Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Profiles Of Old Time Adirondack Fulton Chain Guides

In the past year or so, the Inlet Historical Society received donations of artifacts and materials originating from the collections of Inlet residents.

One unique item is the following unidentified newspaper clipping about some notable Fulton Chain guides:

Within a few hundred miles of a complex civilization is found the last vestiges of a fast disappearing frontier. Now high-speed, hard-surfaced roadways carry motorists to within a few miles of the heart of what is still the Empire state wilderness, the Adirondacks.

And here are still living figures from a past era, the guides of the Adirondacks, as famous in their way as the now disappeared scouts of the western frontier.

Only a few of the old time guides are left, taciturn men who tramped the valleys, mountains and lake shores of the Adirondack region when deer runs were far more numerous than man-made trails and long before the area became a summer playground.

These were the men who shouldered 80-pound packs and with tireless tread pushed, with uncanny sense of direction up steep mountain trails while hunters, burdened only with guns, panted along behind. The men who, while hunters rested, made camp and cooked meals, and then, while the light of the camp fire pushed back the encircling darkness, told queer tales of mountain experiences, often about others, seldom about themselves.

These are the men who uncomplainingly pushed deep into an almost trackless wilderness in order that some over-eager hunter might watch the fleeting shadow of a deer’s racing form between his rifle sights and miss.

There are a few of these men still alive, Peter Rivett, Fred Jewett, Isaac Kenwell, Archie Delmarsh and Philip Christy, all of them guides of the old order.

It is a difficult task to get the old time Adirondack guide to tell of his experiences in the woods. Like the ship’s captain, to whom a storm at sea is but part of his work, he takes things as they come, and events that would be thrilling to today’s office worker, were an everyday occurrence to him.  The guide feels that he has nothing to tell and often, when pressed to talk, he feels that he has nothing to tell.

But if the hunter can once get the guide comfortably seated before a log fire and telling the tale of his experiences, he is likely to hear a story of adventure, scattered with humor and tragedy, and spiced with tang of pine leaves and acrid smell of powder smoke.

A typical guide is Peter Rivett of Old Forge. Rivett will be 70 years old this year [ca. 1934] but he can swing along a forest trail with a gliding step that makes a hardened hiker break into a dog trot to keep up.

There are probably many stories that Rivett has not told, but among the few that he has are tales of fighting storms on Adirondack lakes and killing deer by the “water” method.

Among the prominent people guided by Rivett were Frank Moore, president of the Continental Insurance Company, and Mr. Moore’s wife, whose first husband was General Evans, an officer in the Confederate army. Neither of the two are now living.

Moore, like many other hunters thought that one of the necessary appurtenances of hunting was an oversized hunting knife.

Moore always carried such a knife at his belt and thereby hangs a tale that only Rivett can tell well.

Moore was on a hunting trip with Rivett and another guide, Dick Crego. While crossing Limekiln Lake with Crego paddling and Rivett in the middle of the boat, a deer appeared.  Moore fired and wounded it.

Excitedly Moore cried out, “What’ll I do? What’ll I do?”

With serious expression Crego glanced from the knife at Moore’s to his excited face. “Jump in and cut his throat with that bowie knife of yours,” he advised him.

Moore jumped into the shallow water and mud. The frightened deer kicked.

“He was covered with mud and a worse looking man you never saw, “ tells Rivett. “When he turned around and saw us sitting in the boat splitting our sides laughing, he says, ‘Well, you got it on me now, ain’t you?’

Despite his many years in the Adirondacks, Rivett has killed but one bear. He has seen many of them in the woods but before he bagged that bear about six years ago, had managed a shot at one only once before.

And only once has Rivett been nervous when on the water. “We were going to Saranac Lake and there were five boats trying to keep near each other in a heavy sea.  It had been a long hard struggle and then, within a half mile of shore, one of my oars cracked at the pin.

“When we reached shore and moved the oar out, it snapped in two.” The man with Rivett at the time glanced at the oar. “I thought you said there wasn’t anything the matter with that oar.”

Rivett shrugged his shoulders, “I wasn’t going to tell you if there was.”

Another water adventure described by Rivett happened in bringing a party down from Upper Saranac to Rustic Lodge. With Oscar Wood and some members of the party in one boat and Rivett and others of the party in another, they left Upper Saranac.  But a thunderstorm broke about them.

“It picked me right up and shoved me right against a rock,” Rivett declared, “and I had to take out the oar and shove myself away from the rock. I never saw Oscar Wood until we landed 2 ½ miles from Rustic Lodge and when we landed we landed both at the same time about 100 feet apart.”

“One time I was guiding Mr. Moore at Big Moose and I was going out for provisions and the mail. I was crossing Moss Lake when a big buck appeared near me.  I thought perhaps somebody was watching him so I cut the buck off and hollered but nobody answered so I thought I wouldn’t let it get away.”

