Miscellanies - Hist. Steuben Co - McMasters [1853] - Steuben Co., NY GenWeb

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Hist. Steuben by McMasters Table of Contents

History of the Settlement of Steuben County, New York

by: Guy McMasters [1853]


The Indians: incidents--Indian names -- Game: deer, wolves, panthers, bears, beavers: “snake stories” -- anecdotes of the chase -- The “Plumping Mill”-- Incidents of the War of 1812--The Militia--The Steuben Company at the battle of Queenstown Heights: the fighting Chief Justice--an incident--The “Battle of Dansville”


It will not be necessary to speak of the history, laws or customs of the Six Nations in this volume; sufficient information for present purposes, as to those matters, is possessed by the popular mind. Steuben County constituted a part of the domain of the Senecas. The Indians with whom the pioneer had intercourse were from the North, and visited this region only to hunt. Many hundreds of them came in the winter from the Genesee, and even from the Niagara, built their lodges around in the woods, and killed deer for their summer’s stock of dried venison and other wild animals for their peltry.

The complement of a hunting lodge varied according to circumstances. Sometimes a solitary old savage made his wigwam apart from his brethren, and hunted, fished and slept in silence; sometimes the neat lodge of a couple of young comrades might be seen on some little island of the river, and sometimes the wood-man came upon a campfire blazing in the forest by night, where a score or more of hunters, squaws and children were eating and drinking in a very free and comfortable manner. The Indian “at home” was not often found by the pioneers to be that taciturn and immovable Roman which the romancers paint him. When before the fire of his wigwam with half a dozen companions, he talked, laughed and joked, and had an odd habit of making a meal every quarter of an hour, as if afflicted with a chronic hunger, putting his hand into the kettle, or fishing up with a sharp stick a piece of venison as big as his fist at every pause of the conversation, till the young settler, witnessing this perpetual banquet, feared that he would kill himself. He did not talk in riddles or allegories like those whalebone braves who stalk through the novels, but was often inclined to be shrewd and comical in his language, and sometimes loved practical jokes not of the most delicate order.

During the first few years of the settlement, many of the inhabitants were uneasy at the presence of the Indians. Some prepared to leave the county, and a few actually did leave it from apprehension of an attack. After the defeat of Harmer and St. Clair, in the Northwestern territory, the savages were often insolent and abusive, but Wayne’s victory on the Miami, in 1794, put an end to their plots, and they afterwards conducted themselves with civility. Some of the settlers, however, were not entirely assured for several years. The wives of many of the emigrants from the East, unused to wild life, and familiar with the terrible fame of the Six Nations, lived in constant alarm--not an inexcusable fear when a score or two of barbarians came whooping to the cabin door, or raised the midnight yell in their camp by the creek-side, till even the wolves were ashamed of them.

The intercourse between the settlers and the Indians, were generally friendly and social. The latter, however, had occasion sometimes to complain of lodges destroyed and furs stolen, and other annoyances to be expected from civilized men. A hunter living at the Eight Mile Tree, (Avoca,) wished to drive the Indians from a certain hunting ground. These Native Americans were singularly reluctant to labor, and rather than chop down a tree for fuel, would walk half a mile to pick up an armful of scattered sticks. Founding his scheme upon this trait of character, the hunter cut a great many branches from the trees in the vicinity of their camps, bored augur holes into them, filled the orifices with gunpowder, plugged them carefully, and strewed these treacherous engines through the woods. The Indians knew not what good spirit to thank for this miraculous shower of firewood, and gathered a great supply for their lodges. The disasters that followed were unaccountable. Now a loud explosion blew a quart of coals into the face of some mighty chief--then another hidden magazine being kindled, filled the eyes of the presiding squaw with dust and ashes, and another hoisted the pot off the fire, or hurled the roasting venison into the basket where the papoose was sleeping. The wood was plainly bewitched. Timber with such fiery snap was not to be endured. The Indians abandoned the neighborhood with precipitation, and left the hunter in quiet enjoyment of his forest rights.

There were some occasions when the Indian was seen in his glory, arrayed in flaming blankets, adorned with plumes, and medals, girt with curious belts, from with glittered the knife and tomahawk. Thus shone the warriors on their return from the convention at Newtown, in the winter of 1791. But after a few years of familiarity with civilized men, the savage was seldom seen abroad in ancient style. The braves were inclined to become utter vagabonds, and gradually adopted that mixture of civilized and savage dress, which it is not going too far to pronounce shocking. Romance was horrified. The “dark eyed forest belles,” so dear to poetry, looked like stage drivers.

The traffic in liquors here, as elsewhere, proved ruinous to the unfortunate Indians. A large portion of their game was bartered for spirits. A favorite place for their carouses at Bath was in the bushes at the edge of the village, opposite the present jail. Here, floundering in the underbrush, howling, singing, and screaming all night, they suggested vivid and singular dreams to the sleeping villagers. On such occasions the squaws, like considerate wives, stole the knives of their lords, and retired to the woods, till the fainter and less frequent yells from the bushes announced that the “Romans” were becoming overpowered by sleep. The townsmen were sometimes amused at their fishing. A half-a-dozen Indians wading up the river, and pushing a canoe before them would spear their boat half full of fish in an incredibly short time, and sell their cargo for a mere trifle. The spear was but a pole with a nail in the end of it.

About thirty years ago, Mr. Joshua Stephens, a young man of Canisteo, was found dead in the woods, having been shot by two rifle balls. The murder had been evidently committed by Indians. Two of these, named Curley-eye and Sundown, were arrested on suspicion of having committed the deed, and were afterwards tried at Bath. The affair created a great sensation, and the trail was attended by a large concourse of people. Red Jacket and other prominent chiefs were present. The evidence against the prisoners was of a strong character, but they were acquitted. After this event the Indians became shy and evacuated the county, and never again returned except in straggling bands.

