News Articles About
Alvah Dunning

Transcribed and Donated by Joanne Murray

From: The Elizabethtown Post (Elizabethtown, Essex Co., NY) Thursday, February 14, 1895

His Novel Theory of Tides

    Uncle Alvah Dunning, the hermit of the Adirondacks, maintains that the earth is not round like a ball, but as flat as a pancake, or at best, that it resembles a milk pan, with enough of an edge to it to keep the water from running away.

    A number of guests at Charlie Bennet's "Antler's", on Raquette Lake, were discussing the theory with Uncle Alvah one day during the present hunting season. One of them undertook the altogether hopeless task of convincing the old man of the error of his belief. Among other things he called attention to the tides.

    "Uncle Alvah," he said, "You've heard of the tides, haven't you? How do you account for them if the world isn't round?"

    The old man remained silent for a while and then drawled forth: "Wall, I hev some idee as to 'em."

    "What is it then?" asked the questioner; while all the sportsmen drew near to await the answer. Uncle Alvah was not to be hurried, and, after another pause he remarked,

    "Did ye ever turn over in bed? I think's more than likely."

    "Yes, I've turned over in bed."

    "Do ye sleep 'tween sheets?"

    "Always," replied the questioner laughing. "What's that got to do with it?"

    "It's got all to do with it in my opinion. When you went over didn't the bed clothes kind o' slip 'round an' slosh 'round, an' didn't get there same as you did?"


    "Wall, that's my idee of the tides. The old earth sort o' slips 'round under the water like a man under the bed clothes, or it teeters a bit like when you tip a milk pan. The water don't get ther quite as fats as the land, an' that's what makes the tides."

        -    New York Herald

From: The Elizabethtown Post (Elizabethtown, Essex Co., NY) Thursday, April 13, 1899

A correspondent at Blue Mountain Lake, Hamilton County, writes: "Today there are no more indications of spring than there would be in midwinter. There is ice thirty-seven inches thick in Blue Mountain Lake and the snow in the woods on the level is three and one-half to four and one-half feet deep. The drifts around the lake are from six to twelve feet deep. Alvah Dunning, one of the old guides of the Adirondacks and who has lived in the woods for more than sixty years, told me the other day that he had never before seen in the Adirondacks as much snow and ice at this time of the year. We have had unbroken winter, with good sleighing since the night of Thanksgiving.

From: The Malone Farmer (Malone, Franklin Co., NY) Wednesday, December 19, 1900

    Alvah Dunning, the famous Adirondack guide and trapper, has retired permanently from his old business in the woods on account of ill health, and has been visiting friends in Rome and Syracuse for several weeks. He will spend the winter in Rome. Dunning was born at Lake Pleasant, Hamilton County, nearly eighty-five years ago, and has been a guide since he was a mere boy. There was perhaps no better woodsman or more popular guide in that section of the country than he. His thorough knowledge of the woods enabled him to make successful many hunting parties and brought him a substantial living. Principally his life has been that of a trapper, and in many winters he has made as high as $400 on furs alone. For the last two years Mr. Dunning has been failing in health, and he has finally decided to retire for good, although he will pass the summer months at his home at Raquette Lake as long as his health permits.

From: The Elizabethtown Post (Elizabethtown, Essex Co., NY) Thursday, March 13, 1902

Alvah Dunning, The Veteran Adirondack Guide, Who Fell Out With "Ned" Buntline Way Back in the 50's, Asphyxiated by gas in the Dudley House, Utica

In a room in the Dudley House, Utica, NY Tuesday morning was found the body of Alvah Dunning, the veteran guide. It is believed that he turned the gas off and then in his fluttering, feeble condition, for he was about 86 years old, turned it on again.

    Over 40 years ago "Ned" Buntline threatened to shoot Alvah Dunning, but the latter kept out of "Ned's" way and lived to a good old age. "Ned" died back in 1886 if we remember rightly. Dunning's fame rested chiefly as an Adirondack guide and hunter and he seldom went to the city.

    Henry Hutchins of Lewis knew Dunning in 1859 and remembers well the day "Ned" threatened to do the shooting.

From: The Elizabethtown Post (Elizabethtown, Essex Co., NY) Thursday, March 20, 1902

"The Eagle's Nest"

Where the silvery gleam of the rushing stream,
Is so brightly seen on the rocks dark green,
Where the white pink grows by the wild red rose,
And the blue bird sings till the welkin rings.

