Forgotten Voices

Part one, Jeptha Sims, from his book "Trappers of New York," published 1851


Some of the earliest accounts of life in the Adirondacks were published in Jeptha Simms' "Trappers of New York." While the full title of the book is "Trappers of New York, or a biography of Nicholas Stoner & Nathaniel Foster together with anecdotes of other celebrated hunters, and some account of Sir William Johnson, and his style of living," for this article we will consider the portion of the book concerning Lawrence Vrooman's 1810/11 survey for a road which is now Rte 10 between Caroga Lake and Piseco Lake.  


Born in Connecticut in 1807, Simms moved with his family to Otsego, NY in 1824. For a short time he taught school, but soon relocated to Canajoharie where he when into the merchandising. By 1832 he again moved, this time to Schoharie, where he began his collection of Revolutionary War material. His work was considered so valuable that New York State later purchased his collection for the State Museum.


Much of Simms' work of collecting involved direct interviews with first and second generation descendents, all at his own personal expense. The result was his first book, published in 1845, titled "History of Schoharie County and Border Wars of New York." In the last two years before his death he completed and published a reworked History of Schoharie County titled "The Frontiersmen of New York - Volume One." The second volume was nearly completed when he passed away in 1883 and was published soon after.


Simms was at times criticized for what seemed to be embellishments and inaccuracies in his works, but as he himself had noted he was relying on those whose memory of events could be unclear, or their desire to give an account that reflects better on those involved was always possible. Even with that, his works are an important part of the historical record from that time period. His book "Trappers of New York" was created from material concerning the Southern Adirondacks that he collected during his travels. it also includes the expected flowery descriptions so prevalent in works from that era. As the theory of the Ice Age was only just beginning to gain acceptance, the part two gives an interesting view of glacial erratic and other natural features.


Finally, in the first part of this excerpt there is reference to two individuals -  J Watts Cady, and Marcus T. Reynolds, who where noted as young men studying law.   J Watts Cady (1790 - 1854) graduated from Union College in 1808, practiced law in Johnston, and went on to be a member of the NYS Assembly in  1822, serving in the U. S. Congress  1823 - 25.


Marcus Tullius Reynolds  (1788-1864),was a Congressman, attorney, railroad president, and public benefactor, with little else is in public record besides note of his burial place in Albany Rural Cemetery. His grandson, also Marcus T Reynolds, was one of Albany’s foremost architects, best known for his Delaware & Hudson Building at the intersection of State and Broadway in downtown Albany, which is still standing today.



Excerpt from Chapter XI


When the lands contiguous to Piseco Lake, known as the Ox Box tract , were surveyed, a road, "beginning eight miles northerly from Johnstown," was laid out from thence to Ox Box Lake, a distance of 26 miles and 9 chains. Major Stoner attended the surveyor and commissioners as pilot, and was thus engaged for two seasons. Lawrence Vrooman of Schenectady was the surveyor, and Stephen Owen and James McLalin were the commissioners on the road, as appears by a map of the survey, which was filed in the county clerk's office April 1, 1811. Not a few pleasing incidents transpired in the wilderness during this time, to keep  the party, which sometimes numbered nearly twenty, in good spirits. Of the number while laying out the road, who  thus enjoyed a portion of the novelty attending a trapper's life, and learned how large mosquitoes will grow in the woods if well fed, were J Watts Cady, and Marcus T. Reynolds. At  that time they were young men, possibly with some "wild oats," but since they have become legal gentlemen of no little notoriety.


At one time when the surveying party were near the Ox Bow, a name significant of the shape of one of the lakes, and far removed from any human habitation; they got out of provisions , and the pack-men, whose duty it was to go after a supply, were unwilling to start, entertaining some doubts about ever finding their way back. In this emergency Stoner volunteered to proceed with as little delay as possible to the nearest settlement, which was lake Pleasant, and relieve the necessities of his comrades. Arriving just at evening at the house of a pioneer, named Denny, the family baked nearly all night; and early in the morning, with a sack upon his back, containing nearly a dozen large loaves of bread, and a good sized cheese to balance, he set out on his return. Knowing the necessities of his forest friends he did not tarry to let the bread get cold, and as the weather was warm, his back was almost blistered on his arrival. Before he reached the place of destination, he met a messenger dispatched by Vrooman to assist him; bringing a junk-bottle of rum.


Speaking of his experience in surveying in the Piseco country, Cady observed of Stoner, that he would kindle a fire- climb a tree- cook a dinner- empty a bottle- shoot a deer- hook a trout or scent an Indian , quicker than any other man he ever knew. The old trapper, as he informed the writer, took some pains to show the young men named, (who were law students at the time,) how to catch trout, and in the north branch of the Sacandaga, Cady, under his teaching, caught a bouncing one; of which exploit he was very proud, as in fact he had a right to be; for it made a meal for the whole surveying corps.


Anxious to get through as soon as possible, the party laying out a road, continued their labors in some instances on the Sabbath. Stoner usually carried a small flag, and while crossing a mountain in advance of the men on Sunday, he discovered a mass of ice between the rocks, and gave a shout that at first excited the anxiety of his comrades, lest some wild beast lingering in their path. the next day they captured a large turtle on the shore of Piseco Lake, and from it took one hundred and seventy-two eggs, of which they made eggnog; cooled before being served round by ice obtained by letting one of the corps down between the rocks. About twenty individuals partook of the beverage, among them where Seth Wetmore, the state's agent for the opening an intersecting road, and Obadiah Wilkins. The last named gentlemen acted as master of ceremonies in the dressing and cooking the turtle's meat, which afforded the party a fine repast. This was on the 4th day of July, 1810.


