Why Indian Point?

6 Indian Point red yellow and cabin

Matthew Beach and William Wood settled on the lands to the east of the red line. John Boyd Thacher purchased the portion to the east of the yellow line. The small red dot is the location of the little red cabin built in 1910.

Echoing across time, this question can be asked three ways.  Who were the Indians of its namesake?  Why did Matthew Beach and William Wood choose it for their home? Why was John Boyd Thacher enticed to buy these acres?

According to local lore, Indian Point was the site of an Indian settlement.  The earliest such reference was made by Joel Tyler Headley in The Adirondack: or Life in the Woods, published in 1849.

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Most research does not support the idea of large, permanent  Native American settlements within the Adirondacks.   However, evidence points to the Adirondacks being used as a seasonal hunting ground for the Iroquois, Huron and Algonquin Indians.  Four clues point to the area of Raquette Lake being under the control of the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy or Ho-dé-no-sau-nee (People of the Long House).  This map of the Six Nations of the Iroquois shows the Mohawks’ territory beginning to the west of Raquette Lake and expanding east to Lake Champlain. (Enlarge the map by clicking on it and read the text to the right of the compass rose)

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Guy Johnson’s 1771 Map of the Country of the VI Nations. New York State Museum.

Another clue is that the lands which would become the Totten & Crossfield Purchase (which includes Raquette Lake) were originally purchased by the British Crown from the Mohawk Nation in 1771.   The British had purchased the lands from the Mohawks for 1,000 pounds and sold it to Totten & Crossfield for 40,000 pounds in the same year.  (And you thought flipping real estate was a modern invention!)   Although this land sale took place, the Mohawk Nation later continued to claim the lands and use them until a peace treaty between the newly formed United States and the Iroquois was signed in 1794. 2

In Adirondack Pilgrimage, Paul Jamieson makes the argument that the Albany Road (sometimes referred to as the Old Military Road) constructed for the War of 1812 actually followed the path of an Iroquois trail which dates back to the 1600s.  Jamieson mines the first person writing of a Jesuit Priest named Joseph Poncet who was captured by Mohawks in 1653.  Poncet’s description combined with Jamieson’s research and that of Stephen B. Sulavik in Adirondack: Of Indians and Mountains 1535-1838 yields my approximation of the heavily travelled Mohawk trail which passed just to the west of Raquette Lake, traveling from the Mohawk River Valley to Canada.   The foot path led through the forest to the Oswegatchie River by which the Indians canoed to the St. Lawrence River.

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Beyond the evidence of this Mohawk trail passing close to Raquette Lake, the only other history which directly connects the Mohawk Indians with the lake is the escape of the Tory Sir John Johnson from Johnstown to Montreal in 1776.   His Mohawk guides brought him through the woods to the shores of Raquette Lake and then by canoe north to Canada, a tale which will be retold in a future chapter.

This scant evidence implies that the Mohawks were well acquainted with Raquette Lake for over a century.  But did they have an encampment on Indian Point?  There are no contemporary written histories which specifically speak of the use of Indian Point by the Mohawks.  My conjecture is based on descriptions of how large hunting parties of Mohawks would travel from their year-round villages along the Mohawk River to encampments in the Adirondacks from November to late January.

Father Isaac Jogues is another French Jesuit priest who was captured by the Mohawks in 1642, and his writings describe a hunting expedition departing from the Mohawk village of Ossernenon along the Mohawk River:

If we can assume that such a winter hunting camp existed on Indian Point, why did the Mohawks choose this location along the almost one hundred mile shoreline of Raquette Lake?  I believe it is the geography and topography which influenced their choice.

According to Lewis Morgan in the League of the Ho-De-Nau-Sau-Ne or Iroquois, “For three quarters of a century, from the year 1625 to the year 1700, the Iroquois were involved in almost uninterrupted warfare [with other Indian nations]…from about the year 1640 to the year 1700, a constant warfare was maintained between the Iroquois and the French.”  The 18th century brought ever greater conflict between the Mohawks and Europeans over control of Adirondack territory for the lucrative beaver fur trade. 3

In this context, the Mohawks would have benefited from siting their winter hunting camp in a location on Raquette Lake which could be defended and from which they could observe any approaching enemies.  Indian Point possesses a unique geological feature called the Crags, a series of three rock outcroppings at the top of the ridge line on the peninsula.  At an elevation of 2000 feet, even today one can see all the way to South Inlet, and anyone approaching from the Marion River or Brown’s Tract Inlet would be seen at least an hour before they could land on the shores of Indian Point.  To the northwest, one can see Sucker Brook Bay.