Where the red deer leaps and the panther creeps,
And the eagles scream over cliff and stream,
Where the lilies bow their heads of snow,
And the hemlocks tall throw a shade o'er all.

Where the rolling serf leaves the emerald turf,
Where the trout leaps high at the hovering fly,
Where the sporting fawn cross the soft green lawn,
And the crow's shrill cry bodes a tempest nigh -
There is my home - my wildwood home.

    The above sweet lines poetically describe the location of "The Eagle's Nest", once the wilderness home of a strange, fascinating man. "Ned Buntline" (E. Z. C. Judson), the author of the above sweet poetic effusion, lines that seem to rise upward like the joyous song of a wild bird, bringing thoughts of wild violets and the fragrance of dewy forests in its train, this remarkably strange man with the blended natures of the tiger and the lark - the tender imaginings of a young, innocent maiden and the uncontrolled passions of a wild beast - came to Eagle Lake, the middle link of the Eckford Chain, in the Adirondacks in 1856 that he might escape the dangers of civilization and there in that wild, secluded spot, had his alternate fierce battles and loving make-ups with the greatest enemy of the human race - the bottle. Oh that all who read these lines might fully see and appreciate the force of the rhetorical figure used above - The container for the things contained!

    Previous to his coming into the Adirondack wilderness in 1856 "Ned Buntline" had edited a paper in New York City, the motto of which was, "Let None But Americans Be Put On Guard." In 1849 he was mixed up in one of the biggest riots that ever occurred in the American metropolis. In fact, he was charged with having more than anyone else to instigate that riot.

    During "Ned Buntline's" brief sad and checkered career in the Adirondacks he made some friends and a good many enemies. He was a man of rough exterior and spasmodic changes. A man of education and training, one who had associated with those in the highest walks of life, he also associated with those whose only creed - total depravity - kept them down on the lowest possible level. So while he ruled at "The Eagle's Nest", he at times entertained both the great and the small, the good and the bad, according to the mood and condition he was in.

    Various writers have described "Ned Buntline's" quarrel with Alvah Dunning, whose death at 86 recently occurred in the Dudley House, Utica, NY. One writer says, "did not Ned Buntline, the terrible, chase him (Alvah Dunning) all over Blue Mountain Lake with intent to deposit lead in his venerable cuticle?" The same writer reports that Dunning "felt called upon to embezzle a boat of the novelist's and after perforating it in various places to sink in the lake. This manner of proceeding struck Ned as being out of order, so as a preliminary move he shot the old man's dog one day while standing between his master's legs." Continuing, the same writer says Dunning was grieved thereby and threatened to set the "Eagle's Nest" on fire, with a longing to indulge in cremation. When asked about the affair Ned said, "I drove him out of that section when I was there because he threatened my life. The old rip steered clear of me after he found that I was as ready to throw lead as he was threats."

    The above quoted words are both high sounding and highly improbable. The venerable Henry Hutchins, of Lewis, who served bravely in the Union Army during the late Civil War and was a tough, hardy man in his day and was not "afraid of anything that walked on the ground or flew in the air", was working in the Eckford Chain region of the Adirondacks in 1859 and knew both Alvah Dunning and "Ned Buntline", the terrible, well. We have frequently talked with Mr. Hutchins about Eagle Lake affairs and particularly about the Alvah Dunning - "Ned Buntline" difficulty. Mr. Hutchins says the unpleasantness sprang up between the two men in 1859 and that no writer has so far, to his knowledge, correctly reported the cause of the quarrel, "the bone of contention", as it were. Shorn of its picturesque ness, Mr. Hutchins says, and he ought to know, as he was on the scene of action, the Alvah Dunning - "Ned Buntline" quarrel, like the Alexander Hamilton - Aaron Burr duel, was over woman. Dunning announced that he was coming over to "Eagle's Nest" to see a woman who was stopping there. "Ned" was in one of his bad moods and at once threatened to shoot Dunning if he came on his 9Ned's) side of Eagle Lake. Dunning evidently thought "Ned" would carry out his bad threat, kept out of his way and thus survived the pale nations of the dead until a few days since, only to be killed by gas.

