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“Tirrell Pond” ~~ In the Adirondacks

In recent months we have written a few pioneer stories that were related to the southern Adirondacks.  From our reader’s responses they have appeared to have been well received.  The following is another pioneer story that may appeal to a much larger audience. We hope you like it.

Chapter One

“It was mid-day in mid-summer of the year 1830 when a party of travelers arrived on the eastern shore of Long Lake.  The party consisted of four men, four women, wives of the men, a boy ten years of age, a girl of six and a smaller boy just able to walk.  The two older children belonged to the same parents.  The latter, apparently, being several years the senior of other members of the party.  The husband and father, also the party leader and director, nevertheless still was counted a young man, having been born in the year 1800.

These travelers were emigrants.  They had come from a farming section in Vermont.  Having had experience of the difficulties of cultivating the lean and stony hillside soil of their native state and in order to leave elbow room for younger brothers and sisters in the large and growing families then prevalent in New England homes, these young people, with the courage and hope of pioneers, had cut themselves loose from the family tree and were in search of new and virgin soil in which to plant their roots.  Soil less hilly and stony and more fertile than any they had know from childhood.  Also, they hoped to homestead, preempt or purchase in a new country, farms at far less cost than could be be bought in Vermont.  These emigrants did not know where they were going but they were headed toward the setting sun in the west and were on their way.

The women and children with their limited baggage were carried in farm wagons drawn by oxen from their homes to Chimney Point on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain.  There they found a fisherman who in his sailboat ferried the party across the lake to Port Henry.  From there to the shore of Long Lake, a distance of forty-five miles, they had walked.  From Schroon river to what is now Newcomb, their route led over the “Old Military Road,” which then was merely an ungraded woods road.  Twenty miles of the distance followed Indian trails, often indistinctly marked through the forest.  Over mountains, across valleys, swampy, they had traveled; wading streams, skirting ponds and lakes but rarely on a beaten path.

Indian Teepee

Indian Teepee

Each of the four men carried, strapped to his shoulders, a heavy pack containing only the bare necessary articles for forest travel.  The handle of an axe was visible above and a pot and frying pan dangled from each pack, while a rifle was carried across an arm or over a shoulder.  Game in variety in this forest, then was abundant, and they counted upon getting their food as they traveled.  The men each in turn, carried the smaller child.  The two older children and the women trudged along in single file; at times enjoying the thrill and excitement of watching the antics of living wild creatures passed upon the way.  More often, wary and footsore they tried in their feeble way, to cheer and encourage each other.  Frequent rests were necessary and always progress was slow.  Two hours before sunset each day the travelers halted while the men constructed a shelter for the night.  This usually was accomplished by making a frame of saplings and  covering the top and the windward side with bark peeled from spruce trees.  If it rained, which often happened, three sides of the low roofed shack were covered with bark, while a fire-place was made in front.  Several times, during rain storms, the party had remained all day in these bark covered shacks and were able to keep comparatively dry.  Thus, they had consumed ten days traveling from Port Henry to the eastern shore of Long Lake and there the trail ended.  Directly across, on the western shore of the lake, was visible an Indian teepee.

This was an unexpected barrier to further westward progress by the emigrants.  From a point of land jutting out into the lake, they obtained an unobstructed view of water toward the north, for a distance of ten or twelve miles, and the lake appeared much wider a mile or more away.  In the opposite direction, the lake seemed to end or to bend at a distance of three to four miles.  Then the observers crept back into the woods and behind a knoll built a fire, made a pot of tea and cooked and ate their frugal noonday meal of brook trout and venison steak.  The former were caught in a brook they had crossed during the morning.

While eating, the men discussed their next move.  One suggested that they build a raft with logs and on it cross the lake and then continue their westward journey.  Others objected that in so doing they must pass the Indian teepee on the opposite shore and it was uncertain whether or not the Indians living there would be friendly toward whites who were invading their country.  Had these emigrants then known, as we now know, that Peter Sabattis of the Huron tribe, with his son Mitchel and daughter Hannah, made their home in that conical lodge covered with deer skins, the emigrants’ history might have been different and this sketch would not have been written.

Abbott -Trappers Cabin

Peter Sabattis, then about eighty years old, all his life had been friendly with the white settlers of New York.  During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 he served as scout and guide for American soldiers who passed through the mountain region between Albany and Canada.   The son, Mitchel, then about twenty-five years of age, later adopted the white men’s customs, abandoned the teepee and lived in a house like those used by the white people who came to settle along the shores of Long Lake.  He became a highly respected citizen and having lived to a ripe old age, died and was buried at Long Lake in 1906.  During his lifetime, Mitchel Sabattis acted as guide to many famous men who visited the Adirondacks……..

