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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. IV, No. 13, Autumn 1948

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Vol. IV, No. 3, Autumn 1948

Agnes Scott Smith

ULSTER COUNTY was one of the three regions in the state to be settled first. Consequently, it is rich in folklore, with tales that date well beyond the era of the American Revolution. And the choice offered the collector is wide—yarns of Indians and witches, peculiar customs and deeds of fun, quick thinking and heroism.

The Indians, of course, hold an important place in the annals, both written and oral, of Ulster County. Certain of these incidents are secure in everyone’s memory because they have been written into the local histories. Such is the story of Peter Short and Peter Miller of Woodstock, carried off to Canada and finally released through the intervention of a brave whom Short had once befriended at his home in Bearsville. But other yarns still remain to be told, two of which have been handed down in my mother’s family. Both happened to the family of Christian Myer, one of the early settlers, whose Dutch stone house still stands on the old King’s Highway near Saugerties.

One time the Indians, who found it easy to carry on marauding expeditions against the settlers of Saugerties and slip quickly and safely back into the security of the great pine and hemlock forests and deep ravines of the Catskills, were on the warpath. They were attacking outlying farms, looting, burning, and killing. On this particular day, Mrs. Myer, with her young baby, was alone at home. Looking across the clearing, she discovered several Indians sneaking up to the house. To oppose them was folly and it was too late to flee. As the mother looked around her wildly, wondering where she might hide the precious baby, her eye fell upon a large hogshead half filled with live-goose feathers. Clutching the child, the mother had just time to lower herself carefully into the hogshead of feathers and pull them over her. Placing her hand over the baby's face to keep the feathers from smothering it, she nursed the child to keep it quiet. The minutes must have ticked by slowly indeed as she listened to the Indians prowling about the house. But finding no one they finally went away, and the mother and her baby emerged from the big barrel little worse for their harrowing experience.


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