April 8, 1971
The Adirondacks in 1858
The following article was submitted to the Record by Ralph Bellows who received it from Mr. Warder Cadbury, a researcher for the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. J. H. Dudly of Poughkeepsie, NY wrote the article. and describes his first trip to Chateaugay Lake in 1858.
Mr. Bellows commented that at the present time Mr. Cadbury is in Florida visiting a grandson of Arthur Tait, who was well known as the artist for many of the Currier & Ives lithographs and who spent considerable time at Chateaugay Lake in the 1850s.
Having heard much and read more concerning the wonderful scenery and the numerous and beautiful Lakes and streams of the great North Woods, together with the reports of the great abundance of deer and trout in the mountains, lakes and streams, such an interest was aroused that nothing short of a personal experience, its scenes and impressions have remained with me during all these years, and later visits have but intensified them.
Late in July of 1858 a party of three–of whom the writer alone remains–started for the northern part of the North Woods.
On arriving at Whitehall we took passage on the streamer Canada, in command of Capt. L. Chamberlain, and who ever has traveled on his boat has met a gentleman and knows what a clean boat is. The streamer in those days took passengers at the village of Whitehall instead of Ticonderoga and landed them at Rouses Point, a most delightful sail over beautiful water and amid grand scenery.
From Rouses Point we went by rail to Chateaugay village, thence team to Bellows’ Hotel on lower Chateaugay Lake. There we met the then venerable sportsmen Drs. Adams and Bethune, of Boston. Twenty-eight years later I met Dr. Adams on Upper Chateaugay, still hale and hearty and the most persistent fly-caster on either lake.
On the evening of our arrival at the hotel quite an excitement was created by the report that “there was a bear in the lake swimming for the shore.” It took but a short time to unpack and load our rifles, when all started for the lake, some twenty rods, determined to have that bear’s pelt. It was growing dusk, but the bear could be plainly seen and was making fair progress, but quite too far out in the lake for us to open fire; so we lay close, waited and watched with cocked rifles and bated breath. But the longer we waited and watched the feebler grew our hopes of capturing the bear, of having a pelt to show and steaks for breakfast. Its nearer approach did not increase its magnitude, and it was decided to be but a cub, which we must not shoot, but take alive. To this all agreed, for a live cub was better than the skin of a dead bear to take home.
In the meantime the bear held on its course, reached the shore, climbed the bank, shook itself, looked at us, and lo! it was a black dog returning from a deer chase. As our rifles must be unloaded–no breechloaders in those times–we gave the dog a generous salute for its exploit.
Learning that deer and trout were in great abundance at Ragged Lake, some twelve miles over the mountains, where Mr. Bellows had built a log shanty for the use of his guests, we decided to make that our headquarters for a week or ten days.
Accordingly we engaged guides, procured the necessary supplies–but no whisky–made a pack for each, and having been set across the lake, took up our line of march, a faint trail indicated by blazed trees, no team or horse ever having been there before us. Being unused to such loads our locomotion was not rapid, and our rests were frequent.
While upon our tramp we came upon a porcupine, killed by lightning–or in modern phrase, electrocutionized. How did we know the lightning had killed it? Although there were no Indians in our party to interpret signs, the proof was before us. Lightning had struck a tree splintering it to the ground, and at its foot lay the dead porcupine.
At Figure Eight Pond our guide had a boat hidden in the bushes, and on it we piled our duffle, as “Newwmuk” would call our equipment.
Figure Eight Pond, a celebrated resort for deer to feed–where I saw seven of one time but killed none–is on a branch of Salmon River, which here runs south through Lilypad Pond, Ragged Lake, etc., and then turns nearly north, emptying into the St. Lawrence below St. Regis.
Being relieved of everything except our guns, we made better progress, and in due time reached the shanty on Ragged Lake, where we found two excellent guides, who soon had a welcome repast of trout and venison, which our long tramp enabled us to enjoy to the full.
