Here to return to
THE HEART OF THE HUDSON HIGHLANDS
FOR a distance of twenty miles, from Cornwall on the north to Peekskill on the south, the broad current of the Hudson twists and turns among the mountains. Where the river enters this realm of rugged peaks are the two opposing heights of Storm King and Breakneck Mountain, forming the Northern Gate of the Highlands. Where the river escapes into the milder region beyond Peekskill is the Southern Gate guarded by the Dunderberg on the west shore, and the Spitzenberg Mountains opposite. Up and down the stream the great river steamers plough their way, and the canal-boat tows toil back and forth, and there are frequent motor boats plying in the neighborhood of the towns, and now and then one sees a steam yacht, or, best of all, especially amid the wilder scenery, a slow, old sailing vessel dependent wholly on the vagaries of the winds.
Hugging close to either shore for nearly the whole distance through the Highlands is a railroad, and to get a foothold, even at the water’s edge, it has often been necessary to blast out a terrace at the base of the crags, or to open a way through some outjutting ridge by cutting down from the top or by tunnelling. The thunder of the trains along the iron rails comes to the ear almost unceasingly, the air is apt to be much dimmed by the smoke that pours forth from the engines, and you are constantly reminded that the valley is a great commercial highway.
Perhaps of all the bordering mountains Storm King is the best known. Its abruptness and comparative isolation make it particularly impressive. To some the name seems rather sentimental, but to most it is in keeping with the mountain’s size and character, and they would not have it replaced with the older cognomen of Butter Hill. “A pretty big lump of butter,” one of the long-time residents of the vicinity commented to me, “but it really does have the shape of a lump of butter if you see it from some points of view.”
He called my attention to the sister height across the stream, and said: “That’s another big bunch of rocks. They say an Indian fell down the cliffs there once and broke his neck, and so they call it Breakneck Mountain.”
As one continues southward the more important mountains are Bull Hill, Crow Nest, Sugar Loaf, Anthony’s Nose, Bear Hill, and the Dunderberg, all steep and ponderous, and with many a bare, gray shoulder of rock showing through the foliage. About half way between the northern and southern gates is West Point with its magnificent, castle-like buildings nestling amid the trees near the cliff-bordered river and having a background of forested ridges.
Most of these features of the region are familiar to whoever has journeyed up and down the river, but I wanted to see something of life and nature beyond the immediate borders of the stream. On the map, back among the mountains, I had found a place called Doodletown, and I determined to make its acquaintance, fully persuaded that a place with such a name and in such a situation was worth investigating. I made a guess at what was the nearest railroad station, and there I left the train one sunny October. morning. A short climb up a steep hill took me into a tiny village in a wooded glen, where one of the natives gave me detailed directions so that the crooks and partings of the roads between there and Doodletown should not puzzle and take me astray. While we were talking, a shock-headed country boy about fourteen years old sat on a store porch close by. He looked straight ahead and was apparently meditating, wholly oblivious of what was going on around him, but as I was resuming my walk he casually observed that he was going to Doodletown and would show me the way. So we went on together.
I presently learned that my companion’s name was Johnny Stotten. He was at first somewhat reticent, but gradually became voluble and confidential. “I’m goin’ to be a boatman,” he said. “I’ll get a job on a brick barge, don’t you know? This year I’m in school, but I’ll be on the river next year. Some boys might not like handling bricks, but I’ve always worked from a kid up, and I don’t think it’ll be any harder than what I’ve had to do up here in the mountains. I help loading the wagons and sleds and driving the horses. Some of the cordwood sticks are so heavy I can’t hardly lift ‘em, and often we have to draw the wood from awful rocky places where it’s right straight down almost, and the load nearly pushes the collars off the horses’ heads. Once in a while there’s an accident. A man near us was up in the woods sleddin’, and he was walkin’ side of the load drivin’ when he stepped on a wet stick — you know how slippery that is. His feet went from under him, and the horses drug him quite a distance. Some of his ribs was broken and his shoulder, and he’s been a cripple man ever since.
“Do you see those dead trees up there on that slope? There used to be lots of highholes in them. A highhole is a bird with a big, long mouth. It’s like a woodpecker, only larger. They’re good to eat, and we used to shoot ‘em while they were around in the bushes after dogwood and sumach berries.
“Now we’re passing along side of a little lake — Highland Lake, they call it. The water looks clear and nice, but it’ll poison anyone who takes a drink. It makes your mouth itch and your face swell up. My brother drank some once, and when he came home we did n’t know him. Oh! did n’t he have a big face! There’s lots of fish in the lake — black bass, perch, pickerel, and everything. Gorry! I don’t know what is n’t in there. We’ve eaten many a nice mess of ‘em.
“A battle was fought near here in the Revolutionary War — that’s what they tell me. I like to hear about battles and I like to read history; but I don’t like to read novels. They scare me so my hair stands up straight, and I don’t know what to do.
“There’s a family of Arabians have got a camp off in the woods on this side road that leaves the main road here. The man goes around to the houses and tells fortunes. I guess he makes money because he’s always dressed good when I seen him. He wanted to give an entertainment in the schoolhouse, but they would n’t let him. One of the Doodletown boys went to the Arabians’ camp, and the man took a half dollar and blew it into a dollar. The boy don’t want to go there again. He says they are witches. I would n’t want to see ‘em do such things, and I don’t believe they can. They have some kind of a scheme to fool you.
