"...I trusted in the Almighty… I knew I could only be killed once,
and I had to die sometime."
-Anne Bailey, 1823

Saturday, December 25

Hunting III of III

3 December

Darkness fell upon us while dense grey clouds blotted out both sun and moon as the sky above transitioned from day into night. We would have found a bed of boughs beneath one of the many tall pines had not the import of our messages necessitated carrying on. Lieutenant Colonel Williamson had entrusted a packet of letters to us to be delivered personally into the hands of Lord Manningham, thought to be traveling near the Big Raccoon River. Lord Manningham had confessed to Lt.Col. Williamson his interest and curiosity in the ways of the savages and the men who traded with them in this new frontier which was so unlike his own. Thus Manningham had departed from his regiment, servants, and all who knew him, to join company with an Indian trader; Captain Jacobs. Having traveled a time or two with Captain Jacobs ourselves, Williamson had known we could be trusted to find the pair out in this bleak wilderness. Huge snowflakes began to descend with unbelievable rapidity and soon the ground beneath our horse’s hooves was covered in white.

We traveled onward knowing Captain Jacobs was well familiar with this land and would likely be found afore much longer. Alongside the river a small encampment was spied, a tiny fire with a lone figure huddled beneath his matchcoat gave indication my destination had been reached. Quite surprised were we when just a bit further we spotted a solitary Indian lodge lit from within with the warm orange glow of a fire. Tired, wet and cold as we were, the warmth of either looked inviting. The lodge opened to reveal an Indian man who approached cautiously. In reasonably good English he addressed himself as Makinak, friend of Lord Manningham and Captain Jacobs, known also by the whiteman’s name of LeRoy.

Although our natural inclination is of intense hatred and distrust of all red men, we recognized this man’s sincerity and goodness of heart. Further, he indicated by hand sign and word it was Lord Manningham’s request and wish we join company with these men for a hunt upon the morrow. Even as we spoke, Captain Jacobs came forward and added his welcome to the camp. Immediately we were comforted and convinced to join this small company in their intent. As there was plenty of room within Mackinac’s warm lodge we were welcomed to stow our bedroll and small belongings within and make ourselves comfortable. Moisture had permeated nearly every fiber of our clothing during the heavy snow and the warmth of a fire and the dryness of his lodge enticed us to set aside our natural inclinations.

Lord Manningham returned from his explorations and immediately we placed Williamson’s correspondences into his hands. A dark look passed over Manningham’s countenance as he read news from Captain Peter Hogg of additional desertions. Manningham nearly tossed the letter into the fire at the nerve of Hogg to submit additional receipts for Beeves to Mr. Walker, who is now appointed Commissary for Washington’s Expeditions. Once we passed these dark moments the remainder of evening passed quickly, and soon the quiet outside and the reflection of the fire upon the walls of the lodge lulled us to sleep.

4 December

Teeth chattering with cold and an intense desire for the warmth of hot coffee we awoke to complete and total darkness. Feeling around in the darkness we came upon a few pieces of wood, tossed them upon the scant bed of coals and blew them to life. Not creating sufficient light nor warmth another piece of wood was placed upon the small beginnings of our fire. While tending to the necessities for coffee an unusual smell came to our nose, when suddenly Makinak sprung from his sleeping pallet and lifted from the now roaring fire a flaming piece of wood, lifted the lodge door and flung the offending piece out into the snow. Not comprehending the intentions of these sudden movements we reached for the comfort of a cold knife handle at our belt. Lord Manningham too was reaching for a weapon when Makinak began laughing for all the world as though the funniest thing ever had happened. We are most embarrassed and ashamed to admit WE were the source of Makinak’s humor. For it seems in our haste to make a fire for our desperately needed coffee we had somehow mistaken our friend Makinak’s moccasin for a piece of firewood!

Manningham roared with laughter and Makinak nearly fell over holding his stomach laughing and complaining loudly wanting to know why the noble crazy woman wanted to burn his moccasin? Was this a new whiteman tactic to slow the red man? Was it not possible for the mad woman to know the difference between a moccasin and piece of firewood?

