In September 1845, David Henderson (partner in the Adirondack Iron Works and husband of Archibald McIntyre’s eldest daughter) was searching for a source of water for his iron works. The company’s engineer Daniel Taylor believed that a half-mile long canal could be built between the Opalescent River and a branch of the Hudson nearby. Henderson, his eleven-year-old son Archie, and guides John Cheney and Tone Snyder set out to investigate the area. The following year, Joel Headley, in the company of John Cheney, returned to the spot. He related the hunting accident that happened there:
We are off, and crossing a branch of the Hudson near its
source, enter the forest, Indian file, and stretch forward. It is no child’s
play before us; and the twenty miles we are to travel will test the blood and
muscle of every one. The first few miles there is a rough path, which was cut
last summer, in order to bring out the body of Mr. Henderson. It is a great
help, but filled with sad associations. At length we came to the spot where
twenty-five workmen watched with the body in the forest all night. It was too
late to get through, and here they kindled their campfire and stayed. The rough
poles are still there, on which the corpse rested. “Here,” says Cheney, “on this
log I sat all night, and held Mr. Henderson’s little son, eleven years of age,
in my arms. Oh, how he cried to be taken in to his mother; but it was impossible
to find your way through the woods; and he, at length, cried himself to sleep in
my arms. Oh, it was a dreadful night.” A mile further on, and we came to the
rock where he was shot. It stands by a little pond, and was selected by them to
dine upon. Cheney was standing on the other side of the pond, with the little
boy, whither he had gone to make a raft, on which to take some trout, when he
heard the report of a gun and then a scream; and looking across, saw Mr.
Henderson clasp his arms twice over his breast, exclaiming I am shot!” The son
fainted by Cheney’s side; but in a few moments all stood round the dying man,
who murmured, “What an accident, and in such a place!” In laying down his
pistol, with the muzzle unfortunately towards him, the hammer struck the rock,
and the cap exploding, the entire contents were lodged in his body. After
commanding his soul to his Maker, and telling his son to be a good boy, and give
his love to his mother, he leaned back and died. It made us sad to gaze upon the
spot and poor Cheney, as he drew a long sigh, looked the picture of sorrow.
Perhaps some of us would thus be carried out of the woods. He left New York as
full of hope as myself; and here he met his end. Shall I be thus borne back to
my friends? It is a little singular that he was always nervously afraid of
firearms, and carried this pistol solely as a protection against wild beasts;
and yet, he fell by his own hand… Poor man! It was a sad place to die in; for
his body had to be carried over thirty miles on men’s shoulders, before they
came to a public road.
Cheney reported that Henderson had spotted some duck and had handed Cheney his pistol to go after them. The ducks fled before Cheney could get off a shot so he handed the still-cocked pistol back to Henderson. While Cheney and Archie Henderson were going for fish, the elder Henderson laid his knapsack and gun belt on a large rock when the pistol suddenly discharged sending the ball into his side and toward his heart. The Plattsburgh Republican later reported that the little body of water where Henderson died had become known locally as Calamity Pond.
Cheney (John not Dick) was also a renowned and experienced hunter, but a reckless one. Over the dozen or so years following his arrival in Newcomb in about 1830 he reported killing 600 deer, 400 martens, 48 bears, 30 otters, 19 moose, seven wildcats, six wolves, a panther, and what he believed to have been the last beaver.
One day I was chasing a buck on Cheney Lake. I was in a canoe and had put my pistol down by my side. Somehow the pistol slipped under me and discharged, the ball striking me half way between the knee and ankle. Being 14 miles from any habitation at the time and alone, I only stopped long enough to see what harm had been done. Then I seized the oars and started after the buck again as the thought struck me that I might need that deer now more than ever. I caught up with him and made short work of it, took him ashore, dressed and hung him up. But I soon perceived that if I ever got out of the woods I must lose no time. By then my boot was full of blood and my ankle began to pain me bad, so I cut two crotched sticks and with their help I managed to get out of the woods in about eight hours. I only stopped to set down once because it was so hard to start again.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), there were 34 shooting incidents in 2004, three of which were fatal. 2004 is the last year for which confirmed numbers are available. Tentative numbers for 2005 include four hunting deaths in the state.
Despite those tragedies there has been a nearly 70 percent decline in hunting accidents in New York State since the 1960s, due largely to increased training and educational programs for new hunters such as the state mandated hunter safety course. In the 1960s, when there was an average of about 720,000 hunters, there were an average of 137 hunting accidents. In the years since 2000, the number has fallen to 45 (about 688,500 hunters now take to the woods each year).
According to the DEC the best way to be safe while hunting is to: assume every gun is loaded, always keep guns pointed in a safe direction, keep your fingers off the trigger until ready to shoot, be sure of your target and what’s beyond it, wear hunter orange, and keep your distance from men named Cheney.
Through the Light Hole: A Saga of Adirondack Mines and Men
Adirondack Forest and Stream: An Outdoorsman’s Reader