A Maple Sugar Camp In The Wilderness





Selecting a stout limb for his purpose, Ree set to work to cut and trim

it, making a short, heavy club. He believed that if he should jump

suddenly down among the wolves, their surprise would be so great as to

keep them away for perhaps a second--long enough to permit him to seize

his rifle, and again fight his way into the tree. As he trimmed the thick

branch, however, an increasing danger presented itself. The unusual

howling of the pack and the scent of blood were attracting other wolves

to the spot. Before his club was ready, he had counted seven newcomers

galloping through the snow to join their blood-thirsty brothers.



To put his life in peril by jumping down among so many of the fierce

creatures was to run a greater risk than Ree thought wise; but his

fertile brain presented a new plan. He partially split one end of his

club and securely bound the handle of the knife in the opening thus made,

with strips of buckskin cut from his clothing. In this way he made a

strong but cumbersome spear, and holding to the lowest branch of the

tree, he leaned far down and stabbed and slashed at every wolf within

reach.



Several were wounded and their yelps of pain and rage were added to the

hideous, hungry cries of the others. Again and again the bold boy cut and

thrust as the wolves kept coming within his reach. The snow was dyed with

blood. For half an hour the battle was carried on.



At last by a lucky stroke Ree gave one of the howling mass beneath him so

deep a cut across the neck, that it sprang but a few yards away and fell

dead, its head half cut off. At once the others pounced upon the wolf's

body, tearing it to pieces, scrambling and fighting in a most horrible

manner.



Now was Ree's chance. He leaped quickly to the ground and seized his

blood-stained rifle; in another moment he would have been safe. But he

was so chilled--so stiff from the cold, that he missed his hold when

first he sprang to catch the lowest branch, and before he could try

again, a monstrous gray wolf dashed toward him. With a hungry howl, its

jaws dripping blood, it launched itself through the air, straight for

Ree's throat.



With wonderful nerve the boy stood his ground. He did not falter, nor

hesitate. He met the hot-mouthed, vicious brute, his rude spear clasped

in both hands, and drove the blade deep in its shaggy shoulder. With an

almost human shriek and ferocity the wolf sprang sidewise under the

impulse of the steel's sharp thrust, and the spear quivering in its

flesh, was jerked from the boys' hands.



Ree's first impulse was to run in pursuit, as the wolf dashed into the

woods, to recover his knife; but in an instant the whole pack was upon

him again, having made short work of their cannibal-like feast, and only

by the greatest dexterity was he able again to seize his rifle and climb

to safety, ere they reached him.



"Now some of you will smart!" the half-frozen boy exclaimed, and he

clenched his teeth in righteous anger. Shot after shot he poured into the

blood-thirsty brutes, and watched with horror as those remaining alive

pounced upon the dying ones. Four wolves he killed and two he wounded,

then sat still awhile to catch his breath and scrutinize the dozen

animals remaining, to see whether the one in whose body his knife had

been carried off, was there. He did not see it, though the twilight gloom

was now dispelled by bright moonlight. So, soon he resumed the terrible

execution he had wrought among the pack, and was firing as fast as he

could load, when he heard John's familiar whistle.



"Watch out, John! There are still eight of the fiercest wolves you ever

saw here!" he called in warning, but almost simultaneously his chum's

rifle sounded, and but seven wolves remained. Another and another went

down to death and the five which were left, taking fright at last, sped

away among the timber, howling dismally.



"You had me scared into fits, almost," John cried, as Ree climbed down.

"Why, how cold you are!" he exclaimed, grasping his friend's hand. "And

your teeth are chattering! How did it happen any way? Come along home!"



"I'll tell you about it; but we'd better skin the wolves that have not

been half eaten, first. Bloody as a battle field, isn't it?"



"Skin nothing! Come along! It is most terribly cold and you are half

frozen. We can get the skins in the morning if there is any thing left of

them."



For once Ree yielded and when he had recovered his snow-shoes John

marched him off at a pace which soon put his blood in circulation.



