- Historic Sites
They went to the woods with rod and gun—and gloves, servants, caviar, and champagne
October/November 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 6
Comfort in camp, Hallock advised, should be every hunter’s “main business.” In sleeping, “No more cover should be used than will keep the body at natural heat.… Keep your feet to the fire, but don’t let them burn.” Coffee grounds, said Hallock, are “very useful to keep fish fresh.… [Sprinkle] thickly into the belly and mouth … the more grounds used to each fish the better.” In walking, he urged the sportsman always to run his eye along the trail “at least a rod in advance.” And he favored the use of one’s felt hat in drinking from forest pools, for if one sipped the water while lying flat on the stomach, there was “a real danger of swallowing living creatures that may possibly cause serious difficulty afterwards.”
Hallock’s bible also provided what may well have been the first comprehensive directory of “principal resorts for fish and game” in North America. Not surprisingly, it found little to recommend in the West. Of New Mexico, for example, Hallock reported that “The greater portions of the entire territory … are occupied by vast sterile plains [and]… are subject to the incursions of the Apaches.… for the sportsman, New Mexico has few attractions.”
Hallock’s Atlantic seaboard constituents, in any event, were not much attracted to any part of the West. A few, such as George Bird Grinnell, Hallock’s successor as editor of Forest and Stream , did cross the Plains to the Rockies and beyond in quest of big game; and later, Theodore Roosevelt would write glowing reports of sporting under the big sky. But for the most part, the Eastern gentry looked to its own backyard. And with good reason. The Dakotas were infested with ruffians and louts, but only gentlemen went afield in the Adirondacks.
Of all the popular fish and game “resorts,” the Adirondack region of New York surely reigned as number one during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Though its woods were no wilder than northern Maine’s, they possessed a singular physiographic advantage found nowhere else in the East (with the sole exception, on a smaller scale, of Maine’s Rangeley Lakes district). The advantage was a vast network of interconnected lakes and streams navigable by pirogue and guideboat. One could travel for miles without soiling the collar or blistering the feet. The gentry then was not much enamored of tramping.
For the first generation of sportsmen, it might be said that the Adirondacks were discovered in 1869 by William Henry Harrison Murray, a Boston clergyman with strong faith in the recuperative power of balsam-scented air and a certain flair for fact mixed with fiction. In the spring of that year—on or about April Fool’s Day, according to one chronicler—there appeared in the bookstalls of Boston and New York a thin volume by Murray entitled Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks . By whatever standard best sellers were measured in those days, Murray’s opus was soon among them. By June, the stampede was on as readers rushed from their city homes and offices to book passage to Murray’s “Sportsmen’s Paradise.”
There was much sensible information in Murray’s book. He emphasized simplicity of dress: stout pantaloons, a felt hat, and buckskin gloves were de rigueur , and for the ladies, a “net of fine Swiss mull … to slip over the head … and you can laugh defiance at the mosquitoes.…” He listed as necessary provisions only coffee, tea, sugar, pepper, potatoes, pork, and condensed milk, for the staples would be venison and trout. He urged caution in the selection of guides: “With an ignorant guide you will starve; with a lazy one you will lose your temper.” He described the alternate routes of access; one was by rail to Lake Champlain, by steamer to Port Kent, by coach to Keeseville, whence, by whatever mode available, one traveled fifty miles over a plank road to Martin’s Hotel on the Lower Saranac. And all manner of sporting, wrote Murray, was “easy and romantic.” A mixture of sweet oil and tar would fend off biting insects. As for other troublesome critters, there were none to fear: “Now, fortunately, the panther is almost wholly unknown in this region.”
Murray, however, was not content with guidebook prose. Fiction began to overtake fact. There were incredible waterfalls which Murray and his trusty guide had shot in their boat; there were “a thousand lakes, many yet unvisited”; there was a “Nameless Creek” where pairs of two-pound trout leapt to the cast of every fly. Readers who hastened to the mountains found no undiscovered lakes or nameless creeks; nor did they find the sporting that easy and romantic. But the disenchanted, dubbed “Murray’s Fools” by a mocking press, in short time were replaced in the woods by a sizable cadre of sophisticated sportsmen who could wink at the author’s tall tales and still be grateful for the rest of it. In fact, Murray had been far more accurate about the Adirondacks than most of the writers of his day. One J. T. Headley, for example, claimed in 1849 that Tahawus (Mt. Marcy) was the second highest mountain “in the Union”; it actually measures 5,344 feet.