“Way up on that mountain ahead of us a horse fell off the rocks last summer. It was a big white horse that was out to pasture, and it broke its back and busted a big hole in its head.”
At last we reached Doodletown up among the forest heights. It is a place of scattered homes, and these are dotted along on divergent roads that follow up various valleys between the big rocky ridges. Nowhere is there a village nucleus, and even the church, the schoolhouse, and the store are widely separated from each other, and none of them has more than a house or two in the immediate vicinity. The little white church stands at the junction of two roads, and close by was a great wayside pile of cordwood. This wood was indicative of the chief industry of the region. The forests, and not the diminutive fields or the few cattle, are the main support of the people.
One of the dwellings that particularly attracted my attention was a shed-like structure scarcely high enough to stand up in. Roundabout the grass grew rank, and evidently was neither cut nor browsed off. The door was padlocked. On the end of the hut toward the road the window was open and several narrow strips of board had been nailed across in a manner to suggest a cage for savage beasts; and, sure enough, when we came opposite the house, several dogs leaped up on the inside, put their forepaws on the windowsill and barked at us viciously.
“Hello, Danny,” Johnny said.
“Who are you speaking to?” I asked.
“Well,” Johnny said, “the man who lives there looks just like one of his dogs, and I can’t tell whether I see Danny or the tarrier at the window; so I say ‘hello’ anyway when I go past. Danny calls the dogs his children. He lives there alone with ‘em, and when he goes off to work he locks ‘em in. I think they get their noses in every bit of food he eats.”
I inquired of Johnny where I could find a lodging-place, and he mentioned several homes including his own. It was easier to continue with the friend I already had than to seek refuge among entire strangers, and we went on up one of the valleys to the last house on the winding mountain road. The dwelling was a shapeless, uncertain structure, the older portion of which had at some time been painted yellow. At the front door was a little porch with a broken floor, and the porch posts were so decayed at the base that they threatened to let the patched and twisted roof down altogether. On the hard-trodden earth round about was a great variety of household furniture — chairs and rugs, pieces of stovepipe, etc. The boy’s mother appeared at the door, towsled and grimy-handed and somewhat disconcerted by the advent of a stranger. She was in the midst of housecleaning, but I might stay if I would be satisfied with the accommodations they could furnish.
So I sat down in one of the chairs in the yard where I could look forth at the mountains aglow in the sunshine with their autumn tints of scarlet and gold. Johnny and a younger brother, Gerald, and a still smaller sister started a game of ball at one side of the house amid the weeds and upthrusting boulders. For clubs they used woodpile sticks, and their ball was a little wad of cloth wound about with string. There was a good deal of laughter in their play, and a good deal of scolding, disputing, and bluffing. They could not bat the ball far without its going into the brush or trees or over a tumble-down stone wall. Often they knocked around some hard, green, globular fruit that strewed the ground under one of the yard trees. I asked what the green balls were, and Gerald said: “We call ‘em mock oranges, but they hain’t. When they get dry they smell awful pretty and we like to put ‘em in the bureau drawers where we keep our clothes.”
Close by the picket gate that gave entrance to the yard was a big dead cherry tree with its gauntness almost hidden by grapevines. The leafage on the vines was still green, and here and there I could catch glimpses of pendant purple clusters of grapes. Presently Johnny went and stood by the roadside surveying the tangle of vines up above. “I guess I’ll have to get some of them grapes,” he said to me. “There’s grapes in the woods, too — summer grapes and frost grapes. The summer grapes grow around the swamps. They are big and sweet, and we pick and do them down. If I’m where the frost grapes are after they are ripe I eat ‘em right out of hand.”
Johnny now sat down and took off his shoes, then gripped the tree and scuffled upward till he was among the branches. Soon the grapeskins began to drop, and Gerald observed this evidence of feasting with watering mouth. “Give us a bunch, Johnny,” he called.
But Johnny said nothing, and the grapeskins continued to fall with irritating profusion. Gerald repeated his request and threw one of the hard green mock oranges up at Johnny as an inducement to comply. When this did not produce the desired result the bombardment of appeals and missiles became continuous. The boy in the tree was well protected by vines, and at first he was not especially disturbed. But after a while he was hit. Then he protested loudly and told his brother he would come down and kill him.
“Chuck us a bunch, and I won’t bother you,” Gerald said.
Just then Lizzie, a grown-up sister, came out to the road and addressing Gerald said: “S’pos’n’ you made Johnny fall out of the tree. I’ll go right in and tell mama of you.”
So he threw a few mock oranges at her, which made her skip and screech. Some of them flew in my direction. “Stop it, Gerald!” she cried. “You’ll hit that man! You think you’re awful cunning, but you just wait till papa comes home!”
“Mama!” she called, as she scurried into the house, “Johnny’s in the grape tree and Gerald’s pelting him.”
Pretty soon she reappeared. “Johnny,” she called, “come down and lick him. Come down and chase him till you ketch him.”
After a while Mrs. Stotten came out and looked up into the tree. “Where are yer, Johnny?” she said. “Why don’t you get that man some of those grapes? Pick some nice bunches, and I’ll put ‘em in a dish.”
