Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Hiram Burke, Noted Guide of Twitchell Lake

Hiram Burke Shanty at Twitchell LakeMany of the lakes in John Brown’s Tract had guides who took their sporting parties to their own fishing or hunting camps north and south of the Beaver River. This is how lakes like Hitchcock, Beach, and Salmon got their names.

Bill Marleau, author of Big Moose Station (1986) described the guide Hiram Burke (1839-1903) this way:

“In 1870 Hiram Burke, a thirty-one-year-old native of Lowville, built the first permanent building there, a log cabin on the upper north shore for the ‘sports’ he guided. He packed his fur, venison and other game back through the woods to Lowville, and in the winter months he made fur and buckskin gloves which he sold to finance his trips back to Twitchell Lake”

Old Man with Dog and GunBurke’s cabin is no longer standing, and its exact location is disputed, but it stood where the first trail came in to Twitchell from the Carthage to Lake Champlain Road, six miles to the northwest. It was a very rough one-room shanty constructed of logs.

Edwin Wallace in his Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks says that Twitchell Lake “received its unpoetic title from a settler, rejoicing in that name, who once made a clearing near by.”  I believe that settler was Charles Erastus Twitchell (1845-1922), who perhaps cleared the timber used by Burke to build his shelter.

Hiram Burke’s shanty established his guiding at Twitchell Lake, though technically he and other early guides were only squatters. After William Seward Webb purchased Twitchell Lake in 1891, Burke had to obtain Webb’s permission to host his sporting parties in the cabin he had built.

Hiram Burke descendantsHiram Burke married into a family headed by Watson Township guide Chauncey Smith (1797-1883), that would have given him real credibility in the guiding ranks. Chauncey’s hunting instincts are recorded in his frequent collections of the wolf bounty at $10/head. Chauncey, and his new bride Irena Bickford, sought to raise a family in the newly established settlement of Number Four, the John Brown family’s last shot at farming on their Adirondack holdings.

By 1849 the Smiths had five girls and four boys, Charles and Marcus Smith becoming guides, and four of Chauncey’s sons-in-law marrying into his guiding dynasty: Losee Lewis marrying daughter Anna, Arettus Wetmore marrying Maryet (and James Lewis when Arettus died), and Hiram Leonard Burke marrying Ursula. Another son-in-law George Smith married daughter Harriet and became the daguerreotypist who left a collection of metal plates in the Burke family archives.

1864 Guiding Ad in Stephens Historical NotesBy mid-century, over one hundred pioneers had abandoned the settlement at Number Four, leaving just three families headed by Isaac Wetmore (who died in 1853), Orrin Fenton (1783-1870), and Chauncey Smith. Orrin Fenton’s house became “a forest hostelry, open for the entertainment of the hunters and pleasure seekers who so often visited the region” (N. Sylvester, 1877).

Chauncey, who Edwin Wallace described as “the famous guide, trapper and hunter,” became dean of a growing number of Beaver River guides, advertising his family services in a Civil War era ad with the following caption:

“From each of the above (Losee Lewis, Arettus Wetmore, Chauncey Smith), home entertainment, guides, keep of teams, boats, fishing tackle, guns, traps, etc., etc., are obtainable. Livery, for freight and parties, into, from, and beyond No. 4, at reasonable rates, on notification, by mail, P.O. Address of either: Watson, Lewis County, NY”

Hiram Burke joined the family business after his marriage in 1867, and was added to the list of recommended guides as sportsmen (and women) checked into The Fenton House on their way to the hundreds of prime fishing and hunting spots on the east side of the Carthage to Lake Champlain Road.

As early as 1859 Chauncey had located himself in the heart of this emerging “Sportsman’s Paradise” far to the east of his Number Four family homestead. The Lewis County Banner marked this important milestone by reporting: “We learn that CHAUNCEY SMITH, hunter, has erected a comfortable woods shanty, for guests, with stabling attached, at the South Branch of Beaver River- 18 miles beyond FENTON’S.”

Chauncey’s new Elk Horn Shanty was like the hub of a giant wheel, with spokes emanating outward to the popular spots at Albany, Smith, and Beaches Lakes, and to the more remote ones at Twitchell, Big Moose, and the Red Horse Chain of Lakes. In a January 1864 letter to his son William Warren, Chauncey described his forest house:

“I have a large log cabin there with two square rooms with stoves and two lodging rooms…and a stable suitable for several teams and I can cut a plenty of wild hay there. You would be disappointed if I should tell you that I have had 25 customers in one night mostly from city’s… and 3 ladies in the party but that was more than I could accommodate comfortably but frequently have a dozen. I had ten hunters there for a month or more the fore part of this winter, they was from Madison Co. and from Rome… We killed 22 deer and a large panther. We keep boats here and experienced boatman and guides to watch on gents and some ladies and assist them to convey them out and in if required.”

