By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: The Chief Engineer
Author: Abbott, Henry, 1850-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Chief Engineer" ***

Chief Engineer



Copyright 1920

The Chief Engineer
Henry Abbott

It was a dark night in July--very dark. There was no moon and clouds
hid the stars. We were sitting by the camp fire. Bige had just kicked
the burning logs together so that a shower of sparks shot straight up
toward the tree-tops, indicating that there was no wind, when he
said, "If you want to make that picture of deer this is just the kind
of a night to go for it. You must have it dark so you can get close
enough to get a good photograph. Also, this is just the kind of
weather when we are likely to find deer feeding near the mouth of the

So with camera and flash-light apparatus I climbed into the bow end
of our light-weight cedar boat, while Bige with paddle sat in the
stern. We aimed toward the mouth of the river about half of a mile
from camp and across the pond. No land-marks were visible, so we
steered by "dead reckoning." Bige was feathering his paddle, Indian
fashion without lifting it out of the water, so we silently
proceeded, making no ripple on the surface and yet, at first, rather

  [Illustration: The Chief Engineer]

A few minutes later, the bow of the boat struck some yielding
obstacle. My first thought was that we had hit a mossy, overhanging
bank on the opposite shore of the pond. In times of stress, thoughts
follow each other in rapid succession. My second thought was that the
opposite shore was not mossy and overhanging, but rocky; third, that
we had not been out long enough to get across; and fourth that we
must have hit some animal who was swimming. But things were happening
now, more rapidly than thoughts, and very much quicker than the time
required to tell about them; and this latter thought was confirmed
long before it was completely formulated.

Instantly, after we struck, a violent commotion occurred under the
bow of the boat, water splashed in my face, there was the sound of
scratching, gnawing and splintering wood, then a paw appeared on the
gunwale beside me, the boat rocked and I yelled to Bige, "He is
climbing aboard!!" while I lifted the camera intending to brain this
indistinct shape as soon as I could see its head. This was
immediately followed by the release of the weight on the side of the
boat, its rocking in the opposite direction, a resounding slap on the
water which threw a shower of spray over my head, in my eyes and
ears. Then silence.

"Must have hit a muskrat," said Bige.

"More like a collie dog or a young bear," said I. "He surely would
have swamped the boat if you had not slapped the water with the
paddle, and I would have smashed my camera over his head."

  [Illustration: A Beaver Fountain]

"I didn't slap anything with the paddle. I wouldn't spoil your fun
that way. Your friend in the water made all the noise. Wonder what he
was," said Bige.

"Well, it was no measly muskrat, I'll stake my reputation and
experience on that," said I.

There ended our photographing operations for that occasion, since
after such a racket no deer could be expected to show himself at the
pond, so we turned back to camp. On the way we discussed the possible
identity of the animal with whom we had just been in collision, and
who had upset our plans for the evening.

Most wild animals swim; some for pleasure, others only when it cannot
be avoided. In the darkness we failed to get a clear idea of the size
or shape of this fellow, we could only judge by the jolt our boat
got, and the commotion he made in the water. We canvassed the
possibility of its being a coon, a fox, an otter, a porcupine, a
marten, a lynx or a wolf; but there was something about the habits of
each that would not fit the incident and we went to bed with the
problem still unsolved.

After breakfast the following morning, we went down to the shore and
examined our boat. The thin part of the prow above the water line had
been bitten through and a splinter a half-inch thick and eight inches
long had been torn out. The marks of very sharp clean cutting teeth
plainly showed at the upper end of the break. Short brown hairs were
sticking to the rough edges of the bow, and on the keel for a space
of eighteen inches back of the bow.

"That fellow must have thought a tree fell on him," said Bige. The
boat, we found did not leak, so we went fishing. Passing a small
island about a mile up the pond, we noticed a young green poplar tree
had fallen into the water. There had been no wind storm for months
and we did not know of any other campers on the pond so we wondered
who could have cut down that poplar, and why? We went ashore to
investigate. The tree we found was about four inches in diameter at
the butt and it had not been chopped, but had been gnawed off. The
ground about the stump was strewn with chips and one branch had been
gnawed off and carried away. The tooth marks on the stump were like
those on the bow of our boat, and looked as if made by a curved
chisel about a quarter inch wide. The chips were from two to four
inches long and were clean cut on each end and split out as if they
had come from a wood chopper's axe.

Bige said, "Gosh! that looks like the work of beaver, but there are
no beaver in these woods, haven't been any here for sixty years."

