News of Otsego County

Natty Bumppo

The Old Badger: Salvaging the Mohican

The Old Badger: Salvaging the Mohican

Editor’s note: This column was first published in The Freeman’s Journal on April 7, 1976.

The Steamboat Mohican went down more than 40 years ago, but bits and pieces of information about the boat and its times keep surfacing. Some are pertinent, some impertinent.

The rudder of the Mohican was turned into a coffee table; the propeller shaft is still part of a lawn roller; and the wheel now decorates “someone’s” wall. The lake north of Three Mile was dragged sometime in the late 30s or early 40s, and most of the remains of the Mohican were removed from the bottom. But two other steamers, the Natty Bumppo and the Deerslayer, are supposedly still out there somewhere.
The Otsego Lake Transportation Company leased its lakefront property to the village in September 1934, reserving the pavilion which was already under lease to Bill Smalley.

That same summer also saw, “Mrs. George Hyde Clarke of Hyde Hall treated for a wound inflicted by a stray 22-calibre bullet, which pierced her leg as she was sitting with her husband on the grounds of the Wilcox estate in Pierstown.”

John Logan, inexperienced woodchuck hunter, was thought to be the cause. Over in Oneonta, the “Wild Man of Borneo,” from a travelling circus, was arrested on an S.P.C.A. complaint for eating live chickens. The first sailboat to capsize that season belonged to Spotswood Bowers Jr. It was tied to the dock at the time.

Dr. Davis Kydd joined the hospital staff.

The Blue Anchor Inn, the last house on the right before the golf course, on the way out of town, was featuring a “special quick luncheon for golfers” on its terrace overlooking the golf grounds. (The sign straps still hang from the house).

The winner of the Merchant’s Popularity Election, Miss Hilda Ballard from M.I.B., won a week’s cruise on the Great Lakes. Miss Mary Shaw of Clark’s Confectionary and Music store won three days at Atlantic City.

Sam Sapienza helped put in the docks at the lakefront, and while pounding a post, he missed the mark. The sledgehammer plummeted to the bottom, but all was not lost. “Sam held onto it.” Connie Necrason was accepted as a plebe at West Point; Alan McEwan was the bugler at Camp Deerslayer. In the caddy tournament at the golf course, Tony Feola beat H. Mumford; A. Hall beat La Duke; J. Feola beat J. Shipman; Clancy beat Becker; F. Feola beat J. Parillo; and A. Mumford beat H. Mumford.

Miss Holmes, who had played the piano for Smalley’s silent movies, lived on the corner of Pioneer and Lake in one of the few houses on lower Pioneer where you couldn’t get bootleg booze.
Also, a green seven-passenger Packard sedan is said to have been sort of a mobile unit for bathtub gin when it was parked near the dance pavilion.

The Forsythe Saga won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932; Babe Didrikson won three medals in the Olympics; and round steak was 41 cents a pound.

Local parents were put out by the language of their children.

Everything seemed to be “the cat’s pajamas” or the “bee’s knees,” and their dancing clothes were “glad rags.”

The latest fads in music and song were even worse, as this editorial in the local paper indicates: “the words are meaningless, while the tunes, like the rest of the so-called music of the day, bears about as much relation to true music as a director’s baton does to a hop pole.”

And so it went.

Next time: The Badger walks off the course.

Otsego County, Reclaim Natty Bumppo As Own


Otsego County, Reclaim

Natty Bumppo As Own

Hawkeye lives! Daniel Day Lewis reintroduced Natty Bumppo to the modern audience in the 1992 “Last of the Mohicans.”

Editor’s Note: This editorial, from May 6, 2016, is timely again today, after the news that the Pomeroy Foundation has awarded a “Legends & Lore” historical marker to both Fly Creek, home of David Shipman, and Hoosick Falls, home of Nathaniel Shipman.

Alan Taylor, the eminent historian and author of the Pulitzer-winning “William Cooper’s Town” is emphatic in his conclusion: David Shipman was James Fenimore Cooper’s inspiration for the famed Natty Bumppo. Fly Creek Historical Society President Sherlee Rathbone says primary sources are lacking.

It’s a step in the right direction that Hawkeye is honored locally, but the “Legends & Lore” marker is a step short of Pomeroy’s “Historical Marker” designation.

