks and highest passes. A part of these results were
obtained trigonometrically, and a part barometrically. I have copied
the reduction of the barometric observations of Mr. Redfield, as
given in Silliman’s Journal,40 so far as these observations were made
in concert.
• Bulwagga Mountain, 1,260 feet above Lake Champlain
• East Moriah, Four Corners, 790 feet above Lake Champlain
• Pass, or Road Summit, 9 miles from Lake Champlain, 1,546 feet
• West Moriah, at Weatherheads, or Schroon Valley, 1,117 feet
• Pass of the Schroon Mountain, 1,375 feet
• Johnson’s, at Clear Pond, 2,012 feet
• Pass between Johnson’s and McIntyre, 2,592 feet
• Boreas River Bridge, 2,026 feet
• Hudson River Bridge, 1,810 feet
• Inlet at Lake Sandford, 1,826 feet
• Iron works at McIntyre, 1,889 feet
• Lake Henderson outlet, 1,936 feet
• Lake Colden, 2,851 feet
• Avalanche Lake, about 2,900 feet
• Highest source of the Hudson and Ausable Rivers, 4,747 feet
• Mount Marcy, 5,467 feet
• Mount McIntyre, 5,183 feet
• Summit of the pass between Lake Henderson and Preston
Ponds, one of the sources of the Racket river, 2,223 feet.
These ponds are about four miles east of McIntyre, and are
only 150 or 200 feet below the pass.
• Bald Peak, in West Port, 2,065 feet.
• Dix’s Peak,41 5,200 feet. Approximation by levelling.
• Dial Mountain,42 4,900 feet. Approximation by levelling.
The barometric observations were calculated by Mr. Redfield,
by the formula and table of Mr. Oltmanns, as given by De La Beche
in the appendix to the Geological Manual. As I used a different
formula last year, I have compared the result as obtained by Mr.
Oltmanns with this. I find a material difference, and, taking all
circumstances into consideration, I believe the formula I use more
accurate than the other.
40
That is, the American Journal of Science and Arts, founded by Benjamin Silliman in
1818 and edited by him until his death in 1864.
41
Emmons: Highest peak of the Schroon range west of Weatherheads.
42
Emmons: Known under the name of Nipple top at Johnson’s. It is probably within
the bounds of Keene, and is there called the Noon mark.
73
DOCUMENT FIVE
Exploration of Essex County (1842)
43
EBENEZER EMMONS
Essex County: Surface & Mountain Ranges
The county of Essex contains 1162 square miles. On the east it is
bounded by Lake Champlain, along which it extends 43 miles, from
thence to the west 41 miles. It embraces a large portion of that tract
of country which gives origin to the Hudson river, flowing south, and
to the Ausable, which flows northeast into Lake Champlain, and
finally into the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. It is probably well known at
the present time that it is a mountainous district, and that about the
sources of the Hudson river are situated the highest lands in the State.
These facts are presented in the strongest light, when I state that all
the mountain chains of much importance north of the Mohawk
valley, cross this country in a succession of high and sharp mountain
ridges from southwest to northeast.
The first range, the Luzerne mountains, barely touches upon
Essex, and terminates in Ticonderoga, in the southeast corner of the
county. The second range, rising in Mayfield, passes in an oblique
course through Schroon and Crown-Point, the highest part being in
Schroon, whose principal elevation is called Pharaoh’s or Bluebeard
mountain. The third range traverses the northwest angle of Schroon,
Moriah, Elizabethtown and Willsborough, where it terminates upon
the lake. The fourth, which is the great chain, and which takes its
origin to the north of Little-Falls, passes nearly centrally through the
county, entering it at the northwest angle, and terminating upon the
lake at Port Kent. The whole range is called the Clinton chain, and
the central part, which consists of several mountains, the Adirondack
group: this portion gives origin to the Hudson river, and is situated at
the culminating point of the range, from which it declines in all
directions. Mount Marcy is the highest mountain in the group,
attaining an elevation of 5467 feet.44
Of these several ranges, the highest peaks all fall within the
bounds of Essex county. Pharaoh’s mountain in Schroon, Dix peak in
the West-Moriah chain, and Mount Marcy in the Adirondack group,
43
Document Five contains four extracts from Geology of New York, Part Two: Survey
of the Second Geological District (Albany, N.Y.: W. & A. White & J. Visscher, 1842),
by Ebenezer Emmons: pp. 194-95, 215-20, 244-45, 260-63. A note from Emmons at
the front of the volume dates the report’s issuance on January 1, 1842.
44
Later measurements by the U.S. Geological Survey put Marcy’s summit at 5,344
feet.
74
are respectively the highest peaks in the ranges in which they are
situated; and as usual in all mountain chains, there is a gradual and
sometimes rapid declination from the point of highest elevation in
every direction. In these ranges this is the fact, and it brings a very
great proportion of the high land within the territory of one county —
the county of Essex.
Exploration of the Mountains of Essex
During the early part of the survey, I deemed it important to
explore the high lands of the mountain counties, particularly those of
Essex. At this period nothing had been published, and probably very
little was known, in relation to this mountainous tract, especially as it
regarded the actual heights of the principal mountains. During the
survey, many of these mountains have been visited, and their
elevations ascertained; and many facts in relation to them, not
directly connected with geology, have been observed. The annual
reports contain many of those observations; and as they have been
frequently copied in the periodicals of the day, it appears
unnecessary to repeat them here.
*****
45
Mount McMartin, which rises boldly from Avalanche lake, is
nearly bisected by an enormous dyke. The mountain may be seen
from the outlet of Lake Henderson at Adirondack, bearing N. 67° E.
Its distance is between five and six miles by the common route, as
estimated by hunters who are familiar with the ground. Comparing
its elevation with Mount Marcy and others in this group which have
been measured, its height cannot be much less than five thousand
feet.46
The dyke, which is the most remarkable object at this place, cuts
through the mountain nearly from top to bottom. At its base, where it
rises up from Avalanche lake, a deep gorge has been formed by the
action of a small stream, which rises some distance up the present
gorge, probably in several small springs. Its depth is about one
hundred feet, and it is bounded by perpendicular walls of naked rock,
with numerous clefts, however, which permit small shrubs to take
root and grow. At the lowest part of the mountain, the width of this
gorge or chasm is about eighty feet, which is the width of the dyke,
the whole of which is removed up to the walls upon each side. The
45
Usually called Mount Colden today.
The U.S. Geological Survey places the summit elevation of Mount Colden at 4,713
feet.
46
75
materials which have been swept out of this gorge are in confused
heaps below, and help to fill up the chasm between the mountains, in
which the Avalanche lake is situated. Besides the immense quantity
of materials from the dyke, consisting of rocks, earth and trees, a
great slide, extending also from the top to the base of the mountain,
contributes largely to the loose materials in this narrow pass. Great
quantities of apparently pulverized vegetable matter are deposited in
this lake, at least along the shores. That part of the gorge nearest the
lake is steep and difficult of ascent, and also the deepest; while in
ascending the more distant part, the inclination is found to be less,
but the space above is crowded with large rocks which have been
moved from their beds, some of which are fifty feet in length, and all
have commenced their journey to the region below.
Upon the west side of Avalanche lake, Mount McIntyre47 rises in
a mural precipice of one or two hundred feet; in the face of which,
the dyke which bisects the opposite mountain distinctly appears.
After going up three or four hundred feet of this latter mountain, the
dyke can be traced up by the eye to near the summit of Mount
McIntyre, by two parallel cracks or fissures, which appear from this
distance about two feet wide. Upon this mountain there is a great
deficiency of water, and there is no stream pouring down upon this
face of it; and from this cause, the dyke is not broken up as on the
opposite side. A small stream flowing into the cracks and fissures
would break up this mass entirely; while freezing and expanding
would first separate, and then force down the masses into the chasm
below.
The dyke consists of the rock denominated sienite, or
hornblende and granular feldspar. In the midst of the Sandford ore
bed, the same rock appears, and which I found in three or four
places, though the great mass of the mountain in which this ore
occurs is the ordinary hypersthene rock.
The view which I have given of this dyke is strictly a map, or it
is a perfect transcript of it as it was when the view was taken; but
great changes are taking place from year to year, and a view which is
literally correct to-day may not be so to-morrow. One half of the
mural precipice which appears in this sketch, may tumble down in an
instant.
47
Today, known as Algonquin.
76
48
Adirondack Pass
In the midst of the mountains of Essex county, at the source of
one of the main branches of the Hudson river, there is a deep narrow
gorge, which has been denominated the Adirondack Pass. In its
general character, it is in keeping with what appears on all sides
where this feldspathic mass is the predominant rock, except that the
scale on which this gorge has been formed is far larger and more
magnificent.
This pass may be approached in two directions: First, from the
Adirondack iron-works, from which it is distant about five miles. In
this route, the aforesaid branch of the Hudson is followed up the
whole distance, even to its source, which will be found at the very
base of the immense precipice that forms one side of the pass. The
other route is from the Elba iron-works,49 and is merely a footpath,
the course of which is followed by the assistance of marked trees.
The general direction is south, and we have to thread up a branch of
the Ausable near to its source. The distance on this route is about ten
miles. The route which is to be preferred is certainly the shortest, or
that from the Adirondack iron-works; and it is attended with as little
labor to reach these iron-works, as those of Elba. In either case the
whole journey has to be performed on foot, as it is impossible for any
vehicle or domestic animal to reach this depression in the mountains
which has been denominated as above. The mountains which are
concerned in its formation, are Mount McIntyre upon the east, and
the Wall-faced mountain, as it is termed by some, on the west.
The route from the Adirondack iron-works is a rapidly
ascending one; that is, the rise equals about two hundred feet per
mile, so that the pass is one thousand feet above the level of the ironworks, and about twenty-eight hundred feet above tide. The highest
point in the pass is, however, some two or three hundred feet above
the base of the perpendicular rocks.
The last half mile towards this place ascends with increasing
rapidity; and on this part of the route lie numbers of immense rocks,
thirty and forty feet high, scattered over the surface, some of which
may be ascended, and upon their tops sufficient vegetable mould has
accumulated to support a growth of trees fifty feet in height. The
sides of the mountain opposite the perpendicular wall are literally
strewed with these rocks; and as they are not properly boulders, they
are objects of great curiosity themselves. Some of them have fallen
48
An early alternate name for Indian Pass.
That is, the route from North Elba taken by the original David Henderson party in
1826. At the time Emmons was writing, however, the Elba Iron Works had been
closed for 24 years.
49
77
partly over, or incline in such a position as would afford a safe
shelter to a score of men. Others stand upright upon a narrow base;
and we wonder how, upon such a narrow foundation, so large and
towering a mass of stone could have been placed in equilibrium,
especially upon a sloping surface.
But the object of greatest interest is the perpendicular precipice
of a thousand feet — a naked wall of rock. The face of this wall rises
from the midst of an immense mass of loose rocks, which have been
falling from its side from time immemorial; and viewing them as
they now lie, they seem to fill an immense cleft between the
mountains; and probably the bottom of this perpendicular precipice is
really as deep below, as its top is high above the surface; or at least
its extent below the surface where we take the measurement, must be
one-half as great as it is above. Upon the perpendicular surface the
rock is naked, but where there is a fissure, or a jutting mass, small
stunted shrubs find a place for establishing themselves. This wall
extends one-half or three-fourths of a mile, and in no place is it less
than five hundred feet perpendicular.
In viewing this great precipice, no feeling of disappointment is
felt in consequence of the expectation having exceeded the reality.
The conception of this imposing mass of rock necessarily falls
greatly short of what is experienced when it comes to be seen. Those
who visit this Pass ought by no means to be satisfied with seeing it
from below: they should look down from above, and over the
hanging precipice. This may be done safely, by using due caution in
approaching its edge. No one, however, will attempt it without being
supported, or venture to act under the impression that they have
sufficient nerve to balance themselves over such an abyss, where all
objects below become indistinct, and nothing remains on which to
rest the eye, and thus give certainty and precision to the movements
of the muscles concerned in maintaining the equilibrium of the body.
The geological facts revealed in this great exposure of rocks, do
not differ materially from those which are exhibited on all sides in
this region. We are taught, however, something of the dynamics of
geology, and of the inconceivable powers of those agents once active
beneath the crust of the earth; for this immense mass has not only
been elevated, but broken from one once continuous with it, and
probably we see only a small part of that which has been thus broken
and elevated. The whole rock exposed is the hypersthene; and on
examining the surface as far as possible, only a few mineral
substances were found. I have not observed trap dykes any where in
the face of this wall, but the whole is very uniform in kind and
texture.
78
In conclusion, I remark that I should not have occupied so much
space for the purpose of describing merely a natural curiosity, were it
not for the fact that probably in this country there is no object of the
kind on a scale so vast and imposing as this. We look upon the Falls
of Niagara with awe, and a feeling of our insignificance; but much
more are we impressed with the great and the sublime, in the view of
the simple naked rock of the Adirondack Pass.
Some of the most important mountains considered
separately from the ranges of which they form a part
Mount Marcy, which is the highest of the eminences in the State,
is situated in the southwest corner of Keene, adjacent to the
townships of Newcomb and Moriah. Its height is upwards of five
thousand four hundred feet. For six or eight hundred feet beneath the
summit, there are no trees. In the progress of ascending it, it will be
observed that the vegetation gradually changes; the trees becoming
dwarfish towards the summit, till finally all disappear. The Canada
balsam, or fir, is the last; and in maintaining itself against the
elements, it dwindles from a stately tree to a small vine-like shrub of
six and eight inches in length. In this state, it loses almost its
representative character; it ceases to reproduce itself from seed, and
the noble ascending axis becomes a prostrate feeble trunk, unable to
support itself in a vertical position.
This mountain extends about ten miles due north; lying, as has
been before observed, obliquely to the main axis of the chain. This
disposition or arrangement of the different parts of a chain is very
clearly seen by comparing it with two other mountains in this region;
thus Mount McMartin and Mount McIntyre lie in parallel line with it,
each of them extending from their main peaks due north and south,
and each too losing themselves in those prolongations; while in the
northeast and southwest directions, the range is still continued.
Though there is nothing worthy of a particular description in
these mountains, aside from their height, yet their relative position
deserves a passing notice. The three mountains already mentioned lie
due east and west of each other, at equal distances; Mount Marcy
being the most easterly, Mount McIntyre the westerly, and Mount
McMartin the central one, and each distant from the other about six
miles. A little farther west of Mount McIntyre, in Franklin county, is
Mount Seward, but slightly removed to the north of this westerly
line, and at an elevation of nearly five thousand feet. In the
disposition of all these mountains, such a regularity could not have
prevailed without an established law to govern the action of the
internal forces. But these laws are among the hidden things in the
79
natural world; they are secrets which, like periodicity or periodical
movements in the animal economy, evade the closest scrutiny of
philosophy; and while they invite investigation, they seem to elude
our grasp when almost within our reach.
I
have here introduced a view of the Adirondack group, as seen
from Newcomb,50 of which Mount Marcy is the highest and
most conspicuous member. There is one feature which this
sketch exhibits worthy of some notice: it is the diversity of the
northern forests; this feature is well exhibited in the drawing, and to
those who are unaccustomed to scenes of the kind, it will be both
novel and interesting.
Nipple-top is an insulated mountain, nearly due north of Clear
pond at Johnson’s, which is nine miles west of Pondsville postoffice. Its appearance is really unique; the shape of the mountain is
rather conical, and its top is surmounted by a remarkable projection.
The ascent is steep upon all sides, but it is most accessible by
following a stream which flows down its sides from near the summit
upon the northeast side. A deep depression separates this mountain
from the West-Moriah range. The space upon the top of the mountain
is less than upon any one in the group; it is merely a sharp ridge, less
than sixteen feet in length. The scenery from its summit is of the
boldest kind. The height of Nipple-top is not far from five thousand
feet. It is composed of hypersthene rock, and many fine specimens of
labradorite occur in rolled masses in the streams which flow down its
sides. Bald mountain, upon the lake, can be clearly distinguished,
and this lies nearly in a straight line between Mount Marcy and the
former; and hence it forms a commanding position, and would be an
important point in a trigonometric survey of the northern counties.
Bald mountain, upon the lake, is brought into view, in
consequence of a depression in the West-Moriah range, directly in
this line. This is an important fact, and will greatly facilitate the
surveys of this region which will one day be had; and I may here
observe, that such a work will be greatly aided by obtaining base
lines upon the lakes when first frozen at the setting in of winter,
when the surface is nearly level. A base line may be first obtained
upon Lake Champlain; and afterward those errors which may arise
may be corrected by subordinate lines, if necessary, upon the lakes in
the interior, as some of the higher summits of the mountains are in
full view from them.
50
It is an engraving of a drawing by Charles Ingham, looking from Newcomb Farm
into the High Peaks.
80
Whiteface, in Wilmington, is the most northern of all the high
mountains in the State. It is about five thousand feet high, and very
steep and abrupt upon all sides. It rises immediately from Lake
Placid, with a steep slope almost from the eastern border of the lake.
This mountain is distinguished for its insulated position, and has
received its name from a slide which is known to have taken place
about thirty-five years ago; it commenced within a few rods of the
summit, and swept the entire length of the western slope. At a
distance, the mountain has a greyish white appearance towards the
top. Whiteface furnishes a greater extent of surface upon its top than
any other mountain of the northern counties; and hence, as a
botanical field, will exceed the other summits for yielding a harvest
of alpine plants. From its position, it forms another point which
would be important in conducting a topographical survey. Nipple-top
is nearly due south, and Mount Marcy is south about ten degrees
west, in the center of the sharp-peaked Adirondacks. To the west, a
multitude of lakes in the Saranac country give a most picturesque
landscape, composed as it is of dark mountains, silvery sheets of
water, and fine purple skies. To the east is Lake Champlain, and the
whole range of the Green mountains of Vermont, with their gentle
verdant slopes diversified by woodland and cultivated fields, the
whole forming a semi-panoramic view exceedingly rich and
beautiful. To the north, we overlook the northern slope of the great
uplift; and beyond is the level of Canada, appearing one uniform
spread of forest, without a lake, or scarcely a cultivated field, and
only three or four insulated blue mountains in the direction of
Chambly. This mountain, it will be observed, is an interesting
eminence in consequence of its position; standing out by itself from
the great cluster of mountains, it overlooks on all sides the
surrounding country far and near, and hence is probably the most
important one to visit in the whole region. The summit forms a
circular sweep for more than a mile to the north, the highest point
being at the southern extremity of this ridge. On most of these
mountains, the surface forming the summits is extremely limited.
The extent of Nipple-top has already been spoken of: it furnishes
only two or three alpine plants, though it has the altitude of
Whiteface; while the latter furnishes numerous species, which will,
without a doubt, be increased by careful search among the rocks of
its summit.
*****
81
Magnetic Ores of Adirondack
The masses, veins or beds, of which I proposed giving some
account in this place, are situated in the town of Newcomb, near the
headwaters of the Hudson river, in the extreme westerly part of the
county. They are a few miles west of the center of the great
wilderness of New-York, in which the group of mountains called the
Adirondacks are situated. They are in fact upon the highest table land
of this portion of the State, or upon that platform whereon all the
larger lakes are spread.
In giving the following report of these mines to the public, and
in particular to the State of New-York, it is my wish to present such
views as shall be strictly within the bounds of truth, and in language
which shall be generally understood. In the annual reports, I have
often brought this subject before the citizens of the State, in the hope
that it would be properly appreciated. In the accounts which have
been as it were only incidentally given, I confined myself mostly to
the statement of plain facts, giving details of veins and beds,
measurements, etc., under the impression that in such a form, every
reader would be able to appreciate their value, not only as individual
property, but as an interest from which the public at large must
derive a great benefit. In this matter, I did suppose that my
statements were received as true; and in this belief I should have
remained, had it not been for the fact, that a variety of circumstances
have, at different times within the last year, called intelligent men
into this region, who have been induced to examine the subject of
these ores for themselves. The result of all this has been, that these
individuals have declared that they were entirely deceived; that they
had not supposed that such an amount of ore actually existed; they
had formed a vague idea that large beds of ore had been discovered,
but were wholly unprepared to see it in mountain masses. But that
the public, and especially individuals who feel an interest in the
subject, may have no cause for saying that the whole truth was not
told, I propose to give as full a report as will comport with the main
objects of the survey. For, however others may regard the matter, I
am fully satisfied that the mines in question are a subject of national
interest. My convictions of this fact were strong from my earliest
investigations, and they have strengthened with every examination
which I have subsequently made.
*****
82
Advantages of Adirondack as a location
for the manufacture of Iron
All the circumstances which are favorable to the successful
prosecution of the iron business are centered at Adirondack, except
one; and this will be understood at once as referring to its distance
from market, without convenient means for transportation. At an
earlier day, this would be an obstacle almost insuperable; but at the
present time, when enterprises of importance will be prosecuted
notwithstanding distance and the interposition of mountain barriers,
this single obstacle can not prevent the successful prosecution of this
important manufacture.
At Adirondack, I trust it has been clearly shown there is no limit
to the amount and quantity of raw material; and that this is of such a
quality, as few if any locations in this country can boast of affording.
There is, too, a great supply of wood. The valley and mountain sides
are dressed in their primeval robes; the axeman has not shorn them of
their pride and beauty; they still wear the livery with which nature
first decked them, and in all that profusion too which her bountiful
hand ever bestows. These circumstances, taken in connexion with a
full supply of water power, render this location one preeminent for
an establishment of the largest kind.
But at this distance from market, can the manufacture of iron be
successfully prosecuted in the face of competition from abroad, and
especially with that of Pennsylvania and other coal-bearing States,
where iron and fuel in great abundance are associated, and where its
manufacture is comparatively cheap? The answer to this question
turns wholly upon that of quality: If the iron produced by means of
anthracite would compare in quality with that prepared with woodcoal, the question would be settled against this northern
establishment; but inasmuch as charcoal, and that too of a better
quality than is furnished by the coal formation, is required for the
production of good iron, the discussion of the question turns in favor
of the northern mines. The final result will be, that no competition
will exist; for while the coal-bearing States will produce one quality
of iron, the cheapest and at the least expense, the ores of the north
will be employed for the production of another quality, and each will
be demanded in all parts of the union. The manufacture of the former
will by no means dispense with that of the latter, neither will the
latter supply the place of the former. The wants of a civilized
community originate an extensive demand for an iron which is hard,
and possessed of only a moderate degree of tenacity, and this kind
can be made at a much lighter expense that that which is softer and
more tenacious; but there are other wants and demands which the
83
former can by no means supply, and for which the purer and finer
ores of the north become indispensable. The demand, too, for the
latter quality of iron is rapidly increasing: the machinery of
locomotives, the axles and other parts where great strength and
tenacity are required; and innumerable other calls, growing out of the
condition and changes in society, can scarcely be supplied by a
vigorous prosecution of this business. Now the Adirondack ores, it is
believed, if any exist in this country, are the great source from which
our most valuable iron is to be drawn. It is here, if any where, it can
be made in this country; and the whole Union, if true to herself, will
encourage its manufacture. Mr. Johnson’s experiments prove the
existence of the qualities herein contended for; but it is to be taken
into account, that the process followed in preparing the iron used in
his experiments does not impart to it that degree of strength which
may be given by a more scientific mode of manufacture. The
bloomery process by no means gives an iron of a fibre equal to that
furnished by puddling. At least the former method is imperfect: The
ore is merely raised to a sufficient heat in charcoal to give up a part
of its oxygen, and from imperfect exposure will thus be imperfectly
changed or reduced, and give necessarily an imperfectly welded
mass of metal, which, when drawn into bars, it is reasonable to
suppose, will offer at numerous places an imperfect junction of
particles; and the result will be, that in testing, these imperfectly
welded places will cohere with less force than others and furnish an
example of a brittle metal. The true state and condition of all iron
thus roughly and coarsely made, is, that the bars are not
homogeneous; some portions are harder than others, and probably
minute particles of unreduced ore are disseminated through the entire
metal. When, however, the ores are perfectly reduced by the more
perfect methods of modern times, there can be no doubt of complete
success in producing iron of the best quality: not that our northern
metal is not already in high repute, but it may be placed in a scale
still higher by other and better modes of manufacture.
The above remarks were made, on the supposition that the
manufacture would be confined to bar iron. Now, bars, plates and
pieces of iron, of an almost unlimited variety of forms and sizes, are
required for different purposes, in order to suit the convenience and
save the labor of the mechanic, in rough-hammering and giving a
general shape to his articles; and therefore public utility would be
consulted; and the industry of the producer of iron rewarded in the
increased value of his productions, by furnishing the metal in a state
already half manufactured to the mechanic’s hand, that is, by giving
to it the general form required in particular articles.
84
I have not considered, in these remarks, the high probability the
quality of the iron furnishes for its conversion into good steel. This
is, however, a matter which experiment alone can set at rest; the
question cannot be answered by conjecture; the material must be
made; still, the qualities of the iron appear to be adapted to form
steel; and as it is only of the best kinds of iron that blister and cast
steel are formed, we have reasonable expectations that this iron is
adapted to this purpose. In many instances, in the manufacture of the
Adirondack iron, bars have been made which would temper or
harden, and which, when made into hammers and chisels, etc., were
remarkable for their goodness, and the ability with which they stood
the severest usage. How far facts of this kind furnish us the means of
deciding the question, I will not pretend to determine for others; but
since the material is sometimes formed, it requires no stretch of
confidence or assurance to believe that, when aided by skill and
science, an equally good article may be formed as that which has
been sometimes produced by accident.
But another point of view may yet be brought up, which will
show the value of the Adirondack ores in a still stronger light. I refer
to the method which has been discovered, of reducing the rich ores
by means of a small amount of charcoal. The process has two
principal steps: First, the deoxidizing of the ore, which is performed
by intimately mixing the pulverized ore with fine charcoal, excluding
during the process the access of atmospheric air, so as to prevent the
reabsorption of oxygen after it has been once expelled. This process
requires exposure to a cherry-red heat for several hours. The
combustion of the charcoal goes on as long as the oxide supplies the
coal with oxygen; and when that ceases, the combustion of the coal
stops. Now it is well known that but a small amount, either in weight
or bulk of coal, can be used in this method.
The next step, after deoxidation, is to weld the particles together.
These are therefore placed in some convenient form in the furnace,
and heated to a white heat, or to that point required for welding the
particles together. Now in this last process, the great advantage
consists in being able to employ branches of trees, and the smaller
kinds of wood; even brush will answer, or any wood sufficiently dry,
as hemlock, spruce, cedar, etc. Here is a saving in two ways: first, in
the employment of the boughs, or those parts which are useless for
making coal, and are generally burnt on the ground for the sole
purpose of getting rid of a nuisance; and secondly, in the kind of
wood; and it is believed that soft wood, which makes a poor kind of
charcoal, will be equally as good as hard wood for this process.
85
This method of making iron is adapted only to magnetic oxides,
or those which will contain but a small proportion of refuse matter as
slag and cinders. It is unquestionably the true process, theoretical as
well as practical; requiring less time and less fuel, and giving a much
greater certainty and uniformity in the result.
Much has been said of the possibility of employing convicts in
the manufacture of iron, and undoubtedly there is some speculation
in the matter. If, however, the people ever decide upon making trial
of the practicability of thus employing convicts, Adirondack is the
only place where the friends of the measure can be satisfied with the
trial. It is here only where a sufficient amount of material can be
furnished, and where the facilities are equal to the greatness of the
measure and of the undertaking. A suitable road is first to be made;
and this, without doubt, can be effected by the labor of the convicts.
The raising of ore, attending to the pulverizing, washing, etc.
preparatory to reduction, will not interfere essentially with any trade;
and so great are the water privileges and numerous the mill-sites, that
hundreds of hands might be employed in the preparatory steps for
reduction. Could the ore be thus prepared upon the spot, numerous
establishments might spring up on the upper waters of the Hudson, at
all those points which are favorable for the establishment of iron
factories; and instead of interfering with those who pursue this
business, it will rather aid them; for that part of the business which
requires a certain amount of skill and knowledge, may still be in the
hands of the manufacturer, while those parts which are mostly
mechanical would be performed by convicts.
86
DOCUMENT SIX
The Adirondack; or,
Life in the Woods (1846)
51
JOEL T. HEADLEY
Chapter V: Forestward; dinner scene;
preparations to ascend Mount Tahawus
Backwoods, July 10, 1846
Dear H — :
It will be a long time before I am again by a post office where I
can get a letter to you. If you wish to know the pleasure of seeing a
newspaper from New York, bury yourself in the woods for three or
four weeks, where not a pulsation of the great busy world can reach
you, nor a word from its ten thousand tongues and pens meet your
ear or eye. The sight of one, then, fresh from the press, putting in
your hands again the links of that great chain of human events you
had lost — re-binding you to your race, and replacing you in the
mighty movement that bears all things onward, is most welcome.
You cannot conceive the contrasts, nay, almost the shocks of feeling
one experiences in stepping from the crowded city into the dense
forest where his couch is the boughs he himself cuts, and his
companions the wild deer and the birds; or in emerging again into
civilized life, and listening to the strange tumult that has not ceased
in his absence. One seems to have dreamed twice — nay, to be in a
dream yet. Yesterday, as it were, I was walking the crowded streets
of New York; last evening, in a birch-bark canoe, with an Indian
beside me, nearly a day’s journey from a human habitation, sailing
over a lake whose green shores have never been marred by the axe of
civilization, and on whose broad expanse not a boat was floating, but
that which guided me and my companions on. For miles the Indian
has carried this canoe on his head through the woods, and now it is
breasting the waves that come rolling like fluid gold from the west.
The sun is going to his repose amid the purple mountains — the blue
sky seems to lift in the elastic atmosphere — the scream of the wild
bird fills the solitude, and all is strange and new, while green islands
untrodden by man greet us as we steer towards yonder distant point;
where our camp-fire is to be lighted to-night. Glorious scene —
51
Pages 44-111 of the 1869 edition of The Adirondack; or, Life in the Woods, by J.T.
Headley, published by Charles Scribner, 654 Broadway, New York. In addition to
Headley’s original Adirondack, published in 1849, the 1869 edition contained an
account of a later trip, with updates to the late-1840s account.
87
glorious evening! with my Indian and my rifle by my side —
skimming in this canoe along the clear waters, how far away seem
the strifes of men and the discords of life. To-night my couch of
balsam boughs shall be welcome, until the cloudless morn floods this
wild scene with light.
But I find I am getting on too fast. To begin at the beginning — I
started with four companions, from where I had been for some time
fishing, for a stretch through the wilderness, to ascend Mount Marcy,
as it is foolishly called, — properly Mount Tahawus, — and go
through the famous Indian Pass. Here there are no mule paths, as in
Switzerland, leading to the bases of mountains, whence you can
mount to the summits; but all is woods! woods! woods! The highest
and most picturesque of the Adirondack peaks lie deep in the forest,
where none but an experienced guide can carry you. To reach Mount
Tahawus, you must come in from Caldwell or Westport, about thirty
miles, in a mail wagon, and then you have a stretch of some forty
miles through the woods to the Adirondack Iron Works. There is but
one road to these Works, where it stops, and he who would go farther
must take to the pathless woods; indeed, it was made solely for these
iron quarries, by the company which owns them.
Well, here we are, in the heart of the forest, five of us, bumping
along in a lumber wagon over a road you would declare a civilized
team could not travel. Now straining up a steep ascent — now whang
to the axle-tree between the rocks, and now lying at an angle of
forty-five degrees, and again carefully lifting ourselves over a fallen
tree, we tumble and bang along at the enormous rate of two miles an
hour. By dint of persuasion, the use of the whip, and a thousand “heups,” we have acquired this velocity, and been able to keep it for the
last seven hours. But man and beast grow weary — it is one o’clock,
and as the forest is but half traversed, a dinner must be had in some
way. In three minutes the horses are unhitched, and eating from the
wagon — in three more a cheerful fire is crackling in the woods, and
our knapsacks are scattered around, disgorging their contents. Here is
a bit of pork, here some ham, tongue, anchovy-paste, bread, &c.,
&c., strung along like a column of infantry, on a moss-covered log,
and each one with his pocket-knife is doing his devoirs. We eat with
an appetite that would throw a French cook into ecstacies, did he but
shut his eyes to our bill of fare. Dinner being over, B — n, a sixfooter, one of the finest specimens of a farmer and gentleman you
will meet in many a day, has lighted his pipe, and is sitting on the
ground with his back against a log, deep in the columns of the
Courier and Enquirer which I received the day before we started.
Young A — ld, a quiet little fellow, about eighteen years old, is
88
stretched full length on the log trying to get a nap. Young S — th,
tough, vigorous, and full of blood and spirits, as these old woods are
of musquitoes, whose hearty laugh rings out every five minutes, as
well at misfortunes as at a joke, is smoking his cigar over the Albany
Argus. P — , one of the most careless of mortals, who is just as likely
to run his head against a tree as one side of it — who, in all human
probability, will have his heel on your pork before it is half toasted,
or his pantaloon-strap in your tea before it is half cooled, is backed
up against a tree, with his legs across a dead limb, running over the
columns of the Express. He is one of your poetic creatures; half the
time in a dream, and the other half indulging in drollery that keeps
the company in a roar. He was never in the woods before, and the
shadow of the mighty forest falls on his spirit with a strange power,
awakening a world of new emotions within him. Again and again
have I been startled by his “How savage! how awful!” At a little
distance I myself am sitting against a stump, with the Tribune in my
hand, telling B — n the news from Washington. This sets him going;
and his sensible remarks on political subjects would make a capital
leader for a paper. There you have my fellow-travelers; and you must
confess there could not be better companions for a tramp of a few
weeks in the forest.
Refreshed by our dinner and primitive siesta, we pushed on, and
at length reached the foot of Lake Sanford, where we found Cheney
cutting down trees. Embarking in his boat, we rowed slowly up to the
Adirondack Iron Works. This lake is a beautiful sheet of water,
without a hand-breath of cultivation upon its shores. Islands smile on
you from every point, while to the right, lifts in grand composure the
whole chain or rather the countless peaks of the Adirondack.
Tamerack and cedar trees line the banks — in some places growing
straight out over the water — the tops almost as near the surface as
the roots. It seems, as if they were attracted by the moisture below,
and thus grew in a horizontal direction instead of an upright one. The
effect of such a strange growth along the shore, is singular in the
extreme.
As we passed leisurely up the lake — now glancing away from
an island — now steering along the narrow channel which separated
two, we saw a white gull sitting on a solitary rock that just appeared
above the water. I ascertained afterwards, that he sat there day after
day, watching for fish. His nest was on the island near.
Coming near another island, Cheney rested a moment on his
oars, and said, “here Mr. Ingham made a picture of the lake.”
But all journeys must end, and we at length, after forcing our
way up the narrow and shallow inlet, found ourselves at the
89
Adirondack Iron Works — the loneliest place a hammer ever struck
in. Forty miles to a post office or a mill — flour eight dollars a
barrel, and common tea a dollar a pound in these woods, in the very
heart of the Empire State! These quarries were discovered by an
Indian, and made known by him to Mr. Henderson, who paid him, I
believe, two shillings a day, and found him in tobacco, to take him in
where the water poured over an “iron dam.” From this to the top of
Mount Tahawus, it is nearly twenty miles through the woods. Not a
human footstep, so our guide the “mighty hunter, Cheney,” tells us,
has profaned it for six years, and it is two good days’ work to go and
return. A tramp of forty miles through a pathless forest to see one
mountain, is a high price to pay, but we have resolved to do it. You
must know that thirty miles in dense woods, is equal to sixty miles
along a beaten track. These primeval forests are not your open groves
like those south and west, through which a horse can gallop; but
woven and twisted together and filled up with underbrush that
prevent you from seeing ten rods ahead, and which scratch and flog
you at every step, as if you were running the gauntlet.
One or two nights at least, we must sleep in the woods, and our
provision be carried on our backs, and so behold us at 7 o’clock in
the morning ready to start. First comes Cheney, our guide, with a
heavy pack on his back filled with bread, and pork and sugar,
carrying an axe in his hand with which to build our shanty and cut
our fuel. Young S — th has also a pack strapped to his shoulders,
while A — ld and P — have nothing but their overcoats lashed
around them; B — n carries a tea-kettle in his hand, for he would as
soon think of camping out without his pipe and tobacco, as without
his tea. As for myself, I carry a green blanket tied by a rope to my
shoulders, a strong hunting-knife and a large stick like the Alpine
stock, which I found so great a help in climbing the Alps. Some of
the worthy workmen of the furnace are looking on, doubtful whether
all will hold out to the top. “Have you the pork?” says one; “Yes.”
“Have you the sugar and tea?” “Yes.” “Have you the spy-glass?”
“Yes.” “Well,” says Cheney, “is everything ready?” “Yes.” “Then let
us be off.”
Yours truly.
Chapter VI: Ascent of Mount Tahawus; a man shot;
a hard tramp; glorious prospect; a camp scene
Backwoods, July 12
Hurrah! we are off, and crossing a branch of the Hudson near its
source, enter the forest, Indian file, and stretch forward. It is no
child’s play before us; and the twenty miles we are to travel will test
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the blood and muscle of every one. The first few miles there is a
rough path, which was cut last summer, in order to bring out the
body of Mr. Henderson. It is a great help, but filled with sad
associations. At length we came to the spot where twenty-five
workmen watched with the body in the forest all night. It was too late
to get through, and here they kindled their camp-fire, and stayed. The
rough poles are still there, on which the corpse rested. “Here,” says
Cheney, “on this log I sat all night, and held Mr. Henderson’s little
son, eleven years of age, in my arms. Oh, how he cried to be taken in
to his mother; but it was impossible to find our way through the
woods; and he, at length, cried himself to sleep in my arms. Oh, it
was a dreadful night.” A mile further on, and we came to the rock
where he was shot. It stands by a little pond, and was selected by
them to dine upon. Cheney was standing on the other side of the
pond, with the little boy, whither he had gone to make a raft, on
which to take some trout, when he heard the report of a gun, and then
a scream; and looking across, saw Mr. Henderson clasp his arms
twice over his breast, exclaiming, “I am shot!” The son fainted by
Cheney’s side; but in a few moments all stood round the dying man,
who murmured, “What an accident, and in such a place!” In laying
down his pistol, with the muzzle unfortunately towards him, the
hammer struck the rock, and the cap exploding, the entire contents
were lodged in his body. After commending his soul to his Maker,
and telling his son to be a good boy, and give his love to his mother,
he leaned back and died. It made us sad to gaze on the spot; and poor
Cheney, as he drew a long sigh, looked the picture of sorrow.
Perhaps some of us would thus be carried out of the woods. He left
New York as full of hope as myself; and here he met his end. Shall I
be thus borne back to my friends? It is a little singular that he was
always nervously afraid of fire-arms, and carried this pistol solely as
a protection against wild beasts; and yet, he fell by his own hand. He
never could see a man walking in the streets with a gun in his hand,
without stepping to the door to inquire if it were loaded. Poor man! it
was a sad place to die in; for his body had to be carried over thirty
miles on men’s shoulders, before they came to a public road.
The exhausting march, however, soon drove these sad thoughts
from our minds, and we strained forward — now treading over a
springy marsh — now stooping and crawling like lame iguanas,
through a swamp of spruce trees, and anon following the path made
by deer and moose, as they came from the mountains to the streams,
or climbing around a cataract, until, at length, we reached Lake
Colden, perfectly embosomed amid the gigantic mountains, and
looking for all the world like an innocent child sleeping in a robber’s
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embrace. Awfully savage and wild are the mountains that enclose
this placid sheet of water. Crossing a strip of forest, we next struck
the Opalescent River, so called from the opals found in its bed. The
forest here is almost impassible; and so, for five miles, we kept the
bed of the stream, chasing it backward to its source. The channel is
one mass of rocks; and hence, our march was a constant leap from
one to another, requiring a correct eye, and a steady foot, to keep the
balance. Thus, zigzaging over the bed of this turbulent stream, we
flitted backward and forward, like flies over the surface of a river,
till, at length, I heard a shout. S — th had missed his footing, and
slipping from a rock, gone plump into a deep pool. Gathering himself
up, he laughed louder than the loudest, and pushed on.
Suddenly Cheney stopped and listened; for the deep bay of his
hound in the distance, rang through the forest. “He has stopped
something,” he exclaimed; “hark, how fierce he is. I shouldn’t
wonder if it was a moose; for a cow moose, with her calf, will stop
and fight a dog this time a year. If it is a moose, it would be worth
while to go back.” But I was after Mount Tahawus, and could ill
afford to linger on the way, although soon after we heard the lowing
of a moose in a distant gorge — how lonely the deep echo sounded.
At length we all came to a halt on the rocks, and prepared for
dinner, and no one was more glad than myself to rest. A blazing fire
was kindled of dry logs, and soon each one had his piece of fat pork
on a long stick, and was holding it over the flame. I counted four
pieces all coming to a focus before I added mine to the list. Putting
them together was a capital arrangement, for the fat dropping off into
the fire increased the blaze, and hence facilitated the cooking.
Dipping my slice every few seconds into the river to freshen it, and
then laying it upon my bread to preserve the gravy, I at length had
the satisfaction of seeing it well done. It was eaten with an appetite
that quite alarmed me, for it indicated such a radical change in my
notions and taste, that I was afraid I might turn into something
monstrous.
Soon after, our packs were all slung again, and we on the march.
We continued diving deeper and deeper into the hills, until we at last
reached the base of the mountain, and the foot of a lofty cataract. I
have climbed the Alps and Appenines, but never found foot and eye
in such requisition before. It was literally “right up,” while the spruce
trees, with their dry limbs like thorns a yard long, stuck out on every
side, ready to transfix us, and compelling us to duck and dodge at
every step. Now sinking through the treacherous moss that covered
some gap in the rocks, and now swinging from one dead tree to
another, we continued for two miles panting and straining up the
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steep acclivity, flogged and torn at every step. We had already gone
fifteen miles, and such a winding up of the tramp was too much. H
— - thought “the Millerites had better start from this elevation.” A —
said ’twould “tear their ascension robes so that they would look
rather shabby on the wing.” T — was sure the notion would take
with them, as they
“Could make such a dale of the journey on foot.”
One large athletic hunter we had taken along as an assistant,
gave out, so that we were compelled frequently to halt and let him
rest. The fir trees grew thicker and more dwarfish as we ascended, til
they became mere shrubs, and literally matted together, so that you
could not see two feet in advance of you. Through, and over these we
floundered, and urged our steps; yet, tired as I was, I could not but
stop and laugh to see B — n fight his way through. Rolling himself
over like a cart-wheel, he would disappear in the thick evergreens —
in a short time, his face, red with the fierce struggle, would rise like
that of a spent swimmer’s over the waves; and then, with a crash, he
went out of sight again; and so kept up the battle for at least half an
hour. Here we passed over the bed of a moose, which we doubtless
roused from his repose, for the rank grass was still matted where he
had lain. At length, we emerged upon the brow of a cliff, across a
gulf at the base of which arose a bare, naked pyramid, that pushed its
rocky forehead high into the heavens. This was the summit of
Tahawus. A smooth grey rock, shaped like an inverted bowl, stood
before us, as if on purpose to mock all our efforts. Halfway up this
was S — th, looking no larger than a dog, as with his pack on his
back he crawled on all fours over the rocks. Hitherto nothing could
knock the fun out of him, and as he from time to time stumbled on a
log, or heard the complaint of some one behind, he would sing in a
comical sort of a chorus, “go-in-up,” followed by his hearty ha-haha, as if he were impervious to fatigue. To every halloo we sent after
him, he would return that everlasting “go-in-up,” sung out so funnily
that we invariably echoed back his laugh, till the mountains rang
again. But now he was silent — the “go-in-up” had become a serious
matter, and it required all his breath to enable him to “go up.”
As we ascended this bald cone, the chill wind swept by like a
December blast; and well it might, for the snow had been gone but a
few weeks. The fir trees had gradually dwindled away, till they were
not taller than your finger, and now disappeared altogether; for
nothing but naked rock could resist the climate of this high region.
The dogs, which had hitherto scoured the forest on every side,
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crouched close and shivering to our side — evidently frightened, as
they looked off on empty space — and all was dreary, savage, and
wild.
At length we reached the top; and oh, what a view spread out
before, or rather below us. Here we were more than a mile up in the
heavens, on the highest point of land in the Empire State; and with
one exception the highest in the Union; and in the centre of a chaos
of mountains, the like of which I never saw before. It was wholly
different from the Alps. There were no snow peaks and shining
glaciers; but all was grey, or green, or black, as far as the vision
could extend. It looked as if the Almighty had once set this vast earth
rolling like the sea; and then, in the midst of its maddest flow, bid all
the gigantic billows stop and congeal in their places. And there they
stood, just as He froze them — grand and gloomy. There was the
long swell — and there the cresting, bursting billow — and there,
too, the deep, black, cavernous gulf. Far away — more than fifty
miles to the south-east — a storm was raging, and the massive clouds
over the distant mountains of Vermont, or rather between us and
them, and below their summits, stood balanced in space, with their
white tops towering over their black and dense bases, as if they were
the margin of Jehovah’s mantle folded back to let the earth beyond
be seen. That far-away storm against a background of mountains, and
with nothing but the most savage scenery between — how
mysterious — how awful it seemed!
Mount Colden, with its terrific precipices — Mount McIntyre,
with its bold, black, barren, monster-like head — White Face, with
its white spot on its forehead, and countless other summits pierced
the heavens in every direction. And then, such a stretch of forest, for
more than three hundred miles in circumference — ridges and slopes
of green, broken only by lakes that dared just to peep into view from
their deep hiding-places — one vast wilderness seamed here and
there by a river whose surface you could not see, but whose course
you could follow by the black winding gap through the tops of the
trees. Still there was beauty as well as grandeur in the scene. Lake
Champlain, with its islands spread away as far as the eye could
follow towards the Canadas, while the distant Green Mountains
rolled their granite summits along the eastern horizon, with
Burlington curtained in smoke at their feet. To the north-west
gleamed out here and there the lakes of the Saranac River, and
farther to the west, those along the Raquette; nearer by, Lake
Sanford, Placid Lake, Lake Colden, Lake Henderson, shone in quiet
beauty amid the solitude. Nearly thirty lakes in all were visible —
some dark as polished jet beneath the shadow of girdling mountains;
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others flashing out upon the limitless landscape, like smiles to relieve
the gloom of the great solitude. Through out the wide extent but three
clearings were visible — all was as Nature made it. My head swam
in the wondrous vision; and I seemed lifted up above the earth, and
shown all its mountains and forests and lakes at once. But the
impression of the whole, it is impossible to convey — nay, I am
myself hardly conscious what it is. It seems as if I had seen
vagueness, terror, sublimity, strength, and beauty, all embodied, so
that I had a new and more definite knowledge of them. God appears
to have wrought in these old mountains with His highest power, and
designed to leave a symbol of His omnipotence. Man is nothing here,
his very shouts die on his lips. One of our company tried to sing, but
his voice fled from him into the empty space. We fired a gun, but it
gave only half a report, and no echo came back, for there was
nothing to check the sound in its flight. “God is great!” is the
language of the heart, as it swells over such a scene.
And this is in New York, I at length exclaimed, whose surface is
laced with railroads and canals, and whose rivers are turbulent with
steamboats and fringed with cities. Yet here is a mountain in its
centre but few feet have ever trod, or will tread for a century to
come.
We designed to encamp as near the summit as we could, and
obtain firewood, so that we might see the sun rise from the summit,
but the heavens grew darker every moment, warning us to find
shelter for the night. About 5 o’clock we left the top and went helterskelter down the precipitous sides. After going at a break-neck pace
for several miles over rocks, along ravines and through the bushes, S
— th shouting at every leap “go-in-down,” we at length stopped and
began to peel bark to cover us for the night, for we were twelve miles
from a clearing, and it was getting dark. Soon the axe resounded
through the forest, and tree after tree came to the earth to furnish us
fuel. “Every man must pick his own bed,” cried our guide; for he had
his hands full to erect a shanty. Our knapsacks were laid aside, and
we scattered ourselves among the balsam trees with knife in hand to
cut boughs to sleep on. The mossy ground was damp, and I picked
me a thick couch and stretched myself upon it while supper was
preparing. Our fire was made of logs more than twenty feet long, and
as the flames arose and caught the spruce trees they shot up in
pyramids of flames, crackling in the night air like so many firecrackers. One dry tree took fire, and I asked if it might not burn in
two during the night and fall on us. Cheney walked around it to
ascertain the way it leaned, then quietly seating himself said, “yes, it
will burn in two, but it will fall t’other way.” I must confess, this cool
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reply was not wholly satisfactory, for burning trees sometimes take
curious whims, — however, there was no help, and so I lay down to
sleep. The storm which had been slowly gathering soon commenced,
and all night long the rain fell, but the good fire kept crackling and
blazing away, and I was so completely fagged out that I slept
deliciously. I awoke but once, and then enjoyed such a long and
hearty laugh, that I felt quite refreshed. The immense logs in front of
us, became in time a mass of lurid coals sending forth a scorching
heat. Hence, as we lay packed together like a row of pickled fish,
those in the centre took the full force of the fire. First a sleeper would
strike his hand upon his thigh and roll over then give the other a slap,
dreaming, doubtless, of being boiled like a turkey, till at length the
heat waked him up, when he rose and shot like an arrow into the
woods. The next went through the same operation — the third, and
so on, till all but the two “outsiders,” of which I was one, were in the
woods cooling themselves off in the rain. Not a word was spoken for
some time, for they were not fairly awake, but as one began to ask
another, why he was out there in the dark, the answers were so
honest and yet so droll, that I went into convulsions. If you had heard
them comparing notes as I did, back of the shanty, your sides would
have ached for a fortnight. And then the sheepish way they crawled
back one after another, looking in stupid amazement at me rolling
and screaming on the balsam boughs, would have quite finished a
soberer man than you.
The tramp of twelve miles, next morning, was the hardest, for
the distance, I ever took. Stiff and lame, with nothing to excite my
imagination, I dragged myself sullenly along, and at noon reached
the Iron Works.
“Oh, but a weary wight was he,
When he reached the foot of the dogwood tree.”
Chapter VII: Sagacity of the hound;
the Indian Pass; precipice two thousand feet high
Backwoods, July 6
Dear H — :
The famous Indian Pass is probably the most remarkable gorge
in this country, if not in the world. On Monday morning, a council
was called of our party, to determine whether we should visit it, for
the effects of the severe tramp two days before, had not yet left us,
and hardly one walked without limping — as for myself, I could not
wear my boots and had borrowed a pair of large shoes. But the
Indian Pass I was determined to see, even if I remained behind alone,
96
and so we all together started off. It was six miles through the forest,
and we were compelled to march in single file. At one moment
skirting the margin of a beautiful lake, and then creeping through
thickets, or stepping daintily across a springing morass, we picked
our way until we at length struck a stream, the bed of which we
followed into the bosom of the mountains. We crossed deer paths
every few rods, and soon the two hounds Cheney had taken with
him, parted from us, and their loud deep bay began to ring and echo
through the gorge.
The instincts with which animals are endowed by their Creator,
on purpose to make them successful in the chase, is one of the most
curious things in nature. I watched for a long time the actions of one
of these noble hounds. With his nose close to the leaves, he would
double backwards and forwards on a track, to see whether it was
fresh or not — then abandon it at once, when he found it too old. At
length, striking a fresh one, he started off; but the next moment,
finding he was going back instead of forwards on the track, he
wheeled, and came dashing past on a furious run, his eyes glaring
with excitement. Soon his voice made the forest ring; and I could
imagine the quick start it gave to the deer, quietly grazing, it might
have been, a mile away. Lifting his beautiful head a moment, to
ascertain if that cry of death was on his track, he bounded off in the
long chase and bold swim for life. Well; let them pass: the cry grows
fainter and fainter; and they — the pursued and the pursuer — are
but an emblem of what is going on in the civilized world from which
I am severed. Life may be divided into two parts — the hunters and
the hunted. It is an endless chase, where the timid and the weak
constantly fall by the way. The swift racers come and go like
shadows on the vision; and the cries of fear and of victory swell on
the ear and die away, only to give place to another and another. Thus
musing, I pushed on; — at length, we left the bed of the stream, and
began to climb amid broken rocks that were piled in huge chaos, up
and up, as far as the eye could reach. My rifle became such a burden,
that I was compelled to leave it against a tree, with a mark erected
near by, to determine its locality. I had expected, from paintings I
had seen of this Pass, that I was to walk almost on a level into a huge
gap between two mountains, and look up on the precipices that
toppled heaven high above me. But here was a world of rocks,
overgrown with trees and moss — over and under and between
which we were compelled to crawl and dive and work our way with
so much exertion and care, that the strongest soon began to be
exhausted; caverns opened on every side; and a more hideous,
toilsome, break neck tramp I never took. Leaping a chasm at one
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time, we paused upon the brow of an overhanging cliff, while
Cheney, pointing below, said, “There, I’ve scared panthers from
those caverns many times; we may meet one yet: if so, I think he’ll
remember us as long as he lives!” I thought the probabilities were,
that we should remember him much longer than he would us. At least
I had no desire to task his memory, being perfectly willing to leave
the matter undecided. There was a stream somewhere; but no foot
could follow it, for it was a succession of cascades, with
perpendicular walls each side hemming it in. It was more like
climbing a broken and shattered mountain, than entering a gorge. At
length, however, we came where the fallen rocks had made an open
space around, and spread a fearful ruin in their place. On many of
these, trees were growing fifty feet high, while a hundred men could
find shelter in their sides. As the eye sweeps over these fragments of
a former earthquake, the imagination is busy with the past — the
period when an interlocking range of mountains was riven, and the
encircling peaks bowing in terror, reeled like ships upon a tossing
ocean and the roar of a thousand storms roiled away from the
yawning gulf, into which precipices and forests went down with the
deafening crash of a falling world. A huge mass that then had been
loosened from its high bed, and hurled below, making a cliff of itself,
from which to fall would have been certain death, our guide called
the “Church,” — and it did lift itself there like a huge altar, right in
front of the main precipice that rose in a naked wall more than a
thousand feet52 perpendicular. It is two thousand feet from the
summit to the base, but part of the chasm has been filled with its own
ruins, so that the spot on which you stand is a thousand feet above
the valley below, and nearly three thousand above tide water, Thus it
stretches for three-quarters of a mile — in no place less than five
hundred feet perpendicular. By dint of scrambling and pulling each
other up, we at last succeeded in reaching the top of the church,
while from our very feet rose this awful cliff that really oppressed me
with its near and frightful presence. Majestic, solemn and silent, with
the daylight from above pouring all over its dread form, it stood the
impersonation of strength and grandeur.
I never saw but one precipice that impressed me so, and that was
in the Alps, in the Pass of the Grand Scheideck. I lay on my back
filled with strange feelings of the power and grandeur of the God
who had both framed and rent this mountain asunder. There it stood
still and motionless in its majesty. Far, far away heavenward rose its
top, fringed with fir trees, that looked, at that immense height, like
52
Headley: Some say a thousand, others twelve hundred.
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mere shrubs; and they, too, did not wave, but stood silent and
moveless as the rock they crowned. Any motion or life would have
been a relief — even the tramp of the storm; for there was something
fearful in that mysterious, profound silence. How loudly God speaks
to the heart, when it lies thus awe-struck and subdued in the presence
of His works. In the shadow of such a grand and terrible form, man
seems but the plaything of a moment, to be blown away with the first
breath. Persons not accustomed to scenes of this kind, would not at
first get an adequate impression of the magnitude of the precipice.
Everything is on such a gigantic scale — all the proportions so vast,
and the mountains so high about it, that the real individual greatness
is lost sight of. But that wall of a thousand feet perpendicular, with
its seams and rents and stooping cliffs, is one of the few things in the
world the beholder can never forget. It frowns yet on my vision in
my solitary hours; and with feelings half of sympathy, half of terror,
I think of it rising there in its lonely greatness.
Has not the soul, the being of your life,
Received a shock of awful consciousness,
In some calm season, when these lofty rocks,
At night’s approach, bring down th’ unclouded sky
To rest upon the circumambient walls;
A temple framing of dimensions vast.
* * The whispering air
Sends inspiration from the shadowy heights
And blind recesses of the cavern’d rocks;
The little rills and waters numberless,
Insensible by daylight, blend their notes
With the loud streams; and often, at the hour
When issue forth the first pale stars, is heard
Within the circuit of the fabric huge,
One voice — one solitary raven, flying
Athwart the concave of the dark blue dome,
Unseen, perchance, above the power of sight —
An iron knell! with echoes from afar,
Faint and still fainter?
I will only add, that none of the drawings or paintings I have
seen of this pass, give so correct an idea of it, as the one
accompanying this description.53 We turned our steps homeward, and
53
An engraving from the painting, “The Great Adirondack Pass, Painted on the Spot,”
by Charles Ingham, 1837. Ingham was a member of the original Marcy summiting
party.
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after having chased a deer into the lake in vain, reached the
Adirondack Iron Works at noon. We had traveled twelve miles, a
part of the way on our hands and knees.
I had received a fall in the pass which stunned me dreadfully,
and made every step like driving a nail into my brain. Losing my
footing, I had fallen backwards, and gone down head foremost
among the rocks — a single foot either side, and I should have been
precipitated into a gulf of broken rocks, from which nothing of
myself but a mangled mass would ever have been taken. Stunned and
helpless, I was borne by my friends to a rill, the cool water of which
revived me.
Yours, &c.,
Chapter VIII: The hunter Cheney; encounters with
a panther; deadly struggle with a wolf;
a bear and moose fight; shoots himself
Backwoods, July 12
Dear H — :
You know one expects to hear of hunting achievements upon our
western frontier, where the sounds of civilization have not yet
frightened away the wild beasts that haunt the forest. But here in the
heart of the Empire State is a man whose fame is known far and wide
as the “mighty hunter,” and if desperate adventures and hair-breadth
escapes give one a claim to the sobriquet, it certainly belongs to him.
Some ten or fifteen years ago, Cheney, then a young man, becoming
enamored of forest life left Ticonderoga, and with his rifle on his
shoulder, plunged into this then unknown, untrodden wilderness.
Here he lived for years on what his gun brought him. Finding in his
long stretches through the wood, where the timber is so thick you
cannot see an animal more than fifteen rods, that a heavy rifle was a
useless burden, he had a pistol made about eleven inches in length,
stocked like a rifle, which, with his hunting knife and dog, became
his only companions. I had him with me several days as a guide, for
he knows better than any other man the mysteries of this wilderness,
though there are vast tracts even he would not venture to traverse.
Moose, deer, bears, panthers, wolves, and wild cats, have by turns,
made his acquaintance, and some of his encounters would honor old
Daniel Boone himself. Once he came suddenly upon a panther that
lay crouched for a spring within a single bound of him. He had
nothing but his gun and knife with him, while the glaring eyes and
gathered form of the furious animal at his feet, told him that a
moment’s delay, a miss, or a false cap, would bring them locked in
each other’s embrace, and in a death-struggle. But without alarm or
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over-haste, he brought his rifle to bear upon the creature’s head, and
fired just as he was sallying back for the spring. The ball entered the
brain, and with one wild bound his life departed, and he lay
quivering on the leaves. Being a little curious to know whether he
was not somewhat agitated in finding himself in such close proximity
to a panther all ready for the fatal leap, I asked him how he felt when
he saw the animal crouching so near. “I felt,” said he coolly, “as if I
should kill him.” I need not tell you that I felt a little foolish at the
answer, and concluded not to tell him that I expected he would say
that his heart suddenly stopped beating, and the woods reeled around
him; for the perfect simplicity of the reply took me all aback — yet it
was rather an odd feeling to be uppermost in a man’s mind just at
that moment — it was, however, perfectly characteristic of Cheney.
His fight with a wolf was a still more serious affair. As he came
upon the animal, ravenous with hunger, and floundering through the
snow, he raised his rifle and fired; but the wolf, making a spring just
as he pulled the trigger, the ball did not hit a vital part. This enraged
her still more, and she made at him furiously. He had now nothing
but an empty rifle with which to defend himself, and instantly
clubbing it, he laid the stock over the wolf’s head. So desperately did
the creature fight, that he broke the stock into fragments without
disabling her. He then seized the barrel, which, making a better
bludgeon, told with more effect. The bleeding and enraged animal
seized the hard iron with her teeth, and endeavored to wrench it from
his grasp — but it was a matter of life and death with Cheney, and he
fought savagely. But, in the meantime, the wolf, by stepping on his
snow-shoes as she closed with him, threw him over. He then thought
the game was up, unless he could make his dogs, which were
scouring the forest around, hear him. He called loud and sharp after
them, and soon one — a young hound — sprung into view: but no
sooner did he see the condition of his master, than he turned in
affright; and with his tail between his legs, fled into the woods. But,
at this critical moment, the other hound burst with a shrill savage cry,
and a wild bound, upon the struggling group. Sinking his teeth to the
jaw bone in the wolf, he tore her fiercely from his master. Turning to
grapple with this new foe, she gave Cheney opportunity to gather
himself up, and fight to better advantage. At length, by a well
directed blow, he crushed in the skull, which finished the work. After
this he got his pistol made.
You know that a bear always sleeps through the winter. Curled
up in a cavern, or under a fallen tree, in some warm place, he
composes himself to rest, and, Rip-Van-Winkle-like, snoozes away
the season. True, he is somewhat thin when he thaws out in the
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spring, and looks voracious about the jaws, making it rather
dangerous to come in contact with him. Cheney told me, that one
day, while hunting on snow shoes, he suddenly broke through the
crust, and came upon a bear taking his winter’s nap. The spot this
fellow had chosen, was the cavity made by the roots of an upturned
tree. It was a warm, snug place; and the snow having fallen several
feet deep over him, protected him from frosts and winds. The
unceremonious thrust of Cheney’s leg against his carcass, roused up
Bruin, and with a growl that made the hunter withdraw his foot
somewhat hastily, he leaped forth on the snow. Cheney had just
given his knife to his companion, who had gone to the other side of
the mountain to meet him farther on; and hence, had nothing but his
pistol to defend himself with. He had barely time to get ready before
the huge creature was close upon him. Unterrified, however, he took
deliberate aim right between the fellow’s eyes, and pulled the trigger;
but the cap exploded without discharging the pistol: He had no time
to put on another cap; so, seizing his pistol by the muzzle, he aimed a
tremendous blow at the creature’s head. But the bear caught it on his
paw with a cuff that sent it ten yards from Cheney’s hand, and the
next moment was rolling over Cheney himself in the snow. His knife
being gone, it became simply a contest of physical strength; and, in
hugging and wrestling, the bear evidently had the advantage; and the
hunter’s life seemed not worth asking for. But, just then, his dog
came up, and seizing the animal from behind, made him loosen his
hold, and turn and defend him self. Cheney then sprang to his feet,
and began to look around for his pistol. By good luck he saw the
breech just peeping out of the snow. Drawing it forth, and hastily
putting on a fresh cap, and refastening his snow-shoes, which had
become loosened in the struggle, he made after the bear. When he
and the dog closed, both fell, and began to roll, one over the other
down the side-hill, locked in the embrace of death. The bear,
however, was too much for the dog, and, at length, shook him off,
leaving the latter dreadfully lacerated — “torn,” as Cheney said, “all
to pieces. But,” he added, “I never saw such pluck in a dog before.
As soon as he found I was ready for a fight he was furious, bleeding
as he was, to be after the bear. I told him we would have the rascal, if
we died for it; and away he jumped, leaving his blood on the snow as
he went. ‘Hold on,’ said I, and he held on till I came up. I took aim at
his head, meaning to put the ball in the centre of his brain; but it
struck below, and only tore his jaw to pieces. I loaded up again, and
fired, but did not kill him, though the ball went through his head. The
third time I fetched him, and he was a bouncer, I tell you.” “But the
dog, Cheney,” said I; “what became of the poor, noble dog?” “Oh, he
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was dreadfully mangled. I took him up, and carried him home, and
nursed him. He got well, but was never good for much afterwards —
that fight broke him down.” I asked him if a moose would ever show
fight. “Yes,” he said, “a cow moose, with her calf; and so will any of
them when wounded or hard pushed. I was once out hunting, when
my dog started two. I heard a thrashing through the bushes, and in a
minute more I saw both of them coming right towards me. As soon
as they saw me they bent down their heads, and made at me at full
speed The bushes and saplins snapped under them like pipe-stems.
Just before they reached me, I stepped behind a tree, and fired as they
jumped by. The ball went clear through one, and lodged in the
other.”
Cheney kills about seventy deer per annum. He has none of the
roughness of the hunter; but is one of the mildest, most unassuming,
pleasant men you will meet with anywhere. Among other things, he
told me of once following a bear all day, and treeing him at night
when it was so dark he could not see to shoot; then sitting down at
the root, to wait till morning that he might kill him. But, after awhile,
all being still, he fell asleep, and did not wake till daylight. Opening
his eyes in astonishment, he looked up for the bear, but the cunning
rascal had gone. Taking advantage of his enemy’s slumbers, he had
crawled down and waddled off. Cheney said he never felt so flat in
his life, to be outwitted thus, and by a bear.
With one anecdote illustrating his coolness, I will bid his
hunting adventures adieu. He was once hunting alone by a little lake,
when his dogs brought a noble buck into the water. Cocking his gun,
and laying it in the bottom of the boat, he pulled after the deer, which
was swimming boldly for his life. In the eagerness of pursuit, he hit
his rifle either with his paddle or foot, when it went off, sending the
ball directly through one of his ankles. He stopped, and looking at his
benumbed limb, saw where the bullet had come out of his boot. The
first thought was, to return to the shore; “the next was,” said he, “I
may need that venison before I get out of these woods”; so, without
waiting to examine the wound, he pulled on after the deer. Coming
up with him, he beat him to death with his paddles, and pulling him
into the boat, rowed ashore. Cutting off his boot, he found his leg
was badly mangled and useless. Bandaging it up, however, as well as
he could, he cut a couple of crotched sticks for crutches, and with
these walked fourteen miles to the nearest clearing. There he got
help, and was carried slowly out of the woods. How a border-life
sharpens a man’s wits. Especially in an emergency does he show to
what strict discipline he has subjected his mind. His resources are
almost exhaustless, and his presence of mind equal to that of one
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who has been in a hundred battles. Wounded, perhaps mortally, it
nevertheless flashed on this hunter’s thoughts, that he might be so
crippled that he could not stir for days and weeks, but starve to death
there in the woods. “I may need that venison before I get out,” said
he; and so, with a mangled bleeding limb, he pursued and killed a
deer, on which he might feed in the last extremity.
Chapter IX: Game; moose; crusting moose; a catamount-chase
between a deer and a panther; a bear caught in a trap
Backwoods, July 14, 1846
Dear H — :
Game of all kinds swarm the forest: bears, wolves, panthers,
deer, and moose. I was not aware that so many moose were to be
found here; yet I do not believe there is an animal of the African
desert with which our people are not more familiar than with it. In
size, at least, he is worthy of attention, being much taller than the ox.
You will sometimes find an old bull moose eight feet high. The body
is about the size of a cow, while the legs are long and slender, giving
to the huge bulk the appearance of being mounted on stilts. The
horns are broad, flat, and branching, shooting in a horizontal curve
from the head. I saw one pair from a moose that a cousin of Cheney
killed, that were nearly four feet across from tip to tip, and the horn
itself fifteen inches broad. The speed of these animals through the
thick forests, seems almost miraculous, when we consider their
enormous bulk and branching horns. They seldom break into a
gallop, but when roused by a dog, start off on a rapid pace, or half
trot, with the nose erect and the head working sideways to let their
horns pass through the branches. They are rarely, if ever, taken by
dogs, as they run on the start twenty miles without stopping, over
mountains, through swamps, and across lakes and rivers. They are
mostly killed early in the spring — being then unable to travel the
woods, as the snow is often four and five feet deep, and covered with
a thick sharp crust. At these times, and indeed in the early part of
winter, they seek out some lonely spot near a spring or water-course,
and there “yard,” as it is termed; i.e. they trample down the snow
around them and browse, eating everything clean as far as they go.
Sometimes you will find an old bull moose “yarding” alone,
sometimes two or three together. When found in this state, they are
easily killed, for they cannot run fast, as they sink nearly up to their
backs in the snow at every jump.
Endowed, like most animals, with an instinct that approaches
marvelously near to reason, they have another mode of “yarding,”
which furnishes greater security than the one just described. You
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know that mountain chains are ordinarily covered with heavy timber,
while the hills and swelling knolls at their bases are crowned with a
younger growth, furnishing buds and tender sprouts in abundance. If
you don’t, the moose do; and so, during a thaw in January or early
spring, when the snow is from three to five feet deep, a big fellow
will begin to travel over and around one of these hills. He knows that
“after a thaw comes a freeze;” and hence, makes the best use of his
time. He will not stop to eat, but keeps moving until the entire hill is
bi-sected and inter-sected from crown to base with paths he himself
has made. Therefore, when the weather changes, his field of
operations is still left open. The crust freezes almost to the
consistency of ice, and yet not sufficiently strong to bear his
enormous bulk; little, however, does he care for that: the hill is at his
disposal, and he quietly loiters along the paths he has made, “
browsing” as he goes — expecting, most rationally, that before he
has finished the hill, another thaw will come, when he will be able,
without inconvenience, to change his location. Is not this adapting
one’s self to circumstances?
But it is no child’s play to go after these fellows in midwinter;
for the places they select are remote and lonely. It generally requires
one to be absent days, and from the more open settlements, weeks, to
take them. The hunters lash on their great snow-shoes, which, like an
immense webbed foot, keep them on the surface; and taking a sled
and blankets with them, start for some deep, dark, and secluded spot
which these animals are known to haunt. By night they sleep on the
snow, wrapped in their blankets; and when they draw near the place
where they expect to find a “yard,” the utmost circumspection is
used, and every advance made with the stealthiness of an Indian.
Sometimes a moose will wind his enemies, and then he is all
agitation and excitement; but the fatal bullet ends at once his troubles
and fears, and his huge carcass is cut up, and the choicest parts
carried home on the sled or sleds. Many a crimson spot is thus left on
the snow in this wilderness, around which at night the wolves and
panthers gather, filling the solitude with their cries.
Two Indians killed eighteen in this region last spring, and one
hunter told me that he had shot three in a single day in the early part
of March. These enormous wild cattle are of a black color, and when
closely pressed, will fight desperately. Wolves have fine picking in
deep snow, especially when there is a stiff crust on the surface. The
slender hoof of the deer, which yard like the moose, cuts through at
every leap, letting them up to the belly without giving firm ground to
spring from, even then; while the broad, spreading paw of the wolf
supports him and he skims along the surface. In this unequal chase,
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he soon overtakes his victim, and devours him. “But the wildest
chase I ever saw,” remarked a hunter to me once, with whom I was
in the forest several days, “was between a panther and a deer, in the
open woods.” They were not fifteen feet apart, he said, when they
passed him, and such lightning speed he never before witnessed.
Though he had his rifle in his hand, and they were but a few rods
distant when he saw them, he never thought of firing.
They came and went more like shadows than living things. The
mouths of both were wide open, and the tongue of the deer hanging
out from fatigue, while their eyes seemed starting from their sockets
— one from fear, the other from rage. Swift as the arrow in its flight,
and as noiseless, save the strokes of their rapid bounds on the leaves
— they fled away, and the forest closed over them. Over rocks, and
logs, and streams, that slender and delicate form went flying on,
winged with terror, while, so near that he almost felt his hot breath
on his sides, he heard his foe pant after him. Ah, hunger will outlive
fear, and before many miles were sped over, that harmless thing lay
gasping in death, and its entrails were torn out ere the heart had
ceased to beat.
And thus, methought, it happens everywhere in God’s universe.
Innocence is safe nowhere: — even in the solitude of the forest — in
nature’s sacred temple — it falls before the power of cruel passion.
The hunters and the hunted come and go like shadows, and the
appealing accents of fear, and the fierce cry of pursuit or vengeance,
ring a moment on the ear, and then are lost in a solitude deeper than
that of the wilderness.
The panther like the lion depends more upon his first spring than
any after effort. Lying close to a limb, he watches the approach of his
victim; then with a single bound lights upon its back, planting his
claws deep in the quivering flesh. It requires a strong effort then to
shake him off, or loosen his hold.
His cry of hunger is very much like that of a child in distress,
and is indescribably fearful when heard at night in the forest. It is
seldom, however, that a traveler sees any of these animals of prey.
They are more afraid of him, than he of them; and winding him at a
long distance, flee to their hiding places. It is only in winter that they
are dangerous. I have often, however, roused them up by my
approach. I once heard a catamount scream in a thick clump of
bushes not a hundred yards from me — it was just at twilight, and
made me bound to my feet as if struck by a sudden blow, and sent
the blood tingling to the ends of my toes and fingers. You have heard
of electrical shocks, galvanic batteries, etc. — well, their effects are
mere slight nervous stimulants compared to the wild, unearthly
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screech of a catamount at night in the woods. This fellow was not
satisfied with one yell, but moving a little way off, coolly squatted
down and gave another and another, as if enraged at our proximity,
yet afraid to confront us. They will smell a human form an
inconceivable distance.
On another occasion, if I had had a dog with me, I should have
brought you home a bear skin as a trophy. I was passing through a
heavy windfall, where berry bushes, &c., had grown up over the
fallen timber, when I suddenly heard a hoarse “humph, humph,” and
then a crashing through the bushes. I had come upon a huge bear
which was quietly picking berries. The fellow put off at a
tremendous rate, and I after him. I should judge he was about three
hundred yards distant at the outset, which he soon increased to four
hundred. He made for a swamp which he probably crossed, and
climbed up the steep mountain on the farther side to his den.
When he went down the bank to the swamp, he showed the size
of his track, and he must have been a rouser. With a dog I should
have “treed” him, and then he could have been easily shot. The
hunter with me caught one a short time before, in a trap, on this same
mountain. Where two large trees had fallen across each other so as to
make an acute angle, he placed a piece of meat, and a strong spiked
steel trap directly in front of it, covered over with leaves. The bear of
course could not get at the meat without first stepping over the trap,
and as bad luck would have it, he stepped in. The trap was not
fastened in its place, but attached by a chain to a long stick — the old
fellow therefore traveled off till the clog caught against a tree. I
would not have supposed it possible that a bear could make such
rending work with his teeth as he did. For six feet upward from the
root, the tree against which he was caught, was not only peeled of its
bark, but the hard fibres were torn away in large splinters, while the
clog itself was all chewed up, and the ground around furrowed, in his
struggles and rage.
Beavers were once found in abundance here, and Cheney says
he knows where there is a colony of them now. Otter and sable are
now and then taken, but trappers are fast exterminating the fur tribe.
Yet for game and fish there is no region like it on the continent.
Yours truly,
Chapter X: Lake Henderson; a July day;
a sunset, and evening reverie
My dear H — :
I am just recovering from the exhaustion of the last few days’
tramping, and, quiet and renovated, enjoy everything around me. On
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the banks of Lake Henderson — a charming sheet of water — I have
been reclining for hours, drinking in the fresh breeze at every
inspiration. It is a summer afternoon, and I know by the atmosphere
that veils these mountain tops, and the force of the sun when I step
out of the shade, that it is a hot July day. At this very moment, while
I am stretched at my ease, watching the still lake, and those two deer
that for the last hour have been wading along the farther shore,
drinking the cool water, and nibbling the long grass that skirts the
bank, and lazily beating off the flies, you are sauntering up
Broadway, or, perhaps, have just returned from a stroll in Union
Park, and are wooing the sea breeze, that, entering the city at the
Battery, is gently diffusing itself through every street and alley. Ah,
that sea breeze is the only salvation of New York. After a hot,
panting day, when the fiery pavements and red brick walls have
concentrated and redoubled the heat, how refreshingly, and like a
good angel, comes that, at first slight, but gradually increasing sea
wind, to the fevered system. Moist from its long dalliance with the
salt waves, its kiss is soft and welcome as that of a — I beg your
pardon, I meant to say, as a doctor once remarked to me, “it is a very
pleasant stimulant.” Yet I know Broadway is looking like a furnace
just cooled off; and with all your windows and doors thrown open,
you are still languid, while a sultry and oppressive night awaits you. I
pity you from my heart; you have been in Wall street the whole of
this scorching day, and have not drawn a breath below your throat,
for the air you live on was never made for the lungs.
You are pale and exhausted, while now and then comes over
you, a sweet vision of rushing streams and waving tree tops, and cool
floods of air. I see you in imagination, flung at full length upon the
sofa, and hear that expression of impatience which escapes your lips.
But here it is delicious — my lungs heave freely and strongly, and
every moment refreshes instead of enervates me: Before me spreads
away this beautiful lake, shaped like a tea leaf, while all along the
green shores and up the greener mountain side, there is a barely
perceptible motion among the leaves, as if they were so many living
things stirring about upon a carpet of velvet. Farther on, the
Adirondack Pass lifts its startling cliff into the air, and farther still the
solemn mountains stand bathed in the splendor of the departing sun.
The placid surface before me is now and then broken by the leap of a
trout as some poor fly ventures too near where he swims — but all
else is still and calm. Oh, that I could catch the shadows of thoughts
and feelings that flit over me. There is an atmosphere of beauty
around my spirit, that fills me with a thousand sweet but vague
visions. There is something I would grasp and retain, but cannot —
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would speak, but have not the power to utter it. The soul is powerless
to act and,
“Dizzy and drunk with beauty, reels
In its fullness.”
Just look at the glorious orb of day as it rolls down that distant
mountain slope, into the gorge which seems made on purpose to
receive it. Lower and lower sinks the fiery circle, till at last it
disappears, leaving an ocean of flame where it stood, while dark
shadows begin to creep over the lake and shores. On the mountains,
there is a bright line of light which slowly ascends as if striving to
linger around the loveliness below. Inch by inch it creeps upward,
growing brighter as it rises, till at length the highest summit is
reached — irradiated and forsaken. Its last baptism was on that bald
peak which blazed up a moment like an altar-fire to God, then sunk
in darkness — and now the pall of night is slowly drawn over all.
Thus, my friend, did this July evening pass with me, and with a
sigh over the gorgeous dream that had vanished, I turned away.
Though the night was lovely with its stars and sky, which seemed
doubly brilliant in contrast with the black mountain masses that shut
out half the heavens; yet the dash of a stream over its broken
channel, and the hoot of the distant owl conspired to give a loneliness
to the scene the former could not enliven. I thought of home, and
those I loved — of life and its lights and shadows — of death and its
deeper mysteries — of the far world beyond the stars, and that
“palace” to which “even the bright sun itself is but a porch lamp.”
But these reveries will not fit me for to-morrow’s toil, and so
good-night to you.
Yours truly.
Chapter XI: Tahawus with the clouds below it;
a hard tramp; a plank bed on the Boreas River;
a sorry company traveling after a breakfast
Backwoods, July
Dear H — :
There is a path across the mountains to the road that leads into
the centre of this vast plateau, and to the lake region. But I am going
out to a settlement before I start for that still more untrodden field,
filled with scenes far more beautiful. This is the last morning I shall,
probably, ever look on the summit of Tahawus. You cannot conceive
what an affection one has for a majestic old mountain few have ever
ascended, and on whose top he himself has stood. For six years not a
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foot has profaned this almost inaccessible peak, and I feel as if I had
paid a visit to a hermit and left him in his solitude, thinking over the
interview which had broken up the monotony of his existence.
Clouds are rolling around him to-day, and I think of what Prof.
Benedict, of Burlington, told me. He ascended it once for scientific
purposes, and made experiments on the top which have been of great
service to the State. He said that the spectacle from it one morning in
a northeast storm, was sublime beyond description. He was in the
clear sunlight, while an ocean of clouds rolled on below him in vast
white undulations, blotting out the whole creation from his view. At
length, under the influence of the sun, this limitless deep slowly rent
asunder, and the black top of a mountain emerged like an island from
the mighty mass, and then another and another, till away, for more
than three hundred miles in circumference, these black conical
islands were sprinkled over the white bosom of the vapory sea. The
lower portions of the mountains then appeared, while the mist
collected in the deep gulfs, and lay like a vast serpent over the bed of
a river, that wound through the forest below, or shot up into fantastic
shapes, resembling towers and domes, and cliffs, and clouds,
forming, and shifting, and changing in bewildering confusion. It is
impossible to conceive anything half so strange and wild.
It seemed as if
“A single step had freed one from the skirts
Of the blind vapor — opened to the view
Glory beyond all glory ever seen
By waking sense, or by the dreaming soul. …
Oh, ’twas an unimaginable sight;
Clouds, mists, streams, waters, rocks, and emerald turf;
Clouds of all tincture, rocks, and sapphire sky,
Confused, commingled, mutually inflamed,
Molten together, and composing thus,
Each lost in each, a marvellous array
Of temple, palace, citadel, and huge
Fantastic pomp of structure without name,
In fleecy folds voluminous enwrapped.
Such by the Hebrew prophets were beheld
In vision — forms uncouth of mightiest power,
For admiration and mysterious awe.”
We had engaged a teamster to come on a certain day and take us
out to the settlements. He, however, did not make his appearance;
and so, after a fatiguing tramp of twelve miles in the morning, we
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concluded to set out on foot, hoping to meet him somewhere in the
woods. But in this we were disappointed, and therefore traveled on
until the shades of evening began to gather over the forest,
admonishing us to seek a place of rest for the night. We had now
gone sixteen miles from Adirondack, which, added to the twelve
miles in the morning, made nearly thirty miles — a severe day’s
work. Twilight brought us to the Boreas River, and here we found a
log shanty, which some timber cutters had put up the winter before,
and deserted in the spring. It was a lonely looking thing, dilapidated
and ruinous, with some straw below, and a few loose boards laid
across the logs above by way of a chamber. I expected to have had
some trout for supper, for a young clergyman who had joined us a
day or two before, said that on his way up he took sixteen out of one
pool as fast as he could cast his line. But it was nearly dark when we
reached the river, and so, kindling a blazing fire outside, we dined on
our last provisions, and turned in. As I said, only a few boards were
laid across the logs above, leaving the rest of the loft perfectly open.
By getting on a sort of scaffolding, and reaching the timbers
overhead, we were able to swing ourselves up on the scanty platform.
After I succeeded in gaining this perch, I helped the others up; but
the clergyman was rather too heavy; and just as he had fairly landed
on the boards, one gave way, and down he went. I seized him by the
collar, while he, with one hand fastened to my leg, and with the other
grasped a timber, and thus succeeded in arresting his fall, and
probably saved himself a broken limb.
We lay in a row on our backs along this frail scaffolding, filling
it up from end to end, so that, if the outside ones should roll a half a
yard in their sleep, they would be precipitated below. A more
uncomfortable night I never passed; and after a short and troubled
sleep, I lay and watched the chinks in the roof, for daylight to appear,
till it seemed that morning would never come. I resolved never again
to abandon my couch of leaves for boards, and a ruined hut through
which vermin swarmed in such freedom, that I dreamed I had turned
into a spider, and speculated a long time on my unusual quantity of
legs, endeavoring in vain to ascertain their respective uses.
At length the welcome light broke slowly over the still forest,
and I turned out. Huge stones and billets of wood hurled on the roof
soon brought forth the rest of our companions, and we started off.
We had nothing to eat, and seven weary miles were to be measured
before we could reach the nearest clearing. What with the night I had
passed, and that seven miles’ tramp on an empty stomach, I was
completely knocked up. The clear morning air could not revive me
— my rifle seemed to weigh fifty pounds — my legs a hundred and
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fifty, and I pushed on, more dead than alive. At length we emerged
into a clearing, and there, in a log hut, sat our teamster, quietly eating
his breakfast. The day before, he had started through the forest; but
becoming frightened at the wildness and desolation that increased at
every step, had turned back — choosing to leave us to our fate rather
than run the risk of making a meal for wolves and bears. I could have
seen him flogged with a good will, I was so indignant. Hungry, cross,
and weary, we sat down to breakfast, and then stowed ourselves
away into a lumber wagon, and rode thirty miles to our respective
stopping-places. The little settlement seemed like a large village to
me, and the inhabitants the most refined I had ever met.
Several days’ rest here has restored me, and I begin to feel my
system rally, and am conscious of strength and vitality to which I
have been a stranger for six months.
I shall remain here a few days, and then start for the lake region
— the only land route to which is a rude road ending at Long Lake.
The Adirondack chain subsides away there into more regular ridges
— it is, however, wilder than the region I have left, and we shall
have to rely for food on what we ourselves can catch and kill.
Yours truly,
Chapter XII: A thunder storm; a solution of life
Backwoods, July 12
Dear E — :
Thunder storms are not particularly pleasant things in the woods,
but you are now and then compelled to take them. I have just passed
through one, and, like all grand exhibitions of nature, they awaken
pleasure in the midst of discomfort. I have never witnessed anything
sublime, even though dangerous, that did not possess attractions,
except standing on the deck of a ship in the midst of a storm, and
looking off on the ocean. The wild and guideless waves running halfmast high, shaking their torn plumes as they come — the turbulent
and involved clouds — the shrieks of the blast amid the cordage, and
groans of the ship, combine to make one of the most awful scenes in
nature. Yet I loathe it and loathe myself as I stand or try to stand,
reeling to and fro, holding on to a belaying pin or rope, for support.
But give me firm footing, and I love the sea. I don’t believe Byron
ever thought of writing about it till he got on shore. The idea of a
man thinking, much less making poetry while he is staggering like a
drunken man, is preposterous.
