It is a sad necessity that compels a man to speak often or much of himself. Most writers come to loathe the first person singular, and to look upon the capital I as a pronominal calamity. And yet, how can a man tell aught of himself without the “eternal ego?”

I am led to these remarks by a request of my publishers that I furnish some account of myself in issuing this little volume of verse. Readers who take an interest in the book will, as a rule, wish to know something of the Author’s antecedents, they think. It might also be thought that the man who has spent a large share of the summer and autumn months in the deep forests, and mostly alone for fifty years, ought to have a large stock of anecdote and adventure to draw on.

It is not so certain, this view of it. The average person is slow to understand how utterly monotonous and lonely is a life in the depths of a primal forest, even to the most incorrigible hunter. Few city sportsmen will believe, without practical observation, that a man may hunt faithfully in an unbroken forest for an entire week without getting a single shot, and one wet week, especially if it be cold and stormy, is usually enough to disgust him who has traveled hundreds of miles for an outing at much outlay of time and money.

And yet, this is a common experience of the most ardent still hunter.

In the gloomy depths of an unbroken forest there is seldom a song bird to be heard. The absence of small game is remarkable; and the larger animals, deer, bears, and panthers, are scarce and shy. In such a forest I have myself hunted faithfully from Monday morning till Saturday night, from daylight until dark each day, and at the end of the last day brought the old double-barreled muzzle loader into camp with the same bullets in the gun that I drove home on the first morning. And I crept stealthily through the thickets in still-hunting moccasins on the evening of the last day with as much courage and enjoyment as on the first morning. For I knew that, sooner or later, the supreme moment would come, when the black, satiny coat of a bear, or the game-looking “short-blue” coat of a buck would, for an instant, offer fair for the deadly bead.

And once, in a dry, noisy, Indian summertime, I am ashamed to say, I still-hunted 17 days without getting one shot at a deer. It was the worst luck I ever had, but I enjoyed the weather and the solitary camp-life. At last there came a soft November rain, the rustling leaves became like a wet rug, and the nights were pitch dark. Then the deer came forth from swamps and laurel brakes, the walking was almost noiseless, and I could kill all I could take care of.

It is only the born woods crank who can enjoy going to the depths of a lonely forest with a heavy rifle and stinted rations, season after season, to camp alone for weeks at a stretch, in a region as dreary and desolate as—Broadway on a summer afternoon in May.

It is only the descendants of Ananias who are always meeting with hair-breadth escapes and startling adventures on their hunting trips. To the practical, skilled woodsman, their wonderful stories bear the plain imprint of lies. He knows that the deep forest is more safe than the most orderly town; and that there is more danger in meeting one “bridge gang” than there would be in meeting all the wild animals in New York or Pennsylvania.

These facts will explain why I have so little to relate in the way of adventure, though my aggregate of camp-life, most of it alone, will foot up at least 12 years.

I can scarcely recall a dozen adventures from as many years’ outings, culled from the cream of fifty seasons. Incidents of woods life, and interesting ones, are of almost daily occurrence; and these, to the ardent lover of nature, form the attraction of forest life in a far greater degree than does the brutal love of slaughter for the mere pleasure of killing something just because it is alive.

Just here my literary Mentor and Stentor, who has been coolly going through my MSS., remarks sententiously, “Better throw this stuff into the stove and start off with your biography. That is what the Editor wants.” I answer vaguely, “Story? Lord bless you; I have none to tell, sir. Alas! there is so little in an ordinary, humdrum life that is worth the telling. And there is such a wilderness of biographies and autobiographies that no one cares to read.”

“Well, you’ve agreed to do it, you know, and no one is obliged to read it. It will make ‘filling’ any how; and probably that’s all the Editor wants.” Which is complimentary and encouraging.

“I must say it’s the toughest job of penwork I ever tackled: I don’t know how to begin.”

“Pooh! Begin in the usual way. Say you were born in the town of—”

“There’s where you’re out. I wasn’t born in any town whatever, but in what New Englanders call a ‘gore’—a triangular strip of land that gets left out somehow when the towns are surveyed. They reckon it in, however, when it comes to taxes; but it rather gets left on schools.”

“Ah, I can believe it. Well, fix it up to suit yourself. I suppose the Editor keeps a ‘balaam box.’”

Taking his leave and a handful of my Lone-Jack, C. saunters off to the village, and I am left to myself. Perhaps his advice is good. Let’s see how it will work on a send-off. For instance, I was born in a sterile part of sterile Massachusetts, on the border of Douglas Woods, within half a mile of Nepmug Pond, and within three miles of Junkamaug Lake. This startling event happened in the “South Gore,” about 64 years ago. I did not have a fair average start in life at first. A snuffy old nurse who was present at my birth was fond of telling me in after years a legend like this: “Ga-a-rge, you on’y weighed fo’ pounds when you wuz born, ’n’ we put ye inter a quart mug ’n’ turned a sasser over ye.”

I could have killed her, but I didn’t. Though I was glad when she died, and assisted at her funeral with immense satisfaction.

Junkamaug Lake is six miles long, with many bays, points, and islands, with dense thickets along its shores at the time of which I speak, and a plentiful stock of pickerel, perch and other fish. It was just the sort of country to delight the Indian mind; and here it was that a remnant of the Nepmug Indians had a reservation, while they also had a camp on the shores of Nepmug Pond, where they spent much time, loafing, fishing, making baskets, and setting snares for rabbits and grouse. They were a disreputable gang of dirty, copper-colored vagabonds, with little notion of responsibility or decency, and too lazy even to hunt.