If ever the young pioneers appreciated the rude comforts of their cabin,

they did that night. It was sweet to feel snug and warm and safe, as Ree

told the story of his adventure more fully than at first; to stretch

their weary legs toward the crackling fire and lean back in the fur

covered seat they had constructed. It was pleasant to eat a lunch of nuts

secured from the Indians, and venison steaks cut thin and broiled crisp.

It was comfortable to creep into bed and lie awake and talk of their

plans; of their friends in far away Connecticut; of incidents of their

trip; of the strange absence of Tom Fish; of the sad story of Arthur

Bridges--of many, many things.



And it was pleasant to watch with half closed eyes, the firelight dancing

on the rough cabin walls, shining in the little looking glass near the

door, showing the rifles within easy reach in the corner near the bed;

the two sets of pistols in their hostlers on the table they had made; the

gleaming blades of their axes, beside the fire-place; the books Ree loved

so well, arranged on a board from the old cart, which did duty as a

mantel, and John's fife beside them; the frying-pan and their few dishes

on and in a little cupboard in the corner. It was sweet, too, to fall

asleep at last and dream of the present, past and future--enjoying the

perfect rest which the fatigue of honest, hard work by those possessed of

honest hearts must ever bring.



The boys were very tired this night, partly from the unusual exercise of

walking so far on snow-shoes, no doubt. But they slept soundly and were

early awake. Directly after breakfast they visited the scene of the fight

with the wolves. They little expected to find anything left of their

victims, excepting bones, but they greatly desired to find the knife

which had been Capt. Bowen's present.



Bones they did find--but nothing else. There was every evidence of a

ghastly feast having been eaten by the wolves and other animals during

the night. Even the skeletons of those which had been slaughtered, were

torn to pieces, and for rods around the snow was dyed crimson.



To cry over spilled milk was no part of Ree's disposition, and though he

deeply regretted the loss of his knife, he did not allow himself to be

dispirited, though little he thought how important a part in their

adventures the knife was yet to play.



In their walks about the woods at different times, Ree and John had

observed that there were many sugar maples near their cabin and had

agreed that they must make some sugar when spring came. That very

afternoon, therefore, they began preparations.



Blocks of wood, cut into lengths of about two feet, they hollowed out

with their axes, making troughs in which to catch the sap of maples. The

work was tedious and many a trough was split and spoiled when all but

completed, before they caught the knack of avoiding this by striking

curved strokes with their axes, and not letting the blades cut in deeply,

in line with the grain of the wood.



This work, and the making of spouts by punching the pith out of sumac

branches occupied several days. Not all their time could be given to it,

however, as traps must be visited and Indians given attention; for now

that the weather was becoming warm the savages came frequently, often

with many furs secured during winter hunting expeditions.



"We have made a pretty good living and a nice sum of money for each of

us, when our furs shall have been marketed, and have also made ourselves

a home," said Ree one day, as they were estimating the probable value of

their stores. "After deducting for all losses, we will still have done

splendidly if we are fortunate in getting the skins to Pittsburg or

Detroit and working a fair bargain with the buyers."



"We better get a good canoe Ree, and learn to use it; then we can take

the furs from here to Detroit by water, traveling along the shore of Lake

Erie," John suggested. "Capt. Pipe has a couple of fine, big canoes of

his own, buried for the winter. I believe he would sell us one."



"We will go and have a talk with him about it soon," Ree answered. But it

was not for many days that the lads found time to do this.



Fine weather came sooner than they expected. The spring of 1791 was one

of the earliest known to the section which is now Northern Ohio. Even in

February the sun came out bright and warm and the cold winds

disappeared.



John and Ree awoke one morning after a rainy night to find the water high

in the river, the ice gone and the air as mild as on a day in May.



"Hooray! I've a mind to take a swim!" John shouted, looking with

enthusiasm at the high water.



"I wish we had our canoe now," Ree joined in; "but I'll tell you, old

chap, we must get our maples tapped, if we are to get any sugar."



John turned away from watching the swift, deep current with a sigh.