But I like to have forgot myself: I was reclining on the slope of a
hill the other day, near a lake, from which I had a glorious view of
the broken chain of the Adirondack. From the ravishing beauty of the
112
scene, my mind, as it is wont, fell to musing over this mysterious life
of ours — on its strange contrasts and stranger destinies, and I
wondered how its selfishness and sorrow, blindness and madness,
pains and death, could add to the glory of God; or how angels could
look on this world without turning away, half in sorrow and half in
anger, at such a blemished universe, when suddenly, over the green
summit of the far mountain, a huge thunder-head pushed itself into
view. As the mighty black mass that followed slowly after, forced its
way into the heavens, darkness began to creep over the earth. The
song of birds was hushed — the passing breeze paused a moment,
and then swept by in a sudden gust, which whirled the leaves and
withered branches in wild confusion through the air. An ominous
hush succeeded, while the low growl of the distant thunder seemed
forced from the deepest caverns of the mountain.
I lay and watched the gathering elements of strength and fury, as
the trumpet of the storm summoned them to battle, till at length the
lightning began to leap in angry flashes to the earth from the dark
womb of the cloud, followed by those awful and rapid reports that
seemed to shake the very walls of the sky. The pine trees rocked and
roared above me, for wrath and rage had taken the place of beauty
and placidity — and then the rain came in headlong masses to the
earth. Keeping under my shelter of bark, I listened to the uproar
without, as I had often done under an Alpine cliff in the Oberland,
waiting for the passage of the storm. In a short time its fury was
spent, and I could hear its retiring roar in the distant gorges. The trees
stopped knocking their green crowns together, and stood again in
fraternal embrace, while the rapid dripping of the heavy rain drops
from the leaves, alone told of the deluge that had swept overhead. I
stole forth again, and but for this ceaseless drip, and the freshened
look of everything about me in the clearer atmosphere, I should
hardly have known there had been a change.
Scarce a half hour had elapsed — yet there the blue sky showed
itself again over the mountain where the dark cloud had been — the
sun came forth in redoubled splendor, and the tumult was over. Now
and then a disappointed peal was heard slowly traveling over the sky,
as if conscious it came too late to share the conflict; but all else was
calm, and tranquil, and beautiful, as nature ever is after a thunderstorm. But while I lay watching that blue arch, against which the tall
mountain, now greener than ever, seemed to lean; suddenly a single
circular white cloud appeared over the top, and slowly rolled into
view, and floated along the radiant west. Bathed in the rich sunset —
glittering like a white robe — how beautiful! how resplendent! A
moving glory, it looked as if some angel-hand had just rolled it away
113
from the golden gate of heaven. I watched it till my spirit longed to
fly away and sink in its bright foldings. And then I thought were I in
the midst of it, it would be found a heavy bank of fog — damp and
chill like the morning mist, which obscures the vision and ruffles the
spirit, till it prays for one straggling sunbeam to disperse the gloom.
But seen at that distance — shone upon by that setting sun — how
glorious! And here, methought, I had a solution of my mystery of
life. With its agitations and changes — its blasphemies and songs —
its revelries and violence — its light and darkness — its ecstasies and
agonies — its life and death — so strangely blent — it is a mist, a
gloomy fog, that chills and wearies us as we walk in its midst.
Dimming our prospect, it shuts out the spiritual world beyond us, till
we weep and pray for the rays of heaven to disperse the gloom. But
seen by angels and spiritual beings from afar — shone upon by
God’s perfect government and grand designs of love — it may, and
doubtless does, appear as glorious as that evening cloud to me. The
brightness of the throne is cast over us, and its glory changes this
turbulent scene into a harmonious part of his vast whole. “God’s
ways are not as our ways, neither are his thoughts as our thoughts.”
After it has all passed, and the sun of futurity breaks on the scene,
light and gladness will bathe it in undying splendor.
I turned away with that summer cloud fastened in my memory
forever, and thankful for the thunder storm that had taught my heart
so sweet a lesson.
Yours truly,
114
DOCUMENT SEVEN
Adventures in the Wilds (1847)
54
CHARLES F. LANMAN
The Adirondac Mountains
The Adirondac Mountains are situated on the extreme head
waters of the Hudson, in the counties of Essex and Hamilton, and
about forty miles west of Lake Champlain. They vary from five
hundred to five thousand feet in height, and, with few exceptions, are
covered with dense forests. They lord it over the most extensive
wilderness region in the Empire State, and as I have recently
performed a pilgrimage among them, I now purpose to give an
account of what I saw and heard during my expedition.
The tourist who visits these mountains, finds it necessary to
leave the mail road near Lyndsey’s Tavern, on the Scaroon. If
Fortune smiles upon him, he will be able to hire a horse to take him
in the interior, or perhaps obtain a seat in a lumber wagon; but if not,
he must try the mettle of his legs. With regard to my own case,
fortune was non-committal; for while she compelled me to go on
foot, she supplied me with a pair of temporary companions, who
were going into the interior to see their friends, and have a few days’
sport in the way of fishing and hunting. One of my friends, (both of
whom were young men,) was a farmer, who carried a rifle, and the
other a travelling country musician, who carried a fiddle. Our first
day’s tramp took us about fifteen miles, through a hilly, thickly
wooded, and houseless wilderness, to the Boreas River, where we
found a ruined log shantee, in which we concluded to spend the
night. We reached this lonely spot at about three o’clock in the
afternoon; and having previously been told that the Boreas was
famous for trout, two of us started after a mess of fish, while the
fiddler was appointed to the office of wood-chopper to the
expedition. The Boreas at this point is about one hundred feet broad,
— winds through a woody valley, and is cold, rapid, and clear. The
entire river does not differ materially, as I understand, from the point
alluded to, for it waters an unknown wilderness. I bribed my farmer
friend to ascend the river, and having pocked a variety of flies, I
54
From pages 217 through 237 of the first volume of Lanman’s Adventures in the
Wilds of the United States and British American Provinces (Philadelphia: John W.
Moore, No. 195 Chestnut Street, 1856). Lanman’s subject matter ranged widely across
North America. The two chapters reproduced here — “The Adirondac Mountains,”
and “The Adirondac Hunter” — described his visit to the Upper Works, his climb up
Mount Marcy in 1847, and related anecdotes purportedly told him by John Cheney.
115
started down the stream. I proceeded near half a mile, when I came to
a still water pool, which seemed to be quite extensive, and very deep.
At the head of it, midway in the stream, was an immense boulder,
which I succeeded in surmounting, and whence I threw a red hackle
for upwards of three hours. I never saw trout jump more beautifully,
and it was my rare luck to basket thirty-four; twenty-one of which
averaged three-quarters of a pound, and the remaining thirteen were
regular two-pounders. Satisfied with my luck, I returned to the
shantee, where I found my companions; one of them sitting before a
blazing fire and fiddling, and the other busily employed in cleaning
the trout he had taken.
In due time followed the principal events of the day, which
consisted in cooking and eating a wilderness supper. We had brought
a supply of pork and bread, and each one having prepared for himself
a pair of wooden forks, we proceeded to roast our trout and pork
before a huge fire, using the drippings of the latter for seasoning, and
a leather cup of water for our beverage. We spent the two following
hours in smoking and telling stories, and having made a bed of
spruce boughs, and repaired the ricketty partition which divided one
end of the cabin from the other end, which was all open, we retired to
repose! We had no blankets with us, and an agreement was therefore
entered into, that we should take turns in replenishing the fire during
the night. An awfully dark cloud settled upon the wilderness, and by
the music of the wind among the hemlock trees, we were soon lulled
into a deep slumber.
A short time after midnight, while dreaming of a certain pair of
eyes in the upper part of Broadway, I was awakened by a footstep on
the outside of the cabin. I brushed open my eyes, but could see
nothing but the faint glimmer of an expiring ember on the hearth. I
held my breath, and listened for the mysterious footstep; I heard it
not, but something a little more exciting, — the scratching of a huge
paw upon our slender door. In an exceedingly short time, I roused
my bed-fellows, and told them what I had heard. They thought it
must be a wolf, but as we were afraid to frighten him away, and
anxious to take his hide, it was resolved that I should hold a match,
and the farmer should fire his rifle in the direction of the mysterious
noise; which operation was duly performed. A large pine torch was
then lighted, the rifle reloaded, and the heroes of the adventure
marched into the outer hall of the cabin, where we found a few drops
of blood, and the muddy tracks of what we supposed to be a wild cat.
The rifleman and myself then commissioned the fiddler to make a
fire, when we again threw ourselves upon the hemlock couch.
116
The fiddler attended faithfully to his duty, and in less than
twenty minutes, he had kindled a tremendous blaze. The brilliant and
laughing flame had such an exhilarating influence upon his nerves,
that he seized his instrument and commenced playing, partly for the
purpose of keeping off the wild animals, but mostly for his own
amusement. Then laying aside his fiddle, he began to sing a variety
of uncouth, as well as plaintive songs, one of which was vague, but
mournful in sentiment, and more wild in melody, as I thought at the
time, than any thing that I had ever heard. I could not find out by
whom it was written, or what was its exact import, but in the lonely
place where we were sleeping, and at that hour, it made a very deep
impression on my mind.
The burthen of the song was as follows, and I thought it in
keeping with the picture which the minstrel, the firelight, and the
rude cabin presented.
We parted in silence, we parted at night,
On the banks of that lonely river,
Where the shadowy trees their boughs unite,
We met, and we parted forever; —
The night bird sang, and the stars above
Told many a touching story
Of friends long passed to the mansions of rest,
Where the soul wears her mantle of glory.
We parted in silence; our cheeks were wet
By the tears that were past controlling; —
We vowed we would never, no never forget,
And those vows at the time were consoling; —
But the lips that echoed those vows
Are as cold as that lonely river;
The sparkling eye, the spirit’s shrine,
Has shrouded its fire forever.
And now on the midnight sky I look,
My eyes grow full with weeping, —
Each star to me is a sealed book,
Some tale of that loved one keeping.
We parted in silence, we parted in tears,
On the banks of that lonely river;
But the odor and bloom of by-gone years
Shall hang o’er its waters forever.
117
But sleep, “dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health,”
soon folded the singer and his listeners in her embrace, and with the
rising sun we entered upon the labors of another day. While the
fiddler prepared our breakfast, (out of the few trout which certain
beastly robbers had not stolen during the night,) the rifleman went
out and killed a large hare, and I took sketch of the cabin where we
had lodged.
After breakfast, we shouldered our knapsacks, and started for the
Hudson. We struck this noble river at the embryo city of Tahawus,55
where we found a log house and an unfinished saw-mill. Here we
also discovered a canoe, which we boarded, and navigated the stream
to Lake Sanford. This portion of the Hudson is not more than one
hundred feet broad, but quite deep and picturesque. On leaving our
canoe, we made our way up a mountain road, and after walking
about four miles, came out upon an elevated clearing, of some two
hundred acres, in the centre of which was a solitary log cabin with a
retinue of out-houses, and this was the famous Newcomb Farm.
The attractions of this spot are manifold, for it lies in the vicinity
of Moose Lake and Lake Delia, and commands the finest distant
prospect of the Adirondac mountains which has yet been discovered.
Moose Lake lies at the west of the farm, and about six miles
distant. It is embosomed among mountains, and the fountain head of
the Cold River, which empties into the St. Lawrence. In form it is so
nearly round that its entire shore may be seen at one view; the bottom
is covered with white sand, and the water is remarkably cold and
clear. Considering its size, it is said to contain more trout than any
lake in this wilderness, and it is also celebrated as a watering place
for deer and moose. In fishing from the shore, one of our party
caught no less than forty pounds of trout in about two hours. There
were two varieties, and they varied from one to two pounds in
weight. Our guide to this lake, where we encamped for one night,
was Steuben Hewitt, the keeper of the Newcomb Farm, who is quite
a hunter. This woodsman got the notion into his head that he must
have a venison steak for his supper. We had already seen some half
dozen deer walking along the opposite margin of the lake, but
Steuben told us that he would wait until after dark to capture his
game. He also told us that the deer were in the habit of visiting the
wilder lakes of this region at night, for the purpose of escaping the
tormenting flies, and as he spoke so confidently of what he intended
to accomplish, we awaited his effort with a degree of anxiety. Soon
as the quiet night had fairly set in, he shipped himself on board a
55
That is, the Lower Works.
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wooden canoe, (a rickety affair, originally bequeathed to this lake by
some departed Indian,) in the bow of which was a fire jack, or torch
holder. Separating this machine from himself, as he sat in the centre
of the canoe, was a kind of screen made of bark, which was
sufficiently elevated to allow him to fire his gun from underneath;
and in this predicament, with a loaded rifle by his side, did he paddle
into the lake. After floating upon the water for an hour, in perfect
silence, he finally heard a splashing near the shore, and immediately
lighting his torch, he noiselessly proceeded in the direction of the
sound, when he discovered a beautiful deer, standing knee deep in
the water, and looking at him in stupefied silence. The poor creature
could discover nothing but the mysterious light, and while standing
in the most interesting attitude imaginable, the hunter raised his rifle,
and shot it through the heart. In half an hour from that time, the
carcass of the deer was hanging on a dry limb near our camp fire, and
I was lecturing the hardhearted hunter on the cruelty of thus
capturing the innocent creatures of the forest. To all my remarks,
however, he replied, “They were given us for food, and it matters not
how we kill them.”
Lake Delia, through which you have to pass in going to Moose
Lake, lies about two miles west of the Newcomb Farm. It is four
miles long, and less than one mile in width, and completely
surrounded with wood-crowned hills. Near the central portion, this
lake is quite narrow, and so shallow that a rude bridge has been
thrown across for the accommodation of the Farm people. The water
under this bridge is only about four feet deep, and this was the only
spot in the lake where I followed my favorite recreation. I visited it
on one occasion, with my companions, late in the afternoon, when
the wind was blowing, and we enjoyed rare sport in angling for
salmon trout, as well as a large species of common trout. I do not
know the number that we took, but I well remember that we had
more than we could conveniently carry. Usually, the salmon trout are
only taken in deep water, but in this, and in Moose Lake, they seem
to be as much at home in shallow as in deep water. On one occasion I
visited Lake Delia alone at an early hour in the morning. It so
happened, that I took a rifle along with me, and while quietly
throwing my fly on the old bridge, I had an opportunity of using the
gun to some purpose. My movements in that lonely place were so
exceedingly still, that even the wild animals were not disturbed by
my presence; for while I stood there, a large fat otter made his
appearance, and when he came within shooting distance, I gave him
the contents of my gun, and he disappeared. I related the adventure to
my companions, on my return to the farm, but they pronounced it a
119
“fish story.” My veracity was vindicated, however, for, on the
following day, they discovered a dead otter on the lake shore, and
concluded that I had told the truth.
I must not conclude this chapter without giving my reader an
additional paragraph about the Newcomb Farm. My friend Steuben
Hewitt’s nearest neighbor is eight miles off, and as his family is
small, it may be supposed that he leads a retired life. One of the days
that I spent at his house, was quite an eventful one with him, for a
town election was held there. The electors met at nine o’clock, and
the poll closed at five; and as the number of votes polled was seven,
it may well be imagined that the excitement was intense. But with all
its loneliness the Newcomb Farm is well worth visiting, if for no
other purpose than to witness the panorama of mountains which it
commands. On every side but one may they be seen, fading away to
mingle their deep blue with the lighter hue of the sky, but the chief
among them all is old Tahawus, King of the Adirondacs. The country
out of which this mountain rises, is an imposing Alpine wilderness,
and as it has long since been abandoned by the red man, the solitude
of its deep valleys and lonely lakes for the most part, is now more
impressive than that of the far off Rocky Mountains. The meaning of
the Indian word Tahawus is sky piercer or sky splitter; and faithfully
describes the appearance of the mountain. Its actual elevation above
the level of the sea is five thousand four hundred and sixty-seven
feet, while that of Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, is only six
thousand two hundred and thirty-four, making a difference of only
seven hundred and sixty-seven feet in favor of Washington. Though
Tahawus is not quite so lofty as its New England brother, yet its form
is by far the most picturesque and imposing. Taken together, they are
the highest pair of mountains in the United States; and while the
former may justly look with pride upon its Lake Winnipesockee and
Merrimack and Saco rivers, the latter may well glory in its splendid
Hudson, and its not less beautiful lakes — Long Lake, Raquette Lake
and Lake Pleasant.
Before going one step further, I must allude to what I deem the
folly of a certain state geologist, in attempting to name the prominent
peaks of the Adirondac Mountains after a brotherhood of living men.
If he is to have his way in this matter, the beautiful name of Tahawus
will be superseded by that of Marcy, and several of Tahawus’
brethren are hereafter to be known as Mounts Seward, Wright and
Young. Now if this business is not supremely ridiculous, I must
confess that I do not know the meaning of that word. A pretty idea,
indeed, to scatter to the winds the ancient poetry of the poor Indian,
and perpetuate in its place the names of living politicians. For my
120
part, I agree most decidedly with the older inhabitants of the
Adirondac wilderness, who look with decided indifference upon the
attempted usurpation of the geologist mentioned.
For nine months in the year old Tahawus is covered with a
crown of snow, but there are spots among its fastnesses where you
may gather ice and snow even in the dog days. The base of this
mountain is covered with a luxuriant forest of pine, spruce and
hemlock, while the summit is clothed in a net-work of creeping trees,
and almost destitute of the green which should characterize them. In
ascending its sides when near the summit, you are impressed with the
idea that your pathway may be smooth; but as you proceed, you are
constantly annoyed by pit-falls, into which your legs are foolishly
poking themselves, to the great annoyance of your back bone and
other portions of your body which are naturally straight.
I ascended Tahawus, as a matter of course, and in making the
trip I travelled some twenty miles on foot and through the pathless
woods, employing for the same the better part of two days. My
companion on this expedition was John Cheney, (of whom I have
something to write hereafter,) and as he did not consider it prudent to
spend the night on the summit, we only spent one hour gazing upon
the panorama from the top, and then descended about half way down
the mountain where we built our watch fire. The view from Tahawus
is rather unique. It looks down upon what appears to be an
uninhabited wilderness, with mountains, fading to the sky in every
direction, and where, on a clear day, you may count not less than
twenty-four lakes, including Champlain, Horicon, Long Lake and
Lake Pleasant.
While trying to go to sleep on the night in question, as I lay by
the side of my friend Cheney, he gave me an account of the manner
in which certain distinguished gentlemen have ascended Mount
Tahawus, for it must he known that he officiates as the guide of all
travellers in this wild region. Among those to whom he alluded were
Ingham and Cole, the artists, and Hoffman and Headley, the
travellers. He told me that Mr. Ingham fainted a number of times in
making the ascent, but became so excited with all he saw, he
determined to persevere, and finally succeeded in accomplishing the
difficult task. Mr. Hoffman, he said, in spite of his lameness, would
not be persuaded by words that he could not reach the summit; and
when he finally discovered that this task was utterly beyond his
accomplishment, his disappointment seemed to have no bounds.
The night that I spent on Tahawus was not distinguished by any
event more remarkable than a regular built rain-storm. Our canopy
was composed of hemlock branches, and our only covering was a
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blanket. The storm did not set in until about midnight, and my first
intimation of its approach was the falling of rain drops directly into
my ear, as I snugged up to my bed-fellow for the purpose of keeping
warm. Desperate, indeed, were the efforts I made to forget my
condition in sleep, as the rain fell more abundantly, and drenched
me, as well as my companion, to the very skin. The thunder bellowed
as if in the enjoyment of a very happy frolic, and the lightning
seemed determined to root up a few trees in our immediate vicinity,
as if for the purpose of giving us more room. Finally Cheney rose
from his pillow, (which was a log of wood,) and proposed that we
should quaff a little brandy, to keep us from catching cold, which we
did, and then made another attempt to reach the land of Nod. * * * At
the break of day we were awakened from a short but refreshing sleep,
by the singing of birds, and when the cheerful sunlight had reached
the bottom of the ravines, we were enjoying a comfortable breakfast
in the cabin of my friend.
The principal attractions associated with Tahawus, are the Indian
Pass, the Adirondac Lakes, the Adirondac iron works, and the mighty
hunter of the Adirondacs, John Cheney. The Pass, so called, is only
an old-fashioned notch between the mountains. On one side is a
perpendicular precipice, rising to the height of eleven hundred feet;
and, on the other, a wood-covered mountain, ascending far up into
the sky, at an angle of forty-five degrees. Through this pass flows a
tiny rivulet, over which the rocks are so thickly piled, as frequently
to form pitfalls that measure from ten to thirty feet in depth. Some of
these holes are never destitute of ice, and are cool and comfortable
even at midsummer. The Pass is nearly half a mile in length, and, at
one point, certain immense boulders have come together and formed
a cavern, which is called the “meeting house,” and is, perhaps,
capable of containing one thousand people. The rock on either side
of the Pass is a gray granite, and its only inhabitants are eagles,
which are quite abundant, and occupy the most conspicuous crag in
the notch.
The two principal lakes which gem this immediate portion of the
Adirondac wilderness, are named Sanford and Henderson, after the
two gentlemen who first purchased land upon their borders.56 The
56
Henderson Lake is named for David Henderson. Lake Sanford is commonly thought
to have been named for Reuben Sanford, founding father of Wilmington, who was
hired to survey several tracts purchased by Archibald McIntyre’s iron company; one of
those tracts contained a lake that was given his name. Reuben Sanford was never, so
far as this editor knows, among the owners of the McIntyre operation. At the
beginning, the works had three joint owners: McIntyre, Henderson (McIntyre’s son-inlaw), and Judge Duncan McMartin Jr. (McIntyre’s brother-in-law). Following the
judge’s death in 1837, his share was purchased by Archibald Robertson, Henderson’s
122
former is five miles in length, and the latter somewhat less than
three, both of them varying in width from half a mile to a mile and a
half. The mountains which swoop down to their bosoms are covered
with forest, and abound in a great variety of large game. There is not,
to my knowledge, a single habitation on either of the lakes, and the
only smoke ever seen to ascend from their lonely recesses, comes
from the watch-fire of the hunter, or the encampment of surveyors
and and tourists. The water of these lakes is cold and deep, and
moderately supplied with salmon trout. Lake Henderson is admirably
situated for the exciting sport of deer hunting, and though it contains
two or three canoes, cannot be entered from the West Branch of the
Hudson without making a portage. Through Lake Sanford, however,
the Hudson takes a direct course, and there is nothing to impede the
passage of a small boat to within a mile of the iron works, which are
located in a valley between the two lakes. The fact is, during the
summer there is quite an extensive business done on Lake Sanford,
in the way of “bringing in” merchandise, and “carrying out” the
produce of the forge. It was my misfortune to make the inward
passage of the lake in company with two ignorant Irishmen. Their
boat was small, heavily laden, very tottery and leaky. This was my
only chance; and on taking my seat with a palpitating heart, I made
an express bargain with the men, that they should keep along the
shore on their way up. They verbally assented to my wishes, but
immediately pulled for the very centre of the lake. I remonstrated,
but they told me there was no danger. The boat was now rapidly
filling with water, and though one was bailing with all his might, the
rascals were determined not to accede to my wish. The conclusion of
the matter was that our shallop became water-logged, and on finally
reaching the shore, the merchandise was greatly damaged, and I was
just about as wet as I was angry at the miserable creatures, whose
obstinacy had not only greatly injured their employers, but also
endangered my own plunder as well as my life.
The iron works alluded to above, are located in a narrow valley,
and in the immediate vicinity of Lake Henderson, at a place called
McIntyre. Some time in the year 1830, a couple of Scottish
gentlemen, named Henderson and McIntyre, purchased a large tract
of wild land lying in this portion of New York.57 In the summer
brother-in-law and a nephew of McIntyre. Henderson died in an accident in 1845, two
years prior to Lanman’s visit, leaving the works entirely in the hands of McIntyre and
Robertson, who continued holding it until their deaths in 1858, when the works closed
for good.
57
Lanman is a little muddled on his facts in this paragraph. See the description in this
anthology’s Document One of the discovery of the “iron dam” in 1826.
123
following, they passed through this wilderness on an exploring
expedition, and with the assistance of their Indian guide, discovered
that the bed of the valley in question was literally blocked up with
iron ore. On making farther investigations, they found that the whole
rocky region about them was composed of valuable mineral, and they
subsequently established a regular-built iron establishment, which
has been in operation over since. A gentleman named Robinson58
afterwards purchased an interest in the concern, and it is now carried
on by him and Mr. McIntyre, though the principal stockholders are
the wife and son of Mr. Henderson, deceased.
The metal manufactured by this company is of the very best
quality of bar-iron; and an establishment is now in progress of
erection at Tahawus, twelve miles down the river, where a party of
English gentlemen intend to manufacture every variety of steel. The
iron works here give employment to about one hundred and fifty
men, whose wages vary from one to four dollars per day. The society
of the place, you may well imagine, is decidedly original; but the
prominent individual, and only remarkable man who resides here, is
John Cheney, the mighty hunter of the Adirondacs. For an account of
this man, the reader will please look into the following chapter.
The Adirondac Hunter
John Cheney was born in New Hampshire, but spent his
boyhood on the shores of Lake Champlain, and has resided in the
Adirondac wilderness about thirteen years. He has a wife and one
child, and lives in a comfortable cabin in the wild village of
McIntyre.
His profession is that of a hunter, and he is in the habit of
spending about one-half of his time in the woods. He is a remarkably
amiable and intelligent man, and as unlike the idea I had formed of
him as possible. I expected from all that I had heard, to see a huge,
powerful, and hairy Nimrod; but, instead of such, I found him small
in stature, bearing more the appearance of a modest and thoughtful
student, gentle in his manners, and as devoted a lover of nature and
solitude as ever lived.
The walls of his cosey little house, containing one principal
room, are ornamented with a large printed sheet of the Declaration of
Independence, and two engraved portraits of Washington and
Jackson. Of guns and pistols he has an abundant supply, and also a
good stock of all the conveniences for camping among the
mountains. He keeps one cow, which supplies his family with all the
58
Probably Archibald Robertson.
124
milk they need; but his favorite animals are a couple of hunting dogs,
named Buck and Tiger.
As summer is not the time to accomplish much in the way of
hunting, my adventures with John Cheney have not been
distinguished by any stirring events; we have, however, enjoyed
some rare sport in the way of fishing, and obtained some glorious
views from the mountain peaks of this region. But the conversation
of this famous Nimrod has interested me exceedingly, and wherever
we might be, under his own roof, or by the side of our mountain
watch-fires, I have kept him busy in recounting his former
adventures. I copied into my note-book nearly everything he said,
and now present my readers with a few extracts relating to his
hunting exploits. I shall use his own words, as nearly as I can
remember them.
*****
“I was always fond of hunting, and the first animal I killed was a
fox; I was then ten years of age. Even from childhood, I was so in
love with the woods that I not only neglected school, but was
constantly borrowing a gun, or stealing the one belonging to my
father, with which to follow my favorite amusement. He found it a
useless business to make a decent boy of me, and in a fit of
desperation he one day presented me with a common fowling piece. I
was the youngest of thirteen children, and was always called the
black sheep of the family. I have always enjoyed good health, and
am forty-seven years of age; but I have now passed my prime, and
don’t care about exposing myself to any useless dangers.”
*****
“You ask me if I ever hunt on Sunday; no, sir, I do not. I have
always been able to kill enough on week days to give me a
comfortable living. Since I came to live among the Adirondacs, I
have killed six hundred deer, four hundred sable, nineteen moose,
twenty-eight bears, six wolves, seven wild cats, thirty otter, one
panther and one beaver.”
*****
“As to that beaver I was speaking about, it took me three years
to capture him, for he was an old fellow, and remarkably cunning. He
was the last, from all that I can learn, that was ever taken in the State.
125
One of the Long Lake Indians often attempted to trap him, but
without success; he usually found his trap sprung, but could never
get a morsel of the beaver’s tail; and so it was with me, too; but I
finally fixed a trap under the water, near the entrance to his dam, and
it so happened that he one day stepped into it and was drowned.”
*****
“I was going to tell you something about my dogs, Buck and
Tiger. I’ve raised some fifty of these animals in my day, but I never
owned such a tormented smart one as that fellow Buck. I believe
there’s a good deal of the English mastiff in him, but a keener eye
than he carries in his head I never saw. Only look at that breast of
his; did you ever see a thicker or more solid one? He’s handsomely
spotted, as you may see; but some of the devilish Lake Pleasant
Indians out off his ears and tail about a year ago, and he now looks
rather odd. You may not believe it, but I have seen a good many men
who were not half as sensible as that very dog. Whenever the
fellow’s hungry he always seats himself at my feet and gives three
short barks, which is his way of telling me that he would like some
bread and meat. If the folks happen to be away from home, and he
feels a little sharp, he pays a regular visit to all the houses in the
village, and after playing with the children, barks for a dry crust,
which he always receives, and then comes back to his own home.
He’s quite a favorite among the children, and I’ve witnessed more
than one fight because some wicked little scamp had thrown a stone
at him. When I speak to him he understands me just as well as you
do. I can wake him out of a sound sleep, and by my saying, ‘Buck go
up and kiss the baby,’ he will march directly to the cradle and lick
the baby’s face; and the way he watches that baby when it’s asleep,
is perfectly curious, — he’d tear you to pieces in three minutes if you
were to try to take it away. Buck is now four years old, and though
he’s helped me to kill several hundred deer, he never lost one for me
yet. Whenever I go a-hunting, and don’t want him along, I have only
to say, ‘Buck, you must not go,’ — and he remains quiet: there’s no
use in chaining him, I tell you, for he understands his business. This
dog never starts after a deer until I tell him to go, even if the deer is
in sight. Why ’twas only the other day that Tiger brought in a doe to
Lake Golden, where the two had a desperate fight within one
hundred yards of the spot where Buck and myself were seated. I
wanted to try the mettle of Tiger, and told Buck he must not stir,
though I went up to the doe to see what the result would be between
the fighters. Buck didn’t move out of his tracks, but the way he
126
howled for a little taste of blood was perfectly awful. I almost
thought the fellow would die in his agony. Buck is of great use to
me, when I am off hunting, in more ways than one. If I happen to be
lost in a snow storm, which is sometime the case, I only have to tell
him to go home, and if I follow his tracks I am sure to come out in
safety; and when sleeping in the woods at night, I never have any
other pillow than Buck’s body. As to my black dog Tiger, he isn’t
quite two years old yet, but he’s going to make a great hunter. I am
trying hard now-a-days to break him of a very foolish habit of killing
porcupines. Not only does he attack every one he sees, but he goes
out to hunt them, and often comes home all covered with their quills.
It was only the other day that he came home with about twenty quills
working their way into his snout. It so happened, however, that they
did not kill him, because he let me pull them all out with a pair of
pincers, and that too without budging an inch. About the story people
tell, that the porcupine throws its quills, I can tell you it’s no such
thing, — it is only when the quills touch the dog, that they come out
and work their way through his body.”
*****
“As to deer hunting, I can tell you more stories in that line than
you’d care about hearing. They have several ways of killing them in
this quarter, and some of their ways are so infernal mean, I’m
surprised that there should be any deer left in the country. In the first
place, there’s the ‘still hunting’ fashion, when you lay in ambush
near a salt-lick, and shoot the poor creatures when they’re not
thinking of you. And there’s the beastly manner of blinding them
with a ‘torch-light’ when they come into the lakes to cool
themselves, and get away from the flies, during the warm nights of
summer. Now I say, that no decent man will take this advantage of
wild game, unless he is in a starving condition. The only manly way
to kill deer is by ‘driving’ them, as I do, with a couple of hounds.
“There isn’t a creature in this whole wilderness that I think so
much of as a deer. They are so beautiful, with their bright eyes,
graceful necks, and sinewy legs; and they are so swift, and make
such splendid leaps when hard pressed; why, I’ve seen a buck jump
from a cliff that was forty feet high, and that, too, without injuring a
hair. I wish I could get my living without killing this beautiful
animal! — but I must live, and I suppose they were made to die. The
cry of the deer, when in the agonies of death, is the awfulest sound I
ever heard; — I’d a good deal rather hear the scream of the panther,
127
provided I have a ball in my pistol, and the pistol is in my hand. I
wish they would never speak so.
“The time for taking deer is in the fall and winter. It’s a curious
fact, that when a deer is at all frightened, he cannot stand upon
smooth ice, while, at the same time, when not afraid of being caught,
he will not only walk, but actually trot across a lake as smooth as
glass. It’s a glorious sight to see them running down the mountains,
with the dogs howling behind; but I don’t think I ever saw a more
beautiful race than I once did on Lake Henderson, between a buckdeer and my dog Buck, when the lake was covered with a light fall of
snow. I had put Buck upon a fresh track, and was waiting for him on
the lake shore. Presently, a splendid deer bounded out of the woods
upon the ice, and as the dog was only a few paces off, he led the race
directly across the lake. Away they ran as if a hurricane was after
them; crossed the lake, then back again. Then they made another
wheel, and having run to the extreme southern point of the lake,
again returned, when the deer’s wind gave out, and the dog caught
and threw the creature, into whose throat I soon plunged my knife,
and the race was ended.
“I never was so badly hurt in hunting any animal as I have been
in hunting deer. It was while chasing a buck on Cheney’s Lake,
(which was named after me by Mr. Henderson in commemoration of
my escape,) that I once shot myself in a very bad way. I was in a
canoe, and had laid my pistol down by my side, when, as I was
pressing hard upon the animal, my pistol slipped under me in some
queer way, and went off, sending a ball into my leg, just above the
ankle, which came out just below the knee. I knew something terrible
had happened, and though I thought that I might die, I was
determined that the deer should die first; and I did succeed in killing
him before he reached the shore. But, soon as the excitement was
over, the pain I felt before was increased a thousand-fold, and I felt
as if all the devils in hell were dragging at my leg, the weight and the
agony were so great. I had never suffered so before, and I thought it
strange. You may not believe it, but when that accident happened, I
was fourteen miles from home, and yet, even with that used-up leg, I
succeeded in reaching my home, where I was confined to my bed
from October until April. That was a great winter for hunting which I
missed; but my leg got entirely well, and is now as good as ever.”
*****
128
“The most savage animal that I hunt for among these mountains
is the moose, or caraboo, as I have heard some people call them by
mistake. They’re quite plenty in the region of Long Lake and Lake
Pleasant; and if the hunter don’t understand their ways, he’ll be
likely to get killed before he thinks of his danger. The moose is the
largest animal of the deer kind, or, in fact, of any kind that we find in
this part of the country. His horns are very large, and usually look
like a pair of crab-apple trees. He has a long head, long legs, and
makes a great noise when he travels; his flesh is considered first rate,
for he feeds upon grass, and the tender buds of the moose maple. He
is a rapid traveler, and hard to tire out. In winter they run in herds;
and when the snow is deep, they generally live in one particular place
in the woods which we call a ‘yard.’ The crack time for killing them
is the winter, when we can travel on the snow with our braided snow
shoes. But moose are in good condition in the fall, and I can tell you
that a dead moose, on a bed of yellow leaves, is one of the prettiest
sights in the world.
“I once killed two moose before nine o’clock in the morning. I
had been out a hunting for two days, in the winter, and when night
came on, I had to camp out near the foot of old Tahawus. When I got
up in the morning, and was about to start for home, I discovered a
yard, where lay a couple of bull moose. I don’t know what they were
thinking about, but just as soon as they saw me, they jumped up, and
made directly towards the place where I was standing. I couldn’t get
clear of their ugly feet without running, so I put for a large dead tree
that had blown over, and walking to the butt end of it, which was
some ten feet high, looked down in safety upon the devils. They
seemed to be very mad about something, and did everything they
could to get at me, by running around; and I remember they ran
together, as if they had been yoked. I waited for a good chance to
shoot, and when I got it, fired a ball clear through one of the animals,
into the shoulder of the second. The first one dropped dead as a door
nail, but the other took to his heels, and after going about fifty rods,
concluded to lie down. I then came up to him, keeping my dogs back
for the purpose of sticking him, when he jumped up again, and put
after me like lightning. I ran to a big stump, and after I had fairly
fixed myself, I loaded again, and again fired, when the fellow
tumbled in the snow quite dead. He was eight feet high, and a perfect
roarer.”
*****
129
“Another animal that we sometimes find pretty plenty in these
woods, is the big grey wolf; they are savage fellows, and dangerous
to meet with when angry. On getting up early one winter morning, I
noticed, in the back part of my garden, what I thought to be a wolf
track. I got my gun, called for my dogs, and started on the hunt. I
found the fellow in his den among the mountains. I kindled a fire,
and smoked him out. I then chased him for about two miles, when he
came to bay. He was a big follow, and my dogs were afraid to clinch
in; — dogs hate a wolf worse than any other animal. I found I had a
fair chance, so I fired at the creature; but my gun missed fire. The
wolf then attacked me, and in striking him with my gun, I broke it all
to pieces. I was in a bad fix, I tell you, but I immediately threw
myself on my back, with my snow shoes above me, when the wolf
jumped right on to my body, and, probably, would have killed me,
had it not been for my dog Buck, who worried the wolf so badly, that
the devil left me, to fight the dog. While they were fighting with all
their might, I jumped up, took the barrel of my gun, and settled it
right into the brain of the savage animal. That was the largest wolf
ever killed in this wilderness.”
*****
“One of the hardest fights I ever had in these woods was with a
black bear. I was coming from a winter hunt. The snow was very
deep, and I had on my snow-shoes. It so happened, as I was coming
down a certain mountain, the snow suddenly gave way under me, and
I fell into the hole or winter quarters of one of the blackest and
largest bears I ever saw. The fellow was quite as much frightened as
I was, and he scampered out of the den in a great hurry. I was very
tired, and had only one dog with me at the time, but I put after him. I
had three several battles with him, and in one of these he struck my
hand with such force as to send my gun at least twenty or thirty feet
from where we stood. I finally managed to kill the rascal, however,
but not until he had almost destroyed the life of my dog. That was a
noble dog; but in that battle he received his death-wound. He
couldn’t walk at the time, and though I was nine miles from home, I
took him up in my arms and brought him; but with all my nursing I
could not get him up again, for he died at the end of a few weeks.
That dog was one of the best friends I ever had.”
*****
130
“But the most dangerous animal in this country is the yellow
panther or painter. They are not very plenty, and so tormented
cunning that it is very seldom you can kill one. They are very ugly,
but don’t often attack a man unless cornered or wounded. They look
and act very much like a cat, only that they are very large; I never
killed but one, and his body was five feet long, and his tail between
three and four. At night their eyes look like balls of fire, and when
they are after game they make a hissing noise, which is very dreadful
to hear. Their scream is also very terrible, and I never saw the man
who was anxious to hear it more than once. They are seldom hunted
as a matter of business, but usually killed by accident.
“The panther I once killed, I came across in this manner. I was
out on Lake Henderson with two men, catching fish through the ice,
when we saw two wolves come on to the ice in great haste, looking
and acting as if they had been pursued. I proposed to the men that we
should all go and kill them if we could. They wanted to fish, or were
a little afraid, so I took my gun and started after the game. I followed
them some distance, when, as they were scaling a ledge, they were
attacked by a big panther, and a bloody fight took place. From the
appearance of the animals, I supposed that they had met before,
which was the cause why the wolves came upon the lake. During the
scuffle between the animals, it is a singular fact that they all three
tumbled off the precipice and fell through the air about one hundred
feet. The wolves jumped up and ran away, while the panther started
in another direction. I followed his track, and after traveling a
number of hours, overtook him, and managed to shoot him through
the shoulder. He then got into a tree, and as he was lashing his tail
and getting ready to pounce upon me, I gave him another ball, and he
fell to the earth with a crash, and was quite dead. I then went to the
lake and got the men to help me home with my booty.”
131
DOCUMENT EIGHT
Adirondack Diary (1849)
59
RICHARD HENRY DANA JR.
JUNE 22. By Jackson’s kind services we made an excellent
arrangement for visiting the Adirondack country. He got us an open
waggon to hold four persons, with two strong mules & a boy to drive
& take charge of them, & introduced [us] to a young man of the
place, an experienced woodsman & fisherman, Villeroy S. Aikens,
son of Judge Aikens of Vermont, who accompanied us. We found
Aikens a very agreeable fellow & a character. Without a college
education, he had yet read & studied a good deal, seen good society,
& above all had seen the world & been a close observer of men. He
had been in almost every state in the Union, & in the W. Indies, had
been an engineer & superintendent of copper mines in Cuba, & being
unmarried had spent all his leisure time & all his cash in hunting &
fishing. He could tell stories, sing songs, whistle, & was au fait to
everything belonging to the sporting line.
We left our trunks at Westport & took with us each a valise with
a change of under clothing, for it is impossible, in this country to
carry heavy baggage.
We left Westport about 1 P.M. of an intensely hot day, & steered
for the mountains. At Elisabethtown we spent an hour, for our horses
to rest & be fed. This is the shire town of Essex Co., & is situated in
the centre of Pleasant Valley, or “the valley”, as it is familiarly called
for 30 miles round. The Bouquet, a very pretty stream, rising in the
Adirondack Mts. & flowing into Lake Champlain, runs thro’ the
centre of the town, & the valley is surrounded on all sides by
graceful hills & high mountains.
From Elisabethtown we went to Keene, & spent the night at
Ford’s, the first specimen we had seen of a back country tavern.
Having slept on the floor, & in any but a comfortable manner, we
rose at day break, & then there being no provision for washing in our
room, we took towels & went to the river wh. runs thro’ the village,
close by the tavern, & sheltered by a large rock, stripped & lay down
59
Text taken from the three-volume Journal of Richard Henry Dana, Jr., edited by
Robert F. Lucid (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,
1968). The spelling found in Dana’s actual journals, preserved by Lucid, has likewise
been preserved here. Dana’s journal account of his Adirondack excursion has been
duplicated here in full, in part because the next document, an article he wrote some
twenty-two years later, presents a clearly fabricated account of his encounter with
“fugitive slaves” at John Brown’s “Underground Railroad station.”
132
in the stream & let it run over us. It was refreshing in the extreme, for
we had been intensely hot, & a good deal grimed with dust & dirt.
JUNE 23. At 5½ A.M., before breakfast, Tommy got the mules
ready & we were on our way Westward. The ride from Keene
Westward is highly picturesque, thro’ the ancient forests, with here
& there a clearing & a log cabin, with small mountain torrents
crossing the rude road, & the grand lofty mountains in sight on every
side.
About 8 o’clock we stopped at a log cabin, for breakfast. In this
remote region almost every man who has a decent place takes
strangers to lodge & eat, receiving compensation, rather in the way
of a present than of regular pay. The place belonged to a man named
Brown, originally fr. Berkshire Mass. — a thin, sinewy, hard
favored, clear headed, honest minded man, who had spent all his
60
days as a pioneer farmer. On conversing with him, we found him
well informed on most subjects, especially in the natural sciences, &
he had books & had evidently made a diligent use of them. Having
acquired some property, he was able to keep a good farm, & had
confessedly the best cattle & best farming utensels for miles round.
His wife looked superior to the poor place they lived in, wh. was a
cabin, with only four rooms, & was out of health. He seemed to have
an unlimited family of children, from a nice cheerful healthy young
woman of 20 or so, whom we all liked very much, & a full sised red
headed son that seemed to be foreman of the farm, down by every
grade of boy & girl, to a couple that could hardly speak plain. He
also had two negro men, one called Mr. Jefferson, & a negro woman.
How on earth all these lived in that cabin was beyond our
apprehension, & almost beyond belief, & yet Aikens said he had
often lodged there, in the garret, to be sure, where were three beds
beside his own.
Miss Ruth was very kind, & with the aid of the negro woman,
whom all the family called Mrs. Wait, got us an excellent breakfast
of corn cakes, poor tea, good butter & eggs, & unlimited supply of
the best of milk. After breakfast we made our arrangements to go to
Adirondack, wh. must be done on foot, through the woods. A young
farmer named Nash, undertook to guide us; & we sent Tommy & his
mules to Osgood’s, a regular tavern about 3½ miles below, to stay
until our return. We were now reduced to our last extremity of
baggage, & made our preparation for the roughest & coarsest of
60
Lucid: Dana adds, in a marginal note dated 1864: “This man became afterwards of
world-wide renown. He went to Kansas, was the hero of the Pottowattomie, & the
‘John Brown’ of Harper’s Ferry, hanged by the Virginians for treason.”
133
woodsmen’s life. My dress was a red flannel shirt, woolen trousers,
yarn socks & thick booties, & a slouch hat, with a thin tweed over
coat wh. I carried on my arm or strapped on my back. In the pocket
of this coat I had a knife, a comb & a handkerchief, & these were
literally all I had. No change of dress of any kind, & nothing for
toilet but a comb. Our guide took some crackers & a flask of brandy,
& we set out. Our route was thro’ the forest & the Indian Pass, to the
Adirondack iron works, a toilsome walk of about 17 miles. The day
was extremely hot, the “blased line” dim, the path scarcely visible, &
in most places there was no path at all. Our course was from stream
to stream, & from one hill top to another, often thro’ dense
undergrowth & swamps, with the constant obstruction of fallen trees.
The ground, too, is so covered with leaves & moss as to hide the
footery, & one’s feet are constantly making false steps on stones &
roots. At every stream we stopped to drink, usually for fear of the
effect of too much water “qualifying”, as we termed it.
About 4 or 5 in the afternoon we reached the Indian Pass. This is
a deep ravine or gorge, thro’ wh. a torrent flows that is one of the
head waters of the Hudson, with a perpendicular mountain on one
side, of the height of 1300 feet. A road or path is utterly
impracticable, & the whole scene is of the most wild, silent, awful, &
stupendous character. The huge pines that grow in the crevices look
no larger than pins. From the center of this pass flow two streams,
the Au Sable N. Eastward, to flow into Lake Champlain, & the
Hudson, Southerly. We saw them at their very beginning, as they
trickle over the ledges of rock, not bigger than the stream from the
nose of a tea pot. Among the crevices of the rocks we found snow &
ice, & the water that flows from them in constant little streams is as
pure & cool as a man can drink.
After clearing the Pass we came to woods again, & after a mile
or so began to see small clearings & wood cut & laid up in piles, to
be carried off on the snow in winter. Gradually the clearings became
larger, with acres of burnt & half rotted stumps. Then we saw the
little lake, called Henderson, after one of the proprietors of the ironworks, from wh. we followed the outlet, & just after sunset we
straggled into the little settlement of Adirondack. This is built on the
rapid stream that empties from Lake Henderson into Lake Sandford,
about half way between them. It is the wildest spot for a village that
can well be conceived of. In the very heart of the mountains, between
two lakes, with a difficult communication to the Southward, & none
whatever to the Northward, a small clearing is made, & amid the
stumps of trees, the forest close upon them, stand the iron works &
the few attendant houses. The vicinity of good ore, the water power
134
& the abundance of fuel were causes of the enterprise, & were
advantages wh. it was thot wd. outweigh the disadvantages of
transportation.
The contrast between this settlement & Jackson’s works was
most striking. Here was no attempt at taste, hardly any at neatness or
even comfort. Mr. Portens,61 the agent, lives in the half of a house
wh. in Cambridge could only be let to the lowest class of Irish
laborers, & I saw that one room was kitchen, parlor & nursery. The
only house at wh. strangers could be received was the boarding
house for the hands, owned by the company, & kept by a very good
fellow named John Might. In this house boarded & lodged 96
laborers, all engaged in the furnace. It was more difficult to
understand how they were stowed than even Mr. Brown’s family.
Might was disposed to accommodate us, but we found that his wife,
a delicate, fastidious, small waisted, too-good-for-her-place looking
woman, was not sufficiently impressed by our red shirts & slouch
hats to put herself out for our benefit. We might have suffered, had I
not brot a note of introduction from Jackson to Mr. Portens, who
called on Might & got arrangements made for us. The truth was that
Might’s house was more than full, & his wife’s patience exhausted.
They gave us one room for four, with liberty to sleep on the floor on
blankets. Having “made a raise” of a few towels we went to the
brook, & lay down on the rocks, letting the mountain rapids pour
over us. It was luxurious. Hot, tired, dusty, bitten by the black flies,
we found it an inexpressible relief. After the bath, we had such a
supper as the house could give us, wh. was pretty poor, there being
no milk & not much of anything but bread, pork & potatoes. I felt in
fine health & spirits. The more I exercised the better I became.
Nothing was too hard for me. And after we got into our room I felt
like dancing a hornpipe. Metcalf, on the contrary, was completely
broken down. I never saw a man look worse & be on his feet than he
did, the last two hours of the walk. His muscles seemed powerless &
relaxed, & he said he was in a burning fever, with hardly strength
eno’ to stand. He went early to bed, took brandy, wh. prevented a
chill that threatened him, & the next day was better. Still, he had
fever & his feet were badly blistered. As he was not well eno’, we
did not attempt to ascent Tahawus (profanely called Mt. Marcy, by
some sycophant of a state surveyor), but got up a party for Lake
Sandford & the Newcomb farm. Metcalf had the spirit to join us, tho’
I thot he was hardly well enough.
61
Andrew Porteous.
135
Our party consisted of Might (our landlord, a good woodsman,
as, indeed, all the Adirondack people are); Dan Gates, a hunter &
woodsman by profession, as fine looking, good hearted a fellow as
ever lived; Alex. Ralph; a nephew of one of the proprietors, & clerk
in the iron works, a manly, athletic youth, with a decided Scotch
accent, & who, tho’ a gentleman apparently, was familiarly called
Sandy by all the people; the boatman named Lyon; & Metcalf,
Aikens & myself. A half hour’s walk brot us to the head of Lake
Sanford, where we took boat & pulled through its length to the
landing place for the farm. I never saw the beauty of this lake
excelled. The high Indian Pass frowns at its head, Tahawus towers on
one side, with McIntire & other high mountains, & on all sides are
the graceful or wild outlines of the hills, wh. anywhere else wd. be
called mountains. These mountains, except at the very summits of
the tallest, are densely covered with the largest growth of forest trees,
innumerable echoes ring from them, & the pure still water of the
lake, lies embedded in their midst, with shores constantly varying in
form.
I took an oar, & sitting on my bench, in a red shirt, with oar in
hand, I felt as if my old sea life had actually come back again, & I
fell into it as naturally as if it were yesterday. Landing in a beautiful
secluded nook, hidden by bushes wh. line the shore, we made our
boat fast, & walked towards the farm. Our way led thro’ the dense
forest, along a barely trodden path, about 3 miles in length. About
half way we found Dan Gates’ camp, made, in the fashion of the
country, of the boughs of trees, where he slept when “out” for deer or
trout.
The farm, called “Newcomb’s” is picturesquely situated, on a
large clearing among the mountains, on a hill, with Lake Delia at its
foot, & is noted for having the best spring of water in the whole
region. The buildings are ruinous & are occupied only during
harvest, when Dan Gates moves up with his family. The men told
Metcalf he might drink as much of that water as he chose & it wd.
not hurt him. He took them at their word & lying down on the grass,
put his mouth to the spring & drank not only to satisfaction, but to
repletion. I like to believe in the virtue of cold water for fevers, yet I
felt some fear for him, but it was groundless, for he says that from
that moment the fever left him & he became a new man. Certain it is
that he began to mend, & had no further trouble.
Fishing lines being provided, we took to the brook for trout, but
after catching one trout I gave up, the black flies were so thick & so
voracious. My shirt being open, I was bitten in every part of my
neck, arms & face. Others of the party who were either not affected
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by [these] flies, as some are not, or were hardened to it, kept on
fishing & caught about three dosen, of fair sise. In the mean time
Dan & Sandy went off with a rifle to try for deer. They started some,
& drove one into the lake, where Sandy had a fair shot at him, but his
cap missed the first time & the deer escaped. About six o’clock we
all assembled at the farm, made a fire out doors & cooked our trout
with some pork wh. we found in the house. Never did trout taste
better, than eaten by us hungry men, on the grass in the open air, by
the side of this clear spring.
After dinner we practiced with the rifle. Aikens made the best
shot (Dan not firing), & I was glad to find that I fired into the same
hole with Sandy, who is a good marksman & had just come in from a
five days hunt with John Cheney, the famous hunter of this region.
It was toward nightfall when we took our way home, & the
moon was up as we sailed up the lake. The scene was romantic &
beautiful in the extreme. The complete amphitheatre of grand yet
graceful mountains. the bright moon, the placid lake, the complete
fringing of forest trees to the water’s edge, leaving scarce one bare
spot, & the countless echoes wh. the boatmen’s shouts awakened, all
united to make Lake Sandford a fascination in remembrance.
JUNE 25. This morning early we started for Tahawus (Mt.
Marcy). John Cheney being “out”, & ’Tone Snyder (probably the
nick name for Antoine) being engaged, (Tone & Dan are the next
best woodsmen to Cheney), we took Dan & Might for guides, & a
tall Vermonter, who measured 6 f. 3, joined us as a volunteer. This
made our party six. The guides & Vermonter carried packs with
provisions & blankets, Aikens carried an axe, & I carried my jacket
as a pack on my back. We left the settlement about six o’clock, &
walked at a rapid pace into the wood. The first three or four miles is
a good path, as far as Calamity Pond, made to bring down the body
of Mr. Henderson. Two years ago Mr. Henderson, one of the
proprietors, son in law of McIntire & uncle to Sandy, a very popular
man in this region, went up to the pond with a party to make
arrangements for a dam to change the water course. While sitting on
a large rock on the border of the Pond, he took a pistol from his
pocket & laid it upon the rock. He struck the rock with more force
than he intended, & the cap exploded, & the ball passed thro’ his
heart. He had just time to send his love to his wife & children, & to
tell them that his hour had come, when he expired. This sudden &
calamitous death of so useful & beloved a man forms the chief epoch
in the history of Adirondack. It gave the name to the pond, & there
was not a day that we did not hear it alluded to, in one way or
137
another, several times. As soon as he expired some of the party set
off for the village to convey the mournful news, & return with a large
party. They made a rude bier, & conveyed his body slowly, cutting a
path as they went round the pond, to a place where they camped for
the night. The next morning a party came from the village with a bier
& proper accompaniments, & he was conveyed to the village slowly
& sadly on the shoulders of the men. The spot where they camped is
pointed out, & by it still stands the rude bier, a touching memorial of
the calamity.
When we came to the rock, the incidents were all narrated by
Might & Dan, & Dan added — “What a place for a man to die in, &
without a moment’s warning!” Indeed, the whole scene was
melancholy enough, a character wh. its name, Calamity Pond, will be
likely to perpetuate.
After leaving the Pond the way becomes difficult & toilsome,
passing over rocks, thro’ swamps & the usual accompaniments of
loose stones & fallen timber. At length we struck the Opalescent
brook, & followed that up several miles, walking on the rocks in the
bed of the stream where we could, & when that was impossible,
taking to the banks. This is a most beautiful mountain stream, taking
its name from the mineral formation found in its waters. Its course is
very irregular, & often broken by cascades, rapids, deep basins, &
gorges. Two of these basins are very beautiful, being formed in the
rock, deep & clear, & receiving the waters of high & roaring falls. In
one of these Metcalf & I bathed, stripping & plunging in from the
rocks, & swimming up under the fall. The others wished to try it, but
none of them were swimmers.
Again we left the stream, & finding an old camp ground, we
made a fire & dined. Our dinner consisted of pork roasted in the fire,
eaten with bread, & tea. The fashion is to cut sticks with a crotch in
them, sharpened, & stick these ends into a slice of pork & hold it in
the flame. The tea was boiled in a tea pot wh. one of the guides
brought. After dinner & a smoke, we took to our feet again, & at 2
o’clock the bald peak of Tahawus was before us. The ascent of this
summit for the last mile is probably the most difficult mountain
ascent in America, owing mainly to the dense growth of scrub cedars
& spruces, almost impenetrable, wh. must be struggled thro’, every
step being a strenuous effort. This could be avoided by a few hours’
work of half a dosen men with axes, & probably will be done as
company begins to visit it. Metcalf, Aikens, & the Vermonter fell
behind, then Might gave out & sat down & Dan & I were left. I
believe I have unusual strength of wind, & considerable power of
endurance, for in such protracted efforts, where there is excitement
138
eno’ to interest me, I have almost always tired out the hardiest. I even
beat Dan & reached the summit three minutes before him, the first of
the party.
At the summit we found the air clean, cold, bracing & rare.
There was something peculiarly exciting & invigorating in it. But
such a magnificent spectacle! Such an ocean of mountains & hills as
lay below us. As far as the eye could reach there was nothing but a
broken sea of mountain tops, hills & ridges, with an endless forest,
here & there a clearing or a lake. Lake Champlain was at our feet, the
Green Mountains beyond, White Face & McIntire over against us, &
with a good glass we could see the town of Burlington & streamers
on the lake. I do not know how the view from this Mountain
compares with that from Mt. Washington, for my recollection is
indistinct & Mt. Washington has the advantage of a first impression.
But why shd. we make comparisons? Why not take in the full effect
of this sublime scene, & let other scenes be better or different as they
may. The rudest men in our party were impressed with the
stupendous character of the scene, & expressed their emotion in ways
striking & natural.
After an hour on the summit, we prepared for our descent, &
after retracing our steps & following the Opalescent a couple of
miles, as it began to approach sundown, we selected our camping
ground, by the side of the brook, & built the camp. These camps are
built in the following manner. Two small trees are cut so as to have a
crotch at one end of each, & are pushed into the earth, erect, about
eight feet apart, leaving the crotch about six feet from the ground.
Between these sticks another is placed, horisontally, resting in the
crotches. Long sticks are then cut, usually the smaller hemlock &
spruce trees & placed at short intervals apart, one end resting on the
horisontal stick & the other on the ground, thus forming the rafters of
the roof. Evergreen boughs are then cut, & with these the roof &
sides are thatched. The tent is open in front, & there the fire is built,
both for warmth & to keep off the flies, as well as for cooking.
Hemlock boughs are then cut, & the little branches taken from them
& carefully laid as a bed, in the tent, covering the whole ground.
These make a soft bed, & all woodsmen say that you cannot take
cold if you sleep on hemlock. Having completed our tent, we
proceeded to cooking, & our rude supper was ready about dark, &
we sat eating it & smoking & talking, about the watch fire, in this
picturesque & desolate spot until about 9 o’clock, when we lay down
to sleep. The tent was only wide enough to hold six by close
stowage, & three blankets covered us all. From the novelty &
excitement of the scene it was a good while before I slept, & I
139
frequently awoke. At break of day, which was before four o’clock,
we aroused, replenished our fire & prepared breakfast. I went to the
brook & had a complete bath, tho’, of course, no towels to dry with.
Our breakfast, like all our meals was pork, bread & tea. Every camp
on this route has its name. One about a mile above us on the opposite
side of the brook, was called “Burn-out camp”. On inquiring the
reason of the name, I learned that it was connected with an adventure
of Headley’s, the author. He was here two years ago, & did not leave
a very favorable impression upon the woodsmen. They had
exhausted their brandy & he had a large bottle of his own wh. he kept
drinking from, without offering them any, although it was a cold
night. The guides were indignant, & after various hints to no
purpose, they consulted together & determined to burn Headley out.
Accordingly they moved the fire close to the mouth of the tent, &
piled on the wood until the heat became intolerable. One after the
other they crawled out, & at length H. had to come out too, leaving
his bottle behind. One of them then reached in & got it, & pretending
to think it was common property, they drank all round. Whether
Headley ever discovered the design I don’t know, but the camp is
called “Burn out camp” to this day. Speaking of Headley, we told the
men that H., in his book on the Adirondack boasted of his skill at the
rifle, & they told us that in shooting at a mark in the village he was
beaten by Miss Wilson, now Mrs. Frank Lee.
At five o’clock we left our camp, having written our names &
the dates on one of the posts, & took our way down. We repassed
Calamity Pond, the rock & the bier, & reached the village at 9
o’clock, having made the shortest passages both up & down wh. have
ever been made.
No sooner had we sat down on the door step than we began to go
to sleep, & a stiffness & weariness came over us. I told our party —
Metcalf & Aikens, that we should grow stiff, if we rested or slept at
all, & proposed to them to start at once for Keene, on our way back
through the Pass. This they assented to, & after a lunch, & a
pecuniary settlement with our landlord & guides, & an affectionate
farewell with Dan & the other woodsmen, a part of the ceremony
consisting in a drink all round, we set off for the Pass, Mr. Aikens
undertaking to be our guide. He had never been thro’ the Pass except
in coming over, but being a good woodsman, he undertook to pilot
us. It was just 11 A.M. when we started, & confident that we should
get through properly we took only a little bread, wh. we ate for
luncheon about 2 o’clock, just as we cleared the Pass. We went
safely through the Pass, & across the first branch of the Au Sable.
We should have crossed another branch of the Au Sable, on a tree, by
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4½ or 5 o’clock, but it was 6, & at length 6½, & no river. The blased
line was very dim, & in many places no path, & Aikens confessed he
had lost his way. We consulted & determined to strike thro’ the
woods, steering by the sun, for we had no compass, in the direction
in wh. we thought the river ran. We had a most laborious & fatiguing
tramp, up hills & down dales, thro’ swamps & thickets, over fallen
trees, hurrying on, at the utmost of our speed, to find some landmark
before it should be too late. At Adirondack they told us the path was
difficult, & one man there, a good woodsman told us that he &
another man got lost & were three days & nights in the forest. There
was also a man at Keene who got lost on this route & was two days
& two nights out. The knowledge of this made us anxious, especially
as we had no food or water whatever, & no blankets or thick
clothing, but only the thin clothes in wh. we travel.
After some time, to our delight we saw the river, but there was
no sign of the crossing or of a path as far as we could see, above or
below. Here we were at fault again, & held an earnest consultation,
comparing notes of impressions, & came to the unanimous
conclusion that we had struck the river below the crossing, & that our
course should be a good deal to the east of north. Following this
direction, guided by the setting sun we again struck into the forest,
having first filled our single flask with water, but it only held a gill.
Again we went thro’ swamps & thickets & fallen timber, & toiled up
hills, finding no opening, no point from wh. we could see the great
landmarks. Just before dark we came to a small clearing, on wh.
stood a delapidated & deserted shanty, the sides built of log & the
top partially covered with trees, with a hole in the middle for the
escape of smoke. A few rods from it ran a brook. Knowing that we
could get no further before dark, we thanked God that we had so
good a place as this, & made our arrangements for the night. But first
Mr. Aikens cut off a piece of his red shirt, & putting [it] upon a trout
line he always carried with him, went to the brook, & singularly eno’
caught one fish. It was a small one, but we roasted it, & ate it,
dividing it into three parts, each about as big as a quarter of a dollar.
As we had matches we made a good fire, in the cabin, collecting a
plenty of brush & chips, & closing up the door we lay down, with
empty stomachs & thin clothing, for the night. I have every reason to
be grateful to God for giving this aid, for there was a frost that night,
& had we been left in the open woods, we should have suffered
extremely. There was also some hay on one side of the cabin, wh, we
brought in & made a bed of. Fortunately for us we were very tired, &
notwithstanding the disadvantages we were under, we slept. I woke
three or four times, & the others as often, each replenishing the fire
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when he woke. At light Aikens made another attempt for fish, but
without success, & on hungry stomachs we began our morning’s
march.
As we left the clearing we found a path, pretty well trodden, &
knowing it must lead to some habitation or road, we followed it.
Metcalf was quite faint & we had to walk slowly to favor him. My
hunger was gone, I don’t know where or how, & I was ready for any
journey, though a little weaker than I ought to be when great exertion
was required. After walking an hour, we found a pond with a little
skiff in it, & signs of cattle having recently been in the path. These
reassured us, & after a walk of about 5 miles, to our infinite relief we
came upon a high road. No dwelling was in sight, & whether to turn
to the left or right we could not tell, & as houses are six or ten miles
apart on these roads, the choice might be of consequence. As the left
was down hill, Metcalf said “Let us go down hill, at all events, —
that is the easiest”, so we turned to the left, although that was
contrary to the theory on wh. we had gone since we crossed the river.
But instinct proved better than theory, for in a few minutes we came
to a brook we remembered to have crossed on our way to Brown’s,
the week before, & after a two mile walk we reached his house.
Three more ragged, dirty, & hungry men seldom called at a house for
a breakfast. The Browns were very attentive, & Ruth immediately
got us a large pitcher of the best of milk, with sweet bread & butter.
We drank the pitcher three times full, & ate a vast quantity of her
bread & butter, until we were both afraid & ashamed to eat more.
Mr. Brown was just sending off a wagon in the direction of
Osgood’s, & kindly ordered the man to call & tell Tommy to come
up with the mules. In the mean time, we took to the garret & lay
down on the beds, & fell fast asleep, & were called when Tommy &
the mules appeared. The sight of the wagon & mules made our hearts
revive, & taking a kind leave of the Browns, we got into the wagon
& rode to Osgood’s. It was a comfort to be carried by something else
than our own legs.
At Osgood’s we found our carpet bags, & we [were] relieved
eno’ to have a regular wash & shift of clothes, with something like a
toilet. The afternoon we spent in rest & reading some foolish love
stories from an old copy of the Ladies’ Magasine, & after tea went
early to bed, having made arrangements to visit White Face & Lake
Placid tomorrow.
Mr. Osgood is a deacon, a man of some property, about $8000,
has a good farm, with large barns & outbuildings, & keeps tavern. I
wondered what guests he could have, but both nights we were there
his house was full. A wagon drives up with two men bound to Keene,
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from the Pacanac62 country, then a youth strays in with his rifle wh.
he has taken with him on an errand of 10 miles, thinking he might
meet a deer, & then some people from below on a fishing excursion,
& so it goes.
JUNE 28. THURSDAY. Started for White Face & Lake Placid, but
Metcalf & Aikens were so lame they did not attempt the mountain, &
contented themselves with fishing in the brook. With a young man
named Brewster for a guide, I started alone for the mountain. After
crossing a pond, we reached Lake Placid, a beautiful lake,
embosomed in the mountains, & lying at the foot of White Face, the
second mountain of the Adirondack range, in height. This lake rivals
Sandford in beauty & interest. It is almost divided into two parts by a
range of islands wh. run thro’ its center, between each of wh. there is
a wide passage. Making our boat fast to the trees at the head of the
lake, we ascended the mountain following the stream wh. comes
down fr. the slide to the lake. The ascent is less difficult than
Tahawus, & although this mountain is less in height by 600 feet, yet
from the peculiarity of its situation, the view is more diversified &
interesting than from Tahawus, tho’ not so extensive, nor perhaps so
sublime. From this summit in a clear day you can see the St.
Lawrence, the various towns on Lake Champlain & can count 29
lakes & large ponds. The appearance of Lake Placid, at its foot, is
particularly beautiful. We kindled a fire on the summit & ate our
luncheon, & after satisfying our eyes with the prospect, we
descended at a rapid rate, reaching the lake in 2½ hours. The
mountain obtains its name from a great land-slide wh. occurred years
ago near the summit, leaving a large space bare & white from the
exposed rocks. This slide, presenting its White Face, can be seen, on
that side, almost as far as the mountain can be seen, & makes it a
peculiar & conspicious object in the country round.
We reached our boat a little before 5 o’clock, & as we had an
abundance of time, we rode round the West side of the Lake, passing
among the islands & making the entire circuit. The shores & the
islands are densely wooded with the primeval untouched forest,
coming close down to the banks, the roots of the trees rimming & the
branches dipping in the water. The Adirondack country differs both
fr. the White Mts. of N.H. & the Scotch lakes & mountains, in its
dense forest of the grandest trees, wh. encompasses the lakes, &
ascend almost to the summits of the highest mountains. The evening
was tranquil, the parting rays of the sun illuminated the mountains &
62
Saranac.
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the tops of the forest trees, & the perfect solitude of the lake was
broken only by the paddles & prow of our boat. We reached the
landing place before sun down, where we found the Valley party
returned from their fishing, preparing their camp for the night.
After crossing the lake, & a short visit to Brewster’s cabin,63 we
went to the road where Tommy was waiting with his mules, & drove
to Osgood’s. After a hearty supper, & a pleasant ev.’s lounge with
Metcalf & Aikens, we took to our beds, & the next morning –
JUNE 29. FRIDAY, after breakfast, started for home. Tommy
seemed glad at the prospect of seeing Westport again, from wh. he
now been absent just a week, & we were not un-willing to become
travelers again in our pleasant carriages in civilised clothing, on easy
seats, with two good animals to draw us along. We stopped at the
Brown’s cabin, on our way, & took an affectionate leave of this
family, wh. had shown us no little kindness. We found them at
breakfast, in the patriarchal mode. Mr. & Mrs. Brown & their large
family of children, with the hired men & women, including three
negroes, all at the table together. Their meal was meat, substantial &
wholesome, large quantities of the best of milk, good bread & butter,
Indian meal cakes & maple molasses.
We stopped a few moments at Ford’s, in Keene, & dined at
Elisabeth Town, & reached Westport at about 5 o’clock, where I
found, to my great delight & gratification, a letter from Sarah.
After washing, shaving, & a thorough refitting, coming out in
white shirts, frocks & pants, in civilised fashion, we rode up to
Jackson’s, where we found only himself & wife, his visitors having
departed. As we had made up our minds to leave the next day,
Jackson kindly put his ponies to the “buck board” & drove us down
to Mr. Hunter’s. This is a fine estate, situated on the lake, about 3
miles below Jackson’s, with a drive of 1½ miles in the proprietor’s
own grounds, terminating in a picturesque rambling English cottage,
overgrown with creepers, & tastefully ornamented with shrubbery.
From the parlor window, Mr. H. has a noble view up the lake. Mr.
Hunter was not at home, but we had the pleasure of seeing his lady, a
superb looking woman, large, animated, handsome, warm hearted &
ready witted. Indeed, it is rarely that, in any part of the world one
meets two persons united to one another, possessing so many
advantages, intellectual & physical, in temperament & in
63
Benjamin T. Brewster was one of the two original settlers of the isthmus between
Mirror and Placid Lakes from which the Village of Lake Placid would eventually
develop.
144
circumstances. Yet, they have no children, wh., in their solitary
situation, is a great draw-back to their happiness.
From Hunter’s we went to Frank Lee’s, a very pretty cottage,
situated on a wooded & vined rock, about half way between Hunter’s
& Jackson’s. Lee is a cousin of Jackson’s, & his lady is a sister of
Mrs. Hunter, with a less commanding figure than her sister, but
intelligent, cultivated & spirited. Here I found Lee’s father, Mr.
Henry Lee of Boston, who talked well, but rather long on his hobby,
Pol. Economy.
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DOCUMENT NINE
How We Met John Brown
64
(1849/1871)
RICHARD HENRY DANA JR.
My dear Fields:
I have so long promised you a carving from a memory of twenty
years ago, and you have so often kindly given me, as the mercantile
phrase is, an extension, that I feel compelled to make leisure enough
for myself to keep my word. I trust you will not be disappointed in
your hope that it may interest the readers of the Atlantic.
In the summer of 1849 Mr. Metcalf and I went into the
Adirondacks, then but little known to tourists. Our journey up the
valley of the Connecticut, across Vermont, and up Lake Champlain,
full of beauties as it was, presented nothing that would be new to
most readers. At Westport, near the head of Lake Champlain, on the
New York side, we found a delightful colony of New England
friends — a retired officer of the army, and two Boston gentlemen,
one of leisure and one of business — planted in as charming a
neighborhood as one need wish to live in, — the lake before them,
the Green Mountain range across the lake, and the Adirondacks
towering and stretching along the western horizon.
At this time Westport had sprung into active life by means of an
enterprise of Boston capitalists, who had set up iron-works there. All
had an appearance of successful business. The houses of the
workmen, and the other appurtenances and surroundings, were
marked by a style which was but too pleasing to the fancy; yet they
were the results of the application of wealth under good taste, and
with a large view to the future. Changes of business or of tariffs or
other causes have long ago brought all this to an end; and I suppose
the little village has relapsed into its original state of torpor and
insignificance.
Here we took up a companion for our wild tour, Mr. Aikens, in
theory a lawyer, but in practice a traveller, sportsman, and
woodsman; and Mr. Jackson lent us a wagon with a pair of mules,
and a boy Tommy to commissary and persuade the mules, and we
64
This account was published in the July 1871 issue of the Atlantic Monthly (Vol. 28,
No. 165) as a letter to the magazine’s editor, James T. Fields. Given wide distribution
in Paul Jamieson’s Adirondack Reader, this fabricated account may be the origin of
the many later erroneous accounts of John Brown’s supposed Underground Railroad
activity in North Elba — not a whisper of which appeared in Dana’s original journal
account.
146
drove out of Westport in the afternoon of a very hot day and made
for the mountains. Our route lay through Pleasant Valley, along the
pretty Bouquet River, which flows from the mountains, winding
among graceful hills, into the lake. We baited at Elizabethtown, and
spent the night at Ford’s tavern, in the township of Keene, sleeping
on the floor, and finding that we were expected to wash in the river,
and were on our way again before sunrise. From Keene westward we
began to meet signs of frontier life, — log-cabins, little clearings,
bad roads overshadowed by forests, mountain torrents, and the
refreshing odor of balsam firs and hemlocks. The next morning we
stopped at a log-house to breakfast, and found a guide to take us
through the Indian Pass, and sent Tommy and his mules forward to
Osgood’s tavern; and, with no luggage but such as we could easily
carry on our backs, began our walk to Lake Sandford, Tahawus, and
the Adirondack Iron-Works.
The day was extremely hot; and as the distance was less than
twenty miles, we went on rather leisurely, stopping and wondering at
the noble expanse of mountain scenery. There was no foot-path, and
we went by blazed lines, over fallen timber, from stream to stream,
from hilltop to hilltop, through undergrowth and copse, treading on
moss and strewn leaves which masked roots of trees and loose stones
and other matter for stumbling, a laborious journey, but full of
interest from the objects near at hand, and made sublime by the sense
of the presence of those vast-stretching ranges of mountains. In the
afternoon we came into the Indian Pass. This is a ravine, or gorge,
formed by two close and parallel walls of nearly perpendicular cliffs,
of about thirteen hundred feet in height, and almost black in their
hue. Before I had seen the Yosemite Valley, these cliffs satisfied my
ideal of steep mountain trails. From the highest level of the Pass flow
two mountain torrents, in opposite directions, — one the source of
the Hudson, and so reaching the Atlantic; and the other the source of
the Au Sable, which runs into Lake Champlain and at last into the
Gulf of St. Lawrence, — but no larger when they begin, trickling
from the rocks, than streams from the nose of a teapot. The pines
growing in the high crevices look no bigger than pins, and in much
of this Pass there is only a narrow seam of sky right overhead.
Almost a wintry chill pervades the air, and we refreshed ourselves
with water dripping from out of ice-caverns, and walked over banks
of snow which lie here through the year, preserved by the exclusion
of the sun. Neither road nor footpath is practicable here, and the
scene is one of wild, silent, awful grandeur.
Coming out of the Pass, a few miles of rough walking on a
downward grade brought us again to small clearings, cuttings of
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wood piled up to be carried off when the snow should make sledding
over the stumps of trees practicable; and about sundown we straggled
into the little extemporized iron-workers’ village of Adirondack.
This was as wild a spot for a manufacturing village as can well
be imagined, — in the heart of the mountains, with a difficult
communication to the southward, and none at all in any other
direction, — a mere clearing in a forest that stretches into Canada. It
stood on a rapid stream which flows from Lake Henderson into Lake
Sandford, where it was hoped that the water power and the vicinity
of good ore would counter-balance the difficulties of transportation.
The works, which were called the Adirondack Iron-Works, were
begun and carried on with an enterprise and frugality that deserved
better luck than, I understand, befell them at last. There were no
attempts here at the taste or style the Boston capitalists had displayed
at Westport. All things had the nitor in adversum look. The agent
lived in a house where it was plain that one room served for parlor,
kitchen, and nursery. He was a hard-worked, sore-pressed man. A
chance to sleep on a floor in a house with ninety-six puddlers, with
Iiberty to wash in the stream, was as fair a result as we had a right to
expect in the one house into which strangers could be received. But
then we had the consolation that our landlord was a justice of the
peace, and wrote “esquire” after his name, and had actually married a
couple, it was hoped in due form, and was popularly supposed to be
able to fill out a writ, if the rough habits of the people should ever
call for so formal a process.
The three or four days we were here we gave to excursions up
and down Lake Sandford, to Newcomb’s farm, and Dan Gates’s
camp, and to the top of Tahawus. A small company of woods-men,
professional hunters and trappers, took us under their charge, — as
good a set of honest, decent, kind-hearted, sensible men as one could
expect to meet with, having, I thought, more propriety of talk and
manners, more enlargement of mind and general knowledge, than the
same number of common sailors taken equally at random would have
shown. There was Dan Gates and Tone Snyder — I suppose, in
abbreviation of Anthony or Antoine — and John Cheney and Jack
Wright, names redolent in memory of rifles and sable-traps, and
hemlock camps and deer, and trout and hard walks and good talks.
We rowed up Lake Sandford at dawn and back by moonlight,
visiting the Newcomb farm and drinking of the spring on the hill by
the side of Lake Delia, to which opinion had attached marvellous
restorative powers.
The scenery here is as different from that of the White
Mountains as if these were in a different hemisphere. Here the
148
mountains wave with woods, and are green with bushes to their
summits; torrents break down into the valleys on all sides; lakes of
various sizes and shapes glitter in the landscape, bordered by bending
woods whose roots strike through the waters. There is none of that
dreary, barren grandeur that marks the White Mountains, although
Tahawus, the highest, is about fifty-four hundred feet high, — only
some six hundred or seven hundred feet less than Mount
Washington. The Indian Pass frowns over one end of the lake, and
Tahawus and Mount McIntire tower on each side; and at nearly all
points on the lake were the most voluble echoes, which the shouts of
the boatmen awakened for us. The moon, the mountains, the lake, the
dipping oars, and the echoes made Lake Sandford a fascination in the
remembrance.
We spent two days and nights in the ascent of Tahawus and the
return, camping out under hemlock boughs, cooking our trout and
venison in the open air, and enjoying it all as I verily believe none
can so thoroughly as they who escape from city life. Some
sycophantic State surveyor had named this mountain Mount Marcy,
after the then leader of the political party in power; but a company of
travellers have chiseled the old Indian name into rocks at its summit,
and called upon all who follow them to aid in its preservation. The
woodsmen have taken it up, and I hope this king of the range may be
saved from the incongruous nomenclature that has got possession of
too large a part of this region. Sandford and McIntire and Marcy, the
names of local politicians, like bits of last year’s newspapers on the
bob of a kite, tied to these majestic, solemn mountains, “rock-ribbed
and ancient as the sun”! In the White Mountains I fear that too long a
prescription has settled down over those names which have not
unfairly subjected us to the charge of being without imagination or
fancy, — going to our almanacs and looking up lists of Presidents
and members of Congress and stump-speakers, as our only resource,
when put to it to find designations for the grandest objects in nature;
while in their speechless agony the mountains must endure the
ignominy, and all mankind must suffer the discord between the
emotions these scenes call up and the purely mundane and political
associations that belong to the names of Jefferson and Adams, Clay
and Monroe and Jackson.
I must pause a moment at Calamity Pond, for its story is too
deep in my memory to be passed by. Not long before our visit, Mr.
Henderson, one of the proprietors and managers of the iron-works, a
popular man in all this region, went up to the pond, which lies on the
way to the summit of Tahawus, to make arrangements for turning a
watercourse into the village. Sitting on a rock by the side of the pond,
149
he laid down his pistol; the hammer struck a trifle too hard upon the
rock, exploded the cap, and the ball went through his heart. He had
just time to send a word of farewell to his wife and children, when it
was all over. The sorrow-stricken company hastened to the village
with the sad tidings, and then a party of the best woodsmen — for
Henderson was beloved by them all — was organized and went to
the fatal spot. They made a rude bier and bore the body slowly down,
cutting a path through the woods as they went, to a spot near the
level, where they camped for the night, and where, the next day,
nearly the whole village came out to meet them. The sheet of water
has been called Calamity Pond, and the rock, Henderson’s Rock. As
we passed the site of the camp we saw the rude bier, — a vivid
reminder of the sad event; and as we stood by the pond the story was
told over with natural pathos, and — “What a place for a man to die
in, and without a moment’s warning!” said Dan Gates. “What a place
to build a camp in!” said another. Dan and Tone admitted it, and said
they all seemed to lose their wits. This was before our civil war had
made sudden deaths in all forms and in vast numbers so familiar.
The Opalescent, which comes down from Tahawus, is a
captivating mountain stream, with very irregular courses, often
broken by cascades and rapids, tumbling into deep basins, running
through steep gorges and from under overlying banks, always clear
and sparkling and cool. The last mile of the ascent was then —
doubtless the axe has been at work upon it since — a toilsome
struggle through a dense growth of scrub cedars and spruces, and it is
only the summit that is bare. With this and the summit of Mount
Washington, now probably but three or four days apart, the traveller
can get the two extreme opposites of North American mountain
scenery; the view from Mount Washington being a wild sea of bald
bare tops and sides, with but little wood or water, while that from
Tahawus is a limitless expanse of forest, with mountains green to
their tops, and all the landscape dotted and lined with the wide
mirrors of large lakes, glittering bits of small lakes, silver threads of
stream, and ribbons of waterfalls.
As we lay on the boughs, with the fire sparkling before us, a
good many stories were told, marvellous, funny, or pathetic, which
have long since floated off from their moorings in memory.
But it is time to take leave of our excellent friends, whose
companionship I shall never forget, and move on towards the
promised point of my journey.
We had sent back the guide, who had brought us through the
Indian Pass, for Mr. Aikens was a good woodsman, and had no doubt
he could take us back. About the middle of the day we bade good by
150
to Dan and John, and took our last look at the straggling, struggling
village, — in a few years, I believe, abandoned altogether, — and
went through the Pass and crossed the first branch of the Au Sable,
and ought to have crossed the second before five o’clock; but the sun
was far declined, it was getting to six o’clock and after, and yet no
river! Aikens became silent; but it was soon too evident that he had
lost the trail. We had been led off by a blazed line that went to sabletraps; and here we were, at nightfall, lost in a forest that stretched to
Canada, and, for aught I know to the contrary, to the Polar Circle,
with no food, no gun, blanket nor overcoats. Expecting to get
through in six hours, we had taken nothing with us. We consulted,
and determined to strike through the woods, steering by the sun —
for we had no compass — in the direction in which we thought the
river lay. Our course should be north; and we went on, keeping the
setting sun a little forward of our left shoulders, — or, as a sailor
would say, a little on the port bow, — and struggled over fallen
timber and through underbrush, and climbed hills and tried to get a
view of White Face, but to no purpose, and the darkness overtook us
in low ground, by the side of a small stream. We were very hungry,
very much fatigued, and not a little anxious; and the stories they had
told us at the village of parties lost in the forest, — one especially, of
three men who failed to come in and were searched for and found,
after several days, little better than skeletons and almost crazed, —
these recurred pretty vividly to our fancies. We drank at the stream,
and Aikens, never at a loss, cut a bit of shirt and bent a pin and
managed to catch one little trout in the twilight. He insisted on our
taking it all. He said he had got us into the trouble by his overconfidence; but we resisted. It was, to be sure, a question of a square
inch of trout more or less, for the fish was not more than four inches
long by one inch thick; yet it was a point of honor with Mr. Aikens,
so we yielded, and got one fair mouthful apiece. The place was low
and damp, and there was a light frost, and we passed a miserable
night, having no clothing but our shirts and trousers. The black-flies
were very active, and our faces and arms and necks were blotched
and pitted in the saddest fashion. It was with anxious eyes that we
watched the dawn; for if the day was clear, we could travel by the
sun until it got high, but if it was thick or foggy, we must stay still;
for every one used to the woods knows that one may go round and
round and make no progress, if he has no compass or point of sight.
The day did break clear; and, as soon as there was light enough,
Aikens groped about the skirts of the little opening, and made out
signs that a path had once come into it. He thought the brush grew
differently at one place from what it did elsewhere. Very well! We
151
gave ourselves up to him, and began another day’s struggle with
hillsides, swamps, and undergrowth, on very faint stomachs, but with
every show to each other of confidence and strength. In an hour or so
plainer signs of a path rewarded Aikens’s sagacity. I was glad for
him especially; for he was a good deal annoyed at the trouble we
were put to; and a better amateur, or a more intelligent and generous
fellow-traveller, we could not have desired. At last came some
welcome traces of domesticated animals, and then a trodden path,
and about noon we came out upon the road.
We were out, and the danger was over. But where were we? We
held a council, and agreed that we must have got far to the left, or
westward, of our place of destination, and must turn to the right. It
was of some consequence, for houses on this road were four to seven
miles apart. But the right was up hill, and a long steep hill it seemed.
Mr. Metcalf plunged down hill, in contempt of his and our united
grave conclusions, saying we did not know, and had better do what
was easiest. And well it was we did, for a near turn in the road
brought us in sight of a log-house and a half-cleared farm, while, had
we gone to the right, we should have found it seven miles to the
nearest dwelling.
Three more worn, wearied, hungry, black-fly-bitten travellers
seldom came to this humble, hospitable door. The people received us
with cheerful sympathy, and, while we lay down on the grass, under
the shadow of the house, where a smutch kept off the black-flies,
prepared something for our comfort. The master of the house had
gone down to the settlements, and was expected back before dark.
His wife was rather an invalid, and we did not see much of her at
first. There were a great many sons and daughters, — I never knew
how many: one a bonny, buxom young woman of some twenty
summers, with fair skin and red hair, whose name was Ruth, and
whose good-humor, hearty kindness, good sense and helpfulness
quite won our hearts. She would not let us eat much at a time, and cut
us resolutely off from the quantities of milk and cool water we were
disposed to drink, and persuaded us to wait until something could be
cooked for us, more safe and wholesome for faint stomachs; and we
were just weak enough to be submissive subjects to this backwoods
queen. A man came along in a wagon, and stopped to water his
horses, and they asked him if he had seen anything of Mr. Brown
below, — which it seemed was the name of the family. Yes; he had
seen him. He would be along in an hour or so. “He has two negroes
along with him,” said the man, in a confidential, significant tone, “a
man and a woman.” Ruth smiled, as if she understood him. Mr.