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USGS Raquette Lake Quadrangle Map

While today the tree cover does not provide a view to the northeast, images from the 1800s indicate that the Crags were almost clear of trees and it is highly likely that a lookout stationed there in the 1600s and 1700s would have also been able to see anyone rounding Bluff Point to the northeast of Indian Point.

Drawing from Craggs

Looking South from the Crags – a wood cut printed in Wallace’s Descriptive Guide to the Adirondacks. 1872.

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Photo from the Crags by Seneca Ray Stoddard. circa 1880.

While the Crags may have led the Mohawks to choose Indian Point, where along the shores of the peninsula was the hunting camp?  As the camp would have been used mostly from November to late January, I suspect a location sheltered from the worst of the cold winds blowing across Beaver Bay or North Bay.   Either of the two protective coves would have served well, the cove near Hen and Chickens Islands or the little bay between the two points on the eastern tip.

An understanding of the size and description of a hunting camp helps to create a theory as to where on the peninsula it was located.  Father Jogues’ description implies that a family clan headed by a Chief would likely all relocate to the winter hunting grounds.  The villages in the Mohawk River Valley  would each have several Long Houses.  Each Long House would be the home of a family clan.   The length of the Long House and the number of fire pits within the Long House would relate to the number of families.  An account of Dutch explorers encountering a Mohawk village in 1644 described one Long House of eighty paces in length being home to a Chief, 40 men and 17 women. 4

The Mohawks’ method of hunting deer illustrates the need for a very large hunting party.  Father Jogues experienced the hunt firsthand, “They beat up the stags and the elks from their coverts, and drove them headlong toward the fences that strecthed between the trees and into the narrowing alleys of the traps, were they could easily be slaughtered.  They tracked the animals over the rise and fall of the mountains, and had the zest of dropping them with musket or arrow or javelin.”

Morgan in League of the Ho-De-Nau-Sau-Ne or Iroquois, provides an even more detailed description of the hunting method:

The construction of a V-shaped fence that stretched two to three miles on a side would have required significant manpower.  If the Indian “settlement” on Indian Point was a winter hunting camp, it likely was the temporary home to at least fifty or more people.

A young Mohawk woman named Kateri Tekawitha described one style of temporary shelter used in a winter hunting camp in the late 1600s.

This depiction has been faithfully recreated by Barry Keegan, an expert in primitive Native American structures, in his construction of a traditional wigwam on the shores of Prospect Point on Blue Mountain Lake.

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A traditional wigwam hunting-lodge constructed at Prospect Point on Blue Mountain Lake by Barry Keegan. Photo by Jerry Krasnick.

According to Keegan,  “South of the Adirondacks, wigwams were usually dome shaped and often sided with elm bark; north of our region they tended to be conical, like squat-shaped tepees with birch bark as the siding of choice. The Adirondacks are right on the border between those two types and probably both were in use here, at the very least as seasonal hunting camps.” 5

Father Jogues’s writings appear to describe the second style, “There the [women], under the direction of the men, threw up the three slanting poles of the hunting-huts and tied them at the top and sewed the bark and skins firmly about the triangular frame.”

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A conical teepee style hunting lodge from creaturehomes.blogspot.com

The “hunting-lodges of bark and close-woven boughs” referred to by Kateri or the bark tee pee style described by Jogues appear to have housed a small family of five to ten people.   To accommodate upwards of fifty to one hundred people, the winter hunting camp on Indian Point would have required up to ten lodges.  The annual construction of these lodges for over a century would have established significant forest clearings on Indian Point.

My theory that the hunting camp was on the shores of the little bay nestled within the eastern tips of Indian Point is tied to the reason I believe Matthew Beach and William Wood chose to settle at that spot.  My theory echoes one regarding land use in the Adirondacks first promoted in the late 1800s in an article in the New York Times.

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“The North Woods of Old” The New York Times. May 11, 1890.

