A Note to My Readers: Transcribing takes patience and focus and a dispassionate mood. On occasion I put my scientific mind in charge and take on the task. And then sometimes the technician and the romantic collide and it is a thing of great joy and revelation. Today I tackled an old monograph and sorted through some old images.
One of my favorite stories comes from “The Falls of Taughannock: Containing A Complete Description of this the HIGHEST FALL in the State of New York” compiled by Lewis Halsey and printed in 1844. Among lovely passages of prose and poetry dedicated to Taughannock Falls, it provides a rare glimpse into pioneer life as told by George Weyburn, the brother of my maternal 3rd great grandmother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll.
FIGHT WITH A BEAR AT TAUGHANNOCK. 29
The following simple yet graphic account of a fight with a bear in the ravine of Taughannock was contributed by Mr. George Weyburn to the “New York State Historical Collections,” published by John M. Barber and Henry Howe in 1844.
It is amusing to note what importance this old veteran gives to the least incident of the great “conflict,” which he describes with as much zeal and earnestness as if he were discoursing concerning a Waterloo, upon the issue of which the destinies of the world were depending.
His enumeration of the numbers, positions, and the arms of the combatants is worthy of a careful chro-
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nicler, and he is unable to conceal his joy when, after recommencing “the conflict,” his friends are at length left “masters of the field.”
“One Sunday evening in October, about forty-seven years ago, as my father, Mr. Samuel Weyburn , was returning from feeding his horse on the north side of the creek, near where the distillery now stands, his dog started up a bear and her two cubs. They followed their course up the hill on the south side of the creek until near the summit, a few rods above the mill-site fall, where the cubs took to a tree. My father ran to the house, and, having obtained his gun, pursued. Being directed by the barking of the dog, he passed about twenty rods beyond the tree in which the cubs were, and there he found the bear with her back against a tree, standing on the brink of a gulf, defending herself from the attacks of the dog.
“He fired, and, as it was afterward found, broke one of her fore-legs. The animal retreated into the gulf, and was seen no more that night.
“In the mean time my mother , brother , and myself, who had followed in the pursuit, came to the three in which the cubs had retreated, who, being frightened at the report of the gun and the sound of
FIGHT WITH A BEAR AT TAUGHANNOCK 31
our voices, began to cry ‘mam! mam!’ in the most affecting tones, strongly resembling the human voice.
“My mother having called my father, he shot the cubs and returned home. The next morning, my father thinking that he had either killed or severely wounded the animal, for the want of a better weapon, (having expended his only charge of powder the evening previous,) took a pitchfork, and proceeded in quest of the enemy, accompanied by myself and brother.
“I was armed with a small ax; but my brother, not being equipped for war, was allowed to accompany us bare-handed.
“Thus accoutered and followed by our dog, we proceeded to within about forty rods of the great fall, when my father, apprised of the nearness of the enemy by the barking of the dog, ran and left us in the rear.
“We soon came in sight of the bear and dog, who were passing from the left wall of the precipice across the basin to the right, and ascended almost to the perpendicular rock, a distance of eighty or one hundred feet.
“My father, climbing up lower down, was en-
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abled to intercept her passage in consequence of her broken limb.
“Here the action again commenced by his giving her three thrusts with the fork. The first and second were near the heart, the third struck her should-blade, when she turned upon him, and he met her with a thrust in her face, putting out one of her eyes with one prong and tearing her tongue with the other. She then rushed toward him, his feet gave way, and as he fell she caught him by the clothes near his breast.
“At this juncture he seized her and threw her below him. This he repeated two or three times in their descent toward the bottom of the ravine, during which she bit him in both his legs and in his arms. At the bottom, in the creek, lay a stone whose front was not unlink the front of a common cooking-stove, the water reaching to the top. Near this, four or five feet distant, stood a rock on the bank. Into this snug notch it was his good luck to throw his antagonist, with her feet and claws toward the rock in the stream. In this situation he succeeded in holding her, with his back to hers and braced between the rocks. With his left hand he
DURING HIGH WATER 33
held her by the back, and with his right held her by the neck, until I came up.
I struck her with all my might on the back with the ax. At this my father sprang from her and seized his fork. The bear turned toward us with a shake and a snort. I gave her a severe blow. She fell, but, recovering herself, endeavored to retreat. We recommenced the conflict, and ere long the life-less corpse of the animal proclaimed us masters of the field.
The victory was dearly bought. The blood was running in streams from my father’s hands, and from his limbs into his shoes.
On examination, he found that she had bitten him in each limb, inflicting four ugly wounds at each bite, besides a slit in his wrist, supposed to have been done by one of her claws.
THE TAUGHANNOCK HOUSE
Of note is the fact that one of biggest advertisers in the monograph was the Taughannock House which was located just opposite the falls. Its proprietor was one J. S. Halsey. No doubt the Halseys were not only promoting history, but this was a clever advertising piece to encourage patrons. The ad describes the accommodations with particular romance.
This favorite Hotel, having been this season enlarged, refitted, and refurnished, is now open for the accommodation of visitors.
All than can make a hotel attractive and interesting to tourists or pleasure-parties may here be found.
The Taughannock House is situated just opposite the Falls, two and one half miles from the village of Trumansburgh, and ten miles from Ithaca.
Cayuga Lake boats, touching four times per day at the landing near the Falls, connect with the New-York Central and the New-York and Erie Railroads. A carriage will be in readiness at the landing to convey visitors to the hotel.
The far-famed Cayuga offers ample accommodation to the sportsman for fishing and boating.
Being off from the line of direct communications with Atlantic cities, near the banks of the beautiful Cayuga, surrounded by a pure, clear, and bracing atmosphere, it presents peculiar inducements to travelers in search of healthful summer residence.
Particular attention will be give to orders for rooms during the summer.
J. S. HALSEY, Trumansburgh, New-York.
I visit Taughannock every summer…drawn to it with some kind of primitive urge I suppose. In my younger days I marveled at it as a geophysical wonder…my ‘pre-genealogy’ days if you will. After discovering the little publication a few years ago, I hike the 3/4 mile trail to the cataract pondering the tale of the fight with the bear all the while trying to calculate the location of the battle between my 4th great grandfather and the great bear. And so it goes with transcribing the passage, the technician is in a fierce struggle with the romantic…carefully and perfectly typing the words while my imagination plucks at my sleeve urging me to join the tale.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher