THE amount of water is daily increasing, thus lessening our fears for the safety of our canoe bottoms and doing away with the probability of a carry. The intricacies of the channel have now become a matter of much study; first the channel will shoot to the center of the river, and then as suddenly double back on itself to the opposite shore. All its windings must be followed or we go aground, and an enforced wetting of feet follows. Islands are now becoming numerous, and often we find ourselves on the wrong side and are compelled to get overboard and track back in order to make the main channel, down which we often rush not more than two boats' lengths apart. It frequently happens that the foremost canoe may not make the necessary sharp turn to right or left, and consequently goes aground; then the companion boat comes down with a rush, and things are for a moment or two in a rather mixed up condition.

Again the sound of falling waters is borne to our ears, and in a moment more we go shooting down the incline, with a knock on the starboard bilge and then one on the port side, followed by a rolling stone under the canoe bottom which feels as though it had come through her planking. We round to for the night's camp, and soon the fire for frying our bacon and boiling water for our coffee is blazing brightly, while we are preparing our couches for the night's rest, which we have honestly earned. Since starting on the cruise I have devised and made of ordinary unbleached sheeting, a little shelter tent. One of the painters is stretched from mainmast to mizzen as a ridge, the little tent is drawn over it and fastened to small screws beneath the gunwale of the canoe. This tent, although of such light fabric, did not leak a drop during the entire cruise. A thunder storm broke upon us with flashes and crashes that were terrifying, and did away with the possibility of sleeping. Nevertheless, I, at least, was comfortable, snugly rapped in my blankets, while the canoe tent covered her entire length and breadth, thus protecting from wet or injury not only the crew but the cargo. No bright sun greets us on the morrow, but a steady downpour of rain, accompanied by a strong wind. Do we get wet? Oh, no; we don our oilskin suits, and with sou'wester covering the head and rubbers the feet, we defy the rain and the mud. We cut two poles and pitch our large fly near to the canoes, and build a little fire at the leeward end just within the shelter of the tent. The building of the fire is facilitated by the use of some small slivers of fat pine, a stock of which we have never been without since starting.


All Snug in a Gale.

With the fire at the leeward end of the tent, a draft is made and all smoke carried off, leaving us to enjoy the comforts of a roomy tent, as we are seated on the camp chests taken from the canoes. Let the rain pour, we are comfortable; everything is under cover, we have even picked up enough drift boards and slabs to partially floor our house. Barnacle sings a "shanty," "Rolling down from old Mohea." He is good at that; his life of twenty years on the ocean has perfected him in the art of shanty singing and yarn spinning. What with singing, story telling, bringing up the log to date, etc., the morning is comfortably, even pleasantly passed, and noon is upon us ere we are aware of it. There is usually a change in a storm between eleven and two o'clock. "Between eleven and two it will tell you what it will do," is the old saying. By the time our mid-day meal was finished the rain had ceased and old Sol was sending his rays through the cracks in the clouds. As the rain has been heavy, the chances are very favorable for a rise in the river, so we concluded to pack up and look for a camp on higher ground. There is no tracking to do now, but a push off into the current and away we go on water which is from ten to twenty inches deep.

We have not passed the region of rifts yet, for there is one less than a quarter of a mile ahead of us, and now we are at its head. It is more of a fall than we anticipated. One can see for a long distance down hill and then lose sight of the river as it passes around the base of the mountain. We have now run into a spur of the Allegheny range, and dark evergreen-covered summits can be seen for long distances in all directions. Ha! what is this coming up the river, through the very swiftest part of the rift? A canoe, beyond all doubt. A nearer view discloses a craft of the aboriginal type -- a pine dugout of no mean model, with fine lines and an exceedingly smooth skin. It is poled up the swift current by an Indian. I hail him. No reply comes from his firmly-closed lips, but instead a look of curiosity overspreads his countenance as he holds his canoe fore and aft the current. I venture another question. Still no reply. I can hardly believe he does not understand me. I whistle to a small dog seated in the bow of his canoe, evidently as much interested in the strange craft before him as his silent master.

