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“History of Springwater” by Orson Walbridge

Early History of Springwater New York

Chapter 1 - Early History: Indians, their custons, manner of living, etc., wild animals and reminiscences.

by Orson Walbridge


The history of the Town of Springwater, so far as is known to the present inhabitants, dates back scarcely one hundred years, and it was not until about the beginning of the present century that any permanent settlements were made here. That Western New York, of which Springwater forms a part, was inhabited by the Seneca Indians for a considerable period, and that they were in possession when the first white man came, is quite certain, but as to how and when the Indians came here, and what was their past history, but little is actually known, although many theories have been advanced to explain the mystery. But it matters not now, as this work is only intended to record what has transpired since the advent of the white man to this part of the country.

The principal Indian settlements in what is now Livingston County were found in the Genesee Valley. Although there is no evidence that they ever had permanent settlements in this town, it is known that they often visited this locality while on their fishing and hunting excursions. William Scott, Esq., who was one of the early settlers of Sparta, informed me that in the summer of 1806, he and some of his brothers came over to the Valley and went down as far as the head of Hemlock lake. There were at that time a number of Indian camps in the Valley. After the white people came and began to settle, the Indians continued to hunt and fish here. When they sold their right to the land they reserved the privilege of killing deer and other game during the hunting season, which for deer was from the first of September to the last day of December of each year; and this reservation continued down to about 1828. So in the fall there would a goodly number of the hunters come over from Squaka Hill, as it was called, to Springwater, build or repair their cabins, and he ready for the first tracking snow to fall, so they could follow the deer; and deer being quite plenty, there were large numbers of them killed each year. The Indiana usually came, quite a number of them, and camped together. Frequently some very old ones came over, even those who were too old to do much hunting. They could take care of the camp, and the deer after they were brought in, so that the hunters had nothing to do but hunt and bring in their game. If they were successful in killing they would either hang their game up in the woods, to be gotten some other time, and continue the hunt until night; or if it was near night, they would start for the camp with their game, and when they arrived throw down their loads at the door of the cabin, and go in and hang up their rifles and prepare for rest.

Their cabins or huts were generally made large enough to have a fire in the middle, with an opening in the center of the roof to let out the smoke, with a blanket hung in the place of a door, and a bunk or place to rest on each side of the fire, composed of hemlock boughs and covered with blankets or skins of animals. But to return to the hunter; after he had entered the cabin, replenished the fire with plenty of wood, laid off such leggings or moccasins might be wet from tramping through the snow, hung a large piece of venison, (generally a fore quarter,) in such a position that it would roast by the fire, he would wrap his blanket about him and lay down upon the couch with his feet to the fire and go to sleep. After sleeping for an hour or two he would rouse up, take his hunting knife and his venison, and slice off such as was sufficiently roasted and eat it, and then hang up the remainder by the fire again to roast, while he took another nap; and continued to cat through the night and generally until the quarter of venison was disposed of. As soon as daylight appeared he was ready to start in pursuit of game, and this would be followed as long as the snow was right for tracking.

After I came to Springwater, in 1819, there were as many as thirty or forty Indians who came here in the fall to hunt. I recollect that one fall there were twenty hunters camping here in the Valley, near the south-west corner of Mr. Alonzo Snyder’s farm, in two large huts close together, and they killed a large number of deer. Their custom was to save the hind quarters of the deer to take home for winter use, and eat the fore quarters, or exchange with the white settlers for bread and other things they needed. There was an old man by the name of Tommy Infant and two of his sons that I saw here a number of times. One fall they camped on the west hill near where Jonathan Coulbern then lived. They were good hunters, and they killed a large number of deer, and on the first of January, when the hunting season closed, they had a full sleigh load of venison and skins. One of them went home and got a yoke of steers and sleigh, and when they got the load upon the sleigh it was to much for the steers to draw; so they hired my father with a heavy pair of oxen to take their load over the top of the hill this side of Scottsburgh. One Indian I remember, Major O’Bail. He was a son of an old Seneca Chief O’Ball or Corn Planter. The Major was a Chief and a leader among the Squaka Hill Tribe. He used to dress better than the others, and his rifle was highly ornamented with silver, and he wore a broad silver band upon his hat. After their reserved time to hunt had expired, sometimes families of Indians with the women or squaws and children would come here in the summer and camp, and the squaws would make baskets and the children would peddle them; and sometimes they would pick berries in their season. They frequently brought their baskets to the Valley to exchange for whiskey, and if they succeeded in getting the whiskey, they were quite sure to get drunk, the squaws as well as the Indians; and it was not an unusual thing to see a squaw lying by the side of the road drunk, with her papoose laying by her side.

But to go back a few years and tell an Indian and wolf story. The Indians had found a place in Dunham Swamp on the west hill where an old wolf was in the habit of rearing her young, and as there was a State bounty on wolf scalps, the Indians would not kill the old wolf but keep watch and capture the little ones, and get the bounty on them, thereby making it a profitable business. But after a few years they came out one summer, and finding no young ones they concluded to kill the old one, and having found her trail where she left the swamp they followed her by the track, or trail, left among the leaves, some two or three miles south on the side of the hill, where they overtook and shot her; and as it was necessary to have proof of the killing by a white man they came to the Valley and got Martin D. Hopkins to go with them and see the wolf, where it was killed, so as to be a witness for them as to the killing in this County.

Panthers and Bears

The last panther that I have any account of having been killed In this town was about 1818. The sons of Thomas Mitchell, who were then living here, and a man by the name of Simonds got after a panther and killed it somewhere near the south part of this town. I have seen Bob Mitchell have the tail of the animal attached to his equipage, and wear it on training days. There were panthers supposed to be here after that but none were killed. Bears were not very plenty here after I came, but occasionally one was seen. My father had a hog killed by a bear in the fall of 1821. On west hill I, once, in company with Laughton Straight and Isaac Culver, tracked a bear over the hill in the southwest pert of the town all day, and at night left him in the swamp west of Perkinsville, and then had the pleasure of tramping home, about seven miles, which was rather tiresome work; but we had this to comfort us, we had been bear hunting. This was about 1827. In the summer of 1829 I was going from the valley up the east hill, and was passing up the old road that then ran through the south part of Scott W. Snyder’s farm. Near the road was a patch of blackberries then ripe and ready to pick, and as I got opposite the berry patch, a bear, which had probably been feasting on berries, walked out and across the read a few rods ahead of me. As it was a light night I had a fair view of him. He did not seem to have any desire to form an acquaintance with me and I was perfectly willing co let him go on his way rejoicing. This was the last bear that I have met in town.