Aikens told us that the country about here belonged to Gerrit Smith;
152
that negro families, mostly fugitive slaves, were largely settled upon
it, trying to learn farming; and that this Mr. Brown was a strong
abolitionist and a kind of king among them. This neighborhood was
thought to be one of the termini of the Underground Railroad.
The farm was a more recent clearing. The stumps of trees stood
out, blackened by burning, and crops were growing among them, and
there was a plenty of felled timber. The dwelling was a small loghouse of one story in height, and the outbuildings were slight. The
whole had the air of a recent enterprise, on a moderate scale,
although there were a good many neat cattle and horses. The position
was a grand one for a lover of mountain effects; but how good for
farming I could not tell. Old White Face, the only exception to the
uniform green and brown and black hues of the Adirondack hills,
stood plain in view, rising at the head of Lake Placid, its white or
pale-gray side caused, we were told, by a land slide. All about were
the distant highest summits of the Adirondacks.
Late in the afternoon, a long buckboard wagon came in sight,
and on it were seated a negro man and woman, with bundles; while a
tall, gaunt, dark-complexioned man walked before, having his
theodolite and other surveyor’s instruments with him, while a youth
followed by the side of the wagon. The team turned in to the sheds,
and the man entered the house. This was “father.” The sons came out
and put up the cattle, and soon we were asked in to the meal. Mr.
Brown came forward and received us with kindness; a grave, serious
man he seemed, with a marked countenance and a natural dignity of
manner, — that dignity which is unconscious, and comes from a
superior habit of mind.
We were all ranged at a long table, some dozen of us more or
less; and these two negroes and one other had their places with us.
Mr. Brown said a solemn grace. I observed that he called the negroes
by their surnames, with the prefixes of Mr. and Mrs. The man was
“Mr. Jefferson,” and the woman “Mrs. Wait.” He introduced us to
them in due form, “Mr. Dana, Mr. Jefferson,” “Mr. Metcalf, Mrs.
Wait.” It was plain they had not been so treated or spoken to often
before, perhaps never until that day, for they had all the awkwardness
of field hands on a plantation; and what to do, on the introduction,
was quite beyond their experience. There was an unrestricted supply
of Ruth’s best bread, butter, and corn-cakes, and we had some meat
and tea, and a plenty of the best of milk.
We had some talk with Mr. Brown, who interested us very
much. He told us he came here from the western part of
Massachusetts. As some persons may distrust recollections, after
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very striking intervening events, I ask pardon for taking an extract
from a journal I was in the habit of keeping at those times: —
The place belonged to a man named Brown,
originally from Berkshire in Massachusetts, a thin,
sinewy, hard-favored, clear-headed, honest-minded
man, who had spent all his days as a frontier
farmer. On conversing with him, we found him
well informed on most subjects, especially in the
natural sciences. He had books, and had evidently
made diligent use of them. Having acquired some
property, he was able to keep a good farm, and had
confessedly the best cattle and best farming
utensils for miles round. His wife looked superior
to the poor place they lived in, which was a cabin,
with only four rooms. She appeared to be out of
health. He seemed to have an unlimited family of
children, from a cheerful, nice, healthy woman of
twenty or so, and a full-sized red-haired son, who
seemed to be foreman of the farm, through every
grade of boy and girl, to a couple that could hardly
speak plain.65
How all these, and we three and Mr. Jefferson and Mrs. Wait,
were to be lodged here, was a problem; but Aikens said he had seen
as much done before. However, we were not obliged to test the
expanding capacities of the house; for a man was going down to
Osgood’s, by whom we sent a message, and in an hour or two the
smiling face of Tommy appeared behind his mules, and we took
leave of our kind entertainers.
In these regions it is the custom for farmers to receive travelers;
and while they do not take out licences as innholders, or receive
strictly pay for what they furnish, they always accept something in
the way of remuneration from the traveller. When we attempted to
leave something with Ruth, which was intended to express our
gratitude and good-will, we found her inflexible. She would receive
the bare cost of what we had taken, if we wished it, but nothing for
attentions, or house-room, or as a gratuity. We had some five-dollar
bills and some bills of one dollar each. She took one of the one-dollar
bills and went up into the garret, and returned with some change! It
65
This extract, like the rest of the previous account of the Dana party’s visit to the
Brown house, came from an earlier encounter, on June 23, when the party first came to
North Elba before going to “Adirondack.” Dana did stop at the Browns after being
lost, on June 27.
154
was too piteous. We could not help smiling, and told her we should
feel guilty of highway robbery if we took her silver. She consented to
keep the dollar, for three of us, — one meal and some extra cooking
in the morning, — as we seemed to think that was right. It was plain
this family acted on a principle in the smallest matters. They knew
pretty well the cost price of the food they gave; and if the traveller
preferred to pay, they would receive that, but nothing more. There
was no shamefacedness about the money transaction either. It was
business or nothing; and if we preferred to make it business, it was to
be upon a rule.
After a day spent on Lake Placid, and in ascending White Face,
we returned to Osgood’s, and the next day we took the road in our
wagon on our return to Westport. We could not pass the Browns’
house without stopping. I find this entry in my journal: —
JUNE 29, FRIDAY. — After breakfast, started for
home. … We stopped at the Browns’ cabin on our
way, and took an affectionate leave of the family
that had shown us so much kindness. We found
them at breakfast, in the patriarchal style. Mr. and
Mrs. Brown and their large family of children with
the hired men and women, including three negroes,
all at the table together. Their meal was neat,
66
substantial, and wholesome.
How mysterious is the touch of Fate which gives a man
immortality on earth! It would have been past belief, had we been
told that this quiet frontier farmer, already at or beyond middle life,
with no noticeable past, would, within ten years, be the central figure
of a great and tragic scene, gazed upon with wonder, pity,
admiration, or execration by half a continent! That this man should
be thought to have imperilled the slave empire in America, and
added a new danger to the stability of the Union! That his almost
undistinguishable name of John Brown should be whispered among
four millions of slaves, and sung wherever the English tongue is
spoken, and incorporated into an anthem to whose solemn cadences
men should march to battle by the tens of thousands! That he should
have done something toward changing the face of civilization itself!
In 1859-60 my inveterate habit of overworking gave me, as you
know, a vacation and the advantage of a voyage round the world.
Somewhere at the antipodes I picked up, from time to time, in a
66
Slightly — and oddly — edited by Dana. See the original in Document Eight of this
anthology, “Adirondack Diary.”
155
disjointed way, out of chronological order, reports of the expedition
of one John Brown into Virginia, his execution, and the political
excitement attending it; but I learned little of much value. That was
the time when slavery ruled all. There was scarce an American
consul or political agent in any quarter of the globe, or on any island
of the seas, who was not a supporter of the slave power. I saw a large
portion of these national representatives in my circumnavigation of
the globe, and it was impossible to find at any office over which the
American flag waved a newspaper that was not in the interests of
slavery. No copy of the New York Tribune or Evening Post was
tolerated under an American official roof. Each embassy and
consulate, the world over, was a centre of influences for slavery and
against freedom. We ought to take this into account when we blame
foreign nations for not accepting at once the United States as an
antislavery power, bent on the destruction of slavery, as soon as our
civil war broke out. For twenty years foreign merchants, shipmasters,
or travellers had seen in American officials only trained and devoted
supporters of the slave power, and the only evidences of public
opinion at home to be found at those official seats, so much resorted
to and credited, were all of the same character. I returned home at the
height of the Lincoln campaign of 1860, on which followed
secession and war; and it was not until after the war, when reading
back into its history, that I met with those unsurpassed narratives, by
Mr. Wentworth Higginson and Mr. Wendell Phillips, of their visits to
the home of John Brown, about the time of his execution, full of
solemn touches, and marked by that restraint which good taste and
right feeling accept in the presence of a great subject, itself so
expressive of awe. Reading on, it went through me with a thrill, —
This is the man under whose roof I received shelter and kindness!
These were the mother and daughters and sons who have suffered or
shed their blood! This was the family whose artless heroism, whose
plain fidelity and fortitude, seem to have cast chivalry and romance
into the shade!
It is no uncommon thing to visit spots long hallowed by great
events or renowned persons. The course of emotions in such cases is
almost stereotyped. But this retroactive effect is something strange
and anomalous. It is one thing to go through a pass of fear, watching
your steps as you go, conscious of all its grandeur and peril, but quite
another sensation when a glare of light, thrown backwards, shows
you a fearful passage through which you have just gone with careless
steps and unheeding eyes. It seems as if those few days of ours in the
Adirondacks, in 1849, had been passed under a spell which held my
senses from knowing what we saw. All is now become a region of
156
peculiar sacredness. That plain, bare farm, amid the blackened
stumps, the attempts at scientific agriculture under such
disadvantages, the simple dwelling, the surveyor’s tools, the setting
of the little scene amid grand, awful mountain ranges, the negro
colony and inmates, the family bred to duty and principle, and held
to them by a power recognized as being from above, — all these now
come back on my memory with a character nowise changed, indeed,
in substance, but, as it were, illuminated. The widow bearing
homeward the body from the Virginia scaffold, with the small
company of stranger friends, crossed the lake, as we had done, to
Westport; and thence, along that mountain road, but in mid-winter, to
Elizabethtown; and thence, the next day, to the door of that
dwelling.67 The scene is often visited now by sympathy or curiosity,
no doubt, and master pens have made it one of the most marked in
our recent history.
In this narrative I have endeavored, my dear friend, to guard
against the influence of intervening events, and to give all things I
saw in the natural, transient way in which they struck me at the time.
That is its only value. It is not owing to subsequent events, that John
Brown and his family are so impressed on my mind. The impression
was made at the time. The short extract from a journal which set
down but little, and nothing that was not of a marked character, will,
I trust, satisfy the most incredulous that I am not beating up memory
for impressions. I have tried to recollect something more of John
Brown’s conversation, but in vain, nor can either of my companions
help me in that. We cannot recollect that slavery was talked of at all.
It seems strange it should not have been, as were Free-Soilers, and I
had been to the Buffalo Convention the year before; but perhaps the
presence of the negroes may have restrained us, as we did not see the
master of the house alone. I notice that my journal speaks of him as
“originally from Berkshire, Massachusetts.” In examining his
biography I think this must have been from his telling us that he had
come from the Western part of Massachusetts, when he found that
we were Massachusetts men. I see no proof of his having lived in any
other part of Massachusetts than Springfield. My journal speaks of
the house as a “log-cabin.” I observe that Mr. Higginson and some of
the biographers describe it as a frame building. Mr. Brown had been
but a few months on the place when we were there, and he may have
put up a frame house afterwards; or it is quite as likely that I was not
67
Dana does not appear to be aware that the Browns lived on a different farm in 1849,
at the time of his visit, than the one from which John Brown left for Harper’s Ferry in
1859. It was the 1859 farm which was ever after known as John Brown’s Farm, and
which is today a state historic site.
157
careful to note the difference, and got that impression from its small
size and plain surroundings.68
Nearly all that the writers in December, 1859, have described
lies clear in my memory. There can have been little change there in
ten years. Ruth had become the wife of Henry Thompson, whose
brother was killed at Harper’s Ferry; and the son I speak of as
apparently the foreman of the farm was probably Owen, who was
with his father at Ossawatomie and Harpers Ferry, and escaped.
Frederick, who was killed at Ossawatomie, in 1856, was probably the
lad whom we saw coming home with his father, bringing the negroes
on the wagon. Among the small boys, playing and working about the
house, were Watson and Oliver, who were killed at Harper’s Ferry. I
do not recollect seeing — perhaps it was not there then — the
gravestone of his grandfather of the Revolutionary Army, which
John Brown is said to have taken from Connecticut and placed
against the side of the house; nor can I recall I the great rock, near
the door, by the side of which lies his body,
“mouldering in the ground,
While his soul is marching on.”69
What judgment soever political loyalty, social ethics, or military
strategy may pronounce upon his expedition into Virginia, old John
Brown has a grasp on the moral world.
68
First, Dana’s journal refers to the Brown’s first home in North Elba only as a
“cabin,” not a “log-cabin.” Census records show that it was a frame house. That does
not mean, however, that it was not a “cabin,” whose literal definition is “a small onestory dwelling of simple construction.”
Second, the house at John Brown’s Farm, where the radical abolitionist was
buried, was a 1½-story frame house, built by Brown’s son-in-law Henry Thompson,
who married Ruth Brown in 1850. The Browns left North Elba in 1851 for Ohio.
When they returned in June 1855, it was the new frame house into which they moved.
69
The gravestone was brought in 1858 to the second John Brown farm, where the
great glacial boulder stands upon which was later carved John Brown’s name and the
year 1859.
158
DOCUMENT TEN
The Adirondack Woods & Waters:
70
A Forest Story (early 1850s)
T. ADDISON RICHARDS
As our path led us at once into the heart of the thick forest we
soon lost sight of our worthy guide of the Saranac; after we had
bidden him good-by at the end of our memorable voyage through the
placid lakes and lakelets of that charming portion of the great wildwoods of Northern New York.
The summer was not yet quite gone, and a fair opportunity
seemed to be before us to explore — as we had often wished to do —
those regions of the wilderness more especially known as the
Adirondacks, though that ancient name is often given to the whole
country around.
With the help of our late experience, and such good counsel as
we had received in parting from Tahawus,71 we hoped to make our
way thither with safety and dispatch. Following our chart carefully
we should reach a clearing or cabin each night of the journey, and at
the worst the alternative of trusting to the open sky for shelter was
not very terrible, bold mountaineers as we thought we had grown to
be. So we gaily re-adjusted our knapsacks, looked again to see that
our rifles were ready for service, and confidently struck into the trail
which was to conduct us to the hunting-lodge marked out for our first
night’s halt.
The path, though it might have been quite imperceptible to the
unhabituated eye, was, to our now sharpened sight, so legible that we
were able to follow it with a degree of ease which left our thoughts
free to pursue other themes. They naturally ran back, after the fading
of the first vivid impressions of our novel position in the woods
alone, to our late worthy guides and all the rude friends we had found
in our rambles and adventures among the wilds of the Saranacs. We
recalled the simple histories of their unsophisticated lives,
philosophized upon the varying temper of their natures, all so
70
Published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. XIX, Issue 112 (September
1859), pages 454-466. Though Richards’ story was not published until a year after the
McIntyre iron works had been closed, our editor dates Richards’ actual visit to
Adirondac between 1847 (when the Lower Works were started), and 1856 (when a
flood washed out the Lower Works dam that made slack-water navigation possible).
71
Tahawus is the name of one of the guides Richards encounters in the earlier episode
of this serialized account of his adventures in the North Country. Tahawus and Jim
Wescott were guides hired by Richards when he visited the Saranac lakes.
159
undisguised, in the open, frank atmosphere of the mountain solitudes,
and wondered whether they lost or won in the social refinements, the
mental enrichments, and the thousand pleasures, so called, of more
busy life, which they missed; or the hardy, healthful, simple, and
truthful enjoyments which they possessed.
What, we asked each other, has been the influence of their way
of life upon their character, and what its measure of happiness in
comparison with what it might have been under other circumstances?
We remembered our active and resolute friend Corey, returning
home from the successful toils of the chase with the smiles and
words of health and pleasure on his lips to the humble roof whose
simple wants his genial labor was quite sufficient to supply. And
then we thought of him in the busy haunts of men, painfully wearing
away body and soul together in the struggle for wealth or for fame he
might never reach, or reaching, fail to enjoy, or ever fear to lose. We
imagined our contented, careless, jolly, fiddling companion Wescott,
the brawling soul of a rowdy city conclave, instead of the good
Orpheus of a sober forest camp, angrily pitching into his fellows
whom he hated, instead of regretfully into bears and panthers whom
he respects. And last, and more than all, we spoke of Tahawus our
mercurial guide, and of the sweet, even if sometimes sad, measure to
which the gentle music of the woods had attuned a nature which
early disappointment might, under other influences, have soured into
unloving and hateful misanthropy; and whatever might be the
fortunes his scornful Polly Ann had met, we felt sure that her days
could not be passing more happily than his own.
Thus in pleasant talk, alternated ever with the delight of the
forest attractions and incidents continually recurring, the little labors
of the way, the sudden flight of the wild bird, the passage of a deer or
a new charm in the landscape, the day waned as we descried the
smoke curling up from the hearth of the hunter whose hospitality we
were to seek for the night. So closely had we followed the capricious
trail, without one careless or ignorant divergence, that we grew quite
vain of our sylvan lore, and began to imagine ourselves veritable
Iroquois of days gone by. We tried our voices even at a war-whoop,
and as we came out upon our woodman’s clearing, emphasized into a
small example of a war-dance, which, if translated, would certainly
prove a fortune to Cerito.72
We again took up our march at the next peep o’ day; for though
the weather was dark and threatening, we trusted to the sun’s return
in good time. A feeble gleam now and then sustained our faith, and
72
A famed ballerina of the mid-nineteenth century.
160
with fresh instructions and cautions from our good host, and a new
supply of provisions, we struck into the sombre forest, cheering our
hearts with the melody of “A life in the woods for me!” Alas! The
day’s misadventures very nearly ended in a “death in the woods” for
both; but I must not anticipate.
Indications of foul weather thickened as we advanced, and we
had not got very far before it became evident that the day was to be
devoted to storm. But assured of the safety of our India-rubber
knapsacks, and of our well-cased rifles, we could not consent to turn
back, our new hunter vanity forbade; there was, besides, a strange
fascination for us in the thickening darkness and the sad voices of the
dense woods as the clouds gathered in sombre masses over our
heads, and the winds swelled from plaintive murmurs into wailings
loud and deep. We watched in silence, with keen vision and quick
hearts, this stern and solemn aspect of the wilderness, until the
blinding rain left us enough to do to note our fickle path and guard
our stumbling steps. Our thoughts, too, were brought back to earth
again by the sudden absconding of my companion’s hat in the height
of an angry gust.
“Hold on to the trail, my boy!” he cried, flying with flying locks
in pursuit. “This,” said he, as he returned, “would be a surfeiter even
to Lord Bacon, who, you know, is said to have delighted in baring
his head to the fresh rain.”
Soon after he fell over a prostrate tree, and had scarcely picked
himself up when his foot slipped, and he half disappeared in one of
the deep holes with which the way was lined. This last mishap he
considered to have initiated him into the joke of the hour (by no
means a dry one), to the heroic point of “a heart and boots for any
fate!”
We were both very soon so thoroughly saturated that we trudged
on through mire and bog with increasing independence, not pausing
even when the way led through the treacherous depths of a beaver
meadow. At last the wind and rain became so furiously blinding that
we continually missed the way, and, finally, the alarming fact burst
upon our consciousness that we had lost it altogether. After a little
vain search we sat us down, soaked as we were, to hold a council of
travel, soon rising again to act upon our determination to seek the
trail each in his own way. This resort only increased our trouble; for
though the calls which we had agreed to exchange at intervals were
duly answered for a long while, there at last came a moment when
my loudest shout won no response. Though I cried till I was hoarse
the woods only gave echo. I prepared to discharge my rifle, when, to
my treble alarm, I saw that there was no help there, as the casing had
161
been disturbed, and it was as wet as myself. As I stood, in hesitation
which way to turn, there came the joyful report of my friend’s gun;
and pushing on, heedless of all obstructions, we were soon once
more in reach of each other’s voices. When we met again we
resolved henceforth to make the search together. But so vain were all
our efforts that we found the night to be rapidly approaching before
we had discovered, even with the aid of our compass, the least clew
to the lost trail. We had come, as the darkness made further advance
impracticable, to the rocky shores of a little lake, of which we had no
recollection of having before heard.
Here we resolved to pass the night as joyously as the
unpropitious circumstances would permit. When we had looked at all
points of the case, the remembrance that our provisions of the
morning were gone and the prospect of more but very slight
included, we thought with a sigh of Tahawus, and restored to the
profession of guide that character of dignity, as an “institution,”
which we had been disposed to deny it only the day before.
Near the lake we found a very young fawn which, from some
accident, perhaps the fall of a tree, was too much disabled to walk.
To our surprise the poor thing crept toward us, evidently inclined, in
its extremity, to throw itself upon our mercy. She seemed to take
gracefully to our caresses, and to us she was as welcome as his man
Friday to Robinson Crusoe — so welcome that when the hours sped
on, and we were still supperless, we mutually shook our heads, to
mutual but unspoken thought.
“Not to-night!” said my companion, patting poor Fan’s head as
she lay at our feet, “or to-morrow, or next day.”
W
et as we were, we did not venture to sit down for many
minutes at a time, especially as we found it difficult in
the darkness and rain to find fuel or to burn it when
found. No new disaster befell us in the still watches, yet
the long night did not pass so gaily, even with the best face we could
put upon the matter, as to make the dawn, which came at last, other
than a most welcome sight to us.
The rain had ceased, but the new day as yet brought no bright
sunshine to cheer our drooping spirits. Our first care was to take
“Fan” down to the lake, where she could regale herself upon the lilies
which grew near its banks, and where we might try our chance for
breakfast among the trout, if any there were. Very soon, to our
delight, a fine fellow swung on each of our lines, and others followed
until we had caught a mess even for a hungrier couple than ourselves.
Fan, too, seemed to be getting on marvelously among her lily-pads,
162
and in due time we were all in better mood to consider our future
steps. We determined, after due cogitation, to try our luck on the
other side of the lake, and had already set out — Fan, who was now
in better condition, voluntarily following — when our steps were
suddenly arrested by the most unexpected report of a gun.
So great was our joy at this hope of relief that it was some
moments before we bethought us to shout in reply, which we did at
last with all our lungs. Soon there came back cheers in answer again,
voices which seemed to our eager ears not at all unfamiliar. We
turned back in haste to meet our approaching friends, when, to our
equal astonishment and delight, we found them to be none other than
our late guides Tahawus and his crony Wescott, with whom we had
parted two days before at the end of our journey of the Saranac.
“Ha, ha! lost are we!” laughed Tahawus, our first greeting over,
“just as I and Wescott agreed you’d be!”
“And so you came to keep watch over us?” we inquired.
“Well, you see we kind o’ missed you, and when the storm came
along we thought that you might git into trouble, seeing that the trail
ain’t any too plain at the best of times; and so Wescott and me
agreed, as we hadn’t much of any thing to do, just to step round and
see how matters were a-going.”
“And as lucky an idea for us as it was kind in you,” said we,
again shaking hands jollily all round. “But how did you happen to
find us, and so soon too?”
“Well, when we seed what the weather was a-going to be, we
started off, and it didn’t take us long to get to the clearing where you
stopped the first day; so we put out again and got to Brown’s last
night, and as it was rather late and you hadn’t come up, we knowed
that you must have missed your way, and staid out in the woods; so
we rested a spell to see if you might be along after all, and then set
out again.”
“And so you have been in the woods all night after your double
tramp of yesterday!” said we, again shaking hands.
“That ain’t much for us,” replied Tahawus; “but we might all
have slept soundly at Brown’s if we had only looked for you in the
right place. We ain’t more than two miles off now, and I guess you’d
better go right over there and rest a bit.”
“And then,” added Wescott, “we can all start off again in good
trim; for you see Tahawus and me ain’t been to the Adirondacks for a
great while, and we rather think we should like to take another look
at ’em.”
This unexpected promise of the pleasant company of our old
friends throughout the rest of our wanderings completed our
163
satisfaction, and the two miles to our lost cabin were speedily and
happily trudged — Fan, who had been duly introduced to the newcomers, seeming as contented as the rest.
We did not leave Brown’s until the following morning, as it was
a whole day’s walk to the next cabin. By that time the sun had
reappeared and the way was reasonably dry again. But whatever its
difficulties might have been, they would all have been easily met in
the pleasure and security of the company of our old associates.
Without pausing to relate the various incidents of our long
march through the woods, I will hasten on to the hour of its close, in
our approach to the vicinage of the Adirondack waters. It was now
evening, and we were to reach the Lower Works of the Iron
Company on Lake Sanford for the night. Recalling the perils through
which we had just passed, we were speaking of the lucky second
sober thought, to stay at home, of certain friends of ours, ladies
among them, who had once threatened to follow us to the wilderness.
“Such a life,” said we, in conclusion, “is not exactly the thing for
women.”
“Stuff!” interrupted Tahawus. “They come here safely enough
sometimes, and I often wonder we don’t see many more of them. If
they take care of themselves and don’t lose the trail they get along
well enough. And it’s just the sort of thing they’d like, if they only
knew it; for the women has got more grit than the men, after all,
when you put them to their trumps.”
“And by the Commodore,” cried Wescott, “some of ’em seem to
think so, for yonder’s a camp and I thought I heerd a woman’s
rattle!”
We listened, and Tahawus’s quick hearing confirmed that of his
friend. By-and-by the sounds of merry laughter were audible to all.
Sure enough, thought we, as our party drew near to the camp, our
journey does not lack adventure; for who should the gypsies be but
the very group of which we had just then been speaking, as recreant
to their boasts. If the meeting was a surprise to us, it was a still
greater one to them, even though they knew us to be somewhere in
the region.
Their party consisted of three ladies and their maid, and three
gentlemen, besides two guides. They had come up from Lake
George, by Schroon, in wagons, bringing with them tents and all
other appliances of wood-life. When we met them they were
encamped for the night, their teams being close by the road which we
had now reached. It took us a very long while that merry evening to
exchange congratulations and compare notes — so long that we quite
forgot the Lower Works whither we were bound, and established
164
ourselves for the rest of the night in the wagons of our friends
instead. The ladies themselves took charge of our protégé, poor Fan,
whom they made if possible more welcome than ourselves. The little
creature had not quite recovered from her lameness, and we had
often found it necessary to carry her. We were not sorry to get her
into more comfortable quarters.
The addition to our quiet duet, first of our two Saranac friends,
and now of the long train of the new party — for it had been at once
arranged that we should unite our forces — put a very different
complexion upon our Adirondack visit; a complexion of charming
promise which after-events entirely fulfilled.
In all this rugged portion of New York iron deposits are to be
found, and the abundance and richness of the ores through the
Adirondack hills, especially so called, led long ago to the
establishment of very extensive “works” in their midst. These works
now form, with the shops and the dwellings of the operatives, quite a
busy little settlement, nestled in the brief interval between the two
most attractive lakes, Sanford and Henderson, and conveniently near
to the other chief scenes of interest in wood and water. Being thus
pictorially centred, the Iron Works make a very acceptable headquarters for the tourist, and relieve him from the necessity of living
in camp; though in pleasant weather, at least, he may find that mode
of life more comfortable, as he certainly will on occasions find it
more independent and convenient. Sometimes his excursions might
be very agreeably more than the day in length, and then he could
pitch his tent where he could not find a house or cabin.
Through all the rest of our mountain tramp the weather was
especially amiable, and our party continued their camp life without
interruption; Tahawus and Wescott readily improvising the
additional nomadic accommodation which our own accession to the
troupe required.
It was duly arranged that the next day should be devoted to the
little voyage of Lake Sanford, and that in the evening we should fix
our camp, sine die, in the neighborhood of the village.
While the wagons were sent round by the road, we were
fortunate enough to secure the service of a noble twelve-oared
pleasure-boat belonging to the Iron Company.
A pleasant day it was in the genial sunshine of dawning autumn,
and in the happy temper of our own hearts. Now the pickerel, for
which the ladies trolled as we sailed along, were merrily pulled into
the boat; and now our oarsmen rested while we enjoyed at leisure
some new passage of delight in the landscape. Here were grand
catacombs of huge skeleton trees which had been killed — as much
165
of the growth on the banks of these lakes has been — by the
overflows of the water. Weird and wild were these desolate scenes,
down among the forest dead men. It was grateful always to turn from
these gloomy recesses to the bright, verdant, sun-lit hill-tops, chief
among them the bold crown of Echo Mountain, and the grander cliffs
of the great Indian Pass. On our way we landed and made an
excursion of two or three miles to the clearing of Newcombe Farm,
which commands a wide and noble view of the chief mountain
summits in the Adirondack group. Among the rocks in Lake Sanford
there is an odd formation called Napoleon’s Cap, from its striking
likeness to the immortal chapeau of that famous hero. The cap seems
to have dropped overboard and to be floating quietly on the water.
Lake Henderson, near the village on the opposite side, was the
scene of our next visit, and that to which we most often returned;
more for the superior beauty of its pictures than from the close
vicinage of our camp. Here we missed the Company’s “omnibus” in
which we had navigated Lake Sanford, and we were compelled to go
out in detachments in such crazy craft as sufficed for the wants of the
fishermen.
The mountain glimpses from this little lake — it is only two
miles in length — are of great beauty and variety. At one point
Mount Colden leads the scene in bold display; at another, Mount
M’Intyre, and the omnipresent walls of the Great Pass continually
arrest and charm the eye.
Henderson is the home of the trout, which made no little part of
its merit in the estimation of the ladies of our party, as it gave them
fine opportunity for the cultivation of their skill with the angle. Their
ventures were a little discouraged at the start by a contretemps which
sent Marianna, the maid, unwillingly overboard in the deepest part of
the deep waters. Happily our trusty guide, Tahawus, was pulling by
at this moment, and the fair diver was very promptly fished up and
safely placed in his skiff. As she herself seemed to consider the
incident as nothing more than a joke, rather pleasant than otherwise,
so in this light it was agreed to accept it. To me it was somehow a
reminder of the very cordial acquaintance which I had before
observed to be growing up between Marianna and our gallant
forester; and I could not resist the temptation to whisper his memory
back to the insurance I had once given him on our preceding journey,
of the existence in the world of more Polly Anns than his first
faithless love. The ladies, too, bit at my view of the subject quicker
than the trout at their hooks, when I confided to them all I had
learned of the personal history of our worthy friend; and they had
discovered, as they imagined, some similitude between the story and
166
the few facts which they knew of Marianna’s own earlier life. The
incident and its suggestion were, however, soon forgotten in the
crowding impressions of our following adventures and experiences.
One of our many excursions was to the desolate shore of
Avalanche Lake, lying at the foot of Mount Colden. Some years ago
a great landslide happened on the mountain-side, and the débris, in
jagged masses of rocks and earth and tree, still chokes up the waters.
It was this occurrence which gave name to the lake.
At another time, and in another direction, we visited the Preston
Ponds, where the people of the Iron-Works often go to take the trout,
which are to be found in remunerating supply. It was here too that
our friends, Tahawus and Wescott, had the luck to gratify the wish of
the ladies to assist at a deer-hunt. Spot and Jack had accompanied
them — as I may not have before mentioned — when they followed
us to the Adirondacks. Long held in leash, the poor fellows were
overjoyed at the prospect of a little sport, and they bounded away
with a will when at last set free.
The deer is not quite so easily found here as among the Saranac
waters, and for a long while we waited, uncertain of our fortunes; but
at last the cries of the hounds came across the lake, and soon after
our eager eyes were blessed with the brave sight of a gallant buck,
standing with his antlered head erect, in momentary irresolution,
upon a tall cliff on the opposite shore. “How quick bright things
come to confusion!”73 we thought with the poet, as this stirring
picture vanished almost before ’twas looked upon, and the panting
animal was battling with the waters, the hounds still in hot pursuit.
Tahawus, accompanied by Marianna, the only one of our fair friends
who would venture to play Lady of the Lake, in his dangerous skiff,
was on the watch; and at this instant, passing the paddle over to his
companion — who certainly proved herself worthy of the trust — he
lifted his rifle, wounding but not killing his game. There was a
second gun in the boat, which Marianna herself instantly seized, and,
before her hand could be stayed, leveled at the struggling deer,
sending with the discharge the coup de grace, which gave her, and
not our famous guide, the laurels of the day. How it so happened she
could not tell, for she had acted, she said, from an unconquerable
impulse in the intense excitement of the moment. No one excepting
herself was more astonished than Tahawus, and no one surpassed
him in loud and hearty plaudits. As he lifted her from the boat when
they touched the shore I saw significant glances passing between the
observant ladies, which I could not fail to interpret aright; and by73
Paraphrase of Lysander, speaking in Act I, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream.
167
and-by, when I found myself alone with my heroine for a moment,
while on our homeward march, I took the opportunity to renew my
compliments upon her prowess, saying that she deserved to have
been born in the woods.
“Indeed,” she replied, “I was born in the woods!”
“Indeed!” said I; “and perhaps you would not be unwilling to
return — ”
“Certainly not, if you think it best!” she interrupted quickly, and
at the same instant facing right about to rejoin the rest of the group a
few steps in the rear.
After the preparatory tramps which I have recorded, and of
others unwritten, the ladies felt sufficient confidence in their powers
of endurance to venture upon the supreme exploit of our Adirondack
travel — the ascent of Mount Tahawus, or Mount Marcy, as it is
otherwise called, to the exceeding indignation of our guide, which
had won for him his aboriginal sobriquet. Besides, after the bold feat
of Marianna at the hunt of the Preston Ponds, it was undisputed that
she could do any thing, and the others, of course, could not do less;
so it was all arranged, the rugged climb up to the frowning summit of
Tahawus; the excursion to occupy two days in the going and the
returning, with a night in the woods in between. We took with us the
lightest of the tents for the feminine accommodation, and such
kitchen apparatus only as was indispensable to tea and trout. Thus
lightly burdened and securely “guided” as we were, several of the
most famous hunters of the Adirondacks having joined our party for
the occasion, we hoped to make the journey without mishap or overfatigue. Vain imagination, as the sequel showed. To be sure, no grave
accident befell, but oh those weary, weary, immeasurable miles, over
the rude rocks and the treacherous bridges of the mountain torrents!
up and down and around and among the crags and the chasms of the
pathless forest; and how much real earnestness in the light words of
my merry companion:
“Ah! who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where Mount Tahawus seeks the skies!”
We had been cautioned against any unnecessary exertion,
especially at the start; but some of the gentlemen, dreaming that their
strength was inexhaustible, spent it prodigally in every frolicsome
feat which the changing way and their exuberant spirits invited. The
ladies, more provident, remembered the toils beyond, and in the end
established their claim to the compliment which Tahawus had paid to
the “grit” of their sex on the eve of our first meeting with them in the
168
woods. Nevertheless, even they were so well contented with the
length and labor of the walk that, when we at last reached the crown
of the mountain, Marianna herself, who was our standard-bearer,
solemnly declared that she would not make the ascent again if the
Queen of Sheba were coming up on the other side to meet her.
As the gentlemen thus found it impossible to fatigue the ladies,
they did their best to frighten them. Our grave guides, even,
ransacked their memories and their fancies for doleful incident and
alarming suggestion at every dark and unpropitious passage of the
way. One shuddered to remember the fearful snow-storm which had
overtaken him, at this very spot, at this very season, and after just
such weather as the present; and how his strength failed him as day
after day wore one, so that he was about to give up in his struggle
with a hungry bear, at the very instant that help reached him in the
appearance of a party of fearing and anxious friends. Another had
been only the year before overtaken on the mountain top by a terrible
flood, which so filled the brook — through whose usually shallow
bed much of the only practicable way is found — with rushing
waters that he found it impossible thus to descend, and seeking
another and new route, was lost so long in the wilderness that even
his dogs failed to recognize him when he was at last found. A third
had been stealthily followed by wolves for many long miles, when,
his ammunition being exhausted, he had no means whatever of
defense. A fourth had awakened to find himself literally surrounded
by rattlesnakes. A fifth recalled his narrow escape from a bloody
encounter with a panther; and a sixth turned pale at the bare
recollection of a scene with the details of which nothing could
persuade him then and there to harrow up their souls.
After these lugubrious disheartening yarns, told by the daylight
and by the darkness, our heroines would listen to the songs of the
birds in the rustling tree tops — look down upon the gentle moss and
the smiling flowers — out upon the interminable vistas of valley and
hill, or up to the soft, sunny skies above them, and laugh with
provoking incredulity, while Marianna would wave her banner and
say, “Pooh!”
An odd mixture of memories it must be, the recall of the
contrasting incidents and impressions of that adventurous journey;
the gay jest and the grave toil, the often ludicrous appearance of the
travelers, and the ever sublime aspect of nature, the omnipotent sun
lifting with invisible hand the ocean of vapor and cloud from the
interminable forests, and the countless mountain crests, and the
grotesque confusion of our camp ménage.
169
After three nights, instead of one, in the woods — for we took
our time, as all mountain travelers should do, opportunity and
weather permitting — we again reached the Iron-Works, and made
preparations for the next and last of our Adirondack explorations —
that of the Great Indian Pass. After Mount Marcy, or Tahawus, this is
the most famous scene in all the region. It is a wild gorge,
precipitously walled at one point by the colossal cliffs which so
continually dignify the landscape around. By-and-by, when the
engineer shall have tamed its rough nature by path and road, it will
be a ready route eastward to Lake Champlain. Then, too, the traveler
may be able to see the wonders which now, in the denseness of the
forest, he can only infer. It is on the heights of this pass that the brave
Ausable begins the race which we saw so madly urged through the
great “Walled Banks,”74 near Keeseville, on our preceding journey to
the Saranac. Other sparkling waters are here, too, worthy daughters
of the woods.
As we came out upon their grand shadows, yet silent and dark as
when they fell upon the red man’s camp, it was a strange
remembrance that we were so near, and should so soon again be in
the midst of a life where all these mysteries are only myths.
In the morning our bright camp-fire would smoulder to be
relighted no more, and we should bear to our city homes only dreams
of the wilderness. I strolled off in the moonlight to seek Tahawus,
that I might say to him some kinder words of farewell than would
befit a laughing throng. I found him at last, but not alone, for
Marianna was by his side, and both were speaking earnestly. I
became aware of my intrusion too late; for almost before I observed
them they stepped forward to greet me.
“I have been seeking Tahawus,” said I, “for some parting gossip
before he goes back to the woods.”
“But he is not going back,” said Marianna, with a glance halfbashfulness half-coquetry; “at least, not now. He is going with us to
the city, and then — ”
“And then?” I interrupted, curiously.
“Then,” she added, boldly, “I shall return with him!”
“Ha! ha!” I laughed, as I whispered in our brave guide’s ear —
“So we’ve found another Polly Ann!”
“No, he hasn’t!” cried Marianna, her quick ear catching or
divining my malicious words.
“No?”
74
Au Sable Chasm.
170
“No!” she replied, with emphasis. “It is the same old, long-lost
Polly Ann!” And with a mingled laugh and cry she threw her arms —
But perhaps I am staying a little too long, and had better be
returning to my deserted friends at the camp.
Whether or not Tahawus and his re-won Polly Ann ever returned
to the wilderness I am quite unable to say. But I am very sure that all
who follow us there will find men and women quite as worthy of
their esteem and interest.
171
DOCUMENT ELEVEN
A Week in the Wilderness (1855)
75
HENRY JARVIS RAYMOND
The Route to the Adirondack Iron Works
… The next day we held a grand council of war as to our future
movements. There was a general desire to visit the Adirondack Iron
Works and Mines, — in themselves known to be well worth seeing,
and being an important feature of this region in connection with the
Railroad. They were represented to be about thirty-five miles
northeast of the Raquette Lake, — they proved to be fifty, — and
could be reached by a very tolerable road. But some of our party had
been there once, — others were fatigued, — it threatened rain, and so
it was finally determined that part of the Company would remain at
the Raquette and await the return of those who chose to go. Five of
the party therefore, besides myself, started under the guidance of
SPOFFORD and NEWELL, for Adirondack. We embarked in boats for
the outlet of the Raquette, seven miles off, which we reached at 1
o’clock. Here we found, in a log camp built by the railroad engineers,
eight or ten horses that had been sent in for our party from Lowville.
Only half the camp was roofed, and under that half we crowded
together for a hasty lunch and shelter from the rain. The horses
occupied the other half and kicked as little as could be expected,
considering the fire we kept up in their rear, for our culinary
purposes. Our dining hall was airy, though somewhat damp; the rain
on the roof gave us music, rich in staccato passages; the rumble of
thunder saluted us semi-occasionally, and the fumes of our banquet
were lavishly varied by odors equine rather than floral, in their
general flavor. By the time we had done eating it had just begun to
rain; — that is, it had just got the hang of it so as to come down with
perfect ease, and in a style that promised no abatement.
75
This document contains portions of two serial essays published on the New York
Times’ Page Two travel column. The first appeared in the June 26, 1855 issue; the
second, in the July 7 issue. The author, Henry Jarvis Raymond, is identified by his
initials, “H.J.R.” Raymond, founding editor of the New York Times, was also
lieutenant governor of New York at the time this series was written. The essays were
part of a four-part series describing an exploratory survey undertaken by the directors
of a projected railroad whose route went through the heart of the Adirondacks from
Saratoga Springs to Sackett’s Harbor; Raymond covered the survey as a journalist.
The expedition occurred in late May and early June 1855. During this time, the
Adirondack Iron Works was briefly under the management of a new company, Stanton
& Wilcox, whose site superintendent was a Mr. Curtis.
172
But we were not to be balked. Four of us mounted our horses
and the rest embarked in a lumber wagon. A mile brought us to a
handsome tent, pitched at the outlet of the lake, shut against the rain,
covering a couple of mattresses stretched upon the ground, with
books, music, candles, fishing rods, and various concomitants duly
disposed about the room. Two or three rods off was a bark hut used
as the kitchen of the establishment. It was the fishing camp of a
couple of sportsmen, Mr. GEO. E. WARREN, of Troy, and Mr.
GIBSON, of New-York, who soon came in from the lake with a
magnificent string of trout, which they generously gave us as
provisions for our trip. They had been there a fortnight, fishing, for
health and recreation.
It was 2 o’clock when we got fairly under way. We were now
upon the State Road — a road laid out some years since by order of
the State, from Crown Point on Lake Champlain, to Carthage on the
western border of the wilderness, and upon which large sums have
been ostensibly expended from year to year. It seems to have been
laid out at random, with very little care, and still less skill; and
although the trees have been cut away, the stumps taken out, and log
bridges laid across streams and moist places, it is barely passable for
lumber wagons, and stands sadly in need of repair. The road is used
exclusively by teamsters and persons taking in provisions. Money is
appropriated by the Legislature for its improvement almost every
year, but I suspect it is not very conscientiously expended in working
the road. Personal inspection, I imagine, is not often exercised by the
disbursing officers, as a guarantee that the work paid for has been
actually done.
We pushed along slowly — taking a route parallel first to
Forked Lake, and then to Long Lake, which we followed up for
nearly half its length. The country was of the same general character
as that before traversed, — the forests were as dense, the timber as
large, water as abundant and as pure, the soil the same sandy loam,
and the surface just about as rolling as those we had seen before
reaching Raquette Lake. As we advanced we saw more maple and
beech, and, after about twelve miles, we came upon more frequent
and larger clearings. From that time forward, we might claim to have
been in a comparatively civilized region. Neighbors were only four
or five miles apart. We saw fine meadows, — promising fields of
oats sown and growing finely among the stumps where the land had
just been burned over, — and potatoes planted in the mellow soil
without the aid or intervention of a plow. After twenty miles’ travel,
we reached a very nice schoolhouse and passed several very
comfortable framed houses, upon clearings where the well-directed
173
labor of years had created excellent and valuable farms. The settlers
hereabouts were mainly from Vermont, and on all sides we saw
evidences of thrift and skill in striking contrast with the slovenliness
and recklessness which characterize the clearings on the Raquette,
whose owners live by hunting and fishing rather than farming. The
house of a Mr. PRESTON, for example, we found supplied with water
brought by pipes from the hill behind it. It was surrounded by neat
fences, and everything looked thrifty and promising. The soil yields
abundantly; — half an acre, planted last year without plowing,
produced 120 bushels of potatoes. Wheat is not grown much, as oats
and grain are found more profitable.
We were forced to make all these observations in the rain — for
it continued to pour down steadily all day. We who were on
horseback, though we kept on a walk, were considerably in advance
of the rest of the party, and had made up our minds to reach
BESSILL’S76 that night, as it was known to be an excellent place to
stop at, and would leave us, moreover, less to do on resuming our
march for Adirondack. Night overtook us about eight miles short; but
we pushed on, the road being part of the time lighted a little by the
clearings, but generally leading through the woods, and being so dark
as to compel us to trust to the sagacity of our horses a good deal
more than to our own. We passed several houses where the lights,
though not brilliant, twinkled attractively, — but we resisted all
temptation and pushed ahead. At about 10 o’clock we pulled up at
BESSILL’S, — three of us at least, SPOFFORD, NEWELL and myself;
the rest had stopped short and found, as we learned next day,
comfortable quarters elsewhere, — our derelict horseman at
CHASE’S, two miles, and the rest at PRESTON’S, six miles back.
BISSELL’S was dark as Egypt — they were all abed. But we soon
roused them, and in a very few minutes were drying our drenched
corporations over and under one of the old-fashioned, high-ovened
cooking-stoves, to whose capacities for baking we were soon
prepared to testify. In half an hour we sat down to a hearty supper,
and a most refreshing cup of hot tea, (which par parenthese is
infinitely better than all the liquors every invented as a refreshing and
stimulating beverage on such a tramp,) — and in another half hour
were were all snugly ensconsed in the comfortable beds of the Bissell
House, and sound asleep.
The next day was Sunday: — so we laid by until towards
evening. We were all in good trim, — none the worse apparently for
our exposure, and ready to resume our expedition. The library of the
76
The Newcomb home of Daniel and Polly Bissell, which doubled as a popular inn,
sometimes called “Aunt Polly’s Inn.”
174
establishment was not very extensive nor various; I spent part of the
day in reading a stray copy of the Prohibitionist and another of the
Carson League,77 — upon both of which was an injunction to “read
and circulate,” — the first clause of which could be fulfilled in these
latitudes much more easily than the last. Both these papers contained
a good deal of interesting reading matter: my attention, however, was
drawn to an article in each devoted to the atrocious misconduct and
bad faith of the Lieutenant Governor,78 who, as I inferred from the
rather vague charges referred to, had through some channel or other
— perhaps the TIMES — intimated that the Prohibitory law of last
Winter might have been made better than it was. Any person capable
of holding and expressing such sentiments, both the papers referred
to agreed, must have sold himself out body and soul to the
“rummies.” After dinner the rest of the party came up, and towards
evening we resumed our journey. We had nine miles to go through
the woods to the Lower Works at the foot of Sanford Lake; the rest
of the way — ten miles — we should go in boats, which we knew
had been sent down for us from the Upper Works and were then
awaiting our arrival. We pushed on for about five miles, when we
encountered a large tree that had blown down and lay directly across
the road. This is a very common occurrence in this region, but all
habitual travelers through it carry axes, and speedily remove the
obstacle. We had none, but managed to break away limbs enough to
let our horses through, and to lift the wagon over the prostrate trunk.
About four miles further on we found two trees blown together,
across the track. We all dismounted and set to work. We carelessly
left our horses untied, and, being startled by the cracking of the
branches, they set off on the back track. We caught two of them, but
the two grays, one of which I had been riding, escaped and struck
into a keen jump for home. SPOFFORD saw the trouble, and in an
instant was in the saddle on his horse, which we had luckily caught,
in keen pursuit. As we were within a mile of the Old Works, we went
on afoot. In about an hour SPOFFORD came up, riding his own nag,
driving one of the grays tandem and leading the other. He had had a
regular chase for them, and for a mile they all three ran neck and
neck. But he gained upon them, and by suddenly wheeling, when he
reached the first fallen tree, he made of himself and that a rampart
which they were a little afraid to leap, and so he caught them.
77
The Carson League actively lobbied for laws prohibiting the production, sale and
consumption of alcohol.
78
Raymond was himself New York’s lieutenant governor at the time of this writing;
he served throughout 1855 and 1856. Four years earlier, in 1851, he had founded the
New York Times, which he edited until his death in 1869.
175
We found at the Lower Works, as the place is called, though no
works at all are there, or ever have been, so far as we could see, a
capital hotel, kept by Mr. HASKELL. Everything about it was as neat
as a pin; and on our return, I may as well mention here, we had just
about the best cooked dinner of trout and venison I ever ate. Our
boats were in waiting, and we at once embarked. The first half of the
lake is artificial, — the water in the outlet of the lake proper having
been raised eight or ten feet by the erection of a dam. The channel
thus runs through a forest of charred cedars and hemlocks, on the
ground that was overflowed. It rained heavily all the way, but at
about 8 o’clock we reached the wharf, — disembarked, — walked a
mile through the village, and were soon drying ourselves in front of a
blazing wood fire, at the house of Mr. CURTIS, the Superintendent of
the Iron Works.
What we saw, and what we thought of it, there, — how we got
back, and where we went afterwards, — must be reserved for another
occasion.
H.J.R.
The Adirondack Iron Works and Beds —
Return to Raquette Lake
My last letter closed with a dissolving view — presenting eight
or ten of our party revolving, like turkeys on the spit, before the
blazing fire of Superintendent CURTIS, at the Adirondack Iron
Works. In our eagerness to accommodate our horses, we had
forborne, on leaving Raquette Lake, to take with us any baggage
whatever — so we were unable to make any change in our drenched
clothing, and were compelled to rely entirely on the effects of the
drying process which we were diligently undergoing. The sound of
the supper summons induced desistance, and half an hour’s labor
replenished the inner, a good deal more completely than twice that
effort had dried the outer man. In the course of an hour or so we
considered ourselves sufficiently dried to be laid away; and we
accordingly repaired, with an eager appetite for sleep, to the
comfortable beds we found provided. I had a warm and earnest
discussion with my three room-mates as to the propriety of sleeping
with an open window; — being afflicted with a chronic tendency to
catarrh, which is easily aggravated by taking cold, I pleaded for an
exemption from exposure to the open air. With their usual politeness,
my companions yielded the point, and I rejoiced silently, in their
kindness, two or three times during the night, as I waked and heard it
raining in torrents, and felt the chilly rawness of the air in our room.
My throat was very sore in the morning, — and I felt at once that I
176
had taken cold — a fact for which I could not account, until it was
accidentally discovered that the window at the head of my bed,
having been raised before we entered the room and being concealed
by a curtain during our earnest debate, had been wide open during
the whole night. This fully accounted for the state of my throat, but
did not cure it. I found I had received a sensible accession to the cold
I had caught during my fishing excursion on Raquette Lake — the
effects whereof continue down to the present hour. …
[Raymond is distracted for a couple of paragraphs with a
discussion of trout fishing on Raquette Lake.]
But I am neglecting Adirondack, — where I left myself getting
out of bed, with a sore throat and a sorry prospect so far as exploring
the country was concerned, — for the rain continued to come down
in torrents. We speculated despondingly on the probabilities of its
holding up, — ate breakfast with a gloomy despair which happily did
not affect our appetites with any special despondency, — and spent
an hour or two in profitable meditation on our condition and
prospects.
The village of Adirondack, where we were thus employed, is a
little hamlet, scattered along the Adirondack River, half a mile or
thereabouts above the head of Sandford Lake, and inhabited
exclusively by persons connected directly or otherwise with the Iron
Works that have been there established. The surrounding region is
mountainous and rocky — rougher and of harder soil by far than that
we had left. The Adirondack range of mountains commences in this
vicinity, and extends nearly parallel to Lake Champlain, from which
it is distant from ten to thirty miles, — embracing the highest peaks
in the State, and being, according to geologists, the oldest dry land on
the Western Continent. In a clear day, Mount Marcy, the highest of
the range, is visible from the village — but this monarch of the
mountain was too busy on the day of our visit, in battling with the
clouds that dashed themselves upon his head, to exhibit himself to
our inspection. The whole region seems to be pervaded by iron. Here
and there, throughout the whole region of hills, are detected veins of
ore — sometimes mixed with rock, sometimes running in veins
beneath it, and often coming out in large rich masses upon the very
surface. The village of Adirondack has long enjoyed the reputation of
having the largest and richest deposits of Iron Ore on this portion of
the Continent. Geologists who have examined it carefully, have made
reports of its wealth so technical and scientific that many could not
understand them, and so apparently extravagant in their tenor that
more would not believe them. The mines were first discovered in
177
1826 by an old Indian hunter79 — father of ELIJAH, our guide round
Raquette Lake — who brought a piece of the ore to the late DAVID
HENDERSON, of Jersey City, then in Northern New-York on a mining
excursion, and told him he had picked it up while hunting beaver, at
a spot where the river run over an iron dam. An exploring party was
at once made up, and under the Indian’s guidance made its way to
the Adirondack,80 where may now be actually seen what the Indian
described — a stream of fifty feet wide falling over a dam of solid
iron ore, which extends across it, and can be traced for a long
distance on either side. But this was speedily found to be only one,
and by no means the best, of a large number of ore beds in this
immediate vicinity — all yielding ore of unequaled richness, in close
proximity to immense forests and excellent water power, and
apparently in quantities which ages could not exhaust. The tract was
immediately purchased by Mr. HENDERSON, with ARCHIBALD
MCINTYRE and ARCHIBALD ROBERTSON, Esqrs., and arrangements
were made for making experiments with the ore. It was found to be
of a very superior quality, and works were speedily erected for
carrying on the manufacture, which has been continued ever since,
though upon a small scale, in consequence of the extreme isolation of
the place, the lack of roads, as well as of capital, and the consequent
enormous expense of getting in supplies, and taking out the products
of the mines to market. A Company, composed mainly of New-York
gentlemen, has recently purchased 104,000 acres of the land,
including the village of Adirondack and its mines, and has erected a
new and splendid blast furnace half a mile nearer the head of Lake
Sandford than the old one, and at which all the work of the
establishment is at present carried on.81
It may not be amiss to mention that the old Indian who
discovered this mine lived to be over a hundred years old, and died,
as is supposed — though it is only known that he disappeared — last
Winter. He had been living with ELIJAH, whose occupation as a
guide took him a good deal away from home; and during one of these
absences his old father left the shanty for the neighborhood of
Pleasant Lake, some miles off through the dense wilderness, where
he had lived for the most of his life. He was never heard of again, —
79
His name was Sabael; see the footnote on pages 2 and 3.
Adirondack River is an alternate name for the upper Hudson River.
81
The Stanton & Wilcox company, which signed a purchase contract in 1854, did not
build the “New Furnace”; it was built by McIntyre & Co. to attract buyers for the
operation. Stanton & Wilcox fell short on their payments, however, and were forced to
give the operation back to McIntyre in 1856.
80
178
nor has the most diligent search ever revealed his remains or any
trace of his fate. He probably fell a prey to wild beasts.82
I have never had any experience in mining operations, nor have I
been in the habit of visiting mines of any sort; so that any report I
may make of Adirondack will be very likely to lack the technical
knowledge necessary to give it value.83 I can only tell what I saw, —
sometimes, perhaps, without my understanding it, and sometimes
ready, it may be, from its striking contrast with anything I had ever
seen before, to be more astonished than the occasion called for. A
few weeks previous I had visited Clinton Prison, for the purpose of
inspecting the ore beds, required by the State for the purposes of that
institution. One of them, which yielded a rich and excellent ore, had
been carried down some forty or fifty feet below the surface, and
then the quantity of water which flowed in rendered it impracticable
to work it further except at very great expense. The other, — which
the State now hires of its owners, as it is not on the prison grounds,
— has been carried horizontally some three hundred feet forward, at
a depth of fifty or sixty feet beneath the surface; and as the vein dips
downwards, this depth, from which the ore must be raised by steam
power, is constantly increasing. Mining below the surface is thus, of
necessity, for these two reasons, exceedingly and often ruinously
expensive; — great power is required to lift the ore out, and still
greater is sometimes incurred to keep it free from water, so that
mining operations can be carried on. The Adirondack mines, as will
be seen hereafter, offer a striking contrast to those just mentioned,
indeed to most others in the world, in both these respects.
We visited only three of the ore-beds of Adirondack. The first
was at the upper end of the village, a little above the iron dam and
near the site of the furnace first erected and now abandoned. At a few
feet from the road is an excavation some fifty feet long, ten or twelve
wide, and fifteen or twenty deep, from which ore has been taken
from time to time. The back wall of the excavation seems to be of
solid ore, entirely free from rock, very black, coarse-grained, and
82
According to Russell Carson, writing in his Peaks and People of the Adirondacks
(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1928) , “Sabael lived to be a
very old man and disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1855. He was last
seen on the Indian trail from Thirteenth Lake to Puffer Pond. It is believed that the old
Indian met with foul play and that his body was buried in the woods near Puffer
Pond.”
83
Raymond’s account of the operation at Adirondac and the history of the McIntyre
company is so detailed, however, that one suspects he has read an extensive sales
brochure, Advantages of the Works and Property of the Adirondac Iron and Steel Co.,
prepared for the McIntyre Company in 1851 by a Mr. Archibald to attract buyers for
the mining and milling plantation.
179
yielding full eighty per cent. of iron. Pieces that had been roasted
were lying about, and could easily be broken in the hand. This vein
runs in plain sight, and on the surface for some distance from north
to south, and then dips under the rock, but soon reappears. This is
repeated several times within the distance of three-fifths of a mile,
for which it has been clearly traced in this direction; and although
only some forty feet in width have been exposed by the removal of
the soil, the vein has been ascertained by examination and
measurement to be over seven hundred feet wide, from east to west.
This ore is called the coarse-grained black ore, and when worked
alone, as it has been, and without separation, it makes iron most
remarkable for its hardness and tenacity, — and indeed produces
steel of the best quality. A good deal of ore has been taken from this
bed — more, perhaps, than from either of the others.
Leaving this we crossed the river just above the iron dam,
climbed a steep ridge that overlooks the town, and came to the
second of the great ore-beds of the neighborhood, — that which
yields what is called the fine-grained ore. It has not been worked to
any great extent, but is opened sufficiently to show the character and
extent of the vein. It is harder and the grain is smaller than that of the
vein first visited; at the surface it seems to be more mixed with rock,
but deeper excavations reveal ore of purer quality. The vein has been
traced very nearly a mile, and throughout that distance preserves a
uniform breadth of over a hundred and fifty feet. It is upon the side of
a hill, — so that the ore could be sent down an inclined plane as fast
as it could be taken out, while all the water that might accumulate
would run off of itself; a little stream indeed runs constantly from the
hill side into the river below.
As we had resolved to make considerable progress an our
homeward journey during the day, we spent but little time at each of
these beds; and as the Sandford bed — the largest of all — was two
miles down the Lake, we determined to stop at that as we passed. On
our way to the boats, we looked in at the new furnace, which was
built last Summer, by the new Company, at a cost of over $43,000,
and which is now the only one kept in operation. As it was very
nearly time for the morning run, we waited to see how pig-iron is
made. A long row of moulds in sand had been prepared — lying like
the cross sleepers on a railroad track, some three feet long, and
eighteen or twenty inches apart, and connected by a channel running
along the side. When everything was ready, the furnace was tapped,
and the melted iron flowed out in a bright red stream, filling the
moulds and depositing about six tons of the most beautiful pig-iron I
ever saw. Breaking one of them after it was cooled, it presented a
180
surface white as silver, and entirely free from flaws and impurities of
any kind. Judging from its appearance, compared with that of other
pig iron which I had seen, I was not at all surprised to learn that this
commands in the market $50 per ton when other iron is selling for
$35. This furnace makes two of these runs daily, producing from ten
to twelve tons of iron; and this is, at present, the extent of the iron
works at Adirondack. Nothing but capital, and a good road giving
them easy access to market, is needed to enable the Company to
produce ten or twenty times as much — every ton of which could be
sold at remunerative rates.
At about noon we reëmbarked and set our faces towards the
south. Landing on the eastern border of the Lake we passed through a
field and ascended a hill six or seven hundred feet in height, —
following up a little stream that ran down washing away the surface
and exposing metallic ore all the way up, — until we reached a point
some fifty or sixty feet from the ridge, where an excavation has been
made directly in the face of the mountain. Huge blocks of ore very
nearly pure, have here been taken out, and the structure of the mass is
so regular that tons may sometimes be pried out with the crowbar
alone. For the whole length of the excavation, which is forty or fifty
feet, there stands before you a high solid wall of the purest ore, —
and for a distance of over three hundred feet, an examination shows
that the ore is entirely free from stony matter. The ore is black, — its
grain in point of size between that of the other two I have described,
and the quality quite as good as that of either of the others. It is
impossible to speak accurately of the extent of this enormous bed of
iron ore, — as no limits to it have yet been ascertained. It can be
traced for a long distance by the frequent exposures of the ore on the
surface: — and a series of very close and careful examinations made
by Prof. EMMONS, the State Geologist, shows that for 1,667 feet it
preserves a width of 514 feet, without going under the rock. After it
does this pass beneath the rock, however, the reappearance of the
vein at various points renders it certain that it is not discontinued, but
only disappears; — and there is very little doubt that it passes under
the lake and again appears on the other side. It has thus been clearly
traced for about two miles and a half. This is, therefore, neither more
nor less than an enormous mountain of iron ore; and Professor
EMMONS, from the data which observation afforded him, has
calculated the contents of the vein lying within two feet of the
surface, at nearly seven millions of tons, most of which could be
raised without blasting, and which would make at least 3,000,000
tons of iron — of the very best quality ever sent to market! These are
astounding figures, — but they are those of a scientific, disinterested,
181
and reliable person. Nor will any one who has seen the enormous
aggregate of ore which lies in plain sight at the various beds of
Adirondack, consider them too large. Indeed, it is not easy to say
what figures would be too large to indicate the vast wealth of iron ore
that is here accumulated; nor can any one who visits the spot be
surprised that scientific men should have inferred from the
appearances presented, that this whole valley rests upon a bed of
iron, — of which these veins are merely points that protrude above
the surface. “In all the uncertainty which lies ever the subject,” says
Professor EMMONS in his Report as State Geologist, “I am more
disposed to believe that the whole valley of the Adirondack River is
underlaid by the magnetic oxide. It is true that this belief borders on
the extravagant, particularly when it is first suggested; but after all
where is the extravagance in supposing that a mountain may be
composed of iron ore, or a valley underlaid with it?” All this is
merely speculation, — and of scientific rather than practical interest;
— for whatever the valley may rest upon, it is very certain that there
is more ore above the surface than can be removed during any one
generation, by all the labor that can be put upon it.
Nor is the amount of ore more remarkable than the facilities
which exist for working it. The structure of the mass so nearly
resembles the stratification of common rock that huge blocks can be
removed without any blasting, and a slight blast detaches enormous
quantities of it. The ore is so free from rocky intermixtures that the
labor of separation is saved. The location of the beds is so high that
the ore may be sent down an inclined plane either to the lake or the
furnace, and no lifting power will ever be required. Nor is it possible
that operations should ever be embarrassed by accumulations of
water, as the elevated situation of the beds offers facilities for the
easiest and most perfect drainage.
The iron made at the furnace at Adirondack is composed of a
mixture of the several ores found in the vicinity, as they are worked
easier in that way than separately, and the iron produced is believed
to be better. As to the quality of the iron, I believe men, engaged in
that trade, who are acquainted with it, agree that it is equal to any in
the United States: indeed, experiments made by Prof. JOHNSON, to
test its comparative strength, established the fact that no iron in the
world except the Russian iron is superior to it in this respect. It is
said, moreover, to be the only American iron from which good steel
can be manufactured; and works were established at Jersey City far
the express purpose of making steel from this iron, five or six years
ago, and, I believe, have been in successful operation ever since.
Their steel has enjoyed a good reputation in the market, and has been
182
repeatedly commended as fully equal to the best imported.
Specimens of both the iron and steel made from these ores were sent
to the World's Fair, at London, and took the prize medal, as the best
on exhibition — as did, also, a specimen of the fine-grained ore from
the second of the beds which I visited, as mentioned above.
The question will very naturally be asked by others — as it was
by me — why, with such advantages, these ore beds should have
attracted so little attention, and why they are not worked with greater
energy and success. Only some ten or twelve tons of iron are made
per day at present, and this, I believe, is as much as has ever been
produced. The cost of making it, I have been informed, is less than
$25 a ton, while it sells readily, even at the present low prices, for
from $45 to $50. Here would seem to be a margin for profit large
enough to tempt capital into the manufacture, and to erect the most
extensive iron works in the world. The ore, moreover, I am informed,
could be sold in its raw state at New-York, for mixture with other
ores in various parts of the country, for $5 a ton, in any quantity,
while the cost of extracting it is not a fifth of that amount.
I suppose the principal reason for the neglect of this region is to
be found in its isolation. It is in the heart of a rugged moun-tainous
region, out of which it is almost impossible to transport heavy loads
of any sort, as the only road out is the one to Crown Point, by way of
Schroon Lake, a distance of some thirty miles, and so rough as to be
almost impassable for teams, and quite impracticable for heavy
loads. By Sandford Lake water communication may be had for ten
miles south, to the old works, or Tahaws,84 as the place is called; —
which is within about ten miles of the line of the intended Saratoga
and Sackett's Harbor Railroad, at the point where the Boreas River
enters the Hudson. The completion of this road, therefore, to that
point, and the construction of a branch therefrom to Tahaws — at the
foot of Sandford Lake, — would bring the Adirondack Iron Mines
within easy reach of market, and the road will have a descending
grade all the way to Saratoga. I cannot help thinking that nothing
more than this is necessary to make them the largest and most
profitable works of the kind in the United States. I know but little of
the Company which owns them now, or of its operations. I believe,
however, that it purchased this property, embracing over 100,000
acres of land a few years since for about $600,000, one-sixth of
which has been paid. It became embarrassed in consequence of the
financial difficulties of the country within the last year or two, and
has not been able consequently either to complete its payments or to
84
Tahawus.
183
erect the works necessary for the successful prosecution of the
enterprise. The impossibility of getting the iron to market, moreover,
without a road, has checked all their operations. If the Sackett's
Harbor Road should be built, all these difficulties will vanish, and the
works cannot fail to be pushed forward with an energy proportioned
to their importance. What the prospect of such a consummation, is I
have no means of knowing. By the parties interested in it, it is
represented as being good. The road would certainly confer immense
benefits on the section of country through which it would pass, and
would add immensely to the productiveness and wealth of the
State.85
We left the Sandford Ore bed at about 1 o'clock on Monday
afternoon, — reached HASKELL'S in boats at 3, — ate that
magnificent dinner of trout and venison, which I mentioned in my
last letter, and mounted our horses for a return to Raquette Lake. We
reached BISSELL'S in good season that evening, — staid there all
night, and reached the outlet of Raquette Lake at about 2 o'clock on
Tuesday afternoon. The rain had subsided, but the air was cold and
the Lake too rough for the little boats in which our navigation had to
be performed for the seven miles that intervened between us and
WOOD'S, where the main body of our company had remained. We
were in a hurry to get on, however, and embarked at once: but as we
rounded a headland that had sheltered us from the wind, and entered
the broad lake, our boatman told us the boat could not ride the swell
with the load she carried, — so we turned about to await the
subsiding of the winds and waves. Taking shelter under a bark shanty
which ELIJAH had built for our accommodation, and making a hearty
lunch upon some bread and sardines which had been sent out for our
consolation, I stretched myself, rolled in a blanket, before a blazing
hot fire, and slept for half an hour in a style which, I doubt not, my
readers, by this time, would gladly imitate. So I will give them
another respite, — and make them happy, furthermore, by adding
that one more letter will probably finish all I have to say about my
observations and experiences during my Week in the Wilderness.
H.J.R.
85
The railroad line was not extended from North Creek to the vicinity of the iron
mines until after the onset of World War II, when the site was revived as a titanium
mine for military production.
184
DOCUMENT TW ELVE
The Hudson, From the
86
Wilderness to the Sea (1859)
BENSON J. LOSSING
Chapter II
In the old settlement of Pendleton, in the town of Newcomb,
Essex County, we spent our second Sabbath. That settlement is
between the head of Rich’s Lake and the foot of Harris’s Lake, a
distance of five or six miles along their southern shores. It derives its
name from Judge Nathaniel Pendleton, who, about fifty years ago,87
made a clearing there, and built a dam, and grist, and saw-mill at the
foot of Rich’s Lake, where the lumber dam and sluice, before
mentioned, were afterwards made. Here was the home of [Mitchell]
Sabattis, our Indian guide, who owned two hundred and forty acres
of land, with good improvements. His wife was a fair German
woman, the mother of several children, unmistakably marked with
Indian blood.
It was Friday night when we arrived at the thrifty Pendleton
settlement, and we resolved to spend the Sabbath there. We found
excellent accommodation at the farmhouse of Daniel Bissell, and,
giving [guide William] Preston a furlough for two days to visit his
lately-married wife at his home, nine miles distant, we all went in a
single boat the next day, manned by Sabattis alone, to visit Harris’s
Lake, and the confluence of its outlet with the Adirondack branch of
the Hudson, three miles below Bissell’s. That lake is a beautiful sheet
of water, and along the dark, sluggish river, above the rapids at its
head, we saw the cardinal flower upon the banks, and the rich
moose-head88 in the water, in great abundance.
The rapids at the head of Harris’s Lake are very picturesque.
Looking up from them, Goodenow Mountain is seen in the distance,
and still more remote are glimpses of the Windfall range. We passed
the rapids upon boulders, and then voyaged down to the confluence
of the two streams just mentioned. From a rough rocky bluff a mile
86
Pages 21-48 of The Hudson, From the Wilderness to the Sea, by Benson J. Lossing
(Troy, NY: H.B. Nims & Co., 1866).
87
Time references date from 1866, according to Lossing’s foreword.
88
Lossing: This, in the books, is called Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata of
Linnaeus), but the guides call it moose-head. The stem is stout and cylindrical, and
bears a spear-shaped leaf, somewhat cordate at the base. The flowers, which appear in
July and August, are composed of dense spikes, of a rich blue colour. A picture of the
moose-head is seen in the water beneath the initial letter at the head of Chapter I.
185
below that point, we obtained a distant view of three of the higher
peaks of the Adirondacks — Tahawus or Mount Marcy, Mount
Colden, and Mount M’Intyre. We returned at evening beneath a
canopy of magnificent clouds; and that night was made strangely
luminous by one of the most splendid displays of the Aurora Borealis
ever seen upon the continent. It was observed as far south as
Charleston, in South Carolina.
Sabattis is an active Methodist, and at his request (their minister
not having arrived) Mr. Buckingham read the beautiful liturgy of the
Church of England on Sunday morning to a congregation of thirty or
forty people, in the school-house on our guide’s farm. In the
afternoon we attended a prayer-meeting at the same place; and early
the next morning, while a storm of wind and heavy mist was
sweeping over the country, started with our two guides, in a lumber
waggon, for the Adirondack Mountains. We now left our boats, in
which and on foot we had travelled, from the lower Saranac to
Harris’s Lake, more than seventy miles. It was a tedious journey of
twenty-six miles, most of the way over a “corduroy” road — a
causeway of logs. On the way we passed the confluence of Lake
Delia with the Adirondack branch of the Hudson, reached M’Intyre’s
Inn (Tahawus House, at the foot of Sandford Lake) toward noon, and
at two o’clock were at the little deserted village at the Adirondack
Iron Works, between Sandford and Henderson Lakes. We passed
near the margin of the former a large portion of the way. It is a
beautiful body of water, nine miles long, with several little islands.
From the road along its shores we had a fine view of the three great
mountain peaks just mentioned, and of the Wall-face Mountain at the
Indian Pass. At the house of Mr. Hunter, the only inhabitant of the
deserted village, we dined, and then prepared to ascend the Great
Tahawus, or Sky-piercer.
The little deserted village of Adirondack, or M’Intyre, nestled in
a rocky valley upon the Upper Hudson, at the foot of the principal
mountain barrier which rises between its sources and those of the Au
Sable, and in the bosom of an almost unbroken forest, appeared
cheerful to us weary wanderers, although smoke was to be seen from
only a solitary chimney. The hamlet — consisting of sixteen
dwelling-houses, furnaces, and other edifices, and a building with a
cupola, used for a school and public worship — was the offspring of
enterprise and capital, which many years before had combined to
develop the mineral wealth of that region. That wealth was still there,
and almost untouched — for enterprise and capital, compelled to
contend with geographical and topographical impediments, have
abandoned their unprofitable application of labour, and left the rich
186
iron ores, apparently exhaustless in quantity, to be quarried and
transformed in the not far-off future.
The ores of that vicinity had never been revealed to the eye of
civilised man until the year 1826, when David Henderson, a young
Scotchman, of Jersey City, opposite New York, while standing near
the iron-works of his father-in-law, Archibald M’Intyre, at North
Elba, in Essex County, was approached by a St. Francis Indian,
known in all that region as a brave and skilful hunter — honest,
intelligent, and, like all his race, taciturn. The Indian took from
beneath his blanket a piece of iron ore, and handed it to Henderson,
saying, “You want to see ’um ore? Me fine plenty — all same.”
When asked where it came from, he pointed toward the south-west,
and said, “Me hunt beaver all ’lone, and fine ’um where water run
over iron-dam.” An exploring party was immediately formed, and
followed the Indian into the deep forest. They slept that night at the
base of the towering cliff of the Indian Pass. The next day they
reached the head of a beautiful lake, which they named “Henderson,”
and followed its outlet to the site of Adirondack village. There, in a
deep-shaded valley, they beheld with wonder the “iron dam,” or dyke
of iron ore, stretched across a stream, which was afterward found to
be one of the main branches of the Upper Hudson. They at once
explored the vicinity, and discovered that this dyke was connected
with vast deposits of ore, which formed rocky ledges on the sides of
the narrow valley, and presented beds of metal adequate, apparently,
to the supply of the world’s demand for centuries. It is believed that
the revealer of this wealth was Peter Sabattis,89 the father of our
Indian guide.
The explorers perceived that all around that vast deposit of
wealth in the earth was an abundant supply of hard wood, and other
necessary ingredients for the manufacture of iron; and,
notwithstanding it was thirty miles from any highway on land or
water, with an uninterrupted sweep of forest between, and more than
a hundred miles from any market, the entire mineral region —
comprising more than a whole township — was purchased, and
preparations were soon made to develop its resources. A partnership
was formed between Archibald M’Intyre, Archibald Robertson, and
David Henderson, all related by marriage; and with slight aid from
the State, they constructed a road through the wilderness, from the
Scarron [Schroon] Valley, near Lake Champlain, to the foot of
Sandford Lake, halfway between the head of which and the beautiful
Henderson Lake was the “iron dam.” There a settlement was
89
“The revealer of this wealth” was not Peter Sabattis, but Lewis Elijah Benedict. See
the extended footnote at the beginning of Document One in this anthology.
187
commenced in 1834. A timber dam was constructed upon the iron
one, to increase the fall of water, and an experimental furnace was
built. Rare and most valuable iron was produced, equal to any from
the best Swedish furnaces; and it was afterward found to be capable
of being wrought into steel equal to the best imported from England.
The proprietors procured an act of incorporation, under the title
of the “Adirondack Iron and Steel Company,” with a capital, at first,
of $1,000,000 (£200,000), afterward increased to $3,000,000
(£600,000), and constructed another furnace, a forge, stamping-mill,
saw and grist mill, machine-shops, powder-house, dwellings,
boarding-house, school-house, barns, sheds, and kilns for the
manufacture of charcoal. At the foot of Sandford Lake, eleven miles
south from Adirondack village, they also commenced a settlement,
and named it Tahawus, where they erected a dam seventeen hundred
feet in length, a saw-mill, warehouses, dwellings for workmen, &c.
And in 1854 they completed a blast furnace near the upper village, at
the head of Sandford Lake, at an expense of $43,000 (£8,600),
capable of producing fourteen tons of iron a-day. They also built six
heavy boats upon Sandford Lake, for the transportation of freight,
and roads at an expense of $10,000 (£2,000). Altogether the
proprietors spent nearly half a million of dollars, or £100,000.
Meanwhile the project of a railway from Saratoga to Sackett’s
Harbour, on Lake Ontario, to bisect the great wilderness, was
conceived. A company was formed, and forty miles of the road were
put under contract, and actually graded. It would pass within a few
miles of the Adirondack Works, and it was estimated that, with a
connecting branch road, the iron might be conveyed to Albany for
two dollars a ton, and compete profitably with other iron in the
market. A plank road was also projected from Adirondack village to
Preston Ponds, and down the Cold River to the Raquette, at the foot
of Long Lake.
But the labour on the road was suspended, the iron interest of the
United States became depressed, the Adirondack Works were
rendered not only unprofitable, but the source of heavy losses to the
owners, and for five years their fires had been extinguished. In
August, 1856, heavy rains in the mountains sent roaring floods down
the ravines, and the Hudson, only a brook when we were there, was
swelled to a mighty river. An upper dam at Adirondack gave way,
and a new channel for the stream was cut, and the great dam at
Tahawus, with the saw-mill, was demolished by the rushing waters.
All was left a desolation. Over scores of acres at the head and foot of
Sandford Lake (overflowed when the dam was constructed) we saw
white skeletons of trees which had been killed by the flood, standing
188
thickly, and heightening the dreary aspect of the scene. The workmen
had all departed from Adirondack, and only Robert Hunter and his
family, who had charge of the property, remained. The original
proprietors were all dead, and the property, intrinsically valuable but
immediately unproductive, was in the possession of their respective
families. But the projected railway will yet be constructed, because it
is needful for the development and use of that immense mineral and
timber region, and again that forest village will be vivified, and the
echoes of the deep breathings of its furnaces will be heard in the
neighbouring mountains.
At Mr. Hunter’s we prepared for the rougher travel on foot
through the mountain forests to Tahawus, ten miles distant. Here we
may properly instruct the expectant tourist in this region in regard to
such preparation. Every arrangement should be as simple as possible.
A man needs only a stout flannel hunting shirt, coarse and
trustworthy trousers, woollen stockings, large heavy boots well
saturated with a composition of beeswax and tallow, a soft felt hat or
a cap, and strong buck-skin gloves. A woman needs a stout flannel
dress, over shortened crinoline, of short dimensions, with loops and
buttons to adjust its length; a hood and cape of the same materials,
made so as to envelop the head and bust, and leave the arms free,
woollen stockings, stout calfskin boots that cover the legs to the
knee, well saturated with beeswax and tallow, and an india-rubber
satchel for necessary toilet materials. Provisions, also, should be
simple. The hunters live chiefly on bread or crackers, and maple
sugar. The usual preparation is a sufficient stock of Boston crackers,
pilot-bread, or common loaf-bread, butter, tea or coffee, pepper and
salt, an ample quantity of maple sugar,90 and some salted pork, to use
in frying or broiling fish, birds, and game. The utensils for cooking
are a short-handled frying-pan, a broad and shallow tin pan, tin tea or
coffee-pot, tin plates and cups, knives, forks, and spoons. These, with
shawls or overcoats, and india-rubber capes to keep off the rain, the
90
Lossing: The hard, or Sugar Maple (Acer saccharinum), abounds in all parts of the
State of New York. It is a beautiful tree, often found from fifty to eighty feet in height,
and the trunk from two to three feet in diameter. From the sap, which flows
abundantly in the spring, delicious syrup and excellent sugar are made. In the Upper
Hudson region, the sap is procured by making a small incision with an axe, or a hole
with an augur, into the body of the tree, into which a small tube or gutter is fastened.
From thence the sap flows, and is caught in rough troughs, dug out of small logs. [See
the initial letter at the head of Chapter III.] It is collected into tubs, and boiled in
caldron kettles. The syrup remains in buckets from twelve to twenty-four hours, and
settles before straining. To make sugar it is boiled carefully over a slow fire. To
cleanse it, the white of one egg, and one gill of milk, are used for every 30 lbs. or 40
lbs. of sugar. Some settlers manufacture a considerable quantity of sugar every year, as
much as from 300 lbs. to 600 lbs.
189
guides will carry, with gun, axe, and fishing-tackle. Sportsmen who
expect to camp out some time, should take with them a light tent.
The guides will fish, hunt, work, build “camps,” and do all other
necessary service, for a moderate compensation and their food. It is
proper here to remark that the tourist should never enter this
wilderness earlier than the middle of August. Then the flies and
mosquitoes, the intolerable pests of the forests, are rapidly
disappearing, and fine weather may be expected. The sportsman must
go in June or July for trout, and in October for deer.
Well prepared with all necessaries excepting flannel over-shirts,
we set out from Adirondack on the afternoon of the 30th of August,
our guides with their packs leading the way. The morning had been
misty, but the atmosphere was then clear and cool. We crossed the
Hudson three-fourths of a mile below Henderson Lake, upon a rude
bridge, made our way through a clearing tangled with tall raspberry
shrubs full of fruit, for nearly half a mile, and then entered the deep
and solemn forest, composed of birch, maple, cedar, hemlock,
spruce, and tall pine trees. Our way was over a level for three-fourths
of a mile, to the outlet of Calamity Pond. We crossed it at a beautiful
cascade, and then commenced ascending by a sinuous mountain path,
across which many a huge tree had been cast by the wind. It was a
weary journey of almost four miles (notwithstanding it lay along the
track of a lane cut through the forest a few years ago for a special
purpose, of which we shall presently speak), for in many places the
soil was hidden by boulders covered with thick moss, over which we
were compelled to climb. Towards sunset we reached a pleasant little
lake, embosomed in the dense forest, its low wet margin fringed with
brilliant yellow flowers, beautiful in form but without perfume. At
the head of that little lake, where the inlet comes flowing sluggishly
from a dark ravine scooped from the mountain slope, we built a bark
cabin, and encamped for the night.
That tiny lake is called Calamity Pond, in commemoration of a
sad circumstance that occurred near the spot where we erected our
cabin, in September, 1845. Mr. Henderson, of the Adirondack Iron
Company, already mentioned, was there with his son and other
attendants. Near the margin of the inlet is a flat rock. On this, as he
landed from a scow, Mr. Henderson attempted to lay his pistol,
holding the muzzle in his hand. It discharged, and the contents
entering his body, wounded him mortally: he lived only half-an-hour.
A rude bier was constructed of boughs, on which his body was
carried to Adirondack village. It was taken down Sandford Lake in a
boat to Tahawus, and from thence again carried on a bier through the
wilderness, fifteen miles to the western termination of the road from
190
Scarron valley, then in process of construction. From thence it was
conveyed to his home at Jersey City, and a few years afterward his
family erected an elegant monument upon the rock where he lost his
life. It is of the light New Jersey sandstone, eight feet in height, and
bears the following inscription: — “This monument was erected by
filial affection to the memory of DAVID HENDERSON, who lost
his life on this spot, 3rd September, 1845.” Beneath the inscription,
in high relief, is a chalice, book, and anchor.
The lane through the woods just mentioned was cut for the
purpose of allowing the transportation of this monument upon a
sledge in winter, drawn by oxen. All the way the road was made
passable by packing the snow between the boulders, and in this
labour several days were consumed. The monument weighs a ton.
While Preston and myself were building the bark cabin, in a
manner similar to the bush one already described, and Mrs. Lossing
was preparing a place upon the clean grass near the fire for our
supper, Mr. Buckingham and Sabattis went out upon the lake on a
rough raft, and caught over two dozen trout. Upon these we supped
and breakfasted. The night was cold, and at early dawn we found the
hoar-frost lying upon every leaf and blade around us. Beautiful,
indeed, was that dawning of the last day of summer. From the southwest came a gentle breeze, bearing upon its wings light vapour, that
flecked the whole sky, and became roseate in hue when the sun
touched with purple light the summit of the hills westward of us.
These towered in grandeur more than a thousand feet above the
surface of the lake, from which, in the kindling morning light, went
up, in myriads of spiral threads, a mist, softly as a spirit, and melted
in the first sunbeam.
At eight o’clock we resumed our journey over a much rougher
way than we had yet travelled, for there was nothing but a dim and
obstructed hunter’s trail to follow. This we pursued nearly two miles,
when we struck the outlet of Lake Colden, at its confluence with the
Opalescent River, that comes rushing down in continuous rapids and
cascades from the foot of Tahawus. The lake was only a few rods
distant. Intending to visit it on our return, we contented ourselves
with brief glimpses of it through the trees, and of tall Mount Colden,
or Mount M’Martin, that rises in magnificence from its eastern shore.
The drought that still prevailed over northern New York and
New England had so diminished the volume of the Opalescent River,
that we walked more than four miles in the bed of the stream upon
boulders which fill it. We crossed it a hundred times or more, picking
our way, and sometimes compelled to go into the woods in passing a
cascade. The stream is broken into falls and swift rapids the whole
191
distance that we followed it, and, when full, it must present a grand
spectacle. At one place the river had assumed the bed of a displaced
trap dyke, by which the rock has been intersected. The walls are
perpendicular, and only a few feet apart — so near that the branches
of the trees on the summits interlace. Through this the water rushes
for several rods, and then leaps into a dark chasm, full fifty feet
perpendicular, and emerges among a mass of immense boulders. The
Indians called this cascade She-gwi-en-dawkwe, or the Hanging
Spear. A short distance above is a wild rapid, which they called Kaskong-shadi, or Broken Water.91
The stones in this river vary in size, from tiny pebbles to
boulders of a thousand tons; the smaller ones made smooth by
rolling, the larger ones, yet angular and massive, persistently defying
the rushing torrent in its maddest career. They are composed chiefly
of the beautiful labradorite, or opalescent feldspar, which form the
great mass of the Aganus-chion, or Black Mountain range, as the
Indians called this Adirondack group, because of the dark aspect
which their sombre cedars, and spruce, and cliffs present at a
distance. The bed of the stream is full of that exquisitely beautiful
mineral. We saw it glittering in splendour, in pebbles and large
boulders, when the sunlight fell full upon the shallow water. A rich
blue is the predominant colour, sometimes mingled with a brilliant
green. Gold and bronze-coloured specimens have been discovered,
and, occasionally, a completely iridescent piece may be found. It is
to the abundance of these stones that the river is indebted for its
beautiful name. It is one of the main sources of the Hudson, and falls
into Sandford Lake, a few miles below Adirondack village.
