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Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

By George Washington Sears ("Nessmuk") (1821-1890), 1880-3

Rough Notes from the Woods, 4

Forest and Stream, Sept. 16, 1880

THE camps of the Wilderness deserve a special notice. Their name is legion and they are increasing at a rate that defies calculation.

Let us start at the very foot of the Fulton Chain, not at the Forge House, but below, at the huge dam controlled by the State, and used to draw off the lakes for public use, i.e., to feed canals, reservoirs and other State works, as may seem good to those in power.

Passing through the marshy pond at the foot of First Lake you enter the channel proper, now one and a half miles, and pass Indian Rock, the spot where "Old Foster" shot his Indian after a quarrel at the Arnold Place, four miles below. Rounding the rock you have on your right evidence of the effects of civilization and progress. Stretching away to the dense green timber of what is now the mainland, there is a desolate waste of dead, decaying trees, lifting their bare broken arms toward heaven in ghastly protest against the arborean murderers who tortured them to death by slow drowning.

Motionless in the fiercest storm, they stand with their dead feet and legs in the dull, sedgy marsh. Almost imperishable, they have stood there for more than a generation, and a generation yet unborn will see the same ghastly sight. The sight is such a picture of desolation that, paddling down the lake by moonlight, I am careful to be always looking the other way.

On the Woodhull lakes, on the Beaver, on the Oswegatchie and a dozen other waters, the same desolate sight pains the eye of any tourist or lover of nature who may chance to pass these wearisome "drowned lands." But more of this anon.

The line of dead "hop poles," as they put it here, extends for about a mile, with a trend to the southward as you pass into the clear water of First Lake. Rounding the bend of dead timber, you see before you, across the lake a high pine-clad, sandy point, with a flag flying above the top of a tall thick pine. Below are buildings of some pretension. Two well-appointed log houses, one for the guides, cooking and dining, and the other for the family, men, women and children, to occupy. There is an excellent boat house; another building is a good storeroom and icehouse: the whole affair is well appointed, pleasant, healthful and costly.

When I first visited "Camp Stickney" Dr. Nichol's party were in possession. They were employing three of the most experienced guides at a cost of $45 a week and board. They were not eager anglers or hunters, but took their sport in a reasonable, gentlemanly way, and their icehouse was never without a supply of trout and venison.

Rounding the point on which Camp Stickney stands, you see at your left, halfway up Second Lake, a poplar-covered sandy bluff. Passing this you come in sight of the Eagle's Nest, the most noted landmark on the Fulton Chain. The oldest guides could not tell me how long the nest had been there. For several years the birds deserted it, owing to the fusillade kept up by the cockneys of the Muggins tribe, who usually considered it the correct thing to empty guns and revolvers at the eagle's nest, occasionally hitting a young eaglet. The thing is better ordered now. With one exception, no one has fired at them this summer, and I saw them day after day as I was watching for deer, standing on the edge of the nest, flapping their callow wings and screaming for fish, which the parents brought them in quantities that made one a little curious to know just how many pounds of fish it took daily to supply that aerial camp.

Passing the Eagle's Nest you have, on your right, another of those dreary wastes of drowned lands and dead timber, of which the only good thing you can say is that the dreary spot is a good place to float for deer in summer and affords duck shooting in autumn. Turn to the left, leave the dead trees astern, and Third Lake camp, or "Buell's Camp," is before you, a mile distant. It is an old camp, known in the guide books as the "Grant Clearing." It has stood for many years, has been occupied by more parties than I care to name, and is, to my thinking, as pleasant a site as any on the Fulton Chain. I made the acquaintance of the present owner, A. C. Buell, at the Forge House. He had come in simply to look after his property and go out again as soon as he could make some business arrangements. He was alone, and lonely. He did not like to cook; thought of going out in a day or two unless he could raise company to stay with him. Now, I like to cook, can do it well, and I wanted a quiet place to lay off, paddle, fish, float and possess my soul in peace. Inference is obvious. I paddled up the Third and became domiciled at Buell's camp. It is one of the pleasant episodes I shall not forget. But this is digressing.