We have been told, on pretty good authority, of an “Indian-hater” living near the mouth of Mud Creek, in the town of Bath, many years ago. A settler in the neighborhood was requested one morning by one of his neighbors to go out to the woods and help him bring in a large buck which he had shot. On coming to the designated place, the hunter opened a pile of brush, and showed his companion the dead body of an Indian. He said his father’s family had been massacred by the savages in the Revolution, and since that event he had killed every Indian he could meet in a convenient place. This was nearly the twentieth.


The Indians and their institutions can, upon the whole, be spared for our social system, though there are not wanting those who find it in their hearts to deplore the decay of both--melancholy thing to think of, truly. Yet, when it is considered how many of their practices was irreconcilable with the maxims of distinguished jurists, the most enthusiastic admirer of barbarism must admit that the preservation of the statutes and ceremonies of the Long House would be attended, at least, with inconvenience. The tomahawk, the scalping knife and the javelin, are properly, we think, excluded from the accouterments of a well dressed, civilized man, and we are quite sure that an enlightened public opinion would frown upon the grave and respectable citizen, who, out of respect for the earliest inhabitants of the county, should appear at town meeting, at church, or at any other public assemblage, painted with red paint and black, decorated with porcupine quills, and arrayed in a crimson blanket. A cultivated community will always entertain sentiments of reverence for ancient fashions and for the customs of former generations; yet, would not such a spectacle as that of the elderly gentlemen and clergy of the county, shrieking, howling, and dancing the grand war Dance around a post in the Public Square of the shire town, fill the mind of a judicious man with melancholy foreboding with regard to the sanity of such elderly gentlemen and divines? There are certain vestiges of the ancient tribes for which men of taste and learning earnestly plead--the names which they attached to their lakes, rivers, towns and castles. Whether deep and sonorous as Otsego, Niagara, Cayuga, Tioga, Onondagua, or light and musical as Unadilla, Wyalusing, Canisteo, Susquehanna, or abrupt and warlike as Mohawk, Conhocton, Shemokin, Tunkhannock, the names given by the Six Nations, were sweet or heroic of sounds. The barbarous dialects which give us Penobscot and Passamaquoddy, or the still more atrocious. Chattahoochie, Okechobee, Tombigby, Withlacoochie and other frightful words which prick the Southern ear, (though atoned for by the noble Alabama, Catawba, Savannah,) and the utterly heathenish Michilimacinac, Pottawottamie, Oshkosh, Kaskaskia and Winnepeg, of the North West, are fit for Ghouls, and “men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders.”

A lecture may profitably be read on the subject of names to people of our own and adjoining counties, and in doing so we do but echo what has been frequently proclaimed through other trumpets. The American map looks like a geographical joke. We name our towns after all heroes, from Hector to General Lopez--after all patriots, from Maccabeus to Daniel Shays--after all beasts, birds, fishes, and creeping things--to which there is certainly no objection, but one may plead that when we have exhausted Plutarch’s Lives, and the Pension Roll, a few of the fine old Indian names may be recovered. In our own county, the musical and forest like Tuscarora, was changed first to Middletown, which caused confusion in the mails, (that popular name having been fairly grabbed by other towns which were so lucky as to stand half way between two places,) and afterwards to Addison, in honor, probably, of the essayist, who never saw a stump, a raft, or a saw-mill. The post office of Tobehanna was later changed to Altai, which is a mountain range in the antipodes, and would lead strangers to suppose that Tyrone was settled by Siberians. Our neighbors of Chemung became disgusted at the odd, but significant and historical name Horse-heads, (being the place where Gen. Sullivan killed his horses,) and elegantly changed it to Fairport, indicating, we suppose, that scows on the Chemung Canal are there secure from tempests. It is unfortunate that the schoolmaster was out of town when the change was made, for the offending Saxon might have been disguised under the magnificent syllables of Hippocephali. At the head of Seneca Lake lived for many years a famous Indian Queen, Catharine Montour, a half-breed and surmised to have been a daughter of Count Frontenac. Her village was known far and wide as Catharine’s Town. They now call it Jefferson--an act of “proscription” which the great Republican would have scowled at. Painted Post will probably have to go next under the reign of refinement--acapital name, suggestive, historical and picturesque. If it is desirable to be known abroad, citizens of the village will do well to let the name stand as it is, for while Painted Post will arrest the stranger’s eye more quickly perhaps than any other name on the map of Western New York, if this is changed to Siam or Senegambia, Ajax or Coriolanus, or any other title which the fashion of the day requires. The Painted Posters cannot hope to be distinguished from the mob of citizens who dwell in villages bearing the names of foreign kingdoms, and heroes of the “Silurian epoch.”

Similar advice is ready for our neighbors at the foot of Crooked Lake whenever it may be called for. Penn-Yan is undoubtedly a very queer word-rather Chinese at least--and when pronounced with the favorite twang of our ancients, Pang Yang, the sound is as clearly “celestial” as Yong Kiang, and the stranger would expect to find the village adorned by Mandarins and Joshes, and to see the populace from the seniors down, diverting themselves with kites, firecrackers and lanterns. For the relief of puzzled philologists, however, it may be explained that the word was not imported in a tea chest, but was made from the first syllables of the works Pennsylvanian and Yankee, and indicates the race of the first settlers. It should by no means be disturbed.

It is a pity that so many fine villages of Western New York are saddled with names absurdly borrowed from the Old World. It would seem as if Congress had granted bounty lands to heroes of the Trojan and Punic wars; at all events, the names of those old veterans are affixed to more townships than there were sons of Priam. Buffalo, Oswego, Canandaigua and Genesee are almost the only towns of important which have escaped the Greeks and Romans.