    However, there were men on the Eckford Chain in those early days who were not afraid of "Ned Buntline", the terrible. Henry Hutchins, "Hank", as he was locally and familiarly called, was one of them. One day when "Ned" had been imbibing pretty freely he was vomiting forth vitriolic utterances generally telling what he would do in the way of shooting, etc. By way of testing his sincerity, "Hank" jocularly remarked, "Ned, you wouldn't shoot anybody." Ned professed to be offended forth with and proceeded to stand on his dignity and said he would fix "Hank" if he didn't shut his mouth. "Hank" immediately stepped up to "Ned" and in the presence of several men, snubbed the novelist's nose in such a plain, unmistakable way that he took to his heels and got over to "Eagle's Nest" as soon as he could conveniently do so. Moreover, "Ned" never threatened "Hank" after that practical demonstration.

    Again, if "Hank" is correct as to the time of the Alvah Dunning - "Ned Buntline" difficulty (1859), is any writer justified in speaking of Dunning as an "old man", referring to his "venerable cuticle", etc., when, to be exact, Alvah was then only 43 years old?

    When the war cloud broke over the "Sunny South", "Ned's" restless, venturesome nature called him to the field of battle and there the struggle with his greatest for - the bottle - continued. "Ned" was brave in battle but the lull after the storm tempted him and he too frequently sought solace in "his cups".

    We trust we will be pardoned for a brief personal mention here. It so happened that during the Civil War "Ned" was one day brought before Captain Henry A. Gildersleeve for being drunk and disorderly. The gallant captain, who was then in the thrifty prime of fine manhood, in passing sentence upon "Ned", who was the captain's senior in age, spoke kindly to the novelist, addressing a few helpful words, hoping thereby to lead the misguided man through clearer paths to light. After serving the sentence passed upon him by Captain Gildersleeve, "Ned" came around, shook hands, thanked the captain for his good advice and invited him to come to his (Ned's) lodge after the war and fish, etc. Captain Henry A. Gildersleeve of the Civil War, afterwards Captain Henry A. Gildersleeve of international shooting match fame and now an honored Justice of the Supreme Court of New York City and a summer sojourner in Elizabethtown, gave us a recital of this Civil War episode at "The Windsor" in this village a few years since. The Judge's recital was called forth by the fact that we had just handed him a copy of the Forest and Stream containing Fred Mather's article on "Ned Buntline". Mr. Mather was at that time writing an interesting series of articles entitled, "Men I Have Fished With".

    During his latter years, "Ned" had a "lodge" in Delaware County, which proved a veritable "Mecca" to which many sportsmen wended their way for the purpose "wetting a line". In August 1886, if we remember rightly, this remarkably strange man, in whose face there was delineated mingled sadness and savagery, joined the silent majority, where we are led to believe they neither shoot nor threaten to shoot.

    Alvah Dunning lived to a ripe old age. He was "a good guide" as the saying goes, and was quite a hunter. He is credited with having killed the last moose in the Adirondacks. He is also credited with having "killed 102 panthers in 8 years". In view, however, of the fact that Elijah Simonds (who spent almost his entire life hunting and trapping and who was generally acknowledged to be the best hunter and trapper who ever cast a shadow in the Adirondack region) only killed 7 panthers in his career, the statement that Alvah Dunning killed 102 in 8 years will be taken with quite a degree of allowance!

From: The Elizabethtown Post (Elizabethtown, Essex Co., NY) Thursday, April 10, 1902

Last Adirondack Beaver

Alvah Dunning's Story of How He Was Forced to Trap it For Self-Protection

    "Alvah Dunning, the old Adirondack trapper, hunter, fisherman and guide, who was asphyxiated by gas at the Utica hotel recently, always said he trapped the last beaver in the lower Adirondack region," Said a native of the Fulton Chain country, where the old woodsman had spent most of the 86 years of his life.

    "This last beaver was trapped on Piseco waters. Dunning was reconnoitering in the woods one day early in the spring and discovered a new beaver dam. Supposing that he had located a colony of beavers, and knowing that their pelts would be worth something like $5 more apiece if they were left until the beginning of the next winter, he resolved to let the beavers spend the intervening time undisturbed.

    "But," old Alvah used to say in telling about it, "I hadn't counted on my Uncle Enos and his cranberry marsh."

    "Alvah's uncle Enos was a famous trapper, who had done as much any one person to ward wiping out the race of beavers in the Adirondacks. He had a camp in the Piseco country, and Alvah was sharing it with him. Alvah kept his discovery of the beaver dam entirely to himself. The season got well along and the time for gathering the beaver crop was only a couple of months or so away.

