Three Rivers
Hudson~Mohawk~Schoharie
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Trappers of New York
or a BIOGRAPHY of NICHOLAS STONER & NATHANIEL FOSTER;
TOGETHER WITH ANECDOTES OF OTHER CELEBRATED HUNTERS,
AND SOME ACCOUNT OF SIR WILLIAM JOHNSON AND HIS STYLE OF LIVING
by Jeptha R. Simms
A Reprint with New Supplementary Matter
Printed by Enterprise and News
St. Johnsville, N.Y. 1935

Albany: J. Munsell, 82 State Street. 1850

CHAPTER XIV
BROWN'S TRACT TENANTLESS

 

Is a resort for hunters-Premises leased-Lease assigned to Foster who moves there-Indian Peter Waters or Drid-A debt-Drid threatens Foster's life-Goes to his door to shoot him-An interview-Indian attempts his life-Foster before a peace officer-Apprehensions of Foster's family --Last interview between Poster and his foe-Their threats of vengeance- Foster on Indian's point-Drid's approach-His death-Foster aids in getting his body home-Foster is arrested-Note explaining cut.

With the death of its proprietor, the Herreshoff settlement on Brown's tract became tenantless, and in a short time all the improvements were going to waste and destruction. Hunters occasionally visited the place, and when there, camped in the deserted dwellings. In May, 1830, the premises were leased for a small sum, and in February, 1832, Nathaniel Foster, who had for years traversed this region, purchased an assignment of the lease and moved his family there; that he might with greater convenience follow his favorite avocation of a wilderness trapper. His family, consisting of himself and wife and his son David and wife, occupied the Herreshoff dwelling nearest the forge. In a hut not far from Foster dwelt an Indian hunter named Peter Waters, familiarly known in the forest by the name of Drid; and in another house erected by the original proprietor, resided three old bachelors, William S. Wood, David Chase, and Willard Johnson. Johnson first entered the forest with Herreshoff, to work at his forge. Some part of the time there were three or four persons on the clearing, increasing the population to some fifteen inhabitants, all of whom depended principally upon hunting and fishing for their support. Johnson, who was a man somewhat advanced in life, often hunted with Foster; and Wood, of whom we know but little else, would have frozen to death on one occasion, but for the attentions of Foster.

The condition of the other settlers at this period on Brown's tract, was rendered the more comfortable by the family of Foster, whose women were able and ready to dispense the numerous little comforts the sex can command. A difficulty arose between Foster and his Indian neighbor, which, from one of a trifling nature, assumed a most serious aspect. A feeling not the most friendly began to gain a place between them, and some person, either from motives of mischief or terror, took occasion to tell Drid that Foster was unfriendly to him-that he did not like other hunters-was a dead shot, and the like. It was a person or persons, no doubt, who had had some misunderstanding with the Indian, and adopted this method to excite his fears without intending Foster any injury; possibly the informer was merely desirous of intimidating him, by making him feel conscious that one man, at least, who did not fear him, had the ability to punish him; whatever the motive was is unknown, but the red hunter's worst passions were now aroused, and ere long he resolved to destroy a supposed foe, at whatever hazard. On several occasions, when intoxicated, he threatened the life of Foster, and to such a state of feverish excitement had he arrived, that he only seemed desirous of an opportunity for executing his diabolical threat. The hunter Johnson, on several occasions, accompanied Foster to prevent a surprise from his avowed enemy.

The Foster family had always been very kind to that of Drid, and when the latter was gone on a long hunt, his squaw depended almost entirely upon the former for the support of herself and children. As Foster kept a cow, the family of the Indian neighbor was supplied with milk free of charge; while not a few necessaries dealt out to them when Drid was from home, had been carried into the clearing by Foster, upon his back. Of the latter articles he made a charge, and embracing some favorable opportunity, he asked the Indian to pay the account, in amount about seventeen shillings; the latter promised to pay a part of it. Foster now told the Indian that he had heard of his having threatened his life; this he admitted, said they lived there retired from any settlement, where there was no law, and added, "If I kill you, I kill you; and if you kill me, you kill me!" Foster told him he would make no agreement, that he did not wish or design to injure him, and he must not harbor such feelings.

