Old Days in the Adirondacks

Article by Heloise Durant Rose

Source: The New York Times (New York, New York) - Sun, Feb 16, 1902 - Page 34
Transcribed by Denise Wellenstein

For more than a generation there has been an old trapper and guide in the Adirondacks whose usual haunts were near Raquette Lake and the Fulton Chain. His name is Alvah Dunning, but he is better known to hunters and visitors in that region under the soubriquet of "Snake Eye."

After an absence of nine years, when I visited Raquette, we met in the middle of the lake. He was spinning past our boat when hailed. "Hullo," he called back, and staid his strong stroke. The next moment he was alongside and laid his hand on our gunwale to keep the two canoes together.

"Fine day," he remarked, casually, as though oblivious of the long hiatus in out acquaintanceship. He evinced a friendly interest in my doings, but no surprise at the unexpected meeting. His impassiveness remained unmoved until I spoke of the new camps springing up in the vicinity.

"Too many folks about," he grumbled. "I'm thinkin' of movin'; thar's a place I heard of near the Rockies, with good game and a few folks. I want to get away where I can't hear the toot of a steamer and screech of an ingin."

It was before the days of steamer toots and engine screeches when my father, the late Dr. Thomas C. Durant, first took me to the Adirondacks. A party of us had driven to Blue Mountain Lake from North Creek. The road was rougher then than now, and passed through more solitary palaces; but we were unmolested by highwaymen.

When I read of the stage coach robbery recently, I could but draw the inference that either the woods were safer in the old days, or else the men were braver, for in the case of the stage coach the report stated that the men all ran away, leaving the women to care of the fortunately polite bandit.

The views were exquisite as we jolted along the rough road, rising high in out seats at each "thank ye ma'm." Leaving the Hudson, we climbed to the Dew Drop Inn, or Do Drop In as we called the lonely shanty perched on the crest of the hill, surrounded by the wildest scenery. Part of the forest near by had been burned, and amid fallen logs and stumps, thickly clothing the blackened and scarred ground, were patches of the brilliant fireweed. A small settlement was reached and passed.

Again we plunged into the deep shade of the woods or drove to a clearing now and again, surrounding a potato patch and hut, with bare-footed youngsters playing at the door, and a worn woman staring drearily at us as we passed. A glorious sunset is followed by the hills; then there is the last stretch of rough, dewy woods, with the gloaming deepening into nightfall, and the moonlight sifting through the branches overhead. The driver cracks his long whip, the tired horse take on an extra spurt, and we reach Blue Mountain Lake-fair Towaloonda, as the Indians named it. We drive up to the Holland House, are welcomed and warmed, and attack our supper with Gargantuan appetites.

The next day we start in canoes through Blue Mountain Lake, Eagle, and Utowana Lakes, and wind through the lily-flecked Marion River, walking the "carries," the guides, with inverted boats on the heads, looking like great beetles, trotting single file ahead, while we saunter after then filling our hands and decorating our hats and belts with bright red berries and leaves.

Never to be forgotten was that first view of Raquette, the "Killoquah" of the Indians. We rowed to the South Bay and landed in the left shore. There, under the magnificent pines, we camped. A thick layer of spruce and hemlock branches spread on the ground inside the tents, forming a springy, aromatic bed.

My father took us on several expeditions in the neighborhood. In the Fulton Chain I make my first acquaintance with "Snake-Eye." I had gone ahead of the party, in one of the baggage boats. Reaching the carry on one of the lakes, the men started on, leaving me to wait for the rest to cross over. There was Alvah's queer hut, half hidden among the trees. I glanced in, wondering how a human being could exist in such untidy quarters. Then, strolling about, I espied a canoe, with oars resting on the locks.

Not a creature was in sight. On the opposite shore our party had not yet appeared. Following an impulse of the moment, I jumped into the canoes and pushed off quite a distance from land, and lay down in the bottom of the boat to watch the clouds, letting the craft drift. The intense solitude was enchanting; the silence was unbroken save for bird's distant note.

Suddenly my reverie was rudely broken by confused sounds gradually nearing and developing into words of remonstrance. I sat up and saw our boats approaching, and was soon made to understand that I had incurred Alvah's wrath by appropriating his canoe. On the shore I had left, the old trapper was stamping up and down, swearing volubly. I picked up the oars and hastily rowed to the beach, apologizing to "Snake-Eye," who not only was mollified by my words, but ever after we were fast friends.