Here we edited the text and provide selected highlights from the narrative:

After some discussion……it was decided that they would move on……after much difficulty and a few days of traveling they realized they were traveling back to the Vermont home….”so, after prolonged discussion, agreement was reached to settle down right where they were.”

“During the weeks that followed, the noise of the lumberman’s axe was heard in the land, while trees were felled, logs were cut to proper lengths, their ends notched, fitted together and assembled as the walls of four long log houses slowly arose, one house each, for the four families……”

“When the buildings were completed the men had more time for hunting, trapping and fishing.  They killed several black bear and deer, smoked the meat and tanned the skins for rugs and mittens, which latter were made by the women.  Lines of traps were set in different directions through the forest and soon enough skins of muskrat, beaver and raccoon were accumulated so that a winter coat could be made for each member of the colony.  Other skins, including fox, fisher, martin, mink, otter, lynx and rabbit, were secured for sale to agents of Astor, who then had trading stations on Lake Champlain.”

” ……the baby boy became ill.  The usual household remedies for a cold and sore throat were applied but the child rapidly grew worse and on the third day died and was buried in the clearing near the cabins.  A few days later the little girl was ill … and a week later buried besides the baby.  When the same symptoms were shown by the girl’s mother, the colonists were in a state of panic as they realized the contagious and deadly character of the “plague” .. had attacked them…. the nearest known physician was on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, sixty miles away…. one of the men started on the errand to secure help…he reached the shore of Long Lake, where he sickened, died and was buried by Mitchel Sabattis.”

Abbott -Bear

“One day an Indian trapper who lived on the shore of Blue Mountain Lake,…found, wandering in the wood, a small white boy who told the Indian that his name was John Tirrell, that he was ten years old; that his father, mother, sister and all their friends were dead of the plague; that he did not like to live with dead people, so he had left his home.  The Tirrell boy was taken to the teepee to live with the Indian, who taught him the arts of trapping, hunting and fishing as practiced by Indians of that region.”

“For more than ten years, the Tirrell boy lived the life of an Indian.  He grew fond of his foster-father and became an expert in wood-craft.  However, when the Indian, whose name tradition failed to preserve, died and was decently buried, John returned to the manner of life of white people and built for himself a log house like the one his own father had built at the diphtheria settlement.  John’s hosue was located on the shore of a pond between foothills to the east of Blue Mountain and about three miles from “Plague Camp.”

Chapter Two – continues the story .. opening with a personal narrative.. “”We were under contract to show a party of tenderfoot city hunters, where to go to shoot deer.  They had read newspaper stories of hunting experiences.  Some of them had read Roosevelt’s tales of a ‘strenuous life.”   What they wanted was “thrills,”  first hand information and experience of forest life and the wild animals that live therein.  They were good friends of ours.  They knew, or thought they knew, that we spent part of every summer in the forests of our northern mountains.”

North Shore beach - Tirrell Pond

North Shore beach – Tirrell Pond

“Tirrell Pond” was written by Henry Abbott (1850-1943) and privately published by him in limited edition in 1928.  It is one of 19 Adirondack themed books on camping, hunting, fishing and personal observations books that he published from 1914 to 1932.  They are arguably more recognized as the “Birch Bark Books” because of their familiar birch bark covers.

Henry was born in Danbury, CT.  At the age of 16 he left school and apprentice as a jeweler.  He helped revolutionize the watch industry by inventing a modern stem-winder, eliminating the familiar key-winders of early time pieces and manufacturing interchangeable parts used in the watch industry.  Abbott, an extraordinary inventor, is probably best know for his 1895 patent of the “Calculagraph,” a devise that calculates the elapsed time between two events.  Widely used  throughout the telephone industry until the digital era.  

The Hancock House library has in its collection sixteen original Abbott’s books:   The Anxious Seat, 1914; Cherry Pond, 1916; Old Bare-back, 1917; Camps and Trails, 1918; Fish Stories, 1919; Cold River, 1921; Muskrat City, 1922; On the Bridge, 1923; Fishing Brook, 1925; Wild Cat Mountain, 1926; Pioneering at Rowan-Wood, 1927; Terrill Pond, 1928; North Bay Brook, 1929; Psychology of the Lost, 1930; Raquette River, 1931; and, Pine Brook, 1932.    All are signed, several with Christmas Greetings.

The Adirondacks

The Ticonderoga Historical Society is observing the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the Hancock House.  As part of this observation  we will be featuring in this forum items from our library and archival collections.   We also  invite you to visit us during 2016 and enjoy  the many new exhibits and programs we will be presenting.     

Our Vision – The Ticonderoga Historical Society makes area history an integral part of our community life by connecting our region’s past and present in order to shape our future.    ~~~  If not a member please become one and help us with our vision.  We thank you for your interest.

4/9/16 wgd

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