The Deer Stalkers
I do enjoy hunting and, as you know, I am rarely without a firearm of some sort or other in the woods. Yet that does not put me in the same class as these men who can see nothing in the woods but game to be killed, any more than my fondness for good liquor puts me in the same class with a town drunkard or my fondness for biological recreation puts me in the same class with a man whose whole life centers about his genito-urinary system.
H. Beam Piper
Piper had a real love of nature and spent much of his free time, when not writing, camping, hiking and hunting. Beam learned much of his wood lore and hunting skills from his father, Herbert, an avid outdoorsmen. Itís also quite likely that Beam was introduced to Colonel Shoemaker, the well-known folklorist and outdoors man, by his father.
When Beam and Ferd met up, they found they shared a love of the outdoors and the Pennsylvania countryside. As Don Coleman puts it in his preface to The Early Letters, "These guys were constantly planning excursions in the mountains and woods of the area. They were mountain climbers and hikers who worshipped being about the elements, and made no distinctions as to the season."
"Nearly one hundred miles of mountainous beauty lies between these two communities (Altoona and Williamsport). The two friends would rendezvous in little-known places of local beauty, unknown to the rest of world outside of central Pennsylvania, such as Jersey Shore, Mount Union, McElhattan or Loyalsock Creek. Regarding a typical proposed outing, Coleman wrote to Piper, 'I understand that what we require absolutely is the total absence of humanity other than our niggardly selves.'"
Their only conflict was their different views regarding to the hunting and killing of wildlife. As Don writes: "Ferd Coleman was a lover of nature who respected every moving creature with the woodlands, opposed to Piperís loving and cherishing the use of firearms on whatever could be obliterated within that foliage, as long as it was legally in season! Not entirely true. Beam really did show an abundance of love for natural beauty, which is expressed often in his letters."
Living in Centre County, I can attest to the natural beauty of the woodlands and mountains. Don Coleman paints us a vivid word picture of this hideaway: "You have to imagine a lush foliage of mountainous grace extending to the right and left, and north an south of every footpath these antiquarians trod. If one can visualize a cabin on the hillside, smoking at the chimney, with two or three cords of firewood stacked in back; a two-holer outhouse located back yonder the trees; a trickling run or stream that would eventually pour its little self into somewhere along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River; and an old clay-topped road winding down the hill from the cabin and ultimately connecting with macadam...in this setting, any human male likely seen, would invariably be attired in knickers and knee-socks."
The correspondence of The Early Letters is filled with references to hiking and camping. In an December 10th, 1926 letter, Beam writes: "I know of a good cabin about five or six miles from Mount Union where we can goóthis is, you, Major Cooper and Our Highness (Colonel Shoemaker? jfc)ófor a weekend. It will be available at any time except deer season, when the club that owns it, of which my father is a member, use it. Iíve been there a few times and it is a good sort of shack.
"Speaking about shacks. It seems that the shack is discovered, but nowhere near Sonora, and the Rev. Sister Ames (Herbert T. Ames would eventually emerge as the mayor of Williamsport, at 84 years of ageórunning on the Prohibition ticket. Most were aware of his remarkable 65-year record with the Lycoming County bar, but Beam despised the man, of course; he was cutting off his source of booze! dc) is in the devilís own stew. I will call your attention to the fact that back in July I prophesied that she had been engaging in what Rabelais calls the game of push-pin, or two-backed beast. Even a low-minded and ribald fellow like myself can hit it right once in a whileÖWell, think it over and let me know whether you want to go to the Alpine cabin at Diamond Valley or whether you want to go to the other cabin at Licking Creek."
Beam, not at all the solitary loner of his later years, had many friends, primary among themóother than Ferd and the Colonelówere Major Cooper, who was an avid outdoorsman, Phil Krause and Eddie Schock. Many times they would go hunting together or on cabin outings.
Ferd Coleman writes: "I was greatly honored yesterday by a visit from our mutual friend, Major Cooper. The Major came to Williamsport from Ithaca, N.Y. As a matter of routine in his schedule of travel, the Major expects to cover 8,000 miles from the time he left Altoona last week until December 10. He sure does have outlined an ambitious schedule. I mentioned to him the fact that you had written me concerning our proposed weekend gathering at a rendezvous near Atloona. The Major was delighted with the project and said that if we were unable to secure the cabin you had in mind, he knows of several adjacent to Altoona..."