We followed the Opalescent River to the foot of the Peak of
Tahawus, on the borders of the high valley which separates that
mountain from Mount Colden, at an elevation nine hundred feet
above the highest peaks of the Cattskill range on the Lower Hudson.
There the water is very cold, the forest trees are somewhat stunted
and thickly planted, and the solitude complete. The silence was
almost oppressive. Game-birds and beasts of the chase are there
almost unknown. The wild cat and wolverine alone prowl over that
lofty valley, where rises one of the chief fountains of the Hudson,
and we heard the voice of no living creature excepting the hoarse
croak of the raven.
It was noon when we reached this point of departure for the
summit of Tahawus. We had been four hours travelling six miles,
91
See the footnote to Document Three about these “Indian” names for features in the
vicinity of Mount Marcy. They were literary inventions of journalist Charles Fenno
Hoffman.
192
and yet in that pure mountain air we felt very little fatigue. There we
found an excellent bark “camp,” and traces of recent occupation.
Among them was part of a metropolitan newspaper, and light ashes.
We dined upon bread and butter and maple sugar, in a sunny spot in
front of the cabin, and then commenced the ascent, leaving our
provisions and other things at the camp, where we intended to repose
for the night. The journey upward was two miles, at an angle of
forty-five degrees to the base of the rocky pinnacle. We had no path
to follow. The guides “blazed” the larger trees (striking off chips
with their axes), that they might with more ease find their way back
to the camp. Almost the entire surface was covered with boulders,
shrouded in the most beautiful alpine mosses. From, among these
shot up dwarfing pines and spruces, which diminished in height at
every step. Through their thick horizontal branches it was difficult to
pass. Here and there among the rocks was a free spot, where the
bright trifoliolate oxalis, or wood-sorrel, flourished, and the shrub of
the wild currant, and gooseberry, and the tree-cranberry appeared. At
length we reached the foot of the open rocky pinnacle, where only
thick mosses, lichens, a few alpine plants, and little groves of
dwarfed balsam, are seen. The latter trees, not more than five feet in
height, are, most of them, centenarians. Their stems, not larger than a
strong man’s wrist, exhibited, when cut, over one hundred concentric
rings, each of which indicates the growth of a year. Our journey now
became still more difficult, at the same time more interesting, for, as
we emerged from the forest, the magnificent panorama of mountains
that lay around us burst upon the vision. Along steep rocky slopes
and ledges, and around and beneath huge stones a thousand tons in
weight, some of them apparently poised, as if ready for a sweep
down the mountain, we made our way cautiously, having at times no
other support than the strong moss, and occasionally a gnarled shrub
that sprung from the infrequent fissures. We rested upon small
terraces, where the dwarf balsams grow. Upon one of these, within a
hundred feet of the summit, we found a spring of very cold water,
and near it quite thick ice. This spring is one of the remote sources of
the Hudson. It bubbles from the base of a huge mass of loose rocks
(which, like all the other portions of the peak, are composed of the
beautiful labradorite), and sends down a little stream into the
Opalescent River, from whose bed we had just ascended. Mr.
Buckingham had now gained the summit, and waved his hat, in token
of triumph, and a few minutes later we were at his side, forgetful, in
the exhilaration of the moment, of every fatigue and danger that we
had encountered. Indeed it was a triumph for us all, for few persons
have ever attempted the ascent of that mountain, lying in a deep
193
wilderness, hard to penetrate, the nearest point of even a bridle path,
on the side of our approach, being ten miles from the base of its
peak. Especially difficult is it for the feet of woman to reach the lofty
summit of the Sky-piercer — almost six thousand feet above the sea
— for her skirts form great impediments. Mrs. Lossing, we were
afterwards informed by the oldest hunter and guide in all that region
(John Cheney), is only the third woman who has ever accomplished
the difficult feat.
The summit of Tahawus is bare rock, about four hundred feet in
length and one hundred in breadth, with an elevation of ten or twelve
feet at the south-western end, that may be compared to the heel of an
upturned boot, the remainder of the surface forming the sole. In a
nook on the southern side of this heel, was a small hut, made of loose
stones gathered from the summit, and covered with moss. It was
erected the previous year by persons from New York, and had been
occupied by others a fort-night before our visit. Within the hut we
found a piece of paper, on which was written: — “This hospice,
erected by a party from New York, August 19, 1858, is intended for
the use and comfort of visitors to Tahawus. — F. S. P. — M. C. — F.
M. N.” Under this was written: — “This hospice was occupied over
night of August 14, 1859, by A. G. C. and T. R. D. Sun rose fourteen
minutes to five.” Under this: — “Tahawus House Register, August
14, 1859, Alfred G. Compton, and Theodore R. Davis, New York.
August 16, Charles Newman, Stamford, Connecticut; Charles
Bedfield, Elizabeth Town, New York.” To these we added our own
names, and those of the guides.
Our view from the summit of Tahawus will ever form one of the
most remarkable pictures in memory; and yet it may not properly be
called a picture. It is a topographical map, exhibiting a surface
diversified by mountains, lakes, and valleys. The day was very
pleasant, yet a cold north-westerly wind was sweeping over the
summit of the mountain. A few clouds, sufficient to cast fine
shadows upon the earth, were floating not far above us, and on the
east, when we approached the summit at three o’clock, an iridescent
mist was slightly veiling a group of mountains, from their thick
wooded bases in the valleys, to their bold rocky summits. Our standpoint being the highest in all that region, there was nothing to
obstruct the view. To-war-loon-dah, or Hill of Storms (Mount
Emmons), Ou-kor-lah, or Big Eye (Mount Seward), Wah-o-par-tenie, or White-face Mountain, and the Giant of the Valley — all rose
peerless above the other hills around us, excepting Colden and
M’Intyre, that stood apparently within trumpet-call of Tahawus, as
fitting companions, but over whose summits, likewise, we could look
194
away to the dark forests of Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties, in
the far north-west. Northward we could see the hills melting into the
great St. Lawrence level, out of which arose the Royal Mountain
back of the city of Montreal. Eastward, full sixty miles distant, lay
the magnificent Green Mountains, that give name to the state of
Vermont, and through a depression of that range, we saw distinctly
the great Mount Washington among the White Hills of New
Hampshire, one hundred and fifty miles distant. Southward the view
was bounded by the higher peaks of the Cattskills, or Katzbergs, and
westward by the mountain ranges in Hamilton and Herkimer
Counties. At our feet reposed the great wilderness of northern New
York, full a hundred miles in length, and eighty in breadth, lying in
parts of seven counties, and equal in area to several separate smaller
States of the Union. On every side bright lakes were gleaming, some
nestling in unbroken forests, and others with their shores sparsely
dotted with clearings, from which arose the smoke from the settler’s
cabin. We counted twenty-seven lakes, including Champlain — the
Indian Can-i-a-de-ri Gua-run-te, or Door of the Country — which
stretched along the eastern view one hundred and forty miles, and at
a distance of about fifty miles at the nearest point. We could see the
sails of water-craft like white specks upon its bosom, and, with our
telescope, could distinctly discern the houses in Burlington, on the
eastern shore of the lake.
From our point of view we could comprehend the emphatic
significance of the Indian idea of Lake Champlain — the Door of the
Country. It fills the bottom of an immense valley, that stretches
southward, between the great mountain ranges of New York and
New England, from the St. Lawrence level toward the valley of the
Hudson, from which it is separated by a slightly elevated ridge.92 To
92
Lossing: In the introduction to his published sermon, preached at Plymouth, in New
England, in the year 1621 (and the first ever preached there), the Rev. Robert
Cushman, speaking of that country, says: — “So far as we can find, it is an island, and
near about the quantity of England, being cut out from the mainland in America, as
England is from the main of Europe, by a great arm of the sea [Hudson’s River],
which entereth in forty degrees, and runneth up north-west and by west, and goeth out,
either into the South Sea [Pacific Ocean], or else into the Bay of Canada [the Gulf of
St. Lawrence].” The old divine was nearly right in his conjecture that New England
was an island. It is a peninsula, connected to the main by a very narrow isthmus, the
extremities of which are at the villages of Whitehall, on Lake Champlain, and Fort
Edward, on the Hudson, about twenty-five miles apart. The lowest portion of that
isthmus is not more than fifty feet above Lake Champlain, whose waters are only
ninety above the sea. This isthmus is made still narrower by the waters of Wood
Creek, which flow into Lake Champlain, and of Fort Edward Creek, which empty into
the Hudson. These are navigable for light canoes, at some seasons of the year, to
within a mile and a-half of each other. The canal, which now connects the Hudson and
Lake Champlain, really makes New England an island.
195
the fierce Huron of Canada, who loved to make war upon the more
southern Iroquois, this lake was a wide open door for his passage.
Through it many brave men, aborigines and Europeans, have gone to
the war-paths of New York and New England, never to return.
Standing upon Tahawus, it required very little exercise of the
imagination to behold the stately procession of historic men and
events, passing through that open door. First in dim shadows were
the dusky warriors of the ante-Columbian period, darting swiftly
through in their bark canoes, intent upon blood and plunder. Then
came Champlain and his men [1609], with guns and sabres, to aid the
Hurons in contests with the Adirondacks and other Iroquois at Crown
Point and Ticonderoga. Then came French and Indian allies, led by
Marin [1745], passing swiftly through that door, and sweeping with
terrible force down the Hudson valley to Saratoga, to smite the Dutch
and English settlers there. Again French and Indian warriors came,
led by Montcalm, Dieskau, and others [1755-1759], to drive the
English from that door, and secure it for the house of Bourbon. A
little later came troops of several nationalities, with Burgoyne at their
head [1777], rushing through that door with power, driving American
republicans southward, like chaff before the wind, and sweeping
victoriously down the valley of the Hudson to Saratoga and beyond.
And, lastly, came another British force, with Sir George Prevost at
their head [1814], to take possession of that door, but were turned
back at the northern threshold with discomfiture. In the peaceful
present that door stands wide open, and people of all nations may
pass through it unquestioned. But the Indian is seldom seen at the
portal.
Chapter III
The cold increased every moment as the sun declined, and, after
remaining on the summit of Tahawus only an hour, we descended to
the Opalescent River, where we encamped for the night. Toward
morning there was a rain-shower, and the water came trickling upon
us through the light bark roof of our “camp.” But the clouds broke at
sunrise, and, excepting a copious shower of small hail, and one or
two of light rain, we had pleasant weather the remainder of the day.
We descended the Opalescent in its rocky bed, as we went up, and at
noon dined on the margin of Lake Colden, just after a slight shower
had passed by.
We were now at an elevation of almost three thousand feet
above tide water. In lakes Colden and Avalanche, which lie close to
each other, there are no fishes. Only lizards and leeches occupy their
cold waters. All is silent and solitary there. The bald eagle sweeps
196
over them occasionally, or perches upon a lofty pine, but the
mournful voice of the Great Loon, or Diver (Colymbus glacialis),
heard over all the waters of northern New York and Canada, never
awakens the echoes of these solitary lakes. These waters lie in a high
basin between the Mount Colden and Mount M’Intyre ranges, and
have experienced great changes. Avalanche Lake, evidently once a
part of Lake Colden, is about eighty feet higher than the latter, and
more than two miles from it. They have been separated by, perhaps, a
series of avalanches, or mountain slides, which still occur in that
region. From the top of Tahawus we saw the white glare of several,
striping the sides of mountain cones.
At three o’clock we reached our camp at Calamity Pond, and
just before sunset emerged from the forest into the open fields near
Adirondack village, where we regaled ourselves with the bountiful
fruitage of the raspberry shrub. At Mr. Hunter’s we found kind and
generous entertainment, and at an early hour the next morning we
started for the great Indian Pass, four miles distant.
Half a mile from Henderson Lake we crossed its outlet upon a
picturesque bridge, and following a causeway another half a mile
through a clearing, we penetrated the forest, and struck one of the
chief branches of the Upper Hudson, that comes from the rocky
chasms of that Pass. Our journey was much more difficult than to
Tahawus. The undergrowth of the forest was more dense, and trees
more frequently lay athwart the dim trail. We crossed the stream
several times, and, as we ascended, the valley narrowed until we
entered the rocky gorge between the steep slopes of Mount M’Intyre
and the cliffs of Wall-face Mountain. There we encountered
enormous masses of rocks, some worn by the abrasion of the
elements, some angular, some bare, and some covered with moss,
and many of them bearing large trees, whose roots, clasping them on
all sides, strike into the earth for sustenance. One of the masses
presented a singular appearance; it is of cubic form, its summit full
thirty feet from its base, and upon it was quite a grove of hemlock
and cedar trees. Around and partly under this and others lying
loosely, apparently kept from rolling by roots and vines, we were
compelled to clamber a long distance, when we reached a point more
than one hundred feet above the bottom of the gorge, where we could
see the famous pass in all its wild grandeur. Before us arose a
perpendicular cliff, nearly twelve hundred feet from base to summit,
as raw in appearance as if cleft only yesterday. Above us sloped
M’Intyre, still more lofty than the cliff of Wall-face, and in the gorge
lay huge piles of rock, chaotic in position, grand in dimensions, and
awful in general aspect. They appear to have been cast in there by
197
some terrible convulsion not very remote. Within the memory of
Sabattis, this region has been shaken by an earthquake, and no doubt
its power, and the lightning, and the frost, have hurled these masses
from that impending cliff. Through these the waters of this branch of
the Hudson, bubbling from a spring not far distant (close by a
fountain of the Au Sable), find their way. Here the head-waters of
this river commingle in the Spring season, and when they separate
they find their way to the Atlantic Ocean, as we have observed, at
points a thousand miles apart. The margin of the stream is too rugged
and cavernous in the Pass for human footsteps to follow.
Just at the lower entrance to the gorge, on the margin of the little
brook, we dined, and then retraced our steps to the village, stopping
on the way to view the dreary swamp at the head of Henderson Lake,
where the Hudson, flowing from the Pass, enters it. Water, and not
fire, has blasted the trees, and their erect stems and prostrate
branches, white and ghost-like in appearance, make a tangled
covering over many acres.
That night we slept soundly again at Mr. Hunter’s, and in the
morning left in a waggon for the valley of the Scarron. During the
past four days we had travelled thirty miles on foot in the tangled
forest, camped out two nights, and seen some of nature’s wildest and
grandest lineaments. These mountain and lake districts, which form
the wilderness of northern New York, give to the tourist most
exquisite sensations, and the physical system appears to take in
health at every pore. Invalids go in with hardly strength enough to
reach some quiet log-house in a clearing, and come out with strong
quick pulse and elastic muscles. Every year the number of tourists
and sportsmen who go there rapidly increases, and women begin to
find more pleasure and health in that wilderness than at fashionable
watering-places. No wild country in the world can offer more solid
attractions to those who desire to spend a few weeks of leisure away
from the haunts of men. Pure air and water, and game in abundance,
may there be found, while in all that region not a venomous reptile or
poisonous plant may be seen, and the beasts of prey are too few and
shy to cause the least alarm to the most timid. The climate is
delightful, and there are fertile valleys among those rugged hills that
will yet smile in beauty under the cultivator’s hand. It has been called
by the uninformed the “Siberia of New York;” it may more properly
be called the “Switzerland of the United States.”
The wind came from among the mountains in fitful gusts, thick
mists were sweeping around the peaks and through the gorges, and
there were frequent dashes of rain, sometimes falling like showers of
gold, in the sunlight that gleamed through the broken clouds, on the
198
morning when we left Adirondack village. We had hired a strong
waggon, with three spring seats, and a team of experienced horses, to
convey us from the heart of the wilderness to the Scarron valley,
thirty miles distant, and after breakfast we left the kind family of Mr.
Hunter, accompanied by Sabattis and Preston, who rode with us most
of the way for ten miles, in the direction of their homes. Our driver
was the owner of the team — a careful, intelligent, good-natured
man, who lived near Tahawus, at the foot of Sandford Lake. But in
all our experience in travelling, we never endured such a journey.
The highway, for at least twenty-four of the thirty miles, is what is
technically called corduroy — a sort of corrugated stripe of logs ten
feet wide, laid through the woods, and dignified with the title of “The
State road.” It gives to a waggon the jolting motion of the “dyspeptic
chair,” and in that way we were “exercised” all day long, except
when dining at the Tahawus House, on some wild pigeons shot by
Sabattis on the way. That inn was upon the road, near the site of
Tahawus village, at the foot of Sandford Lake, and was a half-way
house between Long Lake and Root’s Inn in the Scarron valley,
toward which we were travelling. There we parted with our excellent
guides, after giving them a sincere assurance that we should
recommend all tourists and hunters, who may visit the head waters of
the Hudson, to procure their services, if possible.
About a mile on our way from the Tahawus House, we came to
the dwelling and farm of John Cheney, the oldest and most famous
hunter and guide in all that region: He then seldom went far into the
woods, for he was beginning to feel the effects of age and a laborious
life. We called to pay our respects to one so widely known, and yet
so isolated, and were disappointed. He was away on a short hunting
excursion, for he loves the forest and the chase with all the
enthusiasm of his young manhood. He is a slightly-built man, about
sixty years of age. He was the guide for the scientific corps, who
made a geological reconnoissance of that region many years before,
and for a quarter of a century he had there battled the elements and
the beasts with a strong arm and unflinching will. Many of the tales
of his experience are full of the wildest romance, and we hoped to
hear the narrative of some adventure from his own lips.
For many years John carried no other weapons than a huge jackknife and a pistol. One of the most stirring of his thousand
adventures in the woods is connected with the history of that pistol. It
has been related by an acquaintance of the writer, a man of rare
genius, and who, for many years, has been an inmate of an asylum
for the insane, in a neighbouring State. John Cheney was his guide
more than twenty years before our visit. The time of the adventure
199
alluded to was winter, and the snow lay four feet deep in the woods.
John went out upon snow shoes, with his rifle and dogs. He
wandered far from the settlement, and made his bed at night in the
deep snow. One morning he arose to examine his traps, near which
he would lie encamped for weeks in complete solitude. When
hovering around one of them, he discovered a famished wolf, who,
unappalled by the hunter, retired only a few steps, and then, turning
round, stood watching his movements. “I ought, by rights,” said
John, “to have waited for my two dogs, who could not have been far
off, but the cretur looked so sassy, standing there, that though I had
not a bullet to spare, I could not help letting into him with my rifle.”
John missed his aim, and the animal gave a spring, as he was in the
act of firing, and turned instantly upon him before he could reload his
piece. So effective was the unexpected attack of the wolf, that his
fore-paws were upon Cheney’s snow-shoes before he could rally for
the fight. The forester became entangled in the deep drift, and sank
upon his back, keeping the wolf at bay only by striking at him with
his clubbed rifle. The stock of it was broken into pieces in a few
moments, and it would have fared ill with the stark woodsman if the
wolf, instead of making at his enemy’s throat when he had him thus
at disadvantage, had not, with blind fury, seized the barrel of the gun
in his jaws. Still the fight was unequal, as John, half buried in the
snow, could make use of but one of his hands. He shouted to his
dogs, but one of them only, a young, untrained hound, made his
appearance. Emerging from a thicket he caught sight of his master,
lying apparently at the mercy of the ravenous beast, uttered a yell of
fear, and fled howling to the woods again. “Had I had one shot left,”
said Cheney, “I would have given it to that dog instead of
dispatching the wolf with it.” In the exasperation of the moment John
might have extended his contempt to the whole canine race, if a
stauncher friend had not, at the moment, interposed to vindicate their
character for courage and fidelity. All this had passed in a moment;
the wolf was still grinding the iron gun-barrel in his teeth — he had
even once wrenched it from the hand of the hunter — when, dashing
like a thunderbolt between the combatants, the other hound sprang
over his master’s body, and seized the wolf by the throat. “There was
no let go about that dog when he once took hold,” said John. “If the
barrel had been red hot the wolf couldn’t have dropped it quicker,
and it would have done you good, I tell you, to see that old dog drag
the cretur’s head down in the snow, while I, just at my leisure, drove
the iron into his skull. One good, fair blow, though, with a heavy rifle
barrel, on the back of the head, finished him. The fellow gave a kind
o’ quiver, stretched out his hind legs, and then he was done for. I had
200
the rifle stocked afterwards, but she would never shoot straight since
that fight, so I got me this pistol, which, being light and handy,
enables me more conveniently to carry an axe upon my long tramps,
and make myself comfortable in the woods.”
Many a deer has John since killed with that pistol. “It is
curious,” said the narrator, “to see him draw it from the left pocket of
his grey shooting-jacket, and bring down a partridge. I have myself
witnessed several of his successful shots with this unpretending
shooting-iron, and once saw him knock the feathers from a wild duck
at fifty yards.”
201
DOCUMENT THIRTEEN
Wake-Robin (1863)
93
JOHN BURROUGHS
From Chapter 3, ‘The Adirondacks’
… Our next move was a tramp of about twelve miles through the
wilderness, most of the way in a drenching rain, to a place called the
Lower Iron Works, situated on the road leading in to Long Lake,
which is about a day’s drive farther on. We found a comfortable
hotel here, and were glad enough to avail ourselves of the shelter and
warmth which it offered. There was a little settlement and some quite
good farms. The place commands a fine view to the north of Indian
Pass, Mount Marcy, and the adjacent mountains. On the afternoon of
our arrival, and also the next morning, the view was completely shut
off by the fog. But about the middle of the forenoon the wind
changed, the fog lifted, and revealed to us the grandest mountain
scenery we had beheld on our journey. There they sat about fifteen
miles distant, a group of them, — Mount Marcy, Mount McIntyre,
and Mount Colden, the real Adirondack monarchs. It was an
impressive sight, rendered double so by the sudden manner in which
it was revealed to us by that scene-shifter the Wind.
I saw blackbirds at this place, and sparrows, and the solitary
sandpiper and the Canada woodpecker, and a large number of
hummingbirds. Indeed, I saw more of the latter here than I ever
before saw in any one locality. Their squeaking and whirring were
almost incessant.
The Adirondack Iron Works belong to the past. Over thirty years
ago a company in Jersey City purchased some sixty thousand acres
of land lying along the Adirondack River, and abounding in magnetic
iron ore. The land was cleared, roads, dams, and forges constructed,
and the work of manufacturing iron begun.
At this point a dam was built across the Hudson, the waters of
which flowed back into Lake Sandford, about five miles above. The
lake itself being some six miles long, tolerable navigation was thus
established for a distance of eleven miles, to the Upper Works, which
seem to have been the only works in operation. At the Lower Works,
besides the remains of the dam, the only vestige I saw was a long low
mound, overgrown with grass and weeds, that suggested a rude
earthwork. We were told that it was once a pile of wood containing
93
From the 1871 Riverby edition. Burroughs’ account of his 1863 excursion was
written in 1866.
202
hundreds of cords, cut in regular lengths and corded up here for use
in the furnaces.
At the Upper Works, some twelve miles distant, quite a village
had been built, which was now entirely abandoned, with the
exception of a single family.
A march to this place was our next undertaking. The road for
two or three miles kept up from the river and led us by three or four
rough stumpy farms. It then approached the lake and kept along its
shores. It was here a dilapidated corduroy structure that compelled
the traveler to keep an eye on his feet. Blue jays, two or three small
hawks, a solitary wild pigeon, and ruffled grouse were seen along the
route. Now and then the lake gleamed through the trees, or we
crossed on a shaky bridge some of its arms or inlets. After a while we
began to pass dilapidated houses by the roadside. One little frame
house I remembered particularly; the door was off the hinges and
leaned against the jams, the windows had but a few panes left, which
glared vacantly. The yard and little garden spot were overrun with a
heavy growth of timothy, and the fences had all long since gone to
decay. At the head of the lake a large stone building projected from
the steep bank and extended over the road. A little beyond, the valley
opened to the east, and looking ahead about one mile we saw smoke
going up from a single chimney. Pressing on, just as the sun was
setting we entered the deserted village. The barking dog brought the
whole family into the street, and they stood till we came up.
Strangers in that country were a novelty, and we were greeted like
familiar acquaintances.
Hunter, the head, proved to be a first-rate type of an
Americanized Irishman. His wife was a Scotch woman. They had a
family of five or six children, two of them grown-up daughters, —
modest, comely young women as you would find anywhere. The
elder of the two had spent a winter in New York with her aunt, which
made her a little more self-conscious when in the presence of the
strange young men. Hunter was hired by the company at a dollar a
day to live here and see that things were not wantonly destroyed, but
allowed to go to decay properly and decently. He had a substantial
roomy frame house and any amount of grass and woodland. He had
good barns and kept considerable stock, and raised various farm
products, but only for his own use, as the difficulties of
transportation to market some seventy miles distant make it no
object. He usually went to Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain once a
year for his groceries, etc. His post-office was twelve miles below at
the Lower Works, where the mail passed twice a week. There was
not a doctor, or lawyer, or preacher within twenty-five miles. In
203
winter, months elapse without their seeing anybody from the outside
world. In summer, parties occasionally pass through here on their
way to Indian Pass and Mount Marcy. Hundreds of tons of good
timothy hay annually rot upon the cleared land.
After nightfall we went out and walked up and down the grassgrown streets. It was a curious and melancholy spectacle. The
remoteness and surrounding wildness rendered the scene doubly
impressive. And the next day and the next the place was an object of
wonder. There were about thirty buildings in all, most of them small
frame houses with a door and two windows opening into a small yard
in front and a garden in the rear, such as are usually occupied by the
laborers in a country manufacturing district. There was one large
two-story boarding-house, a schoolhouse with cupola and a bell in it,
and numerous sheds and forges, and a saw-mill. In front of the sawmill, and ready to be rolled to their place on the carriage, lay a large
pile of pine logs, so decayed that one could run his walking-stick
through them. Near by, a building filled with charcoal was bursting
open and the coal going to waste on the ground. The smelting works
were also much crumbled by time. The schoolhouse was still used.
Every day one of the daughters assembles her smaller brothers and
sisters there and school keeps. The district library contained nearly
one hundred readable books which were well thumbed.
The absence of society had made the family all good readers.
We brought them an illustrated newspaper, which was awaiting them
in the post-office at the Lower Works. It was read and reread with
great eagerness by every member of the household.
The iron ore cropped out on every hand. There was apparently
mountains of it; one could see it in the stones along the road. But the
difficulties met with in separating the iron from its alloys, together
with the expense of transportation and the failure of certain railroad
schemes, caused the works to be abandoned. No doubt the time is not
distant when these obstacles will be overcome and this region
reopened.
At present it is an admirable place to go to. There is fishing and
hunting and boating and mountain-climbing within easy reach, and a
good roof over your head at night, which is no small matter. One is
often disqualified for enjoying the woods after he gets there by the
loss of sleep and of proper food taken at seasonable times. This point
attended to, one is in the humor for any enterprise.
About half a mile north[west] of the village is Lake Henderson,
a very irregular and picturesque sheet of water surrounded by dark
evergreen forests, and abutted by two or three bold promontories
with mottled white and gray rocks. Its greatest extent in any one
204
direction is perhaps less than a mile. Its waters are perfectly clear and
abound in lake trout. A considerable stream flows into it, which
comes down from Indian Pass.
A mile south of the village is Lake Sandford. This is a more
open and exposed sheet of water and much larger. From some parts
of it Mount Marcy and the gorge of the Indian Pass are seen to
excellent advantage. The Indian Pass shows as a huge cleft in the
mountain, the gray walls rising on one side perpendicularly for many
hundred feet. This lake abounds in white and yellow perch and in
pickerel; of the latter single specimens are often caught which weigh
fifteen pounds. There were a few wild ducks on both lakes. A brood
of the goosander or red merganser, the young not yet able to fly,
were the occasion of some spirited rowing. But with two pairs of oars
in a trim light skiff, it was impossible to come up with them. Yet we
could not resist the temptation to give them a chase every day when
we first came on the lake. It needed a good long pull to sober us
down so we could fish.
The land on the east side of the lake had been burnt over, and
was now mostly grown up with wild cherry and red raspberry
bushes. Ruffed grouse were found here in great numbers. The
Canada grouse was also common. I shot eight of the latter in less
than an hour on one occasion; the eighth one, which was an old male,
was killed with smooth pebble-stones, my shot having run short. The
wounded bird ran under a pile of brush, like a frightened hen.
Thrusting a forked stick down through the interstices, I soon stopped
his breathing. Wild pigeons were quite numerous also. These latter
recall a singular freak of the sharp-shinned hawk. A flock of pigeons
alighted on top of a dead hemlock standing in the edge of a swamp. I
got over the fence and moved toward them across an open space. I
had not taken many steps when, on looking up, I saw the whole flock
again in motion flying very rapidly about the butt of a hill. Just then
this hawk alighted on the same tree. I stepped back into the road and
paused a moment, in doubt which course to go. At that instant the
little hawk launched into the air and came as straight as an arrow
toward me. I looked in amazement, but in less than half a minute, he
was within fifty feet of my face, coming full tilt as if he had sighted
my nose. Almost in self-defense I let fly one barrel of my gun, and
the mangled form of the audacious marauder fell literally between
my feet.
Of wild animals, such as bears, panthers, wolves, wildcats, etc.,
we neither saw nor heard any in the Adirondacks. “A howling
wilderness,” Thoreau says, “seldom ever howls. The howling is
chiefly done by the imagination of the traveler.” Hunter said he often
205
saw bear-tracks in the snow, but had never yet met Bruin. Deer are
more or less abundant everywhere, and one old sportsman declares
there is yet a single moose in these mountains. On our return, a
pioneer settler, at whose house we stayed overnight, told us a long
adventure he had had with a panther. He related how it screamed,
how it followed him in the brush, how he took to his boat, how its
eyes gleamed from the shore, and how he fired his rifle at them with
fatal effect. His wife in the mean time took something from a drawer,
and, as her husband finished his recital, she produced a toe-nail of
the identical animal with marked dramatic effect.
But better than fish or game or grand scenery, or any adventure
by night or day, is the wordless intercourse with rude Nature one has
on these expeditions. It is something to press the pulse of our old
mother by mountain lakes and streams, and know what health and
vigor are in her veins, and how regardless of observation she deports
herself.
1866.94
94
Again, Burroughs composed this account of his 1863 Adirondack expedition in
1866.
206
DOCUMENT FOURTEEN
In the Woods (1866)
95
A Tramp and Tarry Among the Adirondacks and Lakes
E.F.U.
Adirondack, Essex Co., N.Y.
Tuesday, July 29, 1866
South by west of SCOTT’S, in North Elba, is Mount McIntyre,
the most conspicuous of the Adirondacks in that direction. It has a
succession of peaks, seven or eight in number, extending north and
south, the highest of which has an altitude of over five thousand feet.
West of Mount McIntyre is Wallface, a mountain running parallel
with it for several miles, and which, without any pointed elevation,
has a height varying from twenty-five hundred to four thousand feet.
Between these two mountains is the celebrated Indian Pass, though
which, under the aboriginal régime, it is said that opposing tribes
from the valleys on the north and south would travel when seeking
some innocent recreation in the way of tomahawking and scalping
their transmontane neighbors, and hence its name. From SCOTT’S to
the Indian Pass is twelve miles by the traveled path; thence to the
Adirondack Iron Works is five miles.
East of Mount McIntyre is situated Mount Colden, a prominent
peak, which is rendered more conspicuous when seen from the
northwest, by reason of its western surface having many slides, from
the bare rocks of which the sunlight is reflected with a glare that can
be seen as far as the mountain is visible. Between it and Mount
McIntyre are two beautiful sheets of water, Lakes Colden and
Avalanche, but the topography of the country about them is so
notoriously rocky that but few men and women had ever the courage
to attempt to penetrate further to the north than the foot of Lake
Colden; and hence Lake Avalanche has been but seldom seen by
tourists, though on the Mount Marcy trail they pass within two miles
[illegible]. From the north, I could not learn that it had ever been
visited. SCOTT, who has hunted about these mountains since — well,
the days of CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS — has never seen it, though it
is within [illegible]teen miles of his house.
The road he has laid out for our tramp was from SCOTT’S
through the Indian Pass to the Adirondack Iron Works and thence
northeast to Lakes Colden and Avalanche, passing both, and
95
This document contains two serial essays published on the New York Times’ weekly
travel column. The first appeared in the August 23, 1866 issue; the second, in the
August 31 issue. The author is identified only by his or her initials, “E.F.U.”
207
returning to SCOTT’S — in other words, we were to circumnavigate
Mount McIntyre. SCOTT was doubtful whether we could get past
Lake Avalanche, old mountaineers having pronounced it to be
impassable. Guides for that part of the route were of course out of the
question. The mountains of this region have been so little visited by
tourists that except for Mount Marcy and Whiteface, there has been
no demand to justify a resident to qualify himself for regular
employment as a guide by exploration of the many points of interest
within which they abound. We were only able to obtain one — old
NELSON BLINN — who had been from North Elba, through the
Indian Pass, as far as the Adirondack Iron Works; and his last tramp
through to that point was twelve years ago. Old BLINN is an old
mountaineer, now past sixty, bald and grey, a quaint, talkative, oldfashioned fellow, full of bear, panther and wolf stories, to which we
afterward listened with all the interest of little children, when sitting
at night around our camp fire. Next to old BLINN was JAKE WOOD, a
nephew of SCOTT’S, only twenty-one years of age, though he stands
six feet four in his stockings; he is broad-shouldered and strong, has
clear blue eyes, thick light hair that hangs wavy from his head,
pleasing features, a modest demeanor, and an honest face. JAKE is a
farmer, hunter, trapper, fisherman, and, though young, he has
sufficient knowledge of the mountains about to be of service as a
guide. CHARLEY ROBERTS I have already spoken of. He is one of the
“light weights,” but with a wiry constitution, tough fibre, a blazing
red face, sandy hair and whiskers, and a pug nose that will point up,
no matter in what way his head is held. Beside being a thoroughly
efficient woodsman, CHARLEY is also an excellent camp cook. The
selection we made for guides, as events subsequently proved, was
most fortunate.
The first pleasant morning after our descent of Whiteface, the
members of our gypsey tribe put on their loads and bade good bye to
SCOTT and his folks. Of the ladies we had Donna MARIA and the
Señorita — the Allemande having returned to Elizabethtown to
resume a lazy life. But to the Russian, the artist and myself, as the
male members of the family, were added the acrobat and nimrod —
two young gentlemen fresh from college, and both valuable
accessions to the camp.96 Beside the loads which the guides carried,
there was left from fifteen to twenty-five pounds to be carried by
each male passenger, in the way of blankets, provisions and camp
apparatus — the ladies only being asked to carry their waterproofs
and canteens.
96
Most of the characters listed here were introduced in an earlier installment of this
series; none, however, were described in such a way as to possibly identify them.
208
Near to old BLINN’S farm-house we crossed the Ausable where
we struck the trail for the Indian Pass, which last year was marked by
SCOTT, and by him and others the trees blazed and a pathway bushed
out. Our tramp was thence south a distance of near nine miles,
following the line of the Ausable, but a half mile or so to the west,
till we reached a shanty on the east bank of the river at the foot of
Mount McIntyre. The path was rough enough, but we had learned not
to grumble at small imperfections. Indeed, it was the perfection of
engineering skill compared with what we had yet to encounter
elsewhere. It was through dense forest, with occasional pieces of
swamp and mire; and at every mile or so it crossed the foot of a hill,
down the side of which a mountain brook, with clear cold water,
flowed. Trees and foliage were everywhere about us; and, though in
the midst of mountains, not a peak was visible anywhere. We felt
like the old sailor who, having occasion to pass through this
wilderness, to visit his son who has settled within it, said, that he
“never was so far out of sight of land before.” At noon, we partook
of lunch, which consisted of West Broadway woodcock (vulgus, pork
and beans), a pail of which we had carried with us. At four o’clock
we arrived at our shanty.
Our supper that night consisted of salt pork, flapjacks, tea, maple
syrup, and bread and butter. An hour was passed in song and
merriment, and this, by general consent, ceasing a few moments
before nine o’clock, we went to sleep; but not until some preliminary
skirmishing with the gnats, in which they finally suffered a complete
repulse, caused by our applying to our faces and hands a smearing of
sweet oil and tar. Once asleep, we did not awaken until half-past five
o’clock in the morning. Breakfast over and the dishes washed, we
again packed our beds and resumed our tramp, the trail being near to
and occasionally crossing and recrossing the Ausable. The rise in the
ground became more and more manifest as we proceeded, and the
river soon became so much lessened in its proportions that it was no
larger than a moderate sized brook. Ten and a half miles distant from
SCOTT’S we reached the foot of a rocky steep, up which we were to
climb nearly a thousand feet in traveling less than a half mile. For a
quarter of an hour we stopped to look at the bold, rocky and
precipitous face of a spur of Wallface which a few rods to the west
was in full view, and down a fissure of which the outlet of SCOTT’S
pond on the top of Wallface, descended a distance of over a thousand
feet. The Artist remained an hour, and added a beautiful sketch of the
view to his portfolio.
The climbing of the steep and rocky surface of the height which
obstructs the gorge, was a tiresome work. So far as I could judge
209
from surface indications the height is made up of heavy blocks of
granite which have tumbled from the precipices on either side. In
some of the smaller interstices of rock, more or less earth has
accumulated, in which a sparce growth of trees has taken root. Large
openings between the rocks, however, were frequently met, and
others led from there. As we ascended, the Ausable rapidly
diminished, and before we had gained half the distance it was the
merest brook of but a foot or so in width, beautiful, with its
frequently recurring cascades. Near the height of the dividing ridge it
was hardly more than the trickling of water over and between the
rocks, with frequent tributaries of even less size. These had their rise
in numberless springs on the surface and others out of view amid the
unexplorable labyrinth of passages that exist in the rocks which thus
have been hurled in chaotically together. When we had reached the
height of the rise we stopped to rest, while old BLINN sought out
amid the bushes by which our path was surrounded two little springs,
distant only a few rods from each other, from one of which the
waters trickled to the north, and found their way to the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, and the other of which discharged its waters to the south,
and they at last found their level in New-York bay. The angle of a
large cube of granite, having surfaces facing to the north and south,
separates the rain drops of Summer showers, that fell upon the rock,
sending some on a journey through the Ausable, Lake Champlain
and the St. Lawrence, while their sisters, within a few moments, are
carried within the bed of the Hudson, to be borne onward through
[unreadable], and gorge, and valley, until on the bosom of the river
the commerce of a nation can float. I said the “Hudson,” for it bears
still that name to its height 2,800 feet above the sea,97 though our
Gypsy band seated themselves upon its banks where it was less than
a foot in width, and filled our drinking cups from the waters which
were splashing over its pebbly bottom. To the baby river we bade
good-bye until we should again greet it, a bigger stream, a mile
below.
The view southward from the ridge brought to us the first
glimpse of the scenic beauties of the Indian Pass. As we followed the
trail to the south the view became more and more imposing. A few
rods of descent brought us to a flat surface of perhaps half an acre in
extent, from which directly over us was the height of Wallface there
a thousand feet almost perpendicularly above our heads; and, looking
along the wall, which presents a front of near a half mile, the depth
of the precipice increases with the descent of the rise toward the
97
The stream flowing southward out of Indian Pass and into Henderson Lake is called
Indian Pass Brook; the Hudson River begins at the outflow from Henderson Lake.
210
south, until its greatest height from the base is reached. There are a
number of points from which the precipice can be seen to the best
advantage, but most of these are a short distance from the path. Some
indications of a storm, though the sun still shone brightly, determined
us to hasten forward to our camping ground and await the morning
for a more extended view of the landscape from the best point of
view. But as the storm of that night continued the next day, we were
disappointed in our purpose. Our frequent rests, however, had
fortunately given us several favorable views, and sufficient to enable
us to realize the massive grandeur of the situation. No written
description can give an adequate idea of the immensity or sublimity
of the landscape. And, though the painter may depict those effects
which grow out of outline and color, and light and shade, it seems to
me that without a canvas of large proportions, he cannot, even by the
contrast of human figures, or other objects of known size introduced
into the picture, with the heights, succeed in imparting a conception
of the massiveness of the view. Its characteristics are those of other
immense chasms in the region, but doubled and trebled in magnitude,
while the emotions inspired in the beholder are more than quadrupled
in their intensity. As I estimate it, the gorge is from forty to sixty
rods in width. In its depth, and along its sides, detached masses of
granite, in proportions far beyond anything we had seen or conceived
of, were lying in the order or the disorder consequent upon their
being hurled from the heights above — at one point tumbled in
together in a confused mass, and at another standing alone and
isolated. Of the latter class I saw thirty and forty foot cubes with
sufficient regularity of form as to suggest the thought of their having
been quarried by giants, to be raised into an obelisk of hundreds of
feet in height. Some of these isolated masses project sufficiently over
their bases to give shelter to a dozen persons; and in one or two
instances, the remains of camp-fires before them were still existing.
On the height of many of these largest rocks, earth enough had
accumulated to support the growth of trees. On smaller ones, where
trees had begun their growth, but the earth on the rock was
insufficient either for support or sustenance to the tree, it has shot
down its roots over the rock, sometimes ten or fifteen feet before
penetrating the earth. Were it possible to remove the rock and leave
tree, branches and roots in their present position, the trunk would be
in midair, with branches extending from it above, and roots forming
the contour of an irregular hemisphere above ground, radiating from
its base; and moss and bush also participate in these freaks of growth.
In fact, the Pass abounds in beautiful studies for foregrounds of rock,
tree, bush, moss and herbage.
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But if emotions of wonder akin to astonishment are inspired by
the view on the plane of the eye when it rises to take in a view of the
front of Wallface, the brain whirls before it reaches the height of the
precipice. The tall trees on top seem but the merest bushes. The eye
moves over the rocky front from the foreground to the sky, entranced
by the picturesque beauties of the view, while the mind is bewildered
by the contemplation of its massive grandeur. The rock has a general
color of brownish gray, but with varying shades, and here and there
over it are spots with brighter colors. The lines which mark the
boundaries of masses of rock which have broken off add a beautiful
variety to the picture. Between them the surfaces of rock vary more
or less from the plane of the precipice, and thus give opportunities
for the effects of light and shade in the view. The perpendicular
height of the precipice at the highest point is estimated at from
thirteen hundred to fourteen hundred feet. I am informed, however,
that a year since it was measured by some tourists with a line from
the top, and that they found it to be nearly seventeen hundred feet
from the summit to the base. Thirteen hundred feet is about a quarter
of a mile, which is the distance from one of the numbered streets in
New-York to the fifth one distant. Let a person stand on Fourthavenue at Nineteenth-street, and the distance between him and the
Union-place Hotel is the smallest estimated distance of the height of
Wallface. In other words, if Fourth-avenue were perpendicular
instead of horizontal, the height from DR. BELLOWS’ church to the
Union-place Hotel will indicate to the mind sufficiently imaginative
as to thus turn things topsy-turvy, the immensity of the precipice at
the Indian Pass.
The scenery of the Pass is one of the greatest natural curiosities
on our continent east of the Rocky Mountains. To appreciate its
beauties in detail, a day or parts of two days should be passed among
them.
In thus briefly describing the characteristics of the gorge, based
upon the views we had of it in passing from the height of the watershed to the camping-ground, a mile distant, I have omitted any notice
of our experiences on the route between those two points. A few rods
to the south of the height is the Ice House. Under an immense
shelving piece of granite through the entrance to a narrow winding
chamber, amid the recesses of rock, JAKE WOOD led us one by one,
and at the extremity of the passage was a huge cake of ice, weighing
probably near a ton, and which can be found there at any season of
the year. The acrobat, with an axe, cut off two blocks of about a
cubic foot each, and brought them out in the open air, and — I may
be scolded for telling it — Donna Maria, who is skilled in the
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concoction of fragrant beverages, à la Americaine, soon produced
from our stock of lemons, sugar and whisky, commingled in correct
proportions with the water and ice which we then obtained, a series
of cold whisky punches which were swallowed by a tired and
perspiring coterie of thirsty mortals with a palpable relish, in
drinking the health of the dispenser of the compound.
I believe that JAKE had never been much further South than the
Ice House; and, as I have already stated, while Old BLINN had not
gone through the Pass for twelve years, CHARLEY had never been to
it. In the base of the chasm, by the Ice House, there were but a few
trees, and our line of travel thence was through bushes and weeds
and rank grass, with neither trail nor marked trees to guide us. But
following Old BLINN’S recollection of the direction of the line of
travel, which we were inclined to distrust, though we subsequently
saw it to be correct, we commenced the ascent of a steep bluff on the
east side of the gorge, and we soon found obscure evidences of a
path — here an old blaze on a tree — there some limbs broken from
a bush — at another place the moss worn from the trunk of an old
decayed tree by the tread of human footsteps, and occasionally a line
of depression of the dead leaves on the surface sufficient to show that
others had some time been there before us. The surface of the ground
was almost precipitous in places, and everywhere it was obstructed
by fallen trees, dead limbs and rocks. At last we reached Jump-Off
Rock — let me here name it for identification — where a bare
surface of rock forty feet high and with a steep inclination had to be
descended with nothing to aid us but the smooth trunk of a dead tree
which was lying upon it. The rock terminated in a perpendicular face
of several feet high, and from the end of the inclined face the descent
had to be made on the trunk of the tree alone as the only means of
reaching the ground. I regarded it as a piece of extra hazardous
mountain perambulation. It was only accomplished after many
abrasions of the skin and lacerations of clothing. This point attained,
we struck a few rods distant a well-marked trail which led south to
the Adirondack Iron Works. But over the mile intervening between
the Ice House and the foot of the Jump-Off Rock I am confident a
traveler will make slower time than the unsanctified on the highway
to Jordan, which, the African Muse has alleged on information and
belief, in a lyric composition of questionable literary excellence, is
beset with many difficulties for travelers, or words to that effect. The
fact that no well-marked trail exists between the Ice House and
Jump-Off Rock, I can only account for in this way, that the one point
terminates the path for tourists visiting the Pass from Scott’s, and the
other terminates the one traveled by those who visit it from the
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Adirondack Iron Works; and reaching either of which the visitor
wanders about seeking standpoints from which to view the
landscape. And, as it is rare that tourists go through from Scott’s to
Adirondack, or vice versa, no path has ever been made over the mile
intervening those points. To say that thirty tourists have gone through
the Pass from north to south, or south to north, in five years, I am
confident would be a large estimate.
From Jump-Off Rock the path goes down, down, over rocks and
roots, and tree butts and banks on the eastern side of the gorge,
which, I believe, at that point, is a spur of Mount McIntyre, a
distance of several hundred feet, and the base being reached we again
encounter the Hudson, already fifteen feet wide. We crossed to the
west bank, and finding the remains of an old shanty we decided to
encamp there for the night.
The work of building a shanty was at once commenced, and as
the clouds had already begun to indicate the near approach of a
storm, it was hastened forward with all speed. But our chances of
comfort seemed lugubrious when the guides told us that the season
was so far advanced, except upon much higher ground, that the
spruce bark upon which they rely in the woods to make a water-tight
roof would not peel. A covering of boughs, though good enough to
keep off the dews, is no better than a sieve as a shelter from the rain.
But this was our only reliance, except so far as our India rubber
blankets would serve to make a portion of the roof water-proof. We
had hardly got the blankets in place on the roof when a heavy, but
sharp clap of thunder broke over our heads. This, of itself, by reason
of its suddenness, was a surprise, but as the report was followed by
one reverberation after another, back and forth, between the walls of
the immense chasm in which we were, it was a feature in natural
acoustics which was decidedly startling. For a half hour one peal
followed another at intervals of a few minutes, each repeating itself
in successive echoes which grew fainter and fainter until the last was
heard far away up the gorge. It convinced us of the immense
superiority of American thunder, and the gratification we
experienced in hearing the reverberations reconciled us more fully to
the discomforts which were to come from the rain which followed.
And soon it did follow, in a heavy storm of three hours’ duration,
when, for a time, it ceased, but only to continue at intervals during
the night.
And the thunder had another effect still. It again set the springs
of the Russian’s poetic inspiration to flowing. Seated under the edge
of our shanty and close to the cheerful camp fire, he took out his
notebook and wrote us a camp song, adopting it to the air of Vive
214
l’Amour, which the night before we had sung in camp with extensive
improvisations. After supper (which consisted of fried trout as the
principal feature, a hundred of which JAKE and CHARLEY had caught
in the morning,) when the rain had commenced to pour, we huddled
together under the shanty and tuned our voices for the Russian’s new
song. One voice sang the verses and the whole joined in the refrain
and the chorus. And, “although we says it as shouldn’t, bein’ as how
as we made it,” we don’t think any better music has been heard in
that neighborhood for a good while. As part of the current
proceedings of the tramp, I insert a copy of the song. The refrain and
chorus apply to each verse, though only inserted in connection with
the first:
THE ADIRONDACK MOUNTAIN SONG.
Air — Vive l’Amour.
O’er mountain and vale we tramp gaily along;
Hurrah for our Gypsy life!
And merrily join in the forest bird’s song,
Hurrah for our Gypsy life!
CHORUS —
And cheers for the mountains where freedom doth dwell,
Where echoes resounding through gorge and dell,
Of vigor and courage and cheerfulness tell!
Hurrah for the mountains, hurrah!
The forest leaves rustle a welcome to give
To wilds where the deer and the catamount live.
The brooks in wild monotone cheerily greet
The sound of our voices — the tread of our feet.
Though humble our food, it is all to our wish;
’Tis relished far more than the epicure’s dish.
At nightfall we nestle on Mother Earth’s breast,
And music of waterfalls lulls us to rest.
With shanty and camp-fire the storms we defy —
The morrow’s sun surely will lighten the sky.
And as we move onward the sun’s brilliant light
A grand panorama unfolds to our sight.
And so, through the wild woods, when trampling along,
We merrily join in the forest-bird’s song.
215
Other songs were sung, and stories were told, and jokes were
played, to pass away an hour and a half, during which the rain came
down in torrents. The India-rubber blanket was not sufficient to
afford us full protection from the rain, and we could not huddle so
closely together but we would get more or less wet. Despite the
discomfort, I do not believe we passed a more jolly time on our
tramp than on that night. People accept the inevitable, no matter what
the sacrifice. And when there is a party together in the midst of
discomfort, with no possibility of rendering it less, a corporate
enthusiasm is aroused which leads them to be light hearted when —
if no such incentive existed — some might be pensive, or even
melancholy. About 9 o’clock we turned in for the night. Our heads
and bodies were protected from the rain; but to bring our legs from
the knees down under the shelter of the India-rubber blanket, we
were compelled to lie “spoon fashion.” This did very well so long as
we remained awake, but after sleep came upon us we would
unconsciously stretch out our legs for a change of position, and long
before morning all had awakened to a knowledge of the fact that
their lower limbs had been for a good while soaking in the rain.
Finding that we had slept soundly under the aqueous visitation, we
turned over, and soon, into sleepy oblivion, the rain and its
discomforts had again passed.
When day broke the storm had ceased, and we entertained hopes
that the weather would clear up to enable us to remain a few hours on
the Pass to more minutely inspect its beauties, before starting for the
Adirondack Iron Works. But we were disappointed. About 9 o’clock
the rain commenced again. As our provisions were not more than
sufficient to carry us through the day, we resolved to recommence
our tramp. At 10 o’clock, with everything packed, we started, and
soon after the rain became almost a torrent. Through it, however, we
walked for three hours a distance of nearly five miles to the
Adirondack Iron Works, half the space over a path having more or
less of the usual characteristics of fallen trees and swampy places, to
which was added mud the whole distance. By HUNTER and his
family at Adirondack we were kindly received. The ladies were
furnished with dry clothing. The men, less fortunate, were only able
to become dry by the slow process of evaporation. Though his house
was full a bed was provided for the ladies. We of the opposite sex
were thankful for the comforts of the hay mow; and though the grasshoppers from the new-made hay would get entangled in our hair and
whiskers, and occasionally tickle our noses, we slept well, and were
ready in the morning for another day’s tramp.
E.F.U.
216
A Picturesque Village — An Isolated Family —
Calamity Pond — Thrilling Panther Story
North Elba, Essex Co., N.Y.
Saturday, Aug. 4, 1866
The village of Adirondack, or, as it is more frequently called, the
Adirondack Iron Works, is of itself a feature of more than ordinary
interest to the tourist. It has a picturesque situation on the Hudson
River, between Lakes Henderson and Sandford, through which the
river flows on its course to the south. It is surrounded by high hills;
and by “hills” in Essex County is meant any elevation of less than
fifteen hundred feet in height. These obscure the view of the high
peaks in the region about it, although Mounts Santanoni, Wallface,
McIntyre, Colden and Marcy are all situated within a few miles of
the village. Lake Henderson is but a few rods distant from it, over a
bluff. Lake Sandford, within an easy walk to the south, we did not
visit, though it is said to abound in fine scenery. But we rowed over
the greater part of the length of Lake Henderson — a beautiful sheet
of water surrounded by mountains whose sides are still covered with
primitive forests. Its length is about two miles, and its greatest
breadth less than a half mile. It has a winding course, with various
headlands, which add variety to the view in rowing up or down the
lake.
About a mile distant from the village, as the tourist approaches it
from the Indian Pass, the path leads into open meadow and pasture
lands, on which more or less of saplings of second growth have taken
root. A few head of cattle grazing on the fields is also a sign that he
is emerging again into civilization, and this, to a party of Bohemians,
drenching wet from a three hours’ walk in a heavy rain-storm, was,
in the year of grace 1866, a pleasing prospect. Over an old bridge,
almost in ruins, the Hudson River, already twenty-five feet wide, is
crossed, and a few rods further on, in reaching the top of a knoll, the
village greets the view. On a well laid out street are about twenty
houses, fifteen of them modern built dwellings, two of large size, and
the remainder cottages. They are neatly painted and have a fresh,
bright appearance. A large furnace for manufacturing iron, with its
immense chimney and outbuildings, is at the entrance to the village.
Another, of larger dimensions, is situated a quarter of a mile distant
on the other end of the street. The appearance of the village and its
charming situation at first inspire emotions of living gratification.
But in entering it a sudden change of feeling is experienced. Not a
human being is visible. From the furnace no sound of human
industry is heard. The window sashes of the houses have on them
only the broken fragments of glass, and here and there both windows
217
and doors are covered with rough boards, nailed upon the outside of
the house. Porches are rotted. Fences are decayed and falling.
Gardens are grown up with rank weeds. Bricks from the chimney
tops have fallen from their places; and from the chimneys there are
no wreaths of blue smoke ascending heavenward. A cold feeling of
desolation pervades the atmosphere. The impulse is to retrace one’s
steps; for, if in the woods there is solitude, it is the solitude of nature,
and not that which follows the decimation of a civilized community
by pestilence, which is the thought suggested by the view. But stop!
There is from one of the larger dwelling houses some smoke
ascending. In a moment a hound emerges from the house and barks
at those who dare to disturb the desolation by their tread. Then for a
moment he stops — half hesitating; then comes forward, and with a
friendly greeting wags his tail. A tall, sober-visaged man of about
fifty years next appears, and invited the strangers into his house,
where they are kindly treated during their stay. This is HUNTER, who,
with his wife and family, have, for nine years98 been the only
inhabitants of Adirondack — the Deserted Village. During the
Summer his house is visited by sportsmen and tourists, who find it a
convenient place from which to visit the Indian Pass, Lakes
Sandford, Henderson and Delia,99 the Preston Ponds, Cold Brook and
other points of interest for scenery or for game. But in the Winter,
HUNTER and his family are isolated from the world. Their nearest
neighbor is ten miles distant, and to reach him they have to go
through deep snows, over a road but little traveled. With both of her
daughters absent last Winter at school, Mrs. HUNTER was five
months without seeing the face of woman.
And now, as to the cause of this phenomenon in American
civilization. The region about the village of Adirondack abounds in
rich and almost inexhaustible beds or iron ore of a quality fitted to
make the finest steel; the Hudson River furnishes abundant water
power; and from the wood in the contiguous forests the necessary
charcoal is obtained at a cheap cost for the furnaces. Three
Scotchmen, Messrs. MCINTYRE, HENDERSON and ROBINSON, who
had acquired large means in this country, bought the property with
the view to develop its mineral resources. I believe that at the
inception of the enterprise others were associated with them. They
thoroughly explored the region; they built two large furnaces; built
up a village, with hotel, and boarding-house, and school-house, and
98
This author nearly has the dates right — it was eight years before, in 1858, when the
iron works were abandoned, not nine years. This is much different from the writers
who mistakenly placed the closure of the works in the late 1840s.
99
Lake Delia is now known as Newcomb Lake.
218
store and dwellings. Land was cleared in the region about, and
agriculture began to flourish. For a number of years the manufacture
was carried on with more or less success; but changes in the duties
on imported iron, and the immense cost of transporting their
manufacture, a distance of near 50 miles by team to Lake Champlain,
made the business a hazardous one. In the meantime, Mr.
HENDERSON lost his life by accident on the margin of a pond five
miles distant, which since has borne the name of Calamity Pond. The
other members of the Company desiring to retire from active
business pursuits, the property was sold to a new Company about ten
years since. Their career was short; they failed in their payments, and
the property reverted to the original founders of the enterprise, and it
is held by their heirs now. By then HUNTER was employed to look
after the property, and there he and his exist with every opportunity
to experience all the delights which the most enthusiastic
sentimentalist would attach to seclusion from the world.100
The morning after our arrival at Adirondack, we replenished our
stock of bread, flour, pork, maple sugar and a few other articles in
the commissary department, bade good-bye to Mrs. HUNTER and her
daughters, and recommenced our tramp. Our route was by the Mount
Marcy trail as far as the foot of Lake Colden; thenceforward we were
to find our way back to SCOTT’S as best we might. HUNTER
accompanied us for a half mile until we were beyond the reach of
side paths, which might lead us astray. Then, giving him a farewell
shake of the hand, we pursued our journey for a distance of 17 miles,
with guides who saw the region for the first time. The trail to
Calamity Pond, a distance of five miles, was well marked and was
comparatively easy of travel, though the common obstacle of fallen
trees was now and then encountered. The outlet of the pond we
crossed and recrossed. It is a pretty mountain stream, with waters of
crystal purity; at no point without rapids, and with numerous
picturesque waterfalls. The path has a gradual rise of about a hundred
and fifty feet to the mile, with here and there a knoll to be ascended.
At length we reached the pond — a sheet of water having a
superficial area of about twenty acres, with a narrow marshy margin
covered with high grass on its eastern side, and on the north and west
inclosed by spurs of Mount McIntyre. On the border, and within a
100
This author’s relatively detailed account of the final years of the Adirondack Iron &
Steel Manufacturing Company is remarkably accurate for a travel writer; one wonders
what sources he used. The only mistake this writer has made is that McIntyre’s
company continued operating the works for another year after the “new Company”
defaulted, closing them in 1858, not 1857; this accounts for the writer’s earlier error,
placing the Hunters as caretakers of the Deserted Village for nine years, rather than
eight.
219
few feet of the trail, is a low block of granite, four feet across, and
with a height of eighteen inches above the surface. Over twenty years
since, Mr. HENDERSON, one of the Iron Company, while exploring
the region, seated himself at nightfall on the rock, drew his pistol
from his belt, and laid it on the rock. By some accident, a moment
after, it discharged, and the bullet entering his body, he died within a
quarter of an hour. His body was conveyed to Adirondack, and
thence to New-Jersey for interment. On the surface of the rock his
children have erected a monument. It is a rectangular parallel
opipodon101 of sand stone, with ornamented base and capital and has
a height from the ground of about eight feet. With its tasteful
carving, it presents a marked contrast to the wild surroundings of the
region. It bears the following inscription:
THIS MONUMENT,
ERECTED BY FILIAL AFFECTION
TO THE MEMORY OF
OUR DEAR FATHER,
DAVID HENDERSON,
WHO ACCIDENTALLY LOST
HIS LIFE ON THIS SPOT,
3D SEPTEMBER, 1845.
At the head of Calamity Pond, the trail crosses its inlet, beyond
which, for a few rods the evidences of a path were to us so indistinct
as to require a quarter of an hour’s delay to find it. It led thence for
about eighty rods up and over a steep, beset with every kind of
obstruction — fallen trees, dead branches, briers, rocky surfaces
covered with mosses, with old holes to fall through and new ones to
be made by the tread of the foot. Thence forward for nearly two
miles, to the crossing of the Opalescent River, near the foot of Lake
Colden, it led up and down a succession of hills, with more or less
mud and mire to soil the clothing and interfere with the comfort of
travel. The plan of running paths over a succession of hills, when to
skirt their bases is just as feasible, is very common in this mountain
region. The reason is that the paths were not originally marked out
for tourists. They often follow the lines of sable traps; and being well
known to mountaineers they have followed those trails in guiding
strangers through the region, in preference to bushing out new paths
on lower ground.
At last we reached Camp Colden, about twenty rods below the
foot of Lake Colden, where the outlet of the lake discharges its
101
?!
220
waters into the Opalescent River. Two fine camping grounds — one
on each side of the outlet, and each provided with two good shanties
— we found at this point. We selected the first that we reached, and
when fresh hemlock boughs had been cut for our beds and a campfire was lighted, we had everything complete for our personal
comfort. With the number of records left on the bare surface of the
trees, it was evident that Camp Colden is a favorite halfway-house
for tourists ascending and descending Mount Marcy. This practice of
leaving records at camping grounds is quite common in the mountain
and lake region; and it is by no means uninteresting to the tourist to
read the inscriptions left by others. Some merely state names and
dates; others write briefly the route of their travel; still others there
be who, in a funny vein tell of their experiences in the woods. At
Camp Colden we found the name of a literary gentleman, well
known to fame, inscribed, with the laconic, but expressive
announcement that on a certain day in August, 1865, he had reached
that point with two guides and three other bottles of whisky, with
which he expected to go over Mount Marcy. Whether the whisky
rations held out is to me a matter of conjecture, but I have heard that
he went over that highest peak of the Adirondacks successfully.
After supper we gathered around our cheerful camp-fire and
commenced telling stories and singing songs to pass away the
evening. Suddenly a shrill scream, which in a few seconds was
followed by another, startled our hearing.
“Hallo,” said JAKE, “there’s a panther around, to-night, sure.”
“Yes,” said old BLINN, “that’s one on ’em, I van it is.”
This feature in the trip had not been included in our programme.
With an “Oh dear,” and a “Mercy on us,” Donna MARIA and the
Señorita cuddled up together in the shanty; and I guess every one of
the party experienced some “pokerish” feelings on hearing the
announcement. But the artist and NIMROD, (who, if not a “mighty,” is
a mighty bad hunter,) looked aghast. Both had been anxious to see
one of the “varmint,” one to sketch him, and the other to add to his
fame as a slaughterer of wild beasts, which, as yet, had not obtained
much currency. But now, when a live catamount announced his
presence by a portentious scream, their faces elongated, their cheeks
turned pale, their eyes opened to a double width, and their short hair
assumed a perpendicular on their craniums.
“B–b–by the way, Jake,” said the Artist, stammering, “does that
scream indicate that the animal f-feels particularly f-ferocious, or is it
an eccentric way he has of manifesting the exuberance of his good
nature?”
“Yes,” said NIMROD, “does it mean that he wants his hash?”
221
“I guess he wouldn’t object to a little fresh meat if it was
handy,” said JAKE.
“Oh, dear me, I want to go home,” said the Artist.
“Yes, why don’t they come in the day time, so that a fellow can
see to shoot them, and not come at this time when there is no
chance,” said NIMROD.
“Oh, you needn’t be afeared,” said old BLINN; “he’s half a mile
away, and he’d never come near this fire; and, besides, they are allus
afeared to come where there’s so many. Why, I recollect — let me
see — how many year ago was that? — well it was over thirty year
ago — I was out in the woods, and when it got to be along toward
dark, I built up a little fire jest at the foot of a mountain. I cut off a
slice of salt pork and stuck it on a crotched stick and commenced to
brile it. Well, the grease was a fryin’ out of it purtty smart, and, as it
fell on the coals, it burnt, and of course you could smell it plain all
about there. First I knowed I heered the dernedest scream in a tree
right over my head — I van it came on to me the suddenest of
anything I ever heered before, and I tell you I was scairt. Well, I
looked up, and there was a big catamount lookin’, with his great
green eyes, right down on to me.”
At this point, everybody looked anxiously up into branches of
the trees over our camp, and old BLINN proceeded:
“Well, I hadn’t got no gun with me at all; but I knew there wan’t
no use o’ showin’ the white feather, so I jest poked up the fire a
leetle and put on some small dry sticks there was, and in a minnit it
blazed up bright. I looked right at the darned critter just as if I didn’t
care whether he want or staid. Well, it wasn’t more’n a half a minnit
before he give another scream, and then he jumped across on to the
branches of the next tree, and he kept on a jumpin’ from one tree to
another up that hill for a quarter of a mile, and every time he jumped
he gin jest such a scream. Well, I jest brought in a lot of dry wood for
the night, built a good fire, and laid down and went to sleep. Every
hour or two I would git up and fix the fire, but I didn’t see nothin’
more o’ that panther.”
“How do we know that the ‘varmint’ isn’t now traveling along
on the branches of these trees to reconnoitre?” asked the artist.
“That is just what I’d like,” said JAKE, “for then we could have
some sport. What’s the use of bringing our shootin’ irons along if we
can’t have some fun? But you needn’t be afraid. If a man only shows
fight, whether he’s got a gun or not, a panther will run unless he is
cornered.”
“They hain’t got no sense in ’em any how,” said old BLINN.
“About ten years ago one on ’em went into a shanty in JOE NASH’s
222
sugar-bush,102 where JOE left about ten pounds o’ salt pork. He et all
the pork, and then he went to the tub where the maple syrup was, and
commenced drinkin’ that. He drunk a lot on it, but you see he didn’t
know how to enjoy such luxuries like a rational bein’, and it was a
leetle too much for him; for when JOE come to the shanty the next
mornin’ to commence a sugarin’-off he found the catamount a lyin’
dead about ten rods off. He must have had a powerful colic, I tell
ye.”
“Who?” inquired the Russian, “JOE NASH?”
“No, the catamount,” said old BLINN; “and I tell ye that a man
needn’t be afeerd of no animal that is such fools as to eat pork and
molasses in that way.”
We were in the midst of hearing another panther story from
CHARLEY when we heard in the distance the baying of a hound,
which, as it became more distinct, led us to think it was driving some
animal — deer or wolf or bear or panther, we knew not — which was
running toward our camp. The moment this conclusion was reached
JAKE and the Acrobat cocked their huge revolvers; NIMROD, whose
courage had, since the story of the pork and molasses eating panther,
become a known quantity, examined the percussion on his doublebarreled fowling-piece; I put a cartridge in my Ballard rifle, and
together we went a few rods into the woods. But we were doomed to
disappointment; the hound soon came, but no game. It was “Nell,”
on of the hunter’s hounds whose acquaintance we had made in the
morning, and she, following our trail on her own responsibility, reach
us at Camp Colden. To the Señorita she was a welcome visitor, and
coming as she did, a waif to our camp, we all felt an interest in her.
The guides tried to drive her back, but she remained with us, and it
was not until the second day after that we finally got rid of her.
102
Joe Nash was, with his brother-in-law Benjamin Brewster, one of the two original
settlers (around 1850) of the isthmus between Placid Lake and Bennet’s Pond (later
called Mirror Lake). His red frame home, known widely as “Nash’s Red House,” was
the first house in what was to become the village of Lake Placid to regularly lodge
tourists. Nash, who subdivided his farm acreage on the west shore of Mirror Lake for
development, is credited as the founder of Lake Placid. The village’s Main Street runs
along what once was Nash’s cow path.
223
DOCUMENT FIFTEEN
The Indian Pass; or,
103
A Tramp Through the Trees (1868)
ALFRED B. STREET
Chapter I: The Indian Pass
The five mountain ranges of northern New York;
the departure; tramp to the Pass
Five parallel mountain ranges traverse the State of New York in
a northeasterly direction, terminating either at Lake Champlain, or in
the plains of Canada. The most easterly range rises north of Saratoga
Springs, and runs northeasterly through the southeast portion of
Warren, and northwest corner of Washington counties. Passing
between lakes George and Champlain, it terminates on the latter lake
a little south of Ticonderoga. This is called the Black Mountain
Range.
The second range, immediately west of the preceding, rises in
Montgomery County, and runs parallel with Lake George, which lies
to the west, and terminates near Crown Point and Port Henry, on
Lake Champlain. It is called the Kayadarosseras Range. The highest
peak is Pharaoh Mountain, at Lake Pharaoh in Schroon.
The third range rises north of Johnstown, in the County of
Fulton, and, traversing Warren County, terminates on Lake
Champlain, at Split Rock. It is known as the East Moriah Range.
Crane Mountain is the highest point.
The fourth begins in Montgomery County, and terminates at
Willsborough, on Lake Champlain. It averages about nine miles in
width, and is distinguished as the West Moriah, or Boquet Range.
The highest mountain is Dix’s Peak.
The fifth and last range begins at Little Falls, in the County of
Herkimer, and, passing through Hamilton County, terminates at
Trembleau Point, on Lake Champlain. It is known as the Clinton, or
Adirondack Range.
The loftiest portion of this range is a nearly circular group,
called the Adirondacks, consisting of Mount Marcy or Tahawus104
(central and highest), with Mounts Colden and McIntyre, Wallface,
Mounts Robertson, Henderson, Seward, and Santanoni, at the west;
Boreas Mountain on the south; Haystack, the Dial or Nipple Top, and
103
Pages 1 through 96 from the edition published in 1869 by Hurd and Houghton
(New York), Riverside Press (Cambridge).
104
Street: An Indian word, meaning, literally, He Splits The Sky.
224
the Gothics, at the east; with Whiteface north and Blue Mountain
south as outposts.
All these mountains, except Mount Seward and Blue Mountain,
belong to the County of Essex, the former being in Franklin County
and the latter in Hamilton.
The whole five ranges also pass through Essex County; but it is
the Adirondack group with which we have to do.
It is of hypersthene formation, fashioned into conical peaks, and
sharp, serrated ridges.
It is a strange, weird, and almost unknown region, weltering in
the wildest, most impenetrable forests; a region of snows, landslides, water-spouts, terrific tempests, tornadoes, windfalls, and
earthquakes. It is full of horrible gorges, dizzy cliffs, impervious
fastnesses, green dingles, lovely lakes, rivers, grassy glades,
waterfalls, beautiful beaver-meadows, purling streamlets; and
abounds in bears, wolves, deer, panthers, and (but unfrequently and
in the wildest places) moose.
Four gorges, peerless in majesty and awful beauty, frown within
them: the Indian Pass, the Panther Gorge of Mount Marcy, the Clove
or Notch of Whiteface, and the gorge between the Dial and Dix’s
Peak.
These spots it was my determination to explore, including a visit
to lakes Colden and Avalanche; all, with the exception of the Dial
gorge, on my way over Mount Marcy to the lovely valley of Keene.
It was necessary to perform the whole journey on foot, — the trail
lying through the wildest and most inaccessible forests of the
Adirondacks, portions of which were almost unknown. The trail was
of the faintest description, only to be followed by the most
experienced woodmen, — touching along the ridges and etching the
hollows, eked out by the runways of wolf and panther, as well as
deer. For miles it was merely a bear-track. I should thus welter day
after day in the sea-like wilderness where broken lights only entered,
and where the moss stood undisturbed even by the breath of the
tempest, so close and impervious were the depths. To say I looked
forward to this journey with interest, would convey but a slight idea
of my sensations. The wildest romance tinged my dreamings, and the
liveliest curiosity spurred me on in my anticipations. To see the
forest — the real, primeval, mysterious forest, where axe never rung
save the hunter’s, or roof never rose but the shanty of brush and
saplings; the great, stretching, splendid wilderness; to be buried alive
in its fastnesses, and feel its influence in my innermost soul — this
was the impulse of my nature, the warm desire of my heart. I had
with all my wanderings, I was conscious, never seen this forest. True
225
I had floated through the woods over sheltered waters, and encamped
on points, islands, and shores of leafy beauty; but I had only hovered
(save in my trip to the Beaver waters of the St. Regis) at its
extremities. The vast, dark, deep heart I had really never seen. I was
now to pierce into the deepest recesses of this heart, open up its
secrets, and revel in its grandeur and beauty.
The time had now arrived for this contemplated tramp, and I
consequently made preparations for the long, fatiguing, but most
unique and exciting journey of over eighty miles. Truly a most
glorious tramp through a most magnificent region.
As it was very necessary to have guides familiar with the
Adirondacks, I determined to engage a couple at Scott’s on the
Elizabethtown Road, about ten miles from the Lower Saranac Lake,
and which I also resolved to make my point of departure.
Accordingly, at ten o’clock, one bright September day, I found
myself at Scott’s, ten miles due north from the Indian Pass. Here I
hired two guides, Loyal A. Merrill and Robert Scott Blin,105 for the
entire trip; and faithful, reliable guides I found them, and would
commend them most heartily to all disposed to make the journey
which I, under their auspices, accomplished.
I passed the day at this most quiet and beautiful spot in
completing still farther my arrangements, and in surveying the
localities. The place smiles an oasis of meadow and grain-field, in
the midst of mountain forests. Looking south, the dizzy pyramid of
Mount McIntyre rises most splendidly green from base to brow, with
a smaller mountain leaning upon its breast like a bride. Indeed,
gazing through my opera-glass, I thought, in the mist with which the
whole scene was at first shrouded, the latter was McIntyre, until
raising my glass still higher, I saw a background that filled the glass
the higher I raised it, until lo! the summit was gained, and there stood
the magnificent mass, like a stupendous thunder-cloud. It was most
impressive, yea, it was truly awful, my first view of Mount McIntyre.
The opening of the Indian Pass between this grand mountain and
Wallface, is clearly perceptible, veiling itself in softest azure, the
latter rounding down like the “bended beak” of the eagle. How
different, this velvet sweetness of tint, this melting blandness of look,
from the stern, gray, cracked, startling crag that walls the Pass, none
could appreciate, but those who had seen its horrors. West, over the
huge rampart or bastion of Wallface, which mountain curves north to
within a mile or two of Scott’s, peers up the cloven crest of Mount
Seward. East of McIntyre stands a cone of blue, so faint, a breeze
105
The last name more commonly spelled “Blinn.”
226
would seemingly dissolve it into the summer heaven; yet there
frowns Mount Colden, the most stern and savage of all the
Adirondack group. Frequently it shakes from its rocky sides its robe
of forest, tumbling pines and crags like straws and pebbles in
thundering chaos at its feet, thus peeling, as it were, in mad wrath, its
very flesh from its shuddering frame. The two beautiful lakes Colden
and Avalanche, its own children, which it wears like jewels of its
sandals, are nearly choked with these fragments of its existence and
emblems of its wrath. And there it stands, casting an awe over the
very sunshine! here seeming so sweet and smiling!
Next upon its throne of forest, soars exultingly Mount Marcy or
Tahawus, the Piercer of the Sky, Monarch of the Mountains, Darer of
the Lightning, and Conqueror of the Storm! How soft and smiling
too, — a fragment of the soft heaven, soft as the blue of spring’s first
violet.
Next this King of the Crags, is seen the Dial, supporter of its
rocky dome, like Atlas bearing aloft the globe; and close to the Titan
scowls the sleeping lion of Dix’s Peak. Thence, circling the horizon,
swell the summits of the Keene Mountains to where north, the crest
of Whiteface blots the sky.
Truly a most glorious frame for this little picture of peace and
plenty, this garden-spot of swaying grass and glittering grain.
The morning of my start was bright and beautiful, but warm.
Donning my thick, blue hunting-shirt, with a leather belt tightly
clasping my waist, and clutching a stout walking-stick, with Irish
hob-nails in my strong laced shoes, and with my two stalwart guides,
bearing canvas knapsacks of provender, I started joyfully for my first
long wished for goal — the Indian Pass. “My eyes make pictures
when they’re shut,” sings Coleridge, and I busied myself in building
the terrific wall in my fancy, while following my guides across the
sylvan road and over a few rough pastures, due south toward my
destination. The sunshine burned kindly upon me, and the occasional
flit of a downy breeze was welcome. Crossing the last field, full of
curled golden-rods and grouped asters, we came to a wood road, or
rather a green vista of the woods.
“Hurrah for the Indian Pass!” said Robert, the youngest of my
guides, a lad of eighteen, with a flourish of his knapsack over his
head.
“Hurrah!” echoed Merrill, my head guide, “hurrah!”
“Hurra-a-h!” reechoed I with a glow at my heart and a more
important thrill at my heels.
The vista led south through an open wood, clustered with
hopples and whortleberry bushes. We shortly reached the dwelling of
227
Robert’s father, and completed an arrangement in the shape of
additional loaves of bread, and a “chunk” (Robert’s word) of sweet
sound pork, and a few more rosy-skinned, carbuncle-eyed peachblow potatoes. Here I readjusted my shoe — which, I forgot to
mention, was framed over the toe and instep of my right foot with
copper, to protect the soft, raw flesh consequent upon the recent loss
of a nail. The copper pressed upon the bulge of the foot, and fearful
of a chafe, I rearranged it, and made it, as far as possible,
comfortable for my prospective long, rough, and weary tramp
through the forest. I then relaced tightly my shoes, thus harnessing
my faithful “team,” and we started. Passing over another field or two,
we came to the west branch of the Ausable River, flowing among its
plentiful pebbles in a wide but shallow channel. A rude scow,
propelled by Robert’s staff, carried us across the black, swift current,
and, ascending the weedy border, we plunged instantly into the wild
woods, — woods which immersed us continuously for a fort-night,
and which yielded us to the open day only (with the exception of
three quiet days I passed at the village of the “Upper Works”) when
we emerged into the green, beautiful valley of Keene.
Gratefully did the balm of the forest shadow fall upon me with
its emerald gloom and brooding peace. And now began our work.
We fell into Indian file, that natural — indeed the only — way of
threading the woods, following a faint, narrow trail bushed out only a
month previous, by a company of woodmen (Robert being one),
detailed and led by Scott himself acting as guide.
I could see, with my little forest experience, that we were now in
the deep, tangled wilderness, the unmistakable woods of the wild,
savage Adirondacks: woods in which the Indian Pass shrouds itself
from the eye of all but the most ardent lovers of the picturesque;
woods where lakes Colden and Avalanche slumber, year after year,
with almost no encroachment from man, wasting their beauty on the
gazing mountains; woods with which the grand Tahawus wraps his
giant shoulders, but in which he does not suffer his rocky brow to be
mantled, crushing them flat in the chill frown of his kingly look.
With a strong consciousness of the labor demanded ere I should
accomplish my journey, I pressed forward, trampling the lush woodplants in my path, and feeling the delicate steel-like elasticity of the
forest earth lifting my feet as with wings as I strode. Frequently at
first, owing to the awkwardness of my copper shoe, I stumbled and
pitched, sometimes on my breast and sometimes on my head, but
with no damage save a deeper “bung” (another of Robert’s words) to
my soft felt hat or nightcap, for my head covering answered both
purposes.
228
Onward, onward! Past colonnades of lordly trunks, where the
sunlight lay in speckles; past vistas opening denser shades, and
looking as if only the light foot of the rabbit or partridge had ever left
a print; past delicious dingles where diamond runlets danced; past
hemlocks dripping with ringletted moss as old towers with ivy; past
delicate white birches glittering as if of silver in the emerald light;
past vast orbs of roots upturned by some old tornado; past huge
rocks, green with moss and red with weather stains and lichen, and
twined with roots that pines and cedars knotted; past beautiful glades
where the blue joint and silver-weed, aster and golden-rod, grew;
past the little rivulet from the mountain-rock, glancing onward, a
streak of pearl; past the sapling glued to the tree, and wood-sprout
rising to the sapling, and lithe buff stem to the sprout; past the purple
hopple and the crimson sumach; past the old log (these logs were
abominations in causing “hoist” to the weary legs) weltering in
prickly brambles and plumy brake; past light in sprinkles, light in
spots, light in dots, and light in sparkles; past shade in nooks, shade
in brooks, shade in corners of rocks, and shade in twisted fissures,
shade in depth of fir-trees and shade in hearts of bushy cedars; past
dead tamaracks, and tamaracks in scattered golden hues; past gray
trees forlorn, and desolate and gray trees dying in one another’s
clutch like fighting deer; past threatening swamps where dead trees
decayed; gloomy ravines, frowning hollows, sloping ridges, and
steep acclivities; past graceful arches of foliage like ranges of Gothic
windows, with foliage in arabesque twined each side like walls; in
short, right through the tameless, wolfy, primeval forest, we swiftly
went. The raven uttered his hoarse croak as he scented us and floated
blackly off; the partridge reared her mottled crown and scudded
away to the crackle of our footsteps; the deer “arched its slim neck
from glades” to snapping twigs, and glanced away as its soft black
orbs met our dreaded shapes glimmering from out the green distance;
the bear, pacing and waddling in the trail, doubtless huddled his furry
form into the cleft of some old log as he heard the strange trample;
the panther lifted his fore-paw with sharp, erected ears, ceasing, for
the moment, his velvet glide o’er the yielding moss; and the wild
wolf stood still with lifted front as the echoes gave back the careless
whistle or clear halloo of the approaching foes.
On, on we went. As I felt the tire of the tramp, down I sank in
the plump moss, which clasped me, with a caress; down on the
wreathed root, in the soft fern-filled hollow; and when the tire melted
from my limbs, up again I rose with a cheery “Hurrah, boys!” thus
taking up once more the dropped thread of trail. Now we rested on
some cushioned rock, and now on some trunk fallen athwart the
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track. Now we reached some deep ravine where the mountain-brook
threaded its broad path of pebbles, and in the spattered light sat until
the flitting fatigue was over; and now we braced our strength to
breast the unfrequent ridge that sloped across our way.
Thus passed the pleasant sylvan hours until the afternoon gleam
rested on the western foliage, for by this sign alone knew we the
flight of the day over the sky of leaves.
At length we came to a wild clearing lined with bushes.
“Father’s sugar place!” said Robert. “We make the tallest kind
of maple-sugar here, in the spring! See, the troughs and things are all
about!” pointing to a few wooden troughs hollowed rudely by the axe
and darkened with the weather, lying around, with here and there a
sapling black with smoke, the cranes of the sap-kettles, and the
smoke-stained stones, the kitchen-hearth of the “sugar-bush.”
It was a wild, forest scene, full now of quiet and sunshine. I
fancied, however, the “sugaring” in the spring. The stalwart form of
the elder Blin bends over the mammoth black kettles bubbling with
the rich tawny liquor, and ladles from one to the other the fast
stiffening stuff, attenuating it from his lifted ladle into delicate
spider-threads, to see how far it had grained; now he places the
hissing, sputtering kettle in the March snowdrift “to cool off,” and
now he tastes the contents to see if they had taken accidentally a
“burn.” Cakes of sugar are ranged in brown, tempting rows on nice,
clean barken slabs, ready for use, while the crackling fires fill the
whole maple ridge with rosy comfort; on the towering maples, hacks
have been made in which are white spouts from which the sap falls in
twinkling drops into the troughs below, drop, drop, like minute bells
rivaling the carol of the witnessing bluebird.
Before my picture faded, we had crossed the “bush” and plunged
into the opposite forest.
We now came to a path intersecting our trail from the west, or at
our right.
“Eppes’s trail to the Pass!” said Robert, alluding to a wellknown guide.106 Forward again, with the scenery, described
continually renewed.
The afternoon gleam crept lower and lower. “I’ll show you at the
first beginning of the Pass the way to the three ponds found out by
Mr. Scott on the highest top of Wallface!” said Robert. “He was out a
moose-hunting, and came upon them forty years ago! They send out
streams, according to his tell, every way. The one that comes out
here away is one of the sprouts to the west branch of the Ausable
106
Lyman Epps Sr., head of the last family of the Gerrit Smith/John Brown black
colony remaining in North Elba.
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River. Another goes into Cold River, running west into Racket River,
nigh Long Lake, and another goes down into Lake Henderson and is
one of the branches of old Hudson. The three ponds are jined
together way up nigh the top of Wallface. They’ve never been seen
but by Scott, and a good many folks say there aint no such ponds.
But I believe Mr. Scott, and he says so. A good many folks, guides
too, git lost turning up this way; that is, before this trail was ‘bushed
out,’ thinking it the way to the Pass. They get awfully taken in,
though. It’s an awful sort of a place to get into, and that’s the reason
nobody could get to the ponds after Scott. There was a guide turned
up here, supposing he was on the way to the Pass, with a gentleman,
and got lost, and both like to have starved to death, besides being
tuckered out. At last, however, after roaming about two or three days,
they stumbled back, and made tracks towards Scott’s, glad enough to
get out alive from the awful old woods. Lord save me from being lost
in them!”
As this was the evidence of a woodman, born in the woods and
knowing nothing else, despising the hardships and steeled to their
dangers, I thought no higher testimonial could be furnished to the
utter savagery of these tremendous forests, should a deviation from
the faithful compass-trail be unhappily made. I thought and
shuddered.
Gladly I turned to another theme. I fancied a picture of these
lonely goblets of Wallface, hiding on the top of the tall mountain,
overrunning with these three streams, — mountain-torrents dashing
down from ledge to ledge, through rocky gorge and leafy ravine, to
link their pure, bright waters with the fierce Ausable, the gentle
Racket, and the mighty Hudson that bends his vassal-knee to none
but Ocean.
A gray glimmer now broke through the stems, and the next
moment we descended the border of a wide-channeled brook strewed
with white pebbles, rocks, and mossy boulders, through which
struggled threads of sable water flecked in spots with foam.
It was the west branch of the Ausable River. Born in the Indian
Pass, it bids eternal adieu to its twin the Hudson, and goes onward,
strengthening as it goes, disdaining barriers, and fainting not to
thirsty suns that fain would exhaust its struggling life, until it leaps in
white, live lightning through the Clove of Whiteface, and rolling in
its course, a river, and shaping at its wild will the beautiful Keene
Valley,107 it links at last with the eastern branch, and flows in braided
107
The West Branch of the Au Sable River, about which Street is writing here, does
not pass through Keene Valley — that’s the East Branch, which flows out of the Au
Sable Lakes above St. Huberts.