"How much will you take for the dog?" I ask. 

"Ten dollars; want to buy him?"

The prospect of a sale opens his lips. But he evidently sees by my manner that I have not ten dollars to throw away on a worthless cur, and throwing his weight into his push, goes on up stream, now and then making a thrust at a fish with his pole at one end of which, I now discover, he has a spear. Three miles further on we came across a group of Indians practicing at a mark with a rifle, and I am reminded of times gone by, as a bullet sings uncomfortably near me as it flies to its distant mark across the river. Soon I am surrounded by a horde of "Corn Planter" Indians, curious to inspect the little boat. They express much astonishment when told that this is a canoe, and say, "Funny can-o."


We See a Bear.

These were the descendants of the Seneca Gy-aut-wa-chia, the Corn Planter, principal chief of the Six Nations from the Revolution to 1836, when he died at the age of about one hundred years.

The day being now far advanced, a camp was made at the mouth of Bear Creek, and we decided to make an early start on the morrow that we might reach Warren before dark. No tent was pitched; we rolled ourselves in our blankets, and with feet to the fire, were soon oblivious of all surroundings. A bright, crisp air kisses my cheeks and tingles the end of my nose as I kick aside the blankets in the morning, just at the crack o' day, and discover that the rain of yesterday and the previous night has added at least two inches to the height of the river. This is encouraging; every inch helps. Before the sun had gilded the summit of the mountains we were five miles below our last night's bivouac. Barnacle spies something moving below us, and we rest on our paddles to watch it, as we drift silently down. It has a young one by its side. It is a bear, beyond doubt, as we can now see it traveling on all fours, as it roots among the grasses and weeds along the bank of the stream for its morning meal. The young one meanwhile is standing on its haunches, and seems to be gnawing something which it holds in its paws. As we have nothing heavier than a .32-caliber revolver, in the shape of shooting-irons, we decide not to attack bruin, but putting all our strength into our strokes, to come upon her suddenly and witness her terrified retreat. With a yell we approach her. Now we are within a hundred yards of her. She does not flee, but slowly turning her head, gives us one glance and then resumes her grubbing. Our bear proved to be an Indian woman digging roots to be used for medicinal purposes, and the cub is a small boy eating the skin off some herb plant.

A moment more and our thoughts are diverted from land to water, as our boats are drawn at a lively pace through a narrow channel close under the high, rock-bound bank on our left, while at the right there is a low island fringed with willows, whose boughs almost touch the water. Down we go as though through a mill race, when the channel suddenly shoots across to the island, and before one can think I am swept under the overhanging branches, when off goes my hat and then a loose hatch, and unable longer to use the paddle, owing to the low branches, I find my canoe brought up with a bang against a log. Barnacle sees this, and profiting by my experience goes flying past free from all obstructions, and a moment more I see him sweep around a bend and he is lost to view. Five minutes are spent in recovering the hat and hatch, and I am off after Barnacle. There he is, just around the bend, but what on earth is he doing? Tracking as sure as he's alive, for he has missed an abrupt turn in the channel and is on a bar. It is now my turn to profit by his experience.

I keep to the left and am swept along at racehorse speed. Whew! Look at the boulders, their black heads showing above the surface in all directions.


Down the Rapids.

