By Rev. Charles Rockwell
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
To the General Reader who may wish through other eyes than his own to look on the beauty and magnificence of nature; to the inhabitants of the counties of Greene, Ulster, and Schoharie, fond of the history and traditions of their fathers; to the multitudes who have visited the mountains, and love to read and think of them, with those who may do so in time to come, this work is respectfully inscribed by
Early in the year 1860, the writer, or more properly perhaps, the compiler of this work, was led, by professional duty, and the healthful climate of the mountains, to make his home in a place of peculiar and romantic beauty, on one of the lower cliffs of the Catskill range, directly in front of the high projection on which the Mountain House stands.
Parochial visits, funeral, wedding, and excursions with friends from abroad, led to peculiar familiarity with scenes, objects and events of interest, in and near the mountains, as also with historical and traditional matter, of permanent value and importance. Events of early Indian and pioneer history were also met with, connected with war, captivity, and patriotic martyrdom, recorded only in early newspapers, manuscripts and pamphlets, rare, difficult to be found, and so worn and torn by long and frequent reading, as to have well-nigh passed away. So, too, there were aged men, who, with their fathers, were pioneers in the mountain wilderness, some of whom were, like Nimrod, mighty hunters, both of men and beasts of prey; who had fought with and overcome, bears, panthers, Indians, and tories. With these, too, were women, long and late dwellers on earth, some of whom had lived near a century and remembered well the whole of our Revolutionary War, and events earlier than that. What they knew and told ought not surely to pass away and be forgotten.
There were also only small and imperfect guide-books to places and objects of interest in and near the mountains, and a compilation, far from full and complete, of what has been written with regard to them, by authors of high literary and historic fame. In preparing this work, too, the writer has thought, incorrectly it may be, that its historical and traditionary matter, with the glowing record and description of mountain scenery, legends, and history, by some of the most gifted and brilliant writers of our own and other lands, would be of scarcely less interest and value to the general reader than to those who visit the mountains. It is also true of most of those who go there, that they see but a small part of the most interesting scenery, and may hence wish to learn what they can of it from the pages of such a work as this.
As looked upon, also, from a strictly religious and professional point of view, the author has felt that the time, thought, and labor, which for several years have, as occasion required, been bestowed upon this work, were not wholly useless and misplaced. God himself reared the everlasting mountains and perpetual hills, as emblems most impressive of Almighty power and endless duration; thus ever teaching us lessons of humility and awe, which it is well for us to consider ourselves, and to urge upon others. Mountains, too, have ever been the rich storehouse of heavenly blessings, and the chosen conductors by which the Most High has conveyed to man health and wealth, and has clothed the earth with fertility and beauty. From mountains come the sources of mineral wealth, and they draw from the clouds the moisture which makes glad the earth. As the Psalmist truly says of God, "He sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field. He watereth the hills from his chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of his works. He causeth grass to grow for the cattle and herb for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth." Thus, true indeed is it, that
The rude mountains, towering to the sky,
Whose barren cliffs no food for man supply;
Arrest the moisture of the passing cloud,
Which veils its summit with a sable shroud;
Thus pouring forth through chasms stern and wild,
Mid rocks on rocks in lofty masses piled;
The mountain torrent rushes fiercely down,
Where towering cliffs in solemn grandeur frown;
Then gently flowing through the lowland vale.
Spreads life and verdure where life else would fail;
Mountains too, as rearing their bare and lofty heads to heaven, and pointing thither; hoary with age, or crowned with glittering whiteness and spotless purity, like those which cheer and bless the world of life and light on high; as thus lofty, and thus crowned, they have been the chosen places of the Divine presence and power on earth, and for ever stand as consecrated monuments of the greatness and glory of God, as made known to man in connection with them. The glittering summit of Mount Ararat was the prepared resting-place of man in passing from the old world to the new, and ever reminds us of that great event. Mount Moriah was the altar from which the humble, holy faith of Abraham shone so brightly forth upon the world. On Sinai, God in mighty power descended. On Tabor heavenly visitants came down to cheer our Saviour in view of coming agony and woe; and from Olivet he ascended in triumph to heaven. Well, too, has the inspired poet said of the Most High: "Who by his strength setteth fast the mountains, being girded with power. In his hands are the deep places of the earth; the strength of the hills is his also." While the prophet, in still loftier strains, has spoken of the Lord of all, where he says, "God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. He stood and measured the earth; He beheld and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered; the perpetual hills did bow. His way are everlasting."
But aside from health, and wealth, and pleasure, as connected with mountains, and their great moral and religious teachings, which may be known and read by all there is also a direct personal, spiritual lesson, which we may well learn form them, and wisely put in practice. Augustine, in his Confessions, says: "Men travel far to climb high mountains, to observe the majesty of the ocean, to trace the sources of rivers, while they neglect themselves." Petrarch, having read this passage on the summit of the Alps, exclaimed: "Admirable reasoning! Admirable thought!" "If," said he, "I have undergone so much labor in climbing this mountain, that my body might be nearer heaven, what ought I not to do in order that my soul may be received into those immortal regions." Thus, too, should we all so read the Book of Nature which God has spread out before us, that to us there may ever be
"Tongues in trees, sermons in stones,
Books in the running brooks, and good in everything."
It is further true that the saints of former ages have often found a refuge from the tempest, and a hiding-place from the storm of persecuting cruelty and rage "in mountains and deserts, in dens and caves of the earth." In view of such protection and deliverance too, as from lofty mountain heights they have, in safety, looked own upon their baffled foes, far, far below them, how often have they felt as did the old Waldensians, when from the mountains tops they sang the hallelujah chorus of their noble hymn:
"For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathersí God."
In connection with the name of the author on the title-page of this work, he is styled "Dutch Dominie of the Catskills." Some years since Rev. Dr. Murdock, formerly pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church in Catskill, wrote an historical romance with the title above, the hero of which was Dominie Schunneman, who had charge of the Dutch churches in Greene County, east of the mountains, and resided in Leeds, where he died late in the last century. As he lived eight miles from the mountains, while the author of this work was pastor of a Dutch church among the mountains, and himself lived there, he has, as a matter of humor or caprice, merely assumed the title in question.
The authorís early professional labors were, for years, on board a man-of-war in our navy, and he published on his return from the sea two volumes, of more than eight hundred pages in all, entitled, "Sketches of Foreign Travel, and Life at Sea; including a Cruise on board a Man-of-War, as also a visit to Spain, Portugal, the south of France, Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Ionian Islands, Continental Greece, Liberia, and Brazil, and a Treatise on the Navy of the United States." It was well received by the public, while notices of it by the press were much more full and favorable than the author had anticipated. This is the book referred to on the title-page of the present work.