231
and songful peace through grain and grass, until it mingles with the
broad mirror of Lake Champlain.
We crossed the stream upon the scattered rocks, and, ascending
the opposite bank, found a beautiful little bough-house in a leafy
nook, into which we gladly stretched ourselves after our long and
weary tramp. We were now but two miles from the great Pass whose
breath, even at this distance, we felt in the increased chilliness of the
atmosphere. After a short rest, I went down to the river for a draught
of its cool, delicious nectar, and, through the vista of the channel, lo!
the Indian Pass in a rough, grotesque outline of crag, smiting the
sunset, and clutching at a rosy cloud as if to cast it into the terrific
chasm at its feet.
I looked long at this first glimpse of the monster that had so long
lifted its weird wall, its magic battlement, its mighty bastion in these
far away forests, unknown, and unvisited. Here was my first sight of
the rocky giant, the grand Titan of the Adirondacks.
The fine light of the first sunset now goldened the air, and we
made preparations to sup by its transparent torch. Merrill caught a
delicate trout or two from the Ausable, to which Robert added a
squirrel and the white saddle of a frog. Tea soon sent its spicy
fragrance in the soft air, the camp-fire winked from under a leafy
arch, the feathery fern offered us a couch on which to recline, Roman
fashion, while partaking our meal, and the whole was so pleasant and
sylvan, that I wished my home lay in this
“Boundless contiguity of shade.”
After a pipe or two, and listening to the song of the Ausable to
its pebbles, we left the bough-house for an hour’s tramp nearer the
Pass, and then to spend the night at its northeast portals.
Whereas the route ran throughout the day through an agreeable
interchange of ridge and hollow, the ground now began rapidly to
ascend. We were evidently approaching the lair of the gray monster,
whose size is thus in some measure dwarfed by the magnitude and
grandeur of the scene around him.
The gold tinge darkened into tawny, the leaves commenced to
mingle, the trunks to lose their sharp outlines as we approached the
camping spot for the night. It was a little leafy dingle we selected for
our bough-house to be built in, and, reaching it, I sank on the moss,
while Merrill prepared to erect our woodland shelter. First, he
scanned the spot: then he seized the axe. A sapling fell to his blow
and a few cuts transformed it into a forked pole about four feet in
height, which he planted in the earth. Soon, a corresponding pole
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stood by its neighbor, about six feet apart. Then another pole, from a
slender sapling, was laid transverse in the forks, and lo, the front of
the simple structure! Hack, hack, hack! and other poles unforked are
cut and planted at the sides. Two long saplings are laid within the
forks above the ridge-pole, and slanted downward to a mound of
moss. Poles are then placed along for the roof, caught by the ends of
the side poles standing five or six inches above the downward slanted
ones, and the light skeleton of the shanty is completed. Merrill then
shears long and thick hemlock branches, and piles them on the roof,
and trims them at the sides, and the beautiful little shanty is finished.
No! for spruce-fringes are needed to strew and soften the floor into a
couch of elastic and fragrant “three-ply,” and the little structure is
fitted to be an hotel for the night. And thus I watched it as it rose like
a mushroom from the soil, or a bubble from a trout’s maw, in all its
cunning yet simple workmanship.
The dusk thickened. The white stars palpitated out; night
reigned, and silence also. The stately forests waving in the evening
breath seemed fanning themselves into slumber. No sound but the
Ausable: no sign of life but ourselves: no light but the camp-fire.
The dusk is now blank darkness. The white stars are golden.
Silence deepens. The fanning leaves are still. Louder the Ausable
murmurs. Redder the camp-fire shines.
“Hark, from the Pass a ringing cry!
Is it the panther prowling there?
And list the low wind’s rising sigh!
And what weird shapes the branches wear!
How hushed the utter solitude!
Nature herself seems buried here!
And what deep quiet seems to brood!
How echo seems to listen near!”
Portentous muttering tones came on the chilly gusts from the
Pass, as if the spirits of the night were sallying abroad from their
rocky home, mingling their murmurs with the voice of the monster.
“Listen, mortal!” that voice seemed to say; “why disturb me in my
solitude! Why bring the cares and sorrows of life here in my calm
woods, lapt as I am in my serene peace. The Creator built me up in
the quiet heavens, as if to rear me nearer His divine presence, and
exempt me from the troubles of humanity. Vain thought!
Notwithstanding the depth of my solitude, I cannot live in peace.
Avaunt, mortal, or dread my wrath!”
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I listened, and as I did so, a terrific gust burst from the cavernous
and mighty Pass, like a demon’s shout. Low bowed the trees; the
forest shuddered to its depth. And lo! riding on the gust, forth
streamed a sable cloud right from the gloom of the Pass, as if to warn
and daunt the daring intruders upon his solitude. Again, and hark! a
growl of thunder like the voice of a rousing lion also from the gorge.
A storm is rising in its bosom, and will burst in terror soon along the
forest! Another peal, and now a glance of lightning! I had long felt
the presence of the Pass. I knew it stood looming over my head,
albeit my eye saw it not in the darkness. But now, to the red flit of
the tempest’s eye, the gray crag started out with a savage, witch-like,
wolf-like glare, as if seeking me for its victim; but it flashed for a
moment, and with its light, out gleamed the sable clouds, the sabler
chasm, and the shivering trees. The next, it shrank again within the
gloom. Another growl, another glance! Once more the gray, cracked,
awful cliff gleamed redly out, seeming the guardian demon of the
spot, dashing aside for an instant his raven cloak, to show his
horrible brow to the stranger shuddering at his portals. Another peal
and flash; but by this time I became so confoundedly sleepy, and
finding I was not devoured body and bones (according to Robert), I
let my head sink upon my moundy pillow, and in a few moments I
was asleep.
Again I woke. Holy quiet steeped the forests. Brightest blue
clothed the heavens. Full in their naked midst, round, clear, and
golden-eyed, beamed the blessed moon! Hushed was the jarring
storm. No more the lightning flitted. No more the thunder rolled.
Sweet and high in the glowing blue soared the gray, mighty cliff,
gleaming like silver in the angelic moonlight. The dread, black,
frowning scene was transmuted into the smiling, soft, and dreamy
picture, and once more I resigned myself to slumber.
Chapter II: The Indian Pass
The Indian Pass; the Upper works; iron ore beds;
Lake Henderson; the blast furnace; Lake Sanford
The dawn was sketching faint outlines as I once more opened
my eyes. The camp-fire was almost dead. The shanty was breathing
out its damp perfume like a bouquet. The song of the Ausable was
loud, and the wandering bugles of the blue jays were frequent in the
thickets.
Our frugal breakfast over, in which the mealy peach-blow and
the fresh, sweet, crispy trout were conspicuous with the nectarean
tea, and we pointed our steps toward the Pass. And now stern work
was before us! Up, up, up we clambered by the ladder of roots; up,
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up, up, by the notches of ledges; still up, clinging to the crevice,
laboring up the detached rock, swung high up by the hemlock’s
elastic plumage. Breathless, at last, we reach the level ground, and
selah! soaring in stately front magnificent, rises the dizzy cliff.
Exultant it hails the morning! But I hardly allow myself a glance, for
the prospect from the brow of the grim crag invites me before I study
the grand picture from below. So we cross the gorge, including the
narrow channel of the Ausable, and address ourselves to scaling the
lesser precipice, one thousand feet in air. Child’s play proved the late
clambering. Up, straight almost as the tamarack’s stem, up, up we
scrambled. Now we hung by the root, now drew ourselves by the
branch to precarious foothold in the fissure. The few grassy
platforms we met, bore aloft tall plumes of pines; and now and then
we uncovered, by the tearing up of grass tuft and mossy cushion, the
birthplace of the fountain. At last, after a most harassing clamber, we
reached a “wind-slash” — a jumble of fallen trees tangling a steep
ravine, a perfect net of prostrate trunks and branches. Up, up we tore,
until we reached a knotted log lifted above the “jam,” and impending
over an abyss. Clinging to the bulges and antlers of this hanging
bridge we crept our precarious way along it, but refrained from
glance at the gorge, reserving this until we should attain our perch at
the summit of the rock to which the bridge led. At last we reached
the point, and paused a moment to inhale full, deep breaths. We
knew a sublime and terrible sight awaited us. We turned and looked.
A shudder shook my frame. My eyes swam, my brain grew dizzy.
Instinctively I clung nearer the cliff, for we were in a down-sloping
niche of the mighty wall, and I grasped closer the branch I had
clutched above me, and thrust deeper my foot into the crevice
beneath. After a few moments of thus bracing my system and
recovering from the first sickening shock, I again looked. What a
sight! horrible and yet sublimely beautiful — no, not beautiful;
scarce an element of beauty there — all grandeur and terror.
Right in front sloped with grand breast of fleecy woods, touched
with autumn tints (one beautiful feature), Mount McIntyre, plunging
from his height of five thousand feet, and distinctly visible from his
brow but not to base, down, down, past my sight into the awful
chasm below. Down, down, close under me and at either hand, fell
the sheer precipice on the brow of which I was perched, plunging
also into the black abyss, so black, so deep, it seemed as if the earth
had yawned and stood with sable throat to swallow me. The
indescribable crawl of the nerves, felt only in the most dangerous
situations, thrilled my whole system. I had the insane desire, the
almost irresistible impulse, to throw myself headlong into the chasm.
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Merrill tore a large stone from the cliff and hurled it. So deep the
chasm that gravitation seemed suspended, for, notwithstanding its
weight, the stone wavered like a wounded bird ere, plunging below,
it was lost to the eye. No sound of its smiting the floor of the gorge
followed. The distance was too great to allow the echo to be heard.
Immediately at our right, the picturesque profile of the wall,
where it soared from the thousand feet of our level a half thousand
more into the sky, looked grim and threatening, the outlines twisted
into the semi-likeness of a man, or rather the whole likeness of a
grinning demon.
At last, the wild picture being ingrained, or rather sunk like an
intaglio into my memory, there to remain forever, we prepared to
descend. And first, to withdraw from our dangerous and precarious
perch! Leaving one pendent branch to clutch another, unclasping our
foothold from one crevice to insert it quickly into a second, we
turned round, and drew ourselves cautiously upward until we reached
again the level brow of the precipice. Fighting through the ghastly
labyrinth of the “slash,” we plunged downward toward the gorge.
Down, down the steep side of the rocky wall, pendulumizing (excuse
the word) ourselves over the chasm, and scrambling down the ravine,
we reached what appeared a “short cut” to the bottom of the gorge. It
was a fearfully steep earthen channel, or rather throat, the bed of
some torrent with rough sheer banks. Merrill descended a short way,
but the throat became so suddenly steep, that his footfall slipped
from under him, and he only saved himself by clinging to a friendly
hand a hemlock stretched to him from the bank. Well for him was it
so, for a few rods farther would have carried him over a sheer
precipice of three or four hundred feet into the gorge. Clutching the
hanging boughs of the bordering hemlocks, the stout guide at length
reascended to where we stood watching his descent and trembling for
his safety.
At last, after most fatiguing efforts, we stood again on the path
of the gorge. After successfully performing this feat of ascent, which
as far as I am able to learn had seldom before been achieved, we
recrossed the Ausable, regained the dark slope of Mount McIntyre,
and prepared to thread the awful Pass to its head.
Although, as before, I felt the presence of the impending wall, so
close grew the trees on the slope and in the gorge, we were sensible
only of a lofty outline glimmering brokenly high up at our right.
Nature seemed determined to hide her splendid wonder from
unhallowed gaze, even when the adventurer’s foot had annihilated
the space she had interposed between it and the world.
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At our right rose enormous, rough rocks, green with moss, and
plumed with stately trees, completely, to all appearance, blocking the
gorge. On, on we struggled, Mount McIntyre sloping up, up, high
beyond our gaze, on our left, until we arrived where we could cross
to a rock which reared a steep craggy pinnacle in the midst of the
gorge. It was the “lookout” place. Clambering its rough sides with
difficulty, we reached the top, and from it an unobstructed view of
the wall opened from head to foot in all its appalling majesty. Its
shape is that of a half-moon curving outwardly, a mighty bastion.
Directly from below us sprang the gray furrowed wall, with a debris
of loose rocks, looking like mere pebbles, piled five hundred feet at
its base, and soaring upward till it seemed it might catch the very
clouds floating over it. The grand sight took away the breath, like an
ascent in a balloon. The eye grew dizzy in struggling up, up, to
master its height. It appeared almost like surmounting the
battlements of heaven, — as if the monster had been obliged to break
an opening through the sky to rear its horrible brow to its full
altitude. Let it be remembered, also, that the bottom of the gorge, the
lair of the monster, was lifted eighteen hundred feet above the sea
level, and some idea might be gained of the fearful and crushing
height. Although this was the loftiest point of the Pass, yet far
northward, with scarce less height, on waved and surged the wall,
cutting the blue with a sharp, jagged sky-line. It was a magnificent
spectacle, worthy the great God whose finger had ploughed it.
Evidently it had not been formed by the rending asunder of Wallface
and McIntyre, but was an original creation as much as the mountains
themselves, riveted by Nature to old Wallface — a splendid cuirass,
an enormous breastplate — as if to repel the threatened attack of its
opposite mountain-foe, should he attempt the thunderbolt of a landslide against him.
We descended from our perch to the bottom of the gorge. If the
precipice appeared lofty from the rock, how it sprang exultingly from
the gorge’s floor to smite, far, far upward, the highest heavens! And
what a chaos around me! Black cedars, like the bristling hairs of a
moose’s mane, covered the floor, and tottered from the tops of the
fallen cliffs, which were of height themselves sufficient to chain the
eye in any other place. Far above, on the face of the cracked wall,
enormous fissures and cavities frowned blackly, showing whence the
rocks had fallen, loosened either by age, earthquakes, or by the
mighty agency of fires in ages past, sweeping furnace-like along,
shriveling and withering the trees, and fracturing the mighty crag.
Down, deep down trickled a blind rill, mining like a mole through a
narrow tunnel of the broken, jagged rocks, and I knew it was the
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infant Hudson whose birthplace oozed from the gashed heart of the
monster, thus blending at last the fragrance of the mountain juniper
with the briny odor of old Ocean. Like the intertwining of the fingers
of the human hand, the slender source of the Ausable also oozed
from the mighty gorge, and, almost braiding their glancing streaks,
the two rivers, parting at length on the water-shed of the gorge,
started upon their long journeys in entirely different ways, — the
bright Hudson through the southwestern portals of the Pass, and the
dark Ausable through the northeastern. How many brothers thus start
in life from the same hearth, and continue in divergent paths till
death.
Winding and struggling on our way through the spruces, and
rocky fragments upon the gorge’s floor, we saw huge apertures
formed by the piled-up rocks, which stood, some on edge, others
slanting sidewise, as if a breath could set them rolling; great sable
caverns in which scores of panthers could be hidden; bear’s nests,
wolf-dens without number. It seemed unnatural that some wild
animal should not spring from them upon us, or at least the red
sparkle of his eyeballs should not glance from out the gloomy depths.
Panther, bear, wolf might have been there as far as we knew, for we
were not owls enough to trust our precious carcasses in those “skeery
places.” “No;” said Robert, “not if we were out of pork and beans
and going in would give us a bushel full!” And I thought with him.
There was one cavity, however, we did go into. That was the famous
“Ice Cavern.” Down, down, very far down, in depths whence a chilly
breath up-rose, pale, ghastly fragments gleamed like skeletons, which
turned out blocks of ice, unmelted in August, and which had never
felt the warmth of a summer’s sun. All the panthers of the
Adirondacks — and they are legion — are entirely welcome to that
hole.
Threading our course still deeper, the cradle of the Hudson was
passed, and a tinkle, deep in the seams and furrows of the gorge, was
heard — the song of the infant river. Another tinkle was mingled, the
voice of the Ausable. Soft and low sounded the music, different from
the hoarse thunder of the latter through the rended rocks of
Whiteface, or the splintering earthquake peals of the former, when
with a Titan’s struggle he bursts his icy prison in March, making his
shores quake and hearts in cities tremble.
At the northeast portal, just where the Ausable (or NotchStream, as it is sometimes called) bends downward in a course of
forty miles ere it reaches Lake Champlain, descending, in that short
distance, twice the fall of the Mississippi in its two thousand, lurks
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another ice cavern, according to Robert, but which escaped me,
owing to the fatigue of the ascent.
The day glided quickly onward in our explorations, and sunset
was now jeweling the Pass with its gemmy colors. We made our way
once more toward the north portal of the Pass, having determined to
spend another night there in the bough-house, and the next morning
start anew on our tramp. We soon came to the little leafy shanty, and
having supped on several of the golden trout of the Ausable, caught
in the low light of the sunset, we, as the night fell darkly around,
addressed ourselves to our welcome slumbers.
At midnight I was awakened by a terrific storm of thunder and
lightning, accompanied by bursts of blasts that shook the scene
almost like an earthquake. I found the two mountains in furious
altercation, one answering the other, as if about to engage in mortal
strife. As I listened, the sounds shaped themselves into words.
“Ho!” roared the towering McIntyre, “why am I thus disturbed!
Cease that voice of thine, O Wallface, or dread my wrath.”
“Ho, ho!” thundered Wallface in his turn, “dost thou threaten?
Cease thyself, thy silly clamor, or dread my wrath.”
“What!” said the mighty McIntyre, and as he spoke an angry
glare of lightning kindled all his awful form that was offered to my
gaze, playing around his head as if he were darting red glances at his
foe; “this, slave, to me — me, who could crush thee with my might
as my slides crush the rocks in their path way?”
“Thou crush me, proud mountain — me, whose craggy
breastplate hath dashed back a thousand storms, and against which
centuries have gnawed in vain! Thou crush me! ho, ho, silly thing,
thou provokest me to laughter!” and a blast thundered from Wallface
that seemed to make him shake like the pine-tree in the wind.
“Thing, thing!” repeated McIntyre, and a second glare of
lightning suffused his summit, causing it to leap from the darkness,
and stand flashing in the intolerable blaze. “Now will I hurl my
mighty crags against thee, until I crumble thee into pebbles at my
feet. What is thy boasted breastplate to me? Lo, I will rend it as the
panther rends the deer!” and again the crimson torrent of the storm
displayed him reared in his terrific fury, as if indeed to make good at
the very moment his boast.
“Ho, ho!” laughed hoarsely again Wallface, “what care I for thy
crags! Cease thy vaunts, thou braggart, and seek again thy rest. Thou
rend my breastplate! Lo, I will cast myself against thee with this
same breastplate full of rocky points, and pierce and crush thee until
thou tumblest from thy couch to the gorge beneath thee!” and a third
cataract of lightning, accompanied by a launch of thunder that made
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my heart bound within me, displayed the vast segment of the
precipice next my eye fluttering as it were in the light, as if it at all
events would dash itself against the kingly form of the foe.
“Ha!” said McIntyre, “thou wilt come, wilt thou? Come, then,
and find thyself broken to pieces in the contact! Ho, ho, ho! slave,
poor, puny object, tremble and leave me to my repose, or I will this
instant crush thee into the very earth, from which, in my royal
presence, thou shouldst never have arisen.”
At this awful juncture the wild storm arrived at its height, with a
perfect flood of rain. Onward dashed the blasts like ocean billows,
wreaths of lightning blazed, and rolls of thunder shook the scene,
while both mountains roused now to the utmost pitch of frenzy,
roared and howled as if they had indeed met and were struggling in
deadly grapple. Frequently grand shocks of falling rocks made the
gorge groan and tremble, and I listened in shuddering dismay. My
soul broke out into the demoniac strife of the elements: it soared with
the blasts, rioted with the lightning, launched away with the thunder,
and mingled with the warfare of the mountains. It seemed as if I were
swayed by insanity. But suddenly the strife ceased, the storm strode
off, the mountains grew calm, and the tortured scene was silent. Out
broke the moon, the seraph of the night, and I sank once more upon
my fragrant couch. But far away through the quiet crept a dulcet
sound, the sound of the dying wind, like the wail of the Miserere
through the cathedral aisle. “Rest, mortal!” it sang in sweetest
cadence; “the tempest is past, and the peace of the night now
surrounds thee! Rest, and thank thy God that He is ever near to fold
thee to His bosom, and bid thee sleep in safety!”
I heard and blessed Him, as the Friend and Father! blessed Him
as my Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor, while into my deepest
heart thrilled anew the Miserere, the wail of a soul broken for its sin.
How often have I listened to that chaunt! Swelling like the windswept pine, how the choral voices mingle! the sweet tenor, the lordly
bass, and the tender treble, with one fine tone piercing through the
rest, and ringing along the dusky arches of the Cathedral Temple!
The morning rose over the earth, calm as an infant’s breath and
bright as a maiden’s eye. And the two mountains! — how different
from the wrath of the night before! Why, they looked sleek and
innocent as two Quakers. I wouldn’t have supposed they had ever
sent a growl, or uttered a threat. McIntyre smiled at Wallface, and the
latter returned the smile. Two cooing doves were the fierce old
mountains: I almost thought they would embrace each other.
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“Ho, brother!” said Wallface, “thou wert somewhat angry with
me yesternight! Why, I really thought at one time thou wert in
earnest.”
“And I, brother, thought at one time that thou wert inclined a
little to scold,” returned the amiable McIntyre, fanning himself with
a fluttering aspen; “but I forgive thee!”
“And I thee, O kingly McIntyre,” said the equally amiable
Wallface. “But it was all of that saucy lightning and thunder. I must
confess the storm did burn me a little, with its red sparks, while the
thunder touched the tympanum of my ear somewhat rudely. Besides,
the little puff of wind gave me a passing brush somewhat rudely.”
“Confound the wind!” said McIntyre, “I felt a brush of it too! It
sent a cold streak straight down my shoulder. But it is over now, and
we dwell hereafter in unity and peace.”
Till the next storm comes, thought I. What a horrible
caterwauling these two brothers must keep up during the winter!
Why there is probably no more peace for the surrounding region than
for the inmates of Bedlam. As for the poor Gorge lying between the
two, tears of compassion are due it.
Onward anew through the pass. Flutterings of white on the
precipice’s face, like mist, or the wings of doves, told the manifold
waterfalls, while now and then a stern, deep shock of sound spoke of
some fragment falling from the cliff to the floor of the gorge. All was
weird and sublime, so entirely differing from ordinary sights and
sounds as to remove the scene up into the regions of the fanciful and
magical.
At length we stood at the southwest portal of the Pass, where the
broad breastplate of rock forming the precipice, bending slightly
southward and suddenly dropping, clutched with gray rivets the
mountain’s flank, and became lost in the verdure of the common soil.
As far from this point as the eye reached, breaking up the
southwest horizon as if a mighty sea was there tumbling, the summits
of Mounts Robertson, Henderson, Santanoni, and Seward startled the
sight, deepening in their sweet, fairy azure the farther they retreated,
until they melted to a misty dream. There lay, I knew, the three
Preston Ponds, fountains among others of the Racket River, and
gemming the sandals of Mount Seward, Mountain of the White Star
(whose peaks were hidden by Wallface), at the north, and the crests
of Santanoni on the south, with the silver wand also of Cold River
between the two, — as if the ponds and their tiny silver staff had
cloven them asunder. At the southeast were clustered, I also knew,
the dozen roofs of the “Upper Works,” or “Adirondack Village.” Far
beyond, a lily-wreathed basin deep in the weltering woods
241
proclaimed the outlet of Lake Henderson. Woods, woods, woods —
nothing but woods. What a lair for the monster Pass. A lair of ten
miles to Scott’s, north; five miles to the Upper Works, south; fifteen
miles to Long Lake, southwest; and thirty miles over Mount
Tahawus to the Keene Valley, east; all one deep tangled wilderness,
where the axe of the settler has never sounded since Creation.
This prospect from the gorge was splendid though wild; savage
in its beauty like a panther. A weary tramp still lay before us in the
sunset ere we reached the grassy hamlet of the Upper Works, and
before starting we crouched by a fountain of dark glass, — a mere
drinking-cup, a goblet in the gorge, — to brew our tea. It was the
first basin of the Hudson. Why a hopple-leaf could not much more
than float there, and yet that water foamed fifty leagues away under
the keels of myriad vessels, while on it might ride in safety all the
navies of the world.
It was a fit theme for a picture, — the group of rough trampers
of the forest around that liquid jewel, dipping from its tiny cup, and
the magnificent city of Manhattan queening it over the broad waters,
with the thousand barks that ride upon their rolling billows.
Refreshed by the tea (fittest of all beverages for the woods), we
rose, and began the descent (corresponding to the ascent) of the Pass.
Now bending low beneath some arch-like crag, now squeezing
through some ragged fissure, we urged our way. We passed a
pyramid of gray rock, very peculiar; and descending rapidly, the
magnificent wall of the Indian Pass was swallowed in the forest. It
sank suddenly, like a ship at sea.
Standing on the floor of the gorge we were, as observed,
eighteen hundred feet above tide. How grand, how lofty, the scale of
Nature on every hand. Eighteen hundred feet above the sea, and the
Pass rearing its fearful rampart fifteen hundred more, dizzily into the
heavens.
Again the twining woods; one mile achieved, woods; two miles,
woods; three, woods; four, woods! But now they break away; a wild
green hill-side is in front, where the rich bee-hives of the blackberry
and the red turbans of the raspberry are seen in profusion. We allow
a handful or two of the luscious beauties to melt on the lap of the
tongue, then onward. Frequent corduroys ribbing the loose quaking
grass occur; rough fields succeed, with the sweet, kindly music of the
cow-bell smiting the ear, and telling that man was not far distant.
Blocks of old cord-wood, black with the weather, stand either side
the way, which has widened into a rough cart-track, with corduroys
as before. Another mile, and the green, pretty street of the Upper
Works, with one brown meandering footpath in its midst, filled our
242
eye a little distance in front. A cattle-picture, formed by the herd of
Hunter, the sole resident with his family of the hamlet, showed itself
before one of the low buildings on our right, while a mare and colt
grazed the grassy margin of the street, which stretched “green to the
very doors” in a southerly direction. It was a sweet, peaceful, rural
scene in the red evening glow, and in beautiful contrast to the stern
forest we for the present had left.
The abandoned village of the Upper Works occupies a plateau or
high valley in the grand mountains whose tops break up the sky all
around it; although not one, not even Wallface, McIntyre, or Mount
Robertson, whose breaths are constantly felt there, is visible from the
village.
With glad footsteps we descended into this little Auburn108 of
the woods, passing the ruins of “the Forge,” and restricting ourselves
to the home path, the delicious green sward either way looking as if
wheel had never scarred its beauty. While within the Indian Pass, I
became aware of a lameness, threatening to be serious, in my right
foot, which on examination I found proceeded from a deep chafe (the
very thing I was apprehensive of before starting) of the copper of my
shoe on my instep. An incipient limp, as I passed along, warned me
to make head-quarters in the hamlet, for a few days at all events, to
restore my foot to its original soundness and usefulness, ere trying
the rugged ascent of Tahawus.
With this view we stopped at Mr. Hunter’s, and I proceeded to
make myself comfortable. I soon formed an acquaintance with
Hunter himself, an intelligent Scotchman, and his kind family; and
shortly we had tea around his hospitable board. I then sauntered
without.
The cattle-picture had become locomotive, each member
picturesquing on his own hoof, as well as “hook;” but the colt still
grazed by its dam, as if not caring for all the cattle-groupings in the
hamlet. The low light streamed down the grassy street tinging it into
gold-velvet. Hunter’s superb rooster, his plumage one opal, reared
his lordly crest and strutted by his “feathered dames,” and a splendid
drake waddled by the side of his mate, his gemmy shape all aglow.
The cattle-picture was now restored at the foot of the village, toward
Lake Sanford; and away over the level fields leading to Lakes Sallie
and Jamie or Hamish, the stumps began to shimmer in the
transparent dark. At the door, one of Hunter’s bright-eyed children
was feeding an eager calf from a bucket. The animal, in spite of the
thrustings back of the boy, insisted on burying his head and
108
One of the many references throughout this anthology to Oliver Goldsmith’s long
poem, “The Deserted Village.” See Appendix A at the back of this book.
243
shoulders in the bucket, as if feeling the last pangs of hunger, his tail
all the while swinging like the tongue of a bell. The child at last
thrust the animal entirely back. He looked up amazed, wheeled his
tongue into the corners of his mouth, made another dive for the
bucket, missed it, and then went contentedly to grazing.
At this, the colt looked up with its bright intelligent eye, lifted its
tail like a musket, stamped, and whinnied as if in inquiry. The dam
ceased her croppings, and giving a side blow, like a box on the ear, to
her young, stooped again to her supper; while the young colt,
receiving “more kicks than coppers,” and with curiosity entirely
satisfied, bit a fly from its flank, cut a caper, and crouched down.
Up the green street went the cattle-groupings, they having turned
at the end of the large boarding-house, that, with its score of eyes,
seemed as intact as when the forge furnace blew its sunset steamwhistle signal for the hands to leave off work. On went the cattle,
weaving as they went a series of pictures worthy of Cuyp, with the
fine light of the last sunset gleaming upon them.
On each side stood the houses, so perfect, except here and there
a broken pane, I almost saw the people at the windows, or on the
porches. One week of repairing would make them comfortable
dwellings again, as they were a score of years ago.109
I pictured to myself the usual evening scene of twenty years
since, when the gladdening steam-whistle or joyful bell told the
release of the work-people of both sexes, and they thronged the
broad, grassy street, returning to their cosy homes; when the “Blast
Furnace,” now so still and solitary, poured out its denizens at the
signal; when the whir of wheels no longer filled the air, nor the clang
of machinery, the smite of hammers, nor the hum of work; and labor
ceased for a while its efforts. But the scene changed. The distance
from market, the badness of the roads, and expense of manufacturing
the magnetic iron ore in this extremely lonely and remote region,
buried in endless forests, checked the eager spirit of enterprise; and
the unfortunate death of Mr. Henderson, the most active and
influential partner in the business, completed the matter. The
business was entirely abandoned, and from the day the last billet was
cast into the furnace to the present, no whir of wheel, no hum of
labor has been heard in the hamlet, nor will until some railroad opens
with its creative, life-giving track this tremendous wilderness.
And now inexhaustible beds of magnetic iron ore, as large
probably as any in the world, and fabulously rich, even to the extent
of seventy or eighty per cent. of pure iron, slumber here or wait “for
109
When Street visited, the village had been abandoned for only ten years, not “a score
[20] of years.”
244
the good time coming.” The very soil glitters with its crumbled
particles. Its silver sparks flash from the pebbles on which you tread;
it crops out in every direction — in the bed of the brook, in the
wreath of fern, in the fields you cross, and in the grass of the very
street on which stands the village. The Hudson itself pours over an
iron dam, and ripples down iron rocks.
The dam is another wonder of this wonderful region. Having
heard of its existence, I accompanied Mr. Hunter one morning to
examine it. Passing a little distance up the street, we turned into a
rough stony pasture, through which the Hudson wound its way.
Shortly a rumble was heard, and pausing at a barrier of black rock,
over which the waters dashed, Hunter ejaculated “The Dam!” It
extended completely across the channel, one smooth, sloping ledge
or wall, with the glassy current almost like a film of isinglass sliding
over, fringed with foam at the foot. We stepped across ankle-deep,
and recrossed. Blocks of ore lay in the river above and below, the
heedless water chafing and murmuring over and through them,
blocks more precious than pearls or rubies, while the dam, of which
the Hudson complained, in rumbling tones, for bridling his course,
was richer than the bridge of gold leading to the Scandinavian
Valhalla, theme of song for untold ages. Harp of poet has never sung
of this at present simple barrier to a forest stream; but Aladdin’s
lamp never held more magic than it and its kindred rocks, nor the
oriental ointment that changed deserts into cities, never worked more
wizard wonders, than will this hidden wealth when Enterprise smites
the rock with his wand, and opens, with his golden lily, the charmed
portals of the forest-temple.
This magnificent deposit equals fully in richness, extent, and
value, the Iron Mountain of Missouri, is easily worked, and can
produce a steel equal to the best Russian and Swedish ores. It was
first made known to the original proprietors, Archibald McIntyre,
David Henderson, his son-in-law, and Duncan McMartin, by old
Sabele,110 an Indian who haunted the region like an otter, long after
his tribe had vanished.
“Me take you to a dam like beaver-dam, all black and shiny,
where de water goes pom, pom, pom, for quart o’ whiskey!” was the
110
Street’s narrative contains several pieces of misinformation. Archibald McIntyre
was not a member of the party that followed the Indian to the Upper Works site. The
Indian was Sabele’s son, Lewis Elijah Benedict. Sabele came into the Adirondacks
from Quebec; he was not the remnant of a tribe that had left the area. Lewis Elijah did
not trade his services for liquor; in his 1826 account, David Henderson records that
Lewis Elijah asked for “dollar, half, and ’bacco” a day as payment. Lewis Elijah met
David Henderson and company at North Elba, not while “setting a mink-trap in the
Indian Pass.”
245
salutation of the old fellow to one of the partners, accidentally in the
region, as the Indian was setting a mink-trap in the Indian Pass; and
he was as good as his word.
A silver mine exists between Wallface and the Ausable River, a
few miles from Scott’s, but where, is, unfortunately, not known. The
father of the present Mr. Scott, in hunting, became lost. In a large
ledge adjoining his evening camp, the rich metal glittered on his rapt
eye, but he was never able, after leaving the spot in the confusion of
intellect to which all persons are subject who are lost in the woods, to
identify it; and to this day, guarded only by the grim “Genius loci,”
sleeps unknown this Potosi of the Adirondacks.
But superior in value to all the gold, silver, and diamond mines
on earth, are the rich iron mines of the Upper Hudson. At some
future time, Industry will again waken them, and give them once
more to the world of man. It is incredible how the whole region is
permeated with the ore. I have picked its heavy black blocks, lying
loose on the remote shores of Lake Avalanche; with the print of the
panther’s foot fresh beside them, and have encountered them along
the rocky “Flume” of the Opalescent River born in the mountainmeadow on the northeastern slope of Mount Marcy.
As I retrod the street of the hamlet on our return, I fancied I was
treading on the buried city of Uhland, that would rise to the jangling
bell of the locomotive, and fill the spot with roofs, domes, and
steeples. The ore glitters in the sunken hoof-track of the wandering
kine; it is unearthed by the tooth of the grazing colt, or the nibble of
the partlet; it pervades the air from the grinding of the passing wheel,
and sparkles in the water you drink. It strengthens the tall frame of
Hunter, enters into the system of his kindly wife, and glows in the
cheeks of his pretty daughters. I believe it even entered my frame
during my three days’ sojourn, thus enabling me to encounter,
without flinching, the terrors of old Tahawus. At all events, I think it
entered into my great toe, for it became marvelously strong in a very
short time.
Sunset melts, twilight deepens, the moon rises. The cattle picture
is cut in silver before the boarding-house, and the whole village
dreams in the seraphic light. From the low hills west toward the
Preston Ponds comes the wail of some night bird, and hark! the voice
of Hunter’s wakeful chanticleer, mistaking, probably, the bright light
for daybreak, rings like a gun-fire through the hamlet. On the air
sounds the steady rumble of the Iron Dam, and bidding adieu for the
present to moonlight and musings, I seek my little cosy room in
Hunter’s dwelling and am soon in the “Land of Nod.”
246
“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” Over the village it rings like a reveille,
followed by “quack, quack!” like “taps.” I rise, dress quickly, and
sally out. Dawn is brightening over the hamlet. The cattle are making
another Paul Potter picture in the street by the well-sweep. Half a
dozen are standing in pictorial attitudes. One has just risen from the
silver-frosted ground, peeling a delicate sheet of pearl from the grass;
one stands with its neck stretched, lowing; one is looking, with mad
eye and lowered brow, at a little curly pet of a dog belonging to the
family, while one of the daughters of Hunter has just taken the red
pail to milk old Crumple in the crispy field. Hark! a loud boom! Has
the Iron Dam severed itself from the river, and taken to flying, “like
Loretto’s Chapel,” through the air? Why, no! it is only a bumble-bee!
Boo-m-m-m-m! It will waken all the echoes in the village! Methinks
this very butterfly, wavering along, hums in his smooth, velvet flight!
Hark! a tremendous sound this time! a galloping — a rising dust!
Halloo! what on earth is here! — a charge of cavalry, or rather
calves-alry, from the hill-side, through the openings between the
houses down the street of the village! The three calves have let
themselves loose, and are charging with sabres, or rather, tails, in air,
full tilt upon us! How the trumpets or, not to put too fine a point
upon it, their ba-ba’s sound. Mercy! what shall we do! But lo! an
opposing charge by the colt solus, full gallop against the coming foe!
The parties meet midway, the colt’s heels flourishing like a couple of
carbines. I am sorry to say, the calves show the white feather and
their white tails at the same time, flourishing, in turn, a swift dozen
of heels in ignoble flight up the street, towards Lake Henderson. And
this reminds me, — I must visit Lake Henderson.
Accordingly, I follow the fierce dragoons up the street, and
ascending, to the left, a steep wood-road to where Mount Robertson
heaves grandly upward, at length descend to an arm of the lovely
lake; glittering in the varied foliage. Here I find a dug-out moored
among the lilies, and, seizing the paddle, I soon float into the midst
of the lovely mirror. At my left, soars the splendid flank of
Robertson, one smooth slope of leaves. A little north and looking
over its shoulder, peer the summits of Mount Henderson, farther
toward the “Mountain of the White Star.” In front, far above the
intervening forest, due north, towers the curved bastion of the Indian
Pass, brought so near by my opera-glass that I see the cracks and
crevices of its gray surface. It sits so high above the rest of the scene,
showing from base to brow, it seems as if it might detach itself, and
move majestically down upon the lake. This grand lift of the Pass,
shows vividly the height which must be attained before even
reaching its sublime portal. There the rocky wall stood, as if
247
propping the very heavens! Opposite, frowned the wild breast of
Mount McIntyre, which, although twice the altitude of the Pass, from
its gradual slope, looked not nearly so lofty. On my right, over a
ridge, rose the dark cone of Mount Colden (formerly Mount
McMartin111), with a jagged edge running from its crest toward its
base, the north profile of the great Trap Dike, — as I afterwards
discovered, cutting through the entire front of the stern mountain,
where it looked toward Lake Avalanche. But, as I saw it then, I
fancied it the profile of the guardian spirit of the region, gazing
grimly at the gradual encroachments of man on his dominions.
The afternoon light was glowing softly on the waveless water,
yielding it a tinge the warm color of claret, and the dragon-flies were
flashing through the rushes, while that beautiful torment, the black
fly (it is a mistake that it perishes in July, it lives until the strong frost
comes), with a play of gold on its glossy wings, and bronze tints
flitting over its sable shape, lighted on my flesh and nipped with its
little pincers. And the wood-duck, “atom of the rainbow,” skimmed
along, kindling the water as it went. I floated to the southern bank,
where shone the stream that links the lake to Lake Harkness farther
south, and, after an hour of sylvan silence and solitude, and running a
severe race with a scared water-rat, I left the lake and returned to the
village.
Mars, Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon! a field-day is in
progress. The three calves are drawn up in dragoon order, led by the
colt. The ducks are grouped in the centre, and the cattle, one solid
body like the Greek phalanx, follow. The whole array are passing in
review before Colonel Chanticleer, who is standing on one leg in all
his bravery by the well-sweep. The dame partlets of his family are
clustered behind, admiring his grand movements.
It was really majestic to see the Colonel, with his head curved
high to the imminent dislocation of his neck, his proud eyes staring at
the advancing host, and his rainbow tail curled magnificently as he
awaited the coming of the martial column.
A crow from his stretched throat, with a preliminary flap of his
stately wings, announced the near approach of the mighty array, as
the trumpet announced the march of the Roman legion.
On trampled the cavalry, headed by Lieut.-Colonel Colt, on
tramped the infantry; the ducks flaunted their colors; and the curly
pup which popped from the house, at this opportune moment, let
stream a volley of music. This lasted some little time; the review then
ceased, and the regiment was dismissed. I am sorry to say that the
111
Named Colden by Emmons, McMartin by McIntyre, Colden is the name preferred
by usage.
248
music, at this time, began a series of capers like a crazy drum-major.
He seized Lieut.-Colonel Colt by the tail, who launched out in the
most undignified manner, but fortunately without hitting the little
Arab. This magnificent Pasha with one tail, however, came within an
ace, or rather a bite, of not having any, for Music, with a spiteful
snap, nearly severed it in twain. It ended with his Worship dangling
two tails, for the bite had the effect of making it lop down with an
angle that added not a little to the worshipful Pasha’s dignity. He was
of a contrary opinion, however, for he tucked it between his legs in
the most sneaking style, and went to grazing by his dam — the very
picture of disconsolateness. Next, pup scuttled after the ducks, that
lowered their colors and waddled off, quacking as if they smelt the
gridiron. Lastly, the little marauder flew at Colonel Chanticleer, who,
to his shame be it spoken, showed not only the white feather, but all
his feathers, in scrambling off before his family, which were cackling
a dirge to his dishonor, and only found refuge on the fence, where
Music stopped, grinned, gaped, and stalked away with an air of
triumph. The Colonel finding himself safe, flapped his wings,
crowed, and seeing that Music had departed, flew back to his family,
lifted one leg again, and robbed a hen of a seed which she had just
scratched from the soil.
Quiet settled down once more on the hamlet. The houses seemed
so fast asleep, that I thought in the glimmering light they nodded.
Down the low hills at the west, walling in (also on the north) the
village, the sunshine streamed, making yellow vistas between the
buildings, and spreading pleasantly over the grass in front, so as to
fill the street with golden richness. A glitter danced upon the colt; a
duck showed a play of colors; and a partlet seemed as full of hues as
a deer-fly.
These hills had been partially cleared into rough lots, but the
forest still crowned them, and reached half-way down their sides.
East, over the wild fields where the Adirondack River112 ran
toward (and into) Lake Sanford, frowned the wilderness in the
direction of Tahawus, scattered with the early Autumn hues, and
with outpost trees, rich in red and golden tints.
I looked around and enjoyed my situation in this little village,
sixteen miles of forest separating it one way from the Elizabethtown
Road, five and a half miles another, from any settlement, and over a
broken corduroy that sets the teeth chattering at the very mention, —
thirty miles another, from the Keene settlements, and fifteen miles
112
An alternate name of the Hudson as it flows out of Henderson Lake.
249
another, from the Racket waters that, in turn, are away from
everybody (almost).
The cloudless sun was still two hours high, and the September
day smiled so soft, sweet, and genial, that I determined to visit Lake
Sanford, lying south of the village. I took the “Blast Furnace” on the
way, going through it from bottom to top. It stands at the side of the
road, on a sunny knoll, the brow of which is level with the attic of the
building, so that the little iron fire-engine could be run from the
garret directly on to the summit, and thence to the spot where it was
needed. Everything appertaining to the Furnace was in “apple-pie “
order, thanks to the ceaseless care of Hunter, who acted as agent of
the Company, the now owners of the property, — they having
purchased it from the heirs of the original proprietors.113 The guttapercha pipes, wheel-bands, and other appurtenances were preserved
entire. I glanced into a dark receptacle of enormous wheels, a perfect
entanglement — now motionless, and thought of the whirling and
thundering once prevailing there. In the room above I saw the
furnace, a splendid structure of brick and cut granite, built as if for
ages, and in perfect preservation; everything about looking, in fact,
as if but recently abandoned. The black iron dust was still mounded
in spots, and the long, massive iron rake used to rake out the furnace,
was lying, as if dropped yesterday, and seemingly waiting to be again
lifted by the brawny arms that would probably know it no more. The
quiet sunshine looked in through the chinks and knot-holes, gilding
the iron-work and checkering the whole broad room. Not even a rat
appeared to have disturbed the order and silence of the deserted spot.
To have heard even the gnaw of the little carpenter would have been
welcome as giving signs of life.
A score of rods brought us (Merrill and Robert, my two faithful
guides, had accompanied me) to the outlet of Lake Sanford, which
stretches its liquid arm to the Lower Works. We found a leaky scow
half-way up the sandy bank, with a pair of oars, and embarked. We
passed a small island midway the channel, and presently opened
upon the lake. Its waters appeared equally divided by a large island,
reflecting the soft white clouds and
“The (autumn) heaven’s delicious blue.”
We rowed some distance down the lake and turned. The east
sky-line was broken up by ragged tops of enormous mountains,
among which old Tahawus, the Dial,114 and Dix’s Peak were the
113
114
“The Company” was formed by the heirs; it was not purchased from them.
Nippletop.
250
most conspicuous. We blended our voices for a response from Echo
Mountain, swelling boldly from the lake. The echo bounded out like
the blast of a thousand trumpets. Again, again, and again the wizard
voice repeated our shout, — each time softer, sweeter, softer, fainter,
sweeter, fainter, far away, away-way, as if magic music was melting
o’er the water —
“The horns from Elf-land faintly blowing!”
now the shadow, now the flitting transparency of sound, until all died
away into stillness, wafting our very breath away with it.
Regaining the outlet, I glanced up, and lo! the Indian Pass in its
splendid half-circle, seemingly as near as at Lake Henderson, and,
like Mount Morris at Big Tupper’s Lake, omnipresent except at the
village. The hated sounds of man probably induced the old monster
to shroud himself from gaze there in sublime disgust. Opposite also
appeared the wooded capes of Mount McIntyre. Mooring our bark
once more upon the bank, we returned to the village.
Sunset came in golden-gray, lovelier than the last. The cattle
scattered again their panoramic pictures along the street; the Pasha of
two tails grazed by the side of its dam, both striking attitudes of their
own. The geese, with a sudden clamor and clapping of wings,
fluttered a short distance, then dropped, each depositing their
pinions, one above the other, by their sides, and waddled in single
file, as if in caricature of the stately review lately enacted, to their
rest; while Colonel Chanticleer, at the head of his particular squad
(who ever saw a colonel without his aids), strutted along, lifting one
foot after another as if the ground was hot, — keeping a bright
lookout, however, for Music, who was fortunately absent. At length
the Colonel led his aids to the roosting-place at the side of the house.
I watched the way the band roosted. Each hen, with a hoarse scream,
as if horror-struck at her own temerity, flew up to the pole. The great
Colonel, standing erect below, alternately looked and winked
(always keeping an eye out for the dreaded appearance of Music)
until, with one bold flap, he himself sought the roost in his
overwhelming majesty, and gave one bold clarion-crow — nipped
short, however, by Music, who appeared at this moment as if to
resent this encroachment upon his tuneful privileges. Secure from
harm, the Colonel then looked with “bended bow” (beak I mean)
mute disdain upon Music, and settled himself for the night, slowly,
magisterially “folding the drapery” of his feathers “around him,” and
casting one magnificent glance over his clinging aids.
251
Chapter III: Mount Marcy
Departure from the Upper Works; the monument;
Lake Colden; Lake Avalanche; the shower
The next morning, my foot being healed, thanks to the magic
ointment of kind Mrs. Hunter and the yellow plasters of a very nice,
friendly young Philadelphian who, with his little bright-eyed
brothers, was passing the summer at the village, shooting partridges
around lakes Sallie and Jamie, I concluded to start for Tahawus,
fifteen miles distant. Again I donned the copper shoe, and, with my
guides and Hunter to set us on the trail to the old mountain, left the
latter’s worthy family with warm regret, hoping, at some future time,
again to see them.
We passed with rapid pace through this little Petra of the desert,
and at its head, I turned aside with Hunter up a steep ascent, to take a
farewell look at Mount Robertson. On the brow of the acclivity I
paused, transfixed in admiration. There swelled the magnificent
mountain, spotted with rich hues and leaning on the soft autumn sky,
with a bright streak at its foot, like a weather-gleam on the sky’s rim,
telling of Lake Henderson. Beyond, a sea of forest rolled, weltering,
around Santanoni and Mount Henderson, surging up and over Mount
Seward, billowing about the wild Preston Ponds and Cold River
tangled in the woods like a silver thread.
“How many mountains are there around the Upper Works?” I
asked.
“There’s Wallface, McIntyre, Mount Robertson, Santanoni,
Henderson, Mount Seward, Colden, Marcy, Haystack, Blue
Mountain, Dix’s Peak, the Dial,115 Boreas Mountains, and Ausable
Mountains, and not one seen from the village,” answered Hunter,
leading the way back to my companions. How like the mountains of
his future life to the youth in his native hamlet, thought I.
Rejoining my guides, and saying good-by to my good friend
Hunter, the very soul of kindness, Merrill, Robert, and I crossed the
splendid Iron Dam (mine of pearls, rubies, diamonds, emeralds,
sapphires, gold, and silver to future ages), and, leaving behind us a
wild clearing or two and a wild meadow, — the long beaver grass
swaying to our progress, — we entered the forest. How grateful the
plunge into its cool shadow from the beating sun-glow without! It
was like the emerald wings of Thalaba’s bird between him and the
burning-glass heat of the desert. How I reveled, too, in the elastic feel
of the springy soil under my steps! And the air, how pungent and
fragrant! I recognized a dozen mingling perfumes, — the balsamic
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Nippletop.
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scent of the pine, the wild odor of the cedar, the rich flavor of the
juniper and sassafras, and the delightful perfume of the ripening
herbage. Onward led the narrow trail, a mere touching streak, a
simple thread amid the bewildering labyrinth of trees. On, on! now
dipping into the green hollow of the pebbly brook, now ascending
the hill of hemlocks, twining now around the swamp and edging the
ravine; past “Indian doors” (saplings bent into bows by others
weightier), — on, still on! Miles melted. Through gloom and glow,
over dingle and glade pleasant and sweet, enjoying the brief,
delicious rests on the plump cushion of the mossy root, then up once
more, and away, — on, still on. At last an opening glimpsed among
the trees at our left, and we emerged into a beaver-meadow, with a
small pond glittering, like a dropped gem, in a corner. But what
instantly arrested our attention, so strange, did it seem in this wild,
remote spot, was a beautiful monument of Nova Scotia freestone, —
its light chocolate hue somewhat weather-tinged — which color,
however, had imparted to it a more mellow appearance. It was
finished in the highest art, and carved with the readiest skill, and
stood on a rock opposite the pond, and near the edge of the wood
toward Lake Colden. It was the monument “erected by filial
affection,” thus ran the touching inscription, “to the memory of our
dear father David Henderson, who accidentally lost his life on this
spot, 3d September, 1845.” It was a short, simple, square column,
with a sculptured ornament or capital on the top, a wreath at the
upper edge, and another ornament on the upper face of the column
with the inscription below. A bass-relief was sculptured immediately
beneath an urn, with an anchor, emblem of Hope, placed
perpendicularly athwart a Bible opened diagonally. The emblems
still showed as sharply cut as when first carved, and were entire,
excepting a fluke of the anchor, accidentally (let us hope) broken.
Mr. Henderson was exploring the woods around the Upper
Works, then in full operation, with the famous hunter, John Cheny
(immortalized by that fine poet and noble gentleman, Charles Fenno
Hoffman, one of the brightest stars that ever glittered in the
intellectual sky of New York, his native State), accompanied by his
little son, ten years of age. John had gone to the pond, and Mr.
Henderson was resting on the rock. A pistol-shot echoes. Henderson
falls, and, in a few moments after he was reached by the horrorstricken Cheny, he expires, with an invocation to his son to be a good
boy, and take care of his bereaved mother.
“To die!” moaned the unfortunate gentleman, “and in such a
spot!” a few moments before he breathed his last. He had laid his
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pistol on the rock, — the sudden contact brought down its hammer,
— it exploded, and sent its fatal bullet into the heart of its owner.
With praiseworthy care, his loving children reared this beautiful
memento to his cherished memory, in this wild meadow, at the base
of grand Mount McIntyre (named in honor of his father-in-law),
which towers in leafy solitude at the north, and encircled by the
tangled wilderness.
The monument was cut and carved abroad, and, in separate
pieces, was transported on the backs of Hunter and several of the
workmen of the Upper Works, to the rock, and there erected.
How often has the wild wolf made his lair beside it! how often
the savage panther glared at its beautiful proportions, and wondered
what object met his blazing eyeballs!
After a brief rest in a mossy hollow and partaking a hasty meal,
again I started, preceded by my guides. How swift the minutes glide
in these forest-rests, and so, indeed, do the minutes of life glide
away! And yet how important are they, and of what momentous
interests! As the Mohammedan never casts away the least scrap of
paper, lest the name of God should be written on it, so should our
minutes be cherished, as they may bear characters affecting our
dearest interests, both in Time and Eternity!
All the roughness of the forest appeared concentrated between
Calamity Pond (named from the disaster) and Lake Colden, as evil
fortunes are sometimes clustered on our way in life. The trail crossed
a perfect chopping sea of ridges, tasking our energies more than any
preceding day.
Sunset was smiling when we reached the little hunter’s shanty
near Lake Colden. The latter, however, was hidden by a screen of
forest. Below, the outlet crept on toward its intersection with the east
branch of the Hudson, the Opalescent River mingling its faint
murmurs with the fainter twitterings of the woods.
My guides deposited their knapsacks in the shanty, and in a few
minutes, we all stood on the margin of the beautiful lake. Aye
beautiful, truly beautiful! A rosy light trembled on the water, which
reflected in transparent shadow the bare, savage cliff of Mount
Colden on our right, and the rich woods of Mount McIntyre opposite,
with a low, leafy ridge at the north.
Thus three shadows rested on the lake, leaving clear only the
heart. The engraving in the Geological Reports, and in Headley’s
charming volume, “The Adirondack,” gives a most perfect idea of
the singular appearance of the lake from these shadows. And here,
also, I wish to bear testimony to the graphic accuracy of the
engraving of the loftiest point of the Indian Pass, in the same graphic
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book of Mr. Headley. It is a perfect photograph of the magnificent
sight, in consonance with the vivid word-paintings of the celebrated
author.
I sat down on a low, black log, fringed with waterplants, to study
the enchanting sunset picture, while my guides visited a wooded
point below, for the purpose of building a cedar raft to waft us over
the lake toward Lake Avalanche in the morning. A rich flush bathed
the terrific precipices and filled the wild gorges of Mount Colden
(the most savage mountain, by far, of the Adirondacks, — the very
wild-cat of mountains). And the lake! how bewitching in its
loveliness. It was the Sleeping Beauty of the Enchanted Forest,
watched over by frowning giants. A duck was laving his jeweled
hues in the blush-rose radiance, and the jet head of a water-rat, like a
skimming turquoise, dotted the exquisite sheet in one of its fairy
coves. How lovely, how lovely the scene! here, out in the wilderness
alone, repeating its tale of beauty, sunset after sunset, to naught but
the mountain-woods.
A sweet silence reigned, broken only by the few notes of the
birds, bidding good-by to the scene, and the click of the axe and
careless laugh of the two woodmen framing their raft in the
neighboring cove.
In a short time rose a hubbub from the point, and the raft
appeared, propelled by the planted poles of the guides, and ruffling
up the rich enamel of the water. For a rod, the thing floated well
enough, but in a few minutes, it struck and clung upon a small island
of grass, and the guides waded ashore. This little incident over, the
scene resumed its holy peace. Nothing now but the low silver
chirping of the mountain-finch settling into rest, awoke the
slumbering air. The pine soared up, “still as a mouse,” — even the
aspen slept. It was —
“Silence slumbering on her instrument.”
Determined on seeing the scene steeped in the silver of the bonnie
moon, I now left with my guides for the shanty and our supper.
At midnight we started for the lake. We crossed the outlet, and
soon the moonlight painting of Colden was gleaming before us. A
path of shifting meteor brilliance shivered on the water, while the
glossy shadows thrown by Mounts McIntyre and Colden, were more
sharply defined by the contrast. A small black space in the shallows,
denoted the raft. A serene quiet brooded over the silver scene; as if
the naiad of the lake was sleeping, after touching her harp to the
Dolphin glories of the dying day. An inexpressible feeling of solitude
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and silence weighed over the whole scene. I seemed an intruder on
its beauteous slumber, stretched, as it were, in the delicate sheen of
the lovely moon and black velvet of the mountain shadows. Blazing
in the beauty of the dainty light — the daintiest of lights! how few, I
thought, of earth’s denizens, awake as they might be to every
sensation, knew that here, in the core of the savage wilderness,
glowed a sight to awaken their deepest enthusiasm, their loftiest ideal
of beauty! The ripples murmured their fairy music, the pearly light
sparkled in the murmuring ripples, the lake’s heart glittered, and I sat
entranced. That glittering water! It was hope when life was dark;
love, when the heart was forsaken; friendship, when our path was
lonely.
After photographing the scene on my memory, I returned with
my guides to the shanty. I lay on my couch of spruce and mused.
How rough and difficult had my path proved from my point of
departure to the present, and such a radiant close! It was a rich sunset
after a rainy day, joy after much sorrow.
And yet how my sinews had been braced by my exertions and
fatigues. Is not the rough path of life the best? Most indubitably! Do
not its roses enervate and finally destroy? Most indubitably also. As
Hannibal’s soldiers, after triumphing over the frozen Alps, were
vanquished by the luxuries of Capua, so has many a strong spirit,
after its victories over adverse fate, been conquered by the prosperity
it wearied every energy to obtain.
The following day was devoted to Lake Avalanche. None but
one or two of the state geologists had, as far as I could ascertain, ever
penetrated to this extremely remote water. And our desire to visit it
was intensified at the thought. We, therefore, as the rubies and
topazes of the fresh light were gleaming around us, left our shanty
breathing like a dewy rose in the morning air, and the red spangle of
our camp-fire to blink itself down into ashes, while we essayed the
unbroken solitude of the way to the savage lake.
The raft was moored still at the isle of water-plants owned by
King Muskrat, and a few minutes’ exertion, on the part of Merrill
and Robert, brought it to where I could embark. My guides bent to
their poles, and we rippled a little way into the lake, when another
shallow caught our platform, and we left it to its fate, ourselves
wading ashore.
We then essayed our only other practicable way, the side of
Mount Colden, for a glance at the steep shores of Mount McIntyre,
plunging almost sheer into the water, convinced us it was folly to try
our fortune there. There was no trail to guide us, and we struck
boldly on to break our way athwart this most wild and savage
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mountain. Had I known the difficulties I was about to encounter, I
should, I think, have attempted to swim Lake Colden rather than
have dared the horrors of that tramp — that positively frightful
journey across the flank of the almost precipitous summit — one
chaos of prostrate trees and woven boughs. I shudder now, when I
think of its fatigues and its dangers.
An enormous mass of high, wide drift, composed of tough treetops heaped by some ancient hurricane — a perfect chevaux de frise
— presented its sharp tangle of points nearest the lake-shore, and,
finding it impervious, we were forced to strike farther up the side of
Mount Colden. It was scarcely mending the matter, for a terrific wind
here had, years ago, dashed the trees into a twisted labyrinth of fallen
stems and branches, mantled with moss certainly six feet thick. There
was no trail, as I said, so we were obliged to pick our own way. Soon
we came to a line of fresh panther-tracks (deep, huge, showing the
enormous size of the creature), which we gladly followed. How
significant that circumstance of the utter wildness of our way, the
almost absolute certainty of our being the first for many, many years,
to attempt the visit of this most recluse, untamed, and almost
unknown lake. No other way across the mountain was practicable,
except possibly the summit, shown by the fact that our trail was
solely followed by two or three other parties visiting the lake that
season, after ourselves. How toilsome and dangerous was that
journey! Not knowing where to plant my steps, my guides being in
front, in some instances I broke through the brittle moss to my knees,
waist, and even arm-pits. Once I fell into an unknown depth, only
saved from falling farther by clinging to a branch! Great, fallen
trunks also interposed their ramparts; limbs wreathed around me like
serpents. Sometimes the trunks crumbled at the touch of my
mounting foot, letting me into their damp ruins, slimy as the skin of a
black-snake. Sharp rocks, concealed under the treacherous moss,
thrust their fangs into my feet and mangled my flesh, until I almost
screamed with the agony. Below, I caught glimpses of quiet Lake
Colden, as if it rejoiced at my trouble in daring thus to intrude into its
sylvan and lovely domain. However, everything comes to an end at
last, and so did my journey, by our reaching the ridge between us and
Lake Avalanche. Our level path leading through tall herbage, was
soon trod, and wading through a few bushes, we ascended a small
acclivity, and the deep, black waters of Avalanche were before us.
Almost the counterpart of Lake Colden, it equals the latter in
beauty, or rather it owns all the soft loveliness of the latter, mingled
with a wildness the other wears not. The precipices of Mount Colden
are here more terrific, and the wooded grandeur of Mount McIntyre
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is more imposing, while the outline of the ridge at the north of
Avalanche, is more jagged and sawlike. Lake Colden shows the
beauty of the deer and Avalanche that of the catamount.
I made my way to a tall rock, emerald with moss and gray with
lichen, on the immediate shore of the pure, transparent lake, and sat
down to stamp the scene upon my heart. The ragged fracture of the
great Trap Dyke, so famous among geologists, calling forth their
warmest enthusiasm, and cut so deeply (one hundred feet) into the
flinty ashy gray hypersthene of Mount Colden, frowned directly
opposite. The mole that mined it, was a small spring gnawing the
rocks, which were split above as well as below.
The deep waters, like ebony, with a glitter upon their black
glass, lay below, and I thought how seldom they had been disturbed
by human presence. Here, alone in the forest (I repeat the thought),
quite removed from even extraordinary travel, lies the sable gem,
with none to see its wondrous beauty. How patiently from hour to
hour does it mirror the sky-tints and the wood-colors! How it has
smiled to the sun, dimpled to the breeze, blackened to the storm since
it heard the primal anthem.
And, as if in response to the blackening, suddenly the bright
scene turned dim. A shower was upon us, — one of those generally
lurking in the gorges of these mountains, like echoes, ready to roam
out at the slightest provocation. The quick, bright drops began to
tinkle on the lake like little bells. A glittering flashed out over the
dark water to each pelt of the drops, which pelted me also like spent
bullets. I was commencing to forget my wood-craft, and to feel
annoyed. The whole scene was now streaked in the gray shower. A
merry music burst out upon the lake, as if the lovely naiad of
Avalanche was tuning her harp in unison with the glad pattering of
the leaves. I was looking at the smooth, iron-like precipice opposite,
when, suddenly, white tinges appeared to break from the surface. I
rubbed my eyes! What were they? What on earth were they? Was a
silver mine oozing from the stern, hard rock? There they shone —
remnants, they seemed to my excited fancy, of the Angel of the
Sunlight’s white raiment as she floated away before the gathering
shower.
It was only after riveting my gaze, that I became aware the sight
was a multitude of fairy waterfalls, born of the rain, and foaming,
through the innumerable and to me invisible wrinkles of the
precipice, down to the lake. In some places, the minute streaks
seemed like inlaid threads of silver, — the distance rendering them
apparently motionless. In others, they were aggregated into a broad
dazzling space like a pearly breastplate. Below, all the threads were
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united, and, owing to the greater roughness of the surface, they were
seen in full motion, one expanse of sliding scallops, as if an invisible
loom were at work there, weaving the beautiful shapes. These, in
turn, were mingled into a basin whence, in one bold leap, a glittering
curve sprang below; and, lost for a moment behind a screen of
foliage, foamed forth and dashed with a pleasant rumble into the
lake. The last of this fairy show was exhibited in a streak of white
bubbles, that flashed slowly, and melting as they flashed past my
rock and marched upward toward the head of the lake.
So beautiful was the whole display, — so in contrast with the
frightful precipice, that I could only testify my admiration by
exclamations. This silver frost-work, this magic picture was, of itself,
sufficient to repay all my fatigue, and the hours passed in the wild
solitude of my tramp. It seemed as if the shower had risen purposely
to show me this lovely child of its cunning workmanship, its wizard
sculpture, its fairy painting.
While I was thus admiring it, the transparent rain melted, the
lake’s song ceased; but still that pearly beauty shone against the rock,
as if to prolong its life in pure triumph at the admiration it had
caused. At last the delicate threads began to dwindle and break, spots
vanished in the white breastplate like sparks in ashes, but still the
loom poured out the graceful, shifting scallops, until the dark rock
showed bare above them. Then they began to melt, although the
crystal crescent of the leap still gleamed. At last the scallops died, the
leap suddenly disappeared, the rumble below sounded a little longer,
and then all was still. The picture and song were over. The streak of
bubbles melted, and naught but glintings and sparklings in the
woods, told the visit of the shower.
How warmly and genially the sun-glow broke upon us!
Although we were three thousand feet above Lake Champlain, the
warmth would have been a little oppressive, had not our bath
somewhat chilled us, for autumn had mixed its breath a little with the
rain, notwithstanding the almost unparalleled lingering of the
summer, during my whole visit to the Adirondacks. So late an
autumn was before rarely known, and I almost catch myself mingling
my summer scenes of previous visits with this autumn one. Indeed,
were it not for the hues, I should have forgotten it was not summer.
We sat and enjoyed the drying process, the sponging of the
sunshine, until it was time to set out on our return. We recrossed the
intervening ridge, and at sunset, after retracing our trail, without,
however, the severe toil it cost to break it, arrived at our shanty,
nearly breathless and heartily tired. After a frugal supper, I sat and
watched the night brightening beneath the soaring moon. How
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inexpressibly lovely looked the moonlit woods! how still in the
serene quiet of the watching heavens!
This dreamy light never seems so charming as when softening
the stern grandeur of the forests. It silvers the rose, it sparkles on the
dew, it streams on the glassy rill, it yields a more delicate grace to all
rural Nature; but in the woods it is enchantment. How it kindles the
dark waters of the lonely lake and bathes the beetling crags of the
frowning mountain! Never had the beautiful orb looked so beautiful
as once when I saw her beaming upon the terrific Clove of
Whiteface, tinging the leap of the wild Ausable down the scowling
chasm, fringed with rocks and pointed with tottering cedars. It was
Purity smiling pityingly upon Sin; Innocence looking inquiringly
upon Guilt.
And art thou, Moon! akin to earth!
Is thine, like this, a suffering clime,
Where hearts dwell prisoners from their birth,
And sighs to hurrying years keep time?
Or art thou formed of loftier mould?
Nearer to thee, my God, more bright!
Home of the wings of hovering gold,
Where Uriel stays his courier flight.
Art thou the clime of pastures green,
Of the still waters, Eden’s own,
Roamed by the souls of statelier mien —
Those towering closest to the Throne?
Those waving high their boughs of palm,
And touching harps of sweetest sound;
Feeling the bliss of heavenly calm;
Treading the flowers of heavenly ground.
Vain thoughts! high, high o’er grief and tears,
High o’er the anguish of our lot,
Thou rollest through the rolling years;
On thy pure sheen no guilty blot!
Blent with the praising starry arch
O golden Moon! on, on thy course!
Proud joining the majestic march
Toward the grand God, of all the Source!
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And I, an insect of a day,
Mote of a sunbeam, look on thee,
Drink the pure lustre of thy ray,
And think how blest with thee to be!
To dwell above this world of ours,
Forever freed, forever blest!
To gather wreaths of thornless flowers,
And quaff deep draughts of endless rest.
A pearly ray steeped a portion of the hemlock couch piled in the
shanty, and selecting this as the nearest approach to the light of
heaven, I was soon asleep. All night did the outlet play its melodies
in my ear, mingling with my dreams. Now it sounded a lute, now a
trumpet.
And now ’twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute,
And now it is an angel’s song,
That makes the heavens be mute!
Chapter IV: Mount Marcy
On the Trail to Tahawus; the Ascent;
Tahawus; the Sunset; the Sunrise
Lakes Colden and Avalanche are linked by a stream, the outlet
of the latter. Doubts had been expressed by those who had never
visited Avalanche, whether the connecting stream was an outlet or
inlet, — some even asserting that no stream existed. But we not only
traversed its banks all the way to and from Lake Avalanche, but, to
test the question of its direction, threw dead leaves into the current,
which slowly, but very perceptibly, floated downward toward Lake
Colden. And herein exists a singular fact. The bubbly streak of the
Avalanche shower undoubtedly moved northward while the stream
ran southward.
That the two lakes in the old time were one, cannot be denied.
The ridge separating them was unquestionably formed by an
enormous avalanche from the steep cliffs of Mount Colden. In fact,
avalanches are, even now, so common that the Lake has thus
received its picturesque name. And what a slide to have smitten the
one lake into two! What thunders, as the mighty trees leaned and
tottered, and the rocks were hurled as from a catapult, and the woods
were rolled up, a mighty billow, and the whole, a terrific cataract of
mingled trunks and crags, dashed into the lake, soaring into two
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mighty walls, crowned with foam, and subsiding, at last, into the
present basins. It were worth a life-time, almost, to have witnessed a
sight so majestic.
A pine was sounding its low anthem to the sunrise as I awoke
and prepared, with my guides, for the labors of the day. They were to
be the most arduous of all, for they included the ascent of Tahawus,
the Sky-Piercer, known generally as Mount Marcy. Tahawus, the
Sky-Piercer! — grand name for the soaring eagle of the stately
Adirondacks!
We crossed the outlet and struck the ascending ground,
immediately where the Opalescent River (wildest of streams) linked
the Colden outlet. A fallen tree, bridging a foaming watercourse
which dashed into the Opalescent directly from the roots of old
Tahawus, led our steps across. Then up, up, the fierce river brawling
in its wide, glary, rocky channel at our left. The closest woods were
twined around us, precluding sight save where, now and then, the
white of the Opalescent gleamed through the breaks of the foliage. A
mile thus passed. At length we came to a wide opening where the
brawl of the stream was deepened into a roar. Turning to the high
banks, we saw the mad torrent, dashing and foaming through a
narrow channel of rock splintered into pinnacles; here plunging one
sheet of spray within a basin of bubbles, and there gushing, black and
glossy, through a throat-like passage, to be hurled down a smooth
declivity of granite. It was the famous “Flume” of the Opalescent.
For one mile did the Flume continue with the same rush and roar,
among the pointed and splintered rocks. At length the stream
resumed its usual rapid but not cataract character. Great blocks of
gneiss stood here and there in the channel through which the stream
dashed and curved, but it ran, generally, in a straight direction. After
vainly tempting the little gemmed fairy trout of the wild stream at the
numerous black basins bright with silver bubbles, we resumed our
customary pressing onward, with no more pauses.
Dipping into hollows, straining up ridges, scrambling over logs,
cleaving through moss treacherous as alcohol, on, on we went. Here
and there, we crossed the Opalescent on its broken rocks, noticing
the manifold small fragments of iron ore, black and massive and
sparkling with bright sprinklings of the ore, scattered in the channel.
On past stars of fern and brown twin-leafed sprouts of beech and
maple; on past hopple-bush and crouching cedar; on past cloudbrushing pines, and hemlocks making net-work of the blue; on by
oozing springs and lichen-crimsoned boulders, still on, still on we
went. My feet moved up and down, instinctively, carrying my person
without the slightest volition of will. Walking had become a habit,
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and the frame conformed itself to it. My whole system was
thoroughly aroused, so that quietude seemed unnatural. How glorious
was all that tramping of mine! It was beatific! toilsome, true, but
productive of the most vivid delight. With what elastic feeling my
feet bounded from the leafen mould! how like steel my sinews
performed their functions! As the pearl hides in the ocean and the
gold in the mine, so is the greatest physical enjoyment attainable
only by the most violent effort.
At length we came to a little green dell, bare of trees, bordering
the Opalescent, which we traversed a short distance. Then the trail
suddenly turned, leaving the river widely to the left. We were
probably a mile from its source, which lies, as before stated, in a
small meadow on the lofty flank of Tahawus. This meadow is four
thousand feet above tide, and gives birth also to a branch of the West
Ausable, flowing from the opposite rim at the north. The trail now
became immediately steep, and Merrill suggested a lunch before
proceeding farther. Although we supposed ourselves on the slope of
Old Tahawus, neither of the guides, this visit being their first on this
side, could indicate the fact with certainty. On wound the stealthy
trail like a serpent, — on, on, through the close and to us, unknown
woods.
With our cordial of tea glowing in my system, I again started,
preceded by my guides. And now came the real tug! Up, up, up,
without intermission! Drawing ourselves by pendent boughs,
inserting our feet into fissures of the rocks, clutching wood-sprouts
and knotted roots, and dangling by lithe saplings, up, up, up, with not
a solitary level spot, we went, climbing thus our mountain-ladder.
Loftier, as we went, rose the grand breast of an opposite mountain
that we set down as Mount Colden. Up, up, up! the magnificent flank
of Colden now heaving on high like an enormous ocean billow piled
from hundreds of its fellows. It was awful, the sight of that
mountain! its frown fairly chilled my blood. But up, up, still up. The
trees that had hitherto towered into the sky, dwindled perceptibly,
warning us that something was to happen. Up, up, still up. Lower and
lower the trees. Barer and barer the rocks. The noble pine of a quarter
of an hour ago is now a sapling of a dozen feet. What will happen?
What dwarfing power broods above to cause this change? But
upward, upward still. Owing to the difficulties of the route, clinging
to every object that presents, I cannot look upward! Steeper, if
possible, the trail! See! the shrub I clutch, to drag myself
ponderously upward, is the miniature pine whose stern, a short time
since, would not crack; no, although the angriest blast were hurled
against it! What is to happen? It was weird; it was awful! A sensation
263
of dread began crawling through my frame, something portentous
and threatening to whisper hoarsely in my ear. What causes these
haughty forests to bow their grand crests, and grovel upon the rocks?
WHAT? Up, up, still up! The shrub lies flat, a stiff verdant wreath, a
mere crawling vine, a thing of wire, with scarce life sufficient to
keep life! A chill breath too, commenced to permeate the air; the
breath of some monster whose lair was above. Be warned in time, O
mortal, and approach no nearer! Desolation and death frown before
thee, and — ha! I chanced to look up; and lo, a rocky dome, a dark
pinnacle, an awful crest scowled above my head, apparently
impending over it, as if to fall and crush me; kept only by some
invisible agency from hurling itself downward upon my devoted
person! WHAT WAS IT!
It was the stately brow of old Tahawus, the Piercer of the Sky!
Throned in eternal desolation, its look crushing down the soaring
forest into shrubs, there it towered, the sublime King of the
Adirondacks, its forehead furrowed by the assaults of a thousand
centuries! There it towered, beating back the surges of a million
tempests! There it stood, and — by Jove if there isn’t a lizard
crawling up there! or stop, let me see. Upon my modesty, if the
lizard, by the aid of my glass, doesn’t enlarge itself into Bob Blin!
and there is Merrill following. And so I followed too. Showers of
stones, loosened by my guides, rattled past. Still up I went. Over the
precipitous rock by clambering its cracks and crannies, through its
tortuous galleries, along the dizzy edges of the chasms. A score of
times I thought the summit was just in front, but no; on still went my
guides, and on still I followed. I began to think the nearer I
approached the farther I was off. But at last Merrill and Robert both
became stationary, in fact seated themselves, their figures sharply
relieved against the sky. Surmounting a steep acclivity, then turning
into a sort of winding gallery, and passing a large mass of rock, I
placed myself at their side, and lo, the summit! Famished with thirst,
I looked around, and basins of water, hollowed in the stern granite,
met my gaze, — real jewels of the skies, — rain water; and truly
delicious was it. Next, my eye was sweetly startled by one of the
most delicate little fairy flowers (a harebell) that ever grew — sweet
as Titania, blue as heaven, and fragile as hope — here, on the very
bald tip-top of old Tahawus. I looked around for humming-birds and
butterflies! It was a beautiful sight, that little blossom trembling at
the very breath, and yet flourishing here. Here, where the tawny
grass sings sharp and keen in the wrathful hurricane that the eagle
scarce dares to stem; where even the pine shrub cannot live, and the
wiry juniper shows not even its iron wreath! Here, where the bitter
264
cold lingers nearly all the year, and the snow-flake dazzles the June
sun with its frozen glitter! Here, on the summit of a peak to which
the lightning lowers its torch, and at whose base the storm cloud
crouches.
A variety of mosses, several grasses, a species of dwarf creeping
willow, and harebells, with other flowers of white and gold, spangle
the mosses and seam the clefts of the summit.
And — what! a mellow hum in my ear! Is some fairy touching
her tricksy harp among the flowers? It is from a honey-bee, by all
that’s wonderful! And see, a bumble-bee in its snit of black and gold!
Swept upward on the broad pinions of the wind, they revel in the
“hanging gardens” of blossoms that the old mountain offers.
The ascent of Tahawus is by no means an easy performance, an
airy promenade. No! it is stern, persistent work; work that calls upon
your mightiest energies! In attempting its ascent, strong, hardy
trampers have given out, and lain down helpless in an attack of
wood-sickness. And here is a new disease! I first heard of it in the
Adirondacks! Wood-sickness! a sea-sickness on land! brought on by
excessive fatigue, or by being buried, day after day, in the greenness
of the woods — these tremendous, tangled, sun-concealing,
weltering woods! The symptoms are the same as its sister of the sea;
as disheartening and enfeebling.
Well here I am at last! I can hardly realize it! To tell the truth, I
never thought I should ever reach the spot. Tahawus stood as a
shining myth in my dreams — an abstraction — a formless form like
the vision of Job — an image with an aureole — a something very
grand and wild and sublime out in the woods, but which I never
expected to see!
Clear and bright shines the prospect below, and herein we are
lucky. Old Tahawus ofttimes acts sulky. He will not allow his vassal
landscape to show itself, but shrouds it in a wet, clinging mist. Today, however, he permits it to appear in his presence, and lo, the
magic! A sea of mountain-tops! a sea frozen at its wildest tumult!
And what a multitude of peaks! The whole horizon is full to
repletion. As a guide said, “Where there wasn’t a big peak, a little
one was stuck up.”116 Really true, and how savage! how wild! Close
on my right rises Haystack, a truncated cone, — the top shaved
apparently to a smooth level. To the west soars the sublime slope of
116
A similar unattributed quotation is cited at the end of an anonymous article about a
climb up Mount Marcy, published a year after Street’s Indian Pass was published: “By
golly, there’s nothing but mountains, and where they couldn’t get in a big one they
sharpened up a little one and stuck it in.” The quote from the New York Tribune of
July 13, 1870 is provided in Russell Carson’s Peaks and People of the Adirondacks.
265
Mount Colden, with McIntyre looking over its shoulder; a little
above, point the purple peaks of Mount Seward — a grand Mountain
Cathedral — with the tops of Mount Henderson and Santanoni in
misty sapphire. At the southwest shimmers a dreamy summit, —
Blue Mountain; while to the south stands the near and lesser top of
Skylight. Beyond, at the southeast, wave the stern crests of the
Boreas Mountain. Thence ascends the Dial,117 with its leaning cone,
like the Tower of Pisa; and close to it swells the majesty of Dix’s
Peak, shaped like a slumbering lion. Thence stagger the wild, savage,
splintered tops of the Gothic Mountains at the Lower Ausable Pond,
— a ragged thundercloud, — linking themselves, on the east, with
the Noon-Mark118 and Rogers’ Mountain, that watch over the Valley
of Keene. To the northeast rise the Edmunds’ Pond summits — the
mountain picture closed by the sharp crest of old Whiteface on the
north — stately outpost of the Adirondacks. Scattered through this
picture are manifold expanses of water — those almost indispensable
eyes of a landscape. That glitter at the north by old Whiteface is Lake
Placid; and the spangle, Bennett’s Pond.119 Yon streak running south
from Mount Seward, as if a silver vein had been opened in the stern
mountain, is Long Lake; and between it and our vision shine Lakes
Henderson and Sanford, with the sparkles of Lake Harkness, and the
twin lakes Jamie and Sallie. At the southwest glances beautiful Blue
Mountain Lake, — name most suggestive and poetic. South, lies
Boreas Pond, with its green beaver meadow and a mass of rock at the
edge. To the southeast glisten the Upper and Lower Ausable Ponds;
and farther off, in the same direction, Mud and Clear Ponds, by the
Dial120 and Dix’s Peak. But what is that long gleam at the east! Lake
Champlain! and that glittering line north! The St. Lawrence, above
the dark sea of the Canadian woods.
I sat down to enjoy the scene, and make it an intaglio of my
memory. A deep silence reigned. Then a whisper stole to my ear
through the divine quiet, and I knew it was the mountain speaking to
my heart.
117
Street: Called generally Nipple Top. [Editor: Street agitated against the use of the
name “Nippletop.” One story has it that he acquiesced to its use in a compromise with
Keene guide “Old Mountain” Phelps, wherein Phelps promised to rename another
nearby peak “Dial.” That name is now applied to the mountain referred to in just a few
lines by Street as the Noon-Mark, or (as his footnote remarks) Camel’s Hump.]
118
Street: Or Camel’s Hump.
119
Bennet’s Pond (properly spelled with only one “t,” named for the pioneer settler of
the surrounding township of North Elba) was renamed Mirror Lake in the 1870s by
popular usage after Mary Monel, a young guest at the Lake Placid House hotel, left a
poem she had written, “Mirror Lake, formerly Bennet Pond,” in the hotel’s guest
register.
120
Nippletop.
266
“Vain mortal,” these the words, “why this continued disquiet?
Why dost thou wail in wretchedness and darken in despair? Why
dost thou cloud thy little life with sorrows of thine own seeking?
Behold me! From the time I bubbled up under the seething wrath of
the red volcano, a sea of fire, until but a few fleeting years since — I,
the King of the stately peaks around me — I reigned unnoticed and
unknown! If the solitary hunter saw my rocky top from afar in the
sunset, or kindling to the moon, he took me for some rosy cloud or
glittering star shining above a distant ocean of forest. Or if,
perchance, he tracked the savage moose or black-cat to my lonely
glens, awed by my solitude and frightened by my wildness, he scarce
dared to scan me, or fasten my lonely throne in his remembrance.
And so the years went by. Did I sink in despair? Did I forsake hope?
No! I listened serenely to the scream of the panther, and heard,
undisturbed, the howlings of the tempest. If I launched the eagle on
my blast, it was not to lure human creatures to my haunt, but to gaze
myself on my own majestic emblem. If I sent the wild wolf from my
gorges to howl around the cabin of the settler, he was no messenger
for him to visit my solitude. Firmly did I breast the Winter’s fury,
and in derision did I clutch his white mantle as he flew from the
bright presence of Spring, and, tearing it into shreds, strew my glens
throughout the year with the fragments. I reared my cold brow to the
Summer’s beating heats, and robbed her also of her most delicate
blossom as a memento of hope; and I took my lessons from the
smiling Spring. I saw on my breast, May hanging its tassels to the
naked birch, and kindling its fire of promise on the boughs of the
maple. And thus did the Spring speak to me: ‘Courage,’ she said, in
her silver song. ‘Hope on, hope ever. One day wilt thou be disrobed
of thy savage loneliness, and be known among men. One day will the
artist stamp thy form on immortal canvas, — the poet sing thee in
imperishable numbers. Known wilt thou be, and honored. Thy
panther’s scream will give place to the soft tones of beauty, and the
shriek of the eagle to the tinkle of the herd-bell and song of the
ploughman in thy valleys. Life is around, and will soon awake thee
from thy solitude into light and smiles.’ ”
“And true, O mountain,” my heart made answer, “true is the
lesson thou hast taught me. Henceforth, content shall be my aim, and
anticipation my joy. Away the fiend Despair, and come, O angel of
Hope. The present shall ever wear the rainbow, to irradiate my soul
and tinge my future.”
I was aroused from my reverie by the clink of a hammer. Merrill
was chiseling my name, with his own and Robert’s, into the granite
of the mountain. And thus do we all seek to foil forgetfulness. Here,
267
on the top of this savage peak, we hoped to rescue our memories
from inevitable fate. A few seasons of rain and frost, and though
deep the characters be cut, moss and lichen will creep into them, and,
at last, bury them as securely as the grave will bury our frames of a
day.
Suddenly, two reports sounded. Merrill and Robert had fired off
their rifles for the echo. The sounds were like two short taps, or
rather asthmatic coughs. A minute followed of blank silence — then
a faint tone struggled from a distant gorge. And such is fame. We
shout our names aloud to arrest the attention of the world, and lo, but
stifled tones are heard, succeeded by a feeble reverberation, and all is
still and soon forgotten.
The sounds proved the enormous height of the mountain, which
soars to the breathless height of five thousand four hundred feet
above tide121 — one glorious mile in the air.
I lingered upon the prospect till the lowering sun told his near
setting. What a privilege to see the dying day from the summit of
Tahawus. Slowly and grandly sank the Day-god to his rest. Not one
by one, but in an instant, the peaks below were bathed in one vast
blush. Soft looked Mount Colden in the light, soft as a bride, that
stern mountain, and McIntyre above it gleamed like a ruby cloud.
And the summit of Skylight, — sweet as a dream of love it smiled.
The Dial’s rounded diadem glowed in downy gold, and the frowning
form of Dix’s Peak looked as if steeped in carmined swansdown.
Slowly, slowly, slowly off it faded, — the daylight from every
crest, — as if the light were loth to go. McIntyre shone the last, —
the stony crag was the torch to light the Day-god to his rest, and the
whole jagged summit turned sharply purple like the edges of a gem,
against the gold and rosy glow.
If the sunset was glorious, the darkening of the peak-picture was
grand. It seemed as if some mighty bird threw the shadow of his
wings down upon it, as he slowly flew over the scene. The farther
tops mingled in gloom, then nearer, nearer, nearer, nearer the shadow
crept, until Haystack glimmered and it was night. Right over
Tahawus came out a white orb like a spangle of snow, as if to watch
it during the long night, its “sentinel-star.”