Somehow he did not feel like working; but under Ree's influence he soon

forgot his "spring fever" feeling, and with a small auger bored holes in

the trees. Into these holes Ree drove the spouts, placing a trough

beneath each one, to catch the sap which at once began to flow.



As all the trees were near the cabin the boys might have carried the sap

to their fire-place for boiling, but as this would necessitate the

carrying of a great deal of wood, they hung their largest kettle on a

pole laid across two forked sticks driven in the ground for that purpose,

just at the top of the hill near the edge of the clearing.



By noon enough sap was collected in the troughs to make it necessary to

begin the boiling, and from then on through all that day and the next,

one of the boys was constantly busy, keeping the fire blazing hot and

gathering sap to keep the kettle well filled, as the water was boiled

away, leaving only its sweetness. At last they added no fresh sap but

allowed the syrup in the kettle to boil down thicker and thicker making

in the end, most delicious molasses.



The boys finished the boiling in the cabin that night, and when the syrup

had become thick enough, they were able by stirring and cooling it, to

make an excellent quality of sugar. And it had been so long since either

of them had tasted sweets, that the maple's fine product was indeed a

treat. The prospect that they would be able to make enough sugar to last

them until another spring, was highly agreeable, and they were willing

enough to work hard during many days which followed.



One regret the boys had, was that they possessed but two kettles, neither

of which was very large; but they boiled sap in both and found that by

greasing the upper edges of the vessels that they could keep them quite

full and still the sap would not boil over.



They also tried the very primitive method used by the Indians before they

had kettles in which to make sugar. Several large, nearly round stones

were washed clean, then heated very hot in the fire. With improvised

tongs they were then lifted into a large keg of cold sap. As this

operation was constantly repeated, the sap was heated and slowly

evaporated.



The process proved so very slow and laborious, however, that the boys

soon abandoned it. But while the experiment was being tried, something

occurred which made John laugh until he held his sides. The keg of sap

had been heated to almost a boiling point, and putting a couple of large,

hot stones in it both boys left the camp, John to gather more sap and Ree

to chop some wood.



As John was returning, he discovered a young bear prowling about the

camp. The animal evidently had not been long out of its winter quarters

and was hungry. It sniffed the sweet odor which came from the evaporating

maple water, and ambled up to the keg.



Quietly John ran and called Ree, and they both hurried softly back just

as the bear put its nose deep into the hot sap. A squeal of pain

followed, and the poor cub nearly turned a backward somersault, with such

sudden energy did it take its nose out of the keg. Wild with the smarting

burns the creature rushed blindly about, almost burying its head in the

cool leaves and earth, and missing its footing, somehow, as it approached

a steep part of the hill, fell and rolled to the bottom, squealing and

growling woefully. Before John could check his laughter, the bear had

picked itself up and trotted swiftly away, and Ree was willing to let it

go unharmed, though he could have shot it.



This incident set the boys to thinking. Bruin evidently knew the smell of

honey better than of sap. All bears delight in sweet things, and Ree said

he had no doubt there were bee trees in the neighborhood. At any rate,

the lads decided, it would be well worth while to be on the lookout for

them as they were about the woods during the spring and summer.



Continued fine weather put an end to the maple season. In a fortnight the

buds began to open on the trees and the flow of sap ceased. About this

time, too, the Portage trail, not far away, was constantly traversed by

redskins, many of them strangers, and there were daily calls at the cabin

of the young Palefaces. So there was much to do; the spring crops must be

planted, the pile of furs must be taken to market and fences must be

completed to keep deer and other animals out of the cornfield they

proposed having.



There was another thing needing early attention, and that was the

securing of land at the junction of the Portage trail and the river. For

the boys could not but see how advantageous that place would be as a

trading point, and they wished to build a new and larger cabin there.

Moreover, as the country was opened up and settled, the land about so

favorable a site for a town would probably become very valuable.



"We will go to see Capt. Pipe to-morrow, and bargain with him for a

canoe, and for some land where the trail and the river meet," said Ree

one warm March night as they sat on the doorstep of their cabin, in the

moonlight.





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