Every boat that passes up or down these lakes must of course go up or down by inlet or outlet, and they must pass directly in front of Buell's camp. Passing up the inlet, it is about eighty rods from this camp to the foot of Fourth Lake, and passing along the northern shore of this lake, rounding a sandy point marked by a solitary dead pine, you come to the Snyder, or Cold Spring camp. This is one of the high-toned camps already mentioned, and to the southward, at the foot of the island opposite, is the "Camp Chapin"; a party consisting of two young men from Rochester, with consumptive tendencies. I stopped there several times and found that their guide, Fred Rivett, was faithful in the performance of his duties so far as the supply of trout and venison was concerned; but I did not detect any coughs or other evidence of pulmonary difficulty. The vitals of the party seemed, to an outsider, all right enough. But I noticed a decided consumption of victuals, with some drink. By the way, it is claimed that the trout, or salmon, are larger and of better flavor in the Fourth than in the other lakes. And I may mention that the Chapin camp guide stands "high hook" on the Fourth, with a salmon weighing twelve pounds as his record.

But a word for the Little Moose Lake. The largest salmon caught in these waters was caught on Little Moose, by a Mr. Miller. The fish weighed, by scale, twenty-five and a half pounds, and was of excellent flavor.

The average of these lakes, which it is sacrilege here to call anything but "salmon," is just about two and a half pounds. And they are exceedingly fine on the table, better than speckled trout to my thinking, in which I am corroborated by nearly every guide and angler on these waters. I have passed by the camps on Little Moose. They are three, with open bark camps that any one may occupy, thrown in. And it is one of the finest lakes on the Moose waters. Passing up the Fourth, the first camp above the Snyder is Sam Dunakin's--Honest Sam Dunakin. Whiskey-loving Sam, one of the oldest guides in the Adirondacks. Faithful to his party, be the same a party of one, or comprising women and children, with the nuisance in the shape of pater familias thrown in. Always competent, always sober (on duty), no guide can take you to more places by more direct routes or "take care" of you better than Sam. God forgive him the fearful lies he tried to get down me, as he, being out of a party just then, got me to paddle up and pass the night with him.

The next camp is Ed Arnold's, across the lake, in a pleasant grove, and with accommodations for a rather large party. Ed is, and has been for many years, a guide, and one of the oldest. Born on these waters, he has passed his life in the Wilderness. Like Mitchell Sabattis, Sam Dunakin and others of the old guides, the routes of the wilderness to him are as streets of the city to a cockney. He keeps a woods hostelrie, but takes parties to guide, and he guides them well.

The "Lawrence Camp," the "Turin Camp," the "Pratt Camp," the "Bissell Camp," all on the Fourth, are but repetitions of those already described. If these camps give any correct idea of the way and manner of living in the North Woods at the western side, how is it on the other side, where daily lines of stages bring loads of passengers each day; where horses and men are stationed at the "carries" to take guides, boats and parties across; and telegraph wires, steamers, high-priced hotels, billiards, boats, pianos, croquet grounds and all the concomitants of a high-priced watering place prevail?

The days of the hermit hunter have passed away forever so far as this wilderness is concerned. The deer are disappearing rapidly and the trout are being thinned out at a deplorable rate.

It is true that the camps able to employ skillful guides manage to have a fair supply of trout and venison, but it costs them more than a dollar to the pound. All the same, it is a dreamy, sylvan, delightful life to live, and not as expensive as Long Branch or Newport; but, to my thinking, far preferable.

And what of the guides--the men who honestly and earnestly believe themselves entitled to the rights of sovereignty over the whole domain of the Northern Wilderness? And are they so very far wrong? One guide said in my hearing, "We take our parties to the houses that treat us best. They always go where we say. If a land-lord wants to go back on the guides, well, he can try it on."

Yes, the guide is a leading and controlling element of the North Woods. He has salient points of character well worth noting because, sooner than he thinks, perhaps, his vocation will have passed away. Already on the eastern side of the wilderness he is out of the regular jobs so easily obtainable in the days of "Murray's Fools," and even now, on the western side where the independent system prevails.

The wilderness guide deserves special note. He is a specimen of the genus homo that I have nowhere else seen; and, whatever he may think, destined soon to pass away forever. His present conviction is that the advent of first-class hotels, stage coaches and steamers is fated to ruin the guide business, and he is doubtless right. At present he remains in pristine vigor, and it is worth while to note his most prominent characteristics while he is to the fore.

Firstly, your guide must be familiar with a portion at least of the leading routes through the wilderness. Secondly, he must have the muscle of a cart-horse, because the third requisite is a boat of the "Long Lake model," weighing, with oars, seats and neck-yoke, eighty-five to one hundred pounds. Argument will not convince him that the world can produce a better or lighter boat fit for guiding. Show him a Rushton model, light, strong, weatherly and weighing forty-five pounds, and he will say she is slow; he wants a boat that he can "get somewhere with." It does not occur to him that he is working for a party who would much prefer a more roomy, safe and comfortable boat, and that if he made somewhat less speed his party would be just as well satisfied, while it would lengthen his job and lighten his "carries"--just what he desires.