How romantic would prove the night, to lie here on the brow of
the stately Titan, listening to the long, deep breathings of its slumber,
as the breeze heaved the forest, and waiting for the coming of the
dawn!
121
More precisely, the elevation of Marcy’s summit is 5,344 feet.
268
Romantic, but awfully cold! and so we began our descent. To
encamp not far from the summit, though, for I was determined to see
the sunrise as well as the sunset. So we left our area of several yards
in extent, slid down the rocky dome, and, plunging into the forest,
halted at a little dingle. Here the ready axe of Merrill soon built a
camp-fire, and his knife sheared hemlock-fringes for our couch under
the expected moonlight.
Then, after a heartily enjoyed supper, we retired to our slumbers,
my head filled with the sublime and beautiful sights of the day.
About midnight I awoke. A stealthy step had broken upon my
dreams. I sat up. Step, step, step. I threw a brand; the form of an
animal — a red cameo — was cut upon the gloom, and with a snarl it
vanished. I then looked above. There glowed the full-orbed moon
beaming, as at Lake Colden, like a friend’s face, and full of comfort
and gladness. In the crowded city she is lovely, amid the sights and
sounds of pleasure. Sweetly does she glow upon the swelling sea
when the tropic breeze bears balm and scent of all sunniest things;
and upon the soldier in his night-watch, telling him of his home;
vividly does her brow, so remembered in the old time, bring old
scenes again to fill the heart with memories and the eye with tears;
but here in the solitary woods (I never tire in the repetition of the
thought), crowded with stately trees, sleeping on one ocean of leaves,
and amid mountains watching the lonely denizens of their dingles, —
how far more pure, more lovely, more sweet, more full of all holy
memories, of all deep joys and cherished feelings! And here I
became so confoundedly sleepy that I saw two moons, and, while
wondering at the phenomenon, I fell back once more on my couch of
hemlock and “slept the sleep that knows no waking” till the morning
dawned.
Up with the earliest tint, and away to the mountain-top anew.
Gauzes of mist glimmered between the peaks, but the sky was
clear as a crystal, the east a burnished gray. Soon the orient-glow
announced the coming of the sun. The air was chilly, but not
unpleasant. One little cloud shone like a flame-tinged jewel. All at
once the Dial’s leaning tower122 blazed as if a hidden fire had burst
out. The grim mane of the crouching lion of Dix’s Peak turned to
mellow gold. Skylight glittered. Then peak after peak gleamed. The
gauzes of the mist changed to gemmy tints. O, those exultant peaks!
how they broke into glory! and then rose the sun! What wonder that
the antique mind deified the orb! So grand, so glorious! Helios
harnessed his flashing steeds, in the poetic fancy of the Greek, for his
122
Nippletop.
269
daily pathway, and golden-haired Apollo sprang for his accustomed
flight in the imagination of the Roman. And we of a purer faith, and
nobler worship see in the dazzling splendor of the Day-god the
shadow of “the Excellent Glory.”
And now the yellow light hath bathed the brow of old Tahawus
in one cheery smile! Hail, source of light and joy! Hail, Ithuriel of
the golden spear that turns the swart demon of Night into the shining
angel of Day! Man views thee with joy in the smoky city, but here,
on the clear mountain-top, his heart leaps up to thee in pure delight
and speechless admiration. Selah!
We returned to our dingle, and soon Merrill and Robert were
busy in the ruby of the camp-fire preparing the morning meal. That
secured, we started for the gorge between Tahawus and Haystack.
Only one explorer123 had visited it, and he but a few weeks before,
and it possessed all the charm of newness.
The pleasant chirp of the mountain-finch, mingled with the
bugle of the jay, accompanied our steps through the streak of forest
next the rocky summit. In a few moments, we broke from its tangled
covert, and stood upon the terrific slide of the mountain with other
slides parallel. I looked back. The side of the Sky-Piercer had been
scooped into a tremendous amphitheatre. From its brow, plunged
manifold headlong torrents of stone, separated by strips of forest.
Prominent above this awful hollow soared a headland. And here I
must retrace my narrative.
While listening to the pleasant silvery clink of Merrill’s hammer
carving our names on the peak, I saw a point or headland jutting out
below where I stood. My fancy was fired at the sight. What awful
gorge, what sublime expanse of landscape stretching dizzily away,
would that rocky jut reveal? As there was no one that could answer
that question but the jut itself, I resolved to reach it. An easy slope
leading to a grassy carpet tempted my steps, and accordingly, I began
to descend.
“Don’t go there, I entreat!” exclaimed Merrill. “It’s dangerous.”
The exclamation, instead of daunting, only whetted sharper my
purpose. Besides, what danger lay in that easy slope and that grassy
carpet. Consequently, disdaining the “small deer” advice of my
guide, I persevered. The slope of rock was easy enough for a short
distance, but what was my horror when I found that the grassy carpet
turned out thick-branched, needle-bristling balsam bushes, just strong
enough to sink me into their pointed torments, and scarcely strong
enough to bear the tread.
123
Street: Henry B. Smith, D.D., Professor in the Union Theological Seminary, city of
New York.
270
Down I plunged into cavities of the sharp, stiff foliage,
expecting, every moment, to encounter the green orbs of some
panther; but, happily, I saw none. However, I persevered toward the
jutting headland until I came to the most terrible twine of bayonetpointed chevaux de frise I ever met in all the woods. Down I sank in
the tangled verdure, up I tilted, but little headway did I make. There
stood the headland, and here was I. At last I became utterly
discouraged, immersed as I was in these prickly, agonizing branches,
woven over pits of jagged stones; so I turned back. The descent was
comparatively easy, but the ascent, — “ah, there’s the rub!” Up I
struggled, up through the caverns of shaggy verdure where the wild
cat made his lair (or ought to have); up through the sharp gullies of
rock where I abandoned, for the moment, my ladder of foliage; then,
forsaking the gullies, up over or rather half wading through the stiff
layers of balsam, with the outline of a ravine on my right. At last I
reached the first slope of rock, and the light chirp of Merrill’s
hammer again met my ear, like the carol of the bluebird on the first
spring day. It warmed my heart, that sharp, sweet clink — and
heartily glad was I to plant my foot once more on the friendly peak.
But to return.
What terrific convulsion had hollowed thus the mountain-side to
the quick! I knew not; and after a shudder at the appalling sight, I
began the descent.
But before I did so, I turned for a farewell look at the stately
peak. As I gazed, an enormous black eagle burst into sight,
apparently from a small cloud above. Down he swooped to the rocky
pinnacle, where he stood, waving grandly his pinions as if
responding to my adieu. He seemed the visible Spirit of Tahawus,
receiving my homage. I could almost see the gold-tawny flash of his
imperial eye. I did hear the trumpet of his majestic voice. “Farewell,”
he seemed to say, “child of an hour, and remember my precepts. Let
not thy heart be cast down by trouble. Trust the future, and I
command thee, whatever thy future, still cling to hope and have faith
in Heaven. Farewell! long wilt thou remember me! In thy dreams
will my lofty form be mirrored; now, as thou seest me, and now
black with the storm and wreathed with the blazing lightnings.
Remember, that I bear a brave heart in my rocky bosom, and I scorn
all that adverse fate can hurl against me! Farewell and remember!”
He unfurled his bannery wings, he pointed his kingly beak,
upward he soared, and, ere his voice ceased to echo in my soul, he
vanished. Up as he flew, up I swept my arm, and my heart that
seemed to soar with his majestic flight made answer: —
271
“Truly will I remember, O Spirit of Tahawus; faith shall be my
comforter and hope my guide! Though fate may hurl its angriest
blasts against me, and wrong and bitter injustice bar my pathway,
still, remembering thee, will I bear upward my heart and steel my
courage.” …
272
DOCUMENT SIXTEEN
The Military and Civil History of
124
the County of Essex, N.Y. (1869)
W INSLOW C. W ATSON
Mineralogy and Geology: The Adirondac District
The field of researches presented by Essex county in these
departments is so expanded and rich, that the labor of years would be
required for its competent examination.
The mineral wealth of Essex county is not limited to iron ore,
but comprehends numerous other minerals of great interest and
value. Iron, however, in immense deposits, constitute its predominant
resource. In many sections of the county, it forms the basis of the
entire structure of the earth, and occurs not merely in veins, nor even
masses, but in strata which rise into mountains. The surface is often
strewn with boulders of iron ore, weighing from a few pounds to
many tons, as ordinary rocks are scattered in other districts. The
Adirondac district is probably surpassed in no region in the extent of
its deposits of iron, and the higher qualities and varied properties of
its ores. The ores seem to concentrate in the vicinity of the village of
Adirondac, and here literally constitute the formation. The cellars of
their dwellings, in many instances, are excavated in the massive
beds.
The discovery of a mineral deposit, extensive and valuable, as
the Adirondac Iron District is an event so rare and important, that it
seems appropriate in a work of this character, to perpetuate its
minute history. An Indian approached the late David Henderson,
Esq., of Jersey city, in the year 1826, whilst standing near the Elba
iron works, and taking from beneath his blanket a piece of iron ore,
he presented it to Mr. H. with the inquiry expressed in his imperfect
English, “You want to see ’um ore, me fine plenty — all same.”
When asked where it came from, he pointed towards the south-west
and explained “me hunt beaver all ’lone, and fine ’um, where water
run over iron dam.” The Indian proved to be a brave of St. Francis
tribe, honest, quiet and intelligent, who spent the summers in hunting
amid the wilds of the Adirondacs. An exploring party, consisting of
Mr. Henderson, Messrs. Duncan and Malcolm McMartin, John McD.
McIntyre, and Dyer Thompson, was promptly arranged, who
submitting themselves to the guidance of the Indian, plunged into the
124
From pages 372-374 of Watson’s Essex County history, published in 1869 by J.
Munsell, State Street, Albany, N.Y.
273
pathless forest. The first night they made their bivouac beneath the
giant walls of the Indian pass. The next day they reached the site of
the present works, and there saw the strange spectacle described by
the brave; the actual flow of a river over an iron dam, created by a
ledge of ore, which formed a barrier across the stream. The
reconnaissance revealed to their astonished view, various and
immense deposits of ore, equal almost to the demands of the world
for ages. A glance disclosed the combination in that secluded spot of
all the ingredients, and every facility for the most extensive
manufacture of iron, in all its departments. In close proximity existed
an illimitable supply of ore, boundless forests of hard wood and an
abundant water power. The remote position of the locality formed the
chief impediment to the scheme, which was adopted at once by the
explorers. Having accomplished a hasty but satisfactory examination
of the deposit, the party with no delay that might attract attention, the
same night and in intense darkness and a driving storm, retraced their
path through the forest, after having carefully concealed the
evidences of their work. Messrs. Henderson and McMartin, taking
with them the Indian, of whom they did not deem it safe to lose sight,
proceeded directly to Albany, and there effected the purchase from
the state of an extended tract embracing the scene of this remarkable
discovery.125 A road was soon constructed to the site with slight aid
from the state, at great expense, through a dense uninterrupted forest
of thirty miles in length. The purpose was pursued with untiring
energy and strong enthusiasm, by the proprietors, Archibald
McIntyre, Archibald Robertson and David Henderson, Esqs. A
settlement was soon commenced and an experimental furnace
constructed. Iron was produced of rare and valuable qualities,
rivaling almost in toughness and strength the best products of the
Swedish furnaces. A small blast furnace was soon afterwards erected,
together with several forge fires and a puddling furnace. Bar iron was
subsequently fabricated to a considerable extent. Iron produced from
this ore has proved admirably adapted to the manufacture of steel,
and has been extensively used for that purpose by the steel works of
the Adirondac Company at Jersey city.126 I need only refer in
addition to the report of Mr. Johnson which exhibits the triumphant
display of that steel at the World’s Fair. A magnificent blast furnace
was completed about 1850127 at the Adirondac works, of the largest
dimensions, perfect in its construction and powers, and most
125
Watson: Mr. Henderson’s journal.
Watson: See J. Dellafield’s address, page 142, State Agricultural Transactions,
1851.
127
The “New Furnace” was completed in 1854.
126
274
judiciously adjusted in all its arrangements. The first furnace had
been erected in 1848.
Numerous ore beds exist within an area of three miles, and nearly
all are comprised within half that distance from the works. … 128
128
Though Watson’s history was published in 1869, eleven years after the Adirondack
Iron and Steel Company closed its works, Watson makes no mention of the works’
closing.
275
DOCUMENT SEVENTEEN
The Adirondack Wilderness
129
of New York (1872)
VERPLANCK COLVIN
We reached Wilmington, at the foot of Whiteface, in the
afternoon of September 6th, and the same night, after a long and
tedious drive, arrived at Lake Placid.
The seventh was devoted to topography and barometer work in
the neighborhood of Lake Placid (which by barometer is 1,954 feet
above tide), and in preparation for the more difficult labors of the
survey. We were now again about to enter the great forest, having to
make all further progress among the mountains on foot, all the
baggage and heavy instruments being carried upon the backs of men.
Provisions also, though plain and compact, formed a very
considerable and weighty portion of the porterage.
The eighth of September was Sunday. On the ninth, after
barometrical work in the neighborhood of North Elba (from which
the altitude of that place has been computed at 1,635 feet), with three
packmen carrying our heavier material, we crossed the Ausable river,
and, entering the woods, took the trail for the Indian Pass. We
camped that evening beside the brook along which I descended from
the summit of Mt. McIntyre in 1871, and building a shanty of
boughs, passed a comfortable night. The altitude of this camp was
2,197 feet. The morning of the tenth found us early upon the trail,
and at the northern portal of the Indian Pass. Here a new camp was
hastily made, and sending an assistant, with one guide, over the pass
to the Hudson river side of the mountains, with orders to take
barometrical observations at the south foot of Wallface Mountain
precipice (valley), I took with me the other guides, and leaving the
trail, proceeded to follow the main branch of the Ausable to its
source. We were in hopes of finding some little lakes, known as
“Scott’s ponds” which, though doubted by some who had been
unable to find them — Mr. Scott, their discoverer, having only seen
them in winter, as level, snow-covered openings in the forest — were
said to exist upon the top of Wallface, and which were probably the
highest sources of the Ausable river. After a toilsome climb up the
steep gorge of the river, wetted by the spray of many an unnamed
129
From the Report on a Topographical Survey of the Adirondack Wilderness of New
York (No. 1), New York State Senate Document No. 53, by Verplanck Colvin
(Albany, N.Y.: The Argus Company, Printers, 1873), pp. 17-24.
276
waterfall, ascending slippery ledges by aid of rope-like roots, we
reached less difficult ground, where the stream divided into a number
of smaller brooks. These streams had probably been the means of
bewildering previous searchers for the ponds; lack of woodcraft
leading them to waste time in exploring to their source all the
numerous brooks. Pushing forward we passed the clear, cold, springlike streams, following, without hesitation, the more tepid and
discolored water of one branch which tasted like that derived from a
pond or bog. Advancing in this manner, I caught the first glimpse of
open water, which proved to be the largest of these high mountain
ponds. It was small and apparently shallow. Several brooks enter it;
one coming from two level moss-swamps which, in winter, had also
probably the appearance of ponds. The altitude, by barometer, was
found to be 3,054 feet, or higher than either Lakes Colden or
Avalanche.
Leaving the pond we passed to the western side of Wallface,
where the brooks trend to the Raquette, through Cold river, but
finding nothing of importance returned, and wandering through the
marshy forest, hazy with thick, bewildering masses of cold, driving
clouds, had the fortune to stumble upon another lake, whose shores it
is probable had never been previously visited by man. The altitude
was greater than the first pond, being 3,131 feet. It was a wild,
unearthly place, and to the subdued, muttered words of the guides,
came the sudden snort of a deer as he fled from our approach.
In the afternoon we reached the summit of Wallface Mountain,
measured it, observation for observation with the station in the abyss
at the foot of the precipice, where the assistant was busily engaged.
Afterward, descending to the verge of the cliff, observations were
made to ascertain the greatest height of that tremendous monument
and record of dynamical geology. The altitude of Wallface Mountain
was found to be 3,856 feet, and the height of Wallface precipice
1,319 feet. One reconnaissance map was made. Moving with celerity
we were able to reach our camp again, at the north portal of the pass,
shortly after dark. This was the first of a series of movements in
which the labor of several days was pressed into one, and in which
the wilderness was shown to be traversable to skillful woodsmen by
night as well as day.
Next morning (September 11th) the whole party entered the
Indian Pass, and after altitude observations at its center, which give
for its elevation 2,901 feet, we pawed beneath the dizzy crags, on the
verge of which we had stood the previous day, and the same
afternoon reached the deserted iron-works at Adirondack village. The
day, as usual, had been one of storm and rain.
277
A slight delay was here necessary to enable us to replenish our
supply of provisions from the slender stock of the single family
residing in this lonely valley.
As the next station in the mountains was not more than seven
miles distant, we took what provisions could be had, and at mid-day
on the twelfth departed, notwithstanding the continuance of stormy
weather; for I thought it best that we should be near our central
station (Mt. Marcy), in order to take advantage of the first clear
weather, if we should be so fortunate as to have any.
Reaching Lake Colden, a little after dark, we encamped on the
north shore of the Opalescent river, which, during the night, swollen
by the heavy rain, became a furious torrent. The party was
accommodated in bark wigwams, each of which afforded shelter for
two persons.
The next day the storm still continued unabated, and our chief
occupation was to keep the apparatus from damage by water which
soaked the floor, and dripped through the bark roof of the wigwams.
A guide was sent back to the deserted iron-works for more
provisions, for which we had made arrangements (for we
contemplated making this point a depot of supplies), and another
guide was employed in cutting down a large cedar tree, and hewing it
into the shape of a canoe or dug-out for use in the mapping of Lake
Colden, on whose waters no boat had hitherto floated.
The morning of the fourteenth was also stormy, but, upon the
return of the man detached for provisions, immediate preparations
were made for the ascent of Mt. Marcy. Baggage was reduced to a
minimum, provision for the party for one day only being carried.
We were early upon the trail, but, with the heavy theodolite and
fragile barometers, made a slow march. The weather continued so
unfavorable, and consequently the probability of our being able to
accomplish the work was so slight, that even the guides, who had
now acquired an interest in the survey, appeared discouraged. As
hour after hour we ascended the foaming, rock-girt Opalescent river
toward its source, the weather became colder and the thick clouds
more disheartening.
It is not necessary to descant upon the climb. It was late
afternoon, when, drenched with rain or cloud, that despite rubber
covering had penetrated our clothing, we stood shivering in the gray,
icy mist that swept furiously over the summit of Mt. Marcy.
Benumbed with cold and unable to see for more than a few rods
around, at the entreaties of the guides I reluctantly ordered an
immediate descent, which was made upon the opposite or eastern
side of the mountain. About a mile from the summit we found a level
278
spot where water could be had, and decided to camp. Upon
attempting to put up the tent we found our fingers so stiffened by
cold that we could not button the canvass together, and the guides,
after chopping some of the dwarfed timber for firewood, gave up in
despair, and declared that we would “freeze to death” if we stayed
there that night. Tent, baggage and instruments were again
shouldered, and we descended the slippery rocks down and across
the great slide on Marcy, toward the spot, two miles distant, where I
had encamped last year, and where we hoped to find the bark huts
still standing. Meanwhile the rain did not cease to fall, and it was
dusk when, trembling from fatigue and exposure, we stumbled into
the old camp in Panther Gorge.
The courage of our guides now returned. The timber was here
large and good, and soon the echoing sound of chopping was heard,
and the white chips flew from the trunks of the dead, dry, spruce
trees. Huge logs of spruce and hard wood were quickly roaring and
blazing, and we steaming before the fire in our soaked clothing.
All were so exhausted that, directly after supper, we wrapped
our heavy army blankets round us, and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night the penetrating cold aroused us, and
shouting for the guides to renew the fire, I saw with delight that the
long storm had broken, for the sky was clear and the stars sparkled in
the blue firmament. With the warmth of the fire came slumber again,
only broken by daylight.
The morning of September 15th showed us that during the night
we had received a visitor. Signs of panther had been numerous, but
the new comer was a noble deer-hound, who had evidently, in
following his prey into this most deserted portion of the wilderness,
been lost. He was only too glad to join himself to human company.
Our low stock of provisions made him an unwelcome visitor, but his
evident timidity among strangers, and his determination in following
in our track as we again ascended Mt. Marcy, won him friends.
The sun, which we had missed for so many days, now shone
brilliantly over a cloudless landscape. Before leaving the timber a
small tree was cut for signal flag-staff, besides some stouter ones for
props.
The summit of the peak was early attained, and the barometrical
work immediately commenced. The theodolite was probably the first
ever placed upon Mt. Marcy. The day was so clear and favorable, so
absolutely cloudless, as to be surprising; it seemed as though
specially made for the work we had in hand. Thankful to the allseeing Providence for this assistance, we did our best to take
279
advantage of it, and the triangulation proceeded without an instant
being taken for rest or refreshment during the day.
At night, by observations of Polaris and Alioth, the true
astronomical meridian was laid out, and the declination (“variation”)
of the magnetic needle determined. Though we kindled a beacon fire
and burned magnesium ribbon, there was no visible response from
the other signal stations, and the attempt at measuring the great
angles by this means was consequently a failure. The mean of the
barometrical observations taken this day indicate for Mt. Marcy an
altitude of 5,333 feet.130
The following morning (September sixteenth) work was
continual until eleven o’clock, when a severe storm setting in, the
tent was struck, and camp broken up. Taking with me one guide, I
descended the south side of Mt. Marcy, with the intention of
climbing and barometrically measuring Skylight Mountain and Gray
Peak, and to visit a little lake lying in the chasm between the
mountains.
The rest of the party returned by the trail to Lake Colden, where
a series of barometrical observations were immediately taken by the
assistant, at short appointed intervals during my absence. For
ourselves, the cloud was so dense that we could see nothing a
hundred yards distant, yet we were able to reach the Gray Peak and
measure it. About four P.M. we stood on the shores of the little lake,
in a deplorable plight, our boots full of water and clothing torn and
dripping. The altitude of the Gray Peak, by aneroid, was found to be
4,947 feet. This little lake, by the mercurial (Green) barometer, has
an altitude computed at 4,293 feet above tide. The little pond was a
red-letter point in this survey, for we found it, as I had long surmised,
not flowing to the Ausable, as has been represented, but to the
Hudson river — an inaccuracy of the maps, which is perhaps the best
proof that we were the first to ever really visit it.
Lakes Colden and Avalanche have been known, and still are
known, as the highest lake sources of Hudson river, being placed,
respectively, at 2,851 and 2,900 feet above the sea. This pond, with
its elevation of 4,293 feet, will be interesting to the physical
geographer. It is, apparently, the summit water of the State, and the
loftiest known and true high pond-source of the Hudson river.
Wet and chilled, we were forced to abandon for the time the
attempt on Skylight Mountain; there was little chance also of
valuable results being obtained in such a storm. Following the outlet
130
Only eleven feet short of the final U.S. Geological Survey measure of 5,344 feet.
280
of Summit Water,131 we made a hazardous descent through the ravine
of Feldspar brook, reaching the shores of the Opalescent river about
dark. The trail hence to Lake Colden, fair enough by daylight, proved
full of stumbling blocks by night, and occasionally we plunged into
the crevices amid the rocks, with a suddenness that threatened to
break our limbs or fracture the barometer. We reached camp,
however, without any accident.
September seventeenth opened with storm, and we determined
to complete the canoe, or “dug-out,” map Lake Colden and make
soundings. Barometrical observations were taken by the assistant at
the lake shore, while I gave my attention to theodoliting, by
observations of the summits of Mounts McIntyre and Colden,
connecting points on the lake, with the primary triangulation. The
canoe was finished by nightfall, but required some slight touches
before launching. The stray hound, which still remained with us, here
made an onslaught on the provisions, devouring all the pork. A guide
was sent for a fresh supply, and was directed to lead the dog out and
leave him. The hound, however, escaped on the way, and, running a
deer to water, returned to our camp.
On the eighteenth, the guide sent out for provisions returned
about noon, and the storm clearing off, late as it was, we started to
ascend Mount Colden. This dangerous climb was one of the
adventures of the expedition. It is the mountain from which sped the
avalanche of 1869, that temporarily severed Avalanche lake, and is a
rugged mass of rock, with precipice piled above precipice. We were
able to make the ascent, measure it barometrically, do some
triangulation, and secure several topographical or reconnaissance
maps before dark. Of the dangers of the descent, finished at a quarter
to eleven at night, I will not speak.
The following day, which was one of rain and heavy clouds, I
launched and tested the canoe — named the “Discovery” — being
the first boat of any kind ever placed on Lake Colden, and was
surprised at the shallowness of the lake. The boat was then
transported to Avalanche lake, on which also no boat of any kind had
ever floated, and I had the pleasure of the first sail upon that gloomy
water. The canoe, though narrow, carried three men with ease — and
more when balanced with out-riggers — and it enabled me to make
soundings in different parts of the lake, and to examine the
geological structure of the cliff walls, which fall directly into the
water. This, with the barometrical leveling, engaged us to so late an
hour that we had again to stumble along the trail in the dark, back to
131
The following summer, Colvin renamed this “Summit Water” Lake Tear-of-theCloud.
281
camp at Lake Colden. The canoe remains at Avalanche lake, and will
render the Avalanche pass more convenient to travelers.
The 20th of September showed no abatement of the stormy
weather, and as our provisions were again nearly exhausted, and the
time which I had allotted for work in the neighborhood had passed,
camp was broken up. With one guide I determined to descend the
Opalescent river, and ascertain its course from Lake Colden
downward.
Accordingly, I sent the rest back by the trail to the old Ironworks, by way of Calamity pond (elevation 2,560 feet), and taking
all the provision — which was only sufficient for two meals, started.
We were immediately separated from our companions and
committed ourselves to the woods, during the whole morning
continuing to follow the Opalescent downward. The clouds hung so
very low that the summits of the mountain stations, and indeed of the
inferior ridges, were invisible. The cold also increased and the wet
bushes, from which the yellow, faded autumn leaves were now fast
falling, gave a mournful appearance to the forest. At lunch we
consumed half of our supply of food, reserving the remainder as a
precaution, in case we should not be able, as intended, to cross the
mountains and reach the old Iron-works that night. The woods here
seemed peculiarly wild, traces of game became abundant, and in one
place we came upon the bones and fragments of a deer, which had
been killed by a panther and torn to pieces.
Late in the afternoon we left the river and climbed the flanks of
the mountains to the west. The clouds were so dense in the valley
that nothing could be distinguished; but, compelled to hasten, we
took our course by compass and pushed directly over the mountain
ridges toward the Hudson. In this way we became entangled in an
almost impenetrable mass of fallen timber, a “wind-slash,” which
probably extended over more than a thousand acres. Here, in
clambering and crawling amidst the dead forest, which, crumbling
and decayed, was a perfect chevaux-de-frise, after an hour or more of
exhausting labor (the fog rising thick around us), we were compelled
to acknowledge that we were lost. About dark, after crossing
numerous hills and ridges, we succeeded in extricating ourselves
from the slash. Below us was an almost precipitate steep of dark
spruce woods. Seeing that we should have to camp, we descended
and hastily searched for water. A rill was at length found, and the
guide casting off his pack hurriedly proceeded to cut wood for the
night. Our food all disappeared at supper, and we slept — one on
either side of the fire, — on spruce boughs cast on the wet ground.
282
Some wild creatures came around us at night, but we were too tired
to pay attention to them.
The twenty-first opened with brilliant sunshine, yet as no wellknown mountain peak was visible, we were as much lost as on the
previous day. Breakfastless we resumed our march, and after
climbing ridges, working our way through fire-slash, through swamp
and through water, reached the Hudson and the old Iron-works.
Here the guides, dissatisfied with the severity of the labor,
demanded their discharge and asked increased pay; nor could they be
persuaded to proceed further, exhibiting their torn clothing and
soleless, gaping boots, as evidences of their inability. They were,
accordingly, discharged, and returned on Monday, via the Indian
Pass, to North Elba.
283
DOCUMENT EIGHTEEN
Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds (undated)
132
V E R P L A N C K C O L V I N 133
The first recorded ascent of Gray Peak was by Verplanck Colvin
and his guide, Bill Nye, September 16, 1872. They had been on the
top of Marcy, engaged in survey work which had to be discontinued
when a bank of clouds settled down over the mountain. Colvin sent
all of his party but Nye back to their camp at Lake Colden with the
instruments and luggage, and set out with Nye on an exploring
expedition. The story of the first ascent of Gray Peak and the first
recorded visit to the little pool, a thousand feet below the summit of
Marcy, which had been called “Lake Perkins,” but which Colvin
rechristened “Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds,” is found in an unpublished
manuscript, The Discovery of the Sources of the Hudson, by Colvin,
which was loaned to the writer by Mills Blake.
— Russell Carson, in Peaks and People of the Adirondacks
Down we plunged, down through the dense thickets of dwarfed
balsam, whose dead limbs, clawlike spikes, clutched our clothing as
though determined to resist all exploration. Our rubber coats were
speedily torn in ribbons, our other clothing ripped and torn, and the
icy drizzle of the clouds penetrated everything, and chilled us despite
our labour. Suddenly, precipitous ledges barred our way; the fog
prevented our availing ourselves even of the best route; the dwarftrees we grasped to aid us to descend pierced our hands with their
sharp spines. Here, as we hung halfway down, the whimper of the
hound above called us to aid him also, and frequently, poor thing,
since he would come, he learned that tails will serve for handles.
Once, in some ravine, the next labour was to climb from it again, and
finally, when the side of Marcy seemed to lose its downward slope,
132
This is a portion of a larger, unpublished manuscript, The Discovery of the Sources
of the Hudson, written by Verplanck Colvin. Nothing is known about the manuscript
itself — its length, its intended audience, whether it was hand- or typewritten —
except that it was in the possession of Colvin’s lifelong friend Mills Blake, who
loaned it to Russell Carson. This selection was published in Carson’s Peaks and
People of the Adirondacks (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.,
1928) on pages 138 to 144, in the chapter on Gray Peak. Our editor’s concerted efforts
to locate a copy of Colvin’s complete manuscript were unsuccessful.
133
Colvin discovered the highest source of the waters that flow into the Hudson River,
Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds, at the end of the very first summer of his 28-year-long
involvement with the project. The guide accompanying him was Bill Nye, of North
Elba. Colvin first called the body of water “Summit Pond,” but named it “Tear-of-theCloud” the year after his discovery. It became one of his favorite places.
284
and rose up in all sorts of rock masses, separated by rifts and walled
ravines and holes, we found ourselves quite lost in the dense fog, and
all uncertain which way to go to find our Gray Mountain. The hound
here commenced to sniff the ground fiercely, gave tongue, and was
off in pursuit of some wild creature, in high excitement. Hark! What
sound was that! Are we called? Or is it the echo of the hound’s deep
tongue? We shout, and quickly after, three mountains answer from
the fog in echo! Hark! The deep, near answer of old Marcy; the
southward voice is Skylight; the faintest westward echo Colden!
Shout louder! Shout again! The answers of the mountains shall tell us
where to go. Point toward Marcy’s echo. The Gray Peak lies the
other way towards the dull, no-echo way. Laughing at this strange
assistance that the mighty mountains give us, we forgot the cold and
wet, and scaled the rocks and fought the thickets with new ardour, till
chill ooze or splintered branch provoked some fresh displeasure.
Now a mountain ridge gathered high before us, lost in cloud, and
Marcy was behind. Fearful was the denseness of the balsam
chaparral. This mountain crest appeared almost impregnable, so
strangely dense its pigmy forest, whose outer surface of dead boughs
like bayonets, as weathered and gray as was the frequent outcropping
rock, showed to what the mountain owed its colour. At length we
reached a summit. All around, the cloud hid everything, and we
shouted once again to our mountains for their aid. Irregularly they
responded, and Marcy now was distant. But what was this sharp echo
close ahead? Another peak. Then down we climbed, from this first
pinnacle, and up and at it went. More labour, more furious work,
more chaparral! Hold! What animal is this rushing after us? It is the
hound rejoining us. At length we reach a crest of rock. The echoes
only come to our halloas from distant mountains. We measure the
direction of the echoes, and determine by trilinear estimate method
that we are on the summit of Gray Mountain. The barometer is
brought from its case and observations taken. The readings show
great altitude and prove that we are right in our conjecture. It grows
bitter cold, and gladly we put up the instrument, the observations
finished. The shivering guide shows his pleasure at the proposal to
descend, and the dog leaps around with delight to see us moving
once again. And now from Gray Peak we have a downward work,
and must search for, and reach, that remote, unvisited lake which we
have so long hoped to see. But which way does it lie? The clouds
enwrapping us limit our view to a short radius. We have no compass
bearings. “Call to the mountains once again.” How strangely those
dulled and fog-voiced echoes sound! This way southward the valley
lies, which we must enter and explore, and plunging from the crest,
285
we fight another, and descending battle with bristling chaparral. So
steep the mountain side descends that the dwarfed timber of the crest,
thus taken in flank, is soon pierced and left behind, above, but ledges
now and slippery rocks make every footstep dangerous. Hanging by
roots, slipping, sliding, and leaping, down we go. Now, occasionally,
we reach a pleasant glade, deep with the thickest, richest velvety
green moss, such as may be seen in Labrador. It rises to our boot tops
and we stride through it as through snow. The trees, though no longer
dwarfed, are but pigmy trees ten or twelve feet in height, all gray and
lichen grown and ancient. Lo! This one scarce five feet in height, we
cut into and count a hundred annual rings of woody growth. And
now the hound finds signs of game once more, and rushes off in
eager pursuit. Here in the mud are tracks of some huge beast. The
guide says, “Panther.” Perhaps that Cat-of-the-mountain is now
glaring at us from those cavernous rocks; perhaps he lurks in the
thicket just before us. We glance at our revolvers, heavily loaded as
rifles. At length we emerge on the edge of a little cliff, at the foot of
which runs a stream amid black mossy rocks, the bottom of the
valley. Descending, we hasten to drink of the gurgling water. But
scarcely have we sipped when we start back and gaze at each other
with astonishment! Can it be? Is it possible? This stream tells a
strange story, and surely it flows westward to the Hudson! Yonder
we gaze; we are now at the bottom of this upland valley, just beneath
the clouds, and we can see the shoulders of a pass opening westward.
Surely this must be one of the many branches of the upper
Opalescent, the Hudson’s highest springs. But it is the water of this
stream that excites our wonder. The water is warm or tepid, and has
not the usual icy temperature of the mountain brooks. It must come
from a pond or lake, and this lake cannot flow to the Ausable and the
St. Lawrence, but to the Hudson! Oh! unfortunate lakes Avalanche
and Colden, so long famed as the most elevated in New York! Your
glory has departed! Shame! — to be deprived of it by this little
mountain pool! — for while you fail to reach an altitude of 3,000
feet, the barometer here tells that we are over 4,000 feet above the
sea. But the guide looks doubtful, — “Perhaps this does not come
from the little lake,” he says, “but from some marsh, or perhaps there
are two ponds” — for all the guides avowed that the lake from the
top of Marcy “must go to the Ausable,” though they never took the
trouble to explore that valley, visit the lake, and be sure. Yet there
might be a marsh; there might be another pond hidden from the view
of Marcy; and interested, and excited, by the hope of discovery, we
commenced to ascend the stream, hurrying along on the slippery
boulders, leaping from rock to rock, and at times diverging from the
286
stream’s bed into the woods. Here we passed a reach of the stream’s
bank, swept by some recent flood, the reedy grass recumbent; there
were seen pools that a trout might lie in, but no fish are here.
Suddenly, before us, through the trees gleamed a sheet of water, and
we shouted our “hurrah”: for there were Marcy’s slopes beyond,
while the water of the lake was studded with those rocks which we
had looked at with our telescopes from Marcy. It was the lake, and
flowed, not to the Ausable and St. Lawrence, but to the Hudson, the
loftiest lake spring of our haughty river!
But how wild and desolate this spot! It is possible that not even
an Indian ever stood upon these shores. There is no mark of ax, no
barked tree, nor blackened remnants of fire; not a severed twig, nor a
human footprint; and we follow the usual rule in this region, and cut
a broad blaze upon a tree, and make it the register and proof of our
visit. I saw it there but a few months since, already looking dark, and
gum-covered with the exudation of the tree. And now, skirting the
shores, we seek the inlet, and find that the numerous subterranean
streams from different directions feed its waters. The meadow at the
eastern, upper end is full of wide-winding openings, in which deep
streams are gliding, and it is remarkable that, while the water of the
lake is warm, the water of these subterranean streams is delicious, icy
cold. The spring rills which feed these streams come from far up on
the sides of the surrounding mountains, the water dripping from the
crest of Marcy. First seen as we then saw it, dark and dripping with
the moisture of the heavens, it seemed, in its minuteness and its
prettiness, a veritable Tear-of-the-Clouds, the summit water as I
named it.
287
DOCUMENT NINETEEN
Adirondack or the ‘Deserted Village,’
134
the Indian Pass etc. (1872)
AUTHOR UNKNOW N
O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted!
Hood135
In passing from the main road of that delightful and fashionable
place of summer resort, Lake Placid, near the western base of
Whiteface Mountain, the tourist will notice near the bridge, over
Chubb river, the outlet of the lake, the remains of yon ancient forge
and iron works.
These works were erected in 1809 by Archibald McIntyre,
together with associates whose names we have been unable to learn.
The forge consisted of four or six fires, the ore being obtained at
first in the immediate vicinity, but either in consequence of its poor
quality, or a limited supply, this mine was soon abandoned, and the
ore transported from [the] “Arnold” bed, in Clinton County over a
road so rough as to be impassable for teams except in winter.
It seems these works were abandoned in 1815, in consequence
of their ineligibility of location, but were subsequently started
again.136
Sometime during the year 1826, an Indian of the St. Francis tribe
suddenly made his appearance at this point and approaching Mr.
David Henderson who was at that time one of the proprietors,137
showed him a piece of iron ore far excelling in richness any that had
134
Transcribed from a bound volume of typescript articles, “Articles Published in the
Plattsburg Republican Regarding Lake Champlain Iron Ore Properties About 1873,”
found in the Witherbee Collection of the Sherman Free Library, Port Henry, NY.
Inside the front cover of the binder is the catalogue code “W 553 P69a”. Internal
evidence indicates that this particular article was written/published in 1872. There are
no indications of who the author might be, either in the volume itself or in the records
of the Sherman Free Library.
135
From the poem, “The Haunted House,” by Thomas Hood, written around 1845. The
exact same quotation is cited in S.R. Stoddard’s The Adirondacks Illustrated, the first
edition of which was published the year after this article’s publication.
136
McIntyre closed these works in 1817, but the former superintendent of the works
stayed on and was given permission to operate them for his own benefit.
137
Henderson was at North Elba, not as “one of the proprietors” of the defunct Elba
Iron Works, but to search for a lost silver lode at McIntyre’s behest.
288
ever before been seen in that vicinity, at the same time offering to
guide him to a spot where such was plenty. The three proprietors,
David Henderson, Archibald McIntyre138 and McMartin without
delay made their preparations for a long tramp and submitting
themselves to the friendly Indian, plunged into the pathless forest,
following up the west branch of the Ausable river. On they went
tracing this stream up to its very source, through the Indian Pass, and
shortly afterward striking the source of the Hudson which they
followed for five miles, when sure enough they suddenly found
themselves in a region teeming with iron ore of surprising richness.
So plentiful was it that the most casual observer could not fail to
have been struck by its appearance. They saw it in boulders, in
surface veins and in mountain masses, while even the river itself
flowed over a smooth floor of iron, and at one point was obstructed
by an iron dam already built by nature’s own hand!
And not only this, but they also saw upon all sides, what seemed
to be an inexhaustible supply of hard timber — that necessary
adjunct in the manufacture of the best quality of iron — growing
luxuriantly upon the mountain slopes.
These men, energetic, sharp and practical, comprehending the
situation at a glance lost no time before proceeding to Albany,
keeping close watch upon the Indian meanwhile, and securing a tract
of land in this vicinity which they were confident would include most
of the iron-bearing portion of the region. The company owns today
five townships or something over 120,000 acres of land.
The sound of the axe was soon heard amid those wilds, the
manufacture of charcoal commenced, a road was cut down the river
to Newcomb, over which heavy machinery was soon being
transported, forge fires were lighted, a heavy blast furnace erected
and the air was laden with the whirring of machinery and all sounds
which are usually heard in a manufacturing village.
Large store-houses sprang up as if by magic, a huge boarding
house was filled to overflowing with workmen, comfortable
dwellings began to line the streets, a neat and commodious building
served the double purpose of church and schoolhouse, all the
elements of a prosperous and rich manufacturing village soon began
to show themselves and mingle together in this mountain retreat.
All the conditions were favorable excepting one, the great
distance from the avenues of commerce, but this was partially
overborne by the exceeding richness of the ore, and superior quality
of the manufactured iron.
138
Archibald McIntyre was not a participant in this adventure.
289
One other drawback there was — the limited supply of water.
More was wanted to drive the ponderous machinery, which the
company desired to erect so as to develop more rapidly the wealth
that lay upon every side. Ten miles below, the Opalescent river
emptied into the Hudson. Lake Colden, seven miles above, is an
important feeder of that river, and it lies between the Opalescent and
another branch of the Hudson, which joins it just above the village.
DAVID HENDERSON, the moving power of the whole
enterprise, who was accustomed to shrink at no engineering
difficulty which might interpose between himself and the
accomplishment of his purposes, conceived the bold idea of building
a dam at the outlet of Lake Colden, and thus diverting its waters into
the next branch above, for the benefit of the Adirondack Iron
Company’s Upper Works.
The Lower Works, ten miles below, had in the meantime been
built.
On the morning of the third of September 1845, Mr. Henderson,
in company with his son, then twelve years old, and an employee of
the company, together with John Cheney as guide, started for Lake
Colden, with the object of ascertaining in regard to the feasibility of
the above mentioned plan. They arrived at Calamity pond, two miles
from Lake Colden, about noon, and as Mr. Henderson was crossing
its inlet near the pond, he saw a number of fine trout and called to
Cheney, who was ahead picking out the trail, to come back and catch
some of them for dinner.
Cheney returned, unstrapped his pack, containing provisions and
blankets together with Mr. Henderson’s pistols in their holster. The
ground was swampy, and in order to keep the contents of the pack
dry, Mr. Henderson removed it to a rock near by. As he hurriedly
threw it down, simultaneously a sharp report of a pistol shot rang
through the forest and he fell to the ground mortally wounded, the
ball having passed diagonally through his body. The hammer of the
pistol, a Colts revolver, had evidently struck the rock as the pack was
thrown upon it, the deathshot being thereby discharged. He died
upon the very spot surviving only two or three hours. A beautiful and
massive monument of Scotch granite now rests upon this fatal rock,
which serves as its pedestal. It is surmounted by a heavy and highly
ornamental capital, beneath which is carved a wreath of immortelles.
The inscription is as follows: “This monument was erected by
filial affection to the Memory of our Dear Father, who accidentally
lost his life upon this spot, 3rd September 1845.” Below the
inscription is the figure of a broken anchor, said to have been broken
accidentally or willfully; whether this was so or not, there could not
290
have been placed upon David Henderson’s monument, in that wild
and desolate spot, a more fitting emblem, for, in his death, the
Adirondack Iron Company indeed had the anchor broken which held
its great mining enterprise fast in the remote forest.
After his death, the business languished, the head being gone, all
the departments suffered in consequence. He is described as a
“prince among men,” of generous impulses and a noble heart. The
shadow of his death still, after an interval of twenty-seven years,
broods over this whole region, and those who remember it yet, speak
of it with ’bated breath and in solemn tones, such as we hear in
places where the unburied dead lie.
The very bier upon which his body was brought — and upon men’s
shoulders, that distance of five miles, over a rough trail, and the
additional ten miles to the Lower Works — stood for seven years
untouched, until it fairly rolled down, so profound and universal was the
respect for his memory. Three years after Mr. Henderson’s death, the
Upper Works were abandoned,139 and soon afterward the Lower also.
It is a strange feeling which one experiences as he comes
suddenly, after days of tramping through the unbroken wilderness,
upon this desolate hamlet.
The machinery is still there, a large portion of it — the forges,
trip hammer and blast furnaces; the water still pours over the iron
dam, and the ore is yet unused, lying everywhere, thousands of tons
to be had for the mere picking up. No need of any deep mining here,
with its attendant expense of hoisting and pumping. The forest of
hard timber still stands, uncut, except those that covered the
insignificant patches of cleared ground around the village, and even
these are being reclaimed by nature to their primitive condition so
rapidly that very soon they will be clothed again with their native
mantle of sturdy forest trees.
Huge timbers which formerly supported out-of-door machinery
and its massive appliances stand leaning with their iron braces,
threatening every moment to fall; coal pits of the most approved
pattern are falling into irretrievable ruin; heavy trucks lie scattered
about; the forges will soon be overgrown with vegetation, and the
water-wheels converted into masses of rotten wood.
139
This author is about ten years short of the mark — the Upper Works quit operations
in 1858, not 1848 (three years after Henderson’s death). It is interesting that this exact
same error appears in the account relayed by Stoddard in the earlier editions of his
Adirondacks Illustrated, although he had corrected the error by the 1907 edition.
Could this article, published a year before Stoddard’s famous 1873 journey through
the Adirondacks, have been the source of Stoddard’s error? Or were both this author
and Stoddard referring to a third (unattributed) source — perhaps Street, who placed
the closing of the iron works at “a score of years” prior to his 1868 visit (i.e., 1848)?
291
You enter the shops and are startled at the strange echo of your
footsteps, which seem to threaten the intruder with disaster for
disturbing their long repose.
The wide and handsome street is covered with a thick mat of
green turf while the houses have a muffled, funereal air, as if that
mournful funeral procession had just passed along. The little church
still stands, but its back is bent with age, and it will soon fall beneath
its own weight. The old bell, which was wont to summon the
workmen to their daily toil, still hangs in the open air, upon the
opposite side of the street from the boarding house, one end of the
axle being supported by a gnarled maple tree and the other by a
rough post.
One family is kept here by the Company and comfortable
accommodations can be had, there being no lack of room in the
house. Books too you see whose titles at once arrest your attention as
being of a much higher grade than you are wont to find so far from
commercial and literary centers; and you are surprised to find upon
opening them the label pasted upon the inside of the cover,
“ADIRONDACK LIBRARY.”
Nothing it would seem was forgotten by the managers which
could contribute in any way to render their enterprise a perfect
success, and make their employees happy and contented.
But over the whole scene there reigns an air of solitude and
desolation which the tourist is glad to leave behind.
Nearly half a million of dollars have, it is said, been sunk here
by the Company, but yet it is a rich inheritance and will, in the not
distant future, yield to its owners and the State millions upon
millions of money. Mr. Emmons, in his report, has expressed his
deliberate conviction that the whole valley of the upper Hudson is
underlaid by this rich ore.
The “Sanford” bed alone, situated a short distance below the
Upper Works, if mined only to a depth of two feet beneath the
surface, without the use of powder at all, will produce, as estimated
by Mr. Emmons, at least 6,832,734 tons of ore, or over 3,000,000
tons of the finest quality of iron.
And this is only a small proportion of the aggregate mass of ore
with which this whole region teems. The Adirondack railway is
creeping onward toward this mine of wealth, which is more valuable
to the owners and the State than would be the richest gold mines of
California, because however selfish the proprietors of an iron mine
may be, they can not — [even] if they would — develop their
resources without spreading the blessings and comforts of
remunerative employment among the laboring classes, through all
292
the branches of iron manufacture, from its first separation from the
rock crudities at the forge fires down to the most delicate and
expensive products of the same useful metal.
It is confidently expected that this road will touch at Tahawus,
the Lower Works — and if it does, it is said that business will be
resumed immediately at those rich mines. Half a mile below
Adirondack, the river widens into Lake Sanford, two miles long,
while just west only eighty rods lies Lake Henderson, which also
pours its waters into the Hudson.
Foremost among the old inhabitants of this region is JOHN
CHEENEY, the famous old hunter, guide and trapper of the upper
Hudson, upwards of seventy years old, he is still vigorous and hearty,
and a man must indeed be a good tramper who can follow the old
veteran, even now, all day over the blind trails which are yet the only
means of communicating between different points. The scene of Mr.
Henderson’s death is still vividly recollected by him, and he seems to
live over again that fatal third of September as he recounts the
mournful tale to his spellbound listeners. He is a famous hunter, too,
and many a savage “painter” has he laid low.
He shot one near the Indian Pass thirty years ago, which
measured eleven feet in length, the skin of which he presented to Mr.
Henderson, who had it stuffed and kept it in his stable in New York
years afterward.
One adventure which the old hero met with nearly cost him his
life and would quite, had he not been more tenacious of life than men
usually are. He was fourteen miles from his cabin hunting deer. His
dog had driven two deer into a small pond, and one of them he had
shot and landed. He was in his boat (a dug-out-canoe) preparing to go
for the other, when in his haste he accidentally discharged his gun, a
short rifle pistol of peculiar construction, the contents of which passed
through his leg, shattering and mutilating it in a most horrible manner.
Instinctively the seriousness of his situation flashed upon his mind, the
distance from home, his helpless condition and chief-danger, that of
starvation. In less time than it takes to write an account of it, he had his
leg securely bandaged, paddled his boat out, killed the other deer and
secured it. He then dressed it and, packing the choicest parts upon his
back, cut a pair of forked sticks for crutches and started to hobble
homeward. Of that weary march of over thirty hours he still retains a
vivid recollection and justly regards it as one of the greatest exploits of
his eventful life, for no one could have performed it who had not the
strongest powers of physical endurance seconded by the most
indomitable pluck and tenacity of purpose.
293
Leaving the Deserted Village behind, you now commence your
homeward march. Passing for half a mile through a tract from which
the timber has been cut for coal, but which is already covered again
with thrifty trees, you again plunge into the primitive forest. The trail
passes along by the banks of the Hudson, alternating from side to
side of the clear waters as they go laughingly over their pebbly bed,
giving but a faint foreshadowing of the mighty river below which
bears on its proud bosom the wealth of nations. A slight ascent at
first, which soon grows to a respectable climb; three miles are passed
— you become conscious of the shadow of a mighty mountain upon
your right, and occasionally catch a glimpse through the tree tops of
the western slope of Mount McIntyre, reaching upwards toward the
clouds.
Still onward and upward you go, the fast diminishing stream
brawling loudly far below between its rocky and precipitous banks.
Here and there huge blocks and boulders intercept the trail, around
and over which you are obliged to climb; the path grows rougher and
steeper, and the rocks larger — you catch now and then a glimpse of
something dark and mysterious upon the left, hanging high aloft, the
shadow of which seems to rest down heavily upon the very air, until
at length you emerge into an open space upon a rock half the size of
Clinton block. Like the scenery of the Lower Ausable pond, this also
flashes out like the work of magic. You are not led up by successive
steps to the magnificent climax, but rather as one blindfolded, whose
bandage is not removed until the last moment.
You stand facing the south, in which direction the whole valley
of the Hudson, together with either slope is spread out like a picture
before you for a distance of five miles, the blue summits of
mountains thickly filling the background to the horizon.
In the centre of the landscape nestles Lake Henderson as if it
were purposely put there to give variety to the picture. Upon your left
Mt. McIntyre rises by gradual slope 3,000 feet above where you
stand, while upon the right you look straight up a perpendicular cliff
(Wallface) one thousand feet, a solid wall of masonry which extends
over a mile yet to the northward, or down two hundred and fifty feet
to the bed of the stream below! This is the famous INDIAN PASS,
one of those natural objects which possesses the rare peculiarity of
never disappointing its beholders, however high their expectations
may have been raised.
The gorge is choked with huge masses of rock from the size of a
small house up to thirty or forty feet high!
A Homeric imagination would locate here some battle ground of
the gods, whose war parties standing opposed upon Wallface and
294
McIntyre hurled at each other these masses which afterward rolled
down into the abyss below. And indeed no less authority than the
distinguished author of Woods and Waters of New York,140 under the
potent inspiration of his favorite beverage — tea! (which he says is
peculiarly adapted to camp life!) — heard upon a sultry August night
a few years ago a long and fierce altercation between the spirits of
these mountains. High words there were which very nearly
culminated in rock-throwing, for a full account of which see his
latest production, The Indian Pass.
But geologists will tell you that these blocks have split off from
the front of Wallface, or perchance slid downward from the summit
of McIntyre, and that no more mysterious influence has wrought
these wonderful conformations than the atmosphere, rain and frost,
assisted by the force of gravity, in obedience to the behest or
fulfillment of the prophecy that “every valley shall be exalted and
every hill brought low.”
A short distance further north the trail crosses a tiny rivulet
which comes from the right and forms an acute angle with the
northward, this rivulet which you can dam up with your hands being
the infant Hudson just commencing its triumphal “March to the Sea.”
Some fifty or seventy five yards further on you cross another rill no
larger than the first, and forming an acute angle with the path in the
course south; this is the West branch of the Ausable just started upon
its turbulent career down through Wilmington Notch, passed
Whiteface and through Ausable Chasm to Lake Champlain and the
St. Lawrence.
The sources of these streams are very near each other, even
mingling together in a wet time.
From this point to Blenn’s,141 in North Elba, the first settlement
in that direction, is twelve miles.
A comparatively trifling expense would suffice to construct a
bridle path or even a carriage road this distance to that most
stupendous of all the natural curiosities in which this region abounds,
the Indian Pass.
140
Alfred B. Street.
Gray’s 1876 atlas of Essex County shows the house of “R. Blinn” as the first a
hiker would encounter upon emerging from the Indian Pass. This would have been
Robert Scott Blinn, one of the two North Elba guides hired four years earlier by writer
Alfred Street to take him through the Indian Pass to the Deserted Village and the
Mount Marcy vicinity.
141
295
DOCUMENT TW ENTY
The Ruined Village
142
and Indian Pass (1873/1880)
SENECA RAY STODDARD
Chapter X: ‘On The Tramp’
Thus far our travels had been principally by carriage of some
kind or by boat. We had been almost around the great peaks but not
among them. The mountains that now looked down on us from the
north we had viewed from the other side; passed around to the west
along up Long Lake; made a loop of over 40 miles in the trip to Blue
Mountain and back, then east to Newcomb; now, we must trust to
our feet to carry us over the route laid down, and thanks to the pure
air, and our initiatory struggles over the various carries, we felt equal
to the task, so on Monday morning, with knapsacks strapped on our
backs, we started for Adirondack, the ruined village among the
mountains, eighteen miles distant.
Soon we saw an old friend, the Hudson River, on whose bosom
floated the wealth of nations, here so narrow that in places we could
almost jump across it. From the north it came, moving sluggishly
along between the dark balsams that lined its banks and extended, an
apparently unbroken forest, for miles back, while away over beyond
rested the faint blue crest of Tahawas, “the cloud-splitter.” Six miles
from “Aunt Polly’s,”143 the road divides, the south branch going to
Minerva, and the other to the lower works, 2 miles distant, thence
east to Root’s hotel, 23 miles further.
“Tahawas,” so called on the maps and in the postal departments,
is generally spoken of here as the “lower works,” to distinguish it
from the upper Adirondack village; once there were extensive
buildings at this place; a long dam across the Hudson, here called the
North River, flooded the valley back to the outlet of Lake Sanford,
and heavy barges floated between carrying provisions up and
bringing ore down. Now the dam is gone, the old kilns are in ruins,
dead trees mark the flat where the waters once stood, and there is, I
think, but one family there, excepting those occupying the hotel, a
large white house with comfortable accommodations for 20 guests,
142
This text comes from the 1880 edition of Stoddard’s The Adirondacks Illustrated,
pp. 131-140, 144-146. The account of his 1873 visit to Adirondac dates from the very
first edition of Adirondacks Illustrated, published that same year, but has been
supplemented here by Stoddard with later updates.
143
A Newcomb inn.
296
but aside from its interest as a hotel, is the fact that it is the home of
John Cheney, “the mighty hunter” of the Adirondacks.144
We stopped for dinner, partially to see the old man; and partially
because we felt a peculiar sensation stealing over us — an
indescribable something that had attacked us regularly three times a
day of late. In answer to our summons, a young man appeared in the
doorway, of whom we asked if we could have dinner.145
“I dunno,” said he. After a suitable time given to silence, the
subject was again advanced in the way of an assertion. “W-e w-o-ul-d l-i-k-e s-o-m-e dinner!”
The smile increased in sickly strength, and it was evident that he
sympathized with us — sympathy is good, but it won’t sustain life.
We made another effort:
“Can we have dinner?”
He laughed a little, said “fifty cents,” then he laughed a little
more and rested at a half smile ready to go off at the slightest
provocation. I looked at the Professor146 and did not wonder that the
young man had misgivings as to his intentions, the Professor looked
at me and was not surprised that the pleasant youth was in doubt as
to mine. Time had passed lightly over our heads without improving
our clothing in the least. I tried another tack:
“Is Mr. Cheney in?”
“Guess not, hah.”
“Where is he?”
“Gone huntin’, guess.”
“Mrs. Cheney?”
A flickering smile seemed to admit that that fact, could no
longer be concealed.
“We would like to see her.”
“Fifty cents — dinner — hah.”
“But I want to see Mrs. Cheney.”
“Can — spose — hah.”
With a withering look at the Prof, whose dilapidated appearance
had undoubtedly brought us into such a plight, I started on a tour of
discovery and found Mrs. Cheney flying around, preparing a dinner
144
The McIntyre Hotel, as it was sometimes called, had been the boarding house for
workers at the Lower Works.
145
Stoddard: October 2d, 1874, the young man who received us seemed suddenly
taken with a desire to kill his father, the elder Cheney, and securing a shot gun fired at
the old hunter, wounding him slightly in the face; he then set fire to the house, and
stood guard until it burned to the ground. He was tried soon after, pronounced
dangerously insane, and sent to the Asylum for Criminals at Auburn. [Editor: The
present Tahawus Club clubhouse at the Lower Works was built shortly after this fire.]
146
Stoddard’s traveling companion, brother-in-law Charles Oblenis.
297
for us, having evidently seen us coming and concluded, by our looks,
that we needed something — which we soon had, and while enjoying
it, she, in a pleasant, cheery sort of way, talked about her absent
husband.
He was born in New Hampshire, June 26, 1800, living there and
at Ticonderoga until 30 years of age, when finding that game was
growing scarce, he shouldered his rifle, and calling his faithful dog,
set out for the then almost unknown wilderness. For years he lived
alone on what his gun brought him and ever since, his life has been
that of the hunter. Many stories are told indicating his coolness in
times of danger, his skill and daring as a hunter, and an account of
his perilous adventures would fill a large volume. Headly, the
historian, saw him when he first visited this region thirty years ago,
and speaks of him as having “none of the roughness of the hunter,
but as one of the mildest, most unassuming, pleasant met to be met
with anywhere.” Mrs. Cheney said he had gone hunting with some of
“the boys,” “for” she continued, with a flash of pride, in her sense of
ownership, “if he is 73 years old, he can run in the woods now and
beat most any of ’em when he feels like it; if you could see him and
he happens to feel all right, you could find out a good deal, but he’s
awful changeable, either awful good or awful bad.” We did not see
him, but in reply to a letter, received the following in a firm, readable
hand:
I’ve always had a great love for the woods and
a hunter’s life ever since I could carry a gun, and
have had a great many narrow escapes from being
torn to pieces by bears, panthers, wolves and
moose, and many a time I have had to put a tree
between myself and an enraged bull moose. After a
while, finding a rifle unhandy to carry, I had a
pistol made expressly for my use. The stock was
made out of a birch root, the barrel was eleven
inches long and carried a half ounce ball, and is
now on exhibition at the Geological rooms at
Albany. I received one hundred dollars for it after
it was pretty nearly worn out. Once I was rowing
after a large buck deer, when it was accidently
discharged, the ball striking me about half way
between my knee and ankle, came out on the other
side just below my ankle joint, but being 14 miles
from any habitation and alone, I only stopped long
enough to see what harm it had done, then seized
my oars and started for him again as the thought
298
struck me, I may need that deer now more than
ever. I caught up with him and made short work of
it, took him ashore, dressed and hung him up, but I
soon perceived that if I ever got out of the woods I
must lose no time, as my boot was full of blood
and my ankle began to pain me very bad, so I cut
two crotched sticks, and by their help managed to
get out of the woods, but it took me about eight
hours; I only stopped to set down once, it was so
hard to start again.
I could tell you lots of my adventures if I
could see you, but find I must stop writing as it
would take all the paper in the house to write one
quarter of them.147
Accompanying this was a photograph of the old hunter — a
venerable looking face set in a framework of silvery hair and beard
— bearing a kindly look over all, even though the eye had a severe
expression — caused undoubtedly of that blawsted photographer
who is continually stirring a body up by sprightly commands to “look
pleasant.”
From the lower to the upper works it is ten miles over a passable
road running north along the west side of the valley; Half way up, the
foot of Lake Sanford is reached, where boats can be taken if desired,
although the best way, if not desirous of fishing, is to continue along
the road. The lake is four miles long, the shores low and marshy,
looking more like a broad river than a lake, as it rests between the
hills on the west, and North river mountain on the east.
Just above the head of Lake Sanford is the “new forge,” the huge
building itself in a dilapidated condition, but the great stone furnace,
forty feet square at its base, stands firm and solid as when made; a
few rods beyond this is the ruined village where a scene of utter
desolation met our view.
Nearly a quarter of a century has passed away since the busy
148
hum of industry sounded here,
where once was heard the crash of
machinery and the joyous shouts of children at play, is now the shrill
bark of the fox or the whir of the startled partridge; in place of the
music of voices, all was silence, solemn and ghostly. Over the
mountains and the middle ground hung a dark funereal pall of cloud
147
Stoddard: John Cheny died June 1, 1877 and now rests in the old Newcomb
burying ground near by.
148
Stoddard: Written in 1873. The works were finally abandoned in 1847-8. [Editor:
Actually, the works continued in operation until 1858.]
299
across which the setting sun cast bars of ashen light; they fell on the
nearer buildings bringing out their unseemly scars in ghastly relief
and lay in strips across the grass grown street which led away into
the shadow. On either side once stood neat cottages and pleasant
homes, now stained and blackened by time; broken windows, doors
unhinged, falling roofs, rotting sills and crumbling foundations,
pointed to the ruin that must surely come. At the head of the street
was the old furnace, a part of one chimney still standing, and another
shattered by the thunder bolt lay in ruins at its feet. The waterwheel
— emblem of departed power — lay motionless, save as piece by
piece it fell away. Huge blocks of iron, piles of rusty ore, coal
bursting from the crumbling kilns, great shafts broken and bent,
rotting timbers, stones and rubbish lay in one common grave, over
which loving nature had thrown a shroud of creeping vines.
Near the centre of the village was a large house said at one time
to have accommodated one hundred boarders, now grim and silent;
near by at the left stood the pretty school house; the steps, worn by
many little feet, had rotted and fallen, the windows were almost
paneless, the walls cracked and rent asunder where the foundation
had dropped away, and the doors yawned wide, seeming to say not
“welcome “ but “go.”
“O’er all there hung a shadow and a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted.”
As we advanced a dog appeared at the side of the house and
howled dismally, then, as if frightened at the sound of its own voice,
slunk away again out of sight. We knocked at the door, but no sound
save a hollow echo greeted us from within; that was also deserted.
Then we went out in the middle of the street where, suspended in a
tree, hung the bell that used to call the men to work, and on the
Sabbath, perhaps the villagers to worship in the little school-house
near by. Clear and sweet, pure and fearless, its tones rang out over
the forests, away to the mountains, then back to us dying out in soft
echoes, and with it went the cloud that had oppressed our spirits.
Once more we knocked at the door of the large house, invited
ourselves to enter, and, passing through the sounding hall, made our
way to the back portion of the house, which bore signs of having
been recently occupied, foraged around until we discovered that
there was no danger of immediate starvation, then built up a fire and
set about preparing our evening meal, but soon gave place to the
rightful owners, who just then entered and made us welcome.
300
This building is now occupied, during the summer, by members
of the Adirondack club, who have put it in good repair, added several
boats and a large quantity of salmon, black bass and lake trout to the
waters of Lake Sandford, and have also secured, for breeding
purposes, a pair of moose, which are confined here in a tract of
inclosed forest, intending to turn the young loose as they become
149
able to take care of themselves.
“The Adirondack Club” was incorporated in the city of New
York in March, 1877. Officers — President, James R. Thompson,
Jersey City; Treasurer, Wm. E. Pearson; Secretary, Thomas J. Hall,
New York; Executive Committee, Francis H. Weeks, George W.
Folsom, and William H. Powers. Elections are held annually on the
first Tuesday of March. The number is limited to twenty members,
with thirty associate members, and composed of men of high social
position and noted philanthropy. Rutheford Stuyvesant, of New
York, is among the number. Verplanck Colvin, whose exploration of
these mountain fastnesses will forever associate his name with the
Adirondack region, is an honorary member.
The objects of the Club are the protection, stocking, increase and
capture of fish and game in and about the territory owned by the
Adirondack Iron and Steel Company, in Essex county, which has
been leased for a term of years for that purpose, — and the
promotion of social intercourse among its members. Their headquarters in the Adirondacks will be at the Ruined Village. The
declared policy of the Club is to stop the indiscriminate slaughter of
game and fish in this region. Each member is entitled to two permits
in addition to his individual right, out of which no hunting or fishing
will be allowed. Visitors will ordinarily have no difficulty in finding
accommodations. Board, per week, $10; per day, $2. Address Myron
Buttles, Tahawus.
The old village is in the midst of wild and picturesque scenery;
just a little way north is Lake Henderson; from the head of this a trail
leads to the Preston Ponds, head of Cold river; Lake Harkness is one
mile distant; Lake Andrews, specially noted for its quantities of trout,
two. Toward the northeast to Calamity pond it is five miles; to Lake
Colden, 7; Avalanche lake, eight and a half; to the summit of Mt.
Marcy, twelve miles.
149
Stoddard: In 1878 four moose — a male, female and two young — were procured
and sent here at a considerable expense. The calves ate cold pison (supposably rank
grass springing from the bodies of poisoned foxes), and died the first season. The bull
received injuries in the woods, which caused his death in April, 1880; and the cow still
lives, but has never fully recovered from the effects of the diet which is supposed to
have caused the taking off of the unfortunate young.
301
The history of the place is brief and sad. In 1826, Messrs.
Henderson, McMartin and McIntire had iron works at North Elba.150
One day an Indian showed them a piece of ore of remarkable purity,
which he said came from a place where “water run over dam, me
find plenty all same.”
The services of the Indian were secured at once, at the rate of
two shillings and what tobacco he could use per day, to conduct them
to the place spoken of. Equipped for a long tramp they started, and
on the second day arrived at the site of the present village, where
they found, as the Indian had said, where the water literally poured
over an iron dam. Hastening to Albany, a large tract of land,
embracing the principal ore beds in that vicinity, was secured, forges,
etc., built operations commenced, and a road cut from the lower
works to Lake Champlain. Mr. Henderson always had a nervous
terror of fire-arms, and on the day of his death his pistol was in the
pack carried by his Guide, who laid it down to perform service
required of him. Thinking that it had fallen in a damp place, Mr.
Henderson picked it up and dropped it on a rock near by; with the
motion came a sharp report from the pistol, the hammer of which had
probably struck the rock in falling. Mr. Henderson fell to the ground,
saying “I’m shot,” and soon breathed his last. The hunter Cheney
was with him at the time, and tells a pitiful story of the grief of the
little son, who was also along. The body was borne out on the
shoulders of workmen, and afterward a beautiful monument placed
where he fell, bearing the inscription: “Erected by filial affection to
the memory of our dear father, David Henderson, who accidentally
lost his life on this spot by the premature discharge of a pistol, 3d
Sept., 1845.” The place has since been called Calamity Pond.
The whole enterprise had been financially a failure. In the death
of Mr. Henderson the motive power was removed, and it was
allowed to run down, work gradually ceased, and three years after his
death the upper works were abandoned; the lower ones were soon
after left, and at last all that remained of the noisy village was an old
Scotchman151 and family, who took care of the property and took in
strangers that chanced to come that way, myself among the number.
Well do I remember the night when they sent us to sleep in one
of the deserted houses having the reputation of being haunted. We
150
As previously noted, these iron works were closed in 1817. Henderson and
company were visiting the site in 1826, at McIntyre’s behest, to search for a lost silver
lode.
151
Robert Hunter, caretaker of the “deserted village” from 1858 to mid-1872. Hunter
was briefly succeeded by John Moore. Hunter would have hosted Stoddard during his
first visit, in 1870; Moore, in 1873.
302
did imagine that we heard curious sounds during the night, but
whether uneasy spirits or some poor dog that we had robbed of his
nest we could not tell. We quieted our fears and consciences,
however, with the reflection that if it was a ghost, it would never
think of looking for human beings in that bed, and if a dog, he
152
certainly hadn’t lost any thing worth mentioning in the operation.
LAKE COLDEN is two miles from Calamity Pond, and 7 from
the village. Here the Marcy trail should be left and time given to one
of the wildest water views in the mountains, which is reached by a
rough trail of 1½ miles toward the north.
AVALANCHE LAKE is high up among the mountains, 2,846
feet above tide, its waters like ice and its walls of black rock running
down deep under and up perpendicularly hundreds of feet on either
side. It is half a mile in length, and but a few rods wide. Between it
and Lake Colden are two immense slides that descended the
mountain long before the place was known, and are now covered
with a heavy growth of timber, supposed by some to have caused the
little lake by imprisoning its waters in the narrow defile.
In 1867 an avalanche of loose rocks and earth swept downward
from the summit, and carrying everything before it plunged into the
sleeping lake below, nearly dividing it in two. This, the latest of any
note, can be followed up to near the summit, but cannot be left
without the aid of ladder or ropes. Where it started it is but eight or
ten feet broad and as many deep, but increasing in volume as it
descended, it tore its way through the soft rock until, at the bottom,
the track is 75 feet wide and 40 or 50 deep.
Here in 1868 occurred a pleasant little episode in which “Bill
Nye took a hand,” which we wish to remark is not the Bill Nye who
had that little affair with an innocent celestial, but William B. Nye, a
noted guide and hunter of North Elba. “Bill,” as he is familiarly
called, is one of those iron-moulded men just turned fifty nearly six
feet in height, powerfully built, knowing no danger or fatigue, and
well versed in woodcraft. Silent, morose even if you in any way gain
his dislike by a display of supposed superiority, (and by the way, he
is but a type of the old time guides who, as a class, are modest,
unassuming and withal, as noble a set of men as walks the earth —
who have learned their own insignificance among the grand things of
nature and silence in her solitude; who know what is becoming in
152
One published version of this story closes with an additional sentence: “This is
reminiscent, however, and occurred three years previous to the time when in 1873 the
professor and myself tramped that way and beyond.”
303
man, and the upstart who presumes too much on his position as
employer, expecting fawning servility, had better go back to
civilization for all the extra comfort he can get out of a sojourn in the
woods.) If he likes you he cannot do too much for you, always ready
and willing, and around the camp fire his tongue once loosed, the
stories of wild wood life told in his quiet quaint style is full of
interest — and a sure cure for the blues.153
“Come Bill — how about that adventure of yours at Avalanche
Lake?” said one of the party gathered around the blazing fire. We all
had heard of it, but wanted the facts from the principal actor.
“What adventure?” said Nye.
“Oh, come, you know what one we mean; go ahead.” So, after
considerable innocent beating about the bush to ascertain the one
meant, although it was perfectly evident that he knew all the time,
Nye told his story:
“Well, boys — some of you may remember a party of three —
Mr. and Mrs. Fielding and their neice, from somewhere or other on
the Hudson, that I went guiding for in 1868. Mr. Fielding, was rather
a little man, one of those quick motioned, impulsive sort, who make
up their minds quick and is liable to change it in five minutes
afterward, but a very generous gentleman withal; his wife was taller
and heavier than he, would look things carefully over before she
expressed an opinion, and when she made up her mind to do a thing
she did it; the neice — Dolly they called her — was about seventeen
years old, a splendid girl, handsome as a picture, and she knew it too,
all very sociable and willing to talk with any one; and I tell you boys,
when I look at such a girl I sometimes feel as though may be I have
made a mistake in living alone so long, but I’m too old a dog now to
think of learning new tricks, so we will go on.
“Well, our trip was to be from Nash’s154 through Indian Pass to
the iron works, then on to Mount Marcy and back by way of
Avalanche Pass. We got rather a late start from Nash’s, and all the
boarders told Mrs. Fielding she could not go through that day. She
says ‘you’ll see I shall, if the guide will show me the way.’ She did
go through, though she traveled the last three or four miles by torchlight. I tried to have her let me build a little camp and stay till day
light, she said ‘No; you know what they said when we started, if you
can find the way I am going through.’ I told her I could find the way
153
Stoddard: Written in 1873. Nye has now retired from active work as guide, but may
be addressed for special service at North Elba.
154
Nash’s Red House, on Mirror Lake. In 1868, Nash’s was the only house within the
territory of what would later become the village of Lake Placid that was taking in
boarders.
304
if it was darker than a stack of black cats; she says, ‘lead on, I will
follow.’ The last mile she carried her shoes in her hand, but she beat,
and that was enough. The next day we went to Lake Colden and
camped; the next to Mount Marcy and back to Colden camp again.
“The following day we started to go through Avalanche Pass to
North Elba — you will remember the walls, hundreds of feet high on
either side, that you can neither get over nor around without going
around the mountain, well, along one side is a shelf from two to four
feet wide and as many under water, and when we got there they
wondered how we were to get past. I said I could carry them or I
could build a raft, but to build a raft would take too much time while
I could carry them past in a few minutes. Provisions were getting
short and time set to be at North Elba, so Mr. Fielding says, ‘Well,
Matilda, what say you? Will you be carried over or shall we make a
raft?’ Mrs. Fielding says: ‘If Mr. Nye can do it, and thinks it safe, I
will be carried over, to save time.’ ‘Well, Dolly, what do you say?’
‘Oh, if Mr. Nye can carry aunt over he can me, of course; I think it
would be a novelty.’ Mr. Fielding says: ‘Well, we have concluded to
be carried over, if you can do it safely.’ I said ‘perfectly safe; I have
carried a man across that weighed 180 pounds, and a nervous old
fellow, at that.’ I waded across and back to see if there had been any
change in the bottom since I was there before. When in the deepest
place the water is nearly up to my arms for a step or two; I had
nothing with me then. When I got back Mrs. Fielding said she did not
see how I was going to carry them across and keep them out of the
water. I said ‘I will show you; who is going to ride first?’ Mr. F. said
‘it was politeness to see the ladies safe first; so Matilda must make
the first trip;’ she would ‘let the politeness go, and would like to see
Mr. F. go over first,’ but he said ‘she had agreed to ride if I said it
was safe; now he wanted to see her do it;’ ‘and so I will!’ said she;
‘how am I to do it?’ I set down with my back against a rock that
came nearly to the top of my shoulders, told her to step on the rock,
put one foot over one side of my neck, the other over the other side,
and sit down. That was what she did not feel inclined to do, and was
going to climb on with both feet on one side, but her husband told
her to ‘throw away her delicacy, and do as I told her,’ reminding her
of her word, which was enough; she finally sat down very carefully,
so far down on my back that I could not carry her. I told her it
wouldn’t do, and at last she got on and I waded in.
“ ‘Hurrah! there they go!’ ‘Cling tight, Matilda!’ shouted the
young lady and the husband in the same breath. ‘Hold your horse,
aunt!’ laughed Dolly. ‘Your reputation as a rider is at stake; three
305
cheers for aunt Mazeppa!155 — I mean aunt Matty; novel, isn’t it?
Unique and pleasing; you beat Rarey,156 auntie, that’s what you do!’
“I had just barely got into the deep water, steadying myself with
one hand against the rocks and holding on to her feet with the other,
when, in spite of all I could do, she managed to work half way down
my back.
“ ‘Hitch up, Matilda! hitch up, Matilda! why don’t you hitch
up?’ screamed Mr. Fielding. and I could hear him dancing around
among the rocks and stones, while I thought Dolly would have died
laughing, and the more he yelled ‘hitch up,’ the more she hitched
down, and I began to think I would have to change ends, or she
would get wet; but by leaning way over forward, I managed to get
her across safe and dry. Then ‘how was she to get off?’ I said, ‘I will
show you.’ So I bent down until her feet touched the ground, and she
just walked off over my head, the two on the other side laughing and
shouting all the time.
“Then came Dolly’s turn; I told her that she must sit straight as a
major general; she said she would — she’d let them see that all the
money spent at riding schools hadn’t been thrown away in her case.
Wondered if any poet would immortalize her as they had Phil.
Sheridan,157 then with some kind of a conundrum about Balaam158 (I
never thought much of conundrums anyway) she got on and I took
her over and unloaded her the same as I did her aunt. The rest was
easy enough, rather more in my line too, and we got back all right.
Of course I did no more than my duty at the time, but you can bet I
kept pretty still about it for some time, until at last it leaked out; but
there is one thing I would say, the ladies never told of the adventure
or made the slightest allusion to it in public as some would, in my
presence at least, and for thus showing so much regard for the
feelings of a bashful man and a bachelor I shall be grateful to them to
my dying day.”
LAKE HENDERSON is about two miles long; its outlet near the
centre on the east, about half a mile north of the old iron works;
through this break we see the high peak of Colden, and the track of
155
Referring to Byron’s 1819 poem about a man who was tied, naked, to the back of a
horse sent running through the wilderness.
156
John Solomon Rarey, a famous mid-nineteenth century horse trainer. He was later
used as the model for the lead character in The Horse Whisperer.
157
Major General Philip Henry Sheridan, cavalry commander of the Army of the
Potomac during the Civil War and the subject of Thomas Buchanan Read’s 1864
poem, “Sheridan’s Ride.”
158
Referring to the story in the Hebrew Bible of the prophet Balaam and his talking
donkey.
306
the Avalanche from summit to base gleaming like snow in the
sunlight; the beauty of the shore is somewhat impaired by dead trees
that line them, but it is withal a beautiful sheet of water. Mountains
stoop down to it on all sides, on the west is seen Sandanona,159
Henderson and Panther Mountain — its base laved by the deep
waters; while on the north we can look up a gradual slope through
grand old Indian Pass, with the dark green sides of McIntyre on the
right and mighty Wall Face on the left, rising almost perpendicularly
over 1,300 feet from the trail below. Pulling to the head of the lake in
a boat, of which there are several as safe as the one Noah built, we
took to the woods accompanied by a brother of Mrs. Moore’s, who
kindly offered to start us on our way, and followed up along the east
side of the rapid stream that came from the notch above.
Chapter XI: Indian Pass
I had expected to find a level, fertile, grove-like way through
which we could walk with little exertion in the shadow of great rocks
on either side, but how different the reality; for three miles the rise
was gradual, then we began to climb, crossing the rivulet back and
forth as we went upward, at times making long detours to the right
and ascending the mountain some distance, then a level stretch along
its sides until the wildly dashing torrent was reached once more, then
onward, upward, the path growing wilder and more difficult, the
brooklet bounding from rock to rock, then lost in some dark cavern,
anon trickling down among the huge boulders, gurgling in muffled
music beneath our feet, then bursting out to rest a moment in some
mossy basin, pure crystal in an emerald setting on which floated fairy
ships of Autumn leaves, then onward in its long journey to the sea.
We had caught occasional glimpses through the trees of — was
it a cloud or solid rock that rested off toward the left, we could hardly
tell until we traced its outline against the sky, for Indian summer had
hung her mantle of haze over the great cliff and it seemed but a shade
or two deeper than the blue above. At last, through an opening it
came out; vast, grand, overwhelming, immeasurable. The eye saw it
hanging in mid-air, a cloud, an outline, a color; tender, sweet,
luminous. The soul felt and bowed beneath its awful weight. The
giant pines that fringed its brow seemed bristling hair, the great rifts
and seams a faint tracery that scarred its sides. Motionless, it still
seemed to be sweeping grandly away as clouds shot upward from
behind and passed over to the east, then approaching, and retreating,
as cool gray shadows and yellow sunlight raced swiftly across or lay
159
Santanoni.
307
in slant bars along down its misty face. But the highest point was not
reached yet; we were just entering at the lower gate, and for nearly a
mile it was a continuous climb over great chaotic masses of jagged
rock, thrown there by some convulsion of Nature, now on a huge
fragment that seems ready to topple over into the gulf below, now
under a projecting shelf that would shelter a large company, now
between others from which hang dripping mosses and sprawling
roots, stooping, crawling, clinging to projecting limbs, climbing
slippery ledges, upward all the time.
The trees that had found lodgment on the top of the rocks
seemed to reach out thirstily for something more than they found in
their first bed; one that we noticed had taken root on the top of a
huge boulder, and sent down a mass of interwoven roots twenty feet
to the damp earth beneath.
At last we near the summit and stand on Lookout Point; close by
rises that grand wall a thousand feet up, and extending three hundred
feet below us, reaching out north and south, majestic, solemn and
oppressive in its nearness; a long line of great fragments have fallen,
year by year, from the cliff above and now lie at its foot; around on
every side huge caverns yawn and mighty rocks rear their heads
where He who rules the earthquake cast them centuries ago. Along
back, down the gorge we look, to where five miles away and 1,300
feet below us is Lake Henderson, a shining drop in the bottom of a
great emerald bowl.
Slowly the sun swung around toward the west, the shadow of the
great wall crept down into the valley across the gray rocks, and over
toward the mossy ones that had lain there unnumbered centuries;
gradually the sweet tinkling, gurgling music of the infant Hudson
died away and solitude reigned. Then as we passed onward a familiar
sound came once more, faintly at first, then more distinctly, the
singing of little waters; first trickling over rocks, then dancing
downward, increased in volume by tributary streams from the slopes
of McIntyre — rocked in the same mountain cradle, twin brothers
and equal at their birth — the mighty Hudson rolling southward; and
the impetuous Ausable dancing away toward the north. Down the
rocky bed of the stream we went until we had left the pass behind,
through the thick pines and hemlock out into hard timber land, our
only guide the blazed trees, for the leaves covered the ground like a
thick carpet, often hiding the slight trail. Over the foot hills of the
mountain on the west, often misled by seeming paths until the
absence of scars on the trees warned us to retrace our steps and
gather up the missing thread. On and on, until it seemed that the
eighteen or twenty miles we had expected to travel before seeing a
308
familiar landmark had lengthened out into twice that number; then in
the gathering twilight we emerged from the woods in sight of North
Elba, forded the Ausable — grown to be quite a river since we had
left it away back toward its head — and up to Blin’s, with a sound as
though a whole colony of bull-frogs were having a concert in each
boot.
Does it pay to go through Indian Pass? I answer a thousand
times yes. It costs a little extra exertion, but the experiences and
emotions of the day come back in a flood of nappy recollections, and
the soul is lifted a little higher and made better by a visit to that grand
old mountain ruin.
309
DOCUMENT TW ENTY-ONE
The Adirondack Village (1877)
160
NATHANIEL BARTLETT SYLVESTER
From the ground
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds
Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
Over the dark brown furrows. All at once
A fresher wind sweeps by and breaks my dream,
And I am in the Wilderness alone.
–Bryant161
I
In the depths of the limitless forest, and surrounded by the
towering peaks of the old giants of the mountain belt, now sleeps,
like a strong man after his labors are ended, the little decaying and
deserted hamlet known as Adirondack Village, or the Upper Iron
Works. Its story is a tale of almost superhuman effort, crowned with
partial success, but finally ending in fruitless endeavor, disaster and
death.
Six or seven miles below, and to the south of the old Indian Pass
in the valley of the infant Hudson, and fed by its waters, which there
run through them, are the lakes Sanford and Henderson, lying about a
mile apart.
Between these two lakes, upon the right bank of the Hudson, the
connecting river, this famous village is situated. To the west of it
rises Santanoni, to the north yawns the awful gorge of the Indian
Pass, and to the east of it old Tahawas towers up above the clouds.
II
About the year 1826, Archibald McIntyre, of Albany, David
Henderson,162 his son-in-law, of Jersey City, and Duncan McMartin,
with others, were or had been proprietors of iron works at North
Elba, on the Au Sable. One day in that year, Mr. Henderson, while
standing near his works, was approached by an old Indian, of the St.
160
Pages 141-144 of Historical Sketches of Northern New York and the Adirondack
Wilderness, published in 1877 by William H. Young, Troy, N.Y.
161
From William Cullen Bryant’s poem, “The Prairies,” 1833.
162
Henderson had not been a partner in the Elba Iron Works operation.
310
Francis tribe, named Sabelle,163 who often hunted near that wild
region. The Indian took from under his blanket a lump of rich iron
ore, and showing it to Mr. Henderson, said to him:
“You want to see ’um ore? Me find plenty all same.”
“Where?” said Mr. Henderson, eagerly.
“Me hunt beaver all ’lone,” replied old Sabelle, “and find ’um
where water run pom, pom, pom, over iron dam, ’way off there,”
pointing toward the southern woods beyond the Indian Pass.
The next day an exploring party, guided by old Sabelle, set out
in search of this wonderful bed of iron ore, and boldly plunged into
the then unknown wilderness. They spent the first night within the
gorge of the Indian Pass, at the fountain head of the infant Hudson.
The day after, following the course of the stream, they reached lakes
Sanford and Henderson, and found the iron dam across the bed of the
Hudson between the two lakes. The old Indian had not misled them.
There was “plenty” of ore — there were mountains of ore all around
them. There was ore enough there apparently to supply the world
with iron for ages.
