In 1891, at age 73, Cornelius Carter was still providing justice and attorney services to the town of Edwards. His name was highly respected across the North Country as a public servant and a knowledgeable outdoorsman. That reputation made state officials take notice when he chimed in on important issues, which Con did for the next ten years despite his advancing age.
In June 1893, responding to a newspaper account of a Lewis County hunter’s claim that deer in the region had wintered well, Carter wrote, “Never was there a time in my remembrance when the forest presented such a luxuriant growth. Every living shrub and tree is robed in living green; the scene is nature in her beauty and her loveliness.”
But not so for the deer, he said. The lush growth of summer suggested a good winter had passed, but whitetails had suffered heavy losses due to extreme cold and deep snow that had no supporting crust to walk on, making foraging impossible at times. By his estimates, “one fourth to one-sixth of the deer in the Adirondacks perished.” In order to preserve such a valuable natural resource, he urged the legislature to prohibit unsportsmanlike activities, like floating for deer, and jacking.
Another hard winter followed, prompting Cornelius to estimate in 1896 that perhaps half the deer in the region had succumbed. Among his comments: “I am much pleased to think that the legislature has shortened the time for jacking and hounding, but would have been much more gratified if they had entirely prohibited both.” He also decried “…a law giving the people a right to float for deer from Aug. 13th to Nov. 1st in each and every year, by which hundreds of deer are wounded and with untold suffering die; and the right to hound the same for a certain period by which hundreds of thousands of deer are driven through forests and across streams, over mountains and down into the deep gorges, bounding and plunging for their lives….”
In 1899, while on a fishing trip in early May, he reported finding ten dead deer and only six live ones. The dead, he said, evinced “very little signs of decay, showing conclusively that they died after the warm weather came, but were so weak and starved as to be beyond resuscitation, and in many places it could be plainly seen that before they yielded up the fearful struggle for life, they had bitten off sprouts and twigs nearly one-half inch in diameter.”
He continued sounding the alarm, providing valuable field information to support aggressive claims of deer mortality. In 1901 Carter took his case to Albany, addressing the fish, forest, and game committees. As a guide for fifty-five years, and with nineteen years as caretaker of Connell Park, he earned the attention of politicians and reporters alike.
Cornelius was one voice among many who were deeply concerned about preserving some semblance of what the Adirondacks were once like. “The first question I shall consider is this. Are the deer increasing in the Adirondacks? My answer to this question is emphatically NO. … Unless the game laws are so amended as to prohibit the killing of deer in November, the noblest game of the Adirondacks is doomed.”
He also urged protections for the fish population. “Fishing through the ice and otherwise early in the spring has greatly exhausted the trout in many ponds and lakes in the Adirondacks, and the law should be amended so as to prohibit fishing until May 1st.”
The ensuing decades brought changes in the laws and a resurgence in the deer population, but Carter wouldn’t be around to see it happen. He was, after all, in his late 80s when the movement gained strength.
But life wasn’t over just yet. Among the many friends he had made through guiding and the sharing of adventures was a Syracuse businessman, Lyman Smith, who had recently become aware of Con’s bent towards poetry. Smith secured Carter’s permission to publish a booklet of his work, Poems by C. Carter, which was released in 1902. It received coverage in the New York Times, the New York Sun, and many regional newspapers.
Instead of profit, Smith’s intent was to provide copies for Cornelius to share with his friends. (As a major player in the typewriter business, Lyman could easily afford it. In the distant future, his name would be recognized as half of Smith Corona, Inc.)
Among Carter’s many poems was the following:
Bury Me There
Away on the woodland sloping
In view of the water’s gleam,
Oh! bury me there at evening
Beside the beautiful stream.
Where the length’ning shadows, creeping,
Are lost in the deeper gloom;
As life’s pathway dark and darkling
Is lost in the quiet tomb.
Where the night winds, soft and sighing,
Lift the forests’ darkened crest,
Sweeping o’er the place I’m lying
In the grave’s unbroken rest.
And the stars in beauty shining,
And the moon with softer light,
Ever o’er me vigils keeping
Through the long and dreary night.
And the song thrush at the dawning
Wakes me with her magic lays,
And all nature seems resounding
To His everlasting praise.
And at twilight’s gentle coming
Nature’s bivouacked and serene—
Oh! bury me there at evening,
Beside the beautiful stream.
In late 1904, it was reported that Cornelius was preparing another volume of poems for publication, but time was running short. In January he was badly injured from slipping and falling on ice. A month later, Carter passed away at the age of 88.
According to the Syracuse Herald, “He was buried in the little cemetery at South Edwards, upon the bank of the Oswegatchie, as he had desired. Only the day before his death, the old poet read aloud to his family one of the best and most popular of his poems, his ‘Farewell to the Adks,’ which follows:”
Farewell, thou lovely region,
Long time I’ve been with you,
Have slept upon thy bosom
And viewed thy peaks so blue.
Have heard the scream of panther
And hoarser growl of bear.
Where game are wont to wander,
On mountains bleak and bare.
Where song birds, at the dawning,
Awake me from repose
And zephyrs soft and sighing
Kiss petals of the rose.
Where the cool, rushing river.
Controlled by laws that be,
Goes wandering on forever
To the mysterious sea.
Where God, the mighty Maker,
Wrought mountains bold and grim;
Made the bright, sparkling water
And valleys broad and dim.
Oh! I could dwell supernal
Amid Thy spruce and pine
Until the God Eternal
Shall fold the wings of time.
Farewell, then, lofty mountains,
And you, ye valleys fair,
For I must cross the waters,
I’m summoned to be there.
I’m by no means a professional critic. I only know what I like, and in one poem alone, Carter reminded me of three trips from the past: a camping trip on Lyon Mountain, watching the sunrise from Hurricane’s summit, and a moonlight paddle from Bog River Falls to Tupper Lake village after a long, full day of outdoor fun.
What’s not to like?
(A note regarding the works reprinted here: Slightly altered wording and punctuation of Carter’s poetry appeared in different publications.)
Photo: a combination of headline items from 1904 (Lowville Journal and Republican) and 1905 (Syracuse Herald)