One of the guides that came with us became so lonesome and homesick for a certain damsel he had left behind that he was allowed to return, and his place was much more than filled by two guides found at the shanty on our arrival.
Our party of six consisted of J. R. Wiltsie, of Newburgh, NY.; Jas. G. Wood and the writer, of Poughkeepsie NY., with A. Sprague [Anthony?], H. Bellows [Hiram] and Burt Blatchley, three most excellent guides, though Burt would swear awfully and drink all the whisky he could get, as we particularly learned afterward.
Here we passed seven days of real enjoyment, taking trout–real salmon–colored ones, and highly flavored–by day and floating for deer at night. Each of us had more or less severe attacks of “buck fever,” but our rough tables never lacked either venison or trout. Neither was the surplus of either allowed to spoil. Our trusty and active guides, who understood the business, built a stone smoke-house of small but sufficient dimensions, laid sticks across the top, and on these the meat, cut into strips, with the trout properly dressed, and slightly salted, were laid, and the whole covered with thick bark. A slow fire was kindled in the pit and kept burning till all were partly cooked and well dried. In this condition either will keep for months, and when eaten at home is a pleasant reminder of camp scenes and life.
The exact number or pounds of trout we took I cannot give, but of deer we killed but five, which no one can say was extravagant, and to prove that none was wasted, my recollection is that we packed out of the woods some 70 lbs.
During our stay we had many pleasant, and some not so pleasant, experiences. I well remember taking Wiltsie in the little tub of a dugout and going down the lake some distance to look for a deer that I felt sure I had killed the night before. In order to get on shore, the little dugout was pushed upon a bog, from which I stepped to another, and so on to hard ground, leaving W. in the stern. The contents of the lake at this point were neither water nor earth, being too thick to drink or wash with, and too thin to walk upon, color black, and rather thicker than molasses.
While out in the thick bushes looking for my deer, a smothered cry for help reached my ears. I rushed back to the shore and in spite of the situation was compelled to indulge in a hearty laugh. There was W. in the black muck, having upset the dugout, vainly attempting to right the boat, or get on to it, holding on with one hand and fighting mosquitoes for dear life with the other, and no ground to stand upon, looking more like a bear than the one we attempted to catch on the other lake. By our united efforts the boat was righted, and we paddled back to the shanty. But such a looking object I never saw before nor since, black from head to heels, while the thin muck had saturated every article of clothing, filling both boots and every pocket about him. As we did not have many changes of clothing he was allowed to keep his bunk while his clothes were cleaned and dried. No more tub dugouts for him. The writer has but little to say as he came near having a much more, if not fatal, experience, in the same thick composition of water and muck.
Having satisfied our most sanguine hopes as to the sport, health, scenery, etc., we returned to the hotel and thence to Upper Chateaugay Lake, which at that time was in a primeval state with the exception of a single shanty–long since a ruin and its location almost unknown.
I thought then, and still think, it the most beautiful body of water, with its surroundings, I ever saw. High hills nearly all around it, with thick forest down to the water’s edge which no axe had ever touched, nor streamer plowed its waters.
We made no attempt for deer, but trout were nearly as abundant as in Ragged Lake but not of the same color or flavor.
I visited Ragged Lake in 1859 for the last time, for soon after the lumbermen built a dam that ruined its waters so as to destroy the old localities and ruin it for sport for many years to come. A chartered club now owns it, I believe.
The waters of Upper Chateaugay have also been raised considerably by a dam at the lower lake, where several charcoal furnaces are running and consuming the forests of the surrounding mountains, so that barrenness has taken the place of living verdure.
Perhaps in the aggregate more pleasure is obtained on the Upper Chateaugay at the present time than when our party was there, for now it has its thousands of annual visitors, where it then had its tens.
There are more hotels and near a dozen villas and cottages now surround it. Still I know of no more delightful place to spend a vacation then there. Fishing is fairly good, while bear, deer, and partridge in their season are occasionally met with.
I have said so much concerning this first visit that I must omit all notice of later visits to these waters and to other portions of the Adirondacks.