Mr. Henderson and his associates hastened to Albany, purchased
of the State a large tract of land, and formed a company to be called
the “Adirondack Iron and Steel Company,” with a capital of one
million dollars, to operate these inexhaustible mines. A clearing was
soon made near the “iron dam” of old Sabelle. A road was cut into it
with great labor, winding around the mountain masses a distance of
fifty miles from Crown Point, on Lake Champlain. Then a little
mountain hamlet sprung up, as if by magic, in the wild, secluded
valley. Forges, boarding houses, store houses, cottages, mills, and a
school house were built. The mountain shadows were soon lighted up
with the ruddy glow of furnace fires, and the howling wilderness was
made vocal with the roar of ponderous machinery, with the hum of
many industries, and the songs of labor. The busy housewives spun
and wove, and plied their daily toil; the children laughed, and
frolicked, and loitered on their way to and from their school, and
from many a stumpy pasture round about came the drowsy tinkle of
the cow bells.
III
But a sad
tireless energy
wilderness. In
exploring the
163
calamity awaited Mr. Henderson, the man whose
helped so much to build up this little oasis in the
the month of September, 1845, he was one day
woods near the foot of Mount Marcy. He was
The Indian was not Sabelle, or Sabael, but his son, Elijah Lewis Benedict.
311
accompanied only by his little son, ten years old, and the famous
hunter John Cheney as their guide. They stopped to rest upon a rock
that lay on the border of a little mountain pond, since known as
Calamity Pond. Mr. Henderson, thinking their guide had laid his
knapsack, in which was a loaded pistol, in a damp place, took it up to
remove it to a dryer one. When putting it down again the hammer of
the pistol struck, in some way, the solid rock. The pistol exploded, its
ball entering Mr. Henderson’s heart. “To die in such an awful place
as this,” moaned the fallen man. “Take care, my son, of your mother
when I am gone,” were his last words.
Upon the wild spot where he fell his children afterward erected a
beautiful monument of Nova Scotia freestone, carved with exquisite
taste, in the highest style of art. It was brought in pieces to the spot
by the hands of the sorrowing workmen of the forge. Upon it is this
touching inscription: “Erected by filial affection to the memory of
our dear father, who accidentally lost his life on this spot 3d
September, 1845.”
“How often,” says Street, “has the wild wolf made his lair beside
it; how often the savage panther glared at its beautiful proportions,
and wondered what object met his blazing eye-balls.”
After the death of Mr. Henderson, the industries of the little
village flagged. Its distance from market over almost impassable
roads proved to be an insuperable hindrance to its further progress. In
a few years the Adirondack village, as a business enterprise, was
entirely abandoned. For nearly a quarter of a century it has been left
to decay, and has been the abode of solitary fishermen and hunters.
Nature, always aggressive, is fast re-asserting her stern dominion
over the once busy scene — once busy, but now desolate and
forsaken —
“Where the owl still hooting sits,
Where the bat incessant flits.”164
164
From James Grainger’s poem, “Ode to Solitude,” 1755.
312
DOCUMENT TW ENTY-TW O
The Legend of Indian Pass (1878)
165
HENRY VAN HOEVENBERG
My guide was old;
Rude toil had left its trace,
In many a line and fold
Upon his face.
In camp one night
We lay; ’twas dark and still;
Our camp-fire cast its light
On tree and hill.
His pipe he lit,
And as the smoke curled out,
With homely, rustic wit
Discoursed about
The relics few
Of Indians here; strange things within
His own experience. True? —
They may have been.
Among the rest
Was one that thrills me yet;
I pencil-caught it, lest
I should forget.
The story his,
And mine alone the rhyme;
Mine, too, the faultiness
Of step and time.
With eyes fixed on the fire as in a glass,
He told this story of —
The Indian Pass.
*****
’Twas ten years ago, come next autumn, I think,
That I paused in my tramp through the forest, to drink.
A spring bubbled up in a cool, shady spot.
165
A note from a typescript transcription by George Carroll, found in the files of Mary
MacKenzie, says “Written at Adirondack Loj about 1878.” The poem was originally
published by E. Scott, New York, in 1888. Seneca Ray Stoddard later reprinted it in
his Stoddard’s Northern Monthly, August 1906 (Vol. 1, No. 4), a magazine to which
Van Hoevenberg was a regular contributor.
313
I threw myself down; I was weary and hot.
While resting and carelessly glancing around,
I spied a torn paper that lay on the ground,
The rain and the winter had wrought their own will,
But traces of writing I saw on it still.
I studied it closely, and rather in doubt,
But after a season I puzzled it out.
The writing was quaint, and in characters old,
And strange and amazing the story it told.
’Twas written in rhyme, very crude, it is true,
But just as it ran I’ll repeat it to you.
“ ’Memorandum. To remember if moonlight is bright
On the eighth of September, at twelve in the night,
To climb Summit Rock, in the Indian Pass,
And where the cliffs rise, in a towering mass,
To look toward the West; where steepest the wall
Rises, a hemlock hangs, poised in its fall.
Straight on a line with its trunk, to the South,
A thousand feet up, yawns a cavernous mouth.
With care you may climb to it: treasures of gold
Were massed in its depths, by the Indians of old,
And the spirit of one, whom they slew on the spot,
Tarries to guard it from thieves and from rot.
Encounter him boldly; of shadow of fear
Beware, or the hour of thy death draweth near.
By the sun’s brighter ray is this cavern concealed,
In the deep shadow cast by the moon is revealed,
On this one alone, of the nights of the year,
The cave may be reached by a head that is clear.
Gain the cave, brave the spectre, and rifle the mine —
Take it — the Indian’s treasures is thine.”
This was the story that greeted my eyes;
I read it with feelings of doubt and surprise.
What! could it be true that a treasure lay hid,
The rocks and the eaves of that canyon amid?
I had been there quite often; I well knew the place,
The precipitous cliff at the east of Wallface,
Where McIntyre rises, grim, solemn and bare,
Its triple tops piercing the crystalline air.
But was it not nonsense to give it a thought —
314
To dream that old Wallface with treasure was fraught? —
And still, an old legend, forgotten long since,
Told of the wealth of an Indian prince
Who, caught by white rascals and burned at the stake,
Thinking to force him disclosure to make
Of where in the woods he had buried his gold,
Laughed them to scorn as the flames upward rolled.
A year or so after, on some errand bent,
Down to the old ruined village166 I went.
The houses were mouldy, ill smelling and damp,
So north of the village I built me a camp
Of pine and spruce boughs, in a well-woven mass,
About half way up to the Indian Pass.
My fire-wood was cut; I was fixed for the night:
My camp-fire blazing up, cheery and bright —
When I suddenly thought that that night was the time,
For the search for that treasure, as told in the rhyme.
’Twas the eighth of September, there was no mistake —
But had I the courage the trial to make?
I filled up my pipe and prepared for a smoke;
That climb up the mountain was clearly no joke.
And then to say nothing of having to brave
A bloodthirsty Indian ghost in the cave.
No, no, the old spectre his vigils may keep,
And I’ll dream of the gold as I peacefully sleep.
Just then the new moon, gleaming bright in the skies,
Shot beam after beam in my cowardly eyes,
Till I said to myself, “I will visit the spot,
But climb up that horrible wall I will not.”
I threaded the trail by the moon’s yellow light,
And stood on the Rock In the Pass at midnight.
Yes, there was the hemlock, and off to the left,
Faintly outlined, was a shadowy cleft.
Ah, there was the cave, and I felt my heart thrill
At the thought of the treasure — but was it there still?
Leading up to this cleft, I thought I could trace
A sort of a path up the steep rocky face —
A series of footholds by which one might climb
166
Van Hoevenberg: The Adirondack Iron Works, abandoned in 1845. [Editor: The
Upper Works actually ceased operation in 1858.]
315
The cliff to the cavern, with patience and time.
If the Indians had climbed it, why surely I could —
’Twas enough — I jumped down from the rock where I stood.
In a very few minutes I stood at the base,
And prepared for my climb up the side of Wallface.
In order to gain the best hold on the rocks,
I drew off my boots and my thick woolen socks.
I capped my revolver and tightened my belt,
And ready for any adventure I felt.
I had marked out the place to begin the ascent
Where help by the bushes and trees would be lent.
At first I climbed up with comparative ease,
And soon looked out over the top of the trees.
The evening was beautiful — calm and serene,
Not a cloud in the bright azure dome could be seen.
Upward — still upward; advantage I took
Of every crevice and angular nook.
I crawl’d, climb’d and squirm’d around the rough rocks;
Sometimes I lovingly hugged the huge blocks,
Once I grew dizzy — what if I should fall?
I cowered up close to the pitiless wall.
I said to myself, “This never will do,
Just think of the treasure,” — and reckless I grew.
Still climbing upward — ah, how would it end?
’Twas hard to climb up — but — ’twas death to descend.
I stopped in my way, for before me a rut,
Deep in the cliff by some rockslide was cut;
Across it, and firm in the rock was a ledge,
A little spruce sapling, hung over its edge.
I looked all around — other way there was none;
I must leap it, the terrible risk must be run.
Below sank the cliff’s perpendicular wall,
Polished and smooth as an ivory ball.
I gathered myself, and gave a wild spring,
But the rock that I leapt from a treacherous thing,
Gave way as I jumped, and downward it dashed,
Awakening the echoes below as it crashed —
Whilst I missed the ledge — grasped the shrub as I fell,
And hung by my hands — ’twas an instand of Hell —
Then pulled myself upward — it took all my strength,
And knelt on the shelf as I reached it at length.
316
I climbed after that as one would in a dream,
Where all things uncertain and shadowy seem.
At last, looking upward, I saw the dark cave,
And looked in the gloom for the Indian brave.
More of the ghost than the treasure I thought,
As I lighted a roll of birch-bark I had brought.
I looked at myself — I was surely a sight
To make an old Indian quake with affright.
My blue flannel shirt into tatters was torn,
My trousers of buckskin were dirty and worn;
I was covered with dust; a scratch on my face
But added fresh charms to its natural grace.
“I’ll bet him a dollar that I look the worst —
The chances are even that he will run first.”
These are my thoughts as the cave I explore —
What is this piled on the rough, rocky floor?
Armlets and coins of some metal — ’tis gold!
Heaped up before me are riches untold!
Here is the wealth of the Indian chief!
Here is there treasure beyond all belief.
All of this booty is mine — mine alone —
A sound o’er my head nearly turned me to stone!
I lifted my torch, and I saw by its light
A something that curdled my blood with affright.
A form strong and stalwart — a face dark and stern —
Eyes that like coals seemed to sparkle and burn —
My torch failed me then — still the form I could trace —
I drew my revolver, and fired in its face!
Before the first echo came back from the cave,
I felt myself seized by the Indian brave,
Borne to the brink in his iron-like clasp —
Weak as a child in that powerful grasp,
Poised in the air for an instant, and then
Hurled like a stone from the mouth of the den.
Down, down — I shot down — ah, what — could it be —
I had lodged in the top of the old hemlock tree;
But the strain was too great — I could feel the tree sway,
Then downward it swept as the roots broke away!
The next I remember, I lay on the ground,
Far up above me the precipice frowned —
Bright on the rocks shone the clear light of day —
317
Twenty feet off the old hemlock tree lay.
Then was it a dream? No, for fast in my hold,
Still did I clutch one rude circlet of gold!
I lay for some moments, and then I arose;
I was dreadfully bruised, from my head to my toes;
My left arm was crushed, nor indeed was that all,
For I suffered for years from that terrible fall.
Did I try it again? Ah, no, sir, indeed,
Once was enough for my uttermost greed.
But there is the treasure, and there it will stay,
Until on the world breaks the great Judgment day.
For the hemlock is gone, and without it no trace
Can be found of the mouth of that horrible place.
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DOCUMENT TW ENTY-THREE
Adirondack Park: A Week Among
the Mountain Giants (1879)
AUTHOR UNKNOW N
167
The field which we marked out for our summer campaign
embraced three distinct regions. In the north, and directly west of
Plattsburgh, is the Chateaugay region, in former years “so near and
yet so far,” but which the enterprise of Messrs. Williams and Weed
has brought to our very doors. In the center lies the great chain of
lakes, ponds and rivers, known as the Saranac and St. Regis region,
the paradise of sportsmen, the fashionable centers of which are
Smith’s, Derby’s, Martin’s and Bartlett’s. Lake Placid seems to be a
sort of little paradise by itself, but geographically it really belongs to
this region. In the south lies the great mountain center, which we
term the Adirondacks, where the thunder storms are made, and where
the waters of the St. Lawrence and the Hudson kiss a fond adieu and
hasten on to the ocean!
The Adirondacks
No one who has not traversed this region can realize how
distinct it is from the others which we have described in former
articles. In our last article we mentioned our drive from Lake Placid
east through North Elba and the narrow pass at Edmunds Ponds to
Keene village. Year after year the thousands of tourists by the way of
Westport and Keene en route for the Saranac Lakes, have passed
over this, the only wagon road, comparatively ignorant of the vast
mountain region lying directly south of them, destined in future years
to be the pride of the State, and rivaling the White Mountains in
variety, extent and grandeur of scenery.
No wagon road penetrates this region from the north. The only
regular foot trail to it from North Elba is through the celebrated
Indian Pass, which is distinctly in view. The principal entrance from
Keene is by a foot trail through Ausable Pass. To make the tour of
the Adirondacks one needs to enter one of these passes and come out
at the other — a tramp of about four days — though it is frequently
made in less time. “Tramps” usually enter from the east, at the
Ausable Pass, and come out through the Indian Pass, though
occasionally the reverse course is taken.
167
Published without byline in the Plattsburgh Sentinel, Friday, August 22, 1879, pg. 3.
319
Nothing more forcibly illustrates the isolated character of the
Adirondacks than the fact that the guides of this and the Saranac and
St. Regis region are comparative strangers, and know little or nothing
of their respective routes. Almost any of these mountain guides
would feel quite lost in the comparatively low lands of the latter,
while it is stated on good authority that an experienced and well
known guide of Long Lake, got lost in attempting to conduct a party
to Mount Marcy, and came near perishing, when they were rescued
by a guide from Keene Flats.168 He was in fact about as great a
stranger to the mountains as the tourists who had placed themselves
under his direction!
There are several facts which render this mountain section of
peculiar importance to our readers. First it is the region which
representatives, New York statesmen, scientists and philanthropists
are endeavoring to have set aside for a State Park, to be preserved for
all time in its native wildness, excepting such improvements as are
necessary for the accommodation of tourists. This measure is urged
in the interest of commerce and agriculture, it being claimed that this
mountain region acts as a great reservoir, retaining vast quantities of
water that supply our streams during the dry season. The vast forests
of heavy timber, not only in the valleys, but on the mountain sides,
the deep vegetable mould, the formation of ages, and the cool shaded
recesses, retain the snows of winter, and the heavy rains of spring
time, to be distributed to the inhabitants of the valleys of the
Champlain and Hudson throughout the entire summer season. Let the
woodman’s axe lay low these forests, let the fires sweep over these
mountains, burning up the vegetable mould and laying bare the rocks
to the heat of the summer’s sun, and it is impossible to tell what dire
results may follow to the commercial, manufacturing and agricultural
interests of our State.
Secondly, it is not impossible, but probable, that in spite of all
other considerations, railroads will yet penetrate to the very heart of
this region. Projects of the kind are on foot now to which we may
have occasion to make reference before many months.
Thirdly, two of our citizens, Messrs. Thomas and Armstrong, are
sole owners of its wildest, as well as some of its best timbered
portions.169 With what proud satisfaction these gentlemen must stand
168
Keene Flats is known today as Keene Valley.
According to Russell Carson (Peaks and People of the Adirondacks), “In 1866,
Almon Thomas and Thomas Armstrong, prominent lumbermen of Plattsburg, acquired
title to … a tract containing about 28,000 acres of land and water.” The tract included
all the mountains listed in the next sentence, and the Upper and Lower Ausable Lakes
to boot. In 1887, Thomas and Armstrong sold the tract to the Adirondack Mountain
169
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on the summit of Tahawus, (Mount Marcy) the “Cloud Splitter,”
overlooking “Haystack,” “Sky Light,” the “Gothics,” and numerous
other of the highest peaks of the Adirondacks, and contemplate the
fact that these stupendous works of nature all belong to them! The
extent of these gentlemen’s possessions embrace about forty
thousand acres, much of it the best quality of timbered land.
Adjoining them on the southwest is the property of the Adirondack
Iron and Steel Company (over ninety thousand acres), whose
headquarters were what is now known as the Deserted Village, and
whose history is of the most romantic kind.
We have during the past week pretty thoroughly traversed this
wild region and formed such a familiar acquaintance with the
mountain giants that we think we should know them wherever we
might meet them! Messrs. Marcy, McIntyre, Skylight, Haystack,
Wall Face, Gothic, Giant, Colvin, Noon Mark, Saw Teeth, Saddle
Back, and others, several of them taller than old Whiteface, now
seem like old acquaintances, and we would be pleased to introduce
them to our readers, if we may be permitted to do so in the familiar
style of our former articles, narrating our own experiences and
observations. We trust that no one will assume that we wish to
intrude upon them our own personal affairs, which are of no more
importance than those of any other citizen; but we can by this
method more easily and we think more vividly portray what the
experiences of any other tourist would be under like circumstances
and surroundings. We ask our readers (if they desire), to imagine
themselves in our place, on the 11th of August, driving up the valley
of the eastern branch of the Ausable (with your entire family, if you
have one), through Ausable Forks, Lower Jay, Upper Jay and Keene,
over a heated sand and under a burning sun. We mention the east
branch of the Ausable River, because we are to follow it to its very
source, while on our return through Indian Pass we follow down the
western branch of the same river from its very beginning. Passing
through Keene village, we proceed directly south, up the river, about
three miles, when we emerge into a broad, level, smooth and fertile
valley, popularly known as
Keene Flats
Within a comparative few years this has grown to be one of our
most desired northern summer resorts. Tourists seek it for its
delightful scenery and health giving atmosphere. Shut in by towering
Reserve, an organization that spawned both the Ausable Club and the Adirondack
Trail Improvement Society.
321
mountains on every side, with a remarkably smooth road, it affords
delightful drives among fertile fields, well tilled by prosperous
farmers, while the hill sides, always in close proximity, afford
limitless rambles, and the high mountain peaks, only a few miles
distant, a boundless field for greater effort. Hopkins Peak, something
over three thousand feet high, is the nearest and most accessible.
Among the summer hotels are the Tahawus House, kept by Mr.
Dibble, one of the finest in the woods, Crawford’s, Holt’s, Estes’,
Maple Grove, Mountain House, Hull’s, and others, all well
patronized, and frequently crowded, while nearly all of the farmers
of the valley afford accommodations for boarders. Among the
attractions on the route up the valley, or across the Flats, as you
choose to call it, is Brook Knoll Lodge, the residence of John
Matthews, of New York. Standing on a high, rocky bluff, it is seen
for considerable distance. It is built of cedar logs, with dormer
windows, balconies, observatory, &c, and finished and furnished in
rustic style, at no trifling expense. Looking up the valley, you see
Noon Mark, 3,548 feet high, standing out in bold relief, like a signal
station, and at its foot is Beede’s, seven miles from Keene village,
and the last resort before cutting loose from the ordinary modes of
civilized life. Before reaching it, you come to the foot of a hill, where
the “Astor House” is located. Up, up, one of the steepest pitches you
ever undertook to drive a horse, and you are at Beede’s, a wild and
sightly spot, from which Keene presents a beautiful landscape, while
on the east old Giant Mountain, 4,530 feet high, impresses its
beholders with the consciousness that it is rightly named. Down its
rocky sides is plainly seen the track of Roaring Brook falls, of
several hundred feet, but owing to the unprecedented drouth Roaring
Brook was pretty much dried up and the falls were not in successful
operation! Rainbow Falls, another attraction, had suffered in like
manner, and we found a notice pinned up near by something like the
following: “Falls suspended — Rainbow laid up for repairs!”
Neat little Swiss cottages, the summer resorts of wealthy city
people, are springing up in the recesses of the mountains near
Beede’s. Only a few rods from the hotel is the commodious summer
cottage of Messrs. Thomas and Armstrong, where Messrs. A.
Thomas, Alfred Guibord and Rev. B.B. Loomis with their wives and
Miss Minnie Loomis, had taken lodging, having their meals at the
hotel.
Life at Beede’s
We found one of the liveliest companies that we ever met,
composed chiefly of city visitors. On our arrival it seemed
322
comparatively deserted, but toward night they began to collect from
hill and vale, dressed in their mountain costumes and full of glee.
From the woods to the south emerged a unique procession, consisting
of ladies and gentlemen riding on buckboard wagons, on horse back,
and others on foot. They were coming in from the great camping
ground at upper Ausable Pond, nine miles distant. For the first four
miles there is a horrible wagon road, accessible only for buckboards
made expressly for the purpose. It is about all one’s life is worth to
ride through on one of these wagons, being tossed about till one
hardly knows whether they are on foot or on horseback! In fact many
of the ladies prefer a horse, which can be procured for $1.50 for the
trip. Beyond the first four miles, the trip is made in boats and on foot,
and will be more fully described hereafter.
Evening Entertainments
On the door posts at Beede’s were notices like these: “Musical
and Literary Entertainment in the Parlor this evening at eight o’clock
sharp.” — “The guests of the house are invited to join in a Phantom
Party on Wednesday evening of this week, &c.” As a company like
this is not wanting in musical and literary talent, the entertainment
was of course first-class. After the entertainment came the dance,
which lasted till about midnight. We were not present Wednesday
evening, but were told that the performance was a great success.
Beede is good humored and accommodating, and if his lively guests
choose to use their sheets and pillow cases to convert themselves into
a crowd of weird but decidedly substantial phantoms, he smiles and
does not interfere.
Camping at Ausable Ponds
On the morning of the 12th, a party of some sixteen, including
guides, with buckboards, saddle horses, &c., started out for a night’s
encampment on Upper Ausable Pond. As this lies directly on the
round trip which we were to make through the mountains, we were
pleased to be one of the number. At the foot of the lower pond,
buckboards and horses were left, and the party were rowed to the
upper end of the pond, a distance of two miles. The view from this
pond is in some respects unequaled in our whole mountain region. At
no point do the mountains rise from the water’s edge to such a dizzy
height. According to Colvin the Upper Pond is 2,064 feet above tide.
The lower pond can certainly be no higher, while Mount Colvin rises
up from the east shore, apparently at an angle of about 45 degrees to
4,142 ft. above tide, which gives a rise of over 2,000 feet above the
pond. Saw-tooth mountain, rightly named, rises on the other side.
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The mountains come down so abruptly that there is no desirable
place for camping. Between lower and upper Ausable ponds there is
a carry of one mile, and then another row of two miles brings us to
the camp. A log shanty, some twenty feet long, stands a few rods
back from the shore. It is built in the usual style, open in front, so as
to admit the heat from the big camp fire built before it, usually kept
burning most of the night. The bottom is covered with spruce or
cedar boughs, and it is wide enough so that the occupants can sleep
in a row with their feet toward the fire. Sometimes, when the number
is large, it is a little difficult for one to turn over without the rest of
the party follow suit! A common way of adding to one’s comfort, is
to heat a large stone, wrap it up, and place it at their feet! In a large
party there are usually some good snorers, who furnish music for the
occasion — varied by an occasional interlude by a screech owl!
There are numerous cabins of this kind, large and small, on
either shore, and they are usually crowded this season of the year,
making it seem quite neighborly, especially at night when their camp
fires break the monotony of the surrounding gloom.
Upper Ausable Pond is a fine body of water. Its heavily timbered
shores rise gradually, affording the best of camping ground. It is not
surprising that this pond is a favorite resort.
A Sad Incident
Toward night a young man from Rochester, Vt., was brought to
a camp not far below us under very unfortunate circumstances. The
night previous, in company with two other men and without a guide,
he camped near the summit of Mount Marcy, eight miles distant.
Toward morning, getting cold, he undertook to chop some wood, cut
off three of his toes, and came near bleeding to death. Fortunately
there were some medical students near by, who succeeded in
dressing the wound so as to stop the blood. Guides were procured
from other parties, who took turns in carrying him down the
mountain astride their shoulders.
The Bound Trip
The balance of our journey through the mountains was to be
made by a party of three — ourself, our boy of ten years, and our
guide. Right here we would like to make a few comments concerning
guides.
A Good Guide
One of the absolute essentials for a trip of this kind is a good
guide, one having three essential qualifications — muscle,
324
intelligence, experience. There are many other desirable qualities, but
these are indispensable. The reputed load for a guide is forty pounds,
consisting of two or three blankets, a rubber blanket, a few tin plates,
cups, a pail in which to steep tea or coffee, sometimes a frying pan,
and the provisions. These are all packed into a basket holding about a
bushel and strapped upon his back. He also carries an ax in his hand.
The importance of having a guide who is intelligent and well
informed and can answer all reasonable questions concerning the
country traversed is apparent. As for experience, it is as essential in
this as in all other vocations. It takes many years to become a good
guide, to know just how and what to do under all the contingencies
that may arise, and last, but not least, to know how to get a good
meal! We were fortunate in procuring such a guide in the person of
Mr. M.J. Trumbull, whose pleasant acquaintance and kind offices we
shall always remember. Among the other guides who have an
established reputation in this region are Messrs. Munro Holt, Levi S.
Lamb, Frank Parker and Mac Trudo. Of course no man in the woods
is better informed than “Old Mountain Phelps,” of Tahawus
celebrity, and for light duty he must be very desirable. But we should
hardly feel like imposing upon an old gentlemen like him all the
burdens and irksome duties of a common guide. The pay of
independent guides (and few others are good for anything) is from
$2.50 to $3.00 a day, and they generally earn their money. In
addition to personal qualifications, they require an investment of a
hundred dollars or more, including one or two good boats, a quantity
of blankets, camp utensils, &c.
Before retiring we made all necessary arrangements for an early
start the following morning. The remainder of our family, with the
party, were to return to Beede’s sometime during the day. On their
return trip they visited some remarkable places, including
Ice Cave
Near the head of the lower Ausable Pond close by the shore, and
not very difficult of access, is Ice Cave, (ice house for the gods)
where ice may be obtained even during “dog days,” and near the
mouth of the cavern. One of the party had clambered three hundred
feet into this chilly, underground passage.
Up Mount Marcy
Leaving camp at six in the morning, a row of 2½ miles up the
lake and Cold Slew Trail, brought us to the beginning of our tramp of
six miles to the summit of Marcy. The first four miles, a very easy
grade, lead us to a deep ravine, through which flows Marcy Brook,
325
and appropriately named Panther Gorge. Here in this gloomy
mountain fastness we were startled by an unexpected sight — a large
muscular woman! Our fears soon subsided, and we passed on
unharmed! All guides agree that the ladies make the most daring
mountaineers. This lady, with her companion and a guide, are old
visitors of the mountains, have scaled all of the principal summits,
and are among the few who frequent the steep rocky heights of the
Gothics.
Our trail leads between Marcy and Skylight, the highest point of
which is at Summit Camp, about 4,500 feet above tide. Here we left
our baggage, turned to the right and ascended to the summit, about a
thousand feet, mostly up steep ledges and bare rocks. This is the first
time that we have found ourself comfortable on the top of a high
mountain, and shows how completely the heated wave had invested
the mountain region. Though at an altitude of 5,402 feet, we were
comfortable in our ordinary clothing.
The View from Mount Marcy
The particular in which the view from Marcy excels all others is
its command of the mountain region in its immediate vicinity. It
stands like a commander-in-chief surrounded by his marshals. To
illustrate, the four highest peaks of the Adirondacks stand in the
following order: Marcy, 5,402 feet; McIntyre, 5,201; Haystack,
5,006; Skylight, 4,977. Of these four, Marcy, Haystack and Skylight
stand in a triangle, with their naked, rocky summits only from one to
three miles apart. Between Marcy and Haystack lies Panther Gorge,
more than two thousand feet below. Between Marcy and Skylight is
the gorge through which we have ascended, at the summit of which
the waters of the east branch of the Ausable and of the Hudson River
separate. Not far from Summit Camp lies the highest lake in the
State, called
Lake Tear of the Clouds
We found it, dry as the weather was, about four rods wide and
eight rods long, surrounded by a small meadow of wild grass. It is
4,326 feet above tide. It was at first a matter of dispute whether this
lake emptied into the Ausable or Hudson, but closer inspection
showed its outlet to be into the Opalescent River, which flows down
the west side of the mountain, past Lake Colden, and is one of the
sources of the Hudson. Among the other immediate neighbors of
Marcy, are the Gothic peaks, 4,742 feet high, Saddle Mountain,
4,536, and numerous other peaks, all within a circuit of a few miles.
As old Whiteface, in which we take so much pride, is but 4,955 feet,
326
some idea can be gathered of the magnitude of this family of
mountains. Mountains three or more thousand feet high are chinked
in all around. It is claimed that from the summit of Marcy you can
count 300 distinct peaks. Dix Peak, 4,916 feet; Basin, 4,905; Nipple
Top, 4,684, and other high peaks all stand forth in bold relief, a little
more distant than the first named. But we will not go into further
details. Our trail down the mountain on the west aide followed the
Opalescent seven miles to Lake Colden, where we encamped for the
niqht. In the night the long looked for crisis in the weather was
reached, and a heavy shower set in. The next forenoon it rained
almost incessantly, but we tramped to the south a distance of about
seven miles to one of the great centers of attraction,
The Deserted Village
Its history is as romantic as a tale of the Arabian Nights. As
early as 1809, three enterprising gentlemen, Messrs. Henderson,170
McIntyre and McMartin, established a four or six fire forge in the
then remote and unfrequented region of North Elba, not far from
Lake Placid. This was in itself a romantic venture. Ore found in the
vicinity was used for a season, but proving of an inferior quality, ore
was afterwards drawn from the Arnold Hill mines, during the winter
season. These works were kept in operation till 1826,171 when
another romantic incident opened a new and wider field. An Indian, a
brave of the St. Francis tribe, approached Mr. Henderson, while
standing near the iron works and presented him with a chunk of rich
ore, remarking, “You went to see ’um ore, me fine plenty — all
same.” He pointed to the south and said, “Me fine ’um where water
run over iron dam.” An exploring party was formed, and with the
Indian for a guide, they “plunged into the trackless forest.”172 The
first night was spent in Indian Pass, a place so cold, dreary and
“pokerish” that guides even now dislike to be caught there over
night. They next day reached the spot, which equalled fully the
Indian’s description, the river actually running over a bed and down
a precipice of ore. Ninety-three thousand acres or more of land were
subsequently purchased by them of the State,173 and operations were
commenced. First a small saw-mill, then a small forge and furnace to
170
Henderson was not a partner in the Elba Iron Works operation.
The Elba Iron Works actually ceased operations in 1817. Henderson and party
came to North Elba in 1826 to hunt for a legendary silver mine.
172
Possibly paraphrasing Winslow Watson’s account in his Military and Civil History
of the County of Essex, New York (1869). Watson said that, once the party made its
arrangements to head out from Elba, its members “plunged into the pathless forest.”
173
Ultimately, the McIntyre Iron and Steel Manufacturing Company purchased
105,000 acres around the “iron dam” site.
171
327
test the ore, which for purity more than met their expectations. Then
building commenced on a more extended scale, and hundreds of
thousands of dollars were eventually expended in constructing a
large furnace, store and tenement houses, boarding-houses, cutting
roads, constructing dams, and other improvements. Works were built
ten miles below, and called the Lower Adirondack Works, where a
huge dam was also constructed, raising Lake Sanford to such a
height that it formed a continuous water communication between the
two villages. This was in the very heart of the wilderness, the most
available route for shipping iron being by a new road, constructed
through thirty miles of forest, by slight aid from the State, but
principally at their own expense, running from the lower works
through Schroon to the boat landing at Crown Point, a distance in all
of nearly fifty miles. Business was done on a broad scale. They had a
bank of their own, called McIntyre Bank, and issued bills, which
they redeemed in gold.
These improvements extended over a period of twenty or more
years, the large furnace not being completed till 1850.174
The Tragic Death of Henderson
In 1845 a calamity occurred, which seemed to be a turning and
fatal point in the history of this great business project. Mr.
Henderson, the leading spirit of the enterprise, accompanied by his
son, ten years of age, and the old guide Cheeney, were out on a small
pond, three miles north of the upper works, in the direction of Lake
Colden. Mr. Henderson, it is said, had a great dread of fire-arms. The
guide’s pistol was put away in his pack, and supposed to be where it
could do no harm. As they were about to land, Mr. Henderson took
the pack and threw it onto a rock. With this came a sharp report, and
he fell fatally wounded through the heart. With little hopes of seeing
him again alive, Cheeney bade him farewell and hastened to the
village for aid, leaving the little boy alone with his dying father.
When he returned life was extinct, and the remains were borne away.
On the spot where he died, his son in after years caused to be erected
a handsome monument, bearing this inscription: “Erected by filial
affection to the memory of our dear father, David Henderson, who
accidentally lost his life on this spot, by the premature discharge of a
pistol, 3d Sept., 1845.” The place has since been called
174
The “New Furnace” was actually completed in 1854. Note that the same error
occurs in Watson’s 1869 history of Essex County (Document 16; see footnote 127).
328
Calamity Pond
which we passed on our trip from Lake Colden to the Deserted
Village on the morning of the 14th. The place seemed lonely enough.
The rock on which the monument is erected stands alone near the
shore, surrounded by a heavy growth of wild grass, trampled
considerably by the deer, which frequent the place for grazing. A bar
of iron, used probably in the erection of the monument, lies upon the
rock. The place being inaccessible for teams in the summer, the
monument was drawn there on sledges by oxen, in winter, a road
being cut expressly for the purpose. It is said that the job of
transporting the monument through the woods was let for the sum of
$500.
With the death of Mr. Henderson the great manufacturing
enterprise went gradually into decline, and not long after the
completion of the great furnace in 1850, the upper works were totally
abandoned, as were the lower works a few years later,175 and it
remained for more than a quarter of a century the “Deserted Village,”
inhabited only by an old hunter,176 and seldom frequented by visitors.
Stoddard and other travelers of late years have given graphic
descriptions of the old place, with its “haunted house,” and the old
bell hanging as it was left so many years ago — the place in fact
bearing all the signs of a once busy village, now silent as death —
save, perhaps, the howling of the hungry wolf! These pictures
awakened in us a strong desire to see the place.
Our Visit to the Deserted Village
On our arrival at the Deserted Village, cold, wet and hungry,
imagine our surprise to find the principal house, a large two-story
building,177 literally crowded with city guests, some fifty men,
women and children. We were informed that all the available
lodgings to the haunted house, located on the opposite side of the
road, were engaged, as well as the best sleeping accommodations in
the barn! On further inquiry we ascertained that this unusual
gathering consisted mostly of
175
As previously noted, the “New Furnace” was actually completed in 1854. In 1856,
a flood destroyed the dam and sawmill at the Lower Works, closing them down. In
1858, following the death of Archibald McIntyre, the Upper Works also closed.
176
The author of this account may be confusing the name of the longest-serving
Adirondac caretaker, Robert Hunter, for his vocation. Hunter was a master brickmaker
by trade.
177
Probably the clubhouse, formerly the Adirondac single-men’s boarding house,
located on the west side of the only road running through the Upper Works settlement.
329
The Adirondack Club
This organization, composed chiefly of men of wealth or
distinction, was formed in 1877, with James R. Thompson, of Jersey
City, President. The active membership of the club is twenty, but the
honorary membership much larger. This company leased the entire
property of the Adirondack Steel and Iron Co., for a term of ten
years,178 for sporting purposes, adopted stringent rules prohibiting
any one from fishing or hunting within their dominions of over
ninety thousand acres, without special permission from them. This
permission cannot be procured with money, but “passes” are
frequently granted on friendly considerations. An enterprising
gentlemen, Mr. Myron Buttles, was engaged to keep a public house,
entertain strangers, protect the property, and provide suitable
accommodations for the club on their annual visits. This was the
occasion of one of their visits. Mr. Thompson, the President, was
present with all of his family, including numerous little Thompsons,
and we noticed that other family names occupied a liberal space on
the register. In fact the whole company seemed to be like one family,
and in the evening they had what we should term
A Family Gathering
It was in the haunted house, in a wing of which, we had been
provided lodging. We retired at an early hour, about nine, and in less
than twenty minutes the ghosts and “ghostesses” commenced their
performances. Among the multitude of voices we readily recognized
those of Mr. Thompson and others. Old gentlemen and ladies, young
men and maidens, and little children, met on a common level, each
apparently vieing with each other in the amount of noise they could
make. As they ran back and forth from room to room, out doors and
in, it made the old house shake from cellar to garret. When heavy
men, worth four or five hundred thousand dollars, “come down,” it
makes things jar! Our relative position was such that we could hear
all that was said and done, in all parts of the house, and finding sleep
impossible, we sat up and enjoyed the entertainment, which closed
about midnight!
How They Get There
The approach to the Deserted Village from the south, though not
easy, is something more than the simple trail over which we had come,
consisting of a very rough wagon road, suitable only for buckboards
constructed expressly for the purpose. This road leads by “Tahawus,”
178
The Adirondack Club lease was actually for twenty years.
330
the lower works, where there is a post office, via Minerva to
Pottersville, about 35 miles. As the road approaches civilization of
course it improves. Pottersville is only 4½ miles from the Adirondack
Railroad. We believe another road leads down Boreas river about the
same distance, connecting with the railroad at its terminus at North
Creek. The Deserted Village is 96 miles from Saratoga.
Ramble About the Village
Half a day was none too long for seeing the sights. The village
instead of wearing the dingy appearance which one expects to see
about an iron manufactory is remarkably picturesque and beautiful.
The broad street running through the center is level and converted
into a beautiful lawn. Everything indicates that the company spent
their money freely. The houses, barns and all other buildings are
framed and clapboarded, houses lathed, plastered and painted on the
inside. One of the tenement houses appeared never to have been
occupied, and although it had stood there for twenty-five years, it
seemed to be in perfect order, the walls white, and the paint bright
and clean. Previous to the suspension of business they had made
arrangements to construct all their buildings of brick. The kiln, with a
large pile of brick ready for use may be seen in the distance. The
great furnace is perhaps the most interesting point. The roof, sides
and floors are decaying and falling in, but the massive stack stands
complete and apparently in good order. The four large bellows and
the ponderous water-wheel, together with the machinery, pipes, &c.,
remain precisely as they “stopped, never to run again.” Iron
implements, wheel-barrows, coal baskets, &c., lie around, as though
business had only been suspended for a few days for repairs! The
coal house is well stocked with probably two thousand bushels of
coal, which looked as fresh and bright as though just drawn, but the
crumbling roof and the long piles of decayed wood, covered with
moss, tell another story.
The old school house and church, a creditable structure, with
arched ceiling, remained in position till quite recently, when it was
removed to the brookside, under orders from the Adirondack club,
and fitted up as a propagating house in which to hatch fish for
stocking their lakes and ponds. About 75,000 were propagated last
year. Mr. Buttles superintends this business with much enthusiasm.
The desks, pulpit, seats, &c., of the old school house, remain in a
heap on the old site,179 the black board stands against the porch of the
hotel, the old bell hangs on a tree in front of it, and is used as a
179
The schoolhouse was immediately south of the “hotel” (clubhouse).
331
substitute for a gong, the public library, a very creditable one, graces
the hotel drawing room, the iron safe of the bank stands in the hall,
one of the business office desks stands under the barn shed — and
thus we might continue to produce this strange medley, but space
will not permit.
Live Moose
Among the improvements by the club is the introduction of
moose. Four yearlings were brought here from Maine two years ago.
Two died and two live, and are healthy, robust and fat. The male
stands about five and a half feet high at the shoulders, and weighs
about seven hundred pounds. They are very tame, and will eat from
your hand; but they have a very careless way of handling their feet
and ponderous horns, and persons too familiar with them are liable to
accident! Their pasture of forty acres, mostly forest, is enclosed by a
cedar log fence, about nine feet high. Whether the club can succeed
in populating the forests with moose is a problem yet to be solved.
Mountains Of Ore
We have never before seen a region where iron ore seemed to be
deposited with such lavishness. You kick it up by the roadside, dig it
out of embankments, break it off of huge, irregular rocks lying about
in the woods and fields. Openings have been made at various points
within a radius of three miles, all yielding richly. Iron appears to be
the predominating deposit, and crops out everywhere. In fact there
appears to be mountains of ore. Its quality is said to be superior.
Prospects for the Future
Whatever the death of Mr. Henderson may have had to do with
the suspension of the works, the real barrier to their success was their
inaccessible location, the extra cost of transportation eating up all the
profits. When this barrier is removed, by the construction of
railroads, as it inevitably will be, this will grow to be one of the great
manufacturing or mining centers of the country. The old company
did not fail, but simply stopped business. The property still remains
in the hands of the heirs, undivided.
Concerning Railroads
Railroads can not only be constructed to these works, but run
through the passes to Mount Marcy and the Ausable Ponds, and it is
not improbable that there may be living those who will hear the shrill
whistle of the steam engine as it sweeps through the Keene Flats
332
down the Valley of the Ausable.180 But it is hoped that before that
day shall arrive the State will have consummated the project of
The Adirondack Park
and rescued at least thirty miles square of this wilderness from the
relentless grasp of business speculation. Certain southern portions of
this region are already in the hands of the State, but the most valuable
belongs to private parties, who will not part with it without a
consideration. It is the legitimate sphere of the State to promote the
common good, and an act appointing appraisers to place a valuation
upon such property and purchase it for the State, would be in order, the
same as is done in locating a railroad. Such steps as these will have to
be resorted to before the project of a State Park can be made to
succeed, and they can not be taken too soon.181 Instead of becoming a
burden it may be a source of income to the State. Building lots and
hotel sites may be sold or leased, and other charges made for special
privileges. There is no reason why Adirondack Park may not be made
to attain not only a national but world wide reputation.
Indian Pass
On the 15th we started northward in the direction of Indian Pass.
A row of two miles over Lake Henderson, a walk of four miles
through a heavy forest, up an easy grade, and we arrived at the
opening of the pass. Then came a mile or more of the hardest
climbing that we experienced in the Adirondacks, not excepting the
ascent of Mount Marcy. It is over a spur of Mount McIntyre, running
down to the base of Wall Face. This mountain spur is literally
covered with huge, irregular fragments of rock, many of them twenty
or thirty feet in height, thrown in promiscuously, as if by some great
convulsion. They do not seem to belong to the mountain proper, and
the query naturally arises, where did they come from and how did
they come here? They are thrown together in the most fantastic
shape, forming caverns and castles, and arched ways, and anything
you have a mind to imagine. We climb up, over, around, between,
and under these great, sharp rocks, frequently obscured from the sun.
The air grows chilly, and you realize that you are coming into the
180
This was not the only time folks have talked about building roads over the Great
Range. Sixty years later, in 1939, North Elba Supervisor Willis Wells put forth the
idea of building a road through the Indian Pass, connecting the Upper Works and the
Adirondack Lodge. He won support from the Essex County Board of Supervisors, but
the idea went no further.
181
In 1920, the state used eminent domain to take substantial acreage around Lake
Colden from the Tahawus Club, successor to the Adirondack Club.
333
region where it is claimed there is perpetual ice. We think the claim
is well founded, for this has been an uncommonly dry season, and
the mountain air seldom as warm, yet we found quite a quantity of
ice in one of the deep recesses among the rocks.
Summit Rock
At the summit of the pass, 2,937 feet above tide, a large,
projecting rock affords a commanding view. Before you rises the
solid, naked masonry of Wall Face, over thirteen hundred feet in
height, not only perpendicular, but the top actually arching over the
narrow ravine at its base. Somewhere in this ravine, in which little
can be seen but rock fragments, the waters of the Hudson, and of the
west branch of the Ausable part company, the former forming Indian
Pass brook, emptying into Lake Henderson, which can be distinctly
seen through the gorge, and the latter flowing down into North Elba.
The descent into North Elba is rather more gradual, and after
proceeding about five miles we come to a point where a new trail
leads off two miles and a half to the newly projected resort known as
Adirondack Lodge
concerning which we have heard many comments. It is located on
Clear Pond,182 five miles south of the main road leading through
North Elba to Keene, the great thoroughfare to which we made
reference at the beginning of this article. Reaching Clear Pond, on
the opposite side from the Lodge, a few shouts brought out Mr.
Trudo with his boat, and we soon found ourselves seated in his
commodious cabin, around a rousing fire, and we felt that the tramp
was substantially over. Mrs. Trudo was not long in preparing an
excellent trout supper, to which we did not have to be called but
once. After supper we took a survey of the Lodge, which is in
process of construction. It consists of a monstrous log structure,
similar to the Leggett House at Lake Placid,183 only on a still larger
scale. The logs have been selected and laid up with great care, and it
is evidently intended to make it very attractive. The partitions are not
in, so that we can tell little of its intended arrangement. It will
probably not be finished this season.
182
Today known as Heart Lake.
The Leggett log house on the west shore of Placid Lake, called Castle Rustico, had
been opened earlier that summer (1879) as a hotel for artists, writers and theater
people. In Stoddard’s 1880 guidebook, the hotel directory listed Castle Rustico by the
name of “Pa-Noo-Ka.” The Leggetts ceased operating Castle Rustico as a public
hostelry in 1888.
183
334
This is the property of a Mr. Vanhovenburg,184 of New York,
who hopes to make it a popular resort. Trails will be made to the
summits of McIntyre and Marcy, and other steps taken to render it a
convenient point for tourists.
A walk of five miles the next morning, over a good wagon road,
brought us to the Ames House,185 where we took the first stage for
Keene, via the Edmund’s Pond route, of course.186 Arriving at Keene
at four in the afternoon, we found the balance of our family, who had
driven down from Beede’s, ready with horse and carriage to start on
our homeward journey.
Table of Distances
Having completely swung around the circle, we give below a table
of distances as near as can be ascertained, beginning at Keene Village:
To Keene Flats, drive................................................................ 3 miles
Beede’s, drive ........................................................................... 4 miles
Lower Ausable Pond, go as you please..................................... 4 miles
Across pond, in boat, ................................................................ 2 miles
Upper Ausable Pond, on foot......................................................1 mile
Trumbull’s Camp, in boat ......................................................... 2 miles
Head of lake, in boat ...................................................................1 mile
Head of Cold Slew Trail, in boat ........................................... 1½ miles
Panther Gorge, on foot.............................................................. 4 miles
Summit Camp, on foot........................................................... 1½ miles
Top of Marcy, on foot................................................................½ mile
Lake Colden, on foot................................................................. 7 miles
Calamity Pond, on foot ............................................................. 3 miles
Deserted Village, on foot .......................................................... 4 miles
Head of Lake Henderson, in boat.............................................. 2 miles
Foot of Indian Pass, on foot ...................................................... 4 miles
Through Indian Pass, on foot .................................................... 2 miles
Adirondack Lodge, Clear Pond, on foot ................................ 5½ miles
Ames’, North Elba, on foot....................................................... 5 miles
Keene Village, stage ............................................................... 10 miles
Complete circuit...................................................................... 67 miles
184
Henry Van Hoevenberg, who actually came from Troy, not New York City. “Mr.
Van” completed the Adirondack Lodge the next summer, in 1880. An investment
company took it over in 1898; two years later, it was bought by the Lake Placid Club.
The original Adirondack Lodge burned in the mammoth firestorm of 1903.
185
Known earlier as Scott’s for its proprietor, Robert Scott, who passed the lodge on to
his adopted daughter Martha and her husband, Mose Ames. The inn was also known
as Mountain View House.
186
Another road also ran from North Elba to Keene, but it had been bypassed twenty
years earlier by the road past Edmund’s Pond[s], now known as the Cascade Lakes.
335
DOCUMENT TW ENTY-FOUR
Why the Wilderness is
187
Called Adirondack (1885)
The Origin of the Great Name of the Adirondacks
188
HENRY DORNBURGH
Following the Hudson river from Albany up to its source you go
to Fort Edward, Sandy Hill, Glens Falls, Luzerne, North Creek and
Newcomb and at the last named place, a short distance above the
bridge crossing, there are two streams or branches of the Hudson,
one to the left the other to the right. The one to the right is the main
branch. About seven miles up this stream you come to what is called
Tahawus where the company, which I will mention hereafter, built a
dam. Five miles above the dam is Lake Sanford, while just below the
lake is the east and main branch of the river. This stream has its
source at Mount Tahawus or Mount Marcy, 5,200 feet above the sea.
There are several streams before you reach Mount Marcy or the
Avalanche lake stream, named after an avalanche that took part of
the mountain side with it into the lake. Just below this lake is where
the dam was built to turn the water into the west branch for
manufacturing purposes. From Sanford lake up the river three miles
you come to Lake Henderson, named after the late David Henderson,
of Jersey City. About half way between these two lakes is the deposit
of iron and steel ore found by the Indians. They gave it the name of
Adirondack and afterwards it became the property of the Adirondack
iron company. Between the bold mountain peaks stands the deserted
village known as the Old Adirondack village, whose site was
selected by Archibald McIntyre, of Albany, and Judge McMartin, of
Broadalbin. The names of these gentlemen will frequently appear in
this description of the Adirondacks. There is where the company
started a wooden frame railroad, three miles of which they built, and
187
Dornburgh contends that the Adirondacks, as a region, was named after Archibald
McIntyre’s Adirondack Iron & Steel Company — but the facts indicate that it was
probably the other way around. It was state geologist Ebenezer Emmons who, in his
1838 report, first referred to the group of mountains near the McIntyre iron works as
“the Adirondacks.” It was not until the following year that McIntyre incorporated his
iron works under the name “Adirondac[k] Iron & Steel Company.”
188
First published serially in the Glens Falls Daily Times, 1885, and later that year in
pamphlet form (Glens Falls, N.Y.: Job Dept., Daily Times, 1885). The text here,
which came from a serialized republication of Dornburgh’s pamphlet that appeared in
the Ticonderoga [N.Y.] Sentinel in March and April 1941, was compared with an
edited reprinting of the pamphlet published in 1980 by Harbor Hill Books of
Fleischmanns, N.Y.
336
then abandoned it as they found it was a poor investment. The road
was projected by Israel Johnson and they intended to build it to the
state road leading from Glens Falls to Elizabethtown. This was the
starting point of all the Adirondack names. In the year 1822, the
Indians traveling through the wilderness from Lake George to Keene,
following the course of the streams and rivers, discovered a large
vein of ore running across the North river where the old deserted
village now stands. The Indians on their way through to Keene189 by
way of the Indian pass, or upon their arrival at Keene, found a forge
owned by Archibald McIntyre in full blast making iron. Looking at
the ore and then at the iron they saw how it was converted from the
raw material into iron. They concluded to inform Mr. McIntyre of
their discovery of an ore bed directly across the Hudson, and they
gave such glowing descriptions of it that Mr. McIntyre was induced
to return with them and examine the ore and its magnitude and
location.190 Arriving at the place, he found the bed of ore, upon
examination, was as valuable as the Indians had represented, and
paying them for their services he dismissed them. Steps were
immediately taken to secure the land and Mr. McIntyre, having been
comptroller of the state, was conversant with the wild lands and
therefore knew how to locate. This was done by buying two
townships, 46 and 47, Totton and Crossfields purchase, Essex
county, New York. The ore at Keene not being valuable, Mr.
McIntyre abandoned that enterprise and associating with him Judge
McMartin, of Broadalbin, commenced operations in 1826 at this new
field by erecting a forge and building suitable for separating ore, and
also erected a log building to accommodate their men. This ore was
worked for several years when Judge McMartin died, and after that a
new firm was organized, Mr. McIntyre associating with him David
Henderson, of Jersey City, and Archibald Robinson, of Philadelphia.
The new firm went to work with great zeal, built fires and hammers,
and made iron after the primitive method, using a forge and charcoal
for smelting the ore and settling the melted ore in the bottom of the
forge hearth into a loop. This loop was then taken out, put under a
large hammer called a shingling hammer, and after being shingled
into a loop it was heated again and put under a smaller hammer when
it was drawn out into bar iron. They labored with the forge a few
189
North Elba, the site of Archibald McIntyre’s Elba Iron Works, was part of Keene
township until 1850. The works operated until 1817.
The discovery of the Adirondac ore bed occurred in 1826, not 1822. McIntyre’s
iron works in Keene township (North Elba) had been closed for nine years (since
1817), but a group of McIntyre colleagues had been sent to the defunct Elba Iron
Works to search the vicinity for a lost silver lode. McIntyre himself was not present;
the party was led by David Henderson, who later became McIntyre’s son-in-law.
190
337
years and, finding the ore very good and their forge too slow a
process, they concluded to build a furnace. David Henderson being
appointed principal manager of the firm in 1838, they built a quarter
furnace. In digging for the foundation they came to a rich ore bed
and the old ruins are yet standing upon the ore bed. This furnace
proved a success. Previous to this, however, in 1837, they built a
puddling furnace and did a large amount of labor in all needful
branches prepared expressly for making bar iron. At and a little
before this time they made roads to Schroon river by way of the
branch, their iron being hauled thirty-six to forty miles to Lake
Champlain. Mr. Henderson made large experiments with the iron to
convert it into steel. In the iron he found a good steel property, his
experiments proving so successful that they concluded to make
preparations for the manufacture of steel. Mr. Henderson then made
a trip to England expressly for the purpose of consulting and making
arrangements with some person who understood steel making, and
going direct to the great Sheffield Steel and Cutlery works made his
wants known to one of the principal foremen of the Sheffield
company, named Pixley. Mr. Henderson informed him that he
desired to manufacture steel in America, having a good iron for the
purpose located in a dense wilderness and surrounded with an
abundance of wood, and that his company wanted to establish a steel
and cutlery works for the manufacture of large and small articles. He
also stated to Mr. Pixley that they wanted to make steel with
charcoal, but, this being a new theory to Mr. Pixley, he replied that it
would be new to him, but he would make experiments and report to
him. Mr. Henderson left Sheffield, feeling much elated over his
success in enlisting Mr. Pixley in the scheme and immediately
returned to America to await the result of Mr. Pixley’s experiments.
After several months had expired Mr. Pixley wrote to Mr. Henderson
that he had made the experiments with charcoal and found them
successful. After this favorable report the Adirondack company
concluded to make all needed arrangements for establishing an
extensive cutlery works in the Adirondacks. They went directly to
work and built a costly dam across the Hudson river, ten miles below
their iron works, which they named Tahawus, after one of the great
mountains. This was to be called the Tahawus Steel and Cutlery
works. In the meantime they built a large boarding house while
working upon the dam; previously they had constructed a log
boarding house. They built a saw mill and dock for landing their iron
from the upper works immediately. The two places were called the
upper and lower works and go by these names. The dam flowed the
water in Lake Sanford and raised the lake four feet, covering a level
338
tract of land for the space of five miles before reaching the lake. This
gave it an increase of additional water. The length of the lake is
about four miles. By this dam the company were enabled to use
boats. They built boats, floated iron to their lower dock from the
upper dock and wood and coal from the lower dock, to be used in
their blast and puddling furnaces. Mr. Pixley came to America,
landing at Jersey City, and he and Mr. Henderson made a trip to the
Adirondack iron works and contemplated steel works. Mr. Pixley
gave plans for all necessary buildings to carry on the operations
successfully, and the plans were duly made.
Mr. Pixley, after the accomplishment of this much of the work,
returned to England and three or four months later he wrote to Mr.
Henderson saying that he had devoted his time to making further
experiments with charcoal and had arrived at the conclusion that he
could not make steel with charcoal, and therefore abandoned the
project. This caused a stoppage of further operations at Tahawus and
notwithstanding a dam, boarding house, dock and large stone house
were built or in process of construction, the whole steel project came
to termination. Mr. Henderson said that the Sheffield company had
or must have made arrangements with Mr. Pixley not to come to
America and establish steel works; this was his supposition of Mr.
Pixley’s sudden change of mind. The Adirondack Iron company still
continued building and enlarging their old works and erected various
buildings until they had a small village, which is now known as the
“deserted village.” The Adirondack railroad derived its name from
this company, whence springs so many names of Adirondack. They
kept building and improving until 1843. In this year they required
more water in dry weather to propel their machinery, and as there
were two branches of the Hudson the company determined to build a
dam and divert the east branch into the west branch. They continued,
however, with a short supply of water until September, 1845, when
their engineer, Daniel Taylor, with whom they had discussed the
practicability of the idea, advised them to put the scheme into
execution. A party was formed consisting of Messrs. Henderson and
Taylor, Anthony Snyder, John Cheaney and a ten-year-old son of Mr.
Henderson, to search for a course to lead the water to their works,
and as they expected to camp out over night they carried knapsacks.
The distance between the two streams upon their route was six miles,
and about half way of this distance there was a small pond called the
duck hole. When the little party came in full view of it they
discovered a number of ducks in it, whereupon Mr. Henderson
remarked to John Cheany: “You take my pistol and kill some of
those ducks,” and he handed his pistol to Cheany. The balance of the
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party had gone to the head of the pond to start a fire preparatory for
dinner. John Cheany had advanced but a few yards upon the ducks
when they discovered his approach and flew out of range, and Mr.
Cheany then stepped up to Mr. Henderson and returned the pistol
which Mr. Henderson replaced in its sheath. Mr. Cheany knowing
there was an abundance of trout in the pond, concluded not to follow
up the ducks but catch some of the gamey fish, and preparing hook
and line he found a pole where he had caught hundreds of trout
before. He had just dropped the hook in the water when he heard the
report of a pistol, and looking in that direction he saw the party had
arrived at the head of the pond and also saw that Mr. Henderson was
in a stooping posture and that Messrs. Taylor and Snyder, who had
been in the vicinity gathering wood for the dinner fire, were at his
side. Mr. Cheany knew Mr. Henderson was shot by the movement he
made, and he ran to him as fast as possible. Upon arriving at Mr.
Henderson’s side the fallen man turned his eyes to him and said:
“John, you must have left the pistol cocked.” Mr. Cheany could
make no reply, not knowing but that might have been the case. Mr.
Henderson looked around and said: “This is a horrible place for a
man to die,” and then calling his son to him he gently said, “Archie,
be a good boy and give my love to your mother.” This was all he
said, although his lips kept moving for a few minutes as if in prayer,
and at the end of fifteen minutes from the time of being shot he
expired. The theory of the cause of the accident is as follows: Mr.
Henderson, it is supposed, took off his knapsack and laid it on a rock
and then unbuckled his belt, at the same time taking hold of the
muzzle of the pistol, and in laying it down on the rock he must have
struck the rock with the hammer which caused the discharge of the
weapon, and as the muzzle was pointing towards him the ball entered
his abdomen just below the navel, causing the fatal wound. The ball
in its passage made three holes through his shirt, which was in folds.
The party set to work to make a couch for the body, breaking balsam
boughs and laying them in a pile, and on this bed the lifeless remains
were placed. This done, Mr. Snyder returned to the village for help
and lights, knowing that by the time he returned it would be dark.
The balance of the party remained with the body. Upon his arrival in
the village Mr. Snyder was very cautious in stating his errand, and
picked his men judiciously, ordering them to prepare themselves
with lanterns, axes and tools to construct a bier to carry the remains
to the village. He also set men to work cutting out trees and bushes to
make a way for the corpse to be conveyed to the village, there being
but a narrow trail then, and the trail made by Mr. Snyder is now used
by tourists on their way to Mt. Marcy. The singularity of a body of
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men passing along the street with lighted lanterns in the day time and
carrying axes and other tools, naturally caused quite a sensation, and
the news of the accident soon spread, and it was soon known by the
company’s principal manager, Mr. Andrew Porteous, now of
Luzerne, Warren county, N.Y. Mrs. Henderson, Maggie, little Archie
and a nephew named David Henderson, were in the village at the
time, and Mrs. Henderson, accompanied by her daughter Maggie and
Mrs. Porteous, made her way into the street to ascertain the cause of
the commotion. Seeing Michael Laverty, the women caught hold of
him and insisted upon his telling them the cause of the unusual
proceeding, but the man was not disposed to give them any
information and evaded a direct answer, whereupon they laid hands
upon him and told him they would not let him go until he told them.
He then admitted that he believed that some of the men were hurt in
the woods, and Maggie immediately burst out crying, “Pa is shot, pa
is shot.” Woman’s instinct divined the mystery which the men had
been directed to preserve towards the women, and they knew it was
Mr. Henderson who had been shot, for if it had been any other in the
party, secrecy would not have been observed. When some of the men
arrived at the scene of the sad accident, they set to work preparing a
bier to lay the remains upon, while others made the path wider, so
that the transference of the corpse could be accomplished with
greater ease. Early in the morning the other party bringing the
remains, arrived at the village and men were set to work building a
rude coffin. These men were Spencer Eggerton, of Moriah, and the
writer of this article, and as the weather was very warm, speedy
despatch was required to hasten the remains to Jersey City before
decomposition set in. A despatch was sent to Russell Root, of Root’s
Center, Schroon river, requesting him to meet the party in charge of
the corpse at Mr. Wise’s shanty on the cartage road. The cartage road
being in course of construction, the remains were conveyed by team
from the village to Tahawus, where they were taken from this point
upon the shoulders of men to strike the cartage road. This occupied
all day as the party were obliged to move slowly upon a winter road
trail, and Mr. Wise’s shanty was not reached until daybreak, where
Root was waiting to conduct the party to Lake Champlain to take the
steamboat. The last carry was ten miles. The relatives of the deceased
immediately proceeded to Jersey City, to make the funeral
arrangements and despatches were sent to friends. Mr. Henderson’s
death was a sad blow to the Adirondack Iron company, as he was
their most influential man and he was also greatly missed by all
classes who had learned to love him, and for a few days all work was
suspended in the village. After Mr. Pixley’s failure to come and
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make steel, Mr. Henderson engaged in conversation with Joseph
Dixon, who was known in late years as Graphite Dixon, from his
being interested in the graphite works in Ticonderoga. In their
conversation Mr. Henderson stated the circumstances of their
disappointment in Mr. Pixley, whereupon Mr. Dixon told Mr.
Henderson that he could make steel, to which Mr. Henderson replied,
“If you can make steel you had better go to work.” “I have no means
to use for that purpose,” was Mr. Dixon’s rejoinder. “If you are sure
you can make steel,” said Mr. Henderson, “you may go to work for
us and you may have all the money you want and all the men you
want and all necessary materials you want.” Mr. Dixon resolved to
accept the offer and go to work. He commenced in the outskirts of
Jersey City and built a rude cementing furnace and this, being an
experiment, was upon a small scale. He put his iron bars in the
furnace leaving a place to extract a bar as the steel process
progressed. This was done by building the furnace as high as the
length of the bars required and within the furnace was a compartment
so constructed as to allow the heat to surround it. This compartment
was filled with charcoal and good common-bar iron and below was a
fire whose intense heat ignited the charcoal which burned in a
perpendicular trunk with ore. This cemented the bar into blister steel,
the charcoal carbonizing the iron. As this was successful, the next
step further was to build a melting furnace for the steel, but Mr.
Dixon was somewhat puzzled to devise the correct plan, but finally
he arranged it and commenced to build. He built his fire pit, got the
blast all ready, broke up the blister steel and put it into the crucibles,
kindled his fires, melted the steel, made his moulds and poured in the
steel, all of which were successful, except pouring the steel in flat
moulds, for when he put the iron under the hammer he found flaws
and long seams in his cast steel. This he thought he could obviate by
pouring the steel in the moulds endwise which would cause the air to
ascend in the moulds as fast as they filled. The process was a
revelation to the American people. Mr. Dixon having succeeded in
casting steel into coarse bars set about erecting suitable hammers for
working the steel into small bars.
Mr. Henderson about that time went to England and, proceeding
to Sheffield, he procured a tilter. How he ever induced him to come
to America Mr. Henderson never told, but it was probably the large
sum of money given the man that had the effect. With this
Englishman’s advice they were able to build a tilting hammer and
other necessary apparatus and the steel manufactured with their
improvements was of a good quality. This was the first cast steel
plant in America. After the Sheffield man was introduced in America
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it was an easy matter to get more experienced men and the works
were extensively enlarged and the business was very successful. This
elated Mr. Henderson, as he saw he had accomplished what he had
striven for. After a few years they required an expert clerk, whom
they found in James R. Thompson,191 who at the time was clerk at
the iron works. Mr. Thompson was young and possessed good
intellect and was quick to learn, and after assisting Mr. Dixon a few
years in the steel works he became manager of the works. At this
writing Mr. Thompson is making steel under the firm of J.R.
Thompson & Co. David Henderson in his earlier days was engaged
in the pottery business in Jersey City and his associate in that
enterprise was Mr. Gregory, of the same place. Mr. Henderson,
however, withdrew from the pottery business after engaging in the
iron and steel experiments. He married a daughter of Archibald
McIntyre, of Albany, and they had three children, two of them girls,
one Maggie, the other I never knew. The son was Archie already
mentioned. Maggie married George Gregory, of Jersey City. She
only survived her father a few years. Mrs. Henderson died broken
hearted a few years after her husband’s demise. Archie lived to be a
young married man, but died a few years after. The other daughter, it
is said, has also passed away, thus none of the family remain. Mr.
Henderson was a scientific man of more than ordinary attainments
and was not only one of the best financiers but was very
accomplished and agreeable. He was always very pleasant with his
men and, as he was an excellent violinist, he often played while his
men indulged in a little dance. This manifestation of interest in them
won their friendship and his name will be revered by them as long as
life lasts. The day of the calamity still seems fresh with many. It was
a day of great mourning in the wilderness and it will be a long time
before such a day of mourning will again take place in the
Adirondacks. Had Mr. Henderson lived, in all probability, the
Adirondacks would have flourished with iron and steel works second
to none on this continent. His whole energy was in that direction. He
remarked to the writer one day: “I have tested our iron ore for steel
and find it is adapted for it.” He knew there were millions of money
undeveloped in those mountains of ore, and when mountains are
mentioned here it is meant so in every sense of the word. Archibald
McIntyre in his early days located in the city of Albany, where he
lived and reared a family. For a number of years he was comptroller
of the state of New York. At that time there arose a controversy
between Mr. McIntyre and a man by the name of Fox. Charges were
191
Great-nephew of Archibald McIntyre, and nephew of David Henderson.
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brought against Mr. McIntyre and a long dispute ensued, which was
published in pamphlet form, and it resulted in victory for Mr.
McIntyre, who refuted all the charges. This was very satisfactory to
the people of the state, as he being a wealthy man wielded a large
influence. He carried on a lottery, and Mr. Henderson was associated
with him. In the last year when lotteries were permitted in the state,
Mr. McIntyre offered the state $50,000 for the privilege of
conducting the lottery one year longer after the state had put a stop to
them. It was reported that they carried lotteries into other states and
this may have been one of their sources of wealth. Mr. McIntyre
survived Mr. Henderson seven or eight years.192
Mr. Archibald Robinson,193 who was located at Philadelphia,
was extensively engaged in mercantile business and was a leading
and controlling merchant, and possessed of large wealth. Mr.
Robinson said the Adirondack works had always been a financial
draft upon them, but it never seemed to lessen their wealth. Mr.
Robinson died a few years ago.194 In former years, when in full blast,
J. R. Thompson was clerk under Mr. Porteous, the great manager,
and after J. Thompson went to Jersey City, Robert Clark, of
Cincinnati, was clerk. He remained a few years and returned home.
Next and last was Alexander Ralph, now of Pottsdam, he being chief
manager after Mr. Porteous left. J. R. Thompson was the original
clerk under A. Porteous. He was a young man at this time and made
the little valley ring with his Scotch songs, and the laborers after their
days’ work would collect around him and urge upon him the
expansion of his lungs. When once started it was so easy for him he
would amuse them with songs late in the evening. J. R. Thompson,
Robert Clark and Alexander Ralph, were nephews of the company.
After Mr. Porteous, the company employed Mr. Ralph and assigned
the entire charge of the works to him until the death of Mr. Robinson,
when all work ceased. Before the death of the two last gentlemen
they sold the entire property to what was called the Curtis company,
conditionally for five hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The new
company paid eighty thousand dollars down and took possession.
This was at the time the large new furnace was completed. The new
firm agreed to pay a further sum at a specified time; if they failed to
comply with the terms, and the contract to be rescinded, the old
192
Archibald McIntyre died in 1858, thirteen years after David Henderson’s death.
Archibald Robertson, nephew of Archibald McIntyre, brother-in-law of David
Henderson.
194
Like Archibald McIntyre, Archibald Robertson died in 1858. It was their passing
that precipitated the final closure of the Adirondack Iron & Steel Company’s
operations.
193
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company retaining power to seize all iron made by said new firm
upon the premises and upon its way to market. The new company
failed. Their outside manager was Benjamin Butler, of Luzerne. As
soon as the second installment became due, the old company
assumed control again. The laborers under the new company having
trouble in getting their pay, Messrs. McIntyre and Robinson ordered
their agent, A. Ralph, to ascertain the amount due the laborers, and
pay them seventy-five cents on the dollar. This being done, the men
kept on working. I will speak of the bank located in the heart of the
Adirondacks. When in full blast the outlay of the company was so
great they concluded to establish a bank, which being done they
named it the McIntyre bank, with bills redeemable at Albany. They
built a small banking house and stocked it with the bills. The bank
created a large circulation of money, as there were in their
employment in those years three or four hundred men. This number
of men made a large circulation of the bills in every direction, from
Albany to Canada, from the Adirondacks to all the cities. The bank
was kept up but a few years and called in all of its bills and redeemed
them. The Essex county assessors assessed the bank so high that Mr.
McIntyre concluded it was cheaper to do their banking at Albany,
and avoid the enormous assessment imposed upon them. And right
here a word to assessors. Do not be too avaricious and step too far
with companies by way of extortion; a judicious assessment is
always recommended. In this case it proved to be a detriment to
Essex county and its tax-payers. In their early days they did a small
amount of business through Joseph Frost, of Breadport, Vt. Their
principal, A. Porteous, had a chief order dispatcher in the person of
Peter Daugherty, of the town of Minerva. Peter was often detailed to
run, even at short notices, and a large share of the time was upon
foot, as in this early stage of their business roads were in bad
condition. Peter was in the habit of having frequent calls by night as
well as by day. A companion accompanied him one time part of the
way over the Boreas mountain. He had orders to go to Port Henry
and started about three or four o’clock in the afternoon upon his
mission, going by the way of the old state road that went through the
wilderness from Cedar Point to Carthage. He went by way of Israel
Johnson’s, who resided then at Clear Pond upon this road. Darkness
overtook Peter as he was ascending the Boreas mountain and the
road ran over an arm of the mountain. All of a sudden he was startled
by a sharp shrill sound, so shrill that he was frightened, not knowing
what animal it might be, and he thought of returning, but the thought
struck him that returning was as hazardous as to continue, so he
made a halt for reflection. To his surprise he realized that he had
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neither gun, knife or matches. His first impulse had been to start a
fire, but this being a failure he concluded to continue upon his
journey. He now heard footsteps to his right very near the road, now
in front of him, now in the rear, now upon the opposite side, then
another screech, this being so near him as to cause his hair to stand
erect. Not knowing what to do, Peter concluded to expand his lungs
by screeching as loud as he could, thinking it might intimidate the
animal which by this time he had learned was a panther which would
like to make his acquaintance. The thought of a panther then and
there in the night and no relief, impelled him to continue his journey,
and encounter what might happen. There came another frightful
screech as if calling for help, and another screech from Peter with
well filled lungs, with his hand up to his head to push his hat down to
keep it from falling off, as his hair was uplifted. The panther still
kept him company and Peter heard him upon one side, then in front,
keeping this up continually, and so near he could hear the leaves and
little twigs break under the beast’s feet. Again came the screech from
the panther followed by Mr. Daugherty, as usual, and their
companionship lasted until they descended the mountain. Finally the
animal’s footsteps could not be heard, as there was nothing to
indicate his absence, only an occasional screech in the distance, and
Mr. Daugherty’s hat assumed its wonted position. Mr. Daugherty is a
person not easily frightened but he made his way with quick steps for
Mr. Johnson’s and put up for the night.
Mr. Johnson had cleared land and had built a sawmill, it being a
convenient place for the company and their men to camp. Mr.
Daugherty has often spoken of his fright, with his night companion
in the Adirondacks. I have mentioned John Cheany, as one of the
party who were at the death of Mr. Henderson. John was their guide
and was a great favorite of the company, always ready with dog, gun
and fishing rod and he was styled the “mighty hunter,” on account of
his success in the capture of deer and trout. John was loved and
esteemed by all. The company paid his board by the year, when he
was not at their boarding house. In those days deer and trout could be
caught in abundance and John was the principal guide, and if parties
intended to visit any of the mountains John was the man chosen for
guide, being acquainted with all the high mountains. The company
thought so much of him they made him a donation of a farm, about
one mile from Tahawus, upon the road leading from Adirondack to
Schroon river. Here he built a house and married Lucina Bissell, of
Newcomb, reared a family of two sons and died a few years since. At
the yearly arrival of the company, they usually brought a minister
and doctor with them from the city. Mr. Henderson usually brought
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Mr. Johns, of Jersey City, with him and he gave them a sermon every
Sabbath, but there was not much call for doctors, as the place was a
healthy one and the air very bracing among the Adirondacks. Mr.
McIntyre usually had his family physician, named McNorton, go up
to the mountains with him. Mr. McNorton married Mr. McIntyre’s
daughter and was located at Albany. He is now dead. I recollect at
one of their visits to this place they had a call for a doctor.
The company reared a bull from a calf and he was annoyed by
the men who plagued him at times. When three years old he would
turn aside with reluctance for any person. There were three men
raising ore at the river bed — a father and two sons. The father’s
name was Alexander Thompson, the eldest son’s name Andrew and
the youngest Alexander. Andrew had occasion one day to go down to
the blacksmith shop for repairs upon his drills, and after the repairs
he was on his return to the mine. When near the mine he met the bull
and the bull did not care to leave the road. Andrew went for him with
the drill and this caused the bull to show fight. Andrew thought he
could frighten him, but this he could not accomplish and the bull
made for him. Andrew was compelled to retreat, with the bull
following, and Andrew swinging the drill was compelled to drop all
the tools he had and use one drill to the best advantage he could, and
all the while on the retreat by backing up. By this time he had backed
up to a stump and sprang behind it, the bull following him around the
stump. This point was opposite the bed. The bull made a desperate
drive for him and struck him with one of his horns in his rear and
planted one horn into him, throwing him up in the air. This caused
Andrew to plunge for a small perpendicular rock caused by blasting
ore, some fifteen feet high. His father and brother saw what was
going on and met the bull as he made his way around the ledge upon
a keen run to meet Andrew. Father and brother pelted the animal
with chunks of ore, but to no purpose, and they could not turn him.
Andrew ran for the river, where there was a large pile of floodwood
that had been accumulating for years. He made for this and
succeeded in getting upon the pile before the bull could reach him.
The bull had followed him to the brink of the river and dare not make
the leap Andrew had, and he exhibited his disappointment by
bellowing and started on a full run which attracted the attention of
father and brother. After they saw that Andrew was safe, Alexander
ran down to the village for help and, procuring several men, they
went back and drove the bull away. I went to the floodwood and
helped the wounded man down. He was conducted to the boarding
house and the doctors were summoned, Doctors McNorton and
James McIntyre, son of Archibald. They dressed his wound and in a
347
few months Andrew was able to resume work. (I can call to mind a
Dr. Goodale who was located in the village in after years and kept
school and attended sick calls when such occurred.) This was the
first gladitorial exhibition in all the Adirondacks, but it was not
witnessed by so many spectators as at the coliseum in Rome when a
prisoner was condemned to death. Andrew for a time was a prisoner
by the two horned animal. In connection with this circumstance I will
mention an incident that took place early one Monday morning,
about breakfast time. Some time previous to this morning the boys
got to bragging of superior strength. There was a large force of Irish
and French laborers in the business and this bragging was indulged in
on Sunday and the challenge given for Monday morning. Monday
morning came and the French champion arrived early. He was a
good sized man, heavily built and of good muscular development.
The champion on the opposite side was an Irishman, named Henry
Pratt. A ring was formed in the street and both contestants were
willing and sure of success. George Bibby, of the town of Chester,
Warren county, was selected as referee. No intruders dare to
approach inside the circle and good order was preserved. The bout
opened with sparring and continued for a few rounds, but no
scientific work was exhibited. They seemed bent upon taking
advantage of each other and were wary. Pratt saw his opportunity
and, getting his antagonist down, a few blows followed and the
Frenchman gave up. This contest aroused Andrew Porteous from his
morning slumbers and he made his appearance in the street and
dispersed the crowd. This little battle ended all difficulty between the
two factions.
Andrew Porteous was general manager for this company twelve
or fourteen years, and was a very successful manager. The company
had implicit confidence in his ability to handle their money and he
did all their banking business while the bank remained in the
Adirondacks. It may surprise tourists, when visiting the Adirondack
wilderness, to learn that there once existed a bank where the deserted
village now is. Seven years since I visited the village and everything
was in a dilapidated condition in the bank. The floor had fallen in,
and no desk or counter was there where hundreds of thousands of
dollars had passed over to the bank’s patrons. James R. Thompson
has a club formed, called the Adirondack club. They have repaired
two of the old buildings. They make this their summer resort and
have established private fishing ponds. Mr. Thompson has personal
control of this vast estate. The club has established a fish hatchery
here where they hatch millions of trout for their fish preserves and
occasionally they give passes to some of their friends who wish to
348
catch trout. These passes are presented to Myron Buttles who now is
superintendent for J. R. Thompson and the club. Three or four years
since the club introduced three moose from Maine into the
Adirondacks and built a park of cedar logs, expressly for the purpose
of raising moose, but the animals did not do well and died. The close
confinement did not agree with them. David Hunter, who lives at
Tahawus, has charge of this portion of the old property. He also
keeps the postoffice at this place, where all mail stops for the
deserted village. J. R. Thompson has sold the standing timber upon
Township forty-seven to Messrs. Finch, Pruyn & Co., of Glens Falls,
who are now cutting off all valuable lumber and floating it down the
river to Glens Falls, where they have extensive saw mills. From the
deserted village you travel by way of Calamity pond to Avalanch
lake, thence up the Opal stream to the foot of Mt. Marcy, which is
the father of the Adirondacks. Looking from this point, your eyes
take all the minor mountains in and it is like taking wax balls of
different sizes and, standing at a slight distance, throwing them
against a large one, all around, one above another, and you then have
a facsimile of the Adirondacks. Some of the prominent ones are as
follows: First is Mt. Santinony, a mountain five miles long, but not as
high as some others; Mt. McIntyre, named after Mr. McIntyre; Mt.
Saddleback, Mt. Boreas, Mt. Allayn, Mt. Bason, Mt. Redfield, Mt.
Skylight, Mt. Elk, Woolf-paw mountain. Then there are the Boreas,
the North river, and the Keene ranges. These mountains have large
water sheds at their bases and in the spring of the year the streams
are very much swollen, which gives plenty of water for lumbermen
to float their logs down the Hudson.
At the time the state located our prison at Clinton we had a
commissioner appointed to look at the two locations. He came to the
Adirondack works, looked over the property and examined the
quality of the ore. This was all satisfactory to his mind, but the
distance to get the iron to market was the great obstacle in the way,
for about forty-eight or fifty miles to haul iron upon wagons was too
much of an expense. He was of the opinion that some day the state
would need this property, but at the present time he must recommend
Clinton, as it was a shorter distance to market. Now that we need
more room for our prisoners and larger fields of ore, the state would
be very much benefitted by utilizing this place as a basis of
operations. The state is coming into possession of a large proportion
of the Adirondacks by reason of non-payment of taxes, and as we
become owners of land in the immediate surroundings of the
deserted village, it being the wishes of a large proportion of the
inhabitants of the state to become owners of this valuable property,
349
here we could have iron, steel and cutlery works erected as
contemplated by the late David Henderson. The ore has been tested
for steel and has proven to be all that is required. I have refined
hundreds of tons of this iron and have found it good. The Adirondack
Iron company have had razors made from this ore, also knives and
other edge tools. John Daugherty, of Minerva, was sent to New York
city and had some of the steel made into razors and they bore, a
remarkable edge. This was after the death of Mr. Henderson. A
Porteous, who was manager at the time, caused this experiment of
edge tools to be made, and various edge tools were made at their
works by their blacksmiths. Samuel Sanders, now of Schroon Lake,
made various edge tools while at work for the company, he being an
expert workman. I have settled this theory in my mind several years
ago, and I came to the conclusion, when our commissioner made his
report in favor of Clinton, we, as a people of the state, had made a
great mistake. I would recommend a renewal of the examination and
locate where the state can control a wealth of millions of dollars now
undeveloped. The distance now from railroad is only thirty-seven
miles, at a point called North Creek, to the old works. The state could
build a branch road from this point up the Hudson to the deserted
village. I desire to call the attention of our legislators to this most
important subject, and establish works that will be equal to the
Sheffield works and name it Adirondack Prison works. There is no
necessity now of going to England for laborers to manufacture steel,
as we have our own workmen who can perform its required duties. A
few hundred thousand dollars expended would put the state in
possession of millions of dollars in return. Let us consider the subject
and see if the state cannot come into possession of the Adirondacks,
a name that is on the lips of all tourists who travel in the wilderness.
There would be great rejoicing if the state gained possession of this
property by all persons knowing its value. Meyer Rerdeau, of Troy,
made experiments with a small vein in Minerva, but failed to find
any quantity of ore and abandoned the operation. This was a small
out-cropping of the Adirondack ore drifted in this direction. It is
always remarkable that the old pioneers never reap any reward for
their toil — so with the Adirondack company. The great engineers in
the infancy of their work had to leave their associates to struggle for
but a short period, and they, too, followed in a short space of time
soon to be forgotten.
Where Mr. Henderson fell, a large monument has been erected
to his memory, and this monument will stand as long as the
Adirondacks. It was erected at a large expense and is very durable. I
might relate a good many incidents in connection with the history of
350
the old Adirondack Iron company and their mode of operation, but it
would not interest many who are not acquainted with the business or
its location and value. Who can comprehend this great force of mind,
so often hid and then developed by stirring energy such as I have
described concerning the three pioneers who toiled to develop the
great ore beds. This was food for deep reflection for Mr. Henderson
who, realizing the extent of the work before him, expected by great
energy to accomplish a great result. Alas! too soon was he required
to give up his great work by his untimely death at Calamity pond,
and not a male heir was there among the proprietors sons to step
forward and prosecute the undertaking so auspiciously begun by
those enterprising men.
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DOCUMENT TW ENTY-FIVE
The Forsaken Village (1896)
HENRY VAN HOEVENBERG
195
196
George Kendrick lay in his hammock that swung between two
tall spruce trees on the shore of a pretty Adirondack lake,
occasionally adding to the motion with his foot against a balsam
shrub that grew within reaching distance. From where he lay he
could look over across to the low foot hills and the higher spurs
beyond, ending at last in Tahawus, the giant of the Adirondacks. He
wondered what there was in that vast extent of forest; what lay in the
valleys beyond, and on the slopes of that great mountain? Yesterday,
in his city office sat clients and people waiting to see him on business
while half a score clerks drove busy pens I the room beyond. Today
not a murmur disturbed the stillness about save only the sound of the
wind among the upper branches of the pines and balsams. How could
there be a greater contrast, he thought to himself. One day nothing
but houses and a hustling throng; the next only trees and mountains
and the blue sky over all.
For three delicious lazy days he dozed in his hammock, waking
only for meals or to retire between the lavender-scented sheets of the
snug log house on the bank of the lake, presided over principally by
Mrs. Brown, a comfortable, motherly woman, who looked after her
guest on his annual trips with the interest and respect due to a great
city lawyer, assisted occasionally by her husband David as an
adjunct, between such times as he was not out in the woods chopping
or in the barn attending to the stock.
Something in the mountains beyond drew Kendrick as he looked
out. Was it that great immensity of shade, the cool smells of the
forest, the damp, soft moss, the great logs and trees that he knew
filled that stretch of mountains and woodland? The fourth day the
call of the woods was irresistible. He sought out the man of the
house.
“David!” he said, “I want to get off in the woods and I want to
go alone. I suppose I shall get lost of course, but you will find me
195
Published in Stoddard’s Northern Monthly, June 1906 (Volume 1, Number 2), pp.
81-86. A detail embedded in the story places the story’s composition in 1896.
196
“The Forsaken Village” was loosely adapted from the history of Archibald
McIntyre’s Upper Works. Van Hoevenberg’s tale may well have been inspired by a
seminal ghost story told by his friend, Seneca Ray Stoddard. That story was based on
Stoddard’s first visit to the abandoned village of Adirondac, in 1870, when the Hunter
family allowed him and his traveling companion to spend the night in one of the
hamlet’s deserted houses.
352
without any difficulty if that should happen?” David gave a hearty
laugh.
“There isn’t much danger of it for a man with the common sense
you have, Mr. Kendrick,” he said. “These mountains all slope to the
northeast. If a man loses his way, all he has to do is to find the
nearest stream and follow it down. Within three hours it will cross a
road or run into the river. Now, when either of those things happen, I
suppose you will know what to do and where to go, won’t you?”
“I certainly will,” said Kendrick. “And now if you will ask Mrs.
Brown to put me up food enough for perhaps two days, I think I’ll
start.”
Half an hour later he disappeared up a woodroad leading to the
southwest, for in that direction seemed the promise of the thick
forest. Presently the road ended at a point where a number of trees
had been felled. Beyond this point ran a trail which in time lost itself
by the side of a stream. Kendrick did not care, however; he wandered
in the same general direction as near as he could tell, crossed over a
high spur and down on the other side, traversed a level plateau, then
climbed another long hill; getting farther and farther as the ground
rose into the deep, rich forest that he had so longed for. He enjoyed it
all — the smell of the woods, the great tall spruces, the fragrant,
feathery balsams, the white birches, the rugged maples. All seemed
like old friends to welcome him again. He could have hugged the
trees, they seemed so near akin. He stopped to eat a little of his
luncheon among his forest friends, then went on again until in time
he came to a slope that undoubtedly led to water. Occasionally he
could see the opposite side of the little ravine descending toward him
and he reasoned that there must be a stream at the bottom of it; but
when he arrived at the lowest point he found to his surprise that there
was none. Here had been one apparently at some time. Here was a
broad bed lined with rocks and water-worn stones. There, a little
higher up, had been a waterfall. The bottom was gullied, and worn
into rounded holes as if bored by some giant auger. He was puzzled.
