|The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933 firstname.lastname@example.org|
He says: 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. This startling event happened in the South Gore, 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. I did not have a fair average start in life at first. A stuffy 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 waz born, ‘n’ we put ye into 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.”
Near this South Gore a remnant of Indians had a reservation. Nessmuk, which means in the Narragansett tongue Wooddrake, was the name of an athletic young brave who, our Nessmuk says: “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 and all his lore of forest life. 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.
But gradually they came to understand that I was, as 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 a dry sort, to study the great book of Nature. Did I lose by it? I cannot tell, even now. But I sometimes ask myself, did the strong, healthy magnetic nature of the 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?
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 Forest and Stream magazine for June 26, 1890, printed this item:
“The Webster, Mass. Times records the death, at the age of 88, of Miss Mary Jaha, the last member of the once great tribe of Nipmuks. The Nipmuks were the Indians celebrated by “Nessmuk” and among whom he first imbibed that taste for a woods life which became his lifelong passion. It is a curious and striking commentary upon possible far-reaching influence of even the humblest individual, that thousands of readers of a journal of today should have owed the pleasure found in the writings of one of its contributors to the chance impress upon his character of an illiterate woods hunting Indian in the forests of Massachusetts more than half a century ago.”
Not long after this the family moved to Brockport, NY and then on to Wellsboro. I could not find the exact date, but it was about 100 years ago. Peter Shumway, one of the first settlers on Shumway Hill and for whom the hill was named, was my great-grandmother’s brother. And when my father, Charles W. Sears, and his brother, George were small boys, they often heard their father and mother talking about Uncle Peter Shumway who had gone to Pennsylvania and settled near a small village called Wellsboro. They also said that sometime they might go out where Uncle Peter was, he has written that there was good hunting and fishing in the vicinity and the county offered many opportunities for settlers. So this is how my father’s family came to know about and finally move to Wellsboro.
There were eight children, five boys and three girls. Nessmuk was the oldest and my father next. These two were always very near and dear to each other. Grandfather Sears was a shoemaker, and taught all of his sons the same trade. In those early days this meant not only the mending of shoes but also the making of them. Boots, which most of the men wore at that time, were a specialty of the trade. I can remember about my father and his brothers making boots for the older men who did not like to change their style of footwear.
All the brothers loved the woods and the ways of Mother Nature. My father did not care so much for hunting but he loved to fish and went on what was to be his last fishing trip, only about two weeks before his death, which occurred on June 11, 1887.
Grandmother Sears was a great reader and loved good books. As long as she lived her mind was alert, she read the papers, kept up with the events of the day and could talk very intelligently on many subjects. She taught her children to follow in her footsteps, and it was her influence which inspired their love of reading books of worth. The older children were self-educated as they never had the advantages of much schooling. My father and his brother, George especially liked poetry, and early in life George fell into the habit of putting his thoughts into verse.
They all were, as we say, “full of fun.” How they did enjoy playing jokes on each other! Many of Nessmuk’s writings are full of a dry humor. You will have noticed this in his account of his birth. They all had nicknames, my father was “The Deacon,” George was called “Bacchus,” Edwin was the “Doc’ and Henry was “Pinky.” I have forgotten the nicknames given to Loren, and to the oldest girl, Delia, but Hannah was “Peg” and Ellen was called “Snip.”
George was known to all his relatives and friends as Bacchus. He was always Uncle Bacchus to me. My father was, for many years, proprietor of a shoe store in Wellsboro. In the back part of this store he and his brothers had their cobbling benches. I can remember standing by the benches, when a very small child, and watching them work. Uncle Bacchus also had a work bench in his own home on Central avenue. This house set far back from the street, near where Morris Creek crosses the avenue. A few years ago it was moved down nearer the street and remodeled into a very nice dwelling. Harry Robbins now owns and lives in this house.
When the war between the states broke out, Nessmuk enlisted in Company 1 of the old Bucktails and served from April to August, when he was discharged on account of a sprained foot. His brothers Edwin and Henry, also enlisted in the army. Edwin was captured by Confederate forces and died in a southern prison. Henry received an honorable discharge. As he never married and therefore had no immediate family to care for him in his last days, he finally entered the Bath Soldiers’ Home, where he died.
During his life, Nessmuk spent much time in the Adirondack mountains, in Minnesota, Florida and Brazil.