A few minutes later we found the branch which had been cut from the
fallen poplar floating on the water near shore opposite the island.
The bark had been stripped from it down to the smallest twig and it
appeared white and conspicuous when seen from a distance of fifty

Proceeding on our way toward the fishing ground, we presently saw the
head of some animal above the surface. It was swimming toward us and
waves were spreading out fan wise in its wake, on the smooth surface
of the pond. Instantly we became motionless and watched its approach.
When within fifteen or twenty yards of our boat it stopped, eyeing us
curiously, then swung to the right and again to the left, apparently
for the purpose of viewing us from different angles. Its back
appearing above the surface was covered with a reddish brown fur with
long grey hairs showing at intervals. There was a large white spot on
the top of his head (this we later learned was not a characteristic
marking, a white spot being quite unusual on animals of this family,
and it enabled us to recognize our first acquaintance from among the
many members of his tribe whom we subsequently met.) Two large,
projecting and curving cutting teeth on the upper and two on the
lower jaw appeared when he opened his mouth. There were also eight
molars on each jaw. His eyes were inconspicuous and his ears were
small but he had a broad, flat tail, shaped somewhat like the blade
of a paddle.

Having, apparently, decided that it would be unwise to cultivate a
closer acquaintance with two men in a boat, our swimmer humped his
back, lifted high his broad tail and with it struck the water a
powerful slap, the noise of which reverberated from "Mud Pond
Mountain to East Inlet Holler" and it threw a shower of water and
spray eight or ten feet into the air, looking like some of the war
pictures of exploding mines.

The animal disappeared under water but a long line of air bubbles
coming to the surface marked his progress under water. These we
followed about two hundred yards to where they ended at the opposite
shore. A closer examination disclosed the entrance, about two feet
under the surface, of a burrow which seemed to rise under the high

"Well," said Bige, "that's the fellow who met up with our boat last
night. He's a beaver all right, but where in tunket did he come

  [Illustration: Camp Fireplace]

The incidents here related occurred while we were camping at Cherry
Pond, seventeen years ago. We had learned in many conversations with
Mitchell Sabattis (an Indian who died at a very advanced age a few
years ago, and who was the oldest inhabitant of this region), about
the Indians trapping beaver here, and how they sold hundreds of skins
to John Jacob Astor, who became rich dealing in furs which he
purchased throughout the northern forests and in Canada.

Sabattis explained that it was the practice of the Indians to take
only a few animals from each colony, when they would move their traps
to another dam. Thus there were always enough beaver left for
breeding and they increased rapidly. But the white trappers, when
they came, caught every beaver and took every skin, big and little,
with the result that in a few years' time, beaver had been
exterminated from the Adirondack forests and none ever came in again.

A few days after our encounter with the animal as above related, we
learned, while making inquiries, that during the previous season the
Conservation Commission of the State had "planted" a family of six
beavers on one of the streams emptying into Raquette Lake, and we
concluded that the individual we met was an emigrant from that

Upon studying the government map, we figured that if he followed a
chain of lakes and ponds through the connecting streams, he must have
traveled thirty-five miles. If he had come over the mountain and
several foothills in a straight line, which seemed unlikely, he might
have shortened his trip to about twenty miles.

We saw the white headed beaver many times during our visits to the
pond that summer, sometimes on shore, or sitting on the trunk of a
poplar or birch tree which he had felled near the water. His body was
about thirty inches long, tail ten inches long and six inches wide,
hind feet webbed, like those of a goose, fore feet resembled the
hands of a child but with long, sharp toe nails. He might have
weighed forty or fifty pounds. He was a slow and clumsy traveler on
land but a very efficient citizen in the water. He could dive and
remain under water from eight to ten minutes without apparent
inconvenience. Swimming, he could tow a log twice his own weight and
against the current when necessary.

Early in September, his wife arrived. Whether the "old man" went
after her, whether he sent a wireless message or a telepathic
command, or whether the date of her coming had been arranged between
them before he left home, we never knew. It seems quite probable that
she just naturally knew that it was high time for her husband to stop
exploring and loafing and to get busy building a house and storing a
supply of food for the winter, so she arrived.

She would have no difficulty in following his trail, which after the
habit of his kind, he doubtless marked at more or less frequent
intervals by scooping up from the bottom of the pond or stream a
double handful of soft mud, which he would place on the shore, shape
it up into a nice round mudpie and deposit in its center a few drops
of "Castoreum." This material has a peculiar, pungent and individual
odor easily recognized by members of a beaver family. The Indians
also highly prized the castoreum of the beaver for its supposed
medicinal properties.