The site of the Mohawk hunting camp would not have been open land by the 1840s. The majority of the Mohawk Nation relocated to the St. Lawrence River Valley on both sides of the New York/Canadian border after the Peace Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794 between the Iroquois Confederacy of the Six Nations and the new government of the United States. 6   Although Mohawks continued to come down from Canada into the Adirondacks for hunting in the early 1800s, it is likely that secondary forest regeneration began to take hold of the area of the hunting camp on Indian Point.

Beach and Wood were not simply hunters and trappers.  They also cleared ten acres of cropland to grow potatoes and vegetables.  When they first travelled the shores of Raquette Lake in search of where to stake their claim, Beach was nearly sixty years old and Wood was in his early forties.  I am sure they had a strength and vigor beyond what this author is capable of at 46, and they were accustomed to hard physical work.  Nonetheless, knowing that they intended to clear the land for farming, an area previously cleared by over a century of indigenous use yielding a young secondary forest would have been easier for Beach and Wood to clear with fire and axe than the surrounding primary forest of large diameter trees with deep rooted trunks.

young secondary forest

Young secondary forest

Old growth primary forest

Old growth primary forest

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Beach and Wood chose the twin tips of Indian Point because of the land use potential derived from the remains of the Mohawk hunting camp.  Conversely, the purchase of this land by John Boyd Thacher is puzzling in that it appears that he never really used the land.  It was his father George Hornell Thacher who built and frequented the mysterious original cabin, and yet the title to the land was always only in JBT’s name.  Could it be that JBT was motivated to buy the lands for their historical value?

JBT was an industrialist and politician but also an historian and scholar.  He was a renowned authority on Christopher Columbus and a collector of over 5,000 books and manuscripts from the 15th century, which his widow donated to the Library of Congress.  Among his varied interests, he showed a keen appreciation for the Iroquois Confederacy.  His collection included the original 1630 signed contract between the Iroquois and the Dutch for the sale of the land upon which the city of Albany was built.   At Albany’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1886, then Mayor JBT gave an eloquent speech welcoming a delegation from the Caughnawaga tribe and honoring the Iroquois Confederacy as the blueprint for our democratic form of government. 8

In 1893, he purchased four historically important Iroquois wampum belts. 9   The Hiawatha Wampum Belt was created in the 1500s to commemorate the union of the Five Nations of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas into the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee or Iroquois Confederacy.  To the Iroquois, this wampum belt is equivalent to the original copy of the Constitution of the United States.

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Hiawatha Wampum Belt

The George Washington Wampum Belt commemorates the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794 which brought peace between the newly formed United State of America and the Iroquois Confederacy.

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George Washington Wampum Belt

The other two wampum belts commemorated the first encounter between the Iroquois and European explorers in the 1500s and their encounter with Samuel Champlain in 1609.

Given John Boyd Thacher’s clear respect and appreciation for the culture of the Iroquois Confederacy in his later years, I do not think it unlikely that as a young man of thirty he would be attracted by the folklore of an “Indian settlement” that once graced the tips of Indian Point.

Nessmuk Comes to Visit

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Published on page 63 of Woodcraft by Nessmuk in 1884.

Whenever and wherever the original Thacher cabin was built on Indian Point is my holy grail.  Delving into the details of the few literary mentions of the cabin might yield clues.  This visit by Nessmuk was published in 1884; however, it makes no mention of when the encounter actually occurred.  I needed to learn about this man called Nessmuk.

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Title Page of Woodcraft. George Washington Sears. 1884.

Nessmuk was the pen name of George Washington Sears.  In his youth, he had been befriended by a young Narragansett Indian named Nessmuk (“wood drake”) who taught him hunting, fishing, and camping.  Later he took the Indian name for his pen name and its English translation for the name of his first canoe.   His book Woodcraft was first published in 1884 and remains in print today as one of the most widely read guides for the bushcraft and wilderness survival community.

According to the editor Dan Brenan in The Adirondack Letters of George Washington Sears, “At the age of 59, a little more than 5 feet tall, weighing less than 105 pounds, and weak with acute pulmonary tuberculosis, Sears decided to see if the Adirondack lakes and forests could improve his health. Since Sears was so small and weak, he could not carry the usual heavy guide boat over the carries between the lakes of the Fulton Chain. He persuaded J. Henry Rushton to build him solo canoes that he could carry.”

Nessmuk published accounts of his three trips through the lakes and streams of the Adirondacks  in a series of letters to Forest and Stream magazine: “Cruise of the Wood Drake” (1881), “Cruise of the Susan Nipper” (1882), and “Cruise of the Sairy Gamp” (1883).     

