In the year 1791 or 1792, the present Gen. Joshua Whitney was sent by his father to Philadelphia, with a drove of cattle, seventeen in number; the greater part of the way being nothing but a wilderness. While this undertaking shows the enterprise of the father, and the ready obedience and courage, if not equal enterprise of the son, in committing himself alone, for he went alone, to the dreariness and waste of an almost pathless wilderness; it also, in the details of it, develops the many obstacles that lay in the way of sending their surplus cattle and produce to market; and also of importing back the goods which are to be obtained only from some seaport town or city.
Young Whitney, then only about twenty years of age, started late in the fall. He went by the way of the Great Bend; thence to the Salt Lick farm, six miles beyond; thence through the Nine Partners, to a place called HopBottom, on the Tunkhannock Creek; thence, with no road but marked trees, to Thorn-Bottom, 25 miles from the Nine Partners. The habitations of men to be met with only about where it was necessary to stay through the night. And at these places there was nothing for the cattle to subsist upon but browsing in the woods. Consequently, in ranging for food through the night, they were subject to straying so far as not to be found by the young herdsman. By his vigilance, however, though he had often no little trouble to gather his number together in the morning, he lost none. From Thorn-Bottom he proceeded to the Lackawanna; thence ten miles to Wilkesbarre; from this place he drove to one branch of the Lehigh, twenty miles. Upon this part of his journey his cattle became poisoned by eating laurel, which operated upon them so severely by salivation and otherwise, that he was obliged to suspend his journey for more than a week, at a small Dutch settlement three miles on this side of the Pocono Mountains. The night previously to his arriving at this settlement he was so nearly drained of his funds by an exorbitant charge of his miscreant landlord, who charged him four or five times the usual bill, that he was obliged to write from this place to his father, stating his circumstances. His father came to his relief. His Dutch host and family, and indeed the whole neighborhood, could scarcely understand a word of English, so that he was obliged to communicate by signs, as well as he could. After his father came and replenished his purse, with his cattle well, and his courage renewed, he proceeded on to Philadelphia, by the way of what is called the Wind Gap, and through Nazareth.
After disposing of his cattle, in returning, he was to bring back mercantile goods; which, after procuring, he put on board Pennsylvania wagons, and brought them to Middletown, ninety miles from Philadelphia. At Middletown they were put on board of what was called a Durham boat, pushed by six hands. All the way from this place to Owego, a distance of 255 miles, this boat was urged by the sturdy strength of six men, where force was in requisition the most of the time, in consequence of the strong current that was opposing them; often obliged to be out himself midway in the water, with cakes of ice floating against him, and that too for hours together. He arrived at Owego a little before Christmas.
Nothing could better illustrate the difficulties and the expense which must be encountered to transmit their effects to market and merchandize[sic] back.
Every newly settled place or country is at first, without resources of its own, and must depend on some foreign mart. An intercourse between the two must take place, or there will be no growth of the former, much less any sources of wealth and improvement. And those who lead the way in opening an intercourse with foreign places of trade, must have the credit of originating the sources, first of the necessaries and conveniences of life, and then of the wealth and improvement of the place.
Mr. Whitney the elder, and father of Joshua, of whom we have just spoken, was not spared long to his family and neighborhood, and to witness the growing improvements that were destined to take place around him. He died of yellow fever on his return from Philadelphia, where he had been to purchase goods. By a previous arrangement, his son was to meet him at Wilksbarre with boats to bring on the goods. When he got there he found a letter from his father, informing him of his sickness at a public house at Wind Gap, and with word for him to come immediately to him. By riding very early and late, the next day he arrived there, just in time to see his father alive, and to close his eyes after the spirit had fled; which he did with his own hands. He found the landlord and his family much alarmed at the infectious nature of the disease his father had, and even advised him not to go in where his father was. To this he paid no attention. The landlord, after death had taken place, insisted upon the old gentleman's being buried that same night, lest the infection, with which the disease was supposed to be fraught, should spread. This, through the force of circumstances, he consented to. A coffin was hurriedly made, and the son literally carried out and buried his own father, with the help only of two negro servants.
In early times, when the country was first settled, and for a long time since, shad ran up the Susquehanna in great numbers as far Binghamton, and even some to the source of the river. Thousands of them were caught from year to year, in this vicinity, especially at the three great fishing places, at Union, opposite Judge Mersereaus; at this place, [Binghamton] opposite the dry bridge; and upon the point of an Island at Oquago.
There were two other places of less note; one on the Chenango, opposite Mr. Bevier's the other was at the Mouth of Snake creek. The time that the shad would arrive here, and at which time they began to be caught would generally be about the last of April, and the fishing would continue through the month of May. It was made quite a business by some, and after the country was sufficiently filled in with inhabitants to create a demand for all that could be caught, the business became a source of considerable profit. During a few of the first runs, the shad would sell for eight and ten pence apiece; and after this the price generally went down as low as three pence per shad. Several hundred would sometimes be caught at one draught. Herring also ran up at the same time with the shad; but as it was no object to catch them while a plenty of shad could be caught, their nets were so constructed as to admit them through the meshes.