One of the earliest causes of difficulty between these hunters originated as follows; nearly a year before his death, Drid took Foster's boat without permission and left it in the river a mile below where he had taken it. He was admonished that he must not repeat such an act if he would not be punished for his temerity, at which just reproof he was very indignant; and soon after was heard by several persons to say, "Me got a bad heart, me put a bullet through old Foster." It was about the time of the boat disturbance, that certain individuals attempted to terrify Drid by threats of Foster's vengeance.

In July, and about two months before his death, Drid was returning to the tract in company with a man named John Carpenter, when, as he drew near his home, he fired off his rifle, reloaded and carefully primed it. His companion inquired why he did it? saying they would then find no game. The Indian replied, "Me going to old Foster's, me shoot him else he shoot me!" He did go to Foster's dwelling, and standing at a little distance from the door, he hailed several times, to draw the object of search to an exposed situation. Mrs. Foster came to the door, and was alarmed to see the threatening attitude of her neighbor. He inquired for her husband, and being told that he was not at home, he exclaimed as he turned to go away, "Me shoot him if he had been!" Next morning the family of Drid being out of provisions, applied as usual to Foster's family for food. Informed of the Indian's conduct by his wife and Carpenter, Foster took some flour and in company with Carpenter, sought the red man's cabin to relieve the wants of the family. In the presence of the witness he asked Drid if he had not called at his door intending to shoot him? He admitted that he had, and assigned as a reason, that he had been told that Foster had threatened to kill him for taking his boat. "I made no such threat," said the old trapper, "I said it would not be well for you or any one else to take my boat a second time and fasten it a mile from my landing."

In August following the above incident, Drid returned from Racket lake with furs, and halted at Foster's door, at which were several neighbors; when the old trapper very civilly asked him to pay his account. "You are d-d liar!" said the Indian, "me don't owe you cent!" He raised his tomahawk to strike the old man, who sprang into the house. He opened the door with his rifle in hand, when his foe suddenly fell back and exclaimed, "If you ever go to Seventh lake, or to Racket lake, me kill you!" Foster threatened to complain of him before a justice of the peace, and he replied, "I'll get there soon as you do-haint no law in woods here!" The Indian with many threats then went off to his cabin.

Soon after this encounter with his adversary, Foster went before Joshua Harris, a justice of the peace in Brantingham, Lewis county, twenty miles from his own residence, although the nearest one, and complained that this Indian had then a third time sought his life, on which account he demanded his arrest. The magistrate declined issuing a process against Drid, saying that if he proceeded against him, the latter would be as likely to kill him as complainant.

Failing to get a precept against his dusky antagonist, some of his acquaintances advised Foster to remove his family from the forest, but he declared "he would not be frightened off by an Indian." He was very malicious, so much so that Aleck Thompson, an Indian hunter, who had a shantee near his, would have nothing to do with him, at least, so say the friends of Foster. The apprehensions of the Foster family were such all the latter part of the summer, that they seldom lit a candle in the evening, from fear that Drid would fire in at their windows. Indeed, he had threatened to enter the house in the night time, and stab him in his bed. He had even inquired on which side of the bed Foster slept, that he might make sure of his victim. When told that so rash an act would endanger the life of Mrs. Foster, he replied, "She good woman-me no care to hurt her-but rather kill 'em both, than not kill him!"

On the morning of Drid's death, Foster was, agreeably to an arrangement made the evening before, to accompany Wood and Chase on a hunting excursion at Fourth lake. The Indian had left his traps and rifle at Racket lake, some twelve miles beyond the intended destination of the party, but concluded to go up with them as far as they went. Foster called in the morning to see if the bachelors were ready for a start, and the Indian being present, renewed his quarrel with the former and attempted his life. He was a stout young man, between twenty-five and thirty years of age, and Foster was upwards of sixty. He succeeded in getting the old man down upon the floor, but was foiled in taking his life by the intercession of the bystanders, who drew them apart, not however until the Indian had cut his arm, in the attempt to thrust a knife into his heart. Thwarted when he thought his victim sure, he threatened vengeance, and declared a the end of a horrid oath, "you no live till Christmas!" Foster, whose worst passions were now excited, retorted, "you'll do d--well if you see another moon!"