The high regard and esteem in which Nessmuk was held by his readers is evident in the editorial published by Forest and Stream to promote the creation of a memorial for him.

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Forest and Stream. February 9, 1893.

Nessmuk photo

George Washington Sears – “Nessmuk”

 

So when did this renowned writer meet my great-great-grandfather George Hornell Thacher at his “fine residence” on Raquette Lake? Three clues appear to reveal a possible date.

Nessmuk’s habit appears to have been to write not about what transpired on the day he put pen to paper, but about his adventures in the preceding days.  This combined with the fact that often only the date of publication in Forest and Stream is known for most letters, makes it a challenge to date the actual occurrences of which he writes.

In a letter published on August 9, 1883, he describes his travels through the Fulton Chain prior to his arrival at Raquette Lake.  That letter does identify that it was written at Raquette Lake on July 27, 1883.  If one is to assume that Nessmuck would choose a day of idle and not a day of arduous paddling to compose his letters, it is likely that his letter of July 27th was written on the day he later described in his letter published on August 16th.

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Forest and Stream. August 16. 1883.

In a letter written while at Paul Smith’s and published August 23, 1883, Nessmuk tells of his visits to various private camps on Raquette Lake.

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Forest and Stream. August 23, 1883.

Notice the repetition of the text in bold within both letters.  I believe Nessmuk is describing the same day in two different letters.  Given that the Raquette House was directly across from the original Thacher Camp on Indian Point, I am fairly confident that the two men made their acquaintance on July 27, 1883.

The Sairy Gamp that carried Nessmuk to this rendezvous with my ancestor is described by Forest and Stream fisheries editor Fred Mather:

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My Angling Friends. Fred Mather. 1901.

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The Sairy Gamp on display at the Adirondack Museum.

I can only imagine that this fateful visit might once have been the topic of an encounter between Fred Mather and John Boyd Thacher, GHT’s son.  Although no evidence exists to corroborate it, I suspect such an encounter did happen and would have been described like this in Forest and Stream,

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A fictional but historically accurate allusion to facts.

To entice you to seek out Nessmuk’s writings, I have reproduced one of his stories,

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Enjoy one of his poems from his book of poetry Forest Runes published in 1887.

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Timeline

Events on these Fifty Acres of Beach and Wood

These points in time reveal some of the stories, of import and of good sport, that are yet to unfold in this blog.

1650-1794

Indian Point is used as a Winter hunting encampment by the Mohawk tribe.

1776  

The tory Sir John Johnson camps at Indian Point during his harrowing 19 day escape to Canada.

1837

At a pond northwest of Indian Point (Lone Pond or Cranberry Pond?), William Wood traps the last beaver seen alive in the Adirondacks until they were reintroduced in the beginning of the 20th century.

1837-40

Matthew Beach and William Wood became the first permanent settlers of Raquette Lake with their cabin built on Indian Point.  Exact date undetermined.

1840-43

Professor Ebenezer Emmons, first surveyor and the person to give the region the name “Adirondacks”, repeatedly stays with Beach and Wood while surveying the area.

1844-46

Joel Tyler Headley writes in his 1849 book The Adirondac – Life in the Woods of visits with Beach and Wood during his earlier explorations with guide Mitchell Sabattis.

1845

J.H. Young publishes the first map of New York State that shows a body of water in the location of Raquette Lake.  Only Long Lake to the north is named on the map and the drawing of Raquette Lake is almost completely inaccurate except for the detailed, near accurate depiction of Indian Point.

1849

Beach and Wood purchase from Farrand Benedict legal land titles giving them each an equal share of the 50 acres they have occupied on Indian Point.

1854

Beach deeds his 25 acres to Amos Hough of Long Lake contingent on Hough taking care of Beach until his death.

1856

Hough sells the 25 acres to land speculator Marshall Shedd Jr. allowing Beach to still reside there.

1859

John Plumley, -“Honest John” – famed guide of Adirondack Murray purchases William Wood’s 25 acres.

1860

Matthew Beach goes to live in Long Lake in the home of John Plumley, who as Amos Hough’s son-in-law has taken over the family obligation to care for Beach.

1861

In July at the South Inlet of Raquette Lake, William Wood shoots and kills the last moose seen alive in the Adirondacks until they were reintroduced by W. Seward Webb on his private preserve at the end of the 19th century.

