Nessmuck- A quite-by-chance finding

George Washington Sears, pen name Nessmuk.

I wrote a post not long ago about the Sairy Gamp, Nessmuk’s famous lightweight wooden canoe built by Rushton.  Nessmuk was George Washington Sear’s pen name and  it means wood duck in Native American parlance.  Sears was an outdoor’s journalist during the 1860’s and 70’s.  His fame became intimately tied to the Sairy Gamp because he used that tiny vessel to paddle all over the Adirondack lakes and ponds and report back on his many adventures.

Not long ago my friend Jon sent me a “look what I found” email.  Here is a photo of an original note handwritten by Sears in 1886.  It tumbled out of a book Jon was reading entitled Forest Runes.  As Jon writes “I am truly amazed that this hidden gem was locked away in the pages of  seemingly unread copy of Forest Runes.  Was it Reynold’s copy?  How did it end up in the city where I live?  And even more amazing that I lucked upon it.  It could have so easily ended up in the trash, someone not realizing what it was…”

Letter written by George Washington Sears in 1886.

Here is what is written in that letter:

“Friend Reynolds, yours of 13th is before me.  The two numbers of Porter’s Spirit which you mention, contain articles from my pen, which were printed in the spring and summer  of ’60, commencing Apr. 21st.  A serial story entitled “Life Notes of An Old Hunter.”  The “Hemlock Sketches” were published previously, and I thought them much better.  I still think so.  They were written from the shoulder, loose elbow, set trigger, and no hip nest.  But I have lost them.  If you can pick them up and like them, and they…”

The letter ends here, unfortunately, the other part was lost.

Jon continues, ” I wonder who Reynolds was?  The illustrator from Woodcraft I think was named Reynolds but I am not certain…Either way he is talking about a very early part of his writing career (1860) and he was writing for Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a sporting journal of the era.  Interesting that he compares two separate pieces of work and his preference of one over the other and why.  Fascinating! I must track down the articles themselves.

Jon does some further research about the publications Nessmuk was referencing.

“He contributed to Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a leading journal, published in New York City.  I love the title of this old magazine–“Porter’s Spirit of the Times, a Chronicle of of the Turf , Field Sports, Literature and the Stage, and inside the paper, heading the editorials–Porter’s Spirit of the Times, the American Gentleman’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 as 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 further addition be exceeding 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 could 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 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 a the”Hemlock Sketches”.  Nessmuk also wrote articles for “Forest and Stream”, “Outing”, “American Angler”, and other sporting journals.

Many thanks Jon, for this window into the past and a sense of just who Nessmuk was.


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