Our own country must confess itself to be destitute of European or classical townships but can yet boast of very illustrious neighbors. We have but to step over our Northern boundary to “see Naples and die.” The distance from Naples to Italy, though greater here than it is in Europe, is yet but inconsiderable, while the distance from Italy to Jerusalem is less than in the old world. In fact, the City of David here abuts the land of Caesar. On the Eastern side of the county behold the hero Hector, a brown Republican farmer, shaking no more the bloody spear as he looks from his orchards into the waters of Seneca, having long since exchanged the chariot for the horse-rake. His old antagonist, Ulysses, has located his land warrant in the next range. On the West Ossian howls his humbugs in the latitude of Loon Lake, and Saxon Alfred lives unmolested by marauding Danes. The Spartans have colonized the adjoining corner of Livingston County, and appear to have quite given up black broth and laconics. The Athenians are to be found at the mouth of Chemung, and when the upriver raftmen, whooping and yelling, steer their rafts down the spring flood, the citizens of the town are probably reminded of the time when the Goths came with similar uproar through the Hellespont, and sacked their city--a blow from which, judging from the present state of fine arts at Tioga Point, it would seem that the seat of the muses never recovered.

Crooked Lake is the translation of Keuka, the aboriginal name. Conhocton signifies come together. It is sometimes erroneously rendered Trees-in-the-water. Five Mile Creek was formerly called Canoni. Gen McClure says that Bath born the name of Tanigh-naguanda, by no means a euphonious one. Chemung is said to mean Big-bone. The tradition that the identical bone by which the name was suggested, was taken from the river-bank by boatmen after the settlement must be erroneous. The Indians had a village and corn-field near Elmira, at the time of Sullivan’s expedition., named Chemung, and the river was called the Chemung Branch. Further information concerning the aboriginal names of localities in this county we cannot give, and would be glad to receive.


It is said in a manuscript, consulted in the preparation of this volume, that “Many of the hunters estimated that there were from five to ten deer on every hundred acres of land in the county, or in that proportion throughout the country over which they hunted. The probability is, that this estimate would not be too high for many parts of the forest which were favorite haunts of the deer, but then there would be other tracts which they frequented but little, so that for the whole extent of territory embraced in the present limits of the county, equal to about 900,000, acres it would probably be correct to estate that at the first settlement of the country, there were, on a average, as many as four deer for every hundred acres--making the number within the present limits of the county, not less than 36,000.

An intelligent and respectable man, who came from Pennsylvania among the first emigrants from that State, used to relate that in the fall of the year 1790, or 1791, two young men came from near Northumberland up the river in a canoe, on a hunting expedition, built a lodge at the mouth of Smith’s Creek, on the Conhocton, and hunted in the neighborhood. In the course of two months they killed upwards of two hundred deer, several elk, some bears and three panthers. Elk were at that time quite numerous in most parts of the county, and were found south of the Canisteo River, ten or fifteen years after. They also killed a number of wolves, foxes and martins, and a few beaver. The hunters preserved as much of the venison as they could, and with that and the skins they had taken, they loaded two large canoes, and early in the winter returned to Northumberland, where they sold their cargoes for upwards of $300.

Sixty years of persecution with hounds and rifle have not exterminated the deer; but, as may well be believed, the buck that now shakes his horns in the forest, does so with little of that confidence with which in former times his predecessors tossed aloft their antlers. In twenty-four hours his ribs may be smoking on the dinner table of a hotel, his hide may be steeping in the vats of the mitten makers, and his horns may be grating under the rasps of the men that make cane heads and knife handles. In the days before the conquest, not withstanding the depredations of the wolves and Indians, the deer constantly increased in numbers, or at least held their own, that of a full-grown buck racking through the woods, clearing “fifteen to twenty feet, often twenty-five, and sometimes more than thirty feet of ground, at a single jump.” The last elk killed in the county was shot in the town of Lindley, about forty years ago.

As for the wolves, history despairs of doing them justice. They deserve a poet. How they howled, and howled, and howled; how they snarled and snapped at the belated woodsman; how they killed pigs and the sheep; how they charmed the night with their long drawn chorus, so frightful that “it was enough to take the hair off a man’s head,” and yet so dismally hideous that could not but be laughed at by the youngsters--all these must be imagined; words are too feeble to do justice to the howling of one wolf in the day time, much less to the howling of ten wolves at night, in the depth of a hemlock forest. Each pack had its chorister, a grizzled veteran, perhaps, who might have lost a paw in some settler’s trap, or whose shattered thigh declared him a martyr for the public good. This son of the Muses, beginning with a forlorn and quavering howl, executed a few bars in solo; then, the whole gang broke in with miracles of discord, as in a singing school the full voiced choir shouts in chorus, after the teacher has shown them “how that chromatic passage ought to be executed.” All the parts recognized by the scientific, were carried by these “minions of the moon.” Some moaned in baritone, some yelled in soprano, and the intermediate discords were howled forth upon the night air in a style that would make a jackal shiver. The foreign musician, awaked from his dreams by such an anthem, might well imagine himself fallen from a land where the Red Republican had it all their own way, and having abrogated the rules of rhythm and dynamics, with other arbitrary and insufferable vestiges of the feudal system, had established musical socialism. The wolves and their howling linger more vividly than any other features of the wilderness in the memory of old settlers. It is only within a few years that they found the land too hot for them. It is not a great while, since the citizens of the shire town were occasionally behowled from the Rollway Hills, and among those who, fifteen years ago, were very young schoolboys, the memory is yet green of that day when the weightiest and gravest of the townsmen, with many others who were not quite so weighty and grave, sallied forth with the avowed purpose of exterminating the wolves which lurked in the surrounding hills--a campaign barren of trophies indeed, but which must have carried dismay into the councils of the enemy, and convinced them of the uselessness of opposition to their “manifest destiny.” A few members of this ancient family may yet lurk in wild corners of the country, but the more discreet have withdrawn to the solitudes of Pennsylvania.

