Hiram Perry Griffith


Hiram Perry Griffith


Career of Mr. Hiram Perry Griffith an Adventurous One for a Few Years in the Early California and Idaho Gold Mining Days, but Quiet and Uneventful for the Larger Part.

Our portrait this week is of one of our best-known citizens and almost lifelong residents—Mr. Hiram Perry Griffith, commonly called Perry, on account of his father’s given name being the same.

Mr. Griffith is the son of Hiram and Betsey Jacobs Griffith, and was born June 1, 1824, in a log house which stood in the vicinity of what is now known as the “South End.” When two years old his parents moved to what was then known as the Gideon Baker place, lying in the town of Mount Tabor and situated on the main highway about half a mile south of this village, and where his father resided till his death, fifty-four years afterwards.

Mr. Griffith lived with his parents till sixteen years of age, when he took the reins into his own hands and went to work on a farm in Greenwich, N.Y., remaining there through the summer, in the fall going to work in a woolen factory owned by Daniel Anthony (father of the well-known equal-rights advocate, Susan B. Anthony), situated at Center Falls, a few miles from Greenwich village. He worked there through the winter, doing every kind of mill work except spinning and weaving, for $8 per month and board. In the spring he came back to Danby, and the following summer worked for his grandfather at $9 per month, in the winter boarding with him and attending a select school kept by the late John Curtis, the sessions of which were held in the old Col. Young’s house.

The next summer Mr. Griffith went to Salem, N. Y., and worked on a farm at $9 per month. He then returned to Danby and went to work in the marble quarries, which occupation he followed during the summer, or quarrying season, for twelve or fourteen years, and was a foreman there a large part of the time.

In 1845 Mr. Griffith was married to Elsie Marie, daughter of Aurelius and Almeda Johnson Kelley of Danby. Two children were born to them—Alice, wife of William H. Bond of this village, and another daughter who died when six years old. In 1849, Mr. Griffith took a notion to locate in northern New York, where he bargained for a place of twenty-five acres, with house and barn, but after remaining there about a year and a half abandoned the place, and, as he says, came back to Danby, where he could get some money. His next home-seeking adventure took him to Minnesota in 1855, where he took up a tract of land and built a cabin on what he considered an ideal spot. But when winter came, he found the weather so severe, with the thermometer down to twenty to forty degrees below zero most of the time, that as soon as the weather would permit he was glad to abandon everything and return to old Vermont, where the weather is cold enough six months in the year to satisfy almost anybody but a polar bear. He purchased his present home here, which was known as the Dr. Eli Learned place, in 1854.

In 1859, Mr. Griffith contracted the gold fever and went to that region of California where search was being prosecuted for the precious metal with varying success. There he remained in the mines for one year, making little more than a living, and then went into the Santa Rosa valley and worked a couple of months on a farm at $1.25 per day. He then engaged to run a hay press and baled three or four hundred tons of hay, making about $3 per day while the job lasted.

Having learned the trade of shoe-making in 1842 and 1845, he took up that occupation again, purchasing a lot in the town of Windsor, Cal. and erecting a nice shop on it. He remained there for about a year and a half, making about $4 per day and boarding himself for $1.25 per week. At the expiration of the time mentioned, he got the gold fever again, in its worst form, and selling out his shop started for the gold fields of Idaho, in company with Charles and John Burton, the former of whom had once lived in Danby. They bought six horses for use in making the journey of some 1,200 miles, which led through the northern part of California, Oregon, and Washington Territory. They did not pack their horses with provisions till they reached the Dalles, in Oregon, where each horse was provided with a load of some three hundred pounds.

All through their long journey they were obliged to keep constant guard over their horses at night to prevent the Indians from stealing them, and by their close watchfulness were able to get through without any trouble of this kind. About 100,000 miners and prospectors went over the same trail to Idaho that spring, and there were numerous instances of the Indians stealing their horses while left to graze at night. Whenever a horse was missed the easiest way to get the animal back or get trace of it was to give some one of the many Indians who hovered around the trail five dollars for the horse’s return, when it was pretty sure to be brought back—probably by the same Indian who stole it.