1862

Mitchell Sabattis guides George Hornell Thacher on his first exploration of Blue Mt. Lake and Raquette Lake at the suggestion of Joel Tyler Headley, Thacher’s old friend from Union College days.

1865-1868

Alvah Dunning – one of the most notable of Adirondack Guides – squats on the south side of the southern fork of Indian Point.

1867 

John Boyd Thacher purchases an island in Blue Mt. Lake to build a lodge for the use of his father George Hornell Thacher.

1868

Verplanck Colvin, Superintendent of the Adirondack Land Survey from 1872-1900, as a 21 year old seeks the advice of his old childhood friend John Boyd Thacher as he plans his early explorations of the Adirondacks.

1869

Renowned landscape artist Arthur Tait spends the summer in Matthew Beach’s old cabin. He sketches here the paintings he named “The Adirondacks” and “Deer in the Woods”.

1873

Amanda Benedict, the sister-in-law of Farrand Benedict, organizes the first major all female expedition of the Adirondacks.   Four groups of women botany students traverse different routes starting from Schroon River, Saranac, Lake Pleasant and Moose River to converge at Indian Point.  The women and 16 of the most famous Adirondack Guides are brought together at one time on these acres.

1876

John Boyd Thacher purchases Matthew Beach’s 25 acres from Marshall Shedd Jr.

1876

Verplanck Colvin establishes an observation station for the Adirondack Land Survey on Thacher Island in Blue Mt. Lake.  He uses it to test a new technique for synchronization of time among survey field teams separated by great distance within the Adirondacks.

1877

First written description appears of George Hornell Thacher Jr., age 26, camping on Birch Point with a large group of young friends.

1877

Levi Wells Prentice, famed landscape artist, sketches from a vantage point within these acres the scene later depicted in his painting “Raquette Lake from Wood’s Clearing”.

1878

Reverend Henry Gabriels conducts Catholic Mass at the “Thacher Camp” on July 11, 12, 13, 14.  This is one of the earliest Catholic missions within the central interior of the Adirondacks.  At the time, Rev. Gabriels is the President of the St. Joseph Seminary in Troy, NY.  He later became the Bishop of Ogdensburg – the Diocese covering all of the Adirondack region.

1879

The Map of the New York Wilderness by Colton-Ely in the 1879 edition superimposes the name “Thatcher” written across the whole of Indian Point.  Earlier editions of the same map lack this detail.

1880

George Hornell Thacher Sr. begins his annual summer visits to the Thacher Camp staying in a “fine lodge” that pre-exists the current little red, one room cabin that is there today.  The location of the original cabin and its subsequent disappearance by 1886 is a mystery that drives my on-going research.

1883

George Washington Sears – a famous outdoorsman and author who penned articles and books under the name Nessmuck – visits with George Hornell Thacher at Thacher Camp during his Cruise of the Sairy Gamp.  This exchange is included in Nessmuck’s book titled Woodcraft.

1883

John Boyd Thacher, as New York State Senator representing Albany, fights for funding to expand Verplanck Colvin’s role to oversee an expanded New York State Land Survey.

1885

John Boyd Thacher in his role as Senator joins a unanimous vote to pass the Forest Preserve Act which is the first step toward the eventual creation of today’s Adirondack Park.

1887

George Hornell Thacher Sr. dies.

1893

John Boyd Thacher invites the Spanish Duke of Veragua, a direct lineal descendant of Christopher Columbus, to attend the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and arranges for him to travel through the Raquette Lake and Blue Mt. Lake region on a trip hosted by Verplanck Colvin.

1909 

John Boyd Thacher dies.

1910

George Hornell Thacher Jr. inherits the Thacher lands on Indian Point and builds the little red, one room cabin.

1915

George Hornell Thacher Jr. donates the use of the land for the month of August to the first annual State Forestry Camp of the State College of Forestry at Syracuse.

1939 

Two young boys of British Aristocracy are hosted at Thacher Camp and their guide is later paid with a barrel full of fine English china which legend says now lies at the bottom of the Needles Channel.

Where in the world…

Before I write more stories of the history of these fifty acres of Beach and Wood, I think it may help to show you where they are.

Where shall I start.  Those who have had the privilege of gracing her waters will not accuse me of grandiosity when I claim that Raquette Lake is the most beautiful place on Earth.  Better writers than I  have extolled her virtues as the Queen of the Adirondacks.