The panthers have vanished, hide and hair, leaving a reputation like that of the Caribs. The “painter,” in lack of lions, must always be the hero of desperate hunting tales, and were it not for the too well established fact that his valor was rather freely tempered with discretion, he would be a highly available character for the novelists. Except when wounded, they were not feared. Though powerful of frame and ferocious of face, they belied physiognomy and were generally quite willing to crawl off, or at most to stand at bay when met by the hunters. This forbearance, it must be confessed, arose not so much from sweetness of temper as from a bashfulness which almost amounted to cowardice. They disappointed the expectations of their friends, and invariably forsook their backers before coming up fairly to the “scratch.” However, the fierce face, the lion-like proportions, (they were from seven to ten feet long,) and the collusion of the novelists, have proved too much for the truth, and the “Great Northern Panther” at this day rivals in popularity Captain Kid and Black Beard. When exasperated by wounds he showed himself worthy more terrible than a woodchuck. For instance, a housewife, who owned Ireland as her native land, while attending to her domestic duties in the cabin, heard signals of distress among the pigs. On going out to see what had befallen her porkers, she found a fine shoat attacked by a panther. It was evidently the first acquaintance of the robber with animals of this species, for as often as he sprang upon the back of his prey, the pig squealed dismally, and the panther bounced off in amazement, as if he had alighted upon a hot stove. The lady ran screaming and with arms uplifted, to rescue her pig, and the “Great North American Panther,” instead of annihilating both pig and “lady-patrones” on the spot, scrambled into the top of a tree with evident alarm. The women sent her husband straightway to fetch Patterson the hunter with his rifle, and stood under the tree to blockade the enemy. Several times the latter offered to come down, but his intrepid sentry screamed and made such violent gestures, that the panther drew back in consternation. The hunter came in an hour or so and shot it just as it took courage to spring.

The bear, too--the wise, respectable and independent bear was, in early times, a citizen of substance and consideration. Statistics concerning him are wanting. Disturbed by bone breaking bullets in his berry gardens and plum orchards, blinded by gusts of buckshot that blew into his face as he put his head out of his parlor window, punched with sharp sticks by malicious youngsters as he sat nursing his wounded hams in the seclusion of a hollow log, plagued by ferocious traps which sometimes pinched his feet, sometimes grasped his investigating nose with teeth of steel, assailed in his wooden tower by axe men hewing at its basis, while boys with rifles waited for its downfall--the bear, we say, distressed by a line of conduct that rendered his existence precarious, emigrated to the mountains of the Key Stone State in disgust.

As for the lesser tribes, known as wildcat, catamounts, and lynxes, there were flourishing families of those creatures in all parts of the land, and they are still occasionally heard from in the outer districts. The last one worthy of historical notice prowled for a time in the interior woods, but his head at last permanent among the heads and tails of raccoons and woodchucks, adorned the Log Cabin of Bath in the picturesque election of 1840.

There were but few beaver remaining in the streams at the time of the settlement. The lively trade in peltry which had been carried on between the Indians and Europeans was attended with a disastrous loss of fur to those poor creatures. In 1794, there were a few beaver remaining in Mud Lake, but the renowned Patterson set his eye upon them, and soon appeared on the harmonious shores of that secluded pond with his arms full of traps. Seven of the beaver were caught, the eighth and last escaped with the loss of a paw. These were the last beaver taken in this county. About twenty-five years ago a single beaver appeared in the Tioga, and even showed his nose on the farm of the old trapper. He was a traveler. He visited various parts of the river, as agent perhaps for some discontented colony on another stream, but probably discouraged by the farms and saw-mills, left the upper waters and appeared next in the lower Chemung. He imprudently went upon an island of a snowy morning; Canisteo raft men tracked him to a corn stout, beset, slew and skinned him and delivered his hide to the hatters. The streams, though depopulated of beaver, abounded with fish, and contained for many years fine shad and salmon.

Rattlesnakes will conclude this catalogue of worthies. It has been previously intimated that these deadly reptiles flourished in certain places in large tribes. To say that there were thousands of them in the Conhocton valley among the pines, would be to speak modestly. The incident related of Patterson, the hunter, in a previous chapter of this volume, is sometimes told in a different form. It is told on excellent authority, that he and his dog were going down the river trail, and killed rattlesnakes by daylight, till the odor of them made him sick, and till his dog, which was an expert snake-fighter, refused to touch them any more--(an active dog will dance around a snake, dash suddenly in, snatch it up in his teeth, and shake it to death.)--It then becoming dark, he took the river and waded two miles to its mouth. There is another story touching snakes, which history will not willingly let die. The hero of the tale, it may be premised, was the martyr of it, and the sole witness to the facts. An old settler of this country was once journeying through the woods, and when night came, found himself in a district infected by rattlesnakes, numbers of which were twisting their tails in the bushes in great indignation. Fearful that if he lay on the ground he would wake up in the morning with his pockets full of snakes, (for they are extremely free to snug up to sleepers on chilly nights, to enjoy the warmth of the human body,) in which case, it would be a delicate thing to pull them out, he place a pole across two crotched stakes, and slept on the pole. His slumbers were sound and refreshing. In the morning he found himself on his roost with no serpents in his pockets, his boots, his hat, or his hair, and observed, moreover, that, during his sleep, he had unconsciously turned over from his right side to his left.

So much for rattlesnakes. Concerning other kinds of serpents--black snakes, racers,, and the like of which there were no lack in this bailiwick, we have nothing to offer--not from disrespect, but from ignorance.

The chase, as we have seen, was not often attended with peril; yet there were times when the hunter was obliged to move briskly for his life. The wounded panther was a dangerous enemy. Men have been killed by them. A noted Canisteo hunter once hurt one of these animals with a rifle ball, and it sprang upon his dog as the first adversary it met. Knowing that himself would be the next victim, the hunter closed with the ferocious beast and killed it with his knife. As it lay upon the ground after the fight, eight feet or more in length, it looked like a lion, and the hunter was astonished at his boldness.