“I kept getting closer to him until I got him sort of tamed down pretty good. Then I gave a good push ahead with the boat and I ran right up on to him.  I took one of the oars and hit him between the horns, breaking the oar.  With what was left of the oar I held his head under the water so he couldn’t get his breath and I got him.”

Fred Jewett [Hewitt] who has lived at Thendara for more than 30 years says that in his 40 years of hunting he has always wanted to kill a bear.

“In my years of guiding,” he says, “I have been in the woods night and day and never saw a bear when I had a gun. I always wanted to get just one chance at a bear and the only opportunity I ever had was once when I came up on a ridge and looked down and saw a big bear’s track in about four inches of snow.

“I followed him around a small balsam swamp. He came right back in my same tracks and I kept after him and he didn’t go but a short distance when he jumped.  The track was lost and I never even got a sign of him.”

He tells of one time he was in the woods with a party. All the men had been shooting at deer for nearly a week.  This, of course, was in years past when a license for guides was unheard of.  Not having been successful they told Jewett to go out and see what he could do.  He went out and was only gone about two hours when he bagged a buck that weighed 200 pounds.

“Ever lose any of your men in the woods?” “No,” responds the guide, “I never lost one from a party but once I was training a fellow to be a guide and he got lost.  It got dark before he realized the light was failing and he couldn’t find his way in.  He was a little deaf and couldn’t hear me shoot.

“I looked for him until 10 o’clock and then gave it up. But he had been wise enough to build a fire and sleep and the next morning when it was light he was able to find his own way back.”

It must be a terrible disappointment to think you have a deer and then find you haven’t. Jewett tells of one time he and his brother-in-law, Jim Bump, were out hunting.  Jim went up one side of a ridge and Jewett up the other.

“Jim jumped a buck,” Fred recalled. “It came over the ridge and I shot at him and he fell down in a brush heap.  I went over and got him by the horns and drew him out where it was level and set my gun up against a tree and went to holler to Jim.  When we came back the deer was gone and we never saw him again.”

Isaac Kenwell, the man who marked out the trees for the route of the [Camp] Uncas Road, in his early days was an Adirondack guide in the 70’s.

At that time Mr. Kenwell owned a camp at Raquette Lake which he says cost him about $98. Several years later he sold this property for $15,000.  The camp is now [1934] owned by Dr. S. M. Evans.

In 1875 camps were opened at Blue Mountain Lake and a party of men who were staying at Blue Mountain Lake wanted to go to Saranac Lake. They sent for Kenwell, who was commonly known as Ike, the first guide to take a party from Blue Mountain Lake to Saranac Lake, where only three families were then living.  The trip took two days.

When questioned about his guiding experiences, Mr. Kenwell said, “Well, I didn’t guide many years. I didn’t care for it. I always preferred the lumbering business.”

Mr. Kenwell explained that he never went to school and that when he wanted to engage in the lumbering business, there was one thing that was beyond his comprehension. He figured by himself for a good many years and finally decided he could not solve his problem alone.

So in 1887 he went to Canada where he visited the University of Montreal. He spent two hours at the university and had one of the professors explain his problem to him.

While this was 47 years ago, Mr. Kenwell still carries in his pocket the sheet of paper on which the problem was worked out for him. The thing that had puzzled him so much was the way of finding the diameter of one acre of land.  “I just couldn’t seem to figure that out somehow, but after they showed me how, I came back home and made money, which I never made guiding, “ he says.

Mr. Kenwell lives now at Indian Lake at the age of 89 is hale and hearty.

Archie Delmarsh, genial host of Rocky Point Inn, and golfer of note in the Central Adirondacks, enjoys nothing more than to find an easy chair before the large open fireplace and recount the tales of his early days in the Adirondacks when he guided the “city folks.”

Several well-known men have been in the parties guided by Delmarsh, among them being Herbert B. Pratt, of New York, president of the Standard Oil Company. After guiding Mr. Pratt and his parties several times in the Adirondacks, Delmarsh took them to Canada on a moose hunting trip.  On these moose hunting trips they camped in Mattewa which is north of Ottawa on Blue Lake.

On of Archie’s favorite tales is about a one-day hunting trip taken by him and his brother, Eri. This was before the time of flashlights and the only lights they could use in the woods were lanterns.  However, that day they intended to be back before dark and did not take lanterns with them.  Along in the afternoon on their return trip they came upon several bears.

The men shot several times, killing two bears and wounding another. By that time it had become too dark to find their way out of the woods.

Archie is quite certain that they were not lost but that they had to remain in the woods all night because they had no lanterns and could not find the trail to get out. They were 24 hours without food.

Archie Delmarsh guided from 1891 to 1902 when he opened a hotel on Cedar Island. [Delmarsh was proprietor, but it had been there since at least 1891 under other mangers] He remained there until 1914.  In that year he bought Rocky Point Inn. He no longer has a guide’s license, for his guiding is done mainly at the Thendara Golf Course where he guides the unwary to ignominious defeat.