He contributed to Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a leading sporting journal, published in New York City. I love the title of this old magazine -- “Porter’s Spirit of the Times, A Chronicle of the Turf, Field Sports, Literature, and the Stage,” and inside the paper, heading the editorials -- “Porter’s Spirit of the Times, the American Gentlemen’s Newspaper.” It has been my privilege to see a bound copy of these papers for the year 1860. They contain a series of articles by Nessmuk called “Hemlock Sketches.” They are very interesting, being descriptive of the country and stories of camping, fishing and hunting trips, told a only Nessmuk could tell them. I simply must quote from one -- “we come to what looks like a thick brake of low laurel; it is not, however, but a thick border of laurel encircling an immense rock. I part the laurel and stepping through, bid my companion to follow and admire. We are on ‘Painter Rock,’ the most enchanting spot in all the region round about, and, as a specimen of landscape planting, not excelled by anything I have ever seen, at least on so small a scale. The rock is an irregular oblong square about 100 feet in length by 80 feet in breadth, has a gentle descent to the southwest, and is very slightly oval; it is surrounded on every side by a thick mass of laurel, is nearly covered with moss and lichens and would without farther addition, be exceedingly interesting, and even romantic. It happens, however, that the whole surface is divided into little squares and compartments by dense hedges of dwarf hemlock, appearing at first glance, to have no other root than the surface of the rock. On close examination, these beautiful little pyramidal evergreens are found to be firmly rooted in fissures and cracks, which cross and intersect each other with considerable regularity, giving an air of romantic beauty.” This rock is on the steep hillside in the vicinity of Texas [Lycoming County]. But the growth of hemlocks, laurel and mosses that made it so interesting has probably greatly changed in the last 82 years. Even so, I wish I might visit the spot.
The Spirit of the Times also printed this same year, a serial story by Nessmuk entitled “Life Notes of an Old Hunter.” Many of Nessmuk’s friends thought this was his own life history, but he says it is the story of the life of an old forest ranger, as he told it to Nessmuk during a long winter hunt in the North. Personally, I do not think it as interesting as the Hemlock Sketches. Nessmuk also wrote articles for “Forest and Stream,” “Outing,” “American Angler” and other sporting journals.
His little book “Woodcraft,” is dedicated to the “Grand Army of Outers,” as a pocket volume of reference on woodcraft.
I mentioned before about his book of poems -- “Forest Runes.” John of the Smithy is considered his best poetical work, and was published in the Atlantic Monthly when James Russell Lowell was editor of the magazine.
Among Nessmuk’s papers is a letter from James Whitcomb Riley, who wrote and published an ole to “Nessmuk.”
In 1871 George Sears was employed as a writer upon the Wellsboro Agitator. But the close application to work was distasteful to him and he resumed his old trade, taking long outings every summer. His son, Charles R, Sears, wrote to one of his father’s admirers - “My father loved the flag and nature. He loved music and played the violin, He loved dogs and owned some famous deer dogs when is was legal. One of them, Old Nigger, followed an old buck from the Pine Creek region clear to St. Mary’s [7- miles], and was recognized and returned to him by rail to Tioga and from there by stage to Wellsboro. [Right here I want to tell you that there is a poem in Forest Runes, called “My Hound.” It is about this same “Old Nigger”].
“At the time the Michigan and southern Railroad was building he had a contract to furnish meat for the camps. He employed Chippewas to help him and used them so fair that they made him an honorary member of the tribe and elected him sub-chief.”
We are told and can well believe, that there were a great many interesting incidents in the life of Nessmuk. One is deserving of mention. He paddled his canoe down the Hudson River to New York, made a landing, carried it and his “duffle” to Central Park, pitched his tent on the shore of an artificial lake and went into camp, just for the fun of it. He was promptly arrested by the park guards, who were amazed and interested in his outfit. When he was taken before a magistrate and the matter explained, the Judge was only too glad to let him go. His canoe the “Sairy Gamp,” which he used in a voyage of 550 miles alone in the Adirondacks in 1880, was part of the Forest and Stream exhibit at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and was turned over to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, where it still may be seen properly labeled among the exhibits.
Many different organizations have been named in honor of Nessmuk, among them “Nessmuk Circle” of Boy Scout Troop No. 12, of Wilkes-Barre. A sportsman’s club in Worchester, Mass., called the “The Nessmuks.” The men of this club knew Nessmuk only through his contributions to Forest and Stream. I do not know if the club is still in existence. The “Nessmuk Rod and Gun Club” of Wellsboro, E.H. Green suggested naming this organization in honor of Nessmuk.
The Wellsboro High School’s year book is called “The Nessmuk”, in his honor. This name was given to the school magazine in 1930. Before that date it , as you all know, had been called “The Rambler.”
The queer shaped mountain peak near Strait Run, one of Nessmuk’s favorite camping sites was named Mt. Nessmuk in his remembrance. This was suggested by the late William L. Shearer, friend and admirer of Nessmuk, and Paul H. Mulford, States Forester, both of Wellsboro. The State Geographic Board acquiesced in the idea and a marker was erected on Route 6. This was destroyed in an automobile accident, several years ago, but we who are interested hope some day it will be replaced. Often a very clear reflection of this mountain may be seen in the still waters of Marsh Creek. It is located in Shippen township opposite the old Marsh Creek railroad station.