Where is the channel? I don't know, and there is no chance to stop now and study the current, I must go where it carries me and trust to luck to get out safely. I catch sight of two big boulders with their heads reared above the foaming waters at the base; I must avoid them if possible; quick, or it will be too late; a strong stroke to starboard is followed by a quick back stroke to port, but it is no use, and as the spray flies into my face, blinding me for a moment, I am swept down the current through the whitened water past numberless rocks of all sizes, just missing that one and slightly, touching this, until I come upon the two big fellows that are right in our course. I can't avoid them both, I must strike one or the other of them and then over I go. One hand drops its hold on the paddle and grasps the stern painter just as she strikes her starboard bilge on the lower rock. I make a leap for its slimy surface as the canoe swings broad side on, and find myself up to my armpits in the water; the force carries my feet from under me, and canoe and captain go down stream together, tossed about by the savage waters and banged against the merciless rocks until we reached the pool at the foot of the rapid, some hundred yards below. I climb out on a flat rock in mid pool, and looking up the hill down which I have made such good time, see Barnacle among the rocks, his canoe rocking and rolling, the spray flying from her bow as she comes down off a sea as though she were a thing of life. She is heading directly for the rocks. I wave my hand frantically to the left, but too late; he does not even see me; and the next instant the Comfort is high out, almost full length on the rock, her skipper sitting silently viewing the situation. He knows what to do, he has been in the same sort of a fix before. Carefully holding the canoe with one hand, with paddle and stern painter in the other, he steps out upon the rock and eases his craft off, and as she swings clear, nimbly springs aboard and in a moment is by my side. Together we smoke our pipes as we drift quietly along the smooth current.

As the sun hides behind the mountain we are off on a fairly fast current, which sooner than we had expected brings us in sight of the town. A hail from the shore, "Are you the men as is goin' to the Gulf of Mexico?" is answered in the affirmative; and while we gulf-bound paddlers get overboard and haul over a bar, our interlocutor goes townward as fast as his legs will carry him. Over the bar, we are again in deep and slack water, and as we leisurely paddle on, are more than surprised to see a fleet of eight canoes, one of which is dexterously paddled by a lady, heading directly for us. Salutations are exchanged, and we find ourselves guests of the Warren Canoe Club. A short visit is made in the pretty town, and we bid adieu to our kind entertainers.

At Tidioute, on the following day, we lay in stores, consisting of potatoes, onions, beans, beefsteak and sausage. Here Barnacle meets an old shipmate, and in their reminiscences together they sight a whale, man the boat, give chase, harpoon and tow the monster to the ship's side, and would have set about "cutting him in," did not the hour demand our return to camp.


Struck Oil!

We are soon in the petroleum region; and on the river banks, and away up on the mountain sides, rise the skeleton frames of the oil derricks, with their groanings and creakings, and steam and smoke. It is in the middle of the afternoon that we pass the village of Tionesta, with its three graceful spires outlined against the dark green of the mountain. All day we have been battling against a head wind that has come in gusts so strong at times as to cause us to miss a stroke of the paddle now and then. It is raw and penetrating, and we gladly welcome a suitable location for the night's camp four miles below Tionesta. As we sit about the cheerful campfire, sheltered from the wind by a screen constructed of our sails, we are visited by two gentlemen, who entertain us with tales of the days of the "oil excitement," when to this vast region the money seekers flocked as to California in '49. To the "oil regions" men came from all parts of the world, with varying amounts of capital, and invested in oil land, oil wells, machinery, etc. Towns sprang up in a night; hotels and gambling saloons were built; oil exchanges established; mercantile houses opened; theaters and dens of vice planted. By night and day, on all sides, was to be heard the sound of hammer and saw. The laws of State and society were set at defiance, and riot and bloodshed were of almost daily occurrence. Pointing to the opposite side of the stream, one of our visitors said: "Do you see that fine residence, with its graveled drives, bordered by the well-kept hedge? Do you notice the substantial outbuildings, the general air of prosperity and comfort? The owner of that place was poor -- poor as a man and poor as a farmer, when the oil excitement reached this locality. Oil was found on his farm, and lots were bought at fabulous prices, until his entire farm was sold in small lots and bored full of holes. He became the possessor of an immense fortune, and now he is enjoying it, a prudent and benevolent man. Now there is a man on Oil Creek, who one morning found himself elevated from following the plow to the possession of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before one short year had flown by, he had squandered the entire fortune with evil companions, in gambling dens and profligacy. Today he is working for thirty dollars a month."