    "The weather during the summer and fall had been very dry. Along in October, Uncle Enos thought it was time to go and get in what cranberries there were on his marsh, if the dry weather hadn't dried it up so that the crop was an entire failure. A woodsman named Gilmore happened to be at the camp and he went along with Uncle Enos.

    When they came to the cranberry marsh, instead of finding it dry, it was covered with water, and consequently a better crop of cranberries had never been grown. Gilmore was surprised to see such a condition, as all around in that country swamps and marshes, and even creeks were as dry as a bone. But wise old beaver hunter that he was [Uncle Enos] wasn't surprised a bit.

    "Aha!" said he. "The marsh is covered with water, eh? Well that means that beavers has been puttin' up a dam around here some'rs, and floodin' the water back. We'll gather the cranberries, and then we'll look into the case of the beavers."

    "Now, I'd never 'a knowed this," old Alvah Dunning used to say, "and consequently i'd never 'a got that last beaver, if Gilmore hadn't been along with Uncle Enos that day on the cranberry marsh. Gilmore happened to mention it to me and then I knowed that unless I protected myself ag'in Uncle Enos by trappin' the beaver right away, I wouldn't be apt to trap the beaver at all, for as soon as he started in after it I knowed I might as well give up."

    "The second night he trapped, he caught the biggest beaver he had ever seen. It weighed 50 lbs. But not another beaver responded to his efforts and he found that he had trapped a bachelor, as the lone survivor of a colony of beavers was known among trappers. This was the last one of the last colony of beavers that was ever known to be in the lower Adirondacks.

    "If Uncle Enos only hadn't gone cranberryin'", old Alvah said, always mournfully, "I could 'a kept thet old chap till along in the winter and then I'd a got $30 for him. As it was his fur was thin and off color and the last of the beavers went for a miserable $5 - and I had to stick and hang to get that."

    "Alvah Dunning could never get over what he called the "sudden peterin' out" of moose in the lower Adirondacks. According to his declaration, moose were plentiful until 1865. In fact, he said that he had never before seen so many moose or killed so many as he did in 1864. The next year there was not a moose in all that country, nor have there been any since. The mystery of the disappearance of the North Wood's biggest game had never been explained.

        -    New York Sun, March 30

From: The Elizabethtown Post (Elizabethtown, Essex Co., NY) Thursday, April 17, 1902

Alvah Dunning, Hunter

The Old Adirondack Guide Whom Civilization Overtook.

(Ithica Corr. New York Sun)

    Alvah G. Dunning, who died here this week was the most famous guide in the Adirondacks. He was eighty six, and the greater part of his long life was passed about the shores of Raquette Lake. He was one of the last of the race of moose hunters of the great north woods. There are now living of his contemporaries, Mitchell Sabattes [sic] of Long Lake, Sam Dunnigan of Fourth Lake, and "Old Mountain Phelps" of Keene Valley.

    Dunning was born near Piseco Lake, in Hamilton County four years after the first white person ventured into the wilderness to live. He saw part of the long struggle between Indians and white hunters. He guided the first party of white hunters that ever sought the Raquette Lake looking for sport, although he was only eleven at the time and the region was virtually unexplored.

    Dunning's first home on the Raquette Lake was on Osprey Island, at present the summer home of J. H. Ladew of New York. Through the efforts of William West Durant, Raquette Lake developed into a resort for New York millionaires.

    Dunning began to grow uneasy, for it seemed to him that the glory of the region was fast disappearing. Finally one day a man came along, paid him handsomely for his squatter's right and the old man moved away. The wild idea came to him that in the far west he would find the solitude that had been his in his younger days on Raquette Lake. And so in his eighty-fourth year he turned his back on the Adirondacks and set out for the west.

    Within a year he was back, but his heart had been broken. He built a hut on the northwest shore of Raquette Lake and fished and hunted and made his home there.

    Dunning was a type of a fast vanishing class of men. They are to be found only in a new country and they disappear with the advance of civilization and modern development.

    They are the men of the woods, the hunters and the trappers, simple, hardy folk, who find contentment in the solitude of the forest. They are as tough as pine knots, with muscles like whipcords and of tremendous endurance. They can swing an ax mightily and know how to make a comfortable camp in the forest. Dunning was the pioneer of this class.

Last Updated: Wednesday, 14-May-2008 13:37:18 PDT
Copyright © 2005:  Joanne Murray