In August of 1857, George W. Sears married Miss Mariette Butler, to
them three children were born, two daughters and a son.
|During one of Nessmuk’s sojourns in Florida he was seized with malaria,
from which he never recovered. He died May 1, 1890, at his home on Central
avenue, and was buried in his own yard, neath hemlock planted by his own
hand. However he was not to remain there long and now lies in the Wellsboro
cemetery, where his grave is marked by a sandstone boulder surmounted by
a bronze relief of his benign features. It was the gift of thousand of
his readers who had known him only through Forest and Stream, and when
that journal gave opportunity for them to contribute to his memorial, the
money poured in from every point of the compass, showing how widely he
was read and how greatly esteemed.
After the death of Nessmuk there appeared from time to time, in Forest and Stream letters from subscribers telling of their grief for his death and their admiration of his writings. There were also two poems in his honor, The letters were from the following places - Worcester, Mass., Trenton, NJ. Ferrisburg, Vt., Tarpon Springs, Florida, Charleston, NH, one from Capt. L.S. Beardslee of the U.S.N., and one from England, while the magazine, itself had a long editorial in his honor.
Nessmuk’s widow survived him for 35 years, dying at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Jennie Boucher, on Galeton, on December 4, 1925, at the advanced age of 93 years.
Photo of Nessmuk's grave by Joyce M. Tice September 2008
There are many more interesting facts that could be told about the life
of George W. Sears, “Nessmuk,” but this paper is already too long and I
will close by reciting three poems from his book, Forest Runes.----Mazie
Sunrise in the Forest
The zephyrs of morning are stirring the larches,
And, lazily lifting, the mist rolls away.
A pecan of praise thro’ the dim forest arches
Is ringing to welcome the advent of day,
Is loftily ringing,
From the height where a little brown songster is clinging.
The top of a hemlock, the uttermost spray.
I have an attic not city made,
Nor far removed from the fresh green earth,
Strewn with the tools of a manly trade,
And guns, and fiddles, and books of worth.
A narrow window looks toward the town,
Where, shown by waves of the summer breeze,
Are checkered glimpses of white and brown.
Preparing thro’ maple and linden trees.
A little brook that murmurs and flows,
A little garden of well tilled land,
And trees, not standing in stiff, straight rows,
All planed and pruned by the owner’s hand.
Lovingly tended, thriftily grown,
With many a quaint, odd crook and trend
I know their names as I know my own,
And every tree is a personal friend.
At the first faint glimmer on rock and tree
I rise, with the earliest blue-birds’ trill,
‘Tis a freak of mine; and I like to see
The sunshine break on Losinger Hill;
For I like him best in his morning face,
Untired with the daily race he runs;
And I’m sometimes sad when he yields his place
To the winds of night and the lesser suns.
I ply the thread and the brightened awl
To the runes that the woodland thrushes sing;
And the plash of a tiny waterfall
Keeps merry time to the lapstone’s ring.
And little I reck, as I shape the sole,
Of scanty clothing or empty purse.
I sing the ballad, of old King Cole,
Or wear my leisure on simple verse.
The man of millions shall pass away,
His wealth divided, himself forgot.
But better one leaf of deathless bay
Than all the riches that rust and rot.
And at rare, odd times, in the better moods,
Some rustic verses to me are born
That may live, perchance, in their native woods
As long as the crows that pull the corn.
I’ve watched that trout for days and days,
I’ve tried him with all sorts of tackle;
With flies got up in various ways,
Blue, red, green, gray and silver-hackle.
I’ve tempted him with angle-dogs,
And grubs, that must have been quite trying,
Thrown deftly in betwixt old logs,
Where probably, he might be lying.
Sometimes I’ve had a vicious bite
And as the silk was tautly running,
Have been convinced I had him, quite;
But, ‘twasn’t him; he was too cunning.
I’ve tried him, when the golden moon
Shone on my dew-bespangles trowsers,
With dartfish; but he was “too soon”---
Though, sooth to say, I caught some rousers;
And sadly viewed the ones I caught,
They loomed so small and seemed so poor,
‘Twas finding pebbles where one sought
A gem of price --- a Kohinoor.
I’ve often weighed him [with my eyes],
As he with most prodigious flounces,
Rose to the surface after flies,
[He weighs four pounds and seven ounces.]
I tried him-- heaven absolve my soul--
With some outlandish, heathenish gearing--
A pronged machine stuck on a pole --
A process that the boys call spearing.
I jabbed it at his dorsal fin
Six feet beneath the crystal water--
‘Twas all too short. I tumbled in,
And got half drowned - just as I’d orter.
He haunts my waking thoughts by day.
In dreams, at night when I am sleeping.
I see him dash the crystal spray
In silvery showers where he is leaping.
Adieu, O trout of marvelous size,
Then piscatorial speckled wonder,
Bright be the waters where you rise,
And green the banks you cuddle under.
P.S. I hug this comfort to my heart,
[As he won’t bite, and I can’t make him,
And scorns my piscatorial art],
There ca-a-a-n’t no other feller take him!
This is a book of poetry by George Washington Sears "Nessmuk". It even has a picture of the gentleman. 3 of the poems are with one of the articles by Mazie Sears Bodine.