Foster retired after the difficulty with the Indian and did not join the party, increased on its setting out by several others, who were going a few miles on a fishing excursion; but well satisfied that his foe would return and lurk about his dwelling to shoot him, as soon as he had obtained his rifle, he at once resolved to destroy the Indian, and thus prevent the possibility of a future surprise. He accordingly proceeded up the river nearly to the First lake, where, upon its northern shore, a point of land projected into the river, now known among hunters and fishermen as Indian's point. With his rifle carefully loaded with two balls, Foster obtained a commanding position on the point, to await the arrival of the party. After some delay in getting ready they left the dam at the forge, Drid in a light bark canoe, Wood and Chase in a large bark canoe, and the fishing party, consisting of four persons, in a boat.

The Indian, fearing no doubt from the morning's encounter and Foster's threat, that his personal safety was in jeopardy, kept his little craft near that of dam at the forge, Drid in a light bark canoe, Wood and Chase in a large bark canoe, and the fishing party, consisting of four persons, in a boat. The Indian, fearing no doubt from the morning's encounter and Foster's threat, that his personal safety was in jeopardy, kept his little craft near that of Wood and Chase. At length the party neared the point, at which its present occupant knew the white hunters must land to get some concealed traps. The fishing party rowed on as the canoes put in for the shore, and passing the point they discovered the old trapper in the bushes, and pointing in the direction of the bushes, they said to the hunters, "there's old Foster!" This announcement caused the Indian, who was then between the other canoe and the shore, to change his position, and take the lake side of his companions. The object of Foster's visiting the point was rightly divined by the white trappers, who landed and obtained their traps without loss of time, and put off from the shore, when Drid placed his canoe along side of theirs, so as to bring himself about midway between them, if possible to endanger their lives should a shot be attempted at himself.

Although Foster was several rods distant from the canoes, still the position of his foe did not secure his safety. The Indian's eye caught a glimpse of the fearful figure in the bushes just as the rifle was poised, and he threw up his arms in terror at the moment of the explosion. Both bullets entered his left side near the arm pit, passed through his heart and went out just below the right arm. They entered in the same spot, but left two places of egress opposite. The Indian fell backwards, with his head and shoulders in the water, his feet and legs remaining in the canoe. He fell so dead that his position continued unchanged, the fairy craft preserving the cradling motion communicated to it by his fall, for some length of time after the spirit of its owner had winged its flight,

"To range the circuit of the sky."

The party in company with the Indian at the tin-le of his death, either from fear or some other motive, did not offer to touch the body, but returned as speedily as possible to the place of starting. Leaving their boats, several proceeded directly to Foster's house' where they found him lying on a bed. The distance from the dam to Indian's point by water is greater than by land, and the old trapper having finished his morning's work, had gained his own dwelling, wiped out his rifle and prepared it for other game, ere the messengers arrived there. Foster expressed some surprise at seeing the party return so soon, and inquired what brought them back. He was answered, that a dead man was up the lake, the Indian Drid, and they desired him to go up and aid in getting him down. Agreeably to the request, Foster went up with the party to get the body, and himself took it into the boat, as the rest seemed afraid to touch it. He also aided in burying it, near the Indian's former residence. For killing this Indian Foster was arrested soon after, by the authorities of Lewis county; but when it was ascertained that the scene of blood was not within the jurisdiction of that county, he was removed from Martinsburg to Herkimer, where he gave bail for his appearance when required, and returned to his family.

NOTE, explanatory of the engraving. A friend who made a little drawing of the Fulton chain of lakes, to give the writer an idea of the position of the parties, inadvertently placed the point on the south side of the lake, which led to an error in the cut representing this scene, as the point is on the north side. The cut, though an ideal one, is said (by persons who have been on the ground) to give a very striking representation of the point, as Foster came out between two trees. A row of fir trees are seen in the distance, said to be more numerous than are here represented. The cut is rather a spirited one, and if the reader will imagine the point transposed to the opposite shore, and the position of the parties changed accordingly, he will get a good idea of the tragic scene.

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