At some point of the survey, Stoner shot a hedgehog, which Vrooman wanted skinned; and besought several to do it, but in vain: they did not dare to handle it. the old trapper volunteered and took off the bristly pelt; which the surveyor, on his return, carried home with him.



Part two - Jeptha Sims, from his book "Trappers of New York," published 1851.

 Continued excerpt from Chapter XI


The southerly portion of the country under consideration is hilly and in many places mountainous. the soil is generally stony, though in many instances, fertile; but far better adapted to grazing, than the production of grain. The prevailing rock is of primitive order, consequently the shores of the lakes which sparkle here and there in the glens, abound in depositories of beautiful sand; which often afford good writing sand. The timber is principally beech, birch, maple, hemlock and spruce. Much of the hemlock is sawed into fence-boards, and acres of spruce annually wrought into shingles or sawed into floor plank; all of which find a ready market at the nearest accessible point on the Erie canal: and since the Caroga and Fonda plank road is favorable to its removal, not a little will find its way to Fultonville, where considerable quantities were landed before the plank road was laid out.


Much of the country still has a primeval look, but its majestic forest lords and advantageous water powers, must in time invite in  the thrifty artisan and hard fisted yeoman, to subdue and cultivate it: indeed, the time may not be distant when this new country shall not only "bud and blossom as a rose" but with the rose. It certainly is a healthy district; for it abounds in waters the most limpid, and breezes the most invigorating. the lakes and their tributaries are stored with an abundance of delicious trout; and if not walled castles, stately mansions may yet rear their imposing fronts in those glens; to be know in the future ages as the rivals of the far-famed glens of Scotland; where some Scott or Burns shall rise up, to picture their Indian legends in story and song.


The outlet to some of the lakes around which Maj. Stoner used to trap  the sagacious, though too often confiding beaver, run off in a northerly course to swell the Hudson, while other lakes send their tribute in a southerly direction to the Mohawk. The most eastern of the latter class are the Caroga lakes, discharging in a creek of the same name, which runs into the Mohawk in the western part of Palatine. Some two or three miles to the westward of the Carogas is a larger lake, known among the early hunters as Fish Lake, though often called Canada Lake, because it pays tribute to East Canada Creek.


As anonymous writer in the Geneva Courier, over the signature of Harold, has thus pertinently described the sheet of water and its locality, in that paper, bearing date Oct. 28, 1845. "Two and a half miles from Caroga [Caroga must be the aboriginal word] is a large lake, about four miles in length, to which I gave the name Lake Byrn. It takes exactly the form of a letter S. I think this is the most romantic spot I ever visited. The surface of the ground rising back from the shore, is covered with large irregularly shaped rocks, from five to forty feet in diameter, lying entirely above ground, and often tumbling together in mountain masses, lodged and wedged in life driftwood.  Many rocks are driven asunder and the base of each portion thrown outward from the line of separation, the superior parts resting against each other, thus forming apartments with a solid roof large enough to shelter a dozen to twenty men. This I think must have been the work of fire. Strange as it may seen, all this is in quite a dense forest, and almost infinite are the shapes taken by the  trees in their turnings and twistings to avoid the numerous rocks. In some instances the roots of a single tree have grown astride a huge rock, the base of the trunk reaching its apex, six or eight feet from the ground. the appearance is the same as if the rock were forced up from the ground beneath, elevating the tree with it,  but not a particle of earth attaches to either; and these are all living healthy trees.  It is in this neighborhood that tradition says large sums of money were buried by certain Spaniards, in the time of the American Revolution; but 'it's sure never a bat o' it did I find at all, at all!' So said a hard-fisted son of Erin, relating the story. Near the center of Lake Byrn, is a small rocky island, covered with evergreens, birch and flowering shrubs." This island, the reader will remember, I have named Stoner's Island. The writer above quoted called on Major Stoner, at the time of the his visit, and his Chips of Travel contained a brief summary of he old warriors military life.


A few miles distant from Lake Byrn is a body of water of nearly  the same size called Pine Lake, on account of the lordly pines about its shores: it empties into the former. The two small crystal sheets above Pine Lake are called the Stink Lakes. their unpoetic name attached from the following incident. Stoner and De Line were there on a hunt, and discovered many bushes lf dead fish, principally suckers, which had got over a beaver's dam in a freshet; and which, being unable to return, had died on  the recession of  the water, to the great annoyance of those hunters, who thus named the lakes. The outlet runs into that of Pine Lake. Several small lakes in he southerly part of Hamilton County, unite their waters to form the head of West Canada Creek. Lake Good Luck, some ten or twelve miles in circumference, which likes only six miles to the northward of Stink lakes, empties into the west branch of the Sacandaga, one and a half miles below Devereux's mills. This lake derived its name from the following incident. While Vrooman was surveying near it, and several of his party were making a large canoe from the trunk of a tree, John Burgess, his son-in-law, discharged a gun at a loon, off on the water. The piece burst and scattered its fragments harmlessly in every direction. The accident terminated so fortunately, that the name of the lake now bears, was entered on the surveyor's field-book.



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