Immediately on the arrival of the female beaver the two began work
building a house. This was placed on a point of land between the
mouth of the river and a shallow bay or slough. The base of the house
was about a foot above the normal level of the pond. Straight sticks
and crooked branches two to four inches in diameter and about five
feet long were placed on the ground for a foundation and were
arranged in a circle like the spokes of a wheel. On these were piled
other sticks, brush, stones, sod and mud, which latter was used as
cement or mortar to bind the other materials together. An open space
was left in the center, which grew smaller in diameter as the walls
were carried up and was finally arched over. The house when finished
was fourteen feet in diameter at the base; it was cone shaped and six
feet high. It had no door or entrance visible on the surface; but as
the side walls were being carried up one of the beavers dug a round
hole twelve inches in diameter, straight down from the center of the
house about eighteen inches, when it was curved toward the river and
opened out in the bottom. Then he dug a second entrance, close to the
first one, but this curved toward the slough. The water there being
shallow, a ditch or canal dug in the bottom carried the outer end of
the burrow down about three feet below the surface and a hundred feet
or more out to deep water. The mud procured in digging the entrance
and exit was used in plastering the walls of the house. No mud was
used on the ventilating flue, which was a space about a foot in
diameter in the center of the cone. This was thoroughly protected
from outside enemies by two feet in thickness of criss-crossed
sticks, but air could freely pass through the interstices.

  [Illustration: Beaver House]

The house building proceeded rapidly, much of the work being done at
night, but we were able to inspect the building daily, and several
times we found the beavers working in the daytime. Always the white
crowned beaver was the leader and seemed to be directing the work of
the other. When the structure was completed it proved to be an
excellent example of reinforced concrete work of a most substantial
character. Nevertheless, six weeks later, just before freezing
weather started, a final coating of mud three inches thick was
plastered over the entire outside surface of the house. When frozen,
this armor plate would furnish complete protection to the furry
inhabitants against their most ferocious enemies during the long and
hungry months of winter.

Some years later, a beaver house, the side of which had been cut
away, afforded an opportunity for us to learn how our white-headed
friend finished the inside of his castle. The rough projecting inner
ends of sticks, branches and brush were gnawed off making a roomy,
smooth-walled, dome ceilinged space divided into two parts. The
first, or ground floor, contained the openings for entrance and exit.
It also was used as a drying room; for no self-respecting beaver
would ever permit himself, his family or guests to go to bed in wet
clothes. Coming in from swimming in the pond or river he must sit in
the vestibule until his wet fur is thoroughly dry before he climbs
into the bunk.

The drying floor also serves the purpose of a dining room in winter,
when the pond is covered with ice, as will later appear.

The sleeping apartment had its floor about six inches higher than the
drying floor. The bed was made of thin shreds or splinters of dry
poplar wood. A quantity of this material had been split out with an
expenditure of much time and patience. A mattress three inches or
more thick, made of this soft, elastic material would make a far
better bed than many campers can boast of.

Mud for use in house building was procured, not only from the tunnel
entrances and from the canal, but excavations were made in the river
bottom near the house. A pocket was there dug out, about twenty feet
in diameter, making the water six feet deep.

Into this hole the two beavers now proceeded to store their food for
the winter. This consisted chiefly of the trunks of poplar saplings,
two to six inches in diameter, cut into lengths of four to six feet,
the sticks of larger diameter being the shorter. In the wood pile
were also placed the branches of the same trees. Mixed in with the
poplar were some alders and a few birch and soft maple sticks. The
birch and alder apparently were used to add spice and tang to the
otherwise sameness of their more staple food.

In the edge of the forest next the slough a few years before, a fire
(doubtless started by some careless hunter), had burned over several
acres, and this was now covered by a "second growth" of poplar. It
was there that the beavers cut most of their lumber. The water in the
slough was shallow and filled with pond lilies, so a canal three feet
wide, two feet deep and two hundred and twenty feet long was dug
across this mudhole. Through this canal the beavers floated their
sticks and brush and placed them on their storage pile under water so
that the bark, which they eat, might be kept soft and fresh for
winter use. Also, so that it might be reached from their house under
the ice, after pond and river were frozen.

Day after day Bige and I watched the progress of this harvest. Saw
the beaver towing the floating logs through the canal into the pond
and up the river to the lumber pile where the beaver would dive with
his stick and presently come to the surface again, leaving the stick
_under the water;_ and we wondered how he did it. Also we discussed
possible ways of making a floating stick sink. From our boat we could
see the pile of wood below the surface of the water and we could see
no stones on the pile.

Bige stoutly argued in support of the theory that the beaver sucked
the air out of the pores in the wood, that the water flowed into the
vacuum thus produced, making the stick heavy enough to sink. In order
to demonstrate his theory, Bige took the axe from camp, cut a poplar
sapling an inch and a half in diameter and the usual beaver length,
put one end in the water and sucked on the other end of the stick.
After repeated trials and failures to make the stick do anything but
float, Bige decided that his "sucker was not powerful enough." The
next day, looking down into the water from our boat, we saw one end
of the axe-cut stick in the wood pile with other sticks cut by beaver

  [Illustration: Bige Testing the Power of His Sucker]

After my return to the city, Bige reported from time to time, making
visits to the beaver house, seeing beaver swimming under the ice,
carrying sticks from the wood pile into the tunnel leading to the
house; also later, beaver bringing peeled sticks out of the house and
placing them in a very orderly manner on another pile. Reports also
reached me of beaver under the ice digging pond lily roots and
carrying them into the house.