There were a few exceptions, however. Old Ja-ha was past 90, and the head man of the gang. He really had a deal of the old-time Indian dignity; but it was all thrown away on that band of shiftless reprobates. There were two or three young squaws, suspiciously light of complexion, but finely formed and of handsome features. “I won’t go bail for any thing beyond.”

The word Nepmuk, or, as it is sometimes spelled, Nepmug, means Wood-duck. This, in the obsolete lingo of the once powerful Narragansetts. The best Indian of the band was “Injun Levi,” as the whites called him. He was known among his tribe as “Nessmuk;” and I think he exerted a stronger influence on my future than any other man. As a fine physical specimen of the animal man I have seldom seen his equal. As a woodsman and a trusty friend he was good as gold; but he could not change the Indian nature that throbbed in every vein and filled his entire being. Just here I can not do better than reproduce a sketch of him and his tribe which appeared in the columns of Forest and Stream in December, 1881. I will add that Junkamaug is only a corruption of the Indian name, and the other names I give as I had them from the Indians themselves:

“…And I remain yours sincerely, Nessmuk, which means in the Narragansett tongue, or did mean, as long as there were any Narragansetts to give tongue, Wood-duck, or rather, Wood-drake.

“Also, it was the name of the athletic young brave, who was wont to steal me away from home before I was five years old, and carry me around Nepmug and Junkamaug lakes, day after day, until I imbibed much of his woodcraft, all his love for forest life, and alas, much of his good-natured shiftlessness.

“Even now my blood flows faster as I think of the rides I had on his well-formed shoulders, a little leg on either side of his neck, and a death-grip on his strong, black mane; or rode, ‘belly-bumps’ on his back across old Junkamaug, hugging him tightly around the neck, like a selfish little egotist that I was. He tire? He drown? I would as soon have thought to tire a wolf or drown a whale. At first, these excursions were not fairly concluded without a final settlement at home—said settlement consisting of a head-raking with a fine-toothed comb that left my scalp raw, and a subsequent interview, of a private nature, with ‘Par’ behind the barn, at which a yearling apple tree sprout was always a leading factor. (My blood tingles a little at that recollection too.)

“Gradually they came to understand that I was incorrigible, or, as a maiden aunt of the old school put it, ‘given over;’ and, so that I did not run away from school, I was allowed to ‘run with them dirty Injuns,’ as the aunt aforesaid expressed it.

“But I did run away from school, and books of the dry sort, to study the great book of nature. Did I lose by it? I can not tell, even now. As the world goes, perhaps yes. No man can transcend his possibilities.

“I am no believer in the supernatural: mesmerism, spiritualism, and a dozen other ’isms are, to me, but as fetish. But, I sometimes ask myself, did the strong, healthy, magnetic nature of that Indian pass into my boyish life, as I rode on his powerful shoulders, or slept in his strong arms beneath the soft whispering pines of ‘Douglas Woods?’

“Poor Nessmuk! Poor Lo! Fifty years ago the remnant of that tribe numbered thirty-six, housed, fed and clothed by the state. The same number of Dutchmen, under the same conditions, would have over-run the state ere this.

“The Indians have passed away forever; and, when I tried to find the resting place of my old friend, with the view of putting a plain stone above his grave, no one could point out the spot.

“And this is how I happen to write over the name by which he was known among his people, and the reason why a favorite dog or canoe is quite likely to be called Nessmuk.”

The foregoing will partly explain how it came that, ignoring the weary, devious roads by which men attain to wealth and position, I became a devotee of nature in her wildest and roughest aspects—a lover of field sports—a hunter, angler, trapper, and canoeist—an uneducated man, withal, save the education that comes of long and close communion with nature, and a perusal of the best English authors.

Endowed by nature with an instinctive love of poetry, I early dropped into the habit of rhyming. Not with any thought or ambition to become a poet; but because at times a train of ideas would keep waltzing through my head in rhyme and rhythm like a musical nightmare, until I got rid of measure and metre by transferring them to paper, or, as more than once happened, to white birch bark, when paper was not to be had.

I never yet sat down with malice prepense to rack and wrench my light mental machinery for the evolution of a poem through a rabid desire for literary laurel. On the contrary, much of the best verse I have ever written has gone to loss through being penciled on damp, whitey-brown paper or birch bark, in woodland camps or on canoeing cruises, and then rammed loosely into a wet pocket or knapsack, to turn up illegible or missing when wanted. When

“I looked in unlikely places
Where lost things are sure to be found,”

and found them not, I said, all the better for my readers, if I ever have any. Let them go with the thistle down, far a-lee. (The rhymes, not the readers.)

I trust that the sparrow-hawks of criticism, who delight equally in eulogising laureates and scalping linnets, will deal gently with an illiterate backwoodsman who ventures to plant his moccasins in the realms of rhyme. Maybe they will pass me by altogether, as

“A literary tomtit, the chickadee of song.”

There must be a few graybeards left who remember Nessmuk through the medium of Porter’s Spirit of the Times, in the long ago fifties; and many more who have come to regard him kindly as a contributor to Forest and Stream. If it happens that a thousand or so of these have a curiosity to see what sort of score an old woodsman can make as an off-hand, short-range poet, it will be a complimentary feather in the cap of the author,


Wellsboro, Pa., Oct. 9th, 1886Geo. W. Sears