“How do the hunters of today compare with those of years ago” was asked of Philip Christy, who has guided in the Central Adirondacks for more than 50 years and is still actively engaged in the same business.

“Well,“ says Phil, “the hunters of today want a place like the Waldorf hotel to stop at and it is because they want that luxury that they have to walk so far in the day time to find any deer. If they would be satisfied to sleep out in the woods, they could stay right in the deer country. Then in the day time the deer would be near at hand and all this tramping around the wilderness would be unnecessary.

“Then, too, the hunters now-a-days are always in a hurry. They come in on the morning train, want to hunt for a day and go out on the night train.

“In the early years a party for a two-weeks’ stay was out of the ordinary, most of them came for a month. This is probably accounted for by the fact that travel in those days was so complicated and a trip to the Adirondacks meant a journey by train, teams and boat, while now automobiles and good roads make the trip a short one.”

“The worst scare I ever got in the woods,” went on Christy, “if you could call it a scare, but I certainly was startled, was one day I was sitting down on a log to eat my lunch. I stood my gun up against a tree and all of a sudden a deer came up in back of me and jumped up over me and out of sight. As the deer jumped he snorted and that was the first idea I had there was a deer around. By the time I grabbed my gun, there wasn’t any deer.”

During his 50 years of guiding Christy has had many prominent men in his parties. Three presidents of the United States, Garfield, Harrison and Harding, and Governor Flower were at times guided by Christy. President Harrison owned a camp on First and Second Lakes of the Fulton Chain and the others were guests at the Adirondack League Club.

This season, two parties, 12 or 13 men in all, were hunting together with two guides, one of them Phil. He placed the men on watch and went back to drive the deer down to them.

One buck was sent down within 50 feet of the watchers. One man shot and missed him and the buck went over thru the alders and past the next watcher who had six shots at him and missed.  Then the deer swam the creek and escaped.  The hunters also had shots at two other bucks but again they missed them.

The two parties had two deer to show for their hunting trip when they went home when they might have had four or five.

“Did you ever have any trouble locating any of the sportsmen in your parties when they failed to appear at camp at dusk?”

“Well, once a man in my party was lost and it was two days before he was found,” Christy replied. “When he didn’t come in the first night the entire party stayed up and searched for him and then again the next day. However the second night they gave him up for dead and came back to camp.

“The next day he came back. He had followed a deer and lost himself and had to sleep out and the second night he could hear water and in the morning he found the stream and followed it until he found the camp.”

“Any bears ever chase you?” “No, if I ever get my eye on any bears they won’t bother me.” The idea of a bear chasing a man is a joke with Mr. Christy.

Between 40 and 50 years ago Christy with Nels Chandler, Frank Hall and Nick Western built Mosquito camp at the Big Plains at the head of Moose River. A few years later they built another at Natural Dam which they named Cozy Parlor. These were about 20 miles above Old Forge and it was to these camps that most of the hunting parties were taken.

When asked about thrilling experiences Christy relates one that he didn’t realize should have been a thriller until it was all over. The year the railroad was built to Fulton Chain [1892] a man offered him $50 to take him to the St. Lawrence.

They went in a guide boat up thru the chain of lakes to Loon Lake and from there down streams and thru ponds to a point on the St. Lawrence somewhere south of Ogdensburg across from an Indian reservation on the Canadian side. At this point one of the Canadian Indians had a hotel.

The man Christy had taken there immediately hired two Indians to take him across the reservation. He paid Christy with a check and the Indian hotel keeper cashed the check.  Christy rowed his boat up to Ogdensburg and took the train back to Fulton Chain [Thendara].

When he returned home he was met by the sheriff who wanted to know where he had taken the man. He had killed two men who were working on the railroad.  It took four days to make this trip from Old Forge to the St. Lawrence.  They slept out and carried their food with them.

“What was the largest deer you ever killed?”

“About 40 years ago I shot one that weighed 286 pounds and just 14 years later I killed one that weighed 285.” The latter was an eight-point buck and the head is now in Christy’s dining room.  “I guided Will Rogers of Rochester, when he killed a buck that weighed 305 pounds and we had to make a stretcher to carry it out of the woods.”

If you are able to identify the source of this article, please leave a comment below, or contact the Inlet Historical Society.

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Since the early 1980s when Charles Herr purchased a camp in Inlet he has been interested in the history of the Fulton Chain region of the Adirondacks. He has been contributing history articles about the times and people of the Fulton Chain, covering transportation, steamboats, hotels and most importantly, the people to the Weekly Adirondack of Old Forge since November 2006. His ambition is to uncover local and regional Fulton Chain history about people and events prior to 1930 and little covered in the histories of the region. He is the president of the Inlet Historical Society and presents summer programs on Inlet history at the Town Hall in Arrowhead Park in Inlet, NY. His book, The Fulton Chain-Early Settlement, Roads, Steamboats, Railroads and Hotels, was published in May 2017. More information is available at . During 2023, Herr was appointed Inlet Town Historian.

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