In 1840, I was requested to examine the stump of an oak tree, which was then recently cut; and which stood in the north-west part of Canfield, Mahoning County, about fifty miles south-east of Cleveland. The diameter was two feet ten inches when it was felled, and with the exception of a slight rot at the heart, was quite sound. About seven inches from the center were the marks of an ax, perfectly distinct; over which one hundred and sixty layers of annual growth had accumulated. The tree had been dead several years when it was cut down, which was in 1838.
When it was about fourteen inches in diameter, an expert chopper, with an ax in perfect order, had cut into the tree nearly to its heart. As it was not otherwise injured the tree continued to grow; the wound was healed, and no external signs of it remained. When it was felled, the ancient cut was exposed.
I procured a portion of the tree extending from the outside to the center, on which the ancient and modern marks of the ax are equally plain; the tools being of about the same breadth and in equally good order.
Soon after this I received from JASON HUBBELL, Esq., of Newburg, in this county, a letter describing some ax marks which he had observed, in a large popular tree situated in that township. In this case the tree was larger, but Mr. HUBBELL considered the age of the cutting, to be from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and sixty years.
Mr. STEPHEN LAPHAM, formerly of Willoughby, Lake county, now of Janesville, Wisconsin, presented to Prof. J.L. CASSELLS a portion of a hickory tree, the stump of which still remains, a few feet from the railway, a mile and a half west of Willoughby.
In a letter to me, Mr. LAPHAM says, “it was cut in May or June, 1848 or 1849, on the farm I then occupied. I sent a hired man to cut some wood, and directed him to fell this tree, which was about two feet diameter. I saw the tree fall, and measured the length of the wood he was to cut. As the man cut in near the heart, I noticed ancient ax marks. It had been cut into when a sapling about four inches in diameter. There was the old dry bark on the tree, above and below the old cut. There was eleven inches of growth outside of the cut, and about forty-six rings or layers to the inch. The tree was green and sound when it was cut. I preserved the piece near the heart, with the old marks on it.”
I examined this stump in 1859, and now have the piece which Mr. LAPHAM preserved. It was difficult to count the layers of annual growth, but there were more than four hundred. Mr. LAPHAM was of the opinion, that the first chopping was done before Columbus landed on this continent. If so it cannot have been the work of white men. The style of the cut is that of a perfectly sharp ax, in all respects like the work of a good chopper of our times.
Although the rule is, that one layer of growth accumulates each year, there are exceptions, though they are very rare. Four hundred years before 1848 would carry us back to 1448, forty-four years before the island of St. Salvador was discovered.
There are trees which form two terminal buds in a year, and in that case two layers of growth are formed. If it was so in this case, the time elapsed would be two hundred years, instead of four hundred, and the date would be about 1648.
Another instance of the work of old choppers, is furnished in the following letter from H.L. Hill, Esq., of Berlin, Erie Co., O.:
BERLIN HEIGHTS, Jan. 23, 1859.
In the summer of 1831, I felled one of the giant oaks of the forest, which was about three feet in diameter. It was cut for the purpose of making wagon hubs.
One cut or length, was sawed off, the size of the hubs marked out, leaving six to ten inches around the heart. As we split the bolts, three cuts or strokes, of a sharp narrow bitted ax were plainly visible, the chips standing outward from the tree as distinct as when they were first made.
My brother and myself counted two hundred and nineteen rings of annual growth outside of the cuts. It was with the greatest difficulty, we were able to count the fine growths near the butt of the tree, and may have made a mistake of a few years. The tree stood on lot seven, Range seven, Berlin township, on a dry piece of ground, nearly surrounded by wet land; for about twenty rods forming good ground for a camp.
In the spring of 1857, I pulled out the stump of this tree, and in plowing through the ground where is stood; turned up the ax you saw in the museum. I think it must have been between the roots of the tree, or we should have seen it before.
If the cuts mentioned by Mr. Hill, were made by the Indians with their rude squaw axes, they possess no special meaning. Those upon the Canfield and the Willoughby trees were by a different tool, a well formed ax, with a clear sharp cutting edge. Very soon after French and the English encountered the Indians 1608-20, they were furnished with squaw axes.
These axes were narrow bitted, made of iron or inferior steel, and were never kept in order by the Indians.
Where they have used them upon modern trees, the style of the stroke at once shows it to be this kind of tool. It is never sharp enough to cut a surface smooth, like a modern choppers ax. The Jesuits were among the Iroquois of Western New York as early as 1656, but we have no historical traces of them as far west as Ohio.
The Canfield tree must be considered a good record as far back as 1660.
Many historians infer that LA SALLE passed through Northern Ohio, from the Illinois river in the winter of 1682-83.
That he made a journey by land from Crevecoeur to Quebec in that winter cannot be doubted, but there is no proof on which side of Lake Erie he traveled. It is far more probable that he avoided the hostile Iroquois, and bearing northward crossed the Detroit river, where the Indians were friendly to the French. A hasty traveler like him, could have left few marks of his ax. There must have been hundreds of trees on the Western Reserve, upon which axes had been used, in order to furnish us, so many examples after a lapse of two centuries.