On the morrow we launch and go dashing down grade, facing a cold, drizzling rain that feels as though it would penetrate to the very marrow, and makes the hands ache and fingers tingle as if the paddle were a bar of ice. But we push on. Every day is of importance to us now. We can afford to loiter a little after we have reached the balmy atmosphere of the South and have left behind us the frost-laden winds of the North. After a five hours' run, a portion of which was through some lively but easy rapids, we sight the tall spires and chimneys of Oil City. It had not been my intention to stop here; the water front of a busy town has few attractions for a stranger canoeist; but wrong judgment caused us to follow a channel which terminated at a bar directly opposite the center of the city, and our introduction to its citizens was made in bare feet, with trousers rolled to the knee, as we hauled the canoes over the bar with its accumulation of rubbish, which is scarcely less than that of Salamanca.


Oil City.

I slip and narrowly escape a fall upon the oily landing-plank below the railroad bridge, and make my way through a crowd of curious spectators, leaving Barnacle to tell them the story of our adventures. After receiving congratulations and good wishes, we strike for the opposite shore, and are almost immediately caught in the current, now augmented by the black and oily waters of Oil Creek.




THE increased volume of water sets at rest fears of being compelled to portage, that most disagreeable of all alternatives to the average canoeist. We can no longer look over the side of our canoes and see beneath the long grasses as they sway to and fro and bend with the current; nor watch the fish as they hold themselves against the swiftly flowing stream, or dart away. All this is changed now, and the kaleidoscopic effect is on the surface of the water, which is covered with an unruffled layer of oil, the leakage from hundreds of wells and tanks from the mouth far up to the headwaters of Oil Creek, and for many miles along the river down which we have come. It has a beautiful effect, with the sun shining upon it, the broken clouds, the high hills and densely wooded banks are all reflected in the many hues of the rainbow, while little billows of gold roll away from the bow of the canoe as she quietly cuts her course. This effect, pleasant to the eye as it is, has a most disagreeable effect on the senses of smell and feeling.


The Ruins of Reno.

All creation hereabouts is coated with oil; and soon the paddles, canoes and even the clothing of the crews are besmeared and discolored by it. It penetrates the canvas uppers of the rubber-soled slippers and eats its way into the pores of one's skin. We gather wood for the fire, but when lighted, it sends up a heavy volume of black smoke, which, falling through the damp atmosphere, covers all things with a soot that tattoos face and hands until they resemble an Indian's. We cover up the frying bacon and baking johnnycake. Nevertheless, in spite of all precautions, the food tastes of petroleum, as we handle it with oil-impregnated and soot-stained fingers.

The 13th of October dawns, with all things enveloped in an almost impenetrable fog, and we are forced to remain, fog-bound, in camp until 9 o'clock, for the danger of running rapid and unknown waters at such a time is too great to permit our launching. Finally the fog lifts, and we are again on the waters, and fly down a short rapid into a smooth reach, and come upon a scene of desolation and ruin, such as has never before met my eye. Before us is a large village of decaying buildings with tottering chimneys, regularly laid out streets and board walks, even the remains of a railroad depot, but no sign of life save one small column of smoke which issues from a rusty stovepipe thrust through the gable end of a barnlike building. Here, something less than twenty years ago, the oil prospector had sunk his well and "struck oil." Within a week, men had flocked to the new oil region; a surveyor had laid out a town; lots had been sold; roads had been cut, and by day and night the work of putting down wells went on. Buildings were erected; families moved in; hotels, stores and a bank were opened, and a railroad was constructed. In less than a month the wooded point had been transformed into a flourishing town. On all sides rose the tall derricks; long trains of cars came laden with empty barrels and carried them away again filled with oil. But this very site is today one of ruin and desolation. We see only buildings with sashless windows, doorless entrances, their decayed piazzas supporting saplings that have forced themselves in their vigorous growth through the rotting timbers. The straight, broad streets are overgrown with briars and bushes. Nothing of the railroad remains but the caved in embankment. The overflow of the river has undermined the depot, which now lies a mass of ruins. All this because new oil regions have been discovered where production can be carried on at much less cost than here, and thither the inhabitants of the mushroom town have flown This is the history of Reno. It is an example of leaving a good thing for a better.