Beam replies: "Pardon the delay, but I received your letter on the 8th, along with a bale of trade circulars, bills, rejected manuscripts, etc., when I returned from an extensive and enjoyable but entirely unproductive hunting trip. I stayed at the cabin I was telling you about, and it is a fairly good dump, as such places go. We can get it over a weekend any time after the close of deer season, as members are by no stretch of the imagination to be classed as nature-lovers and simply think of the woods as a place to kill game. We will be left entirely to ourselves. Iíll tell Major Cooper when he gets back and we can arrange matters..."
Much of the correspondence between the two friends is taken up by itineraries and camping plans, as well as other mundane subjects. But in a November 17, 1926 letter from Beam, we get him explaining his views on hunting and the outdoors. Beam is making a good effort to cultivate his new friendship and we find him explaining himself in a way that he would never do later in life. Since Piper was not one for revealing his inner thoughts, this is an unusual and fascinating look into his world view. "In your letter today, you complain that I have charged the owners of the cabin with being interested only in the woods as a place for the massacre of game and, in the same letter, I have stated that I was about to take up my more or less trusty fowling piece and set out in search of the highly elusive cottontail. In this, you appear to detect a trifling inconsistency. Permit me, then, to point out to you that you are in logical error.
"I said, and still say, that the said cabin-owners are interested only in the woods from the first of November to the fifteenth of December and then only in the pursuit and assassination of our little friends in fur and feathers, as the sentimentalists have it. I am not. I go into the woods in closed season and with no intention of hunting whatever. When I do hunt, I am keenly alive to the beauties of nature as you are. In fact, I have more than once lost game because I was too busy gaping at some distant mountain. I do enjoy hunting and, as you know, I am rarely without a firearm of some sort or other in the woods. Yet that does not put me in the same class as these men who can see nothing in the woods but game to be killed, any more than my fondness for good liquor puts me in the same class with a town drunkard or my fondness for biological recreation puts me in the same class with a man whose whole life centers about his genito-urinary system.
"I think your idea about going into camp some time in early January is a good one. We will, to be sure, want to celebrate the anniversary of our Lord and Saviorís unbegotten birth in the immemorial manner, with turkey, little-pig-roast-whole-with-an-apple-in-its-mouth, stewed oysters, plum pudding, etc., etc. This cannot do properly in a cabin in the mountains...
"Write again soon and, if you find any flaws in my arguments, present your rebuttal. You entertain certain views, at variance with my own, about hunting. Letís hear why you are so averse to shooting and eating a squirrel or a deer that would die a natural death anyhow and so go to waste. If we cannot conduct a gentlemanly argument by word of mouth, let us do it on paper."
Beam was more an outdoorsman than hunter. As he writes Ferd in December of 1927, he has yet to bag his first deer. "As to that deer-hunt which we were to makeóbut did notóI did not know from one day to another whether I could make it or not. I had hopes that I could and until those hopes were definitely dispelled, I didnít write. I was sorry, for I feel sure that I could have bagged a deeróit would have been my firstóin such good hunting ground as the South slope of White Deer Mountain is. Krouse and I counted some forty there last March. However, thatís ancient history now. Maybe next season."
"Were I running my fatherís business," Ferd writes, "Iíd run it in proper fashion, by God. Just two weeks ago, mind you, he purchased the most glorious hunting cabin, an old school house, befitted for human habitation, stone walls, a wood shed, two shit houses and deer and bear in abundance in the wildest section of Lycoming County. Itís only twenty-five miles from home, a damn sight closer than our Union Country rendezvous, you will recall. But the governor is so finicky on having things "clean," youíd think he was a vestal virgin, that he doesnít prefer it to be inhabited until it is cleaned. And since he in his selfish way will not likely hike to the place before Spring, tra-la, it seems our recluse-ship will not commence to begin until next summer. But, boy, when it does, wonít you and I and Edward have many a confact on women and religion and war in the artillery section. Itís a quarter mile from the nearest thing, and about fifteen miles from people who are humans. And, in the summer, if you come for days and days, you can hibernate there, while itís only a matter of an hour each way for me to come to work."
Beam replies, "Iíll be in Williamsport either late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, depending on whether or not anybody at Restless Oaks intimates, no matter how faintly, that it might be possible to bunk me there. Iíll let you know by phone Wednesday as to the hour (approximate) at which I will arrive and we can arrange where we can meet."