The nets employed were from sixteen to thirty rods long; and each net employed from six to eight men to manage them. Their time for sweeping was generally in the night, as the shallowness of the water would not allow them to fish in the day time. Again the shad would in the night run up on the riffles to sport; which gave to the fisherman another advantage. They would make their hauls the darkest nights, without lights, either in their boats or on shore. They had their cabins or tents to lodge in; and would be notified when it was time to haul, by the noise the shoal of fish would make in sporting on the shallow places.
The shad seemed never to find either a place or time at which to turn and go back. Even after depositing their eggs, they would continue to urge their way up stream, until they had exhausted their entire strength; which would, being out of their salt-water element, after a while fail them. The shores, in consequence, would be strewed with their dead bodies, through the summer, upon which the wild animals would come down and feed. Their young fry would pass down the stream in the fall, having grown now to the length of three or four inches, in such numbers as to choke up the eel-weirs.
They have discontinued running up so far as this, for twelve or fifteen years; consequently none within that time have been caught. The numerous mill-dams and mills on the streams, together with the number of rafts that pass down in the spring undoubtedly deter them from coming.
As we have spoken of fishing in early days, which was so different from what it is at present, so will we speak of the hunting of early times.
It is allowed by the old hunters that wild animals were uncommonly plenty here when the country was first settled. Martens were plenty, and caught in dead falls for their fur. Panthers were frequently met with and shot by hunters. Bears were numerous and large. Wild cats were also found. But deer, which may be considered the staple commodity with hunters in a new country, were decidedly numerous. They would be seen sometimes twenty and thirty in a flock. Of this species of game great numbers were yearly killed. There appear to have been no wild turkeys found here when the country was first settled. A solitary flock, some twenty-five or thirty years ago appear to have wandered from its own native forests, and was observed in the neighborhood of Oquago by Deacon Stow, who was at that day a distinguished hunter. He dropped his work in the field, and obtaining a gun from the nearest neighbor, he managed to kill one, before the flock got entirely out of his way. It remained in the neighborhood forest, until the turkeys were all shot, except the last one, which was caught in a trap.
There were several modes of hunting the deer. Besides the ordinary way of pursuing them by daylight with hounds, the hunters would resort to the deer-licks, of which there were many, and ascertaining, as nearly as they could, where they stood to lap the water, they would set their guns so as to take the deer when they came by night to drink. This they would do before night-fall, and then remain by their guns and watch. They could hear the deer when in the act of drinking, by the noise they made in lapping the water. This was their time to let off their guns, which they often would do, several together. If they heard the deer fall, they went and cut its throat, or their throats, as they sometimes shot more than one at a discharge, and brought them off the ground. They would then set their guns again, and wait for the well-known sound of the lapping to be renewed. They would continue their vigilance according to their success; sometimes till twelve and two, and sometimes till quite the dawn of the next morning. The dressing of the game was ordinarily reserved till the next day.
Another mode pursued by the hunters was, to take the deer when they came down late in the summer or fall to feed upon the sedge or eel grass which grows in the river. Two men would get into a skiff, or boat of any kind that would answer the purpose, in which there was a platform in the fore-part covered with turf: upon this they would kindle a brisk fire, and one would sit in the fore-part, near the fire, with his rifle in his hand; the other would sit in the hinder-part and impel and guide the boat with a single paddle, taking care to make no noise either in the water or at the side of the boat. The deer, at seeing the moving fire, would raise their heads and stamp with their feet, without moving much from their place, even at quite a near approach of the boat. This would enable the hunters to come as near to their game as they wished, and to make sure their aim. Sometimes they would take their stand upon the shore and watch by moonlight. It has been remarked by these hunters, and probably observed by a great many others, that deer when seen by the light of fire, in a certain position, look white.