In the following April after the ice in the pond had broken up, the
beavers came out of their winter home and brought with them six young
beaver puppies. The father beaver with the white head now went away
on his summer exploration trip. We later learned that it was the
habit of all male beavers to wander far from home during the summer
months. The mother remained at the pond and took care of her six
young ones; but with them she moved into the burrow in the bank where
we had first seen the old male beaver go to hide.

Many times during the summer we saw the young beavers sunning
themselves on the bank or playing in the water near the shore. The
mother was always somewhere near, and invariably sounded a warning by
pounding the water with her broad tail, whereupon the youngsters
would scamper for cover and each would precede his dive by slapping
the water with his little ladle-like tail, in feeble imitation of the

One day in June a hawk swooped down, grabbed one of the young beavers
and carried him away. Later, a pekan, sometimes called a fisher,
killed another one. Apparently the mother scared him off. We found
the dead baby beaver, and tracks in the mud gave us the name of his

  [Illustration: The Pekan]

Early in July of that summer, while on a fishing trip to Wolf Pond,
six miles to the east, Bige and I met our white-headed beaver friend.
A slap on the water and a shower of spray informed us that we were
recognized. It also spoiled our fishing for at least half an hour.

Toward the end of the same month we met him at the mouth of West Bay
Brook on Cedar Lake. This was nine miles west of his home and fully
fifteen miles from Wolf Pond, where we last saw him.

In the third week in August we again saw our beaver with a white cap.
This time on Pine Brook where he was assisting two other beavers
(possibly a brother and sister of his,) in building a dam across the
brook. We were fortunate in being able to conceal ourselves, and for
a time watched operations. Apparently, our friend was bossing the job
and directing the operations of the other two. It seemed that his
ability as an engineer was recognized in beaver world, and he
therefore had been called in to supervise a difficult undertaking.
Thereafter we called him the Chief Engineer, and he many times proved
his right to the title.

In September the Chief Engineer returned to his home at Cherry Pond,
and there followed a season of great activity among the beavers. Some
of their work we were privileged to see in progress, all of it we saw
after completion. The young beavers were now about one third the size
of their parents, but they all worked.

First, the entire family visited the outlet of the pond, where the
Chief demonstrated to the others that with the rocky stream bed and
the accumulated drift-wood, a dam would be unnecessary to maintain
water in the pond at its present level. Next the house must be
enlarged to make room for a family of six instead of two, as in the
previous winter. When completed, the house was elliptical in shape,
twenty-two feet across its base in the short diameter and thirty feet
in its longer dimension. It was also increased in height to eight
feet. The peeled sticks piled up under the ice during the previous
winter were now utilized in making additions to the house with other
sticks and brush brought from the woods.

  [Illustration: A One Night Camp]

The interior of the house was enlarged to more than twice its former
size by cutting away and dragging out through the tunnels, surplus
materials. In doing this, several pillars were left standing for
supports to the enlarged ceiling.

Three additional tunnels were dug, making five channels for entrance
and exit. Those terminating in shallow water were continued as
ditches to deeper water.

The storage warehouse also was made larger and deeper, not only to
provide mortar for enlarging the building, but because more food must
be stored for six mouths than was required for two. A very high grade
of what is called "instinct" in animals must be required to calculate
and determine just how much food to store for a winter's supply for a
family of a given size. It has been asserted by those who think they
know, that in this matter a beaver never makes a mistake. That he
also stores an extra amount of food for an unusually long and severe
winter. So far as I have observed, they seem to come through the
winter in good physical condition.

A picture, which I have longed to secure on a film, but which, so
far, I have only been able to fix on the retina of an eye, represents
a young beaver about the size of a kitten, not fully grown, in an
upright position, holding in his two hands and against his breast a
gob of mud, while he laboriously and clumsily struggles up the steep
side of his house, on the roof of which he is about to deposit his
burden. In the water, towing a young log or a bushy branch, he is
much more at home and more graceful in his movements.

The following spring there came out of our beaver house, the Chief
Engineer, his wife, four yearlings and a new family of five babies.
The "old man" now went off on his annual exploring trip, but he took
with him the four older children, while the mother and the babies
remained behind. As usual, the house was deserted during the summer
months. We now noted several burrows under the bank at widely
separate places along shore. Sometimes the beaver would be seen
entering one of these holes and again another.

It is interesting and easy, to study the habits of wild creatures,
and to note how uniform are their methods and practices. It is not so
easy to determine reasons for their peculiar way of doing things. It
is of course permissible to speculate, but one might be expected to
furnish proof, when an assertion is made. For example, it has been
stated by at least two writers, that beaver desert their homes in
summer so that the vermin which infest their huts may die off from
starvation during the absence of their fur coated hosts.