During Ferd and Freida Colemanís honeymoon Beam was able to stay in Colemanís downtown office. According to Don, "The man from Altoona continued his historical research of the West Branch Valley, obtaining data almost entirely from Williamsportís own institutions...Beam walked everywhere. His major conveyance involved the use of his feet...only overruled by trolley, train or hitch-hiking when multi-miles required this diversion. Never would he seat himself behind the wheel of a riding "machine" throughout his time among the mortals."
"Beam appeared constantly on historical missions of which he included Antes Fort from time to time. This vanished stockade, just cross-river and south of Jersey Shore, was build by Colonel Henry Antesóa born Pennsylvanianóand was engaged by droves of settlers for protection from the Indians. The old Colonelís grave is supposedly at the site but apparently it too, has disappeared with time."
In a November 24th, 1928 letter to Ferd, Beam writes: "I have just discovered a district, not far from my home but a trifle inaccessible, that will be a wonderful place for us to visit when you come up, as far as scenery goes. It will become my regular stamping-ground, now that I have found it, much as Nippenose is yours, but of course, my heart will always turn to the West Branch Valley and particularly to that part between Loyalsock and Tiadaghton."
Beam was quite the hiker and on more than one occasion was enlisted for surveying duty. On May 12th, 1929, in a letter to Ferd, he wrote: "Iíll be in Williamsport on Tuesday afternoon, as I have finished with my work surveying the Skyline Trail and am on my way home. I donít know whether or not you got my letter from two weeks ago, as I wrote one for you and then tore off leaving it on my desk at home. Since, I have been in the wilds and the few letters that I managed to send out were all either to my parents or to the men backing me.
"In the meantime, Iíll be busy here, but I will stop off to see the dear brothers, yourself included, on the way back home, and tell you about my adventures in the mountains."
Paul M. Schuchart, an old school friend of Beamís tells us more about this survey. "One time, before I got married in 1929, Beam was asked by Dr. Darlington (Iím not sure), the Episcopal Bishop of the Harrisburg Diocese to mark the Appalachian Trail from the western side of the Susquehanna River to the Maryland State line, sleeping on the Trail and making like a real "outdoor man." Wanting to help Beam and in the event he might run into some snakes, I got him a bottle of Good Bourbon. Those were the days when I had a bachelor apartment on the North 3rd Street in Harrisburg, consisting of a living room a bedroom and a bath, with a long bathtub, not a shower. When Beam got back, with about half of the bottle left, he was soaking in the tub. What he had left just about filled up a water glass.
"About that time, the colored girl, who kept the place 'clean,' came. Beam didnít like the idea of being "inspected" lying in the tub by a girl. The girl told Beam 'not to worry' about that and to Beamís disgust, after carrying that bourbon miles and miles, the girl drank all that whiskey. He never forgave that girl and waited until I got married and lived in a house before he showed up again."
In a July 10th, 1929 letter, Ferd writes the following: "The 20th is the raftsmenís reunion and also the date for our mammoth Montoursville airport dedication at which many, many airminded celebrities of this mighty nation will be in attendance. The reunion comes once a year, this ceremony never again; therefore, a lover of spectacle, I think I shall attend the air maneouvres, in which army planes will race, stunts will be done, and what have you."
Beams reply on July 15th, fairly bristles: "Sorry no end you donít find it convenient to be up to Shoemakerís for the reunion. Of course, youíre twenty-one and in your right mind, so you know whether you want to take in the airport celebration or the reunion, but youíre making the wrong argument when you say that you can see the reunion any year and the airport celebration only when it happens. Those raftsmen arenít going to live very damn long, while aviation spectacles will continue and get bigger and more spectacular every year."
Ferd writes on Nov. 7th, 1930: "After staying at my joint over night, we three will leave on the train which reaches McElhattan about 8 a.m. Saturday. Then weíd undertake the long and arduous hike, you meanwhile thru correspondence with Jess arranging for guide or at best map information. After hiking somewhere to a point near Mill Hall, weíd either get the 2 p.m. Easton from Lock Haven back to Williamsport, or a train from Mill Hall at about 5:30."