His judicial instincts were aroused. As one whose business it was to
untangle problems he sought to know the reason. “What has become
of the water?” he asked himself. “Here are all arrangements made for
a handsome mountain brooklet and the season has been wet, but
where is the stream?” He continued on up the dry bed of the one-time
brook, scrambling from rock to rock, occasionally making little
detours into the forest until further progress was barred by a wall that
cut square across the way. It was singularly marked with vertical and
horizontal lines of moss. He picked at the moss with the end of his
fishing rod and some fell off leaving a line of mortar exposed.
353
“Strange,” he mused to himself. “What on earth would anyone build
a wall for away off here in the depths of the forest — and across a
dry brook?” Yet wall it certainly was, and listening, he thought he
could hear the sound of water on the other side.
Determined to fathom the mystery, he climbed the bank on the
right. The mystery of the stone wall was revealed. Before him lay a
little lake. To the left a cut had been made in the hill and down this
the stream, deflected by the masonry, pursued its way. “What does
this mean,” thought Kendrick. “This is a work of no small magnitude
and must have been for some purpose.” A fallen tree formed a
convenient bridge by which he reached the opposite side, and
following the stream away from the dam he found an old road. There
were the ruts made by the wheels, with occasionally a deep hole
where a hoof had gone into the thick, black mud. He knew for a fact
that ruts made by wheels will remain in a road of this character for
years. Yet, between those parallel lines had grown up great balsam
and spruce trees.
Walking with some difficulty down the old road the explorer
came to a rectangular block covered with thick moss. A thrust from
his rod revealed the remains of a pile of cordwood. “Someone,” he
said to himself, “took a great deal of trouble to cut that wood and
cord it up.” Continuing, he picked his way carefully down the road
and to his great surprise discovered on the side away from the stream
the gable end of a two-story house. The house, although showing few
signs of decay, was evidently very old and from the second floor
window protruded a great white birch tree that had thrust its way
against the casing until it had drawn it askew. Farther on was the
gable of another house between the trees. “Seems to have been a
regular village,” said Kendrick to himself, continuing his way. One
house seemed in better repair than the others. It had a large, flat stone
in front with a little roof projecting over it. The door stood ajar.
There were the remnants of an oil cloth on the hall floor. A door at
the right, as he entered, opened with a loud squeak when he pushed
against it. He found himself in a room that had evidently been the
parlor. A moth-eaten Brussels carpet still upon the floor, a mahogany
centre table with books upon it and a jar that had sometime contained
flowers remained still. All were covered over with a thick coating of
dust. Pictures that had once hung on the walls now lay in fragments
on the floor. One had fallen against an old-fashioned mahogany
chair, the joints of which had come apart through the dampness of
the years gone by. It was as if its occupants had simply walked out
some day, long years ago, leaving everything as it was. The next
room entered had been the dining room. Here the furniture was in
354
order, though the floor was littered with twigs and leaves that had
drifted in through a broken window. Kendrick walked on into the
kitchen beyond. Here was an old cook stove, rusty and discolored,
and upon it a kettle in which was a rusty spoon. There were a couple
of tin basins on the table beyond, and, on the mantel piece, an oldfashioned, square clock, covered with cobwebs and dust. There was
something saddening about this lonely house with furniture intact
and wanting only its tenants. The puzzled visitor went out into the
cheering sunshine again and continued down the road. At the left, on
the bank of the stream, was a large two-story brick building, the roof
broken in and the windows sashless. It had evidently been a
manufactory of some kind. Over the gaping door in the gable was the
sign “No admittance except on business.” Across the road from this
was a square one-story building with “Office” over the door.
Kendrick pushed the door that opened on its complaining hinges and
found himself in a room divided in two parts by a mahogany railing.
All seemed in order though covered deep with dust. There was a tall,
old-fashioned desk of the sort that clerks could stand up to or sit at
by means of a long-legged stool. There was also a safe, lettered
across the front “Northwoods Iron & Steel Company.” Then the truth
dawned upon the visitor. He had stumbled upon an abandoned
village, of which there are a number in the Adirondacks, with their
crumbling forges thrown out of use by the falling price of iron. He
tried the door of the safe and it swung open at his touch, revealing
several books standing on end along its shelves. He pulled out one
enormous ledger and opened it. The first entries were in a scrawling
man’s hand, which later gave place to the small, neat writing in
vogue among women of a half century before. Turning the leaves
this, after a time, again gave place to the scrawling characters found
at first. Kendrick returned the book to the safe swung the door shut
and went out of the office. Turning to look he saw that a wild cherry
tree had thrust its way through a gaping crack in the sidewall of the
little building.
So interested had Kendrick been that he had not noted the
passing of time until he realized that it was growing dark. “Why,” he
mused, “It isn’t possible that night is coming on.” He looked at his
watch. It was after six o’clock! “What shall I do?” he said to himself.
“It is too late to go back now even if I wanted to — which I don’t. I
think I will go to that house with the stone porch and make myself
comfortable for the night.”
The lower floor of the house was damp, so climbing the squeaky
staircase, he entered one of the upper rooms that had a fireplace in it.
“This will do nicely,” he thought, and going into the woods he
355
gathered a store of twigs and birch bark, and soon had a fire roaring
up the old chimney. He drew up one of the broken chairs, stretched
out his legs and felt at ease with the world. He mused on his lonely
situation, thinking over the stretch of forest that separated him from
the nearest road and the nearest house, yet he was not uncomfortable
and there was something very satisfying about the situation. He was
the only occupant of a village once teeming with busy workers. Now,
deserted, desolate and old, it appealed strongly to his imagination.
After he had eaten his supper he grew sleepy and thought of bed.
In the corner of the room was an old-fashioned four-post bedstead
and on it a bed. He drew off the dusty patchwork coverlet and found
it tolerably dry. The fire had made the room comfortable. He threw
himself on the bed and soon dropped asleep. Rousing later he
wondered what it was that had awakened him. He sat up and listened.
It was intensely dark and about him such stillness as can be found
only in the depths of a great forest.
Suddenly a sound broke the silence! Was it a footstep? It seemed
hardly possible. He had noticed when he walked down the road that
the smooth expanses of sand and mud were unmarked by any foot
except that of the squirrel and the rabbit. Again, that sound! It was
like a human footfall! And there again! growing louder as if of
someone approaching! Nearer and nearer it came! Now it sounded on
the stone door-step, where it paused for an instant, then passed on
and grew fainter and fainter until it died away in the distance.
“Is it possible another stranger is here tonight?” thought
Kendrick. “Whoever he is, and dark as it is, he walks with an assured
step as though he knew the ground. I could not walk in the forest in
that manner at night, even with a light.”
Soon the silence was again broken. The sound came from a long
distance away — just on the verge of audibility. It grew louder and
louder. Though unhesitating it was the slow walk of one absorbed in
thought, not the brisk, swinging stride of the hunter or trapper. It
reached the stone doorstep and halted, then, instead of passing on as
before seemed to enter the hall, then could be heard as of one slowly
mounting the stairs that creaked beneath a heavy weight. There was
still a little light from the dying fire. Kendrick sat up. What would he
see? Even as he wondered there appeared in the door the tall form as
of an old but yet vigorous man. He looked at the fire, then all round
the room until his gaze rested on Kendrick sitting upright in the bed.
There was no surprise in his eyes, only listless wearied interest.
“Who are you,” he said, “that after fifty years breaks the silence
of my mountain home?”
356
Kendrick, confused, muttered some reply, adding that he had
been much interested in the deserted village, and that he would very
much like to know something of its history.
“There is no one who can tell you that better than myself,” said
the stranger wearily, then continued — “Listen! Seventy years ago an
Indian brought the news of the iron at this place. I came. I saw the
great vein of ore. I realized its value at once and the industry that
might result. It was I that raised the capital and built the forge. Here I
brought my wife and infant daughter. The village grew and
flourished. We made good iron and sold it — iron from which steel
for knives and razor blades could be made. Such iron was in demand
and the business increased. Then my wife died, leaving Mina to my
care alone. I educated her myself. As she grew older she took interest
in everything concerning the works. She soon took entire charge of
the books and left me free to attend to other matters. She grew into a
beautiful girl, did Mina, and here we lived happily together for many
years unto one fatal day there strolled into the place an artist, who
talked his nonsense about its being picturesque and beautiful. He
stayed and made drawings and paintings of the stream and the forest
while Mina watched him at this work. They must have been together
oftener than I suspected, for one day, to my unbounded surprise, he
told me he loved my daughter and wished to marry her. To marry my
little girl! It came upon me like a stroke of lightning. Marry my
Mina! my only companion, and take her away? Never! The idea was
not to be thought of for an instant. I fell upon the man with bitter
words, accusing him of stealing my daughter’s affections from me. I
ordered him to leave the place at once and set my superintendent to
watch him while he gathered his belongings together. He tried to
make excuse for remaining but I would listen to none. At last, with a
heart-broken look that I remembered afterwards, he went. He asked
permission to see Mina once before he went, but this I also refused.
Mina, after three days of wondering, did not know of his going. She
asked for him and it seemed to me with something of sadness and I
told her that he had gone.
“ ‘Did he leave no message for me?’ she asked.
“ ‘No,’ I said, ‘none.’
“One day a letter came addressed to Mina. I knew it was from
him. Should I give it to her? I felt that if I did she would leave me. I
thought long and bitterly. No, I would keep it. I could not spare her.
So I kept the letter.
“I hid it away — somewhere. And Mina! My little girl! She
faded before my eyes. What was it? Could it be that she loved this
unknown man better than she did me? She lost interest in life. Day
357
by day she grew weaker. Finally, I sent for a doctor who came in
from the outside. He said he could find no disease. But I knew better.
At last I said to myself, ‘It must be done, there is no other help for
her.’ Then I sought for the letter where I thought I had put it and it
was gone. I hunted in every possible spot without avail. Then I sent a
messenger out after the artist, but he could not be found.
“Mina died in my arms. My punishment is to walk the earth until
I find that letter. Weary days have I searched but all in vain. I can not
find it. I can not find it! Repentance came too late. My punishment is
to have no end.” With furtive eyes he sought out every crevice in the
room, then, without word of parting, forgetful of all save his
unending quest, he turned away. Wearily, he descended the stairs, he
crossed the stone door step and went down the road and all was still
once more. Kendrick must have dropped asleep after that for when
he again became conscious the sun was shining brightly in at the
window.197
Kendrick ate his breakfast, thinking earnestly. Was it a dream?
No, there was the chair, left as the stranger had turned it while telling
his story. He had been manifest to the human ear and eye, yet he was
evidently not human. He had moved the chair, yet left no other traces
of his presence. His footsteps, though distinctly audible, left no
slightest imprint in the dust.
During the morning Kendrick fished in the small sheet of water
that still remained of the mill pond and was rewarded by several fine
trout which made an agreeable addition to his dinner. Then he sat
down to reason out what had become of that letter. What does a man
do with a letter? He usually puts it in the breast pocket of his coat.
He continues doing this until the pocket becomes inconveniently full,
then he takes out the lot and puts them in a drawer, or pigeon-hole.
There were several pigeon-holes in the desk in that office. He had
noticed papers in some of them. He went into the office, pulled the
papers all out and sorted them over, laughing to himself at his folly
as he did so. “Certainly I could not expect to find it now in any place
where the old gentleman would be sure to have looked for it,” he
soliloquized. He went out and entered a building farther down the
road that had evidently been the chapel and school room. There was
a desk at one end and a row of benches that in old times had
evidently been occupied by the boys. There were names cut in rude
characters on the seats and a figure, evidently of the teacher, with
ferule raised. On top of the building was a little cupola in which hung
a bell. The rope still dangled there and he gave it a pull. One
197
An additional line of text followed here, probably a line of movable type misplaced by the typesetter. It read, “and has an inlet of considerable water”.
358
melancholy note sounded as the bell swung out, then the rope broke
and fell at his feet. He turned back to the office once more. The place
had a strong attraction for him. He noted the tree that had grown
through the side of the building where a fissure had been made.
Strangely impelled, but without conscious reason for doing so, he
walked up and thrust his hand into the opening in the wall. A cat-bird
flew fluttering from her nest within. A cat-bird’s nest! Kendrick had
no love for such. From a boy he had detested them for their feline
squawk and thievish ways. Deliberately he set to work to pick the
nest to pieces bit by bit. The space seemed filled with bits of paper,
fragments of cloth and cotton, the accumulation of successive years.
At the bottom he found a rectangular paper package folded and
sealed. He read the inscription as one in a dream.
Miss Mina Sanderson,
Northwoods Iron & Steel Co.
Adirondack Mountains.
Night came at length. Kendrick laid the letter in the middle of
the broken table and stretching himself on the bed prepared to watch
while the slow hours passed. Though wearied with the exciting
incidents of the long day he is quite certain he did not fall asleep. He
remembers that as he lay in the flickering firelight he distinctly heard
the footsteps coming out of the silence. Heard them climb the stairs
and cross the threshold and saw a shadowy form approach the table.
Then came a wild, exultant cry. He bounded from the bed, poked the
smouldering sticks into a bright blaze and looked around.
But the letter had vanished.
359
Appendices
APPENDIX A
The Deserted Village (1770)
OLIVER GOLDSMITH
Since so many of the writers whose work is included in this
collection likened the abandoned iron-mining hamlet of Adirondac to
the “deserted village” of Oliver Goldsmith’s then-famous 1770
poem, I thought it might be of some interest to present the poem here,
as an appendix, in its entirety, so that readers could see it for
themselves.
— Editor
*****
Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheered the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visits paid,
And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed:
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, where every sport could please,
How often have I loitered o’er your green,
Where humble happiness endeared each scene;
How often have I paused on every charm,
The sheltered cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topped the neighbouring hill,
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whispering lovers made;
How often have I blessed the coming day,
When toil remitting lent its turn to play,
And all the village train, from labour free,
Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree:
While many a pastime circled in the shade,
The young contending as the old surveyed;
And many a gambol frolicked o’er the ground,
And sleights of art and feats of strength went round;
And still as each repeated pleasure tired,
Succeeding sports the mirthful band inspired;
The dancing pair that simply sought renown
By holding out to tire each other down!
The swain mistrustless of his smutted face,
While secret laughter tittered round the place;
363
The bashful virgin’s sidelong look of love,
The matron’s glance that would those looks reprove:
These were thy charms, sweet village; sports like these,
With sweet succession, taught even toil to please;
These round thy bowers their cheerful influence shed,
These were thy charms — But all these charms are fled.
Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,
Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen,
And desolation saddens all thy green:
One only master grasps the whole domain,
And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain:
No more thy glassy brook reflects the day,
But choked with sedges works its weedy way.
Along thy glades, a solitary guest,
The hollow-sounding bittern guards its nest;
Amidst thy desert walks the lapwing flies,
And tires their echoes with unvaried cries.
Sunk are thy bowers, in shapeless ruin all,
And the long grass o’ertops the mouldering wall;
And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand,
Far, far away, thy children leave the land.
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.
A time there was, ere England’s griefs began,
When every rood of ground maintained its man;
For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more:
His best companions, innocence and health;
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.
But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train
Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;
Along the lawn, where scattered hamlet’s rose,
Unwieldy wealth and cumbrous pomp repose,
And every want to opulence allied,
364
And every pang that folly pays to pride.
Those gentle hours that plenty bade to bloom,
Those calm desires that asked but little room,
Those healthful sports that graced the peaceful scene,
Lived in each look, and brightened all the green;
These, far departing, seek a kinder shore,
And rural mirth and manners are no more.
Sweet Auburn! parent of the blissful hour,
Thy glades forlorn confess the tyrant’s power.
Here as I take my solitary rounds,
Amidst thy tangling walks and ruined grounds,
And, many a year elapsed, return to view
Where once the cottage stood, the hawthorn grew,
Remembrance wakes with all her busy train,
Swells at my breast, and turns the past to pain.
In all my wanderings round this world of care,
In all my griefs — and God has given my share —
I still had hopes my latest hours to crown,
Amidst these humble bowers to lay me down;
To husband out life’s taper at the close,
And keep the flame from wasting by repose.
I still had hopes, for pride attends us still,
Amidst the swains to show my book-learned skill,
Around my fire an evening group to draw,
And tell of all I felt and all I saw;
And, as a hare, whom hounds and horns pursue,
Pants to the place from whence at first she flew,
I still had hopes, my long vexations passed,
Here to return — and die at home at last.
O blest retirement, friend to life’s decline,
Retreats from care, that never must be mine,
How happy he who crowns in shades like these
A youth of labour with an age of ease;
Who quits a world where strong temptations try,
And, since ’tis hard to combat, learns to fly!
For him no wretches, born to work and weep,
Explore the mine, or tempt the dangerous deep;
No surly porter stands in guilty state
To spurn imploring famine from the gate;
But on he moves to meet his latter end,
365
Angels round befriending Virtue’s friend;
Bends to the grave with unperceived decay,
While Resignation gently slopes the way;
All, all his prospects brightening to the last,
His Heaven commences ere the world be past!
Sweet was the sound when oft at evening’s close
Up yonder hill the village murmur rose;
There, as I passed with careless steps and slow,
The mingling notes came softened from below;
The swain responsive as the milkmaid sung,
The sober herd that lowed to meet their young;
The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool,
The playful children just let loose from school;
The watchdog’s voice that bayed the whisp’ring wind,
And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind;
These all in sweet confusion sought the shade,
And filled each pause the nightingale had made.
But now the sounds of population fail,
No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,
No busy steps the grass-grown footway tread,
For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.
All but yon widowed, solitary thing,
That feebly bends beside the plashy spring;
She, wretched matron, forced in age for bread
To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread,
To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn,
To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn;
She only left of all the harmless train,
The sad historian of the pensive plain.
Near yonder copse, where once the garden smiled,
And still where many a garden flower grows wild;
There, where a few torn shrubs the place disclose,
The village preacher’s modest mansion rose.
A man he was to all the country dear,
And passing rich with forty pounds a year;
Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
Nor e’er had changed, nor wished to change, his place;
Unpractised he to fawn, or seek for power,
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour;
Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,
More skilled to raise the wretched than to rise.
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His house was known to all the vagrant train,
He chid their wanderings, but relieved their pain;
The long remembered beggar was his guest,
Whose beard descending swept his aged breast;
The ruined spendthrift, now no longer proud,
Claimed kindred there, and had his claims allowed;
The broken soldier, kindly bade to stay,
Sat by his fire, and talked the night away;
Wept o’er his wounds, or, tales of sorrow done,
Shouldered his crutch, and showed how fields were won.
Pleased with his guests, the good man learned to glow,
And quite forgot their vices in their woe;
Careless their merits or their faults to scan,
His pity gave ere charity began.
Thus to relieve the wretched was his pride,
And e’en his failings leaned to Virtue’s side;
But in his duty prompt at every call,
He watched and wept, he prayed and felt, for all.
And, as a bird each fond endearment tries
To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,
He tried each art, reproved each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.
Beside the bed where parting life was laid,
And sorrow, guilt, and pain, by turns dismayed,
The reverend champion stood. At his control
Despair and anguish fled the struggling soul;
Comfort came down the trembling wretch to raise,
And his last faltering accents whispered praise.
At church, with meek and unaffected grace,
His looks adorned the venerable place;
Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,
And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray.
The service passed, around the pious man,
With steady zeal, each honest rustic ran;
Even children followed with endearing wile,
And plucked his gown, to share the good man’s smile.
His ready smile a parent’s warmth expressed,
Their welfare pleased him, and their cares distressed;
To them his heart, his love, his griefs were given,
But all his serious thoughts had rest in Heaven.
367
As some tall cliff, that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway leaves the storm,
Though round its breast the rolling clouds are spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head.
Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,
With blossomed furze unprofitably gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school;
A man severe he was, and stern to view;
I knew him well, and every truant knew;
Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace
The day’s disasters in his morning face;
Full well they laughed, with counterfeited glee,
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he;
Full well the busy whisper, circling round,
Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned;
Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault.
The village all declared how much he knew;
‘Twas certain he could write, and cipher too;
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And even the story ran that he could gauge.
In arguing too, the parson owned his skill,
For e’en though vanquished, he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around,
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.
But past is all his fame. The very spot
Where many a time he triumphed is forgot.
Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high,
Where once the signpost caught the passing eye,
Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,
Where grey-beard mirth and smiling toil retired,
Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,
And news much older than their ale went round.
Imagination fondly stoops to trace
The parlour splendours of that festive place:
The white-washed wall, the nicely sanded floor,
The varnished clock that clicked behind the door;
The chest contrived a double debt to pay, —
368
A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day;
The pictures placed for ornament and use,
The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose;
The hearth, except when winter chilled the day,
With aspen boughs, and flowers, and fennel gay;
While broken teacups, wisely kept for show,
Ranged o’er the chimney, glistened in a row.
Vain transitory splendours! Could not all
Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!
Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart
An hour’s importance to the poor man’s heart;
Thither no more the peasant shall repair
To sweet oblivion of his daily care;
No more the farmer’s news, the barber’s tale,
No more the woodman’s ballad shall prevail;
No more the smith his dusky brow shall clear,
Relax his ponderous strength, and lean to hear;
The host himself no longer shall be found
Careful to see the mantling bliss go round;
Nor the coy maid, half willing to be pressed,
Shall kiss the cup to pass it to the rest.
Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
These simple blessings of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm, than all the gloss of art.
Spontaneous joys, where Nature has its play,
The soul adopts, and owns their first-born sway;
Lightly they frolic o’er the vacant mind,
Unenvied, unmolested, unconfined:
But the long pomp, the midnight masquerade,
With all the freaks of wanton wealth arrayed,
In these, ere triflers half their wish obtain,
The toiling pleasure sickens into pain;
And, even while fashion’s brightest arts decoy,
The heart distrusting asks, if this be joy.
Ye friends to truth, ye statesmen, who survey
The rich man’s joys increase, the poor’s decay,
‘Tis yours to judge how wide the limits stand
Between a splendid and a happy land.
Proud swells the tide with loads of freighted ore,
369
And shouting Folly hails them from her shore;
Hoards even beyond the miser’s wish abound,
And rich men flock from all the world around.
Yet count our gains. This wealth is but a name
That leaves our useful products still the same.
Not so the loss. The man of wealth and pride
Takes up a space that many poor supplied;
Space for his lake, his park’s extended bounds,
Space for his horses, equipage, and hounds;
The robe that wraps his limbs in silken sloth
Has robbed the neighbouring fields of half their growth;
His seat, where solitary sports are seen,
Indignant spurns the cottage from the green;
Around the world each needful product flies,
For all the luxuries the world supplies:
While thus the land adorned for pleasure, all
In barren splendour feebly waits the fall.
As some fair female unadorned and plain,
Secure to please while youth confirms her reign,
Slights every borrowed charm that dress supplies,
Nor shares with art the triumph of her eyes;
But when those charms are passed, for charms are frail,
When time advances and when lovers fail,
She then shines forth, solicitous to bless,
In all the glaring impotence of dress.
Thus fares the land, by luxury betrayed,
In nature’s simplest charms at first arrayed;
But verging to decline, its splendours rise,
Its vistas strike, its palaces surprise;
While, scourged by famine, from the smiling land
The mournful peasant leads his humble band;
And while he sinks, without one arm to save,
The country blooms — a garden, and a grave.
Where then, ah! where, shall poverty reside,
To ’scape the pressure of contiguous pride?
If to some common’s fenceless limits strayed,
He drives his flock to pick the scanty blade,
Those fenceless fields the sons of wealth divide,
And even the bare-worn common is denied.
If to the city sped — what waits him there?
To see profusion that he must not share;
370
To see ten thousand baneful arts combined
To pamper luxury, and thin mankind;
To see those joys the sons of pleasure know
Extorted from his fellow creature’s woe.
Here, while the courtier glitters in brocade,
There the pale artist plies the sickly trade;
Here, while the proud their long-drawn pomps display,
There the black gibbet glooms beside the way.
The dome where Pleasure holds her midnight reign
Here, richly decked, admits the gorgeous train;
Tumultuous grandeur crowds the blazing square,
The rattling chariots clash, the torches glare.
Sure scenes like these no troubles e’er annoy!
Sure these denote one universal joy!
Are these thy serious thoughts? — Ah, turn thine eyes
Where the poor houseless shivering female lies.
She once, perhaps, in a village plenty blessed,
Has wept at tales of innocence distressed;
Her modest looks the cottage might adorn,
Sweet as the primrose peeps beneath the thorn;
Now lost to all; her friends, her virtue fled,
Near her betrayer’s door she lays her head,
And, pinched with cold, and shrinking from the shower,
With heavy heart deplores that luckless hour,
When idly first, ambitious of the town,
She left her wheel and robes of country brown.
Do thine, sweet Auburn, thine, the loveliest train,
Do thy fair tribes participate her pain?
E’en now, perhaps, by cold and hunger led,
At proud men’s doors they ask a little bread!
Ah, no! — To distant climes, a dreary scene,
Where half the convex world intrudes between,
Through torrid tracts with fainting steps they go,
Where wild Altama murmurs to their woe.
Far different there from all that charmed before,
The various terrors of that horrid shore;
Those blazing suns that dart a downward ray
And fiercely shed intolerable day;
Those matted woods where birds forget to sing,
But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;
Those poisonous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,
371
Where the dark scorpion gathers death around;
Where at each step the stranger fears to wake
The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake;
Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,
And savage men more murderous still than they;
While oft in whirls the mad tornado flies,
Mingling the ravaged landscape with the skies.
Far different these from every former scene,
The cooling brook, the grassy-vested green,
The breezy covert of the warbling grove,
That only sheltered thefts of harmless love.
Good Heaven! what sorrows gloomed that parting day
That called them from their native walks away;
When the poor exiles, every pleasure passed,
Hung round their bowers, and fondly looked their last,
And took a long farewell, and wished in vain
For seats like these beyond the western main;
And, shuddering still to face the distant deep,
Returned and wept, and still returned to weep.
The good old sire, the first prepared to go
To new-found worlds, and wept for others’ woe;
But for himself, in conscious virtue brave,
He only wished for worlds beyond the grave.
His lovely daughter, lovelier in her tears,
The fond companion of his helpless years,
Silent went next, neglectful of her charms,
And left a lover’s for a father’s arms.
With louder plaints the mother spoke her woes,
And blessed the cot where every pleasure rose;
And kissed her thoughtless babes with many a tear,
And clasped them close, in sorrow doubly dear;
Whilst her fond husband strove to lend relief
In all the silent manliness of grief.
O luxury! thou cursed by Heaven’s decree,
How ill exchanged are things like these for thee!
How do thy potions, with insidious joy,
Diffuse thy pleasures only to destroy!
Kingdoms by thee, to sickly greatness grown,
Boast of a florid vigour not their own;
At every draught more large and large they grow,
A bloated mass of rank unwieldly woe;
372
Till, sapped their strength, and every part unsound,
Down, down they sink, and spread the ruin round.
Even now the devastation is begun,
And half the business of destruction done;
Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,
I see the rural virtues leave the land:
Down where yon anchoring vessel spreads the sail
That idly waiting flaps with every gale,
Downward they move, a melancholy band,
Pass from the shore, and darken all the strand.
Contented toil, and hospitable care,
And kind connubial tenderness, are there;
And piety with wishes placed above,
And steady loyalty, and faithful love.
And thou, sweet Poetry, thou loveliest maid,
Still first to fly where sensual joys invade;
Unfit in these degenerate times of shame
To catch the heart, or strike for honest fame;
Dear charming nymph, neglected and decried,
My shame in crowds, my solitary pride;
Thou source of all my bliss, and all my woe,
That found’st me poor at first, and keep’st me so;
Thou guide by which the nobler arts excel,
Thou nurse of every virtue, fare thee well!
Farewell, and oh! where’er thy voice be tried,
On Torno’s cliffs, or Pambamarca’s side,
Whether where equinoctial fervours glow,
Or winter wraps the polar world in snow,
Still let thy voice, prevailing over time,
Redress the rigours of th’ inclement clime;
Aid slighted truth; with thy persuasive strain
Teach erring man to spurn the rage of gain;
Teach him that states of native strength possessed,
Though very poor, may still be very blessed;
That trade’s proud empire hastes to swift decay,
As ocean sweeps the laboured mole away;
While self-dependent power can time defy,
As rocks resist the billows and the sky.
373
APPENDIX B.1
History of the
198
Town of Keene (1885)
H.P. SMITH
Portions of territory were taken from Elizabethtown and Jay,
March 19th, 1808, and united into the original town of Keene. Until
1848 it embraced, in addition to its present dimensions, all the land
now lying between the limits of North Elba. Keene is bounded on the
north by Jay and Wilmington, on the east by Jay and Elizabethtown,
on the south by North Hudson, and on the west by Newcomb and
North Elba. The Adirondack mountains extend north, east and
southwest through the center of the town and occupy nearly the
entire surface, leaving scarcely any arable land. Among the
mountains of this range in this township are found the loftiest peaks
in the State, and with one or two exceptions, the loftiest east of the
Rocky mountains. Of these the highest, Mount Marcy, in the
southwestern corner, attains an elevation of 5,470 feet above tide;
Mount Colden, just west of Marcy, 4,753 feet; Gothic Mountain,
several miles to the eastward, 4,745 feet; Haystack, further south,
4,890 feet; Skylight, 4,889, and Gray Mountain, 4,900. Sentinel
Mountain lies next the northern border of the town, and a few miles
south of it are Pitch-Off and Long Pond199 mountains. The Giant of
the Valley in the southwestern part of the town towers at an elevation
of 4,530 feet above tide; Dix’s Peak, in the extreme south, is 4,916
feet high. Other peaks of less magnitude but still grand and
impressive are Sable Mountain, Nipple Top, Saddle Back and
McComb mountains. A number of beautiful lakes, or ponds as they
are somewhat prosaically termed, sleep at the feet of some of the
mightiest of these mountains. Edmund’s Pond,200 lying between
Mount Pitch Off and Long Pond Mountain, is rapidly becoming a
famous resort for sportsmen, invalids and summer tourists. It extends
northeast and southwest a distance of nearly two miles. From its
shore on the north a beetling cliff of solid rock rises vertically a
distance of from three to five hundred feet, and gives to the mountain
which slopes immediately above it, its peculiar name. From the
southern shore the rocky side of Long Pond Mountain rises with
supreme majesty. In the spring, summer and early fall, torrents of
198
From Smith’s History of Essex County (Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 1885).
Cascade.
200
The Cascade Lakes.
199
374
water tumble in tumultuous and musical confusion down the sides of
this grand old hill for hundreds of feet. In the extreme southern part
of the town are the Upper and Lower Ausable ponds, the former,
indeed, being divided by the line between Keene and North Hudson.
The ponds are the headwaters of the south branch of the Ausable
river, which flows northerly through the center of the town and with
its numerous small tributaries forms its principal drainage. The
magnificent mountains and mighty valleys of Keene, and her
picturesque streams and splendid lakes, have been the theme of many
an enthusiastic writer’s eulogy, and have called into activity the
eager aspirations of many an ardent landscape painter and poet.
Keene has three post-offices, Keene Center, toward the north,
Keene Valley, toward the south, and Cascadeville on Edmond’s
pond. The last named office is open only during the summer months.
The town has never been thickly populated, owing to the sterility of
the soil and the difficulty of transportation over the rocky and
mountainous surface of the country. Pioneers penetrated its primitive
forests and scaled the natural barriers formed by its precipices as
early as 1797, and thus early a rude, almost impassable road had
been extended to Keene Center through Lewis and Jay. The first
child born in town was Betsey Payne. The first school was taught by
Dr. Ellis in an old school house near the present site of Phineas
Norton’s house at Keene Center. The first marriage was that of
Thomas Dart and Cynthia Griswold, the first death that of Eli
Bostwick. Benjamin Payne was the first man who came into the town
to stay. He came by marked trees from Westport, and brought his
goods in a “jumper,” or rude vehicle constructed of two long poles
which served the purpose at once of thills, traces and wheels. He died
before 1800. He was Phineas Norton’s father-in-law. Timothy and
Nathaniel Pangburn, brothers, were the next arrivals. The former
died before 1823, and the latter about 1830. Thaddeus Roberts and
Robert Otis were other early settlers. Zadock Hurd kept the first inn,
near the present residence of W.H.H. Hull, and remained a number of
years. He died before 1823. Thomas Taylor and General Reynolds
made their appearance in town when it was new. Eli Hull settled
about two miles south from Keene Center in 1810, and erected the
house now occupied by his son William H.H. Hull. Eli Hull (with his
three eldest sons) took part in the battle of Plattsburg, and formerly
served seven years under General Washington. Roderick McKenzie
lived at the head of the Keene valley on the Ausable and was a
neighbor of Phineas Beede and James Holt. William H.H. Hull and
Phineas Norton (the former was born here in 1813, and the latter
came in 1823) are the best authorities now living of the condition of
375
the town in early times. According to them the first store was built
and furnished by William Wells, and afterwards kept by David
Graves. Phineas Norton moved into his present house, about two
miles east of Keene Center, which he built himself, in 1832. There
was no church organization here until 1833, although numerous
preachers, among them the zealous Cyrus Comstock,201 held services
frequently in the house of Eli Hull. The principal business in these
times was lumber and iron making. Not much lumber was shipped
but considerable was sawn for home uses. Sylvanus Wells, brother of
William Wells, was the most largely interested in mills. In 1823 there
was a saw-mill on John’s brook three miles above the Center. Eli
Hull & Sons (Joseph and Allen Hull) had a forge on the river south
of the Centre, Graves & Chase (David Graves and R.C.R. Chase) had
one in the village. Both forges were furnished with ore from the
Arnold bed.202
In 1823 also the forge built by David Graves was running in full
force under the management of Benjamin Baxter and Adolphus
Ruggles, who drew ore from the Arnold bed. Not long after this
Lewis Merritt, Jacob and Nelson Kingsland, of Keeseville, built
another forge between the village and the old saw-mill. It was carried
away in the great freshet of 1856. In 1823 also a little grist-mill was
run by Israel Kent. It stood about a mile above the village on the
Ausable river. A few years later another one was built farther down
stream by Nathaniel Sherburne.
About 1800 the Valley began to present the appearance of a
change from an unbroken wilderness to a land fit for human abode.
James and Alva Holt lived there about 1800, and cultivated farms for
many years. Some of their descendants are still living in the valley.
In 1849-50 Harvey Holt built a forge in the valley. He labored under
great disadvantages and suffered the calamity of losing it by a freshet
before it was opened. Captain Snow, another old settler, died years
ago in Beekmantown. Luke Jones, another, died about two years ago
in Keene Center. Phineas Beede came from Vermont and took up a
place in early days. His widow survives him and is a resident of the
Valley now. Mr. Biddlecomb, an early settler, probably built the old
Bruce house, which was torn down in 1882-83. Deacon Bruce, father
of Chester Bruce, had this place in very early days.
Following is a list of the supervisors of this town from the year
1818 to the present time, with the years of their service: 1818, Eli
Hull; 1819, Iddo Osgood; 1820, Eli Hull; 1821 to 1824 inclusive,
201
Comstock, a Congregationalist circuit rider based in Lewis, ministered throughout
Essex County.
202
Outside Clintonville, in Clinton County.
376
Iddo Osgood; 1825 to 1827 inclusive, Alden Hull; 1828, Azael
Ward; 1829-30, Joseph Hull; 1831 to 1833 inclusive, Artemas Fay;
1834, Richard R.C.R. Chase; 1835-36, Iddo Osgood; 1837-38,
Chester Bruce; 1839, Iddo Osgood; 1840, Gardner Bruce; 1841,
Charles Miller; 1842, Phineas Norton; 1843, Charles Miller; 1844,
Thomas Brewster; 1845, Phineas Norton; 1846, Thomas Brewster;
1847, James S. Holt; 1848, Stephen Clifford; 1849, Chester Bruce;
1850-51, Uriah D. Mihills; 1852, Phineas Norton; 1853, Uriah D.
Mihills; 1854-55, William H.H. Hull; 1856, James S. Holt; 1857-58,
William H.H. Hull; 1859-60, Hills H. Sherburne; 1861 to 1864
inclusive, Willard Bell; 1865, David Hinds; 1866-67, Adam
McKane; 1868-69, David Hinds, Jr.; 1870, William H.H. Hull; 187172, Charles N. Holt; 1873-74, E.M. Crawford; 1875-76, David
Hinds, Jr.; 1877-78, Norman M. Dibble; 1879-80, Frank H. Hull;
1881, David Hinds; 1882-83, John K. Dudley; 1884-85, Thurlow W.
Bell.
The records of this town from its formation in 1808 to 1818 are
destroyed or lost; we cannot therefore give the first officers. The
present town officers are as follows: Supervisor, T.W. Bell; town
clerk, Sanford P. McKenzie; commissioner of highways, R.G.S.
Blinn; collector, Herman Nye; overseer of the poor, William
Wilkins; justices of the peace, David Hinds, John K. Dudley,
William H.H. Hull.
Population. — 1810, 642; 1825, 707; 1830, 287; 1835, 700;
1840, 730; 1845, 809; 1850, 798; 1860, 734; 1865, 770; 1870, 720;
1875, 757; 1880, 910.
Municipal history
KEENE CENTER was probably quite a settlement before any other
community had come into existence in the town. In this vicinity the
pioneers of 1797 erected their log cabins, and felled the first trees.
By the year 1823 a hotel had been built on the site of the present
village of Keene Center, and was managed by David Graves. The
building now stands on its original site across the street from the
hotel of Weston & Otis, under the old elm. Before 1840 Ira Marks, of
Elizabethtown, had control of the property. In 1844 Charles Miller
kept it, the title still remained in Marks. In 1847 Willard Bell,
Stephen Patridge and Uriah D. Mihills bought the premises of Marks.
Not long after, however, Marks purchased them back from the three
and sold them to Arville E. Blood. Meantime, since Bell & Company
had purchased the hotel, Sidney Ford had been the manager. When
Arville Blood secured it, she leased it to her brother, Royal Blood, a
part of the time, and Joseph Downey kept it while Royal Blood was
377
out. Willard Bell bought it of Arville E. Blood in 1866. He at the
same time purchased the land now forming the site of the Keene
Center House of Weston & Otis, and built a new hotel thereon, the
other one being discontinued. He moved into the new house in 1867.
Mr. Bell kept this hotel until 1872. Nicanor Miller rented it of him
from 1872 to 1877, then Horace Towsier kept it seven months.
William Bell returned after Towsier’s time expired and managed the
business until 1881. W.F. Weston then purchased the property of
Bell, and he and his present partner, J. Henry Otis, who acquired an
interest in the business in 1883, have been the proprietors down to
the present time. The old building was destroyed by fire in 1883, and
the present sightly and commodious structure erected in its place.
W.F. & S.H. Weston are proprietors of a forge in the south part
of the village. They built it in 1879. Ore is obtained from the Keene
ore bed about a mile west of the village. The ore is taken from this
bed by means of the Wood Pit and Fifth Shaft. Before they built the
forge the Westons ran the mines about five years. They have kept a
general store in the village since they started the forge. They also
own and run a forge and store and saw-mill at Wilmington. Besides
the Keene bed there is in its immediate vicinity the Weston bed, and
another bed or vein in front of the Cascade House at Edmond’s Pond
called the Cascade ore bed.203 The other business establishments at
Keene Center may be briefly summed up as follows: A general store
kept by Warren Hale for a number of years; the store of W.F. & S.H.
Weston, already mentioned; the store of J.W. Bell, opened in 1882,
and the drug and Yankee notions store and jewelry establishment of
Sanford P. McKenzie. Mr. McKenzie also keeps transient boarders
and is an Adirondack guide of considerable experience. He keeps a
large and select assortment of fishing tackle and sportsmen’s outfits.
W.F. Weston and J. Henry Otis are also proprietors of a handsome
summer hotel [the Cascade House] on the western end of Edmond’s
pond (about six miles west of the Center), which will accommodate
about fifty guests, with a dining-room large enough to accommodate
ninety persons. Willard Bell owns a saw-mill about a mile and a half
southwest of the Center, and E.M. Crawford owns one about five
miles south thereof, in the “Flats.”204
The district school at the Center is the only one there. It is taught
at present (spring, 1885) by Miss Bridget Kelley.
Churches. — The Methodist Episcopal Church of Keene Center
was incorporated in the fall of 1833. Phineas Norton, Nathaniel
203
This was the ore body first mined by Archibald McIntyre’s Elba Iron Works from
about 1809 to 1814, abandoned because of pyrite contamination.
204
That is, Keene Valley.
378
Sherburne and James O. Patridge were the first trustees. The first
meeting convened pursuant to a notice given by the Rev. James R.
Goodrich, who was probably the first pastor. In May, 1836, the
church purchased a tract of land of Nathaniel Sherburne and at once
erected the edifice which still serves the original purposes of
construction. The last few pastors were sent here in the following
order: Rev. Harris (date unknown), John Hall, Fletcher Williams,
L.A. Dibble, Horatio Graves, G.H. Van Duzen, C.A. Bradford, E.L.
Ferris, and the present pastor, Rev. S.B. Gregg, who came here in the
spring of 1884. The present officers of the church are: stewards,
Frederick Nye, E.S. Russell, J.K. Dudley, Franklin Hale; trustees,
Frederick Nye, J.K. Dudley, Cyrus Sheldon; class leader, E.S.
Russell. The Sunday-school superintendent is Frederick Nye, who
has held that position during the past nine years, with the exception
of several intermissions which aggregate about two years.
A new Catholic Church was erected in 1883, which, by virtue of
its handsome design and arrangements, does credit to the
communicants of that faith in Keene Center. Bi-monthly services are
held by Father Holihan, of Elizabethtown.
The first postmaster at Keene Center was probably William
Wells. In 1823 David Graves officiated. This was before the
establishment of the stage routes and the mails were carried from
Westport to Abraham’s Plains (now North Elba) on horseback. The
present postmaster, Willard Bell, received his appointment in June,
1861.
KEENE VALLEY — At present no industry can be said to prevail
in the beautiful Keene Valley. It is a famous resort for summer
visitors and more than thirty summer residences have been erected
within a radius of six miles from the Keene Valley post-office.
Among them are those of Dr. Norman Smith, of Hartford, Conn.; Dr.
Charles Laight, of the New York Board of Health; Drs. Isaac and
Felix Adler, and Dr. Sachs, their brother-in-law; Martin Babler, of
New Jersey; Dr. William Pennington, Newark, N.J.; William H.
Hodge, D.D., Philadelphia; Frederick H. Comstock, attorney of New
York; Mrs. and the Misses Clark of Elizabeth, N.J.; Miss N.D.
Ranney, Elizabeth, N.J.; Mrs. Anna Ranney, of the same place; A.H.
Wyant, artist, New York; Charles Dudley Warner and R.N. Shurtliff,
artist, New York; Mason Young has erected an elegant building at a
cost of about $20,000.205 Dr. James Putnam and brother have
purchased the old premises of Smith Beede and built a number of
205
About $410,000 in 2006, accounting for inflation.
379
cottages wherein they receive guests, usually from Boston. On the
old Walker lot of Smith Beede also cottages have been recently
erected by William G. Neilson, Prof. Felix Adler, Almon Thomas,
W.A. White, Kate Hillard and others. There has been a post-office at
Keene Valley since 1865 when Orson Phelps206 carried mail for six
months free, then the government took it. James S. Holt was the first
postmaster. His successor was Norman Dibble. Byron Estes now
officiates.
The “Valley” boasts three hotels, each one accommodating from
eighty to one hundred guests. The hotel of S. & O. Beede, which was
built about 1875; the Tahawas House, George W. Egglefield,
proprietor, who bought out Norman Dibble, and the hotel run by
R.G.S. Blin since 1882.
E.M. Crawford owns and runs a steam saw-mill which was built
about ten years ago. During the first seven years of its career it was
propelled by water power. The lumber is cut mainly for building in
the Valley.
At the Cascade House of Weston & Otis, before mentioned, a
post-office has been established for the sole accommodation of
summer tourists. It was first opened in the summer of 1880 by
Nicholas Miller,207 and receives and distributes mail only between
July first and November first of each year. The name of the office is
Cascadeville, and it is the office for guests who abide at the
Mountain View House in North Elba, kept by Moses Ames, the
Adirondack Lodge kept by Henry Van Hoevenbergh, and Torrance’s
Cottage, kept by Orin Torrance, in addition to those stopping at the
Cascade House. The present postmaster, J. Henry Otis, received his
appointment in the spring of 1883.
206
207
A famous Adirondack guide, better known as “Old Mountain” Phelps.
Other sources refer to him as Nicaner Miller.
380
APPENDIX B.2
History of the
208
Town of Newcomb (1885)
H.P. SMITH
The town of Newcomb was not formed until March 15th, 1828,
at which date it was taken from Minerva and Moriah. It lies near the
center of the western border of the county and is bounded north by
Franklin county and the town of North Elba; east by Keene and
North Hudson; south by Minerva and North Hudson, and west by
Hamilton county. The surface of the town is elevated, apart from the
great altitude of the mountains, ranging from one thousand five
hundred to one thousand eight hundred feet, and presents a broken,
rugged and forbidding aspect; but its slopes and elevated valleys
comprise small tracts of good soil and capable of very successful
cultivation. The Adirondack range of mountains extends through the
center of the town and occupies at least one-half of its surface. The
principal peaks are Mounts Goodwin, Moore, Santanoni and
Henderson; other lesser peaks bearing distinctive names are Mounts
Catlin, Moose, Baldwin, Goodenow, Panther and others. Wallface,
McIntyre and Marcy, the stateliest peaks in the Adirondacks, are near
the northeastern part of the town. Like all this region the town is
studded with beautiful lakes and ponds, and many small streams of
clear spring water course among the mountains. Lake Sanford is the
largest body of water and lies near the center; it is about four miles
long. A little farther north is Lake Henderson, which is somewhat
smaller. Through these lakes pass the waters of the upper Hudson.
Other bodies of water are the Preston ponds, Newcomb or Delia lake,
Rich lake, Perch, Trout, Otter, Latham and other small ponds, Lake
Harris, Lake Colden, and Catlin lake and Chain lakes which extend
across the west line from Hamilton county. The principal stream is
the North or Hudson river, which rises in the town of North Elba,
enters this town in the northeast part, flows southward through Lakes
Henderson209 and Sanford, receives the waters of the Opalescent a
little south of the last-named lake, and continues in a general
southwestern course, leaving the town near the southwest corner.
208
From Smith’s History of Essex County (Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 1885).
The stream that “rises in the town of North Elba” and “flows southward through
Lake Henderson” is referred to on modern maps as Indian Pass Brook; the Hudson
River is not so named until it flows out of Henderson Lake, immediately above the
Upper Works.
209
381
The surface of this town was originally covered with a heavy
forest, some of which still remains, and the principal occupation of
the inhabitants for many years has been the cutting of this timber and
running the logs down the streams or sawing them into lumber.
There are immense deposits of iron ore in the town, of excellent
quality, the efforts to work which we shall describe.
The extremely mountainous character of the town and its
remoteness from traveled routes operated to delay permanent
settlement until a comparatively recent date, though isolated farms
were taken up as early as 1816. In that year Joseph Chandler came in
and was followed two years later by James Chandler, Collins Hewitt,
and William Butler. The first settlements were made on or near the
shores of Newcomb lake and Lake Harris, along the old road from
Warren county to Long lake. Joseph Chandler had several sons and
James was his brother; the sons were named Alonzo, Daniel, John
and James. They cleared up a tract and engaged in farming in the
locality occupied in recent years by the Chase family. Collins Hewitt
acted as land agent for some time and subsequently removed to
Olmsteadville. William Butler settled at the foot of the lake. Aunt
Polly Bissell, as she is familiarly called, who still resides there, is a
daughter of Mr. Butler.
Abner Belden was another early settler in the town and came in
not long after those mentioned, locating in the western part of the
town. His widow still lives there and they had sons, Abner and
Kimball, who now live in town. David Pierce settled in that vicinity,
but removed from the town long ago. Elisha Bissell was one of the
early settlers on Rich lake and was the husband of Aunt Polly Bissell.
He came from Vermont about 1824. Their sons were named Daniel,
Warren, Charles and Erastus. The family located near the head of the
lake and a number of their descendants are now living in the town
and are prominent citizens. Daniel, the eldest of the sons, married
Polly Butler, who has since become widely known as “Aunt Polly”
and for many years successfully kept the hotel known as “Aunt
Polly’s Inn.” The result of their union was three sons and one
daughter, all of whom are dead. Daniel Bissell was the first collector
and constable of the town and later held several town offices, among
them that of supervisor for many years. His widow still survives.
Warren, the second son of Elisha Bissell, was a resident of the town
during the larger portion of his life, having formerly come to this
place from Vermont. He reared a large family of children and died in
the year 1883, when eighty-one years old. He was by profession a
shoemaker and in politics was a Republican. Charles, the fourth son,
still resides near Lake Harris, on a farm where he has been pleasantly
382
located for many years. Has a family of seven children, five sons and
two daughters — all living save one son. Is also a Republican.
George M. Bissell, son of Warren Bissell, has been a long resident of
the town. Has a family of four sons and three daughters. Is quite
extensively known as a lumberman. Is a Republican. Charles A.
Bissell, son of Charles Bissell, was also a resident here, and for
several years was supervisor of the town.
A prominent resident of the town has kindly supplied us with the
following additional details of the settlers and their descendants:
Daniel C. Chase has been a prominent resident of the town for
about fifty years. Was born in New Hampshire in 1816. He located
on a farm purchased of James Chandler near the head of Rich lake,
where he has ever since lived and reared a family of seven sons and
one daughter; only four of the children are now living. He was
inspector of common schools in 1839 and 1843, and a justice of the
peace nearly all the time since 1843. Was collector and town clerk
and also supervisor in the years 1845, 1846, 1847, 1848, 1852, 1856,
1858, 1859, 1860, 1867, 1868 and 1872, and has been a justice of
sessions of the county. Was always a Republican and a trusty
adviser. Washington Chase, son of Daniel C. Chase, was born in
Newcomb in 1845, and has no doubt been one of the most
enterprising citizens of the place. He now resides near the central
part of the town. Has held office since he was twenty-one years of
age — that of supervisor in the years 1869, 1880 and 1881, and is the
present incumbent. Has been postmaster for over eight years, and
was formerly postmaster at Tahawus, in this town. He has held the
office of justice of the peace since 1869, and has been several times
elected town clerk, assessor, etc., and also justice of the sessions for
four terms, and coroner of the county. During the past nine years has
been connected with the mercantile and printing business, and was
always a Republican. Jefferson Chase is the fourth son of Daniel C.
Chase; was born in this town; has been prominently known as civil
engineer and surveyor. He has always been a resident of this town.
During the year 1882 he erected a circular saw-mill at the outlet of
Rich lake; was formerly a school teacher and is a Republican in
politics. Caleb J. Chase, a brother of Daniel C. Chase, resides near
the east end of Rich lake, and is widely known as a first-class boat
builder. He has lived here about thirty years. His family consists of
four sons and three daughters, all of whom are residents of the town.
Samuel T. Catlin has been a resident of the town for about thirty
years; was born in this county. He has always been a farmer and
resides near the west end of Rich lake. Was supervisor of the town
two years. Benjamin Sibley, formerly of Warren county, who has
383
resided here about fifteen years, has had a large family of children.
Has been justice of the peace for the past ten years and has also held
other town offices. James O. and Daniel H. Braley, old residents of
the town, were formerly from Warren county and were both soldiers
in the last war; are both farmers and live near the central part of the
town. Harrison and Warren Williams are also old residents of the
town and both soldiers in the Rebellion; were formerly Vermonters.
The former is proprietor of the “Newcomb House.” Zenas Parker is
an old Vermonter, and is now the oldest man in the town. He has
been a resident here about forty years and reared a large family of
children who are all residents of the town; is a Democrat in politics
and the present town clerk.
So slow was settlement made in Newcomb that as late as the
year 1830 there were only eight families permanently located there.
John Dornburgh came into the town in 1838 and located at the
hamlet of Newcomb; eight years later he moved to Long lake. Henry
Dornburgh located here in 1844.
Settlement has since progressed slowly, there being less than
three hundred population according to the census of 1880; but in
many respects the town has materially advanced in late years. The
small farming community is more prosperous; a better class of
buildings have been erected, and with the pursuit of the lumber
business and the benefits following the advent every summer to the
magnificent sporting grounds and the sublime scenery of this region,
the inhabitants are enjoying a good degree of prosperity.
The most important feature of the history of this town is that
relating to the operations of the Adirondack Iron Company. There are
several versions of the incident leading to the organization of this
company and some discrepancy in the date. Mr. Dornburgh, who has
published the pamphlet alluded to, states that the remarkable deposit
of ore was discovered by the Indians in 1822; but it may have been
known to them earlier. Intelligence of the existence of the vein was
conveyed to Archibald McIntyre, probably in 1825 or 1826; this
gentleman was then running a forge in the town of Keene, where the
ore was not of the best quality. According to Mr. Dornburgh, Mr.
McIntyre was induced to accompany the Indian discoverer to the site
of the ore vein. He found the deposit fully as valuable as it had been
represented and steps were taken by him which resulted in the
purchase of two townships, 46 and 47, of the Totten and Crossfield
purchase. Mr. Watson gives David Henderson and Mr. McMartin the
credit of making this purchase. Mr. Dornburgh continues:
384
“The ore at Keene210 not being valuable, Mr. McIntyre
abandoned that enterprise and associating with him Judge McMartin,
of Broadalbin, commenced operations in 1826 at this new field by
erecting a forge and building suitable for separating ore, and also
erected a log building to accommodate their men. This ore was
worked for several years when Judge McMartin died, and after that a
new firm was organized, Mr. McIntyre associating with him David
Henderson, of Jersey City, and Archibald Robinson,211 of
Philadelphia. The new firm went to work with great zeal, built fires
and hammers, and made iron after the primative method, using a
forge and charcoal for smelting the ore. They labored with the forge
a few years and finding the ore very good and their forge too slow a
process, they concluded to build a furnace. David Henderson being
appointed principal manager of the firm in 1838, they built a quarter
furnace. In digging for the foundation they came to a rich ore bed
and the old ruins are yet standing upon the ore bed. This furnace
proved a success. Previous to this, however, in 1837, they built a
puddling furnace and did a large amount of labor in all needful
branches for making bar iron. At and a little before this time they
made roads to Schroon river by way of the branch, their iron being
hauled thirty-six to forty miles to Lake Champlain. Mr. Henderson
made large experiments with the iron to convert it into steel, his
experiments proving so successful that they concluded to make
preparations for the manufacture of steel. Mr. Henderson then made
a trip to England expressly for the purpose of consulting and making
arrangements with some person who understood steel making, and
going direct to the great Sheffield Steel and Cutlery works made his
wants known to one of the principal foremen of the Sheffield
company, named Pixley. Mr. Henderson informed him that he
desired to manufacture steel in America, having a good iron for the
purpose located in a dense wilderness and surrounded with an
abundance of wood, and that his company wanted to establish a steel
and cutlery works for the manufacture of large and small articles. He
also stated to Mr. Pixley that they wanted to make steel with
charcoal, but this being a new theory to Mr. Pixley he replied that it
would be new to him, but he would make experiments and report to
him. Mr. Henderson left Sheffield, feeling much elated over his
success in enlisting Mr. Pixley in the scheme, and immediately
returned to America to await the result of Mr. Pixley’s experiments.
After several months had expired Mr. Pixley wrote to Mr. Henderson
210
In which township the settlement of North Elba, home of the Elba Iron Works, then
lay.
211
Archibald Robertson.
385
that he had made the experiments with charcoal and found them
successful. After this favorable report the Adirondack company
concluded to make all the needed arrangements for establishing an
extensive cutlery works in the Adirondacks. They built a costly dam
across the Hudson river, ten miles below their iron works, which they
named Tahawus, after one of the great mountains. This was to be
called Tahawus Steel and Cutlery works. In the mean time they built
a large boarding-house while working upon the dam. They built a
saw-mill and dock for landing their iron from the upper works. The
dam raised the water in Lake Sandford four feet, covering a level
tract of land for a space of five miles before reaching the lake. By
this dam the company were enabled to use boats. They built boats,
floated iron to their lower dock from the upper dock and wood and
coal from the lower dock, to be used in their blast and puddling
furnaces. Mr. Pixley came to America, and he and Mr. Henderson
made a trip to the Adirondack iron works. Mr. Pixley gave plans for
all necessary buildings to carry on the operations successfully, and
after the accomplishment of this much of the work returned to
England and three or four months later he wrote to Mr. Henderson
saying that he had devoted his time to making further experiments
with charcoal, and had arrived at the conclusion that he could not
make steele with charcoal, and therefore abandoned the project. This
caused a stoppage of further operations at Tahawus and
notwithstanding a dam, boarding-house, dock and large store house
were built or in process of construction, the whole steel project came
to a termination. The Adirondack Iron Company, however, still
continued building and enlarging their old works and erected various
buildings until they had a small village, which is now known as the
‘Deserted Village.’ In the year 1843 they required more water in dry
weather to propel their machinery, and as there were two branches of
the Hudson the company determined to build a dam and divert the
east branch into the west branch. They continued, however, with a
short supply of water until September, 1845, when their engineer,
Daniel Taylor, with whom they had discussed the practicability of
the idea, advised them to put the scheme into execution. A party was
therefore formed consisting of Messrs. Henderson and Taylor,
Anthony Snyder, John Cheney and a ten-year-old son of Mr.
Henderson, to search for a course to lead the water to their works,
and as they expected to camp out over night they carried knapsacks.
The distance between the two streams upon their route was six miles,
and about half way of this distance there was a small pond called the
duck hole. When the little party came in full view of it they
discovered a number of ducks in it, whereupon Mr. Henderson
386
remarked to John Cheney: ‘You take my pistol and kill some of those
ducks,’ and he handed his pistol to Cheney. The balance of the party
had gone to the head of the pond to start a fire preparatory for dinner.
John Cheney had advanced but a few yards upon the ducks when
they discovered his approach and flew out of range, and he then
stepped up to Mr. Henderson and returned the pistol which Mr.
Henderson replaced in its sheath. Mr. Cheney knowing there was an
abundance of trout in the pond, concluded not to follow up the ducks
but catch some of the gamey fish. He had just dropped the hook in
the water when he heard the report of a pistol, and looking in that
direction he saw the party had arrived at the head of the pond and
that Mr. Henderson was in a stooping posture and Messrs. Taylor and
Snyder, who had been in the vicinity gathering wood for the dinner
fire, at his side. He knew Mr. Henderson was shot by the movement
he made, and ran to him as fast as possible. Upon arriving at Mr.
Henderson’s side the fallen man turned his eyes to him and said:
‘John, you must have left the pistol cocked.’ Mr. Cheney could make
no reply, not knowing but that might have been the case. Mr.
Henderson looked around and said: This is a horrible place for a man
to die,’ and then calling his son to him he gently said, ‘Archie, be a
good boy and give my love to your mother.’ This was all he said,
although his lips kept moving for a few minutes as if in prayer, and at
the end of fifteen minutes from the time of being shot he expired.
The theory of the cause of the accident is as follows: Mr. Henderson,
it is supposed, took off his knapsack and laid it on a rock and then
unbuckled his belt at the same time taking hold of the muzzle of the
pistol, and in laying it down on the rock he must have struck the rock
with the hammer which caused the discharge of the weapon, and as
the muzzle was pointing towards him the ball entered his abdomen
just below the navel, causing the fatal wound. The party set to work
to make a couch for the body, breaking balsam boughs and laying
them in a pile, and on this bed the lifeless remains were placed. This
done, Mr. Snyder returned to the village for help and lights, knowing
by the time he returned it would be dark. Upon his arrival in the
village Mr. Snyder was very cautious in stating his errand, and
picked his men judiciously, ordering them to prepare themselves
with lanterns, axes and tools to construct a bier to carry the remains
to the village. He also set men to work cutting out trees and bushes to
make a way for the corpse to be conveyed to the village, there being
but a narrow trail then, and the trail made by Mr. Snyder is now used
by tourists on their way to Mt. Marcy. The news of the accident soon
spread, and it was soon known by the company’s principal manager,
Mr. Andrew Porteous, now of Luzerne, Warren county. Mrs.
387
Henderson, Maggie, little Archie and a nephew named David
Henderson, were in the village at the time, and Mrs. Henderson,
accompanied by her daughter Maggie and Mrs. Porteous, made her
way into the street to ascertain the cause of the commotion. Seeing
Michael Laverty, the woman caught hold of him and insisted upon
his telling them the cause of the unusual proceeding, but the man
evaded a direct answer, whereupon they lay hands upon him and told
him they would not let him go until he told them. He then admitted
that one of the men was hurt in the woods, at which Maggie burst
into tears, and exclaimed, ‘Pa is shot, pa is shot.’ Early on the
following morning the remains arrived at the village and men were
detailed to construct a rude coffin; these men were Spencer Edgerton,
of Moriah, and the writer. A dispatch was sent to Russell Root, at
Schroon river, requesting him to meet the party with Mr.
Henderson’s remains at Wise’s shanty on the cartage road, which
was then in the course of construction. The remains were taken to
Tahawus and thence were carried on men’s shoulders to the road,
occupying the entire day. At the shanty Mr. Root was found awaiting
their arrival and conducted the party to Lake Champlain. Mr.
Henderson’s death occurred on the 3d of September, 1845, and a
monument marks the scene of the tragic incident which is inscribed
as follows: ‘Erected by filial affection to the memory of our dear
father, David Henderson, who accidentally lost his life on this spot,
by the premature discharge of a pistol, 3d September, 1845.’
“Previous to Mr. Henderson’s death and after the failure on the
part of Mr. Pixley to come back from England, Mr. Henderson,
according to the statement of Mr. Dornburgh, met Joseph Dixon,
who has become widely known through his extensive operations in
working graphite, and informed him of the disappointment arising
from Mr. Pixley’s failure to return. Mr. Dixon told Mr. Henderson
that he could make steel, if he had the means. He was told that he
could have all the money, all the men and all necessary materials for
the work. Mr. Dixon resolved to accept the offer. He commenced in
the outskirts of Jersey City and built a rude cementing furnace and
this, being an experiment, was upon a small scale. He put his iron
bars in the furnace leaving a place to extract a bar as the steel process
progressed. This was done by building the furnace as high as the
length of the bars required and within the furnace was a compartment
so constructed as to allow the heat to surround it. This compartment
was filled with charcoal and good common-bar iron and below was a
fire whose intense heat ignited the charcoal which burned in a
perpendicular trunk with ore. This converted the bar into blister steel,
the charcoal carbonizing the iron. As this was successful the next
388
step further was to build a melting furnace for the steel, but Mr.
Dixon was somewhat puzzled to devise the correct plan, but finally
he arranged it and commenced to build. He built his fire pit, got the
blast already, broke up the blister-steel and put it into the crucibles,
kindled his fires, melted the steel, made his moulds and poured in the
metal, all of which was successful, except pouring the steel in flat
moulds, for when he put the iron under the hammer he found flaws
and long seams in his cast steel: This he thought he could obviate by
pouring the steel in the moulds endwise which would cause the air to
ascend in the moulds as fast as they filled. The process was a
revelation to the American people. Mr. Dixon having succeeded in
casting steel into coarse bars set about erecting suitable hammers for
working the steel into small bars. Mr. Henderson about the time went
to England and proceeding to Sheffield, he procured a tilter. How he
ever induced him to come to America Mr. Henderson never told, but
it was probably the large some of money given the man that had the
effect. With this Englishman’s advice they were able to build a tilting
hammer and other necessary apparatus and the steel manufactured
with their improvements was of a good quality. This was the first
cast steel plant in America. After the Sheffield man was introduced
in America it was an easy matter to get more experienced men and
the works were extensively enlarged.”
The death of Mr. Henderson began the downfall of the
operations of the Adirondack Iron Company. He was a man of much
ability and his loss could not well be supplied. After Mr. Porteous
ceased as manager, he was succeeded by Alexander Ralph. A few
years before the works were abandoned the property of the company
was assigned to a new organization; but they failed to meet their
obligations and the old company again assumed control, but only to
abandon the entire enterprise a few years later. For a score of years
the “Deserted Village” as it is termed, has given forth no evidence of
traffic or manufacture and scarcely a sign of occupation.
The first post-office established in the town was located near the
North river bridge, about the year 1867, and William E. Thayer was
appointed postmaster, who held the office up to the time of his death,
about one year later. The office was subsequently held by Daniel H.
Bissell, Rufus Lincoln, James O. Braley, Phebe A. Tannahill,
Washington Chase. At the time of the appointment of Rufus Lincoln
as postmaster, the office was removed to near its present location,
and is now kept in a dry goods and grocery store, owned by
Washington Chase, near the center of the town.
There are two post-offices in Newcomb at the present time, the
one bearing the name of the town, and just described, and Tahawus,
389
at the site of the “Lower Works.” At Tahawus David C. Hunter212 is
postmaster. Four good schools are supported, and there is a
Methodist Church organization which was formed in 1843. Meetings
were held, generally once in two weeks, in the school-house at
Newcomb, until a few years ago, when a neat church was erected
near the school-house, at a cost of about $3,500. This church is the
farthest one inland from Lake Champlain, except the one at Long
Lake, Hamilton county. The chief business now carried on is
lumbering. This has been quite extensive for over twenty-five years.
Thousands of logs are cut and run down the Hudson river to market
every season. There are at present two circular saw-mills, one
church, four schools, two dry goods and grocery stores, two postoffices, one printing office, two hotels and several good boarding
houses, with good roads and numerous fine lakes, ponds, and rivers.
In all it is now a delightful resort where many people from the cities
usually sojourn for a while during the heated season.
Following are the first officers of the town of Newcomb: —
Daniel T. Newcomb, supervisor; Joseph Chandler, Jr., town clerk;
William Butler, Elisha Bissell, Cromwell Catlin, assessors; Daniel
Bissell, collector; Elisha Bissell, Cromwell Catlin, overseers of the
poor; William Butler, Cromwell Catlin, Abner Beldin,
commissioners of highways; James Chandler, Cromwell Catlin,
Benjamin Ackerman, commissioners of common schools; William
Butler, Jr., Abner Beldin, Joseph Chandler, inspectors of common
schools; Daniel Bissell, constable; William Butler, pound-keeper;
Elisha Bissell, Abner Beldin, Joseph Chandler, fence viewers.
Following is a list of supervisors of Newcomb from its
formation to the present time with the years of their service: 1828,
Daniel T. Newcomb; 1829-30, Joseph Chandler; 1831, Daniel
Bissell; 1832, Joseph Chandler; 1833 to 1844 inclusive, Daniel
Bissell; 1845 to 1848 inclusive, Daniel C. Chase; 1849, Daniel
Bissell; 1850-51, John Wright; 1852, Daniel C. Chase; 1853, Thomas
G. Shaw; 1854, William Helms; 1855, H.N. Haskall; 1856, Daniel C.
Chase; 1857, H.N. Haskall; 1858 to 1860 inclusive, Daniel C. Chase;
1861-62, Abel Gates; 1863-64, Charles B. Lincoln; 1865-66, Samuel
T. Catlin; 1867-68, Daniel C. Chase; 1869, 1870-71, Daniel H.
Bissell; 1872, Daniel C. Chase; 1873 to 1879 inclusive, Charles A.
212
David Hunter, the son of former “Deserted Village” caretaker Robert Hunter,
became a caretaker for the Adirondack Club (later the Tahawus Club). He drove the
first leg of the three-leg carriage relay that brought Vice President Teddy Roosevelt to
the North Creek railroad station the night that President William McKinley died in
September 1901.
390
Bissell; 1880 to 1882 inclusive, Washington Chase; 1883-84,
William M. Alden; 1885, Washington Chase.
The present town officers are: Washington Chase, supervisor;
Zenas Parker, town clerk; Kimball Beldin, overseer of the poor;
Edison J. Dimick, collector; S.T. Catlin, Benjamin Sibley, C.E. Farr,
assessors; James A. Hall, commissioner of highways; Benjamin
Sibley, C.A. Bissell, Washington Chase, justices of the peace;
Almond O. Farr, game constable; Frank W. Pervier, Daniel H.
Braley, town auditors; Franklin Chase, Josiah Houghton, inspectors
of election; Edison J. Dimick, C.E. Farr, F.W. Pervier, constables;
Kimball Beldin, Elbert Parker, S.T. Catlin, commissioners of excise.
391
APPENDIX B.3
History of the Town
213
of North Elba (1885)
H.P. SMITH
North Elba was separated from Keene on the 13th of December,
1849. It is situated on the western border of the county, north of the
center, and is bounded as follows: on the north by St. Armand and a
portion of Wilmington; on the east by Wilmington and Keene; on the
south by Keene and Newcomb, and on the west by a small portion of
Newcomb and by Franklin county. The altitude of the town is greater
than any other cultivated lands in the State. Some of the waters of the
Hudson, Raquette and Saranac rivers, and the west branch of the
Ausable and Chub rivers have their source in this town. The Ausable
and Chub rivers drain the eastern and central parts of the town; the
tributaries of the Saranac and Raquette rivers form the drainage of
the western part, and the southern part is drained principally by
branches of the Hudson. The surface through the interior and west
part of the town is moderately rolling, but in the south, east and
northeast the country assumes the elevated and broken altitude of
mountains. Bordering the rivers in many places may be found an
alluvial formation of rich black soil. Receding from the streams,
varieties of soil are discernible, in some parts a black loam prevailing
for miles in extent, while in other portions of territory (to the
northwest) are large tracts of poor sandy soil from which the place
derived its euphonious name of the “Plains of Abraham,” or
“Abraham’s Plains.” The timber varies with the diversity of the soil.
On the plain prevails the tamarac; on the river bottoms, elm, ash,
maple, pine, spruce and fir, are most abundant, and on the higher
table-land are found the birch, beech, maple, iron wood, spruce and
fir. In some localities are considerable tracts of valuable pine, while
in others may be found large quantities of a superior quality of
spruce. Unlike the other towns of Essex county, North Elba’s future
promises to be greater than her past, by virtue of her almost
inexhaustible resources in lumber.
The southern part of the town is occupied by a portion of the
Adirondack range. The noted Adirondack or Indian Pass, situated on
the boundary line between this town and Newcomb is a deep gorge
between Mts. McIntyre and Wallface; a portion of the latter forming
the western border of the pass, is a vertical precipice a mile in length
213
From Smith’s History of Essex County (Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 1885).
392
and towering to an altitude of 800 to 1,200 feet from the base. The
bottom of the gorge is 2,800 feet above tide, and is strewn with
gigantic fragments of rocks probably hurled from the beetling heights
above by some mighty convulsion of nature. Watson thus vividly
portrays this wonderful scene: “So exact and wonderful is the
stupendous masonry of this bulwark that it seems, could human
nerve allow the effort, a stone dropped from the summit, might reach
the base without striking an impediment. The pencil cannot portray,
nor language describe, the full grandeur and sublimity of this
spectacle. The deep seclusion, the wild solitude of the place, awe and
impress. Many miles from human habitation, nature here reigns in
her primitive silence and repose. The eagles form their eyries amid
these inaccessible cliffs, and seem like some humble bird as they
hover over the deep abyss.” Bennet’s,214 Connery and Round ponds
are in the immediate vicinity of Lake Placid, in the north. This
beautiful sheet of water is one of the most important heads of the
Ausable river. It is one of the most beautiful spots in the
Adirondacks, and is already a favorite resort. Although distant but a
little way from Mirror lake, of almost equal notoriety, it is effectually
separated from the latter by a ridge of land passing between the two.
Mr. S. R. Stoddard, in his estimable little book entitled The
Adirondacks Illustrated, gives the following description of this lake:
“Its admirers — and it has many — call it the ‘gem of the
Adirondacks,’ and it possesses many features peculiar to itself that
may possibly entitle it to that distinction. It is in shape oblong,
something over four miles in length and about two broad, measuring
through or between the islands, of which there are three, called
respectively Hawk, Moose and Buck. Hawk island is small. Moose
and Buck are large, beautiful islands in a line from the first toward
the southwest, the three dividing the sheet into what are locally
known as the east and west lakes, making it resemble a large river
sweeping around them rather than a lake with islands.”
The fertile plains of North Elba are thus seen to be rich in the
variety and magnificence of their scenery and in their exhaustless
resources. They are encircled by a lofty “amphitheatre of mountains”
which are filled with ores and are mantled by woods of the heaviest
and choicest timber. Mr. Watson, (page 419, History of Essex
County) refers to “a singular and apparently well authenticated
account of the accidental discovery of a vein of silver ore among the
Adirondacks and the loss of its trace,” pointed out to him by an
intelligent resident of North Elba. It was not worked, and has been
214
Now known as Mirror Lake.
393
lost, but there is promise of great wealth to the man with genius and
energy enough to reduce the inaccessibility of the iron veins in the
town, and to cleanse the ore from its native impurities. Works were
established on Chub river as early as 1809 by Archibald McIntyre
and Mr. Hudson, of Albany. They consisted of a forge of four to six
fires, designated the Elba Iron Works. At first ores were taken from
veins in the immediate vicinity, but afterwards from Arnold bed in
Clinton county. Notwithstanding the laborious and. expensive
methods necessarily employed in running the forge, the business was
for a number of years eminently prosperous. But the works lacked
the reserve power necessary to the stability of enterprises of this
nature, and in 1815215 they were abandoned. “A decayed dam and
fragments of broken wheels and shafts, and similar vestiges, are the
only memorials of their former existence.”
The early history of the town has been so well and completely
written by Mr. T.S. Nash, a former resident thereof, in an article
published in one of the county papers, in August, 1881, that we
cannot do better than to take the liberty of transcribing the historical
portion of the article herein. Following is the transcript: —
The history of this town commenced in the early part of this
century. The town of North Elba embraces the south part of township
No. 11, and all of township No. 12 of the old military tract. The town
is fourteen miles long north and south, and eleven miles east and
west, and contains one hundred and fifty-four square miles, or nine
thousand eight hundred and fifty-six acres. Township No. 11 and a
strip three and one-half miles wide on the north side of township No.
12, was surveyed by Stephen Thorn in 1806.216 The balance of
township No. 12 was surveyed by John Richards in 1813. The
description of the lands in those localities are still designated by the
number and the names of the surveyors of the different surveys.
The land was owned by the State of New York. The settlement
commenced soon after Thorn’s survey by a few pioneer hunters.
Soon after the settlement iron ore was discovered, and it was thought
of a sufficient quantity to pay for working. Archibald McIntyre, of
Albany, investigated the matter, and in company with Mr. Hudson217
and another partner, bought a water-power on Chub river, and put up
a forge which was known as the Elba Iron Works. When they
commenced working the ore they found it contained sulphur or
215
Actually, 1817.
Actually, 1804.
217
The main stockholders in the Elba Iron Works, as the enterprise was known, were
Archibald McIntyre, his brother James McIntyre, John McDonald, Simeon DeWitt,
Archibald Campbell, and John Richards.
216
394
carbon in quantities so large as to render it worthless.218 The forge
was run, however, and ore was drawn from other points for a time,
but it became a losing business, and the enterprise was abandoned.
During the time the forge was in operation considerable of a
settlement was made, some settlers buying their land, while many
others simply went on the land, intending to buy at their
convenience. When the settlement seemed to be in a prosperous
condition, Peter Smith (father of the late Gerrit Smith), of Peterboro,
N.Y., heard of this tract of land, made an examination of it, and
returned to Albany and made a purchase of nearly the entire town not
previously sold. The settlers sought to purchase their homes, but Mr.
Smith told them the time had not come to sell this land, but he would
not drive them from their homes, and when he was ready to sell,
would give them the first chance of buying. But the settlers were
unwilling to continue to improve their land, which might result in
benefiting a stranger. Most of the people, therefore, left, and but few
remained there for many years.219 During the dark days of their
history schools were given up, religious meetings abandoned, and
some of the few [remaining children] were brought up in ignorance,
while others were sent abroad to school. At the death of Peter Smith
the land fell into the hands of Gerrit Smith, and in 1840 he offered it
for sale.
This year [1840], the second epoch of immigration began. At the
commencement of the year only six families were in what is now
North Elba, east of the settlement on the Saranac river. Those settlers
were O.J. Bartlett, Alexas Tender, Iddo Osgood, R. Thompson, S.
Avery, and Moses Sampson. In that year Thomas Brewster, R.G.
Scott, R. Nash, and Alonzo Washbond, and perhaps some others
were added to the sparsely settled territory.
The town continued to be settled as fast as could be expected
under all circumstances till 1845, when a new episode occurred in its
history. Gerrit Smith, who was the owner of nearly all the vacant
land in town (which he inherited from his father, Peter Smith) in one
of his acts of benevolence granted it to colored people in different
parts of the country, in tracts of forty acres each. This act, although
in good faith by Mr. Smith, did not prove to fill his expectations.
In 1849 John Brown (afterwards of the Ossawatamie and Harper
Ferry notoriety) came into town for the purpose of assisting the
colored immigrants, and forming a colony of that race. Several
218
The specific impurity was pyrites.
The town was virtually abandoned, it is true, but because of the famine resulting
from the “year without a summer” of 1816, followed by the closing of the Elba Iron
Works in 1817.
219
395
families moved into town, some of which were assisted by Mr.
Brown, but the climate and occupation of farming were both new to
them, and, I believe, only two of the many who received this
gratuitous gift made a home on the land thus granted. This town then
formed a part of Keene, but in 1849 the citizens petitioned the board
of supervisors of Essex county to be set off and have a town
organization. The board of supervisors took the necessary steps to
accomplish the desired action, and on the first Tuesday in March,
1850, the necessary officers were elected, and North Elba was a
legally organized town. John Thompson was the first supervisor.
Schools and Religious Meetings. — In 1849 a three months
school was taught, and schools were annually kept after this date.
During that same year a clergyman by the name of Clinton, and an
older clergyman called Father Comstock, from Lewis, went to the
new settlement; held a series of meetings and formed a
Congregational Church. In 1847 a Methodist clergyman, by the name
of Bourbon, came from Keene to look after the lost sheep of his
flock, and a Methodist Society was formed. These societies
continued to prosper and harmony prevailed among them till 1859
when a new chapter was formed in the religious services of the town.
A clergyman by the name of Wardner, from Wilmington, a Wesleyan
Methodist and a very zealous worker for the colored man, held a
series of meetings, delivered lectures, etc., on the slavery question
and organized a church of that denomination taking members from
both the other churches which left all three societies weak. But
religious meetings of some denomination were always held there
after 1840.
A few years ago a new enterprise was commenced in town. The
cool bracing air of summer, the lakes and mountains, the beauty of
the scenery, the speckled trout, and the nimble deer in this section,
attracted the attention of the tourist and sportsman, and several hotels
have been built to accommodate that class of customers in summer.
These houses are well filled and the business is annually increasing.
There is perhaps no place in the whole wilderness region of Northern
New York so well adapted to please all classes of customers as this
town. The tourist, the sportsmen, the student, the geologist, can all
find ample food there for their mental as well as their physical
appetite. North Elba has had a checkered history but what has been
dark and gloomy in the past is now growing bright and beautiful.
The purpose of this work requires some enlargement upon some
of the hints contained in the foregoing article. John Brown’s career
is so intimately connected with the town that it requires a brief
notice. He was born on the 9th day of May, 1800, at Torrington,
396
Conn., and was a lineal descendant from a pilgrim of the Mayflower.
In his young manhood he engaged in a number of enterprises without
any considerable success, and often with disheartening reverses. In
1848 he prosecuted a wool speculation in Europe, and met with
disastrous failure. During his visit to the Old World he indulged his
native liking for fine stock by inspecting the choice breeds of the
countries he visited, and gained a knowledge which subsequently
rendered him a most intelligent stock-raiser in Essex county. At an
early period of his life he became imbued with the most vehement
and vigorous anti-slavery sentiments, which increased in intensity as
he advanced in years, and resulted finally in the tragedy of Harper’s
Ferry. In 1849 he called upon Gerrit Smith, and proposed to take up a
farm in North Elba, and by affording the negro colonists instruction
and employment, aid Smith in his beneficent project. Smith accepted
the proposal, and immediately conveyed a lot to Brown, who in the
same or the following year removed his family and flocks and other
worldly possessions from his former home in Massachusetts to the
new home. In 1850 the report of the Essex County Agricultural
Society refers to a “number of very choice and beautiful Devons
from the herds of Mr. John Brown, residing in one of our most
remote and secluded towns.”
When the Kansas difficulties arose in 1856 he hastened to join
his four sons already there in the participation of those stirring
scenes. He soon gained a decided ascendency in the deliberations and
acts of the Free State party, and by his desperate resistance to an
attack of the border ruffians at Ossawattamie, during which his son
Frederick was killed, he gained the sobriquet of “Ossawattamie
Brown.” He manifested remarkable skill as an organizer of forces,
and conducted the battles of the party with astonishing intrepidity.
During a partial subsidence of the agitation in Kansas, he and his
sons visited a number of the Northern and Eastern States with the
real object of inciting the zeal and co-operation of the inhabitants
against the whole slavery system, but with the apparent object of
visiting their home in North Elba. In the following year he revisited
Kansas and at once began the commission of a series of daring and
lawless acts which astonished the whole country. He manumitted, vi
et arma, twelve Missouri slaves, led them through Kansas, Nebraska,
Iowa, Illinois and Michigan to the shores of Canada. The governor of
Missouri offered a reward of three thousand dollars for his
apprehension, and his proclamation was supplemented by a similar
publication by the president of the United States offering a reward of
two hundred and fifty dollars. By virtue of the influence of his own
name, he convoked an assembly of his sympathizers at Chatham,
397
Canada. Its president was a colored preacher, and the design of the
association then organized was the forcible liberation of all the slaves
in the country, and the establishment within the United States of a
provisional government. In April, 1859, he was engaged in the
enlistment of associates in Essex county. Harper’s Ferry, being in
easy communication with Canada and the entire North, was selected
as the starting point in the proposed invasion. Brown, under the
assumed name of Smith, hired a large unoccupied farm containing
three dwelling-houses, and situated near Harper’s Ferry, and used it
as a rendezvous for the self-constituted emancipators. By the
circulation of a report that the visitors were about establishing a large
wool growing business, and the presence among them of several
women, they eluded suspicion. The rest of the story, the intended
attack of the 24th of October, the singular anticipation of the attack
by a week, the indubitable design of Brown and his co-adjusters to
seize the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, capture a number of prominent
citizens, to be held as hostages and ransomed by a supply of
provisions or the emancipation of slaves, and escape to the mountain
fastnesses where they could maintain themselves until the arrival of
their expected support from the North, and the universal insurrection
of the negroes, his overwhelming defeat by the federal marines and
the forces of militia of Maryland and Virginia after a most prolonged
and determined opposition, Brown’s arrest and execution (December
3d, 1859) are all matters of common information now.
Just before his departure for Harper’s Ferry, John Brown gave
orders for the transportation to Westport from Massachusetts of a
stone which had stood, it is said, for more than seventy-five years at
the grave of his grandfather; and in the event of his death, directions
were left to have it erected at his home in North Elba, with the
inscriptions hereinafter set forth. The stone at this time bore this
inscription: “In memory of Captain John Brown, who died at New
York, Sept. ye 3, 1776, in the 42 year of his age.” Brown’s request
was complied with, and the time-worn, weather-stained stone now
stands on the old homestead, in North Elba, under the shadow of a
great rock, and bearing beneath the foregoing inscription, the
following: — “John Brown, born May 9th, 1800, was executed at
Charleston, Va., December 3d, 1859.” “Oliver Brown, born March
9th, 1839, was killed at Harper’s Ferry, October 17th, 1859.” On the
reverse side are the following:
“In memory of Frederick Brown, son of John Brown and Dianth
Brown, born December 21st, 1830, murdered at Ossawatamie,
Kansas, August 30th, 1856, for his adherence to the cause of
398
freedom.” “Watson Brown, born October 7th, 1835, was wounded at
Harper’s Ferry and died October 19th, 1859.”
The many visitors at the grave have mutilated the stone by
breaking off corners for relics, etc., until a few years ago, when it
was locked securely under a wooden case, and exhibited to strangers
only on special request. A few years ago the farm was advertised to
be sold under a mortgage. Miss Kate Field, so well known as a writer
and lecturess, learning of the fate which overhung the old homestead,
hastened to Boston with her accustomed energy, and began at once
the solicitation of subscriptions to save the farm from the oblivion
which threatened it. Not meeting with the desired success there, she
went to New York, where she succeeded in forming a society, with
Sinclair Soucey as secretary and treasurer. The farm was purchased
and Mr. Lawrence, of Jay, engaged to manage it. To-day the place is
held sacred and visited annually by hundreds of tourists. Kate Field
is a native of St. Louis and was educated in Europe and in the East.
Mrs. John Brown, one of her husband’s most faithful and
zealous companions in his life work, was born in Whitehall, N.Y.,
April 15th, 1816. She first met Brown in North Elba, and became his
wife in 1832. After various removals following upon his death, she
died in 1884, at the age of sixty-eight years.220
Hotels. — One of the first, if not the first of hotel proprietors in
this town, was the late Joseph V. Nash. He was born September 7th,
1825, and in 1