Again we hear the musical sound of falling waters, and prepare for the little foam-flecked waves that are to wash our decks, and make a mild attempt to wrench the paddle from our grasp. It is little more than a rift and is divided by an island at the foot. Barnacle, standing in his canoe, surveys the course ahead of us and will take the right side of the island, believing there is more water there, but I prefer the left side, possibly because I am nearer that shore; and we separate, each going his own way.


Down a Raceway.

I leisurely paddling along pay little heed to my surroundings. I discover that my boat is being rapidly drawn close in shore so that the overhanging bushes prevent me from using my paddle, and I am conscious that I am being swept along at a rate that is dangerous should my boat come in contact with an obstruction. On through the overhanging branches I go until a clear space allows me to use the paddle for a backward stroke or two to gain time for a survey of the course ahead; but the powerful current has me within its grasp and I go shooting down an incline walled on either side by logs and planks which reach above my head. I am deafened by the roar of falling water, and an instant more the Aurora leaps into space and dives head first into a whirling, boiling pool, the waters of which are forced along the deck until they strike the Captain full in the face and against my paddle with such force as to wrench it from my hands, leaving me trembling with excitement and concern at its loss. Grasping a hatch, I manage to throw the canoe's head around in time to catch the truant double blade as it is being whirled about by the eddy, and in a twinkling I force the Aurora's bow against the yielding gravel bank. Where am I? What have I done? It requires some seconds for me to comprehend the situation. It frequently happens on streams of the character of the Allegheny River, that short dams are built connecting one side of an island with the mainland at a suitable mill site, the overflow going down on the opposite side of the island. At the foot of an old dam of this description I now find myself I have been shot through the disused raceway. Fortunate for you, Aurora, that there were no iron spikes projecting from the sides of that narrow passage, nor huge rocks at the mouth, or you would have had your nose bruised to say the least of it.

Half a mile below, around a short bend, I find Barnacle with a bright fire blazing, while he is engaged in pitching the tent.

 "Why, Doctor, have you been lost? I was just thinking of going in search of you."

I don't tell him about the dam and raceway, I reserve the narration of that experience until some time when I want to amuse him.

The tent pitched, the canoes are placed beneath its shelter, and I haul out from beneath the deck the bag containing the vegetables; a half dozen potatoes, two or three onions and a like number of turnips are washed, peeled and thinly sliced, while Barnacle cuts up the small piece of pork and drops it into the boiling water, to which, after about ten minutes, is added my contribution of vegetables, and when all is well cooked we sprinkle in a handful of corn meal, stirring the mass rapidly until it is thickened, and our supper was steaming before us. Before it is fairly disposed of we are forced to beat a retreat to the shelter of the tent from the fury of a thunder shower, which comes rolling up before we realize it. It soon passes over our heads, booming and crashing. Stepping out of the tent, we lift the broad slabs that we had thrown over the fire at the storm's approach, and discover that they have shielded the coals; and throwing on a few pieces of dry wood taken from beneath the shelter of the tent, we soon have a cheerful blaze, around which we sit and smoke our pipes, and then rolling in the warm blankets are soon snoring away with such force that each is awakened and charging the other with disturbing his rest.



It is not until ten o'clock the following morning that the thick fog lifts sufficiently to allow our putting off in safety, but before mid-day we have rambled through the streets of the oil refining town of Franklin, at the confluence of the French Creek with the Allegheny River.

© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.