The Adirondack Guideboat-Raiders

Although the preferred length of a guideboat built in the 1800’s was 15 to 16 feet, guideboats of other sizes were built to the customer’s preference.  Quite a few guideboats were built with a length overall of 12 to 14 feet.  These boats were commonly called “Raiders”.  Lewis Grant, son of Dwight Grant, told Kenneth Durant that his “Father called all guideboats with bottom boards twelve feet or less Raiders, as they were used mostly by one or two men to make a raid on a distant, hard-to-get-to lake…or river spring hole and get some real fishing.”

Here is a Stoddard photo taken of the famous guide Alvah Dunning in what looks to be a Raider guideboat.

Guide Alvah Dunning in his Raider guideboat.
Guide Alvah Dunning in his Raider guideboat.  Photo was taken by Seneca Ray Stoddard about 1890l

Now Alvah was distinctly Adirondack.  His life was spent entirely in the Adirondack wilderness.  He was highly sought after as a guide and sustained himself by hunting and trapping.  By the time he was an old man in the 1890’s he had become quite a legend.

Abbie kindly sent me Alvah Dunning’s obituary which is quite revealing of his personality. It was published in The Syracuse Journal, March 12, 1902.  It reads as follows:

Famous Guide is Asphyxiated

Alvah J. Dunning inhaled illuminating gas


Often visited his sister in Syracuse, and is well known here—In the woods all his life

Alvah J. Dunning, the famous Adirondack guide and recluse, died from asphyxiation by inhaling illuminating gas at the Dudley house, Utica, Monday night.  The deceased was well known in Syracuse, where he often visited his sister.

The circumstances which surround his death give color to it being purely accidental.  He retired shortly after 8 o’clock Monday night and when the hotel clerk tried to arouse him yesterday morning escaping gas was discovered.  A half closed jet in Dunning’s room told the story.

Dunning was the last of the race of moose hunters of the Great North Woods.  There are now living Mitchell Sabbatis of Long lake, Sam Dunnigan of Fourth Lake, Fulton Chain, and “Old Mountain Phelps” of Keene Valley, the latter made famous by Charles Dudley Warner.

He was born near Piseco Lake, Hamilton County, about 86 years ago.  His birth was only four years after the first civilized person had ventured into the great wilderness to live.  He has lived in the woods ever since.

At the close of the war of 1812 Scout Dunning removed with his wife from the valley of the Mohawk into Lake Pleasant and Piseco lake country and there became famous as a trapper and hunter as he had been an Indian fighter.  He showed the stock he came from by starting in with his father as a hunter and trapper at the age of six years, so that for 80 years he followed such a life, a record that seems to be without a parallel.  It is said of him that he guided the first party of white hunters that ever sought the Raquette lake region for sport, although his was only 11 years old at the time and the region was then virtually unexplored.

Dunning remained in the vicinity of Piseco lake for many years and through that long term of struggle between Indians and native hunters which first characterized the development of the Fulton Chain country.

His first home on Raquette Lake was on Osprey Island, at present the magnificent summer home of J. H. Ladew of New York.  Later he removed to a log hut at the south shore of Raquette Lake, and there lived the characteristic life of a woodsman.

The authorities of the State of New York found him an aggressive squatter, who made game laws of his own and kept them as he saw fit.  To a certain extent Dunning was an outlaw, yet his violations were never prosecuted.  He had trouble with other hunters and trappers of the region who alleged that he stole from their traps.

Dunning sold his squatter’s rights to railroad officials for a handsome sum and his hut where he had entertained former President Grover Cleveland and other noted men, is now the site of a railroad station.

He then started on a long trail to the Rockies, thinking he could find solitude in the far west. In his eighty-fourth year he turned his back on the Adirondack mountains and set out for parts unknown.

The scout went to the Dakotas, where he found many wild and beautiful places.  After a time he became discontented and returned to the Adirondacks.  The venerable guide lost much of his vigor and it was predicted that he would die of a broken heart.

When he returned from the West he located on Golden beach on the northwest shore of Raquette Lake and had another hut on Silver Beach.  He fished and hunted and did a few little errands about the cabins of Collis P. Huntington, William West Durant, Lieutenant Governor Woodruff, J. Pierpont Morgan, and some of the others.  In the summer he made enough to maintain him throughout the winter.  But the winters were no long passed at Raquette Lake.  He devoted much time to travel.

Dunning was kind, steady and faithful and a pleasant companion, for he had an endless fund of stories.

Next time, more on Raiders and the most exquisite guideboat I have yet seen.

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