A Justice of the Peace in one of the outer towns had once occasion for a little practice, not provided for in the “Magistrate’s Manuel.” Relieving his judicial cares by the pleasures of the chase, he one day met a great panther which he severely wounded, but did not immediately cripple it. The monster, enraged at the tort, attacked him furiously. The plaintiff in the case found himself unexpectedly made defendant. The books suggest no proceeding for relief in such a strange turn of affairs, and he was obliged to fall back on first principles. He dealt a rousing blow with his gun, and then dexterously seized the panther’s tail. A novel action ensued, which was neither trover nor replevin. The plaintiff, though partially disabled, had yet so much of his former enormous strength, that, when he turned with a savage growl to bite the defendant, the latter, by jerking with all his might, baffled the maneuver of his antagonist. This odd contest, worthy of record in the “Crockett Almanac,” lasted a good while--jerking this way, jerking that way, rejoinder and sur-rejoinder, rebutter and sur-rebutter--till at length the panther became so weak from loss of blood, that the guardian of the people’s peace could work the ropes with one hand; when resuming his position as a plaintiff, he speedily entered up final judgment against the defendant with a hunting knife, and seized his scalp for costs. This is a true story, (as also are all other stories in this book) and can be proved by a Supervisor, a Justice of the Peace, and a Town Clerk.

A Canisteo hunter was once watching a deer lick at night. A large tree had partially fallen near the spring, and he seated himself in its branches several feet above the ground. No deer came down to drink. Towards midnight the tree was shaken by the tread of a visitor. It was a huge panther, which slowly walked up the trunk and sat down on its haunches within a very few yards of the hunter. The night was clear and the moon was shining, but the uneasy deerslayer could not see the forward sight of his gun, and did not attempt the delicate feat of sending a bullet to the heart of such a lion as decisively that there would be no snarling or tearing of his throat afterwards. All night long they sat in mutual contemplation, the hunter watching with ready rifle every movement of his guest; while the latter, sitting with the gravity of a chancellor, hardly stirred till daybreak. As soon as the light of morning brought the forward sight in view the rifle cracked and the panther departed life without a growl.

Wolves seldom or never were provoked to resistance. The settler walking through the woods at dusk, was sometimes intercepted by a gang of these bush pirates, whom hunger and the darkness emboldened to snarl and snap their teeth at his very heels; but a stone or a “chunk of wood” hurled at their heads was enough to make them bristle up and stand on the defensive. They were generally held in supreme contempt. We hear of a bouncing damsel in one of the settlements who attacked half a dozen of them with a whip, just as they had seized a pig and put them to flight, to late, however, to save the life of the unhappy porker.

The buck, under certain circumstances, was a dangerous antagonist. The following incident is given in a manuscript heretofore alluded to: “An individual who eventually became a leading man in the county and a member of Congress, once shot a buck near Bath. He loaded his gun and walked up to the fallen deer which was only stunned, the ball having hit one of his horns. When within a few steps of it, the deer sprang up and rushed at him. He fired again, but in the hurry of the moment missed his aim. He the clubbed his gun and struck at the head of the infuriated animal, but it dexterously parried the blow with its horns and knocked the rifle out of the hunter’s hand to the distance of several yards. The hunter took refuge behind a tree, around which the deer followed him more than an hour, lunging at him with his horns so rapidly that the gentlemen who “eventually went to Congress” could not always dodge the blow, but was scratched by the tips of the antlers and badly bruised on his back and legs, and had almost all his clothes torn off. He struck the deer with his knife several times indecisively, but when almost tired out managed to stab him fairly just back of the shoulder. The enemy hauled off to repair damages but soon fell dead. The hunter threw himself upon the ground utterly exhausted, and lay several hours before he had strength to go home. A man thus assailed was said to be “treed by a buck.”


There are few tribulations of the new country about which old settlers are more eloquent than those connected with “going to mill.” Grist mills being fabrics of civilization, were not of course found in a wild state along the primitive rivers. The unfortunate savage cracked his corn with a pestle and troubled his head not at all about bulkheads and tail races, and, although his meal was in consequence of a very indifferent quality, yet it may be a question if this was not compensated for by the freedom of the courts of the Six Nations from those thrilling controversies about flush boards, and drowned meadows, and backwater on the wheel, which do in modern times confound the two and thirty Circuit Judges of the Long House.

In 1778, a grist-mill and saw-mill belonging to the Indians and Tories, at their settlement of Unadilla, the only mills in the Susquehanna valley in this State, were burned by a party of rangers and riflemen. In 1790, four mills are noted on the map of Phelps and Gorham’s Purchase, one in T. 8, R. 3; one in T. 10, R. 4; one at the Friend’s Settlement near Penn Yan; one in Lindley town on the Tioga. Shepard’s mill on the Susquehanna, a short distance above Tioga Point, was the main dependence of our settlers till they build mills for themselves. The people of Painted Post and Canisteo took their grain down to the mill for several years.

There was, however, one truly patriarchal engine which answered the purpose of the grist-mill in times of necessity which it would be ungrateful not to remember. That backwoods machine known as the Plumping Mill, the Hominy Block, the Samp Mortar, or the Corn Cracker, is now an obsolete an engine as the catapult or the spinning-wheel. The gigantic red castles that bestride our streams rumbling mightily with their wheels and rollers, while mill-stones whirling day and night, crush the grains of a thousand hills, are structures entirely too magnificent to be mentioned with a homely plumping mill. Nevertheless, granting all due deference to these portly and respectable edifices, historians will insist that their rustic predecessors be remembered with some degree of kindness.