She went back and got a pan and caught the bunches as he tossed them down. “They all smash,” she said depricatingly.
“Go git a apron,” Johnny said.
She brought the apron and holding it well spread out said: “Let’s have some nice big ones, Johnny.
That’s it. Well, now, Johnny, get a few more bunches, and then hurry down. You’ve got to go to the store. I’ve been pokin’ you to go all the afternoon.”
“I’ll be right down,” Johnny responded.
“It begins to get cool,” Mrs. Stotten said to me. “Perhaps you’d be more comfortable sitting in the parlor. The men’ll get home soon, and they’ll be company for you.”
I went in and she brought me some grapes in a glass dish. Most of them were intact, and the clusters were large, though the individual grapes were small. While I sat by the open window eating them the little girl approached shyly outside and put an apple on the sill for me, and then hastily and silently departed.
Mrs. Stotten presently called again to Johnny who still lingered in the tree. “I’m coming,” he said reassuringly; but not until he had been called once or twice more did he descend. Then he leisurely put on his shoes and went off down the road to do the errand at the store.
Mrs. Stotten now began supper preparations by going to where a few long sticks lay by the wayside and cutting enough into firewood to make an armful. She wielded the ax with an effective vigor that was plainly the result of much practice. About this time the man of the house arrived with Luther, his oldest son. They sat down in the parlor with me, and Mr. Stotten said: “You some resemble a man named Willetts who comes up here from New York to paint pictures. He’s the greatest mountain runner I ever seen in my life. That feller goes around our rough roads and woods just for pleasure. Oh, gracious sakes, yes!”
While Mr. Stotten talked he smoked his pipe, and from time to time he relieved himself of his surplus saliva. There was a carpet on the floor, but it was so cut as to leave a strip of painted floorboards exposed along the borders of the room, and it was this strip of flooring that received his expectorations.
“I heard a good many guns goin’ today,” he continued. “There’s fine hunting here. I don’t s’pose any mountains have more game in ‘em than these. You see, for a long distance back westerly it’s mostly wilderness with very few inhabitants. We have any amount of red and gray foxes, and once in a while a link or a catamount, and sometimes a black bear travels through. Probably those bigger wild animals wander here from the mountainous country in Pennsylvanny. My wife’s brother come across one of those Rocky Mountain wildcats when he was out with his dog hunting not long ago. The wildcat clumb a tree, and it made a spring for him just as he shot at it. Down it come close to him, and if it had n’t been hit so bad it was about at its last kicks it would have killed him, dog and all. A wildcat is a nasty beast when it comes to fighting. It has a way of layin’ on its back and scratchin’ a dog all to pieces.
“This is my native region, but I’ve worked a good deal on boats up and down the Hudson and along the coast. One while I worked on a New Haven oyster boat, and what feasts I had then! I can eat oysters till I look like ‘em — eat ‘em raw right out of the shell. Those oysters were big — they were old bouncers.
“That puts me in mind of a girl who lived back here in the mountains. Her home was in what is called Burke’s Holler over t’other side of Bull Hill. A feller named Henry Newell, who used to run around with her a good deal, invited her to go with him to West P’int where there was to be some doin’s. This ‘ere girl had n’t never seen the river before, and when a steamboat hove in sight she grabbed Henry by the arm and says, ‘Look a’ there! What’s that comin’ up the river?”
“‘That’s a steamboat,’ Henry says.
“‘How old is that steamboat?’ she asked.
“‘I s’pose twelve or fourteen years,’ Henry says. “‘Well, my gracious!’ the girl says, if she grows till she’s twenty won’t she be a bouncer!’
“Henry made a mistake giving her that outing. After seem’ how the young fellers at West P’int dressed and behaved she concluded he wa’n’t smart enough for her. He was expectin’ they’d be goin’ to the dominie soon to get j’ined together, but she dropped him. That was years ago, but he won’t stand any jokin’ on the subject even now. I met him with his team on the road lately and made some pleasant remark about the age of steamboats and the like o’ that, and he was goin’ to knock my brains out with a cordwood stick.
Skinning the coon
“That girl gives you a fair idea of the ignorance of some of the people in these parts of the world. I s’pose there’s folks back here who’ve lived to a terrible age and never seen New York. One day I met a well-to-do man I knew in a village where there was a little fruit and candy store and invited him to have an ice-cream with me at my expense.
“He hung back. ‘I don’t know whether I’d like it,’ he said.
“But I insisted on to him, and we went into the little store and had some. ‘Well, John, that’s pretty good, ain’t it?’ he says, when we finished.
“He was seventy years old, and in his hull life had never tasted ice-cream before. The fact is he was that infernal stingy he would n’t buy it even if he wanted it.
“Another old man — his name was Courtlandt Powers — went down to New York for the first time. When he come back we asked him how it looked. He said he thought it was quite a smart place, but he felt no satisfaction in going there because the houses were so blame thick he could n’t see anything.”
I mentioned the salute Johnny and I had received from the dogs in the little hut down the road.