Three Twitchell TrailsThere were three early trails connecting Twitchell Lake to civilization via the Carthage-Champlain Road (depicted in white on the accompanying map). The westerly trail (in red) was earliest and connected Rock Shanty with Hiram’s Shanty. This trail was used by a search party that retrieved the body of Briggs Wightman in 1856. This route continued to Big Moose Lake from the opposite shore.

It’s possible Chauncey created this trail in the 1830s as a trap line, leading him to Twitchell Lake. The middle trail (in blue) was created with the completion of the Carthage Road surveyed by Nelson Beach in 1841, enabling horse and wagon access to Twitchell and Big Moose Lakes.

The easterly trail (in orange) was created by Chauncey as one of the “spokes” from his hub at the South Branch of the Beaver River, reaching out directly to Twitchell Lake. This third trail linked Chauncey with two of his guiding partners, Hiram Burke and James Lewis, facilitating communication, customer transportation, and the movement of supplies. Verplanck Colvin’s Beaver River surveyor Frank Tweedy used a shanty built by James Lewis on this trail as a supply depot during his 1879 season (Journal of South Western Division of the Adirondack Survey).

Hiram Burke exercised his proprietorship of Twitchell Lake by naming several of the ponds nearby after his best customers. Edwin Wallace gives the background:

Twitchell Lake and Surrounding Ponds“Hiram Burke, (P. O. Lowville), the very efficient guide, has erected a substantial hunting lodge on the N. shore of Twitchell L., where sportsmen are entertained and furnished with the best fare that the forest affords. When desired, he will conduct his guests (no better woodsman than he) to the various choice sporting grounds which lie in the neighborhood. In the immediate vicinity, in different directions, are twelve or fifteen tiny ponds; usually swarming with large trout, and gleaming like gems in their solitary fastnesses amid the deep green of the forest. These include Silver, Oswego, Arthur, East, Mud, Marenus, Hackmetack and Twitchellette” (1888).

The accompanying map shows 12 to 15 smaller ponds in this area, the nearest eight he named (some have changed). Lining up contemporary names with Wallace’s 1888 names (in parenthesis), yields the following:

East Pond (East Pond)
Little Birch Pond (Twitchellette Pond)
Lilypad Ponds (Hackmetack Ponds)
South Pond (Mud Pond)
Jock Pond (Marenus Pond)
Silver Lake (Silver Lake)
Razorback Pond (Arthur Pond)
Oswego Pond (Oswego Pond)

Three of these bodies of water have remained the same – East and Oswego Ponds and Silver Lake.  Twitchellette (the closest and smallest pond, was the pond Anne LaBastille has memorialized in her writings). Hackmetack or Larch are alternative names for the Tamarack trees so common to the Adirondacks. Verplanck Colvin in his exploratory trip north from the Fulton Chain of Lakes in 1876, discovered South Pond and named it Hackmetack, showing how fluid this naming business was. Mud Lake was a common descriptive for Adirondack ponds, appearing on some period maps for South Pond. Sliver (sometimes “Sylvan”) Lake has kept its name to this day. And Oswego Pond is a last fishing stop on the earliest of the three trails before reaching Twitchell’s north shore, probably named in honor of some noted Oswego sports.

Hiram Burke descendantsBut what about Marenus and Arthur Ponds, today Jock and Razorback? These pond names completely stumped me until I read the May 11, 1882 Journal and Republican and found a short article about a ten-day sporting trip to Twitchell Lake guided by Hiram Burke and James Lewis.

Charles Sumner Mereness, Sr., was the Lewis County District Attorney from Copenhagen, Eugene Arthur a Lowville lawyer who started a business catering to farmers and builders in 1884. These Lewis County leaders were repeat customers of Hiram Burke at Twitchell Lake, and Hiram named two ponds for them.

The relationship between Eugene Arthur and the Burke family continued after Hiram’s death. One interesting item in the Burke family archive is a First National Bank of Lowville check for $150 made out to Eugene Arthur and signed by Ursula M. Burke and her son William H. Burke, either for a house rental or for a farm equipment purchase in May of 1904. A friendship which Hiram had established continued.

Hiram Burke was deputized by the Lewis County Sportsman Association to serve arrest warrants to sportsmen who abused newly minted game laws, an indicator of the degree of respect which the guides around Chancey Smith’s family were afforded. In 1879, two complaints were made to the Sportsman Association and Constable Finch and Burke were sent to make arrests. The first was for a Long Lake party shooting deer out of season. A month later they were after Lewis Wormwood, “for killing deer and using a gill net for trout at Twitchel Lake.”  Wormwood was then serving as guide for Verplanck Colvin’s surveyor Frank Tweedy.  Tweedy recorded the following entry in his survey journal at Hiram Burke’s shanty: “July 16, Wednesday: About 7 AM, H. Burke and the deputy sheriff from Lowville reached our camp to serve a summons on our guide for killing deer.”

