Thursday, October 8, 2009

La Salle visits the Bristol Valley in 1669

The Bristol Valley has a rich history. The Native People live in the area for thousands of years. One of the first recorded visits of a European to Western New York features a trip to the burning springs found in Bristol.

The first visit of de La Salle to the Senecas, made in 1669 By Orsamus Holmes Marshall, René Bréhan de Galinée

We thus consumed the time, for eight or ten days, waiting until the party should return from their trading, to give us a captive.
It was during this interval that, in order to pass away the time, I went with M. de La Salle, under the escort of two Indians, about four leagues south of the village where we were staying, to Eco a very extraordinary spring. Issuing from a moderately high rock, it forms a small brook. The water is very clear but has a bad odor, like that of the mineral marshes of Paris, when the mud on the bottom is stirred with the foot. I applied a torch and the water immediately took fire and burned like brandy, and was not extinguished until it rained. This flame is among the Indians a sign of abundance or sterility according as it exhibits the contrary qualities. There is no appearance of sulphur, saltpetre or any other combustible material. The water has not even any taste, and I can neither offer nor imagine any better explanation, than that it acquires this combustible property by passing over some aluminous land.*
*The Jesuit Le Mercier says in the- Relation for 1657, p. 33, Quebec Edition, that the Indians extract oil from the Tournesol, by means of ashes, the mill, fire and water. The Tournesol referred to is probably the common sun-flower, which is indigenous to the warmer parts of North America.
It was during this interval that they brought some
*Thc Spring above described was undoubtedly what is known in this region as a "burning spring," many of which abound in Western New York.
Being desirous of ascertaining if one still existed in the direction and at the distance from the Seneca village indicated in the narrative, I found, on consulting a map of Ontario County, that a village named "Bristol Centre," was at the exact point. On addressing a note of inquiry to a gentlemen residing there, he answered as follows:
"There are in this Town burning springs, in a direct line south of Boughlorr Hill, located in the south side of a small brook which empties through a "ravine into th.3 west side of Mucl Creek. Tiie springs are on a level with the bed of the brook. The banks opposite the springs are from 18 to 20 feet high, perpendicular and rocky. The gas emits a peculiar odor. By applying a match the water appears to burn, and is not easily extinguished, except by a high wind or heavy rain."
It will be noticed that the two descriptions, written nearly 200 years apart, correspond in a striking manner. The same phenomena, that excited the wonder of La Salle and his companions, are still in operation, living witnesses of the truth of the Sulpician's mi'rativo.
In the instructions given by the Earl of Bellomont to Col. Romer, to visit the Seneca Country in September, 1700, he directs him " to go and view a well or spring which is eight miles beyond the Senecas furthest castle, which they have told me blazes up in a flame when a light coal or firebrand is put into it. You will do well to taste the said water and give me your opinion thereof, and bring with you some of it." N. Y. Col. Doc., Vol. IV, p. 750.