We huddled into the warmth of our blankets wishing only to pull them up over our head completely! Gads! How was it possible we had mistaken the moccasin for wood?? We thought back just a few moments passed and wondered, had not that particular piece felt somehow different?? Nay, in our befuddled, cold and coffee deprived early morning state one piece had felt entirely the same as any other! Suddenly fear crept into our heart – would the man have any other footwear? By the glimpse out the lodge door it was clear the snow was easily four to five inches deep!

Fortunately our friend had two more pair of heavy winter moccs, those burned being merely an old pair used to slip on easily in the night for a call of nature. Rarely had we ever been more pleased for the comfort of a red man! Nay, he would not go about into the woods for our hunt shoeless, thank the merciful heavens!

Our morning thus begun with good humor, t’was destined to prevail throughout the day. Upon completion of our scant breakfast we set upon the woods in search of future meals. The night’s snow had made land and sky nearly the same color with only the bleak forest trees as relief between the two. Even the trees carried a load of snow upon every branch and stray leaf. Together Manningham, Makinak and I set off carrying our weapons loaded and ready. In the night another traveler had joined our small group; Robert of the Virginia Light Horse brigade. Having risen earlier than ourselves he had already set upon a deer trail in hopes of success.

As we slogged our way through the deepening snow the warmth of camaraderie was the only relief from the cold. After a few hours we caught sight of a lovely buck as he lifted his head from browsing, however he was quicker than I and he ran off afore our riflegun was fully lifted to shoulder. Not being certain of the distance of the shot in any case, we were none to upset by his quick departure. We attempted to head him off by trudging up a nearly vertical hillside, yet he was indeed much faster than I and we only found his tracks.

Shortly after this bit of excitement we determined twas surely a good time to return to the warmth of the lodge for a bit of a meal and to check in with our friends Rob and Captain Jacobs. None had known success afield and all were wet through to the skin. Fire, food and coffee did much to revive both stomach and spirit and soon enough we were once more afield. Captain Jacobs and Rob accompanied us up an enormous hillside which gave cause for serious concern were one to begin a sliding! Though the area was most clearly used as a corridor for the deer we so vehemently sought, none were willing to show themselves regardless of our stealth or desire. Upon the setting sun we returned once more to the warmth of the lodge empty handed but for my fine riflegun.

5 December

The morning sun found us within the trees, hidden beneath a well used cedar marked heavily with a buck’s favor. The sparkling of the sun’s rays twinkled over every snowflake giving the appearance of a fairy land, all quiet but for the rustling of bird, squirrel and mouse. Hours passed, a chill set in and once more t’was time to return to our home. Taking leave of these men whom I so admire was trying, yet the knowledge that we would again join forces was comforting. Alone and homeward bound we found ourselves laughing once more at the great moccasin mishap! T’is times such as these which will surely warm our hearts over the long and cold winter.

Edited to reflect the correct spellings of our dear friend Makinak/LeRoy's name.

Sunday, December 12

Hunting II of III

22 November

Again, these words must be writ, much to my chagrin: We return, once more empty handed, but for my fine riflegun.

A few nights past, Mr. Mains and I met at a predestined crossing in the trails on the way to Mr. and Mistress Selter’s cabin. As always, my heart was much gladdened to join company with Mr. Mains, even if his misplacement of razor has left him a bit shaggier than I prefer.

Through the knobs and bottoms of Caintuckee we traveled round bend and curve until we caught our first glimpse of the Selter’s barn, buildings, and finally their cozy small cabin. Each seemed perfectly tucked into the wooded landscape. Moonlight reflected the tallest knob in a lovely pond and candlelight twinkled in the windows of their charming cabin.

Before we even were able to wrap upon the cabin door we were greeted by Mr. Selter, his fine dog, and then dear Mistress Selter. All were well and happy and we were quite delighted to join the cozy scene. Angela (for she and Mark insist upon use of their given names) had anticipated our late arrival with a large kettle of the most delicious potato soup, a bit of bread and even cookies. Tea was served and the three of us talked long into the night.