The result of these delightful trips among the lakes was a permanent camp at Raquette-not the millionaire settlement now there, but just a picturesque hut or two built of logs, with shingled roofs, sometimes covered with bark. The interiors were decorated merely with turkey red curtains, as few deerskin mats, hornet nests minus their occupants, bunches of red berries, pine boughs, and other trophies from the woods.

An old scow was used for bringing to the camp the logs for building purposes, which were cut at various points. When the logs were sawed up the short lengths were made into shingles. I was able to manufacture a few myself, and one proud day, in a drizzling rain, was allowed to nail them on. I confess that it took a number of nails to hold my first shingle in place, but I reduced the limit to three before descending from my perch. Labor and the carting of materials and provision for the workmen have always been expensive items in the North Woods.

In the former days the owners' help put up their own log homes. We had a dining room, roofed, but open at the sides, a lean-to before the camp fire, and a small icehouse for storage. The kitchen was a large shed, partly closed in. At one time we had a nocturnal visitor, who damaged the kitchen and icehouse by tearing off clapboards and extracting a leg of mutton which we were saving for Sunday dinner. The tracks were a bear's and a trap was set for him. Bruin got caught, but managed somehow to extricate himself, leaving a trail of blood behind.

The next night lights were kept low, and the men, armed with rifles, perched on the roofs of the outhouses, waited and watched. At 9 P. M. the first shot aroused general excitement; another followed, and then I heard my name called. Quickly presenting myself, a gun was placed in my hands, a dark object pointed out to me, and I was told to fire. I complied, and so put the last shot into poor Bruin, and could say it killed him. Deer, with their pathetic eyes, I could never shoot or see shot, but a bear was different. The beast was black and measured nearly five feet from snout to tip of tail. His meat was good, like coarse beef. We proudly sent steaks of it with compliments to friends at Saratoga and elsewhere.

Alvah Dunning was very much in evidence during this period. He claimed squatter's rights to some of the land, particularly an island upon which some New Yorkers were intending to build a fine camp. Whenever any one approached, Snake-Eye opened fire. Matters were reaching a crisis when my mother managed to send him word to come and have a cup of tea with her. Now, if Alvah had a weakness, it was for a good cup of tea, and he came. Diplomacy was introduced with the tea cups. He thawed, and eventually permitted strangers to land on the disputed territory. This the fracas ended amicably.

It was during one long Summer day's outing that I picked up a pine knot. Shaped like a dagger, about three feet in length, and nearly one foot across at the hilt. I brought it home, and was so charmed with it that I named our camp Pine Knot in honor of the treasure trove, which is still in my possession. The camp has continued to bear the name of Pine Knot through its transition to grandeur, although it has now passed into other hands.

We bestowed the names on the separate huts in our little establishment. The first one erected was "Ingelnook," a small loghouse, with the usual open fireplace. A larger one, used by me and girl friends, was christened "Kenemate" which I believe is old Saxon for women's quarters. Later came my mother's house, named "Minnewawa." The icehouse and kitchen were rebuilt and servants' quarters added. The docks also were remodeled, the first having been only a few boards jutting out into the lake, between which the canoes could slip.

One night I well remember a lot of boxes had arrived with bedding, books, [&c.], and, going down to see the boats unload, I stepped off the planks accidentally into the water. It was a cold dip, but as I rose to the surface a dozen cager hands dragged me out.

Large and small camps sprang up after Pine Knot came into existence. Hotels were erected, and now there are actually a Post Office and store at Raquette. Later our camp was rebuilt, with innovations not dreamed of in my father's lifetime. Collis P. Huntington acquired Pine Knot, while other tracts of our lands have passed into the hands of J. Pierpont Morgan, Lieut. Gov. Woodruff, the Vanderbilts, or have become part of the State reservation. Wealth has taken up its abode in the wilderness.

But to me and a few old friends the charmed woodland life of years gone by can never be equaled. The silence of the forest is destroyed, the solitude of the lakes invaded. Delightful as camp life there now can be, to old-timers the little trials and roughness of a more primitive existence embalm some of the most precious memories of youth.


Created:  8/26/2018
Copyright © 2018:  Denise Wellenstein, Lisa Slaski
Copyright © 2018:  Hamilton County NYGenWeb