“Yes,” Mr. Stotten said, “Danny is quite a dog fancier. He had seven or eight dogs livin’ there with him one while. But he got sick, and the board of health come up and decided it would improve the premises and his chances of getting well to dispose of the dogs. They sent word for me to see that the dogs was all shot. I went there, and Danny made a great fuss. He said there was no religion in dog-shooting, and no man who was a man would do such a thing — the man who’d drag away a poor dog and kill it must have a heart of stone. I told him I had my orders, but he would n’t let me shoot only three.
“Danny’s a good worker. The worst you can say about him is that he’s an opium-eater. He’ll take a two-ounce bottle of laudanum and put it to his mouth and drink it right off, and he has to have the opium or he’d die. If he goes without it any length of time he’ll lay right in fits and froth at the mouth like a mad dog till he gets it. I knew a woman who used opium. She lived to be wonderful old, but in her last years she was all withered and dried up so there was nothing of her. When she did n’t have opium she’d be in such distress you would n’t think she’d live from one minute to another, but when she got some again she’d be up inside of quarter of an hour and around as lively as a cricket. Luther, you remember her. That was Jim Beasley’s wife — mother to Mandy and Molly.”
Supper was now announced, and Mr. Stotten knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and Luther threw away the stub of a cigaret he had been puffing, and we adjourned to the dining-room. The room was small, and with its table, chairs, stove, and other furniture was much crowded. The food was bountiful, and appetites were hearty, and huge mouthfuls conveyed on the knife blades disappeared with remarkable rapidity. The place of honor at the table was occupied by a white-haired patriarch whom Mr. Stotten addressed as Daddy, and whom the children called Grampy. “He’s past eighty years old,” Mr. Stotten said to me, “and just as well as he ever was. You never had a doctor to you in your life, did you Daddy?”
“Wunst,” the veteran said.
“But I’ll warrant you wa’n’t so wonderful serious sick even if you did have the doctor,” Mr. Stotten declared, and he turned to me and added, “I wish my health was as good as his.”
“Is that a dog under the table stepping on my feet?” Luther said.
Lizzie, who was bringing in a freshly-filled dish of potato and some apple sauce from the little leanto kitchen, set the things on the table, and investigated underneath. “No, it’s a cat,” she announced.
One of the delicacies in the bill of fare was honey. The comb that contained it was in irregular pieces and the cells were a good deal broken. “We got that honey from over in the woods a few days ago,” Mr. Stotten explained. “I watched some bees flying away from a bunch of sumachs and saw the direction they took, and I follered to where they went into a hole in the rocks. We put sulphur in dry rags and made a smudge. That killed most of ‘em, though some people say that bees killed that way come to after a few hours. It was a bad place to get at. Luther crawled down in head first, and I held onto him by the seat of his pants. He cut the honey loose and then hooked onto it with a crotched stick and drew it out. We could n’t help its dragging on the rock, so there’s some grit into it. But we got more honey than I ever got out of any bee tree I’ve cut. Luther was stung quite a little about his hands, and they swelled up like cushions. Will you have some more potato? This has been a poor year for raisin’ potatoes here. We planted four barrels, but I doubt if we’ll git that many. We had a fair hay crop. Johnny and Gerald can both swing a scythe now, and they’re quite a help. A machine is not much use here, the fields are so small, and there’s so many rocks stickin’ up, and so many swampy spots.”
Johnny returned from the store just then. He sidled up to his mother rubbing his stomach and said: “I don’t feel good. Will some one else milk for me?”
“Yes, I will,” she responded.
Then Gerald wanted some one to milk for him, not because he did n’t feel well, but because he had filled the woodbox and he thought he had done his share of work. His plea was not successful, and the evening tasks were done somehow. Even the invalid Johnny did not escape scot-free, for when it was announced that the horse had strayed off down the road he was obliged to go out and pursue it in the thickening gloom of the evening.
I had gone back to the parlor. In the center of the room was a little stand with a big shabby family Bible on it, and in one corner was a marble topped table, the edge of which had been beautified by a band of home-applied bronze. The other furniture included several modern easy chairs, two attractive rugs, a stove, and a little organ. On the corner table was an ornate lamp of huge dimensions. It was such a lamp as seldom makes an advent into as humble a home except as the result of a wedding, and how it got there I could not imagine. But Mrs. Stotten came in and lighted it and with some pride informed me she had earned it acting as an agent in selling soap, coffee, tea, witch-hazel, and similar things in the neighborhood. “Every time I sell ten dollars’ worth,” she said, “I send on the money, and get as pay for my work something nice for my rooms. You can furnish your whole house. I can sell ten dollars worth in a day pretty near. I just hitch up the horse and drive around. Most everyone will take off me when I go myself. If I send the children they won’t do as well. I only go in summer when money’s plenty, and I sell two or three ten dollar lots in a season. That cuckoo clock on the wall is one of the things I got. I don’t always take the trouble to wind it, and I see it ain’t going, but I’ll start it and you can hear it strike.”
She wound it up and resumed her seat, and pretty soon it struck eleven, and its melodious notes seemed to sufficiently atone for the fact that it was four or five hours out of the way. While Mrs. Stotten and I were talking the little girl came in and climbed into her mother’s lap, and began to tell about playing ball that afternoon. “I made three runs,” she announced.
“Well I bet yer,” the mother commented. “This is the baby,” she added to me. “She’s seven years old, and now it’s her bedtime.”
