ItemSt. Andrews Beacon
Feb 8, 1901
A quainter character was never found outside the page of a dime novel than David Slater, the grizzled old trapper who was called as a witness in the McLaughlin murder case. A giant almost in height, with his head and face covered with an unkempt mop of hair, he looked like a veritable wild man of the woods. The fierceness of his aspect was enhanced by a huge pair of spectacles which were tied with a string behind his head and pulled high up over his forehead. He appeared at his best in the witness box when he was fondling along old fashioned rifle that had been presented him by the prisoner. "It's a beauty," said he, as he drew it toward him, stroked his fingers down into the muzzle. No mother ever gazed upon a child with more loving eyes than this lean old veteran gazed upon this rifle. And when he took it in his hand and brought tit to his shoulder, he made a picture for an artist. Every movement showed the keen-eyed, alert hunter.
Some of the spectators trembled a little lest the eccentric old gentleman might look upon the court as fair game for his rife, and they breathed more freely when the weapon had been returned to the crown lawyer. His trapping instincts were clearly shown in his evasive replies to the court. He had never seen the inside of a court room before, and he had entered it with the fixed belief in his mind that he was being led into a trap. He knew nothing and cared less about the dignity of the court or the respect due to it. When the lawyer questioned him a little closely, he replied: "You don't get me into a trap; no sir. I have been a trapper myself; yes, sir."
One question he evaded by saying: "This is the place where you hang people aint it? You don't hang me, no sir. You don't twist an old man up; no sir, because I won't be twisted. There's enough scotch in me for that; I won't stay, sir; I'll go home, sir." He would have seized his hat and fought his way out of the court room if the judge had not calmed his fears. He declined to say why he had chipped the wood off the stock of one of the guns. "I did it to suit myself—and that's all you'll get out of me; yes, sir. If it suits me it'll have to suit you, sir." Asked whether it was by chance or by appointment that he had called upon the prisoner at his house, he replied: "Yes, just by chance, sir, as the cow killed the rabbit, when she tossed it in the air, sir, and caught it on her horns."
The climax of ludicrousness was reached when he asked the court; "Where's George?" meaning the prisoner. "Don't you see him?" queried the judge. "No, I don't;" and the old man peered on the bench, among the jurymen and over the lawyers. Failing to discern the prisoner, he called out in stentorian tones, as if he was in the woods: "Where are you George; speak for yourself, man!" The prisoner answered with a faint halloo from the dock, and the old man was happy.
It would be difficult for those who looked upon this uncouth, shaggy old veteran of the forest, and listened to his quaint answers, to imagine that he had at once figured in an affair of the heart, and it was owing to the unhappy outcome of love's young dream that he had become the eccentric individual that he now is.
In his young days, David Slater was one of the finest specimens of sturdy manhood in the countryside. He was a giant in stature, as strong and as brave as a lion and as tender as sucking dove. He fell deeply madly in love, and gave the object of his adoration all the affection that was in his manly heart. She proved faithless. When she jilted him, he fled to the forest, vowing that he would never again look upon the face of womankind. For over 50 years he has kept his vow. In the deep solitudes of the forest, far from the haunts of man, with only his dogs and his gun for companions, he lived the life of a hermit. Once in a while, one of the male relatives would seek him out and leave him food or reading matter, but beyond this he was dead to the world.
He was a great reader. For eight or nine years he had a huge bear as the sharer of his forest life. He caught the bear in a trap when it was two years old, dragged it to his cabin and tamed it. For several years it was his constant companion. At night it would drag its huge bulk up to the "dingle" and lie down with the dogs, while the old trapper disposed himself in the bunk. On one occasion, when Slater came into the settlement, the bear, then of enormous size, followed him in. It grew frightened when it reached civilization. Its master tried to coax it along, but it became ugly and in its ugliness it leaped upon him and tore his hand. In its rage it would have rent him into fragments, but the old hunter seeing this, drew his revolver and placing the muzzle in the bear ear blew out its brains. The defection of the bear, which he had come to regard as one of the dearest friends, was to him a source of keen sorrow for a long time.
There is probably no man in the province who has killed more game in his days then David Slater. On the witness stand he declared he "had left his mark in the woods" by killing between 250 and 300 animals. His friends say that he has a game book in which he entered every animal killed by him, whether it be mink, otter, deer or moose.
Though more than half century has passed over his head since his heart was shattered by a faithless woman, the old man has not forgotten his vow. When he came to St. Andrews on Thursday last, he refused to enter the hotel for his dinner because there were women in the house. His food had to be brought to him out of doors. He ate it sitting in the wagon. The constable who captured the old man and brought him to St. Andrews had to seize him in his bed at night. He fought with the officer of the law and had to be fairly dragged to the court. On the witness stand he vented his wrath upon the constable and detective Ring. When his examination was over, he refused to remain in town over night, or to trust himself to the "new-fangled" railway train, but struck out for his 36 mile tramp homeward on foot.