The Plumping Mill was made after this wise. From the outer edge of the top of a pine stump, and at a little distance within the extreme edge, so as to leave a rim of about half an inch in breadth, augur holes were bored toward the centre of the stump pointing downward so as to meet in a point several inches below the surface. Fire was placed on the top of the stump, which, when it had eaten down to the augur holes, was sucked according to atmospherical laws, through the little mines and burned out the chip or conical block nicely, leaving a large deep bowel. This was scraped and polished with an iron and the mill was ready for the engine. The engine was a very simple one of about two feet stroke. From a crotched post a long sweep was balanced like the wale of an old-fashioned well. A pole, at the end of which was a pounder, was hung from the sweep, and your mill was made. The backwoodsman poured his corn into the bowl of the stump, and working the piston like one churning, cracked his corn triumphantly. Modern mills, with all their gorgeous red paint and puzzling machinery, are uncertain affairs at best--nervous as it were and whimsical, disturbed by droughts and freshets, by rains and high winds like rheumatic old gentlemen: there is always a screw loose somewhere, and their wheels need “fixing” almost as often as the “wheels of government.” But the sturdy old Plumping Mill was subject to no such whimsies, no more than the men of the frontiers were to dyspepsia, or the women to hysterics and tantrums.

The reflecting citizen will duly honor the old Plumping Mill. It is the pioneer engine. It can even now be heard thumping on the edge of the Far West, thumping on the outer edge of the Canadas, and so will go, stoutly thumping its way across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific.


At the commencement of the War of 1812, the standing army of our country was a much more respectable corps than it is at the present day. Either from modern degeneracy or from our superior enlightenment, the appearance of a phalanx of militia in any public place in this noon of the nineteenth century, is a signal for universal laughter. Forty years ago it was not so. Then the army of Napoleon could not have been much more an object of respect to itself than the rustic regiment which paraded yearly in each important village of Western New York. There were many independent companies of horse, rifles and artillery. The officers took pride in the appearance of their men, and the men, instead of indulging in all manner of antics, were disposed to keep their toes pointed at a proper angle, and to hold their guns with the gravity of Macedonians. The militia was respected, and men of reflection beheld in it a great bulwark to defend the republic against the demonstrations of the Five Great Powers, and other monarchical phantoms which hovered before the eyes of our vigilant forefathers. The plume, the epaulette, the sash, were badges of honor. To be an officer in the militia was an object sought for by respectable men. The captain was a man of more consequence than he would have been without the right command forty of his neighbors to ground arms, and to keep their eyes right. It was a great addition to the importance of a leading citizen that he was a colonel, and enjoyed the right to riding upon a charger at the head of half the able-bodied men of the county; and the general galloping with his staff from county to county, dining with the officers of each regiment, and saluted by the drums and rifles of five thousands republicans, was a Bernadotte, a Wellington; and, if a man of tact and vigor, carried an important political influence.

The social constitution of this domestic army was, of course, a different thing from that of the armies of the European Marshals. Captains went to logging bees and raisings with their rank and file, perhaps ground their corn, possibly shod their horses. Colonels and generals drew the wills of their legionaries, or defended them in actions of assault and battery and ejectment in the courts, or employed them on their arks, or bought their cattle. They were dependent upon the men they commanded for elections as Sheriffs or Congressman. The inferior officers might be hailed by their myrmidons as Tom or Harry, and, though the high commanders were generally men of more stately character, who were not to be treated exactly with such familiarity, yet their relations with the soldiers were not those of Austrian Princes with their drilled boors. When, therefore, one of these high field officers went forth to war, and indiscreetly put on the majesty of Marlborough, or affected to look upon his men as the duke of York looked upon his, he soon found that the social laws of a European army were not to be applied to an army of such composition without modification. There was occasionally one of these magnificent commanders who, after the war, suffered the consequences of his exaltation, and even was in danger of being handsomely thrashed by some indignant corporal, who, at home, was the equal of his commander, but found himself treated very loftily when his former comrade commanded a corps upon the line, and snuffed the battle afar off.

The officer was expected to deal liberally with the infirmities of his men, and, as one of the popular infirmities in those times was a singular relish for stimulants, the epidemic was treated after the most approved practice of the ancients. The colonel often knocked in the head of a barrel of whiskey; the general, sometimes after review, dashed open his two or three barrels of the same delightful fluid, and the whole legion crowding around quenched their thirsts at these inspiring fountains; majors, captains and adjutants, were held responsible for “small drinks,” that the fatigues of the day might be endured with greater patriotism. There was, according to the best information we obtain, one regiment in the county at the breaking out of the war. On review day the militia from all parts of the county met at Bath.

Three companies of Steuben County militia were ordered out for three months’ service on the lines in the year 1812, two being independent companies of riflemen, and liable, as such, to be called at pleasure by the government, and the third being a company drafted from the regiment. Many who were disposed to volunteer, had been carried off by the recruiting officers of the regular service. Captain James Sandford commanded one of the rifle companies, which belonged chiefly to the town of Wayne, and the other, which was mustered about 50 men, belonged to the town of Urbana, and was commanded by Capt. Abraham Brundage. William White, of Pulteney, was his first lieutenant, and Stephen Garner his ensign. Two rifle companies from Allegany County were attached to these, and the battalion thus formed was commanded by Major Asa Gaylord, of Urbana. Major Gaylord died on the lines. After his death, the battalion was commanded by Col. Dobbins. The drafted company was composed of every eighth man of the regiment. Capt Jonas Cleland of Conhocton, commanded. Samuel D. Wells, of Conhocton, and John Gillet was lieutenants, John Kennedy, ensign.

These companies reached the frontiers just at the time when Col. Van Rensselaer, with an army of militia, was about to make an attack on the works and forces of the British at Queenstown Heights. Capt. Cleland, with many of his men, volunteered to cross the boundary.

