Catskill Mountains

View of Hudson City and the Catskill Mountains

A WEDGE-SHAPED promontory, or bluff, pushes forward to the river at this spot; and on its summit, which widens into a noble plain, stands the city of Hudson.

It is supposed that the “Halve-Mane,” the vessel in which the great discoverer made his first passage up the Hudson, reached no farther than two leagues above the city which bears his name, and that the remainder of the exploring voyage was made in the shallop. His reception here was in the highest degree hospitable. “He went on shore in one of their canoes, with an old Indian, who was the chief of forty men and seventeen women: these he saw in a house made of the bark of trees, exceedingly smooth and well-finished within and without. He found a great quantity of Indian corn and beans, enough of which were drying near the house to have loaded three ships, besides what was growing in the fields. On coming to the house two mats were spread to sit on, eatables were brought in, in red bowls well made, and two men were sent off with bows and arrows, who soon returned with two pigeons. They also killed a fat dog, and skinned it with shells. They expected their visitors would remain during the night, but the latter determined to return on board. The natives were exceedingly kind and good-tempered; for when they discovered Hudson's determination to proceed on board, they, imagining it proceeded from fear of their bows and arrows, broke them to pieces and threw them into the fire.”

On his return down the river, Hudson stopped again for four days opposite the site of the future city. The historical collections give a very particular account of every day's movements in this interesting voyage. “On the report of those whom he had sent to explore the river,” says the historian, “Hudson found that it would be useless to proceed with his ship any farther, or to delay his return. He had passed several days in a profitable traffic and a friendly intercourse with the natives, among whom were probably those from each side of the river,—the Mahicanni, as well as the Mohawks. At noon of the 23d of September, he therefore went down six miles to a shoal; having but little wind, the tide laid his ship on the bar until the flood came, when she crossed it, and was anchored for the night.

“The next day, after proceeding seven or eight leagues, she grounded on a bank of ooze in the middle of the river, where she was detained till the ensuing morning, when the flood, at ten o'clock, enabled Hudson to anchor her in deep water. Thus the ship once more was interrupted in her passage opposite the spot where a city now commemorates the name of Hudson.

“Here he remained, by reason of adverse winds, four days. On the day of his arrival ‘they went on land and gathered good store of chestnuts,' but whether on the east or west side of the river is not mentioned. But the day following they went on land ‘to walk on the west side of the river, and found good ground for corn and other garden herbs, with good store of goodly oaks and walnut-trees, and chestnut-trees, yew-trees, and trees of sweet wood in great abundance, and great store of slate for houses and other good stones.' Nothing is said of any inhabitants while they were thus visiting the site, which is now that of the village of Athens, opposite Hudson. But next morning (26th), after the carpenter, mate, and four of the company had gone on shore to cut wood, while the vessel lay at anchor, two canoes came up the river from the place where they first found ‘loving people' (Catskill landing); and in one of them was the old chief whom Hudson had caused to be made intoxicated at Albany. He had followed our strange visitors thirty miles, to the base of the Catskill Mountains, with the double view of again testifying to Hudson the sincerity of his friendship, and of gratifying the love of the marvellous, by relating his own adventures to the mountaineers, and drawing them from their retreat to witness the floating phenomenon. The old chief now introduced with him ‘an old man, who brought more stropes of beads and gave them to our master, and showed him all the country thereabout, as though it were at his command!' They tarried, greatly pleased with the unaccountable curiosities they discovered on board. Hudson ‘made the two old men dine with him, and the old man's wife; for they brought two old women and two young maidens of the age of sixteen or seventeen years with them, who behaved themselves very modestly.'

“After dinner, and upon exchange of presents, the guests retired, inviting Hudson by signs to come down to them; for the ship was within two leagues of the place where they dwelt.”

The concluding circumstances of this interesting return down the Hudson, will accompany another view in the series.

Winter Scene on the Catterskills

T HE great proportion of evergreen trees, shrubs, and creepers in the American mountains makes the winter scenery less dreary than might at first be imagined; but even the nakedness of the deciduous trees is not long observable. The first snow clothes them in a dress so feathery and graceful that, like a change in the costume of beauty, it seems lovelier than the one put off; and the constant renewal of its freshness and delicacy goes on with a variety and novelty which is scarce dreamed of by those who see snow only in cities, or in countries where it is rare.

