A Deer-Man Skirmish in Mud Lake, NY, 1857.
“If a man undertakes a dangerous enterprise with a determination
to succeed or lose his life, he will do many things with ease and unharmed
which a smaller degree of energy would never accomplish.”
--Meshach Browning, Forty-Four Years of the Life of a Hunter, 1859
After reading Browning’s stirring account of his buck fight in Life of a Forty-Four Years of the Hunter, A. F. Tait (1819-1905), the great Adirondack artist/deer hunter, created a painting in 1861 of Browning grappling with the unexpectedly formidable opponent titled The Life of a Hunter: Catching a Tartar. In the same year Currier and Ives published a hand-colored lithograph of Tait’s black and white painting of Browning’s buck fight in the Young River thus immortalizing the famous incident. Tait varied the scene a little by adding another hunter in the background instead of a dog, and shifting it to the banks of the river. The illustration of this buck fight by Browning’s editor, Edward Stabler (1794-1883), is historically more accurate, although less dramatic.
In 1857, Jacob A. Dallas engraved a deer-man skirmish for the frontispiece for S. H. Hammond’s Wild Northern Scenes (1856). In a reprint of this classic hunting book, an unidentified artist gave this image a more modernistic rendering. Tait undoubtedly knew of this engraving as well as others. A similar life-and-death struggle between a man and a wounded white-tailed buck was also reported near Milford, Pennsylvania, in the November 17 issue of Field. Indeed during the 19th century, numerous and similar deer-man skirmishes repeatedly occurred as a leitmotiv in the sporting literature of the time.
These deer-man skirmishes were not only a leitmotiv of
the deer hunting literature of the time, but also a common occurrence due to the primitive nature of the weapons used and the fear of shooting the deerhound instead of the deer when confronting the wounded animal at close range. We also find an historical illustration of it in William Elliott’s classic Carolina Sports by Land and Water (1846).
The engraving done by Jacob A. Dallas accompanied the following description of a deer-man skirmish in Mud Lake published in 1857 in S. H. Hammond’s Wild Northern Scenes:
“The next mornin’, I got up just as the sun was risin’, and a little way down on the shore of the lake I saw a buck. Wal, he was one of ‘em – that buck was. The horns on his head were like an old-fashioned round-posted chair, and if they hadn’t a dozen prongs on ‘em, you may skin me! He wasn’t as big as an ox, but a two-year –old that could match him, could brag of a pretty rapid growth. I crept up behind a little clump of bushes to about fifteen rods of where he stood on the sandy beach, and sighting carefully at his head, let drive. My gun hung fire a little owin’ to the night-dews, but that buck went down, and after kickin’ a moment, laid still, and I took it for granted he was dead.
“So I laid down my rifle, and went up to where he was, and with my huntin’s knife in my hand, took hold of his horn to raise his head so as to cut his throat. If that deer was dead, he came to life mighty quick; for I had no sooner touched him, than he sprang to his feet, and with every hair standin’ straight towards his head, came like a mad bull at me. In strugglin’ un he over took me; and as he made his drive one prong went through the calf of my leg. I plunged my knife into his body, and the blood spurted all over me. But it wasn’t no use. He smashed down upon me again, and made that hole in my leg above the knee. I handled my knife in a hurry, and made more than one hole in his skin, while he stuck a prong through my arm.
“I hollered for Crop, who was watching the shanty as his duty was. The old buck and I had it rough and tumble; sometimes one a-top, and sometimes the other, and both growin’ weak from loss of blood. We did kick and tussle about, and tear up the sand on the beach of the lake! The buck was game to the backbone and had no notion of givin’ in, and I had to fight for it, or die; so up and down, over and over, and all around, we went for a long time until Crop made up his mind that my callin’ so earnestly meant something, and round the point he came. When he saw what was goin’ on, you ought to ‘ve seen how he went in! He didn’t stop to ask any questions, but as if possessed by all the furies of creation he lit upon that buck and the fight was up.
“He with his teeth, and I with my knife, settled the matter in less than a minute. But, Judge, let me tell you, that buck was dangerous; and if Crop hadn’t been around, may be ther’d have been the bones of man and beast bleachin’ on the sandy beach of Mud Lake! I bound up my wounds as well as I could – but it was tough work backin’ my bark canoe over the carryin’ places on Bog River and across the Ingen carryin’ place, and from the Upper Saranac to Round Lake, with them holes in my leg and arm, and the other bruises I received. When I got out to the settlements I was might glad to lie still for six weeks, and when I got around again I was a good deal learner than I am now.
“My gun hangin’ fire made my bullet go wide of the spot I aimed at. It had grazed his skull and stunned him for a little time, and crazed him into the bargain. I learned more fully a fact that I’d an idea of before, by my fight with that deer, and it is this – that it’s best to keep out of the way of a furious buck with tall, sharp horns on his head. He’s dangerous animal to handle.”
An old-time saying of the 19th century read as follows: “For the boar, a doctor / For the deer, a coffin!”
Robert Wegner Ph.D.
February 28, 2005
Read more about "Meshach Browning" and other legendary deer hunters and storytellers in Rob Wegner's classic anthology Legendary Deerslayers Order from Amazon and Save $