[On the first white settlement in this watershed– a place that became my permanent home two centuries later… Understandably, no photo of original cabin is available.]
The American Revolution had ended. General Sullivan, acting on the orders of George Washington, marched through western New York destroying Iroquois homes and native life (sadly enough), effectively opening the land to European settlement. A scouting party from the East, having found potential farmland on the flats near present-day Canisteo, stacked huge piles of summer hay for two families who would travel up the river in late autumn. The fodder would provide for driven cattle, the first livestock in these vales and rivertop heights.
The Stephens and the Crosby families, with their cattle plus a herd belonging to several other prospective families, started for Canisteo in 1789. Their trip began near present-day Elmira. The Chemung River narrowed into the Tioga and then the Canisteo River, navigable for their seven-ton shuttle laden with provisions such as food and furniture and ammunition. Several young men and boys drove the cattle on an Indian trail along the waterway, striving to keep the herd from bogging down in marshes or scrambling off on small streams tumbling from the cliffs.
There were logs and driftwood to be cleared with axes. Cascades and shallow riffles would require everyone to line the bank and haul the boat to deeper water. Autumn woods were drab and bare except for evergreens and chalky birch trees leaning from the river bluffs. The cold November wind brought fears of animal and Indian, anxiety of an unknown wilderness alleviated only by an evening’s fire, food preparation, and sleep. Their progress was slow, discouraging, and pressed by an oncoming winter.
They passed through the future settlements of Addison, Rathbone, Cameron, and Cameron Mills, arriving at their destination through what historians would describe as “howling wilderness,” a distance easily traveled in an hour’s time today.
The stacks of hay, cut months before, seemed wonderful, even as the first snow squalls of a season blew across the valley. Cattle were fed. The first large pines and hemlock trees were felled. Teams of oxen hauled the big logs into place. The outlines of a log house, 24′ x 26′, rose beside a tributary soon to be known as Bennett Creek. Flat river stones and clay were hauled for fireplaces built into each corner of the house. And the boys began to plow…
The high brown grass was cut. The deeply matted roots were ripped from the resistant earth. The bottomland was burned, and smoke filled the sky. Three acres of land were sown with wheat.
Then came months of winter isolation. Days and nights of hunting, fireside plans and stories told. In March the wild geese would pass high overhead. The Stephens and the Crosbys would be joined by friends and families from the East– their summer dreams unfolding, labors just beginning, minds and bodies always leaning toward the West.