The beauty of Raquette Lake has been sung by poets; and the charm of its clustering islands, bright gleaming bays, and jutting points are now famous throughout the land yet, few would know that out of the thousands of acres of dense forest, which reach from its shores to the encircling mountains, only here and there a point has private owners, and that all the rest is public domain.

Verplanck Colvin 1884 Report of the State Land Survey

So let us begin with the proper perspective and start here

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As we come down to Earth, we see the State of New York.  Notice how even from space the lush forests of the Adirondacks are a verdant green in the northern one third of New York State.

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The Adirondack Park is the largest protected area in the contiguous United States, encompassing 6.1 million acres of both private (55%) and public lands (45%).    The park covers a land area roughly the size of Vermont and is larger than the Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and the Great Smokey Mountains national parks combined.  The public lands were forever protected by an amendment to the New York State Constitution in 1894.  However, these lands are unique because 137,000 Adirondackers make their home here year-round.  It is not and hopefully never shall be a land without its people.  These lands are bounded by the famous blue line, which is visible from the International Space Station (ok…perhaps not).

3 Adirondack Park Blue Line

Raquette Lake is found in the West Central Adirondacks, a golden curve of bays and coves that stretches a shoreline of ninety nine miles. She is the largest natural lake within the original Adirondack Forest Preserve.

4 Raquette in yellow line

Jutting out from the western shore is Indian Point.  Although this peninsula encompasses hundreds of acres, the “Indian Point” written about here and in many Adirondack histories refers to the twin tips at the northeastern end.

5 Indian Point in blue

Within the years of 1837 and 1840, Matthew Beach and William Wood became the first permanent settlers of Raquette Lake, building a cabin and clearing land for crops on the fifty acres to the east of the red line.  In 1876, John Boyd Thacher purchased the lands to the east of the yellow line.  The little red, one room cabin stands at the extreme eastern edge of the northern fork of Indian Point which our family named Birch Point.

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Bird of Flight

“Thunk-Ping” “Thunk-Ping” echoed through the woods as the head of the sledge came down upon the maul.  Rhythmically the forged steel struck the maul, driving the blade into the round section of the old oak deadfall’s trunk.  My hands tried valiantly to not retreat, but hold fast to the maul handle as my father sent the sledge’s head crashing down.

Each summer we would split a deadfall and stack the wood in our shed for future fires in the Vermont Castings stove.  Beautiful sunlight barely broke through the thick canopy of white pine and spruce as we sweated within a few hundred feet of our cabin.   The sledge hit the maul over and over, sounding like the chimes of a slow clock that strikes its bell every ten seconds.

Father saw me staring at my watch as if to time the blows.  A few more sections were split and yet I still stared at my watch.  “Do you have some place you would rather be?” he asked.  “No, no…just thinking of a swim when we’re done.”   A simple white lie, as patiently my anticipation grew.

“Are you expecting someone?” he asked, just as I heard the sound.  The drone of an engine–high above us—supplanted the whine of mosquitoes flying around our heads.  The tone of the prop lowered in pitch, as the speed slowed and the wings lost their loft.   “Come on Dad–let’s go!”

He looked at me with gleeful surprise, a child on Christmas morn completely shocked and giddy.  We reached the dock just as the seaplane touched the waters of North Bay.  “The workhorse of the skies” came to rest with a pontoon rubbing the far end of the dock and the wings just barely clearing the dock poles.  I grabbed the wing’s strut and held her to the dock while the prop continued to turn.

The cockpit door swung open and the pilot stepped down to the pontoon and ushered us aboard.  I saw a face weathered with the creases of time and tanned like the leather of an old baseball glove.  A tuft of white hair and an aged body belied the strength still possessed.  I sat in back and watched the buttons, knobs and dials as my father moved into the seat aside the pilot.

The prop re-engaged and pulled the plane away from the dock.  Slowly we built speed as we bumped along the waves.   The drone of the engine rose higher in pitch as we gained momentum and moments before we lifted, the pilot leaned over to my dad: “Thacher, eh…  Any relation to Judge Thacher?”  
“He was my uncle,” said my father.  
 
As the pontoons broke their bond with the water and the plane angled steeply up, the old pilot replied, “I guided for your uncle back in 1929.”