Bruce Shipman, David Shipman’s descendant who was leading that argument, passed away in 2017. Someone needs to pick up the challenge and continue it until OUR Shipman’s rightful role is accurately recognized.

“The Last of the Mohicans” is James Fenimore Cooper’s most enduring novel. In this frontispiece, Natty Bumppo collaborates with Chingachgook, who, legend has it, was based on a Mohican family from the Richfield Springs area.

Who isn’t familiar with the image above? Daniel Day Lewis reinvented “The Last of the Mohicans” for a modern audience, although – believe it or not – that movie version (1992) came out almost a quarter-century ago. It’s time for another reinvention for the PS4
generation, and that inevitably will happen.

And, yet, here in the home of Hawkeye, or Natty Bumppo, or The Leatherstocking, or “La Longue Carabine,” he’s largely forgotten – but for his descendant Bruce Shipman. (And, of course, Hugh MacDougall, Cooperstown village historian, key player in the founding of the James Fenimore Cooper Society in 1989, which necessarily is a celebration of Cooper’s greatest creation and one of the most enduring characters in American literature.)

Yes, the next “Last of the Mohicans” hit movie is inevitable. But are we ready to celebrate – and capitalize on – our most famous citizen (the fictional one, but also his human counterpart) when that happens?

When you think about it, it’s quite shocking how little David Shipman, who James Fenimore Cooper acknowledged as “the Leatherstocking of the region” in “Chronicles of Cooperstown” (1838), is recognized around here.

As SUNY Binghamton professor Thomas Jordan put it in 2012, “Bumppo reflects the core qualities of the burgeoning American character – rugged individualism, self-reliance, moral certitude in the face of difficult ethical dilemmas, and freedom from the potentially stifling strictures of society.”

Think National Security State, and Natty Bumppo has never been more relevant.
In our PC-burdened national dialogue, Cooper’s hero – and his companion, Chingachgook (related to the Brushells of Richfield Springs, it’s said) – also reflect
a more complex reality, of newcomers and American Indians living side by side, the
good allied against the bad among settlers and natives alike.

David Shipman as Cooper’s inspiration was clouded by Ralph Birdsall’s seminal (and very readable) “The Story of Cooperstown” (1917), which lays out Hoosick Falls’ argument for the alternative Nathaniel Shipman.

But Alan Taylor’s Pulitzer-winning “William Cooper’s Town” (1996), which researches the complicated relationship between David Shipman and the Cooper family, proves outright
our local Leatherstocking’s status.

Taylor confirmed that in a recent e-mail: “I certainly consider DS to be the model for JFC in crafting the character of Natty Bumppo.”

That is the final word, and should bring all local historians behind Bruce Shipman of Richfield Springs in his effort to place a historical marker on his ancestor’s grave in the Toddsville Cemetery on Route 56 just east of Fly Creek.

Shipman, patriarch of the extensive Shipman clan, has sought the support of the Fly Creek Area Historical Society, and he should have it, and from the Otsego Town Board, and he should have it. But David Shipman is bigger than any single local community.

County Treasurer Dan Crowell’s parents live on Otsego Manor Road, and he will tell you that the legendary Shipman’s cabin was on the far end of that property.

As you cross the Route 11C bridge between Routes 28 and 33, look to the northwest, and you’ll see a V formed where Oaks Creek meets the Susquehanna. That’s where it was. That deserves a historical marker.

And the Leatherstocking-topped obelisk in Lakewood Cemetery (there’s a whole other story there) – that deserves a historical marker.

The point is that James Fenimore Cooper’s novels may be dated, but The Leatherstocking is not. He’s waiting to be reinvented in the next Hollywood block-buster, and to be rediscovered by scholars seeking to understand the nation’s complex ethnic interplay.

Meanwhile, we should be prepared for that inevitable day. Celebrating Hawkeye would
be a high-profile project for high-energy OCHA (the Otsego County Historical Association).

It would be a worthy project for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s scholars.

As a community, we should understand Natty Bumppo’s significance, as Hannibal, Mo., should understand Huck Finn. Let’s digest Alan Taylor’s research, and recognize Cooper’s greatest hero with one historical marker, or two, or as many as necessary, and figure out how to tell “La Longue Carabine’s” story to the rest of the world.

