National Geographic : 1950 Jul
Down the Susquehanna by Canoe BY RALPH GRAY Illustrations by National Geographic PhotographerWalter Meayers Edwards N ATTY BUMPPO, the Deerslayer, pad dled cautiously southward on Otsego Lake's blue expanse to meet Chingach gook, his Indian ally. At Council Rock, their prearranged meet ing place, the redskin sprang onto the rock, jumped aboard, and the two friends swept away. Hostile Indians dropped from over hanging trees too late to harm the heroes of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales. More than two centuries later, our canoes Susque and Hanna nosed into Council Rock. Though no Indians remained to greet us, the place was fitting for the start of our Susque hanna canoe trip. A few feet away the river begins as Otsego's tiny outlet. From its central New York State source, the Susquehanna River zigzags across Pennsyl vania and empties after 444 crooked miles into Maryland's Chesapeake Bay (map, page 77). Our plan was to canoe this distance, plus certain tributaries, following in the wake of untold generations of red men.* Canoe "Expedition" Starts in Station Wagon Our Susquehanna River canoe "expedition" had begun in decidedly un-Indian style by "embarking" from Washington, D. C., in a station wagon. Soon the vehicle was cooling off in the shadows of steep hills surrounding "Glimmerglass," as Cooper called Otsego Lake. We made our first camp at Mohican Point on the west shore, and knew we had not ex pected too much of Otsego, for such beauty is hard to overrate (page 81). While Toppy (Walter Meayers Edwards) made his first of 1,200 photographs, our five self-styled "muscle men" busied themselves about camp. "You may have to look twice to see my muscles," said Alex Toth, our 230-pounder, "but I'm always ready to help, especially at mealtime." Harold Gray, my brother, and Caleb (Cay) Hathaway, whose canvas canoe Sonny was to make a third unit in our flotilla, had done the Potomac River with Toppy and me two years ago.t Dallett Hoopes and Donal Blakley supplied the youthful touch. Others who joined us later as vacation time ran out for the originals were Adolph Gude, Jr., Gilbert Gude, James Evans, Gordon Irvin, and James Douglass. Don, Dal, Toppy, and I went the whole distance. Easygoing Dal, a Haverford College junior, immediately made a hit with his elders by laughing heartily at all their jokes. Athletic Don, a University of Maryland freshman, regarded every activity as a test of strength. He was happiest at finding a hard way to do an easy job. "Muscles," "Bulges," "Mighty Joe Young" we called him. Also "GE," for his ability to make food disappear like a disposal unit. Even now, the active youngsters were out in Sonny disturbing Glimmerglass's reflections. Here young Deerslayer first matched wits with hostile Indians. Cooper wrote of Otsego because it was a spot he had known and loved from boyhood. Shortly after the Revolution, Judge William Cooper, an enlightened land promoter, founded Cooperstown, at the south end of Otsego Lake. In 1790 he brought his family, including year old James Fenimore, to the wilderness settle ment. After schooling and a career at sea and abroad, the novelist moved back to Coopers town. Fenimore House, on Otsego's west shore about half a mile north of the parklike village, is a stately modern Georgian stone mansion built on the site of Cooper's home. Now a museum, it houses the central quarters of the New York State Historical Association. Baseball's "Hall of Fame" Other Cooperstown museums are the Base ball Hall of Fame and that "rural Williams burg," the Farmers' Museum. In 1839, when every locality played its own version of "baseball," Abner Doubleday laid down at Cooperstown a diamond-shaped field, limited the number of players, and set up rules which helped standardize the national game. We launched our canoes at Mohican Point. Susque and Hanna knew water for the first time as their 18-foot aluminum hulls splashed into the lake. From the stern of Susque, the flagship, fluttered the colors of the National Geographic Society. "Maybe we should paddle the four miles into Cooperstown with baseball bats," Toppy suggested. * See "America's First Settlers, the Indians," by Matthew W. Stirling, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, November, 1937. t See "Down the Potomac by Canoe," by Ralph Gray, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1948.