As to the movements of the Steuben County militia on that day, there are discrepancies in the accounts of the actors. We give the story of the ensign, afterwards Major Kennedy, Sheriff of the county, a reliable man, and brave soldier, and obtained from him as related to our informant many years ago.

The men of the company, being ranged on the shore of the Niagara river at the foot of the precipitous bank, were fired upon by the British batteries on the opposite side. The grape shot rattled furiously against the rocks overhead. The captain advised his men to seek a less exposed position, and disappeared with some of his soldiers. He appeared again on the field of battle, over the river, in the course of the forenoon, and complaining of illness returned to the American side. Lieutenant Gillett and Kennedy remained under the fire of the British batteries with most of the men, crossed the river, and went into the battle. The former was well known through the county as “Chief Justice Gillett,” an eccentric oratorical man, a Justice of the Peace sometime, and a practitioner in the popular courts. Upon him devolved the command of the company. It was doubted by some whether this Cicero would make a very good figure upon the battle field, and whether his chivalrous flourishes and heroic fury would not suddenly fail him at the scent of gunpowder. What was the surprise of the men when the “Chief Justice,” as soon as he snuffed the British sulphur, rushed into the fight as if he had just found his element, whirled his sword, bellowed savagely with his course, powerful voice, urged on the men, cheered and dashed at the Britons like a lion. The soldiers were astonished to find themselves led by such a chevalier. Even after receiving a dangerous and almost mortal wound, he faltered not, but swung his hat, brandished his sword, and continued his outlandish uproar till he fell from pain and exhaustion.

Ensign Kennedy, after the fall of the lieutenant, took command of the part of Capt. Cleland’s company, which crossed the river, and of a few others, hastily formed into a company. At one time they were opposed to the Indians, whom they drove before them into a wood. While exchanging an irregular fire with these enemies among the trees, Benjamin Wells, a young man from Bath, who stood beside Kennedy, looking over a fence, was shot through the head and mortally wounded. At the final engagement in this random, but often gallantly fought battle, Kennedy, with his men, were ranged in the line formed to meet the British reinforcements, which were just coming up. “Bill Wadsworth,” as their general was known to the militia, (upon whom the command devolved after the fall of Van Rensselaer,) went through their lines, in a rough-and-ready style, with hat and coat off, explaining to the inexperienced officers his plan. To avoid the fire of the British the men were ordered to retire below the brow of the hill upon which they were ranged, and up which the enemy would march. When the British appeared on the top of the hill the militia were to fire from below. The slaughter would be great; they were then to charge bayonets, and in the confusion might be successful, though the decisiveness of a charge of bayonets up a hill against veterans militia, who before that day had never been under fire, might well have been doubted. This first part of the plan succeeded famously. As the British appeared above the hill a fire was delivered which was very destructive; but a misapprehension of the word of command by part of the line caused disorder. The fire was returned by the enemy. The militia suffered a considerable loss, and fell back overpowered to the river, where the most of them were made prisoners. Of the Steuben County men two were killed and three wounded.

It is popularly told, that on this day Ensign Kennedy was engaged in personal combat with a British officer, and being unacquainted with the polite learning of his newly adopted profession, was speedily disarmed; that he immediately closed with his confounded antagonist, knocked him down with his fist, and made him prisoner. The hero of the story, however, is said to have denied it. He was present at other engagements, and gained the reputation of a cool and resolute officer. At the sortie of Fort Erie he served with distinction. It was here that, under a close and heavy fire, he paced to and fro by the heads of his men, who had been ordered to lie flat on the ground to avoid the balls--not for a vain exposure of his person, but “being an officer,” he thought “it wouldn’t do.” In the second year of the war two companies were drafted from the Steuben County militia, and sent to the Niagara frontier, under the command of Captain James Read, of Urbana, and Jonathan Rowley, of Dansville, faithful and reliable officers. Captain Read refused to go as a drafted officer, but reported himself to General of the division, at the commencement of the war, as ready to march at the head of a company, as a volunteer, whenever he should be called upon. Both the companies were principally levied from the Northern part of the county. Of Capt. Rowley’s company, John Short and John E. Mulholland were lieutenants, and George Knouse and Timothy Goodrich, ensigns. Of Capt. Read’s company, George Teeples and Anthony Swarthout were lieutenants, and Jabez Hopkins and O. Cook, ensigns. From muster to discharge these companies served about four months. All of the officers and most of the men volunteered to cross the boundaries of the republic, and were stationed at Fort George.

We have not succeeded in learning anything about the draft for the last year of the war, if any was made, not concerning the militia of this county who were engaged at Fort Erie.

The following incident is related by one of the Steuben County militia who was engaged in one of the battles on the line as sergeant of a company. His company was ordered into action, and before long found itself confronted by a rank of Old Peninsulas, arrayed in all the terrors of scarlet coats and cartridge boxes. When within a distance of tend rods from their enemies, the militia halted, and were ordered to fire. Muskets came instantly to the shoulder and were pointed at the Britons with the deadly aim of rifles at a wolf hunt, but to the dismay of the soldiers there was a universal “flash in the pan”--not a gun went off. The sergeant knew in an instant what was the cause of the failure. The muskets had been stacked out of doors during the night, and a little shower which fell toward morning had thoroughly soaked the powder in them. It was his business to have seen to it, that the muskets were cared for, and upon him afterwards fell the blame of the disaster. Nothing could be done till the charges were drawn. There were but two ball screws in the company. The captain took one and the sergeant the other, and beginning their labors in the middle of the rank, worked towards the ends. A more uncomfortable position for untried militia can hardly be imagined. The men, as described by the sergeant, “looked strangely, as he had never seen them before.” The British brought their muskets with disagreeable precision into position and fired. The bullets whistled over the heads of the militia. The British loaded their guns again: again the frightful row of muzzles looked the militiamen in the face--again they heard the alarming command, fire, and again two score bullets whistled over their heads. A third time the British brought their muskets to the ground and went through all the terrible ceremonies of biting cartridges, drawing ramrods, and priming in full view of the uneasy militia. The moistened charge were by this time almost drawn, and when the enemy were about to fire the sergeant stood beside the last man. He was pale and excited. “Be quick sergeant--be quick for God’s sake!” he said. They could hear the British officer saying to his men, “You fire over their heads,” and instructing them to aim lower. The muzzles this time dropped a little below the former range; smoke burst forth from them, and seven militiamen fell dead and wounded. The sergeant had just finished his ill-timed job, and was handing the musket to the private beside him, when a bullet struck the unfortunate man between the eyes and killed him. The fire of the British was now returned with effect. Reinforcement came on the field and the engagement became hot. An officer on horseback was very active in arranging the enemy’s line--riding to and fro, giving loud orders, and making himself extremely useful. “Mark that fellow!” said the sergeant to his right hand man. Both fired at the same instant. The officer fell from his home and was carried off the field by his men. They afterwards learned that he was a Colonel, and that one of his legs was broken.


