|Sketch of HUNTER JOHN
By Sarah A. Martin
HUNTER John Ellis is one of the familiar figures which stands
out as a remarkably original character in my remembrance of earlier
days in my native town, Guilford.
John Ellis was born in Smithfield, Me., in 1784,
resided for a time in Mercer and came to Guilford in August, 1844,
and from that time until his death in 1867, spent most of his
time as hunter and guide in the forests about Moosehead Lake.
He was a hunter before coming to Guilford, even in his
As a boy he had a cat which he had trained to accompany
him in his quest for squirrels and other small game, and who was as
sagacious and helpful as a dog. The delight he took with this
intelligent companion in these early days may have been largely
influential in making him a lover of life in the woods.
Yet he was no hermit. He enjoyed his fellows, was a
genuine wit, and his return from the woods was an occasion for
rejoicing in the village; while the circle in the loafing places had
to be enlarged when Hunter Ellis returned, that all might
listen to his stories and adventures.
Could these stories but be collected, they would make a
valuable asset to the literature of the county; and yet they would
lack the inimitable setting of his magnetic telling.
When planning for one of his log trips he began for at
least a month to place together articles he might need.
This characteristic care saved him from leaving the
needed or being burdened with unneeded articles.
When trapping or hunting by himself, his camp was made
where suited best his purpose, but hospitably open to the chance
sportsman. The floor was the trodden earth. On one
occasion he made use of an Indian mound as a pillow for his head.
"How can you sleep with your head on that mound?" said a visitor:
"Why," said Hunter, "I fear no live Indian; why a dead one?"
In trapping, hunting and fishing his skill was
unsurpassed. Spare of figure, lithe as an Indian, no white man
was his equal in his chosen craft.
From his trips he ever returned laden with furs, often
most valuable; frequently with four or five hundred muskrat skins
and in the earlier days with wolfskins. Frequently he was
alone for weeks and perhaps months, seeing no white face. As a
guide, his services were eagerly sought by sportsmen who rarely
faied to render him due courtesy.
However on one occasion, one of a party of New York men
failed to show him the respect to which Hunter was acustomed.
Ellis bided his time. One day "New York" complained
that his watch, an elegant gold one, had stopped. Hunter
said he used to watches and could take it apart all right and see
what ailed it. He did so and told the sportsman it was but a
bit of dirt which had got in and he had removed it. "Well put
it together now." "O!" says old Hunter, "I can't put watches
together; I can only take them apart." "New York" took his
valuable watch home tied up in a handkerchief - but he didn't chaff
old Hunter any more.
There are stories of wonderful adventures, the
particulars of which are hard to get at this late date when they are
rarely obtainable from those who listened to them, but from a later
generation as told them by their fathers. There is the story
of the struggle with the two bears; the second putting in an active
appearance while Hunter was busy with the first. For a
time it was a question who would win out. Old Hunter,
however, came into camp with two bearskins.
Another is an exploit with a moose who took him on his
antlers and carried him across a brook. An account of this was
published in the Somerset Journal in 1824 to the files of which I
have not had access.
On John had a quiet way of overcapping the big
fish stories as often told by sportsmen. The following story
to that effect is as told in The Piscataquis Observer of Nov. 15,
1860: "Around the fireside at the Kineo House a party of
sportsmen were recounting the wonders which they had a various times
accomplished in the way of trout-catching. Hunter John
listened for a while in silence. At length with a contemptuous
whiff from the pipe which he was smoking, he broke in: "Call
that fishing do you boys? Let me tell you: I get trout
on this lake anywhere, day or night any time or any season
of the year. Let me tell you: I was crossing the North
Bend last winter; ice three feet thick; I happened to have with me a
one-inch auger which I was going to use for some purpose or other.
The thought struck me: wonder if trout could be found here this time
of year! No sooner said than done. I had a bit of twine
and a pointed nail in my pocket. I just took the auger, bored
a hole in the ice, and in less than five minutes had a sixteen-pound
laker on the ice before me. What do you think of that?'
The crowd was dumb with astonishment, while the hunter smoked his
pipe in triumph. Presently one of the number, turning
suddenly, exclaimed: 'Uncle John, how came that
sixteen-pound trout through that one-inch auger hole?'
'Goodness gracious!' exclaimed the old man, starting to his feet and
clapping his hands together, 'I never thought of
that.' Laughter went round at once, but no
more big fish stories were told that night."He
then went out of the room
followed by the whole assembly, for the meeting was essentially done
I have spoken of him as ever companionable, but he did
not believe in new-fangled notions. The late Dwight Maxfield
in an article published in the Dexter Gazette in 1882 tells this
story: "Once some sort of a reformer lectured in the old schoolhouse
against eating animal food. Hunter was there and was terribly
disgusted and interrupted the man by asking him, 'What can we fry
our doughnuts in if we can't use lard?' and other pertinent
questions which the lecturer found hard to answer. Finally old
Hunter was too disgusted to remain any longer, whereupon he arose,
pointed his finger at the speaker and said: 'Mister your talk
is all mune-shine. You'd better go to a woman's skule
awhile and then maybe you'll know sunthin. '
Your historian herself recalls an episode in which
Hunter Ellis figured in that same old schoolhouse. The
lyceum was a feature of Guilford life then, where questions serious
or otherwise were wisely discussed by the village men-folk. I
remember as a little girl once listening to a discussion by the
dignitaries on this question: ''Resolved; that women are less
intelligent than men.'' The subject was discussed with much
vigor, and my
girlish heart swelled with anguish as
the affirmative seemed to clinch the argument by asserting and
apparently proving by figures that women's brains are smaller than
men's. Old Hunter Ellis was sitting quietly in the corner but he
rose angrily and exclaimed as he stalked vigorously from the house,
"Calves have large brains." The negative won out, and your historian
ever after loved Hunter Ellis,
But the days of the old Guilford lyceum are past, and
the huntsman hunts no more. His last venture was in the fall of
1866. Camping alone far beyond Spencer Bay, he was taken seriously
ill, and crawled ten miles on hands and knees to reach human aid.
was sent to his family at Guilford. It
was late in November and the lake was not frozen over. Mr. Joseph
Cousins, the husband of his step-daughter, to
indebted for reliable data, went
a logging sled, the long distance
around the lake and brought the worn hunter home.
It was in February of 1867 they laid him away in
beautiful Elmwood Cemetery, and the sparkling waters of the lovely
Piscataquis come murmuring by, whispering softly of the woods and
streams he loved. He
rests with the many who with him
had dwelt happily together in the dear old town "in the old days."
"There bide the true friends
The first and the best;
There clings the green grass
Close where they rest;
Would they were here ? No; -
Would we were there!
The old days—the lost days —
How lovely they were!"
Source: - Pages 142 - 146