Submitted by PHGS member Pam Davis

Many incidents, some of a comic and others of a more pathetic nature, occurred in all these settlements during the first quarter of the present century.  The old historians of the taverns, the participants and witnesses of these scenes, have nearly all passed away, and the following are recounted as illustrative of pioneer life in the wild woods of Cattaraugus sixty years ago.

     The old revolutionary hero, JOHN FARRAR , in passing through the woods in the north part of the town, discovered a bear ascending a large hollow tree, and watched him until he had disappeared inside; then hurrying to the Corners, a dozen men and boys, and as many dogs were gathered together, and marched upon BRUIN’S quarters.   Arriving there the tree was surrounded, and then began a loud and contradictory discussion, as to the means to be employed to encompass the bear and destroy him. Whether the tree should be cut down, or whether they should endeavor to drive him out by loud noise, etc., etc. Meanwhile BRUIN had concluded to change his base, and emerging from his hiding-place had backed down to within about 12 feet of his enemies, before being discovered.  The next moment he dropped, or rather rolled right among them, like a huge black ball.  The snarling, yelling pack closed upon him, but rising upon his haunches, he shook them off, and then, while cuffing them to the right and left, began his retreat to a swamp near by.   The hunters dared not shoot for fear of killing their dogs, which were valuable in those days.  BRUIN finally escaped unharmed.   The ludicrous termination of this bear-hunt was the subject for much merriment among the rollicking, boisterous frequenters of the neighborhood taverns, and the participators did not hear of the last of it for many a day thereafter.

     But DANIEL VAUGHN was more successful as a bear-hunter.   At an early day he was the owner of two cows, and traded them for a dog.   This was considered by his neighbors as a very poor trade, but VAUGHN was fully equal to the vocation he had chosen, and the following winter, with his dog, rifle, and spear (a weapon he extemporized by affixing an old bayonet to a stout pole), killed fifteen bears, and earned more money than would then have been the value of several cows.

     Indeed, may of the first settlers of Machias and Yorkshire paid for their land with money received as bounty for the killing of noxious animals.

     In the fall of 1823 three daughters of GEORGE ARNOLD ranging from ten to seventeen years of age, started out one pleasant Sunday morning in quest of wintergreen-berries.   They did not intend to go farther than half a mile from the house, but, after entering the woods, lost their way, and began wandering.   Go whichever direction they would, it was all, all wilderness;   no opening could be found.  As they did not return at dinner-time, their people became alarmed, and began to halloo for them, but got no answer.  In the afternoon search was begun by a few neighbors their numbers constantly increasing as the news spread through the settlements that lost children were in the woods. Night-fall came, and still no tidings of the lost ones.    A drenching rain-storm set in, and the search was discontinued except by two men, who volunteered to remain out all the night and listen for any unusual sound or cry of distress.  By this time the search had been carried over into Ashford, three or four miles northwest of MR. ARNOLD’S house.  Late in the night, these two men heard a cry as if of a female or a panther, they could not determine which, but concluded not to investigate further until morning.   They then proceeded to a settler’s house in Dutch Hollow, and remained till daylight.

     The following day a militia company were to meet at Machias Corners for training.   They assembled early, and, learning of the lost children, postponed their contemplated military evolutions and joined in the search.   At daybreak the two men who had been out through the night sought the locality from whence proceeded the cry of the night before, and there away up on a high bluff, near the creek, were found the girls, shivering with hunger, cold, and fear, but otherwise unharmed.

     They had walked the woods and called for help all through the long night.   Once they passed very near and disturbed some animals, which they described as making a noise like little pigs.   These no doubt, were young cubs.  Although this happened fifty years ago, the girls (now quite elderly ladies) were all here to-day, viz., MRS. CHESTER ASHCRAFT and MRS. NATHAN ASHCRAFT of Machias, andMRS. MERCY READ , of Arcade.

The above information was obtained from the History of Cattaraugus County, New York by L. H. EVERTS, 1879.

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Last Update February 2, 2020