Catskill, New York

Town of Catskill, Hudson River

C ATSKILL is more known as the landing-place for travellers bound to the mountains above, than for any remarkable events in its own history, or any singular beauties in itself. It is a thrifty town, in which the most prosperous vocations are those of inn-keeper and stage-proprietor; and during the summer months these two crafts at Catskill entertain and transport to the hotel on the mountain half the population of the United States,—more or less. The crowded steamers stop at the landing on their way up and down; and a busier scene than is presented on the wharf daily could not easily be found.

I have often thought, in passing, of the contrast between these numerous advents and the landing of Hendrick Hudson on this very spot, in his voyage of discovery up the river. He found here, he says, “a very loving people and a very old man,” by whom he and his crew were very kindly entertained. From the first step of a white man's foot on the soil to the crowded rush of passengers from a steam-boat; from a savage wilderness to the height of civilization and science,—it is but a little more than two hundred years of rapid history. Compare the old Indian canoe in which Hudson went from his vessel to the land, with a steamer carrying on its deck near a thousand souls; compare the untutored population which then swarmed upon the shore, with the cultivated and refined crowds who come and go in thousands on the same spot,—and the contrast is as astonishing as the extinction of the aboriginal race is melancholy.

It is surprising how few details connected with the races that inhabited the older settlements of our country are reached even by the researches of Historical Societies. The materials for the future poets and historians of America are in this department singularly meagre, though it might almost be supposed that the very tracks of the retreating tribes might at this early day be still visible on the soil. Wherever any particulars of the intercourse between the first settlers and the Indians are preserved, they are highly curious, and often very diverting. In a book on the settlements of this country, written by Captain Nathaniel Uring, who visited it in 1709, there is an interesting story connected with the history of one of the forts, built, by permission of the Indians, to secure the settlers against sudden incursion.

“It happened one day,” says the Captain, relating the story as it was told to him by the Governor, “as the carpenter was cutting down a large timber-tree for the use of the fort, that great numbers of Indians stood round it, gazing, and admiring the wonderful dexterity of the carpenter, and greatly surprised at the manner of cutting it,—having, before the arrival of the Europeans, never seen an axe, or any such like tools. The carpenter, perceiving the tree ready to fall, gave notice to the Indians by language or signs to keep out of its reach when it fell; but either for want of understanding the carpenter, or by carelessness of the Indians, a branch of the tree in its fall struck one of them, and killed him; upon which they raised a great cry. The carpenter, seeing them much out of humor at the accident, made his escape into the fort; and soon after, the Indians gathered together in great numbers about it and demanded justice of the Europeans for the death of their brother, and desired to have the man who was the occasion of his being killed, that they might execute him, and revenge their brother's death. The Governor endeavored to excuse the carpenter, by representing to them that he was not to blame; and told them that if their brother had observed the notice given him by the carpenter, he had not been hurt. But that answer would not satisfy the Indians; they increased their numbers about the fort, and nothing less than the execution of the carpenter would content them.

“The Europeans endeavored to spin out the time by treaty, and thought to appease them by presents, hoping those, and time together, might make them easy; but finding that would not do, and not being able longer to defend themselves against such numbers as besieged them, they consulted how to give the Indians satisfaction.

“The carpenter being a useful man, they considered that they could not spare him without the greatest inconvenience; but seeing there was an absolute necessity of doing something, they found out an expedient, which was this: There was in the fort an old weaver, who had been bed-rid a long time; they concluded to hang up the weaver, and make the Indians believe it was the carpenter.

“Having come to this resolution, the Governor let the Indians know that since nothing else would satisfy them, though their demand was unjust, yet to show them how ready they were to live in amity and friendship with them, in the morning they should see the carpenter hanging upon a certain tree in their view.

“In the night they carried the poor old weaver and hanged him in the room of the carpenter, which gave full satisfaction to the Indians; and they were again good friends.”