Of Chauncey’s descendants, two kept the guiding legacy alive. Marcus Smith’s daughter Jennie Louise Smith married Francis A. Young (1854-1928) who guided from his camp on Twitchell Lake, one of the early log cabins built on its shores. Hiram Burke and Ursula Smith saw three of their offspring carry on the guiding tradition. William (1870-1931) and Frederick Burke (1873-) were listed in a 1907 roster of Brown’s Tract Guides, serving parties on and around the Fulton Chain of Lakes. Daughter Florence Burke married John Edwin Ball (1854-1927), an early pioneer of Old Forge, NY. “Ned” Ball organized fellow Brown’s Tract guides in 1886, issuing what has been referred to as the Boonville Memorial:

“The declaration was among the first ever in the nation to call for stricter enforcement of game laws, a shorter hunting season, and a moratorium on killing does and fawns for the next three to five years,” local historian Peg Masters once wrote. “This visionary band of woodsmen pioneered the settlement of the Fulton Chain region and later formed the nucleus of the Brown’s Tract Guides’ Association’s membership roster that formally organized in 1898.”

That’s quite a legacy.

Illustrations, from above: Picture of Burke Shanty on Twitchell Lake from The Story of a Wilderness by Joseph E. Grady (p. 204); daguerreotype pictures shared by Michael and Beth Pashley, Hiram Burke descendants, believed to be of Chauncey Smith and his guiding sons and sons-in-law (without labeling, no definitive picture of Hiram Burke could be added); Chauncey Smith Guiding Ad found in rear of Historical Notes of the Settlement on No. 4 by W. Hudson Stephens, 1864; letter from Chauncey was contributed by Dawn Jackson, Smith family descendent; two Google maps depicting the Carthage to Champlain Road with three early trails to Twitchell and Big Moose Lakes, and showing the current ponds and lakes around Twitchell Lake (created by Noel Sherry); May 11, 1882 Journal and Republican “short” about a Twitchell Lake trip guided by Hiram Burke and James Lewis; and 1896 Membership Card for Ned Ball in the Adirondack Guides Association.

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Rev. Noel Sherry has pastored and taught in Massachusetts, is part owner of a log cabin on Twitchell Lake in Big Moose, NY, and is a life-long hiker, sailing enthusiast, and student of the Adirondack Mountains. He is a member of a History Committee working on documenting the story of Twitchell Lake. He has been married for 47 years to his wife Ingelise, with 3 young-adult children and 9 grand kids who all love the Adirondacks.

6 Responses

  1. Jim Fox says:

    What a shame that neither of the names for Hackmetack Ponds names was kept. It would certainly have been catchier than Mud or South Pond.

  2. drdirt says:

    thnx for providing us this interesting history of this ADK region. Delving into these early family relationships is tedious work, but a fantastic story!

    • Noel A. Sherry says:

      Thanks Drdirt,
      I have found that keeping a good Ancestry.com Tree for all my Adirondack people is one of several good sources for my research on the history of the Lake I vacation at, along with the NYS Historic Newspaper’s website, and the early and more recent historians who have focused on this unique part of our country. A lot of the early guides intermarried with other guiding families.

  3. Noel A. Sherry says:

    Dear Readers,
    Further research on the Chauncey Smith guiding history and legacy leads me to correct two minor details in my January 21st, 2020, article. For those doing research on Number Four, Chauncey Smith, or Beaver River guides, you may request a detailed timeline I have created, which includes these corrections and much more to assist you in your research (nsherry@bethel.edu).
    (1) My statement: “Chauncey, and his new bride Irena Bickford, sought to raise a family in the newly established settlement of Number Four, the John Brown family’s last shot at farming on their Adirondack holdings.” Actually, Chauncey and Irena raised most of their 9 children in Harrisburgh and Diana, Lewis County, before moving to Number Four by 1855. Chauncey built his “Forrest House” on the Beaver River about 18 miles east of No. 4 in 1858 in response to a request by a Mr. Prince that he be the guardian of his lumber holdings along the Beaver River- it is very likely that Mr. Princes job offer was the reason Chauncey purchased a home for his family in the hamlet of No. 4.
    (2) My statement: “Another son-in-law George Smith married daughter Harriet and became the daguerreotypist who left a collection of metal plates in the Burke family archives.” Actually, George W. Smith (1827-?) was the thirdborn of Chauncey and Irena’s children.

    Signed, Noel Sherry

  4. Peter Corrigan says:

    Hi if you can send me a signed copy of this article .We enjoyed all of the content .
    Peter Corrigan
    6Woodland Village
    Utica New York 13501

    • Noel A. Sherry says:

      Hey Peter, great to hear from you. Will print, sign, and send that to you. Sorry I missed you when you visited Twitchell this summer.

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