Several weeks back, I published an article entitled "Lost and Found." The story recounted numerous tales about a variety of ordinary and extraordinary items, strange structures and a host of other surprises I have stumbled upon while traveling through the wilds of the Adirondacks.
While a listing of some of the objects I've uncovered and discovered includes everything from bowling balls to bottle dumps, diamonds to insulators, lightning balls to locomotives, the basis for the original article was a tale I first heard when I was just a youngster growing up in Elizabethtown in the Pleasant Valley of the Boquet River.
The tale was told by Enos Fezette, a local character who was always offering up tall tales of his travels through the deep woods. Slight in stature, and standing barely taller than the kids who often frequented his shack on the outskirts of town, Enos was an experienced woodsman and trapper. His background was relatively unknown to most, although it was rumored he was part French Canadian, part Indian.
Photo courtesy of Wm. J. O’hearn
Noah Rondeau floats a homemade raft near his hermitage in the Cold River valley.
As with most kids of the day, I had free range to range and plenty of local woods to explore. My parents didn't seem to mind where I went, as long as I was home by dark or soon there after. My friends and I would often visit with Enos, and we would marvel at his skill as a woodsman. He taught us how to shoot bullfrogs with a bow and arrow of our own making, and how to construct a slingshot with just the crook of a sapling and a piece of a bicycle inner tube.
I still have a hand-made bow that Enos carved hanging on my wall. It is now dry and brittle. Although I no longer use it to hunt, the arrows it once launched still fly straight in my mind. I often used it to hunt bullfrogs for dinner.
Enos taught us how to "tickle trout" after they had moved under the cut banks of the small streams to seek refuge from the summer's heat. Laying beside the streams, we would gently reach into the undercut banks to cup trout in our hand, before swiftly pulling them out of their hidden lairs with a finger in each gill.
I also recall his effective methods for catching crayfish by herding them with a small stick, which sent them skittering backward into a baseball cap. With fresh trout, garlic frog legs and mini-lobsters frying in a buttered skillet over an open fire, what more could a kid ask for on a summer's day?
With all of his amazing woodsmanship skills, it never dawned on any of us kids that Enos was actually our town drunk. However, looking back through the eyes of age, I do remember finding him on numerous occasions passed out and sleeping along the roadside in the early morning hours.
As kids, we'd wake him up and help him stumble back to the old tumbledown ramshackle shack where he lived. He'd often reward our kindness with another unbelievable tale about his days of hunting and fishing in the "big mountains, up and over Lake Placid way."
But being kids, we'd believe it anyway. We were raised to respect our elders, no matter how great their yarn. It was partly due to the era, and to the innocence of our age. If an adult told you something, it was gospel.
In classic Adirondack style, Enos would always return to Elizabethtown in the late spring toting a bundle of furs that were later sold to Leman Smith in Lewis. He would then take on the task of spending a good portion of the funds on a true "Adirondack haircut," which was actually local slang for an extended bender.
Possibly one of the most interesting tales Enos told was of the days he had spent hunting and trapping with Noah Rondeau, the fabled hermit of Cold River. Enos claimed he and Rondeau had worked a trapline together for several winters. It was during the days of "long liners," when it would take a man several days and nights to check and reset his entire trapline.
Together, he and Rondeau had worked to establish a number of outlaw camps, located throughout the Cold River valley, to provide a warm shelter while they were out checking the lines.
Their unusual shelters were actually made out of small pits that were dug in the forest duff and lined with cut saplings. Saplings were also used to construct a roof, which was later covered with forest debris. Fitted out with a lantern and a small stove, the pit cabins provided shelter from the cold when they were far from the main camp.
Enos would claim, "The damn Consternation cops never found them camps, and you'd never know they was even there 'til a stove pipe banged ya in the shin!"
Although I've long since forgotten a majority of his ramblings, there is one particular tale that has always stuck with me. I guess it has lingered due to the mystery, and the potential for uncovering a cash treasure.
It seems that one particular evening, Enos and Rondeau were involved in a rather high-stakes poker game that was hosted by a group of doctors who maintained a hunting camp near the hermit's hermitage, hidden deep in the Cold River country. Possibly, the card game was hosted by Dr. Lattimer, who was a good friend of Rondeau. Or maybe it was Dr. Dittmer, a Plattsburgh dentist who was also a good friend of the old hermit.
Together, Enos claimed, the pair of wily woodsmen had "cleaned the house and left with their pockets stuffed with cash." Days later, on their trip back to Lake Placid, they stuffed the cash into a coffee can and left it hidden behind some logs in a corner of one of their underground outlaw camps.
Enos claimed the camp was located up beyond the beaver ponds at the far end of Averyville Road, where a stream comes out of the notch. He explained he had never gone back in to retrieve the money. "Still's there as far as I know."
The hidden horde of cash was always a topic of discussion among my boyhood friends.
Enos was also known to be an avid gambler, He wagered money as he "tossed dice in a wheelbarrow" with the Lake Placid boys. He was also considered a bit of a hustler, and often skinned self-proclaimed pool sharks by running the table at The Little Tavern in Eizabethtown. For a short spell, he operated a pool hall in town, but he gave it up to return to a trapline and the world he knew best.
Jerry Pulsifer is a longtime logger from Elizabethtown and a good friend of Enos. He recently told me, "I trapped over there with him some. He trapped a lot in the Cold River country, and he had a camp located about 12 miles in from Averyville. I could probably still find it. We'd turn off the road about 2 miles in to go to a cabin way up above the Perkins Camp, and then we'd walk up by some ledges where there were a bunch of old cabins and some springs he'd use for water. He built the place with wood he got from the old cabins and from another old abandoned lumber camp, way up past Demicos.
"In the spring after he died (1975), I went in with Brent (Hume) to get his traps and some of the other stuff. There must have been a hundred of 'em (traps) and we hauled out as many as we could carry, and left the place as it was.
"Brent and I used to help him haul the traps and the other gear into the camp, way back there. In the fall, we would go in with him for a while, and I think Brent trapped with him for a season once. Enos was one of the last real old-time woodsmen. I remember he'd boil his clothes in hemlock and cedar. I know he hunted with Lloyd Vasser on the Averyville Road. We buried him in the cemetery up in Lewis, across from the old birch mill. I believe he had a sister over that way (Lake Placid), but I never knew her."