She went away with the little girl, and soon afterward Johnny looked in at the parlor door and said: “Pop says for you to come out in the other room where there’s a fire. We ain’t got the stovepipe up in here yet. There’s a fireplace in back of that stove, but it’s boarded up and we don’t use it. In the summer we hear the young swallows holler in there. Once I took away the board and found one of the big swallows. I made a grab and caught him. He had little black eyes. I carried him outdoors and let him go. I like to see the swallows fly.”
When I entered the dining-room Mr. Stotten was leaning over the lamp that was on the table lighting his pipe at the top of the chimney. Luther was preparing to write a letter, but was having difficulty in finding paper. A week ago he had a box full, and now as he shook the box and looked into it ruefully he discovered only one lone envelope. “Who uses my paper like that?” he said. “Gorry! I wish they’d leave something alone. I s’pose if I’d waited another day that envelope would have been gone, too.”
However, with his mother’s help, he was at last furnished with writing materials. “Liz,” he said, as he settled down to start his letter, “you go and get me some water to drink. The pail in the back room is empty.”
They got their water from a well in front of the house of their nearest neighbor.
“No, I don’t want to go,” Liz said. “I’m afraid.” “Oh, go on,” Luther urged.
“No,” Liz persisted.
“I’ll go with you,” Mrs. Stotten said. “I can’t keep the Old Boy away from you, but I guess I can protect you from the dark.”
So Liz got the pail and the two went forth into the night.
“This region has been settled a long, long time,” Mr. Stotten said. “There were people living here before the Revolutionary War, and the British soldiers who marched back and forth through the mountain called them the Yankee Doodle Boys. That’s the way the name of Doodletown started. Once there was a big fight between the Hessians and the Americans down by Highland Lake. Oh! it was a bloody battle. Our men slaughtered them Hessians right and left, and after the fight ended they threw the dead into the lake. There was so many they say a person could walk across on those dead bodies. The water is eighty to ninety feet deep anywhere you might to measure it, and in one place they claim there ain’t no bottom at all. A while ago a young feller who was fishing on the lake raised a body with his hook. But he was so scairt when he brought the dead man to the surface that he took out his hook and let the body sink. Then he could n’t get it again. It had on a uniform of gray cloth with two rows of brass buttons down the front, and a yaller stripe across the shoulders, and a yaller band around the sleeves. The body itself wa’n’t decayed, but was petrified just like a clay man. Whether that’s true or not he always told it straight. I’ve heard him tell it myself as many as half a dozen times. Yes, it’s likely there’s lots of dead men down in that lake.
“The water in it is bad. I’ll guarantee that whoever drinks it will have trouble. There used to be a big icehouse by the lake, and in the winter three hundred men would be working to fill it. They drank the water, and they all had sore lips and a sore mouth. Then they got quills for to suck through, but it still made ‘em have sore tongues and sore throats.”
“A great many years ago,” Mrs. Stotten said, “one of my relations — Hiram Holley, his name was — found a skull on that battlefield, and he took it home. Ole Mis Holley kept it in her bedroom on the bureau as a kind of ornament. Gracious sake! what an ugly thing it must have been. I don’t think I’d want it on my bureau lookin’ at me. Once my mother, when she was a girl, went visitin’ the Holleys for a few days, and they put her in that bedroom to sleep. But she would n’t stay in there, and I guess I would n’t either.”
Ready to start after partridges
“That puts me in mind of a story I heared a feller tell down in Jersey,” Mr. Stotten said. “Two men was workin’ in a cemetery, and in their talkin’ they begun to brag of how bold they were. ‘I’d dare go anywhere the darkest night that ever was,’ says one.
“‘Well,’ says the other, ‘I’ll bet you would n’t go in that vault over there at midnight and pick up a dead man’s skull and bring it out.’
“‘I’ll bet you a gallon of rum I’ll do it this very night,’ says the first man.
“So about midnight he went to the tomb. The other feller had got there first and was hiding inside intending to give his friend a scare. The man walked in and felt around until he got hold of a skull, when the other feller says, ‘Let that alone. That’s my skull.’
“‘Well, if that’s yours, I don’t want it,’ the feller says. ‘I’ll find another.’
“After a little search he found one, and the other feller hollers out, ‘Let that alone. That’s my skull.’
“But they can’t both be yours,’ the feller says. ‘There’s only one man talkin’! I’m goin’ to have this anyhow.’
“So out he walked with it, and he won the bet.”
Luther had now finished writing, and he brought out a rattlesnake skin to show me. The live beast had been over five feet long, and on the end of the tail were ten rattles and a button. “I come across him right in the middle of the road,” Luther said, “and when I threw a stone at him he showed fight and rattled and struck at me. Rattlesnakes have tushes that are just like cat’s claws, and they open up their mouth wide and hack at you.”
“There used to be a man who had a saloon down by the river,” Mr. Stotten said. “Wildcat Bill they called him, and he was a wildcat, too. He kep’ some snakes there. I did n’t know he had the devilish things till one day I was in the saloon and an Irishman come in and says, ‘Can I get some beer here?’
“‘Sure thing,’ says Bill. ‘I got beer that would make a dead man alive, and a live man dead.’