My own guess, if I were to hazard one, would be that since a beaver
house must generally be placed in an exposed position, its owners
find that with the sun beating down on its roof during June, July and
August, the poorly ventilated interior becomes too hot for comfort.
On the other hand, I have noted that the burrows in which they live
in summer, are usually found under some overhanging tree, in a cool
spot where the sun never penetrates.

During our wanderings through the woods that summer, Bige and I came
upon a family of beavers at Mud Pond. These were doubtless also
emigrants from the original Raquette Lake colony. Great improvements
were in progress. An abandoned and broken down lumber dam at the
outlet, which had not been used for lumber operations for many years,
was being rebuilt by the beavers, and the Chief Engineer was on hand
assisting and directing operations.

  [Illustration: Section of Beaver Dam]

On a subsequent visit, we saw the completed dam which raised the
waters of the pond about three feet. An area more than a mile long
and a quarter mile wide was now flooded. A swamp at the upper end was
entirely covered and afforded water transportation from a large grove
of poplar trees, which without the dam could not have been reached.
Five years later, on the shores of this pond, the beavers had
completely cleared of trees more than ten acres of ground. At this
time four beaver houses were observed on the shore and on islands in
Mud Pond.

When three years old, the children of the Chief Engineer left the
parental homestead, mated with relatives in other colonies and set up
house building and house keeping on their own account. Some of them,
doubtless, located many miles away, others we know built dams and
houses on streams emptying into Cherry Pond.

One summer Bige and I were trout fishing on West Bay Brook. We worked
up stream about four miles from its mouth, and encountered seven
beaver dams and as many houses. At one of these dams we found the
white capped Chief working with some younger beavers. Our guess was,
that some of these were his own offspring to whom he was giving
instruction in engineering practice.

  [Illustration: Beaver Posing]

A year later, on Fishing Brook, twenty miles to the north-east, and
fully fifty miles from the original colony on the Raquette tributary,
we found several beaver colonies. They also settled on Minnow Brook.
On Salmon River, from its mouth to Salmon Pond (which it drains), a
distance of six miles, there is now a beaver dam every half mile. At
one of these dams, a few years ago, we found the Chief Engineer at
work. The dam was placed where the current was swift, and a big rock
in mid stream was utilized as a pier, against which the two sections
of the dam were braced. Such an adaptation of available means to
accomplish a difficult engineering feat is surely something more than
merely instinct.

  [Illustration: Stone Pier in Beaver Dam]

On an exploring trip over the foot hills of Dunwood Mountain, Bige
and I came upon a very unusual beaver dam on Little Bear Brook. The
brook at this point flowed through a deep ravine. The dam built
across the valley measured in length at its top two hundred and ten
feet. It was fifteen feet from the bottom of brook to top of dam, and
we estimated the width at its base at forty feet. Water was flowing
over a spillway three feet wide at one end of the dam. The upper and
lower sides of the dam sloped away steeply like the roof of a house,
and along the ridge was a row of stones, each about the size of a
man's head. We walked across the dam on these stones without wetting
our feet, and we wondered how the beavers got them into position. It
did not seem possible that such small animals could lift and carry
these heavy stones to where they were placed. It was impossible for a
human to roll them up over the lower and outer face of the dam, which
was a network of interwoven and criss-crossed saplings, sticks and
brush. The only other method which appeared to us possible was for
the stones to be rolled or pushed up the upper and inner slope of the
dam _under water_ to the top. The inner face of the dam was of course
plastered over with mud and was relatively smooth.

  [Illustration: Beaver Dam Fifteen Feet High]

We cooked our eggs, bacon and tea on the bank at one end of the dam.
After we had eaten and drunken and while I was engaged in taking some
photographs, we were agreeably surprised to see our old friend, the
bald headed Chief Engineer, swimming down the pond toward us. As a
signal that we were recognized, he saluted by humping his back,
lifting his broad tail and striking the water a resounding slap, thus
throwing a fountain of spray high into the air. His presence
signified to us that this marvelous piece of engineering was the
product of his skill in plan and execution.

We were able to go in a boat past the beaver house on our pond, about
a mile up the river. At the head of navigation was a big flat rock,
over which the water flowed, making a fall about one foot high, and
above this fall were rapids. An old and much used trail started at
this flat rock and led up the river; a branch also took one to Wolf
Pond and another branch led to Dunwood Mountain. We often used this
trail, as also did other visitors at the pond. And doubtless, so did
the Indians many years ago.

A pair of young beavers, both of them probably relatives of the Chief
Engineer, built a dam across the river on this flat rock. The dam was
about two feet high, backing the water up the rapids thirty yards and
making a fall of water over the dam three feet high. Above this dam
the beavers started building a house, but before the house was
completed, high water following three days of rain washed away the
dam. The beavers at once rebuilt the dam in the same spot, but within
a month the dam had been the second time washed away. The high water
of the following spring carried the dam, rebuilt in the fall, off of
the flat rock for the third time.