The gentlemen retired outside to smoke their pipes beside a crackling fire. Angela and I couldn’t help but join them with hot steaming mugs of tea, admiring a million brilliant stars shining through the nearly barren trees. Soon plans and strategies for the morrow’s hunt were all we spoke of. Returning to the cabin, slightly chilled by the coolness of the evening, yet much warmed in conversation, we bid the Selters sleep well as they settled into their loft whilst we remained before the fire below. Anticipation of the hunt and pleasure in each other’s company kept Mr. Mains and myself awake a bit longer, until finally, with moonlight streaming through the windows, sleep overtook us.

The aroma of hot coffee delighted my senses as we awoke and soon Mr. Mains was found preparing backstrap deer steaks whilst Mr. Sel – Mark, whisked eggs together. Ah, yes, deer steak from my dearest… for my dear Jesse had not been entirely unlucky in my absence. A good-sized buck had fallen to the crack of Splitnose, providing much meat for the Mains family and a good bit for us to enjoy as well.

Having in my pocketbook a recent letter sent from Mr. Mains describing his hunt, I smoothed its tattered pages, hoping to glean a bit of knowledge, or perhaps just for luck, I read the letters contents once more;

I'm happy I finally got a good-sized buck (out of near 60 deer I've taken this is only the 10th. with any measurable antler whatsoever, the rest of those have been a skinny racked 9 ptr, a little basket racked, 2 5ptrs., a teeny 7 ptr. & the other 5 were spikes and fork-horns.)

I'd be REAL happy if I'd found the doe I was blood trailing when he came along, made a bad shot on her and never found her, looked until 2 am Saturday night and from 8 am till about 3:30 pm on Sunday, last I found was a bed where she dripped two tiny blood droplets and shed a couple more belly hairs about 400 yds. from where I shot her. Third or fourth time that's happened to me in 24 years of killing these things and it gets worse every time....., and I really hate knowing the coyotes might get a free lunch, but there is the comfort of knowing nothing that dies ever truly goes to waste I reckon. I think Josey Wales had something to say about that.

That buck probably spent the last three hours or so of his life thinking he finally figured out how to "grin" another buck to death. Andy Wright (another guy who hunts there along with his son Tim) watched this buck and a basket racked 8 (clearly with more guts than sense!!!) fight for about 10 minutes that morning, at one point they were staring each other down and he had a clear shot to one of 'ems shoulder (he couldn't tell which was which at 80 yards through the trees) and he busted the 8 right through both shoulders, whereupon this buck proceeded to "put the boots to him" while he was down going through his death throes. Nature red in tooth and claw, eh? That 8 did get one good lick in though, this deer had a fresh in & out puncture wound on his left hindquarter.

This buck came along around 10:30-:45 or so while I was on my hands and knees looking for blood from that doe, he was clearly heading somewhere at a trot, mouth open and a-panting, tried getting him to stop, even yelled at him, but ended up swinging my sights with him and touching it off as he crossed an open spot. After the shot the first word that popped in my head was "gouts", in description of the literal sheets of blood coming out both sides of him. I never saw such a blood trail, hit him top-dead-center through both lungs and that bubbly vermillion-red stuff sprayed 8-10 feet to either side of him, 6 -7 feet high on trees in some spots, you coulda literally found him "blindfolded and barefooted". And he still went 450 yards!!!!! The last thirty yards or so the blood just stopped cold, and there wasn't a heckuva lot left in him when we field dressed him. Don't know what he weighs, but his backstraps measured 35" long, each hindquarter weighs about 28 pounds, and I took 11-12 pounds of 2 inch thick tallow off his rump, back, brisket, and from inside along his tenderloins, he had a belly full of acorns and a little bit of corn from the farm to the north of the Young farm, you could surely tell he was in prime condition for the rut which'll be starting soon, from what we saw there is some serious pre-rut activity going on right now!

With my letter safely tucked back within my pocketbook and with full bellies, we set forth with

loaded rifles to gather more of winter’s necessary provisions. As he is wont to do, Mark acted both as pathfinder and artist upon our hunt. No longer choosing to carry arms, Mr. Selter instead carried the necessary items to capture moments in time.

