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Nessmuk's Adirondack Letters

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

Cruise of the Sairy Gamp, 7

Foresi and Stream, Sept. 20, 1883

ONE of the puzzles that will be apt to fog the lone canoeist is the repetition of names as applied to ponds, lakes and streams. For instance, take Stoddard's map. You will find nine "Clear Ponds," seven "Mud Ponds," six "Long Ponds," six "Wolf Ponds," four "Rock Ponds," several "Round Ponds," etc., etc. And you will find these names repeated in many localities where no ponds or lakes are indicated on the map. To the man who has studied the Wilderness, these repetitions are of little account. But I was surprised when old guides of twenty-five years' standing cooly disputed me on this point and were hardly convinced by reference to the map. But this was to be expected.

The Forge House guide is bound to know the waters of the Moose River, north and south branches, with the Fulton Chain, side lakes, spring holes, and all places where trout do most abound or deer are successfully floated. He has camps thereon and takes his parties thereunto. So of the Beaver guide, the Saranac guide, Long Lake, etc., etc. But none of them are guides for the whole Wilderness, and never can be.

Life is not long enough to learn this mystic region in its entirety. A few of the oldest have a knowledge of this region that is wonderful, and only to be acquired by a life devoted to guiding. Among them are such men as Mitchell Sabattis, Sam Dunakin, Alvah Dunning, Lon Wood, Paul Jones, John Brinkerhoff and Pliny Robins. Most of these are waxing old. Alvah Dunning is sixty-eight. Many of the best guides are on the wrong side of fifty, and the younger guides can not fill their places, though willing and strong.

Sportsmen understand this but too well. Recently, while young guides at Blue Mountain were waiting in vain for parties, Sabattis had thirty applications in one day from parties who knew the famous old Indian guide by reputation; and a dozen guides, just as good, were waiting for employment. It is right that the older guides have first choice of parties. They have knowledge of spring holes where large trout may be taken by the tyro. They know unmapped, nameless lakes where any greenhorn can get a shot at a deer within twenty yards. They are all good cooks. It is their religion to take care of their parties. Once you employ a guide he is yours. His platform is simple--to care for his party as a mother cares for her child; not to wet you, and to die sooner than leave you on a long, dismal carry. I have known a guide to pack a sick man over three hard carries by the light of a lantern; then go back and double-trip the carries for his fool duffie of rods, guns, etc., etc., with no extra charge.

N.B.--When you take a guide, tie to him.

The man who finds himself at the camp of Pliny Robins, with an intention of going out to the westward, will do well to study the routes by which he can "make the riffle." Firstly, there is the route by Smith and Albany lakes, Charley Pond, the stiff carry over to Twitchell Lake, over to Big Moose, down the North Branch, through the North Branch lakes, over the carry to Fourth Lake. Fourteen miles of carries. Not so very interesting, and pretty hard, as all agreed. Then, there was the route by Rock and Bottle ponds. This promised better. There was good fishing. The scenery was very fine. The route would bring me to the head of Little Forked Lake, within six miles of Forked Lake Landing, which is within twelve miles of Raquette Lake.

I had nearly made up my mind to take this route, but Pliny Robins said, "Have you ever thought of the Slim Ponds route? Strikes me as the most interesting route, and I have traveled them all. Suppose you go over to Big Slim tomorrow, and come back. If you don't like it take Rock and Bottle Pond route." I did. When I was well fed on trout and venison, and the weather for once was too fine for description, I paddled across Little Tupper Lake, left the big leaning pine on the left, rounded the sharp point, paddled up to the head of the bay and found the landing easily.

There I hung up coat and boots, deciding to go through in stocking feet, for my feet are tough and perfect; I have no corns or bunions. I made the carry easily, "tied out," and was making for the easily-seen landing, sixty rods away, when an innocent bear paddled out from an island forty rods to the right and headed for a barren hill, half a mile distant. In an instant I froze down solid. Not a motion. I did not want to kill him or save him. But I thought to get up a little racket in the way of fun. He was too sharp. He had probably seen the canoe. He rounded the point of the island, and although I gave him my best spruce breeze, I saw him no more. He might as well have kept on his course. I had nothing with which to hurt him more dangerous than a light pine paddle.