“He filled a glass and put it on the counter and then reached underneath and got a great big rattlesnake and stretched it beside the glass. When the Irishman saw that snake he gave one frightened whoop and dashed out of the door. Wildcat Bill was too fond of playing those little jokes with his snakes. His saloon did n’t prosper, and he gave up the business.”
Johnny was sitting with a dog in his lap, and he mentioned that last summer the dog had been bitten by a rattlesnake. “Yes,” Mr. Stotten said, “and for two or three days afterward, if he heard a grasshopper or any little noise along the way, he’d imagine ‘twas a rattler, and he’d almost jump out of his skin. I laughed at him till I had a pain in the side. I put kerosene on his bite — put it on good and plenty. That kills the p’isen right on the spot — kills it in a jiffy as dead as a stone.”
“The biggest rattlesnake I ever killed had only five rattles,” Luther observed, “but I seen one another feller killed that had twenty-seven. They claim the first button comes when the snake is three years old and after that one rattle grows every year, but the snake with twenty-seven was n’t large. I believe snakes are a good deal like people, and shrink up when they get old.”
“Pop come near being bitten by a copperhead once,” Johnny said. “It fastened onto his pantleg, and he was dragging it along when I told him of it.”
“I tell you, a copperhead is a bad animal to have hold of you,” Mr. Stotten affirmed. “I don’t want one to draw any blood on me.”
“But a rattlesnake is ten times more p’isener,” Luther commented.
“You’s think that in a wooded country like this there’d be considerable timber good for building purposes,” Mr. Stotten said, “but we have to buy all our lumber. There ain’t a sawmill in the region. There used to be plenty in the olden time, and you can still find the places where they stood, and the ruins of their dams. The mountains are kep’ cut off in supplying cordwood to the brickyards, and we manage to get it all no matter where it grows. If the slopes are too steep for a team, we pitch the wood down or make gutters and slide it down.
“Daddy,” he said, raising his voice and addressing the old man, who was sitting by the stone in the leanto kitchen, “you can remember, before coal was common, when they tuck most all the wood from here to New York to use for kindlings and firewood in the house‑stoves.”
“Oh, good gracious, yes!” the patriarch said.
“Some curious stories are told about what happened through here in the early days,” Mr. Stotten said. ‘There was Cap’n Blauvell, for instance. He was a-sailin’ his sloop down near Haverstraw one dark night, when his crew heard some one holler to him three times — ‘Hello! Jake Blauvell.’ He anchored and went ashore in a boat, and after a while he come back. They sailed on down to New York, discharged the cargo, and returned to Haverstraw, and there the cap’n laid up his sloop. He did n’t make any more voyages, and from that time off he was a terrible rich man. Whoever it was that called to him must have told him where treasure was buried. They calculate he dug it up somewhere on the beach here by Iona Island. It had been buried by Captain Kidd, I suppose. Kidd’s vessel was chased up here one time by a government ship. When he saw he could n’t escape, he scuttled his ship and went ashore in a boat that was just loaded with gold and silver. In the rocks up above West P’int there’s what is called Kidd’s Cave. They say a skeleton of a man was found in it and quite some treasure, too, and they think Captain Kidd must have crawled in there and died.
“I understand there’s treasure right on the United States grounds at West P’int. In 1872 three men offered three thousand dollars for the privilege of digging under the corner of the government barn there. I know that to be a fact, and it made quite an excitement in the papers at the time. But the government would n’t let ‘em dig. The men were Mart and Sam Conklin and Josiah Hunter. Mart, he told me himself that as near as he could calculate by an instrument they used for discovering precious metals, a hogshead half full of gold and silver was buried right there. I knowed Mart well, but ‘tain’t likely he’d have told me if he had n’t had a little rum in.
“Did you ever hear tell of an instrument that would locate treasure? I’d almost take my oath they used a witch-hazel crotch. That boy there,” he said, indicating Luther, “can take a witch-hazel limb and find a ten cent piece anywhere. A peach limb does just as well, and there’s a feller down at Jones P’int uses basswood in preference to either. You grip the end of a branch in each hand so the crotch p’ints straight up, and when you come to where you are over money or a spring of water, it tips outward and down. But with me it draws right back to my body. That shows I’m pretty well charged with electricity. Anyhow, I can’t locate less than eight or ten dollars. But I’ve been thinkin’ lately that I always had a big silver watch in my pocket. Perhaps it was that made the difference.
“They say those three men dug up a pot of money out here in Orange County near Galloway’s Tavern. I did n’t see the pot, but I’ve seen the cover. It lay there at Turner’s Station on the stoop a long time, and it was kind of a flat stone about three inches thick and eighteen across that looked as if it had been knocked with a hammer and made pretty near round. Four columns of letters was cut into it, but no one could read ‘em. I’ve seen that cover I s’pose a dozen times.
“On one of our mountains there’s some strange letters cut into a rock. They’re in two rows, and one row is twelve feet long, and the other nearly as long. The letters are formed by making nicks in the rock with a stone chisel. The nicks are not deep, and they are a little distance apart. You, can only see ‘em one time in the day, when the sun shines ag’in’ the rock in the afternoon. The rock is very difficult to find. Years ago two boys named Horace Flemming and Henry Keyser come across it, and when they left the place they never dremp but that they could go right back any time they pleased. But them boys could n’t find that rock ag’in, though they hunted and hunted and hunted. Other people could n’t either, or if they did they could n’t go back to it. Those boys noticed that they could see Flemming’s house as they looked down from the lettered rock on the mountain top. But from the house the mountain could n’t be seen on account of a knoll between. Seems as if there was a kind of enchantment about the spot. Once a clairvoyant woman was taken up there on the mountain to see what she could discover, but she could n’t do anything. She had fits and fainted away and everything else, and she said all sorts of spirits was up there follerin’ her.
