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Into the Wilderness

In tribute to National Women’s History Month, the Ticonderoga Historical Society re-prints an account of  the many hardships endured in the life of a pioneer woman. 

It begins in the winter of  1797 in a sleigh as it glided over Lake George ice with her mother and father to  Ticonderoga ~~~ 

“I am now 74 years old.  I was 13 when I came.  This then was in 1797 — We came through from the head of Lake George on an awful cold day on the ice.  No stage, or mail, or hardly any travel, so we had no track.  Mother was sick that day and lying in the bottom of the sleigh come once or twice near fainting.  We thought for our souls we never should get through where we could get water for mother.  We did start to bring a little spirits in the morning but forgot it.  On neither side of the lake was there any settlement except at Sabbath day point.  There both sides and whole length of the lake the great pines stood, all around on the mountains, one unbroken wilderness.  Not an axe had been heard there then or hardly a gun to scare the deer —  Well, we got in at the Upper Falls, (Alexandria) where there were only 2 houses.  Capt. (Elijah) Bailey’s and Mr. (Levi) Cole’s.  We lived in a small wood house just above the Rapids (Lake George Outlet) two weeks and then went to the (Benona) Thornton place, just south of the Lower Village, where we lived six years.

We had heard that Ti. was a Paradise, that we should find pigs and fowls ready cooked running about with knives and forks stuck in their backs, crying, “Eat us!”  But when we got there it was all bushes.  In the new roads the stubs stuck up as thick as your fingers, and down you would go at every careless step.  The land was densely timbered.  We had one cow and a yoke of cattle.  I’ll tell you the way we built our first cabin.  Father took 14 feet boards and withed them up to four staddles that stood just right and covered them over, hovel fashion.  We moved in.  On the 15th of April come snow breast deep and there we were.  It was a terrible storm, — you could walk over the fences, and we gathered sap on snow shoes.  We all went to cutting logs and when we got four walls locked together, half a roof and the chamber floor, we moved in.  When we wanted groceries we had to cross the lake to J. Catlin’s for them, but oftener went without them.  I remember going once to a mill and dusting up flour from behind the bolt that had worms in it, picking them out, and so making bread.  We had brown bread, and wheat cracked in milk.  Land alive! when we wanted fish, all we had to do was to run down to the brook — there were schools as big as a washtub.  Father drew out 18 great trout one morning, I remember, in about three minutes.  We had provision left back on the way at Hoosack Falls, (Hoosick Falls)  but we could not get it.  Finally father gave a man half of it for going with his team for it.

Father had to work over the lake in Vermont to get hay for his critters. —Mother and I when he was gone used to take the axe and bush hook and go out to our clearing at the back of the barn, and work all day.  We used to cut out all the underbrush and staddles, and pile them up, I tell you sir, as slick as bean poles; and then, when he came home, he cut the big timber.  Once we logged there three days on a black fallow — father, and mother and I — and had not a piece of bread to eat as big as your fingers, but only fat pork.  La, me! I could not eat it, but just took my fish hook and line and ran down to the brook for fish.

Wolves fighting for rank order

No sheep.  Land! you could have no sheep, the wolves would tear you right down.  You could hear them away off in the night — one would howl, then another would answer — howl, howl — then another, way off, howl, howl, howl, — till they got up such a roar that it  would almost tear you down.  One day I and my brother were standing on the bridge and three wolves came along the road close to us.  We thought they were three grey dogs till they got near, and then we scapered, I tell you.  Oh! they were awful thick and dangerous.  We never had any sheep.  You could not keep any.

Timber Rattlesnake

The animals we feared most were bears, wolves, catamounts, and rattlesnakes.  Deer were thick as sheep are now.  Shot one from the house door once.