Both Bumppo Claims Equal, Power Foundation Concludes


Both Bumppo Claims Equal,

Power Foundation Declares

Pete Nowicki, the county’s sign expert, examines Bumppo “Legend & Lore” marker. (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

FLY CREEK – Wuz we robbed?

The Pomeroy Foundation has, finally, approved a “Legend & Lore” marker for the grave of David Shipman, whom James Fenimore Cooper himself identified as the model for Natty Bumppo, who ranks with Huck Finn among the foremost protagonists in American literature.

Here’s the text of the new “Lore & Legend” marker in Hoosick Falls.

At the same time, though, Pomeroy also approved a “Legend & Lore” marker for Nathaniel Shipman’s grave in Hoosick Falls, giving him equal billing with the local woodsman who inspired the most memorable character in Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”

The “Legend & Lore” marker is a step down from Pomeroy’s “Historical Marker,” which would actually aver David Shipman was the model for Natty Bumppo. Instead, the marker set up at the Adams Cemetery between Fly Creek and Toddsville simply said that some people think he was Cooper’s hero, also known as the Leatherstocking and “La Longue Carabine.”

“It means you can’t prove it,” said Sherlee Rathbone, president of the Fly Creek Historical Society, which sought the Pomeroy designation. “In order to have a ‘History’ sign, we need to have primary sources. And we don’t; we can’t find it. We had no option.”

That is contrary to the conclusion reached by Alan Taylor, author of the Pulitzer-winning “William Cooper’s Town” (1996), who now holds the Thomas Jefferson Chair in American History at the University of Virginia. He has since won a second Pulitzer, in 2014 for “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.”

Taylor researched the complicated relationship between the Cooper family and David Shipman, who would often provide the village’s first family’s table with venison, fish and other edible wildlife.

As proof, Taylor cites James Fenimore Cooper identifying David Shipman as Bumppo in “Chronicles of Cooperstown” (1838).

That – the writer himself designating David Shipman – would constitute a primary source.
In a 2016 e-mail to this newspaper, Taylor declared, “I certainly consider DS to be the model for JFC in crafting the character of Natty Bumppo.”

In addition to the gravesite, former county treasurer Dan Crowell’s family has identified the confluence of Oaks Creek and the Susquehanna – it can be seen on the north side of the Route 11C bridge – as the site of David Shipman’s cabin. A depiction of Shipman also appears atop the Cooper obelisk in Lakewood Cemetery.

On its website, the Pomeroy Foundation also includes an audio tape, recording Rathbone and Joyce Brewer, from the Hoosick Township Historical Society.

It traces the rivalry between Cooperstown and Hoosick Falls to 1874, when David Shipman’s great-granddaughter threatened to sue, blocking plans in the Washington County town from raising a statue to Nathaniel Shipman.

Nathaniel was born in 1738 in Connecticut, moving to Hoosick in 1756, where he was a scout for the British.  When the American Revolution began, Nathaniel was tarred and feathered for his loyalty to the crown, and fled to the Otsego Lake region, supporting himself by hunting and fishing, and living in a cave.

Back in Hoosick Falls, his daughter, Patience, married a John Ryan, who became a state Assemblyman, Brewer recounts. In Albany, he met Judge William Cooper, also an Assemblyman, who regaled him with stories about a Shipman.

Acting on this information, Ryan and Patience retrieved an “aged white man” from the Cooperstown area, and brought him back to Hoosick Falls, where he died in 1809 and is buried in the Baptist Cemetery.  Patience was “pretty sure that was her father,” the audiotape says.

“Natty,” Brewer says, is a nickname for “Nathaniel,” not “David.”

The audiotape, quoting Rathbone, reports David Shipman was born in 1740 in Saybrook, Conn., and died in Fly Creek in 1813 and was buried in the Adams Cemetery.  “He was a renowned hunter and trapper,” she said, “dressed in leggings and high moccasin boots – hence Leatherstocking.  He supplied the table of many folks with venison and wild meats, include Judge Cooper’s.”

Hoosick Falls has a corpse, Brewer said.  “We do not,” said Rathbone.  “We do have anecdotes.”

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