Matilda Fielding

          Guide Bill Nye often told the story of a hiking party. In 1868, Matilda Fielding, her husband, and her niece Dolly climbed Mount Marcy and returned by way of Avalanche Lake. “You will remember the walls,” said Nye, “hundreds of feet high on either side, that you can neither get over nor around without going around the mountain; well, along one side is a shelf from two to four feet wide, and as many under water, and when we got there they wondered how we were to get past. I said I could carry them or I could build a raft, but to build a raft would take too much time while I could carry them past in a few minutes. Provisions were getting short and time set to be at North Elba, so Mr. Fielding says, ‘Well, Matilda, what say you? Will you be carried over, or shall we make a raft?’ Mrs. Fielding says, ‘If Mr. Nye can do it, and thinks it safe, I will be carried over, to save time.’”

Matilda Fielding

Two men crossing a log at Avalanch Lake, George Bacon Wood (1886)

           Nye told her that he had carried a 180-pound man across the shelf, but she still seemed skeptical. Matilda said she did not see how he was going to carry them across and keep them out of the water. Nye said, “I will show you; who is going to ride first?” 

            Matilda accepted the challenge and delicately climbed onto Nye’s shoulders, one leg dangling on each side of his neck. As Nye waded into the water with his passenger on board, Mr. Fielding and Dolly yelled: “Hurrah! There they go!,” “Cling tight, Matilda!,” “Hold your horse, aunt!,” and “Your reputation as a rider is at stake.”

Matilda Fielding

Seneca Ray Stoddard drawing, 1868

          Bill Nye told what happened next:

I had just barely got into the deep water, steadying myself with one hand against the rocks and holding on to her feet with the other, when, in spite of all I could do, she managed to work half way down my back.

“Hitch up, Matilda! hitch up, Matilda! Why don’t you hitch up?” screamed Mr. Fielding, and I could hear him dancing around among the rocks and stones, while I thought Dolly would have died laughing, and the more he yelled “hitch up,” the more she hitched down, and I began to think I would have to change ends, or she would get wet; but by leaning way over forward, I managed to get her across safe and dry. Then “how was she to get off?” I said, “I will show you.” So I bent down until her feet touched the ground, and she just walked off over my head, the two on the other side laughing and shouting all the time.

Matilda Fielding