And so he fits himself for guiding and awaits his "party." If he be an old and well-known guide, probably he is engaged to meet a party say at the Moose River House or at the Forge House. At the appointed time he is on the spot, his boat cleanly sponged, himself in condition to take care of his party of one or two. Suppose you are the party--of one.

Business detains you and you are a week behind the appointed time. "It is of no consequence not the slightest." Your faithful guide is there with his boat and has a bill against you as follows: "Guide's services, $18; Hotel, $7." You are a little sore, but conclude to make the best of it; and, after all, is it not just? You made the bargain and appointment. Guide has been faithful to his tryst. You can not get out of it honorably; so you succumb and, being bent on a good time, get cheerful and invite guide to "take something." You are on the right tack there. One of his best "holts" is to take something. But you have had enough of hotels; you did not come for that, and you suggest an immediate start.

Guide is ready--has been ready for a week. And he commences emptying his old shirts and overalls from an immense affair, looking for all the world like an exaggerated fish-creel and holding a full bushel. This is the inevitable pack-basket of the wilderness. Shaped for the human back and holding a bushel of provisions, clothing or anything you choose to put into it, without jamming or mussing it, it is far ahead of any knapsack I ever carried. But beware how you fill it, because when your guide carries an eighty-five pound boat, with a gun and a fishing rod or two, across a heavy carry, the pack-basket will either fall on your shoulders or you will have to "double the carry." You do not understand that as you order bread, butter, canned goods, tea, sugar, coffee and all the eatables you can think of or the festive land-lord can suggest, until the guide hints that the pack-basket is about full. Then you desist and begin to contrive how to carry your extra clothing, etc. The guide is constant with advice and assistance.

When the basket will hold no more, he makes up your extra duffle in a neat blanket-roll and announces his readiness to start. As you take your share of the dunnage to the landing, it dawns on your mind that you might have got along with less weight; but it is too late to mend that, and you place the impedimenta amidships of the long, cranky boat, creep into the stern while the guide holds the bow firmly, and, guide seizing oars, you are off up the lakes at a speed of six knots an hour.

Your destination is Beaver via Raquette and Forked Lakes; thence across by the ponds and carries from Little Forked Lake to Little Tupper; then by Charley Pond to Smith's Lake and the Beaver. Guide advises a different route, taking in Long Lake, Big Brook, Slim Pond, Stony Pond, etc. You go over the map with him and accept the change. It is a longer route, but more pleasant; takes in more country and there is less carrying.

At the head of Fifth Lake you begin to realize what a carry means. Guide hauls his boat out in a way that means business, makes oars and seats fast, dons his neck-yoke, takes as much more as he can possibly handle, and walks off with the inverted boat covering him from sight--all but his legs. Your load is the pack-basket, a blanket roll, gun and rods, weighing seventy-five to eighty pounds, not less. Before you reach the upper landing the perspiration is running from every pore, and you are winded.

A rather long pull over the Sixth and Seventh restores your wind, but when the boat is hauled out for the carry from Seventh to Eighth, which is over a mile, you snivey on your load. You can't stand such infernal loads in hot weather. You will carry the basket over first and come back for the rest. Guide thinks you had better take it all at once; it just makes three times as much trouble to "double carry," and you can go slow and rest as often as you please. And again you follow a pair of legs and a blue boat over a carry, arriving at the Eighth Lake in a limp and exhausted state and with a firm resolve never to carry that load again.

Arriving at the carry from Eighth Lake to Brown's Tract Inlet, you proceed to divide your load accordingly and express your unalterable resolve to double trip the carry anyway. Guide is all sympathy and complaisance. "You needn't do that," he says; "just take your rod and gun. I'll come back for the basket and roll while you rest. You ain't used to packing." Sure enough. Why not? You have engaged him for two weeks at $3 per day and found; you are to pay him for a week you did not have him. What odds can it make to him whether he puts in more or less of the time making carries? Thus you reason, and reason soundly, to my thinking. But the average guide can Daball the sum total of a trip through the woods in a way and manner to strike a professional accountant dumb. Well, you have "come down." Henceforward you are as wax in the hands of your guide.