“It’s supposed that the letters chipped on that rock tell where the Long Tinker’s silver mine is on Black Mountain. That mine was worked by the Indians when the white men first come to this country. Finally an Italian come into the mountains here, and he was terrible tall and a tinker by trade, so he was knowed as the Long Tinker. The Indians asked him if he could n’t find any better business than that for makin’ a livin,’ and he told ‘em, ‘No.’ Then they tuck and showed him this silver mine. After working it for a good while and getting all the silver he wanted he went back to Italy with his wealth. In the meantime the Indians had cleared out, and no one else knew anything about where the mine was until it was discovered by Cap’n Waldron and Alexander Bulson. While hunting on Black Mountain they come to a brush fence, and forced their way through it and found three beaten paths. They followed one path, and it led to a spot where the long tinker had made charcoal for to melt his ore, and among the weeds and bushes was a little forge and crucible. They comeback and follered another of the paths, and it went down a hill to where the tinker had dumped cinders in a brook. The third path tuck ‘em to the mine, the mouth of which was corked up with a lot of wood that had been stuffed into it. They tried to pull some of the wood out, but it was rotten and would n’t hold together. The guns they carried were a long old-fashioned flintlock sort in common use at that time, called buccaneer guns; and they reached in as far as they could with ‘em and did n’t strike no end to the hole. Right at the edge of the opening was a shelf cut out of the rock, and on it was a lot of ore. They picked up some and started back down the mountain. By and by Bulson throwed his ore away. He said he had stone enough on his land at home without lugging on any more. But Cap’n Waldron tuck hisn on board his packet sloop, and there he kep’ it two or three years. You see, neither he nor Bulson knew anything about the Long Tinker and they did n’t bother to investigate further. One day a young feller who’d come aboard the cap’n’s packet and was lookin’ around happened to notice that ore from Black Mountain and he asked what it was.
“‘I don’t know,’ says the cap’n. ‘I found it in the mountain in an old mine hole.’
“‘Can I take it and have it tested?’ the feller asks.
“‘Yes, take it and welcome,’ says the cap’n, and he never made any inquiry what the feller’s name was or where he could find him.
“He’d pretty near forgot all about the matter when a few months later that feller spoke to him on a street in New York, and said the ore was the richest of blue silver and wanted to know where the mine was located. They come up here to the mountains and went to hunting for it. But they could n’t find it, and then they called on Alexander Bulson and asked him if he knew where it was. ‘By my life!’ said he, ‘I could go there the darkest night that ever blowed. I could find the way blindfolded.’
“The next morning all three started out, and they hunted till they had to give it up; and that mine hain’t been found since. But once a feller was up on Black Mountain lookin’ for sheep, and something happened to him. What it was he never would tell, except that he went into a trance and when he come to himself he was close by the mine. Yet he would n’t go back there, nor tell others how to go. Long afterward, when he was on his death bed, they went and tried to get him to. tell, and they thought he would n’t refuse them, but he did.”
About the time this tale was finished Luther came in from the hall with a hunting-coat on, carrying a gun and a lantern. “Come boys,” he said to the dogs, and they roused up and leaped about him eagerly. “I’m goin’ coon-hunting,” he explained, and he lighted a cigaret and departed.
“I’ve give up hunting coons myself,” Mr. Stotten said. “The last time I went I got so dead tired I vowed I’d never go again. Steve Burrows went with me. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He’s one of the biggest politicianers anywhere in this region. Yes, he’s in politics head over heels. A coon will go up a tree after the dogs have run it pretty tight, and then you generally have a chance to shoot it; but Steve and I run one an hour and then it went into a holler tree, and as we did n’t have no ax with us we had to give up tryin’ to get that coon. I guess we travelled thirty miles that night, and then we laid in the woods all day afterward. The next night we got on the trail of a wildcat. He’d run for a while and climb a tree, and before we’d get near enough to shoot he’d jump down and run again. Finally we tuck the dogs off the track. If we had n’t they’d be follering that wildcat still. Later the dogs got after some coons, and they treed ‘em, and pretty soon we had ‘em. There was four. That satisfied us and we started for home. By the time we got there we was tired out and half starved out, too.”
Everyone had gone to bed but Mr. Stotten and I, and now I retired also. About an hour later I was aroused by voices calling my name and by a thumping on my door. Then Mr. Stotten and Luther came into my room. The latter carried his lantern and a coon he had shot. “The dogs found it in a pile of wood that had upsot,” said he, “and they scared it out and it ran along an old woodroad. Why the deuce it did n’t go up the timber I don’t know, but it kep’ on till it come to a slippery, slanting rock. It scampered along that rock toward a cliff, but as soon as I stepped on the rock I slid down, gun, lantern, and all, into a brook. The dogs overtook the coon at the foot of the cliff, and they fought it to beat the band. A coon is a pretty cunning animal, and it’s awful strong and spunky. I scrambled up somehow to where the coon was, and I managed to kick it two or three times to help the dogs out. Then it broke away and was climbing up the rocks when I shot it. Just heft it and see how solid it is.”