Eighty-two-year-old Buster Bird was at the controls of our maiden voyage in an Adirondack seaplane.  

As we floated above the lakes and gazed at the mountaintops, Buster regaled my father:  “Your uncle and your father would stay at the cabin enjoying their spirits while I went off to fish or hunt.  We would take pictures of the two of them surrounded by their catch to keep the women folk back home none the wiser.”   Dad recounted, “The Judge, while Mayor of Albany, broke the arm of a patron at the Fort Orange Club, and escaped up here to hole up while the storm blew over.”   The two delighted in their memories.

Buster Bird book photo

From the cover of Changing Times in the Adirondacks – 1

Later that day we pulled our boat up at Bird’s Marina for gas.  My father could not stop talking about our flight and lit upon our pilot’s great nephew, Joe Bird.  “It was as if Buster knew every tree in the forest,” crowed Dad.   Without missing a beat Joe retorted, “Hell, he ought to.  He hit most of them.”

Flying with Buster Bird–over two decades ago–began my fascination with our family’s history on Raquette Lake.   I recently began a search to discover the age of our family’s little red, one-room cabin.  In subsequent postings, I will unravel the clues unearthed and reveal new mysteries discovered on these fifty acres of Beach and Wood.

Newly Built Red Cabin

the earliest known photo of the cabin — 2

the cabin as it looks today

the cabin as it looks today

Preface

“The author has been an assiduous but superficial student of the literature.  He has read extensively rather than intensively.  The resulting work is that of an enthusiastic amateur, who  handles in a jaunty manner the most difficult historical manuscripts, as if every word was to be accepted with utmost faith.  The very style in which the book is written throws discredit on the scholarship.  The language and phrase are stilted, and too much fine writing shows an undue desire for popularity.”*

I could not find a better description of my book.   Written in 1903, this critique of my Great-Great Uncle John Boyd Thacher’s book on Christopher Columbus speaks to my attempt at being a writer.  Wherever possible I have chosen to close my mouth and let the voices of the past speak through reprints of earlier writers.

In 1867, JBT purchased an island on Blue Mountain Lake for the use of his father George Hornell Thacher.  Three years later, Rev. Murray’s Adventures in the Wilderness brought throngs of tourists to the North Country.  To provide his father with a quieter, more remote retreat, JBT purchased the tips of Indian Point on Raquette Lake in 1876.

Our family still enjoys every summer on Birch Point, the northern fork of Indian Point.   What began as a search to discover the history of our family’s little red, one-room cabin grew into years of research and discovery.

Discover with me the story of Matthew Beach and William Wood, the first permanent white settlers of Raquette Lake.  Search for the remains of their original cabins on Indian Point.   Learn the part they played in the early extinction of the beaver and the moose in the Adirondacks.

A lover of Adirondack history will recognize the names of Sir John Johnson, Professor Ebenezer Emmons, Joel Tyler Headley, Mitchell Sabattis, Alvah Dunning, John Plumley and Rev. Murray, Verplanck Colvin, Nessmuk, Arthur Tait and Levi Wells Prentice.   Few would suspect the intricate weave of life’s thread that ties all these icons to Indian Point.

I seek to capture both fact and fiction and the attention of my readers as I chronicle the amazing Adirondack heritage that flows through these fifty acres of Beach and Wood.

Adirondack histories are full of embellishments and half-truths.  The local Raquette Lake author Ruth Timm famously claimed William Wood was present at the death of his friend Chief Uncas, the fictional character of The Last of the Mohicans.    Ned Buntline lived at Indian Point according to Thomas Morris Longstreth in The Adirondacks.   Neither of these is factually accurate.

I could follow the footsteps of these writers and exaggerate the history of my family:

“John Boyd Thacher was instrumental in writing and passing the Forest Preserve Act of 1885 which was the first step in creating the Adirondack Park.” **

I will not spin a yarn with this chronicle.  I do use the conceit of historical fiction to make reasonable allusions to unknown but probable fact.   The difference is that I will not leave the reader guessing.  For the studious among you, the footnotes reveal the truth.

** Although John Boyd Thacher was a NY State Senator in 1885 and did vote to pass the Forest Preserve Act, he was just one of 35 senators who unanimously passed the law.  He was not a member of the Agriculture Standing Committee that drafted the law.

NOTES:      * The Independent. Vol 55 May-Aug. 1903 pg. 1460