STORIES OF OUR ADIRONDACKS

 

 

 

Forgotten Voices:

Under The Trees

by Samuel Irenaeus Prime, 1874

 

Samuel Prime was a clergyman and writer. born 1812 in Ballston, NY, and pastored a Presbyterian church there after graduating seminary in 1833.  His career changed in 1840 when he took a job as editor of the New York Observer. He went on to owning the paper the rest of his life.  He wrote many books, a large number of them religious in nature.  The book "Under the Trees tells the story his travels through America and other parts of the world.  One chapter is devoted to a trip to the Adirondacks.  Prime's started in Glens Falls and  his experience on stagecoach going to the very popular Paul Smiths hotel, in the village of Paul Smiths, a hamlet in Franklin county on Lower St. Regis Lake.   We will pick up the story as the sportsman prepare for a deer hunt:

 

Under the Trees

 

There was great excitement on the piazza of Paul Smith's Hotel. The ladies were excited. The gentlemen were astir.  Even the children were alive to the matter that now absorbed the attention of all hands.

 

They were drawing lots! Lots for what?  A grand hunt for deer was to come off the next day. To shoot a deer in the Adirondacks is a deed to be proud of, to boast of with that modest self-complacency which hangs around all truly great sportsmen.   They go home from their summer campaign in the wilderness laden with spoils of victory.  Their spear and their bow, or rather rifle, got them the trophies that now adorn their halls; the branching antlers of a noble buck are stuck upon the wall of their dining-room, and perhaps the skin has been made into an elegant mat that stretches itself before the fire.   Admiring friends, who have never been in the woods, listen with mute wonder while the proud host relates the perils of the forest in which he pursued the monarch of the herd, and brought him low with the unerring aim of his trusty gun.   Perhaps there is no pleasure in this world superior to that of the gallant hunter retailing to unsophisticated listeners his triumphs in the field.  The brave, hardy, eager gentlemen from New York and other cities were now prepared to go out the next morning to renew the chase.

 

They go two or three times a week, and as the hunt is attended with great expense, exposure, and fatigue, and many are to share in it, it is just that each should have a fair chance to bag the game and glory of the day.  The shore of the lake is laid off into sections, and each section has its point of observation.  These points are some considerable distance asunder, and lots are drawn by which the station of each one going to join the hunt is determined.  This allotment is made overnight, that when, early morning comes, each brave deerslayer repairs to his post, and with all the patience he may possess awaits the issue.

 

With him, in a light boat, is the guide, who rows and knows the spot to which his man is assigned.  The boat soon reaches the point, and nothing is to be done but to wait, in it or on the shore, as the wary and anxious sportsman pleases.  Thus the lake is environed with the watchful picket guardsmen. In the mean time a real huntsman a paid and experienced man of the woods enters the forest, with a leash of hounds, some six or eight, attached to his belt.

 

Well in, he lets off a dog, trained to the service and eager to have a run, who begins at once to run in a circle, widening constantly as he seeks to get upon the trail of a deer.  The hunter goes on and lets off another dog, and then another, until he has started his whole pack, who, running in circles, scour the whole forest, and seldom fail to scare up a buck. The moment the dog strikes the scent he begins to bark, and the glad sound meets the distant ears of the waiting watchers on the lake.  The deer, alarmed, instinctively take to the water, as the only way to break the trail and deprive the dog of his scent, by which he is keeping up the chase.  The noble animal rushes through the forest into the lake to swim across.  He is the prize of the boat nearest to which he takes the water.  The guide rows in pursuit of him, and being able to row far more rapidly than the poor beast can swim, has no difficulty in overtaking him.  When he has come so near that the merest bungler with a gun, who could not hit a barn door across the road, can now put the muzzle of the gun into the ear of the animal, if he please, the gallant Nimrod blazes away with his new rifle, lodges the bullet in the brain of the beast, and the work is done.

 

If the deer, however, will not keep still long enough to be shot in this way, the guide takes him by the tail and holds him while the accomplished sportsman shoots him in the head.  It sometimes occurs that even then, with the buck thus held by the tail at one end and the rifle in the hands of an excited shooter at another, the ball goes all abroad and the game is not hurt.  Then the guide, with an oar or with his own stalwart arms, manages to get the animal's head under water, and so drowns him.  But in the best of the business, it requires the same amount of science, skill, valor, and endurance to kill a deer that it would to go out to the barn and kill the cow.  Give the cow the run of the yard, and it would be more of a feat to bring her down with a rifle than to slay a deer in the Adirondacks. 

 

Before the present plan of laying off the lake into stations was hit upon, the rule was that whoever got within rifle-shot of the deer in the water first should fire.  One of my friends was out with a party hunting!  When the deer took to the lake the boats started from their several points, and the gentleman in the first fired and missed.  Then came up the second, and his aim was equally bad.  The deer now belonged to the third, whose right there was none to dispute.  He came on, and having his son, a lad of twelve years, with him, laid the boat alongside of the swimming buck, which the guide kindly seized and held fast by the tail while the boy delivered the charge into his head and made him dead.  The slain deer is now towed to the shore and transported to the hotel in triumph. 

 

All the ladies shake hands with the successful hero of the day, who is congratulated upon his heroism and prowess as a hunter.  He is the champion of the woods until the next hunt comes off, and some one else, going through the same fearful scenes, comes home with the spoils of the chase, to be greeted with the applause of admiring women and crowned with the laurels of the latest victory.  This evening a distinguished divine was the hero, having brought in from the last hunt the trophies of the field, a noble pair of antlers and the skin of a fat buck. 

 

It is not probable that he will be equally successful tomorrow, for you observe that it does not depend upon the skill or patience or power of the sportsman; but the simple matter is, whether the frightened animal flees into the lake near one boat or another.  It is death to him to go into the water any where, for the lake is lined with rifles ready to do him execution.   It is only a question of chance as to whether this or that man, the banker or the baker, the lawyer or the divine, shall have the pleasure and the glory of letting out the life-blood of the pride of the forest.  It is quite essential to the good standing of a gentleman who comes here to shoot that he should kill at least one deer.  The ladies enter so heartily into it that a man fancies he loses somewhat in the eyes of his own wife if he fail to assassinate one or two bucks during the season.  Not long ago a clergyman from the city of New York, who was equally anxious and unlucky, having heard that a guide had a pet deer of his own, bought the beast, and hired the man to take it out slyly in the morning and tie it to a tree.  The reverend hunter followed, shot the poor thing and brought it home to his wife, who rejoiced with him as one who had taken great spoils.

 

  

  

 

We're pleased to bring you writings from an Adirondack Blogger, Dave Waite (photoguy@nycap.rr.com) Dave is an amateur nature and fine arts photographer who was trained in black & white photography in the early 1970's, worked professionally a bit and then set aside all artistic pursuits until about 2003.  Ne now enjoys creative aspects of photograph and writing to share with others.  Please visit Dave at:  http://www.davewaitephotography.blogspot.com

 

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