Upon reaching the mines, which were located about 125 miles from Lewiston, then a new town, Mr. Griffith prospected for five weeks with unsatisfactory success. Then coming across Prof. O. C. Marsh of the University at Detroit, who was there alone and without a horse, it was decided to start for Fort Benton, allowing Mr. Marsh to ride one of the two horses which Mr. Griffith had brought with him. So a stock of provisions were laid in for the trip to Elk City, some 140 miles into the mountains, where they again purchased supposedly ample provisions for the balance of the trip over the mountains, and were joined by Henry D. Seaver.

Continuing their journey, the first night out they camped in a clearing of some twenty acres. After partaking of their supper they were approached by two men who came out of the woods at one side of the clearing. These men left Elk City five weeks before with a party of forty men for the purpose of prospecting in that vicinity. They had lost their bearings but had managed to keep together, but knew not what had become of the rest of the party. The two men brought with them a rifle and a good axe, which they offered to Mr. Griffith’s party if they would cook them a supper. They refused the offer of the gun and axe, but a big supper was cooked for them, which they devoured eagerly, as only half-famished men can. The two men returned to Elk City after selling the gun for $6 to a man who had just overtaken the party, and Mr. Griffith’s party started for the big mountains, crossing one high range that day and arriving at the main branch of the Clearwater River in time to camp for the night. Here they were joined by some other miners who had been following the trail, and the party numbered nine.

Here also they lost the trail, but the next day started on a trail which proved to be the right one, following it to the top of a very high mountain, which they reached about noon. There they lost the trail again, but went to the very highest point of the range, with a deep canyon on either side, to take their bearings. Mr. Griffith says the view of the scenery from that point was the grandest he ever beheld, and after feasting their gaze for about an hour, started in to look for the trail on the north side of the peak, but after much search finally found it on the south side, coining around some 200 feet below the high eminence where they had stood while admiring the scenery.

It was about the middle of July, but they crossed over banks of snow fifteen feet deep and so hard that they were able to walk upon it without difficulty. They then passed over mountain after mountain at the rate of about one a day, with nothing for the horses to eat for four days. In the forenoon of the fourth day Mr. Seaver’s horse gave out and was abandoned; but a few hours later an abundance of grass was found. Here they camped for the night and the horses regaled themselves after their long fast and hard journey. The next morning Mr. Seaver went back to see if the horse was alive, and the rest of the party awaited his return. About ten o’clock he came back to camp slowly leading the horse, which he had found where the animal had been abandoned, and had evidently not taken a step since left.

Waiting for the famished animal to eat of the succulent grass, the party did not resume their journey till two o’clock in the afternoon. At this time Mr. Griffith, Prof. Marsh and Mr. Seaver, who messed together, found themselves with only enough flour to make one shortcake, and no other provisions of any kind. They cooked the shortcake and ate half of it for their supper, reserving the remainder for their breakfast. Their journey then led then over a high mountain which was so steep that in descending they were forced to take a zigzag course, and as soon as the foot of the mountain was reached, they sat down and ate the remainder of their shortcake—only a little piece for each.

The trio did not know where their next meal was coming from, but Mr. Griffith was lucky enough to have fish hooks and a line with him, and coming to the Bitter Root River, was able to catch four or five pounds of nice trout. The next morning they started down the river, with no mountains to cross. Crossing a bridge over the stream, Mr. Griffith noticed a number of nice trout in the water below, and proposed to stop and catch a few while one of the party watched his horse. Before he had caught a fish, however, he noted that the man and horses were out of sight. But all who are familiar with Mr. Griffith’s love of fishing will not be surprised when we say that he was bound to stop and catch some fish, although apparently abandoned by his companions in this wild region. After fishing half an hour, however, he started after the party and overtook them about five miles further on, where they were encamped for the night, bringing fish enough for supper.

That night he caught more trout, which sufficed for breakfast and dinner, and for three days, till reaching Fort Owen, the trio lived on fish alone. At the fort they were able to get some government hardtack, and though it was poor and wormy, they were glad to get it. The captain in charge referred them to an old Florida Indian some ten miles away, from whom they obtained eight or ten pounds of graham flour and some jerked meat, but their red friend would take no pay for it. It was learned that the Indian was to kill a beef the next day, and Mr. Griffith went to his ranch and procured about twenty-five pounds, expecting to pay at least $6 for it, as ; the ruling price in the mining region was twenty-five cents a pound. Imagine his surprise when the Indian charged hint only twenty-five cents for the whole lot.