Our dear friend Mistress Larner had most recently sent us a lengthy letter strongly suggesting she, Mistress duPont and Miss Katherine are quite taken with Mark’s talents as artist. Ach, our heart aches at the memory of his painting entitled “Farewell,” a vividly rendered memory of his and Angela’s departure from one another. T’is quite stunning.

Once more, the dry Autumn leaves betrayed nearly each step. Further, just as we approached a lovely hillside, a shifting wind blew our scent toward a small group of deer, causing them to snort, stomp their feet and finally to throw up their white tails, and run giving no chance of a good shot. Not having seen deer in our previous hunt, even this fruitless encounter caused me to take heart. Wiser to the shifting winds and somewhat emboldened, we continued on, our weapons readied. Hours passed quickly as we measured each step against the promise of a kill.

Noontime found the three of us settled in for a bit of conversation, coffee and jerky. Mr. Mains quickly had the fire burning whilst I took the opportunity to sew a small bag to contain Mr. Selter’s tobacco tin. Refreshed from our break we set off.

Mr. Mains split off from us for a short time to explore the higher side of the knob and was rewarded by the sight of ten or fifteen does. A shot was taken and we searched the area until dark yet were unable to locate a bit of hair or blood to indicated the shot was true, though Mr. M did feel quite certain in it’s placement.

Much disheartened, we returned to the Selter’s small cabin, where we dined once more upon soup. Our days walk, the tension of hunting and the steep knobs had all taken their toll and this evening found all tucked snug and warm inside our blankets earlier than usual.

Moonlight shone through the windows, perfectly balanced with the lightening sky to the east, as we enjoyed our morning meal. It was determined Mark and Jesse would return to the knob to search for any possible sign of the previous day’s doe, whilst I would take my own path through the bottoms around the ponds.

Alone, I traveled quietly the wanderings of deer tracks freshly made. Only the tiny sounds of chipmunks, mice, and squirrels combined with the breeze as we stepped carefully, always searching for the smallest glimpse of grey/brown.

Upon hearing Splitnose’s distinctive crack, but a few hundred yards away, and knowing the likelihood of their activity spurring our prey toward us, we took a knee and waited.

No sign or sound greeted me for nearly three quarters an hour and thus we carried on toward Mr. Mains and Mr. Selter.

Words cannot easily describe the mixture of emotions so deeply felt upon arriving at the scene of Mr. Mains kill. Relief, joy, thrill and pleasure battled, much to my regret, with sorrow, jealousy and a deep seated lack of self confidence beset my mind. As these many feelings raced through my heart and mind they were also, unbeknownst to me, quite clearly displayed upon my face and captured perfectly by Mr. Selter’s artful hand.

This being no time for self contemplation we disengaged from Mr. Mains’ arms and began to assist in the field dressing and necessary preparations. With only a few short hours of time remaining to hunting we set off alone for the farthest height of the knobs.

Walking quickly up the steep hillside, legs burning and heart pumping with the exertion, tears coursed freely and unchecked down my face. Questions raged through my mind, what was I doing wrong, what was wrong with me, why was I unable to accomplish this most important task? Was I too loud, did I not observe my surroundings, was I completely incapable? Was the smell of smoke which pervaded my clothing giving me away? Was my Leo’s ego being taught a lesson from the universe? My lack of confidence gave way to heaving sobs as I sat upon the highest point of the knob, overlooking the most beautiful landscape. Afore long, this cathartic moment passed and once more we were ourselves.

Slipping silently down the knob, a gladness and contentment filled my heart and pushed any remaining doubts from my mind. Breathing the cool air, feeling the sun shining upon my face we returned to the Selter’s cabin and joined Angela for a delicious cup of coffee and lovely conversation. The men returned, carrying their burden between them, and we ran outside to happily greet them. After a few more cups of coffee and some lovely cherry cobbler it was time to take my leave.

As has been eloquently said; “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Mr. Mains and I took a short walk from the Selter cabin for a brief moment alone, after which we parted company with the promise of joining one another soon. The journey homeward was long, yet pleasant and filled with memories of time well spent.