Beam replies the next day. "I will be in Williamsport somewhat earlier than Friday night, as I want to get a little hunting in the country south of town, inasmuch as Frieda is on the shelf as a result of the operation, Iíll inflict myself either on Ted or on the jail-house.
"We will be accompanied by Ted Ranck from Williamsport and by Stanley Reinheimer from here, that Iím certain of, and possibly Phil Krouse. Reinheimer and I will carry rifles, as will Ted, and if Moon has a license, he can bring his. We may be able to scare up something in the way of a game dinner out of it."
On the 18th of November, Beam adds: "I wish youíd turn over an announcement of the hike to the local papers, as we can credit ourselves with a hike if itís advertised in advance. There may be some people we donít know about in Williamsport who would be glad to go along. And then, there are some of the old Alpine Club members who might see it and come. Mention the train, and make the start from Camp Shoemaker at eight-thirty."
In a July 7th, 1931 letter, Piper writes: "I had quite an enjoyable outing in the woods with my father. The rains spoiled the groundhog hunting and we didnít see a sign of one. For a wonder, there were no snakes in evidence, either. As we were at the hunting camp of which my father is a member, we planted quite a bit of salt in the woods around the cabin in order to attract the deer, and on Sunday I went out to inspect some of the licks we had planted the day before and found that the deer had already discovered them. The camps is in Logan state forest, near Graysville, on the Centre-Huntington County Line. Quite a wild spot. We could hear the deer calling at nightóthis is the time of the year when the fawns are old enough to get around and they make a good deal of noise when they get separated from their mothersóand there must have been twenty whippoorwills within earshot of our cabin.
"Not far from the cabin, in the middle of the woods, is an old dam, with big trees growing all around it, and a big grindstone, the latter lying in the stream. I had no better means of measuring it, so I laid my Krag rifle on it. That was, as I knew, forty-nine inches in length, and it was about four inches short of the diameter of the stones. Where the stone came from, or what the dam was, I donít know. There is a local tradition that there was an old iron-furnace and forge there, but I couldnít find any traces of cinder or slag near the dam. The furnace was dismantled about a hundred years ago, which checks with the ancient appearance of the dam. I have a theory that the dam might have served to concentrate water that was sent from the mountain to some point below in a flume, and that the grindstone had been set up there and run by water-power for the use of woodcutters and charcoal burners who supplied the fuel for the furnace, but I hadnít time to investigate this.
Oct. 31st, 1939 Beam writes: "We can, I think, go to a cabin in the woods. I know your attitude on the killing of gameóit does not, I recall, extend to the killing of kine and swine in slaughter-houseóbut Stan, I do not think, would object to shooting a squirrel or rabbit. Advise him, therefore, to procure a license. If he does not have a .22 or a shotgun, I think I might be able to furnish one for him, though my modern small-game arms are not many and he may be compelled to use a muzzle-loader. In this way, we may be able to vary the monotony of our fare with fresh game."
As Don Coleman tells it, in later years, come mid-November Piper would occasionally send Ferd and family a packageóslightly larger than a breadboxófull of, not the usual butcherís cut of meat, but "this was H. Beam Piperís cut; a stack of thick-sliced slabs of fresh venison. With the aid of the Pennsylvania Railroad and dry ice, Beam shipped this grand commodity on down the tracks to Williamsport."
When Beam himself accompanied Ferd with the "newspaper-shrouded" venison, "each would rid himself of outer clothing...Frieda greeted the hunter and the hunted and thus would gladly turn over the galley spaces to the proud Mr. Piper and his prize. Ferd Coleman would execute his normal dry disposition without any conspicuous to-dos...and Beam of course, maintained his regular reputable subtlety. And after all (was) said and done, the thin man would begin preparation of his gift of venison...Swiss-steak style.
"Whenever preparing doe or young buck for feast, Beam began by broadcasting plenty of flour to each side of the slab, and then tenderizing the meat in the normal human manner by pounding the hell out of it with the provided wooden-pronged mallet; and then after the cooking, he would test its tenderness by implementing the Piper 'fork treatment.' If by using the tined utensil for carving into that beautiful hunk of venison, and it workedóBeam would slowly but loudly report, 'Then that's DAMN GOOD TENDER DEER!' Being an avid hunter, he was a real braggart when it come to baggin' the beasts! And the 'fork treatment,' a directive handed down many years ago is still being instituted religiously when enjoying thisówhat we consideróa classic dish..."