But Mr. Griffith had four shoes put on his horse by a white man before leaving the fort and was charged $6 for that, so he thinks the two deals were about evened up—with the odds in favor of the Indian. Mr. Seaver also traded his worn-out horse with the same Indian on even terms for a fat pony which he picked from about a thousand that were grazing about his place. Mr. Griffith came in contact with half a dozen or more Indian tribes during his mining experience, and says he found them all very good and willing to render assistance when needed.

Continuing down the river, the party reached the Hell Gate River, which they desired to cross in order to reach the government road on the other side. Considering the river too big to ford, they signaled some Indians on the other side, and one old chief came over with a boat and took Mr. Griffith and Prof. Marsh over, charging them fifty cents apiece for the service, when they fully expected to pay $2 or more. One of the party undertook to ford the stream, but both horse and rider were carried down into deep water. The man came very near being drowned, going down three times, but the last time happened to reach a shallow spot in the river where the water was not beyond his height in depth.

The party then went up the Hell Gate River to Big Valley, where a lot of Missourians were prospecting, and where there was a well-stocked store, though prices were rather high. For instance, flour was fifty cents a pound; sugar, fifty cents; pork, fifty cents; tea, $2, etc. There they procured what provisions were needed till they could reach Fort Benton. Then they were able to prepare the best meal of victuals Mr. Griffith says he ever ate, after partaking of which they started out and camped on the bank of a river some fifteen miles further along. It was Saturday night, and the next morning it rained; and as the stream abounded with trout, Mr. Griffith decided to do some more fishing, and one of the party signified his willingness to accompany him.

A sketch of Mr. Griffith without a particularly good fish story would certainly be far from complete, and we are pleased to say that gentleman is able to provide us with the facts adequate to make such a story. Mr. Griffith and his companion went up the river nearly a mile before commencing to fish, thinking it would be less work to bring in their catch while fishing toward their camp. Mr. Griffith tells us that they started to fish in a large hole, and after fishing in that one and another a little way below, he and his companion in an hour or an hour and a half caught forty trout, weighing from nearly a pound to four pounds each, and in the aggregate probably more than fifty pounds.

After this fishing experience, which made two good meals for the whole party of nine, they forged ahead to Fort Benton, where they expected to meet a supply steamboat from St. Louis; but the steamer not having put in its appearance, six of the party sold their horses for $20 apiece and bought a Mackinaw boat and started down the river. After going about 500 miles they encountered the belated steamer engaged in unloading the cargo of supplies for the fort and leaving the same in charge of a friendly tribe of Indians, as they were unable to go further on account of low water. After the cargo had been unloaded, the party took passage for St. Louis on the steamer, and were forty-one days on the river before reaching that port, as they were unable to run nights on account of the snags and other obstruction in the low stream.

After remaining two days in St. Louis to secure a pass to get out—the war of the rebellion having commenced —Mr. Griffith started for home, and reached here in due time. He had once or twice tried to enlist in the army before coming East, but was unsuccessful; but after reaching home and working at shoemaking for a year, he enlisted and served about a year and a half in the Seventh Vermont Volunteers. This regiment was stationed for a long time on the coast of Florida and suffered severe losses through sickness. On July 4, 1864, Mr. Griffith secured a pass to go to town, and was feeling as well as usual; the next day he was taken sick, and his illness extended over a number of weeks, reducing him from 160 pounds at enlistment to 114 pounds, just after he had commenced to regain his strength. In September of that year his eyesight commenced to fail him, and he did little duty there-after, finally receiving his discharge for physical incapacity.

After returning to Danby Mr. Griffith again took up the occupation of shoe-making, but in 1869 purchased a tract of timber on the mountain and went to lumbering. He retired from active business in 1877, but has never abandoned fishing, and, we believe, is still justly entitled to the title of champion fisherman of the town—disputed, perhaps, only by Dr. E. 0. Whipple, who is handicapped by not having so much available time of late years to fish as Mr. Griffith has had since his retirement from business.