Then I took the carry from Stony Pond to Big Slim, going for a hundred rods on an easy path, then turning sharp to the right and taking the path down to a shaking bog, to the narrow, muddy ditch, which they call on the eastern side a "slang."

This "slang" was a mile long and so narrow that I brought in the paddle, laid it alongside, and made my way by pulling the canoe along by the weeds and water shrub on either side. It was a tedious job, but when I came out into the clear, bright waters and entire solitude of Big Slim Pond, I was well rewarded.

They have a way on the eastern side of calling a lake a pond. Big Slim Pond is a beautiful lake; narrow, long and lonely. One may here catch all the trout any reasonable sportsman may desire, and all of good size. Deer may be floated successfully on either Big or Little Slim. Half way down Big Slim there is a point jutting out to the right on which there is a pine bark camp, and just at this point one may catch fine trout at the mouth of the cold spring brook which comes brattling down by the camp. I noted all this for future reference and then made my way back to Pliny Robins' hotel.

The next day was fair, and as is my way, I paddled out at 5 a.m. I take the early day in canoeing when the winds are low. I lay my course the day before. If a dense fog covers the waters, as it often does, I lay the compass on the keelson before me and steer by the points. Men and women have deceived me often, the compass never. And so across Little Tupper by Stony Pond, Big Slim, Little Slim, Mud Pond, the three-mile carry, across Clear Pond, the one-mile carry to Long Lake, and three miles up the lake I came again to the camp of honest Dave Helms. Rather glad to get there, I may say. I had camped overnight on Big Slim and caught--just one trout. He was fourteen inches long. I reeled up and quit at once. I wanted no more. Was I fishing for creels, counts or hotels? Rather not, I should remark. I take what I need, no more; I do not fish for hotels.

It was on the 15th of August that I reached the camp of Dave Helms. The law on hounding deer "runs out" on that day. There is a gentleman on an island in Raquette Lake--(or was), Mr. Charles Durant, of Adirondeck Railroad notoriety. This gentleman has a camp on Raquette Lake that looks like a Swiss villa. Having no excuse for obtruding myself upon him, I did not land at his camp; but I "laid off" and took stock of the camp as I passed up the lake; and if, as was said, the camp cost $15,000, I think it was reasonable, and cheap--for the man who could afford it.

Now, Mr. Durant had organized a hunt of feudal proportions, to come off on the 16th of August. Just the day I was going up from Long Lake to Raquette. I had, and have, a theory that I can gaff the largest deer in a light canoe and handle him as easily as I can a large trout. And so, on the morning of the 16th, with line and gaff in readiness, I paddled slowly up the head of Long Lake listening for hounds, but hearing none.

Going up the Raquette River and over the three carries, I rather made time. But once on Forked Lake I took it easy and looked for deer. I saw several blue boats along shore with guides and sportsmen ready to strike out and "cut off" the hapless deer that might take water. But I saw no deer, though I twice heard hounds in full cry. Resting, laying off, and slowly working my way to the Forked Lake House, I laid up the canoe a little before sundown and awaited reports. The reports began to come in about dark and continued until midnight. There had been thirty-six sportsmen in the hunt, with nineteen guides and thirty hounds, more or less. The results were, one fine buck and a small yearling. Eleven guides, who could find no room to spread their blankets at Durant's camp, rowed down to the Forked Lake House for quarters, and they rather made it lively. And there was high jinks at the Durant camp until "the wee short hour ayont the twal."

Gossip said that the hunt cost the originator of it $1,000. If so, he probably does not regret it. He might as easily have invested it on a single hand of draw-poker; with not a tithe of the sport.

Crossing Raquette Lake once more, I found Ed Bennett's place, "Under the Hemlocks," well stocked with guides, tourists, sportsmen and summer boarders all eager for any little excitement or novelty. Whence it happened, I suppose, that nearly all the force turned out to have a look at the little canoe. To lift her and exclaim on her lightness. To ask questions of the rough-looking little old duffer who had cruised her from side to side of the wilderness, and pretty well back again by a different route. Ed Bennett, who weighs 170 pounds, was bound to paddle the Sairy. He took his shoes off to get in. ¯

"You promised to let me ride in her when you came back," said he.