You sit down by the sluggish water of Brown's Tract Inlet and claw madly at punkies and black flies while guide doubles the carry. After this he doubles all the carries, and you take it easy. It is what you came for. Very pleasant it is to be rowed at leisure through a wooded, romantic, mountainous country by a man who knows the lay of the land, the best places for "floating" and all the favorite springholes where trout do most abound. You are never short of trout, and guide promises you a shot at deer as soon as you get a little off the main route.

He takes the best of care that you get neither wet, tired or hungry. You are his party. For the most part you stop at one of the many forest hotels for the night, where they will cook your trout in the best manner and give you food and rest at which no reasonable man will cavil.

And so through the long, pleasant summer days, just cool enough for comfort, you glide over these tiny summer seas, up inlets, down outlets, down clear streams, not hurrying, ignoring time, losing the date of the month and day of the week, until at length, with little fatigue and much pleasure, you arrive at your destination on the upper waters of the Beaver.

Guide has an interest in a good bark camp here, to which he takes you, and while you try your fly-rod at a springhole which he shows you he proceeds to make the camp comfortable and arrange matters for a ten days' sojourn in camp. Your fishing is a success, and when you return you find a pleasant fire, fresh browse on the bed, and all your multifarious traps arranged just to your notion. Guide cooks a trout supper that you think equal to anything you ever tasted, hastily disposes of the dishes, dives into some recess in the back end of the camp and brings forth a jack with material for a light.

"You must shoot a deer to-night; this camp needs venison," he says. You are agreeable.

"Ever shoot a deer by jack-light?" he asks.

You confess you never did. Then he instructs you how to do it. The gist of which is, be perfectly cool, shoot when he tells you, and by all means aim low. Most people overshoot by jack-light, he remarks. Before 10 p.m., at which time you are to push out, you begin to get a little nervous, but at last guide announces that time is up, and the oars are laid aside. Light burning brightly at the bow, you are placed properly with final instructions, and the boat glides silently into the clear water of the lake.

For ten minutes you move thus, and then the low lisping of the lily pads, as they are slowly sucked under by prow or paddle, becomes just audible. Fifteen minutes of this--twenty, perhaps--and the guide whispers hoarsely, "There's a doe; see her?" The boat is swinging slowly to the right, and--yes, there she stands up to her belly in the pads, her eyes looking like illuminated blue glass. "Shoot," says a hoarse whisper behind you, and you shoot. There is a plashing and spattering of water, a trampling on the bank, and the doe has vanished. For once the guide loses patience.

"Why, what ails you? The deer wasn't four rods off," he says, crossly.

"Damfino," you answer, in the same spirit. Guide recovers his temper at once.

"Never mind; we'll find another," he says.

You are not so sure. But the boat, impelled by that noiseless paddle, glides over weeds, grass and pads for nearly an hour, and there, right before you, stands another deer. This time you are wiser and cooler; guide says nothing. He sees that you see, and the deft manner in which he quickly and silently turns the boat, that you may shoot without changing position, is a perfect piece of woodcraft.

Again there is an explosion of saltpeter and brimstone, followed this time by a continuous plashing and floundering in the water that bespeaks a fallen deer.

"You've got him this time; nice yearling buck," says the guide, cheerily.

Yes, you have got him. Half a dozen large buckshot through shoulders and "lights" have finished his running.

Guide soon has him in the boat, and you start for camp, the direction of which is a sybilline mystery to you; but ten minutes of vigorous paddling brings you there, and guide says, "Now you turn in; it 5 after midnight, and I ain't going to get you tired out and sick. Turn in; I'll take care of the venison. You obey, believing you are not at all sleepy, however. But in five minutes you are asleep, and the sun is shining brightly when you next open your eyes.

Guide is missing. Going to the spring you find him there, and he shows with some pride his cellar, where he has neatly stored the venison. It is a cache in the side of the ravine, scooped out with much pains and labor, and cool as an ice-house. "It will keep meat fresh more than a week," he says. And he is right. And just here it dawns on your mind that your vacation is gone. You came to the North Woods to recuperate, to botanize, to climb mountains and live for a few days a free, careless life of the Daniel Boone type. Well, you have caught and eaten trout to your satisfaction, and you wanted a change to venison. You have it. What humane excuse can you have for catching another trout or floating another deer until your present supply runs short? Even if you desired to do it your guide would go back on and discourage every attempt at fishing or hunting. He will tell you plainly that deer and trout are getting too scarce to be wasted.

