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Bierstadts Cover

My father was a trapper and my mother was an American Indian. We lived in comfort and peace due to the natural skills of my parents. It was a strange time for the Adirondack Mountains. One foot was in the past and the other in the future. That was when I first met Edward Bierstadt. He had just arrived at Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks. If my memory is still as good as it was back then I believe it was in the late spring of 1874.

The “sports’’ from New York City had discovered our haunting yet beautiful mountains. The sports were rich people who wished to have a week of successful hunting or fishing. The natives of the Adirondacks were successful at it because we knew the mountains. If we guided them the sports could also be successful. They had money, those sports did. And there were business men who were starting to nose around these old mountains. The sports were attacking us from our southern front; out of Utica. The business men were advancing from the east; Albany.

Edward Bierstadt had been hired by the scion of the Durant family, William West Durant. William was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1850. He attended schools in England and Germany. At 24, his father summoned him home from Egypt to help develop the central Adirondacks for tourism.

Dr. Thomas Durant, Williams father, was responsible for the completion the eastern half of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Dr. Durant also formed the Adirondack Company in 1863 from the remnants of the Sackets Harbor and Saratoga Railroad Company, which owned 500,000 acres of the central Adirondacks.

Edward Bierstadt was hired by William Durant to photograph and write a book about the Adirondacks. William Durant had heard of Edward’s brother Albert who was a photographer and artist. Albert had become famous for his depictions of the natural beauty of the west. That was before it became severely populated. Albert was not available for the project. Edward’s work was more than sufficient for William’s need. Edward’s photography and engraving capabilities were as well-known as his brother Albert’s artistic abilities.

Sorry about all that information. The context, to me anyway, seems to somehow be more important than the story. However, let me get on with the story.

I liked Edward Bierstadt. He was friendly and saw the Adirondacks in their natural way. Maybe a better way to say that is that he saw the Adriondacks the way that God meant them to be seen. Bierstadt could erase the sports and the progress, if you could call it that, from the mental image he was assembling of these old mountains. He worked day and night to get the correct image. Often he would not get back to his tent until sunrise.

Edward would often ask me to show him interesting places. We would hike up to Wallface Mountain or places like Blue Mountain Lake. Edward fell in love with the Adirondacks but William Durant kept his feet to the fire. William’s father, Thomas, constantly pressured William. Therefor William pressured Edward to finish the book. The book had to be completed well before the tourist lodges were complete. Edward Bierstadt’s book was to be used to attract sports and tourists to the Adirondacks.

Edward Bierstadt and I became close friends. After the book was finished we found time to go fishing and hunting far away from the sports. One winter he stayed with my father and I in a trapping cabin. We had a trap line on the headwaters of the Moose River. The three of us stayed out there for three months. Edward would often walk the trap lines with us but we never knew when we would lose him. If he saw a scene that he liked he would pull out a sketchpad and some pencils to capture it. He always seemed to catch up with us though.

Edward seemed to really like living in our little ten foot by ten foot cabin. Maybe he just liked getting back into a heated building. Or maybe he had been thinking about the pot of wildlife stew that hung over the embers in the stone fireplace. That stew hung there for three months. Every day we would add to it from our trappings. At night we would subtract from it with our hunger. Trapping sure did burn up a lot of energy.

Edward would come and visit us from time to time. Our friendship lasted for years. Mother would always ask “When will we see that nice Bierstadt boy again.” She never thought of him as a grown up man. Maybe it was because she loved pampering him whenever he visited.

Tahawas and Tomosky c