In the midwinter of 1814, the bareheaded express rider, galloping through the frozen forests, brings startling tidings. The British Lion, bounding forth from the snowdrifts of Canada, with icicles glittering in his mane, has pounced upon the frontiers of the Republic. Black Rock is taken! Buffalo is burned! General Hall’s militia have been captured and generally eaten. The supervisors of Niagara County have been thrown into the grand whirlpool. The floodgates of invasion have been opened, and the whole standing army of Great Britain, with several line-of-battle ships, and an irregular horde of Canadians and Esquimaux, is now rolling Eastward with firebrands and artillery, breaking furniture, shattering flour barrels, burning cabins, blowing up mills, and terrifying the wives and children of our fellow-citzens.

Since Col. Simcoe, brandishing his two-edged sword on the ramparts of Toronto, beckoned those “black war-elephants” out of the billows of Ontario, there had not been such a martial ferment in our county, as arose at this alarming intelligence. Before the horse tail of the express rider banished beyond the Chimney Narrows, the murmurs of war arose from the valleys like the humming in a disturbed beehive. The Brigadier blew his gathering horn, and all the cavaliers and yeomen, in the uttermost corners of the county, hurried to their regimental mustering grounds. A draft was ordered of every second man.

One battalion mustered on the Pulteney Square, at Bath. The snow was deep and the wind keen, but the soldiers stood formed in a half-moon, with the fortitude of Siberians. Col. Haight, mounted upon a black charger, rode up with great circumstance, and made a vigorous and patriotic speech, calling for volunteers, and exhorting every man to go forth to the battle. If half the corps volunteered, a draft would not be necessary. Nearly the requisite number offered themselves at once. Then the deluding drum and the fanciful fife began to utter the most seducing melodies. The musicians again and again made the circuit of the regiment, as if surrounding the backward warriors with some enchantment. drummers pounded with marvelous energy, and the fifers blew into their squealing tubes with such extraordinary ardor, that if the safety of the republic had depended upon the active circulation of wind through those “ear piercing” instruments, all apprehensions of danger from the invaders might have been instantly dismissed. Occasionally a militiaman broke from the line and fell in behind the musicians; but the most of the legionaries who had resisted the first appeal, stood in the snow, proof against drums, fifes, and the Colonel’s rhetoric. The draft to complete the corps was finally made, and the battalion started from the seat of war in high spirits. A great rabble followed their enlisted comrades to Dansville in sleighs. A very uproarious column it was. At Conhocton the army encamped. Houses, barns, pens and haystacks, overflowed with fire eaters.

In the meantime the Canisteo country had been wide awake. Col. James McBurney, hearing the Brigadiers alarming horn sounding its portentous quavers afar off, mounted his snorting war steed, and gathering together his boisterous myrmidons from the saw-mill and gorges, set forth in hot haste. At Dansville, the two battalions met and united. Their descent from the forests of Steuben was like an irruption of the goths of old. The chieftain of Canisteo opened the battle after the ancient fashion, by a single combat in the presence of the combined battalions. A broad breasted barrel of whiskey stood forth in its wooden mail, made thrice secure by hoops of seasoned hickory. This grim foe the undaunted Ostrogoth assailed with an axe, and, at the first blow, beat open his head. The barbarians set up a howl of triumph, and, crowding around, drank like the Scandinavians out of the skull of their vanquished enemy. The battle then became general. Streets and barrooms resounded with tremendous uproar. Dansville was captured, and her citizens know no peace till the invaders sank down, from exhaustion, to dream that they had just fought a great battle on the Genesee Meadows, in which the British fled before them, scampered toward Canada like a multitude of rats, ran into the Niagara, and were now sailing around in the great whirlpool--cannon and horses, officers, noncommissioned officers, musicians and privates--while the Prince Regent, according to the sentence of a drum-head Court Martial, was hanging by his heels from an oak tree, and the lion and unicorn, yoked like bullocks to the triumphal car of Colonel Haight, were dragging that victorious consul around the Pulteney Square of Bath.

News arrived that the invaders had retired into Canada. The drafted battalions were discharged and returned again to their home. The Canisteo Alaric covered the retreat in a masterly manner, and saw to it that none of the Steuben County fire eaters who had been put hor du combat by the enemy were left to the tender mercies of the Dansvillians. Certain young men who were entirely captivated by the free and vociferous spirit of the Canisteo and followed the Goths of Col. McBurney to their own valley, relate at the present day with laughter the adventures of the retreat, and talk of the life and hospitalities of the valley with great satisfaction.

The muster, the march, the carouse, and the retreat were the prominent features of this campaign, of which Timour the Tartar might be proud. It was known to the soldiery afterwards as the “Battle of Dansville.”


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