A story is told of two of the early settlers of Oquago, one a Dutchman by the name of Hendrickson, the other a Yankee by the name of Merryman. They had been in the habit of going together to a little island in the Susquehanna called Fish Island, to watch for deer, with the understanding always, that each was to share equally in the game. One fine evening, while the moon was shining in its fullness, it occurred to the Dutchman that he would go down to the Island and watch for deer, without letting his brother Yankee know of it. The same thought occurred to the Yankee. They both went down to the island and took their stations accidentally, at each end. In the course, of the evening, while waiting, for deer, to their apprehension, two made their appearance and entered the river, and passing by the upper end of the Island were fired upon by the Yankee, whose station happened to be at that end; the deer bounded, with a mighty splash, down stream; and passing the lower end of the island were fired upon by the Dutchman, whose shot took effect and brought one down. As the latter went out to drag in his game, the Yankee called out and claimed the deer, as he had fired first. The Dutchman muttered some objection, and continued wading. When he came up to the weltering and dying animal, to his surprise, instead of a large deer, which he was in full expectation of, behold! he had killed one of his neighbor's young cattle - a two year old heifer; and which he readily recognized. "Well, den," said he to his companion, who was making his way down to him, "you may have de deer; it is your's, I believe." The Yankee, when he came to find also what had been done, and feeling they were both about equally implicated, proposed that they should send the animal down stream, and say nothing about the matter, as they could not afford to pay for it. The Dutchman - and here we see the characteristic honesty of the one, as well as the dishonesty or disingenuousness of the other - objected; saying, they would take it to the owner, and tell him how they came to shoot it, and as it, would, when dressed, be very good eating, he did not think they should be charged very high for the accident. While they were disputing which course they should pursue, they heard at some little distance near the shore, or upon it, a noise and difficult breathing, as of an animal dying, they went to it, and partly hid among weeds, and grass, they found, to their further dismay another heifer, belonging to another neighbor, in her last struggles, having received her death-wound from the first shot. The Yankee now insisted, with greater importunity, that they should send them both down stream, as they could never think of paying for them both. But the Dutchman as strenuously objected, and proposed that the Yankee should go the next morning to the owner of one, and he would go the owner of the other, and make proposals of restitution on as favorable terms as they could obtain. The Yankee finally acceded; and each went the next morning to his respective man. The Yankee made a reluctant acknowledgement[sic] of what had been done the night before, and showed but little disposition to make restitution. The owner was nearly in a rage for the loss of his fine heifer, and was hard in his terms of settlement. While the Dutchman, as if to be rewarded for his honesty, found his neighbor, when he had announced what he bad done, and proposed to make satisfactory restitution, as ready to exact no more from him than to dress the animal, and to take half of the meat home for his own use.
Another distinguished hunter of these early times, and one that was considered pre-eminent above all the others for markmanship and daring feats, was Jotham Curtis, of Windsor, an uncle to the Mr. Rexfords, druggists in the village of Binghamton. An anecdote or two related of him, will best express his celebrity.
He went out of an afternoon to a deer- lick and having killed a deer, he dressed it and hung the body upon a tree, bringing only the skin home with him. This he threw upon a workbench in an apartment of the house he used as a shop. In the night he was awakened by a noise which he supposed to proceed from a dog at his deer-skin. He sprung up and opened the door that led into his shop: and about, over the work-bench he beheld the glare of two eye-balls, which he knew - so versed was he in the appearance of such animals - to be those of a panther. Without taking his eve from those of the animal he called to his wife to light a pine stick, and to hand it to him, with his rifle, which she did. With the torch in his left hand, and the gun resting upon same arm, he took his aim between the eyes, and shot the panther dead upon the bench. It is related to have been a very large one. It had entered the shop through an open window.
He was one day hunting, and came across two cubs. He caught one, and seated himself by a tree, with his back close to it, that lie might be sure to see the old one when she should come up. He took the young one between his knees and commenced squeezing its head to make it cry, which he knew would be likely to bring up the old one. In a short time she was seen coming with full speed, with her hair turned forward, an indication of rage, and her mouth wide open. He waited deliberately till she was near enough, and then, with his unerring fire, he brought her to the ground. Someone asked him afterward, what he supposed would have been the consequence had his gun missed fire? Oh! He said, he did not allow it to miss in such emergencies.
As anecdotes of this nature are not uninteresting, and serve to illustrate the nature and habits of wild animals, we will relate one more of Deacon Stow, and an older brother of his.
They went out to a deer-lick, called by the hunters Basin Lick in the afternoon, with the design of setting their guns at night. They, however, previously took stations, the brother at the, Basin Lick, and Deacon Stow, then, but a lad at a station about twenty rods distance, to watch for deer, which often came on to the licks towards night. While at their respective posts, about sundown, Demon Stow heard an uncommon noise, more resembling the squealing of pigs than anything be could think of; and directly he raw a she bear jump upon the root of a large hemlock tree that had been blown down, at the top of which he was sitting, with three large cubs close behind her. She appeared to be about weaning them, and her refusing to let them suck, was the occasion of their making so much noise. As she mounted the trunk at the root, she turned and was making her way towards the top, putting in jeopardy the life of the lad, who was just preparing to fire, when the brother, who heard the noise also, and understood what it was, had hastened down to the place, fired his piece, and dropped the bear from the trunk; and then threw his hat and made a loud outcry to frighten the cubs up into the trees. He succeeded in treeing them; but the old bear, who was only wounded, had made off. They shot two of the cubs, but the third, dropping himself from the tree upon which he was, made his escape; the younger brother not being allowed by the elder to shoot. This he had the precaution to do, that they might have one loaded gun, in case the old bear should return upon them.