So I hefted the coon, and after a few final comments my visitors left me.
In the morning, soon after six, I heard Mr. Stotten tramping upstairs and calling the boys, and by and by we had breakfast, with flapjacks for the chief item in the menu. There was a heaped-up plate when we started, and fresh additions, hot from the backroom stove, kept it heaping to the very end, in spite of our vigorous attacks. After we finished, Johnny had me look at one of the dogs that had gone on the hunt the previous night. There were bloodstains on the dog’s neck and marks of the coon’s teeth. “We got a standing offer of forty dollars for him,” Johnny said. “He’s gettin’ kind o’ old now, but he’s smart as a whip and ain’t afraid of nothin’. The only trouble is that his teeth are worn down so he can’t get a holt and hang on.
“One of our dogs was poisoned last spring right in his coop in the yard. He was a tarrier — a little bit of a runt like. In the morning we found him lying there all swelled up. Gosh! we gave him sweet milk and all we could think of, but it did n’t do no good.”
“There’s some queer things happen here,” Mr. Stotten said. “Down on the river road a barn burned last week. Some one had been stealing from the man that owned it. Every time he’d git a load of feed the thief would come and help himself and take a hundred pounds or so. The man got tired of bein’ robbed, and he bought some locks and fastened his barn up good and tight. That very night, after he went in and sot down to eat supper, his wife said: ‘Oh look! What a light!’
“The barn was on fire. He ran out intendin’ to save his horses. His wife tried to hold him, but he shook her off and went into the burning barn, and cut the horses loose and clubbed ‘em out. It was a nice big barn, and he always kep’ his flour and meat in there, and he had lots of good tools in it, and a carriage that cost one hundred and thirty dollars, and farm wagons and twenty ton of hay. He ain’t got a secret too good to tell me, and since the fire we’ve talked things over. It’s his idee that the guilty man is a feller that’s lately moved into the neighborhood who has a habit of layin’ around all day doin’ nothin’. He’s often been seen to hitch up in the evening and start off somewhere, and he must return late in the night, for no one sees him coming back. A man who does like that I would n’t trust noways. But you have to be careful what you say when you can’t prove it. No, people dassen’t say much for fear he might burn ‘em up while they lay asleep.”
“I saw someone come snoopin’ around our house one evening,” Luther said. “My gun was right handy in the shed, and I picked it up and blazed away at the feller as he was goin’ down through the orchard. I shot to hit, too, but I probably did n’t.”
Now the younger boys got their milkpails and went to the little barn where each had a cow to milk. One of the cows was tied in the barn because it had no respect for fences, but the other was in the barnyard. Luther took his coon, fastened it up on the sunny side of a shed, and began skinning it. Several dogs lingered about him, shivering in the chill morning air and watching him hungrily. I could not help remarking on the appearance of one of the dogs, he was so very lean and bony and forlorn. “That dog has got a good pedigree,” Luther said, “but he killed one of our chickens in the summer, and that has set the women folks against him so they won’t feed him. See that big bird up there in the sky. It’s an eagle. Now it’s making a turn, and the sun shines on its bald head and white tail feathers. They build their nests here among the rocks. It’s dangerous to meddle with their nests. They’ll pick and bite and claw savage. I’ve seen seven or eight of them at once up on Timp Mountain.”
Presently the task of skinning the coon was finished, and after the skin had been tacked up on the shed Luther and Mr. Stotten started off to their work somewhere in the woods. Later in the day I retraced my steps to the valley depths of the Hudson. A three mile walk from the upland glen where I had been stopping took me to the railroad station, and then the metropolis was scarcely more than an hour’s journey distant. The wonder was that so much of the wild and primitive should survive close beside the busy valley thoroughfares, and at such a slight remove from one of the most populous centers of civilization.
NOTE. — The Highlands of the Hudson, a continuation of the Appalachian Blue Ridge, lift some of their mightiest heights directly beside the spacious and stately Hudson. A particularly easy and inexpensive way to make a general acquaintance with them and the river is to go on a day steamer from New York to Albany. The trip lasts from about 9 in the morning to 6 in the evening. The boats are magnificent in size and equipment, and the largest one will carry 5,000 passengers. The most interesting sights and points of interest along the river are the turretted peninsula of New York; the Palisades; the broad expanse of the Tappan Zee; the vicinity of Tarrytown, just below which place is Sunnyside, the quietly charming home of Washington Irving, while just above is the hamlet he made famous in his “Legend of Sleepy Hollow;” Stony Point, the scene of “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s notable exploit in capturing the stronghold from the British in 1779; West Point; and the Mountains of the Highlands ending with Storm King.
The river is not especially picturesque beyond Poughkeepsie, and many persons prefer to disembark there. On the outskirts of the city is Vassar College.
The valley roads are macadam for the most part and offer many attractions for the motorist. A good opportunity to view the mountains from a height is afforded by the Dunderberg which is ascended by a spiral railway from Jones Point. The summit is an amusement resort.
For more about the characteristics and history of the valley see Johnson’s “Picturesque Hudson.”