On the smooth flat surface of this rock there was no suitable
anchorage for a dam, and the unusual pressure of high and swift
flowing water pushed it down stream and scattered the materials of
which it was built.

It was a bad dam-site! and this is doubtless what the Chief Engineer
told the youngsters; for it was at this period that the Chief took a
hand in the game.

The house that had been built above the flat rock was abandoned and
was never again occupied.

A pair of beavers which we believed to be the hard luck animals above
mentioned, we now found were beginning operations on a new dam about
a quarter of a mile down the river, and the Chief Engineer worked
with them and seemed to be directing the job. We watched the progress
of this enterprise for many days and found it most interesting.

At the spot selected, the river was about a hundred and twenty feet
wide and five feet deep in the middle. The current was not very swift
and a lot of mud had settled on the gravelly bottom. Saplings and
bushy alders, many of them fifteen to twenty feet long, were used for
a foundation. They were always placed with the butt ends up stream
and stones on the bushy ends held them firmly anchored on the bottom.
All sorts of materials were worked into this dam; much of it was
carried, dragged or floated long distances. The sticks and brush were
interwoven in a very ingenious manner, the chinks were filled with
sod, stones and mud. The entire structure was firmly braced by heavy
sticks resting against the lower slope of the dam with one end of
each stick stuck in the ground at the bottom of the river.

This dam at first was built up to two feet above the normal level of
the river and water flowed over the top of the dam; but the river
banks were low at this place and water also flowed over the banks--on
one side into a slough and on the other side into a swamp.

The second phase of this hydro-engineering feat was now begun. It
consisted of wing dams two feet high on top of the river bank and
parallel to the stream. These were carried up on the north side of
the river a distance of three hundred and fifty feet and on the south
side about two hundred feet. The dam across the river was also made
two feet higher. The dam now, in the middle of the river, was five
feet high under water and four feet above the surface, making it nine
feet in the highest part and with the two wings, six hundred and
seventy feet long.

We had visited the scene of operations at least twice every day
during the building and had casually discussed the probable
difficulty in reaching the old trail up the river, but had not
considered the matter seriously. One day Bige and I dragged our boat
up over the dam and rowed up the river. Above the end of the wing dam
the forest was flooded five hundred or more feet on each side of the
river, and if we wished to follow the old trail we should have to
wade through water at least as far as that; for it was impossible to
push the boat through the woods, between the trees and bushes.

It was all very well and very interesting to watch the operations of
the beaver, but this was carrying a joke too far. The beavers were
now interfering with our business. The beavers are, of course,
protected by law, but here were hundreds of fine spruce, hemlock,
pine and balsam trees being drowned in our presence. The trees would
die; they were valuable; they belonged to the State and we were both
of us tax-payers. This thing must be stopped at once.

We rowed back to the dam and spent three hours tearing a hole three
feet wide through the middle of it. We watched the water run out
through the break and then returned to camp.

The next morning we found the dam had been repaired during the night
and the water was flowing over its top as usual. Two guests arrived
at our camp that morning. They were interested in the story of the
dam and spent all of the afternoon in making another opening to let
the water out; but again the beavers had the dam repaired before the
following morning. The Doctor had by now settled in his camp at the
western end of the pond. He came across with his two husky boys and
they broke a hole through the dam for the third time; and the third
time the beavers repaired the breach during the night.

  [Illustration: Bige Tearing Out the Dam]

Bige's fighting blood was now thoroughly "het up" and he said "I'll
fix them pesky beavers." A lot of men were at work building a "tote
road" for a lumber camp over the other side of the mountain about
three miles from our camp. Bige went over to call on them, and he
came back with four sticks of dynamite and some fuse. These we
connected and placed on top of the dam. We covered the dynamite with
mud, lighted the fuse, jumped into our boat and rowed as fast as
possible down toward the pond. When a hundred yards away, the
explosion occurred. With a terrific roar that beaver dam was shot
toward the sky and toward every point of the compass, and the water
above the dam came rushing through a gap twenty feet wide. A later
examination proved, that the dam had been torn out clear to the
bottom of the river. Our hand-made breaks had extended only to the
surface of the water below the dam.

That night a hurry up wireless call went out, and before morning
twenty-three beavers were at work rebuilding the dam, with the Chief
Engineer in command. We figured that delegations must have come from
a colony two miles up the river, probably some from Mud Pond, others
from Pine Brook and Raquette River. Certainly, there were not, living
on our pond, as many beavers as we saw at work that night. By the
next morning the dam had been rebuilt to the water level, and the
second morning it was completely restored with water flowing over the
top. A curious fact we noted, was, that while both banks of the river
were strewn with fragments of the old dam, not a single piece of this
tainted and dangerous material was used. New trees and bushes were
cut and carried greater distances for the rebuilding.