The roads in so mountainous a region as the Catterskills are in winter not only difficult, but dangerous. The following extracts from an account of a sleigh-ride in a more level part of the country will serve to give an idea of it:—

“As we got farther on, the new snow became deeper. The occasional farm-houses were almost wholly buried, the black chimney alone appearing above the ridgy drifts; while the tops of the doors and windows lay below the level of the trodden road, from which a descending passage was cut to the threshold, like the entrance to a cave in the earth. The fences were quite invisible. The fruit-trees looked diminished to shrubberies of snow-flowers, their trunks buried under the visible surface, and their branches loaded with the still falling flakes, till they bent beneath the burden. Nothing was abroad, for nothing could stir out of the road without danger of being lost; and we dreaded to meet even a single sleigh, lest in turning out the horses should ‘slump' beyond their depth in the untrodden drifts. The poor animals began to labor severely, and sank at every step over their knees in the clogging and wool-like substance; and the long and cumbrous sleigh rose and fell in the deep pits like a boat in a heavy sea. It seemed impossible to get on. Twice we brought up with a terrible plunge, and stood suddenly still; for the runners had struck in too deep for the strength of the horses, and with the snow-shovels, which formed a part of the furniture of the vehicle, we dug them from their concrete beds. Our progress at last was reduced to scarce a mile in the hour, and we began to have apprehensions that our team would give out between the post-houses. Fortunately it was still warm, for the numbness of cold would have paralyzed our already flagging exertions.

“We had reached the summit of a long hill with the greatest difficulty. The poor beasts stood panting and reeking with sweat; the runners of the sleigh were clogged with hard cakes of snow, and the air was close and dispiriting. We came to a stand-still, with the vehicle lying over almost on its side; and I stepped out to speak to the driver and look forward. It was a discouraging prospect; a long deep valley lay before us, closed at the distance of a couple of miles by another steep hill, through a cleft in the top of which lay our way: we could not even distinguish the line of the road between. Our disheartened animals stood at this moment buried to their breasts; and to get forward, without rearing at every step, seemed impossible. The driver sat on his box, looking uneasily down into the valley. It was one undulating ocean of snow,—not a sign of a human habitation to be seen, and even the trees indistinguishable from the general mass by their whitened and overladen branches. The storm had ceased, but the usual sharp cold that succeeds a warm fall of snow had not yet lightened the clamminess of the new-fallen flakes, and they clung around the foot like clay, rendering every step a toil.

“We heaved out of the pit into which the sleigh had settled, and for the first mile it was down hill, and we got on with comparative ease. The sky was by this time almost bare, a dark slaty mass of clouds alone settling on the horizon in the quarter of the wind; while the sun, as powerless as moonlight, poured with dazzling splendor on the snow, and the gusts came keen and bitter across the sparkling waste, rimming the nostrils as if with bands of steel, and penetrating to the innermost nerve with their pungent iciness. No protection seemed of any avail. The whole surface of the body ached as if it were laid against a slab of ice. The throat closed instinctively, and contracted its unpleasant respiration. The body and limbs drew irresistibly together to economize, like a hedge-hog, the exposed surface. The hands and feet felt transmuted to lead; and across the forehead, below the pressure of the cap, there was a binding and oppressive ache, as if a bar of frosty iron had been let into the skull. The mind, meantime, seemed freezing up,—unwillingness to stir, and inability to think of anything but the cold, becoming every instant more decided.

“From the bend of the valley our difficulties became more serious. The drifts often lay across the road like a wall, some feet above the heads of the horses; and we had dug through one or two, and had been once upset, and often near it, before we came to the steepest part of the ascent. The horses had by this time begun to feel the excitement of the rum given them by the driver at the last halt, and bounded on through the snow with continuous leaps, jerking the sleigh after them with a violence that threatened momently to break the traces. The steam from their bodies froze instantly, and covered them with a coat like hoar-frost; and spite of their heat, and the unnatural and violent exertions they were making, it was evident by the pricking of their ears and the sudden crouch of the body when a stronger blast swept over, that the cold struck through even their hot and intoxicated blood.

“We toiled up, leap after leap; and it seemed miraculous to me that the now infuriated animals did not burst a blood-vessel or crack a sinew with every one of those terrible springs. The sleigh plunged on after them, stopping dead and short at every other moment, and reeling over the heavy drifts like a boat in a surging sea. A finer crystallization had meanwhile taken place upon the surface of the moist snow; and the powdered particles flew almost insensibly on the blasts of wind, filling the eyes and hair, and cutting the skin with a sensation like the touch of needle-points. The driver and his maddened but almost exhausted team were blinded by the glittering and whirling eddies; the cold grew intenser every moment, the forward motion gradually less and less; and when, with the very last effort apparently, we reached a spot on the summit of the hill which from its exposed situation had been kept bare by the wind, the patient and persevering whip brought his horses to a stand, and despaired, for the first time, of his prospects of getting on.”

The description, which is too long to extract entire, details still severer difficulties; after which the writer and driver mounted the leaders, and finally arrived, nearly dead with cold, at the tavern. Such cold as is described here, however, is what is called “an old-fashioned spell,” and occurs now but seldom.