And so, with a week's time ahead of you and the knowledge in your heart of hearts that hunting and fishing were the main incentives that brought you here, you refrain from both. Notwithstanding, the time passes pleasantly-you row and paddle, climb the hills, go over to the next lake, smoke, sleep and eat--ye gods, how you do eat--and rest, and enjoy yourself. You half wish the venison would spoil, that you might have an excuse to shoot another. But guide takes care of that. And what a cook the fellow is.

"It's lucky we brought the potatoes and onions," he says. "They were a little heavy on the carries, but we couldn't make a stew without them."

And his soups and stews are about perfect, while his broiled steak is a thing to "thank God on." Just at the last end comes in another party of two, with a guide, and your guide, seeing that you have more venison than you can use, divides with them liberally, and after a long visit they go over to the next lake, where they are to camp. On the following morning you pack up and are off to Wardwell's, where you discharge and pay off your guide and go back to civilization again. You are in no hurry; guide's time is not out until sundown, and you take it easy. But when you come to settle in the evening, you find relations have slightly changed. Hitherto you had been guide's special charge and care. Now his time is out; he must look for another party. You call for his bill, which he makes out as follows:-- "You know," he says, "there was a week I waited at the Forge House. Call that $18 (it was really $21) ; paid my own expenses, $7, makes $25. Fourteen days guiding, $42, makes $67. Then there was extra work; guess I'll call that $10--ought to be more."

"Extra work?" you ask, in blank astonishment.

"Yes," he says, calmly. "Doubling the carries. You see yourself that every time you double a carry it makes just three times the distance to go over. For instance: Brown's Tract Inlet, mile and a half. Go back an' come back again, three miles, making four miles and a half; an' jess so with all the carries I made from there to the Beaver. No gentlemen, ever since I was a guide, ever asked me to do that work without being willing to pay for it."

You are beaten; remonstrance is useless, and you succumb.

"What else?" you ask.

"Nothin'," he says; "only my return pay, three days. That's understood, of course. Three days, $9, and expenses--dollar a day (that's reg'lar)--makes $12. Sixty-seven, ten's seventy-seven, an' twelve's eighty-nine. That's the bill--eighty-nine dollars."

There is no use in quarreling or remonstrating. While you were his party he took care of you as a father would care for an invalid son. When his time ran out and you were off his hands, you became at once his placer, his greenback mine, to be panned out and worked down to the ultimate dollar. You pay $12 return money. He gets away at once, rows up to your late camp, lays in a day's supply of bread and venison, makes himself comfortable for the night, and the next morning at sunrise he starts for his return, for which you have paid him $12.

Now, how does he make it? I can tell you. He shoulders his boat and makes the carry to Twitchell Lake, seven miles; crosses that, and makes the carry to Big Moose Lake; down Big Moose, and by carry, and the North Branch lakes to Fourth Lake of the Fulton Chain; down the lakes, Fourth, Third, Second and First; and by 9 p.m. he is at the Forge House, where he started with you two weeks before. He has taken $12 of your money for return and expenses, and he has made it in one day, without expending a cent save what he may pay for whiskey before he goes to bed. As for yourself, you sit down and count the cost about as follows:--

Expenses from Boonville to Forge House...........$  7.50
Bill at Forge House..............................   1.00
Expenses from home to Forge House................   8.00
Hotel and supply bills, en route.................  27.00
Pay of guide.....................................  89.00
Expenses from Wardwell's place, with hotel bill..   7.50
Expenses home....................................   8.00
Whiskey, cigars, flunkeys and omnibus............   3.00


You have killed one deer and caught many trout. You have had two weeks of delightful recreation. Trout and venison have cost you more than they would at Delmonico's; but they were fresher and eaten with a far better appetite. As for the delicious air, the free, open-air life, the lakes, the scenery, the balsam-laden breezes, the sweet sleep at night, these can not be estimated by money. "You pays your money and you takes your choice." I will only add that the above sketch is not a fancy one. It is all, substantially, fact, made out by actual daily estimate of the gentleman whose trip to the woods it outlines, and gives a rather favorable view of a successful tour for two weeks through the Northern Wilderness.

The gentleman went home a week since, and the guide passed the camp where I write, three days ago, rather proud of his achievement in making the Forge House from Beaver River in one day. Let me quote from the melancholy Jacques in "As You Like It": "A fool, a fool! As I do live by food, I met a fool i' the forest. Oh, noble fool, motley's the only wear."

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