At this stage of the war, Bige and I surrendered. We were hopelessly
outnumbered and outclassed by the beavers. They worked while we were
asleep. We now got busy and cut out a new trail around the swamp and
the flooded area to connect with the old trail. This makes the walk
fully a half mile longer than before the dam was built.

The Chief Engineer had lived at Cherry Pond ten years. He had brought
out a new family of from four to seven individuals every spring. All
of these had been housed and fed for two or three years, when they
were old enough to emigrate and set up in business and housekeeping
on their own. During these ten years a large quantity of bark had
been consumed and poplar, the favorite food of beaver, had
practically all been cut off. Along the shores and on the islands no
more was to be found. It was, therefore, necessary to seek new
sources of food supply.

Beyond the swamp, to the northeast of the river mouth, there was a
grove of poplar trees, covering several acres. It was nearly a half
mile to this grove, but not too far for the courage of our Chief, who
now set his gang of youngsters at work digging a canal. This canal
had an average width of three feet and it was two and a half feet
deep. It was made quite crooked through the swamp, winding around and
between clumps of alders and larger trees. Smaller trees were dug up
and roots which crossed the path of the canal were cut off as clean
as if chopped with an axe.

Water in the canal through the swamp maintained practically the level
of the pond. There was a gradual rise of ground beyond the swamp and
here a series of dams or locks were built. Each dam raised the level
of water from two to three feet. There were thirteen of these levels
varying in length from fifty, to two hundred and fifty feet. Water
from a spring brook was diverted into the canal and flowed over each
dam. The beavers towed their lumber through this canal and dragged it
over the several dams, each of which seemed to be especially
constructed to facilitate this operation. The length of this canal we
estimated to be twenty-five hundred feet.

  [Illustration: Map of Cherry Pond]

Beavers appear to prefer the bark of smaller trees, but they do not
hesitate to cut down a large one when necessary. In such case they
carry away the branches only. A poplar tree eighteen inches in
diameter was cut on the shore of our pond and felled into the water.
The branches that remained above the surface were cut off and carried
to the storage pile. Those that were under water were left and were
cut off under the ice during the following winter.

Beavers are generally peaceable. They have many admirable traits.
Individuals of one colony will assist those of another in strenuous
operations much as pioneer humans helped each other in building log
cabins, in barn raisings, etc. Many tales are told. One, of a family
whose house had been destroyed, being taken into another's house and
the two families living together all winter. Another story relates
how a mother beaver was killed, when another immediately adopted the
five orphans and brought them up with her own children. We have
recorded above, instances where the Chief Engineer was contributing
his remarkable skill and experience toward solving the problems of
his friends in widely separated parts of the forest. And we believe
he did not insist upon union rules in regard to wage, hours of labor,
or minimum output.

  [Illustration: Tree 18 Inches in Diameter Partly Cut by Beaver]

Our observations justify the belief that at least some beavers have a
sense of humor. We mention two incidents in support of the theory.
One day on the big lake, near the hotel, I saw two girls about twelve
years of age, in a canoe. These girls were chasing a beaver. The
beaver was swimming on the surface and he was more than half a mile
from his house. He could easily have outdistanced the canoe and got
away from it, but he chose to swim slowly and allow the canoe to
approach until the girls might have touched him with a paddle, when
he would hump himself, slap the water with his tail, thus throwing
showers of spray over the girls, while he dived under the canoe and
presently came to the surface in some new and unexpected position.
The girls, of course, with screams and excited shouts frantically
swung the canoe into position and started the chase over again; while
the beaver loafed along until they caught up. This game of tag,
played by the girls and the beaver I watched for twenty minutes or
more and each time the girls came near enough to the animal he
managed to throw water on them. I feel certain that he enjoyed the
game quite as much as the two girls, and while I did not hear the
beaver laugh, I thought I saw a grin on his face.

The cottage where our family live during the summer, stands on a bank
about thirty feet above the water and fifty feet from the shore of
the lake. A number of shade trees have been planted on the grounds
about the house. Among these were two poplar trees which we had
carefully nursed for five years, and they were growing fine. One of
them was directly in front of the cottage and twenty feet from the
steps. It was six inches in diameter. The other tree was four inches
in diameter and about thirty feet from one side of the house.

A mile up the lake was a large beaver house. The shores near this
house on both sides of the lake, were lined with poplar trees and an
island near by was covered with them. One night a beaver from this
colony came down the lake and cut down the poplar tree in front of
our door, cut it into suitable lengths and towed it back up the lake
to his house. In the morning all that was left where my tree stood,
was a stump and some chips. The following night he came again and cut
the other tree. He must have made several trips to tow back to his
storage pile the lumber he cut at my front door.