"Not for twice her value. She might collapse like an eggshell. She is within forty-seven miles of the Moose River House. I know the route as well as any guide. If her frail siding should get broken now, I had as lief you broke my neck."

And I ported the double-blade, tied in strongly, and took the canoe up to the porch, "under the hemlocks."

At the landing I met honest Joe Whitney, who was en route for Blue Mountain Lake. Finding I was bound for his camp, he put me in care of Billy Cornell, a young guide who takes charge in his absence, saying, "Take good care of him, and keep him until I get back." And we walked over the point, crossed the beautiful bay, and were once more in the quiet, breezy camp of Joe Whitney.

Now, I was very glad of a chance for a visit and a talk with young Cornell. It happened that when I was at this same camp the last week in July, that Billy Cornell and another young man were off on a rather peculiar expedition, and Joe seemed very anxious about their return. He was looking for them the night of my arrival. They did not come until the next evening as the sun was sinking below the hills. They came up the bay wearily with oars and paddle, pretty well fagged out. They had two pack baskets, one containing about twenty pounds of large trout, the other holding the meat of a yearling buck. They had toted boat and baskets ten miles through tangled woods where there was no trail, and were too tired for much talk. They left me a couple of large trout, with some venison, and took the balance to Hathorn's camp, across the bay. It struck me as paying pretty dearly for nR]¯the whistle, putting in three days of such work for a small deer and a basket of trout, and I said so.

"Well," said Joe, "the trout and venison were in order, seeing they were there and might as well take them in. But that wasn't what they went for. They went over to educate the deer."

I had a pretty close notion of what he meant, but was not going to ask questions, lest I give myself away. And, as I left at 5 a.m. the next morning, while the boys were sleeping like the dead, there was no chance for explanations.

But now that Billy Cornell had me in his care to feed, warm and look after; that the out-of-door fire was burning brightly; that he had paddled the Sairy about the bay as well as I could--his weight is just 141 1/2 pounds I thought it in order to ask, "By the way, how did you make it, educating the deer, and what was the object anyhow?"

Billy adjusted the fire, settled himself on his block, and thus explained: "You see, there are two ponds about ten miles from here that you won't find laid down on any map. And I doubt if you can find two ponds in the North Woods where more deer come to feed than right there. It is on the ground where my partner and I still hunt in the fall and early winter, but is too far off for floating from this side. We can get good floating in a quarter of the distance.

"But on the other side there is a gang of half-breeds who make it a part of their religion to get in on the ponds on the last day of July and just go for slaughter. Last year they floated two nights and dragged off fifteen deer. This year we thought it might be well to cut them off. So we packed boat and baskets ten miles through the woods and spent three days 'educating' deer. The ponds were swarming with them, and they were tamer than sheep. We would paddle up to the deer, and when within thirty or forty feet cut loose with four drams of powder and just a pinch of number thirteen shot, to sting him, so he wouldn't forget his lesson. We educated over a dozen the first night. The second night we took the other pond and gave free lessons to as many more. Not a deer of them will ever stand for a light again. Of course, the gang will come in and get a few deer this season, but they won't make slaughter-yards of the ponds as they did last year.

"We saved one little yearling buck. What moral difference was there between killing him on the night of the 20th or the 31st of July? And the camps all need venison. We saved every pound of the meat, and it was more than it was worth to pack it out. Yes, the best speckled trout fishing, and the best floating is on ponds, lakes and streams not down on the maps."

"And there are many of these?"

"Scores of them. Perhaps hundreds. I could take you, if you didn't mind some hard travel, to ponds where you could get half a dozen shots in a night, or catch all the trout you cared to pack out; and I don't set up for much of a guide."

It is true that along the traveled routes and where camps do most abound, deer have become wary and rather scarce, while trout are hard to get.

But, on the secluded lakes and ponds, far in the woods, away from frequented trails, deer and trout are most abundant.

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