*Please note, the images contained here within represent only the briefest moments in time. While hunting in our modern times, Blaze Orange is always properly worn.

All images taken by Mark Selter

Tuesday, December 7

Empty handed, but for my rifle

Dearest ones,

It seems a few pages of our journal have fallen from their bindings, we shall try to replace them within their proper places. Though we beg your forbearance should they appear out of their proper order.

15 November

We return, empty handed, but for my fine riflegun. Provisioning for the winter has been poorly done and yet, strangely we find ourselves well satisfied. We journeyed to the hunting grounds of Caintuckee to join with my dearest Mr. Mains for a hunt in Boone’s wilderness.

Upon our arrival, we found the entire Mains household rejoicing, for news had only just come from England of the birth of young master Henry Mains, brother to master Ronald, treasured son of Mr. Jason Mains. After much visiting, we set forth once more, traveling alongside the river toward Limestone and further onward toward Mr. Boone’s forests.

A snug rockhouse well known to myself and Mr. Mains was once more destined to be our shelter. Tucked up well, safe and dry, we found the small cache of fire wood left from our previous years hunt. After a scout to determine we were in no immediate danger from the wretched Shawnee, we set forth to hunt with purpose.

Though the scene was quite beautiful, the autumnal colors were not nearly as well defined as in years passed, what with the severe drought conditions experienced these many months, one could hardly expect the usual bursts of oranges, and fiery reds. Further, the confounded dryness caused nearly each and every step to be announced with much crackling and snapping of twigs, leaves and the heavy covering of mast. For though the previous year’s crop of acorns was dismal, a bumper crop now littered the forest floor. Hours quickly passed as we slipped through the trees accompanied only by squirrels, chipmunk and the occasional calling of crows.

Seeing very little sign of the deer we had thought to be prolific in the area, we separated for a few hours, each hunting as our preferences dictated. He, tracking and slipping shadowlike through the woods; I settling down beside a small, but well used pond.

Luck was surely not on our side and though the time was well spent, it proved entirely unproductive. As the sun dipped below the tree line, movement along the far knobs attracted our attention toward a small group of turkeys, too far off to assure a kill. Much discouraged, we returned empty handed to the coziness of our rockhouse.

A fire was struck, our blankets lain and our meager camp established. As we lay beneath the stars with a warm fire to ward off the chill of the fall air, my heart was much at peace. Clouds rushed over the face of the waxing gibbous moon and leaves danced in the moonlight. My dreams were soon filled with visions of grand stags and marvelous hunts.

Long before the new day’s sun breached the horizon Mr. Mains renewed the night’s fire bringing warmth and light by which we enjoyed keeping company and our simple meal of corn porridge, jerky and coffee. Much revived and refreshed, we set forth on the morning’s hunt.

The early hours had brought a bit of rain and a heavy wetness hushed our departure. Together, we retraced our steps toward those areas which had shown the most promise the day past.

I, to my small pond, only to find upon the dawn’s light a mighty buck had shown his midnight contempt at my encroachment upon his territory! An entire section of the scrub brush was much damaged; my adversary having left rubs and scrapes to clearly define this as his own! Undaunted, and somewhat encouraged, I rested aside a tree, huddled in my blanket with my fine riflegun at the ready. Mr. Mains, for his part investigated the surroundings to find similar signs, but no deer were willing to show themselves.

Once more we rejoined and giving in to our desires we found ourselves another rockhouse in which to rest. After climbing nearly straight up and into a very large rockhouse, a discovery of some merit was made. Hidden beneath a singularly placed piece of rock on a large slab of sandstone, was a hominy hole; made by ancestors of yore.

Running my fingers over the smoothness of the hole’s perimeter, thoughts of other women in this very place soaking corn into watered ashes and then beating it within the confines of this conical filled my mind, Further exploration showed defined areas for fire, gathering and sleeping. The majesty and sacredness of this experience was nearly overwhelming and we felt honored to have shared this space with our ancestors.

The remainder of our time together was much enjoyed, yet our purpose remained unfulfilled, and still no meat gained for our winter provision. And still, onward winter comes.