  [Illustration: The Cottage]

I have devoted some time to speculating as to the motive that might
conceivably actuate a perfectly sane and intelligent beaver to haul
his lumber more than a mile, when in doing so he would have to pass
by hundreds of other equally good trees, many of them within a few
rods of his house. The only reasonable answer I have been able to
secure to this conundrum is that the beaver probably thought it would
be a good joke on me; and I have a mental picture of him laughing in
his sleeve as he dragged the logs down the bank in front of my door
while I slept.

Early in October, a few years ago, Bige and I were entertaining three
guests at our Cherry Pond camp. For two days we had been hunting with
indifferent success. Awakening quite early one morning, I took my
rifle and leaving the other members of the party audibly sleeping on
the balsam, tiptoed out of camp and down the trail. A log-road
paralleled the shore of the pond and I wandered down this road,
hoping to get an early morning shot at a deer. It was still quite
dark and I found that the sights on my gun were still invisible in
the dim light, so I sat on a log and waited for the first yellow
light to appear over East Inlet Mountain. Then, continuing my silent,
stalking way, when opposite the mouth of the river, I heard curious
and unusual sounds. Peering through the bushes across the slough I
saw a black bear. He was on top of the beaver house and with his
claws was tearing out sticks, brush and sod and throwing them in
every direction. The bear was very busy and with great energy and
determination he was proceeding to dig out the Chief Engineer. Of
course I knew that the Chief was in no personal danger, as he had a
perfectly safe way of retreat open, under water. But I could not
stand idly by and see his roof torn off: so I took careful aim and
fired. The bear tumbled down the steep slope of the beaver house and
I had visions of bear steak, etc., etc. But he immediately got on his
feet and wallowed through the slough to the shore. As he crossed the
log-road headed toward the woods I fired again and the second time
the bear fell. It did not take him long to recover his balance and
start at high speed up the steep hillside. About ten rods from where
I stood, the bear came into an opening in the bushes which had once
been a skid-way for logs; here he stopped, put his fore paws up on a
log and looked back at me. "Now," I said, to the trees and bushes,
"he's coming back to argue with me." Before he started, however, the
third shot cut a bunch of hair off of his shoulder and he resumed his
journey up the mountain and I went back to camp.

  [Illustration: Bear Wrecking Beaver House]

The racket made by three shots in the early morning had suddenly
interrupted the camp chorus, and I was greeted with the inquiry,
"Where's the deer?"

"That deer," said I, "is a bear, and he's big as a horse. I left him
up in the woods. We'll go and get him after breakfast."

Bige allowed that "if it really was a bear, he wasn't hurt much. You
couldn't kill a bear with that pop-gun. (I was using a Winchester
30). Why, a bear's hide is thicker than sole-leather and this time of
year he has an armor-plate of fat under it, six inches thick. You
might as well try to shoot a hole through a feather pillow. If you
are going to hunt bear, take an elephant-gun--a 45-90."

After breakfast, we all started out on the trail of the bear. We
found blood spots in the log-road. We also measured a foot print in a
soft place in the path. It was twelve inches in diameter. Broken
bushes, blood spots on fallen trees and on leaves marked his route up
the steep slope. Half way up the mountain on a big ledge of rocks,
covered with moss, the bear had been lying down. A pool of blood
marked the spot. Also, numerous tufts of moss torn from the rock and
saturated with blood were scattered about. Apparently the bear had
pulled up handfuls of the soft moss and used it in the same manner
that a surgeon uses lint.

Bige suggested, "This is a first aid station for bears; but if you
should tell anyone what you have seen here, you will be put in the
class of Nature Fakirs."

We followed the bear's trail from the mossy rock up to the top of the
mountain and had started down the other side when it began to rain.
In a few minutes the rain had washed away the red stains and we lost
the trail and returned to camp. But that bear is going yet. Also, he
is carrying with him three bullets that belong to me. Some day,
somewhere in the woods, I expect to meet him again, when I shall take
those bullets away from him.

It is now seventeen years since we first met the Chief Engineer. He
still retains the monopoly of his trade mark. Within our knowledge,
no other beaver has appeared with a white spot on his head. But the
Chief shows his age. His brown coat of fur looks faded and grey, and
the white spot is less conspicuous. The Chief was a member of the
first colony installed for the purpose of restocking the northern
forests; and he has contributed his share, both to increasing the
inhabitants and to rebuilding beaver industries. Every season a new
family of four to seven beavers have been sent out from his home to
start other families, and so they have multiplied in a sort of
geometrical progression until now they cover many hundreds of square
miles of forest land and water. Early in 1920 the Conservation
Commissioner of the State of New York estimated that there were more
than twenty thousand beavers in the Adirondack region. My guess is
that this estimate is much too low.

One day last summer, Bige and I saw the Chief Engineer dive and enter
a tunnel leading to his house. We silently paddled up close to the
house and listened. Presently we heard a murmur of beaver
conversation inside. "Gosh!" said Bige, "the old Chief is giving
instructions to the kid beavers. He's telling 'em how to handle the
job they have to do tonight."


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Chief Engineer" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.