Monday, March 14, 2011

Notorious Outlaws Meet Boonville’s Jesse Knight

Among the North Country men who made their mark in the Old West was a native of Boonville, in the foothills of the southwestern Adirondacks. He became a success in business, politics, farming, and law, and played an important role in the development of a wild territory into our 44th state. But it was ties to some notorious characters that brought him a measure of fame.

Jesse Knight was born in Boonville on July 5, 1850, the son of Jesse and Henrietta Knight. His grandfather, Isaac, had settled in Oneida County in the early 1800s and raised a family, among them Jesse’s father. But young Jesse never knew his dad, who left that same year for California, and died of yellow fever on the Isthmus of Panama. (The isthmus was a newly created US Mail route to reach California and Oregon, and a popular path for pioneers headed West.)

Jesse attended schools in Lewis, Oneida, and Fulton counties, and at 17 went to live with an uncle in Minnesota for two years. He moved to Omaha, and then settled in the Wyoming Territory. Within a decade, Knight progressed from store clerk and postmaster to court clerk and attorney. At Evanston, near Wyoming’s southwest border, he ran a successful law practice and served as Territorial Auditor.

He also acted as a land sales agent for Union Pacific. Among the properties he sold was 1,906 acres on the Bear River … to one Jesse Knight.

In 1888 he was elected prosecuting attorney of Uinta County, and in 1890, when Wyoming attained statehood, he was voted a member of the state constitutional convention. He was also elected as judge of the Third Judicial District.

By this time, Knight was doing quite well financially and had added to his landholdings. On nearly 1400 acres along the Bear River and more than 800 acres of hills, the judge’s ranch had developed into an impressive enterprise. Within the fenced property, he grew high-quality hay (250 tons) and rye (50 tons), and raised herds of superior-grade cattle and horses.

Irrigation was a key element: two main ditches (one was 3 miles long, 20 feet wide, and 4 feet deep) supplied ample water. The Union Pacific rail line bisected the property, allowing Jesse’s products easy access to markets elsewhere.

Besides his showcase farming operation, Knight’s public career was also flourishing. In 1896, he suffered what appeared to be a setback, failing to win the Republican re-nomination for district judge. Unfazed, he ran as an Independent and won handily. A year later, he was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Wyoming to fill an unexpired term. In 1898, Knight was elected to a full 8-year term.

His business ventures were similarly successful. Besides the ranch, he owned part of a copper mine. He was also one of only two Americans working with several of Europe’s wealthiest men in developing oil wells in Wyoming. The consortium was valued at $10 million (equal to over a quarter billion in 2011). Jesse had a seat on the board of directors.

In 1902, his prominence was noted in the naming of the Knight Post Office, which served a community near Evanston for 19 years.

On April 9, 1905, though still a young man of only 55, Supreme Court Justice Jesse Knight died of pneumonia. He had accomplished a great deal for any man, let alone a poor, fatherless boy from the wilds of New York. His survivors included a wife and five children.

Among Knight’s legacy are connections to some of the West’s notorious characters. In his capacities as rancher, lawyer, prosecutor, and judge, he dealt with many violent, dangerous men over the years. According to biographers of “Big Nose” George Parrott, it was Judge Jesse Knight who sentenced Parrott to hang for the attempted robbery of a Union Pacific pay car and the subsequent killing of two lawmen who were pursuing him.

It was pretty much an average crime story until Parrott tried to escape from jail before Knight’s sentence could be carried out. The attempt prompted an angry mob to forcibly remove Big Nose from his cell and string him up from a telegraph pole. (But it wasn’t easy.)

John Osborne, one of the doctors who had possession of Parrott’s body, examined the brain for abnormalities. Further dissection of the body led to lasting fame for Parrott’s remains. The skull cap that had been removed was saved, and over the years it served as an ash tray, a pen holder, and a doorstop. A death mask of his face was also made. That aside, now it gets gruesome.

The body was flayed, and the skin was sent to a tannery, where it was made into a medical bag, a coin purse, and a pair of shoes, all of which were used by Osborne. The shoes were two-toned—the dark half came from the shoes Parrot wore during the hanging, and the lighter part was made from his own skin.

Doctor Osborne wore the shoes for years—even to the inaugural ball when he was elected governor of Wyoming! The rest of Parrott’s remains were placed in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution, and eventually buried. The barrel was uncovered in 1950, and it was found that the skull cap neatly fit the remains, proving it was Parrott’s body. Other tests later confirmed the results. The death mask and “skin shoes” are now on display in a museum in Rawlins, Wyoming.

In 1903, Supreme Court Justice Knight was involved in the famous case of Tom Horn, a former lawman and detective turned outlaw and hired gun. In a controversial trial, Horn was convicted and sentenced to hang for the killing of a 14-year-old boy. Justice Knight was among those who reviewed the appeal, which was denied. Horn was hanged in November, 1903.

The most famous character linked to Knight was Roy Parker, who was actually Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy. They met when Cassidy was arrested for horse theft, a case tried in “Knight court.” After delays, the trial was finally held in 1894. Cassidy was very popular, and many of his friends were in town with the intent of intervening on his behalf.

A verdict was reached, but Knight ordered it sealed, to be opened on the following Monday, by which time it was hoped many of the visitors would have left town. But Cassidy’s friends were loyal, and high anxiety reigned in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read. To counter the danger, the sheriff, several town officials, many private citizens, and the attorneys all came to court armed. Famously, Judge Jesse Knight carried a pistol, hidden beneath his robes.

The jury pronounced Cassidy guilty, recommending him to the mercy of the court. Knight sentenced him to two years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary at Laramie. A few months before his scheduled release, Cassidy’s sentence was commuted. The term imposed by Judge Knight was the only prison time Butch Cassidy ever served during his lengthy, notorious career.

Photo Top: Jesse Knight.

Photo Middle Right: Big Nose George Parrott.

Photo Middle Left: Shoes of George Parrott … literally.

Photo Bottom: Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Dave Gibson: Less Pigeon Holing, More Story Telling

Today, the experiences, views and outlooks of wild land advocates and foresters are often pigeon-holed as necessarily antithetical to each other. I don’t hold that view, and neither does Adirondack Wild’s Dan Plumley. For evidence, read Dan’s “December Wood” essay. We were both mentored by Paul Schaefer, one of the most effective advocates for wilderness conditions in the Adirondacks during the 20th century.

Paul had many outdoor debates during the 1950s with former Finch, Pruyn executive Lyman Beeman. The two men saw a tract of forest and viewed its potential quite differently, of course. Yet, they both respected each other’s point of view and recognized, as we do today, that foresters of all kinds share with wilderness advocates a deep love for the land, for productive soils and for stewardship over a long period of time, on a human time scale anyway. Good wood grows on good wood, some say. And sometimes a conservationist has got to make some money cutting trees.
What brought this to mind is one of the most interesting stories I ever heard from Paul Schaefer. One day in January, 1991 he was reminiscing about the great depression and World War II, when the bank withheld his assets from his construction company. Then his bank closed, and would not allow any withdrawals, forcing Paul to take on odd jobs in order to feed his family. Then came severe restrictions and shortages on the building materials he used as a homebuilder, and the cost of a house became very dear, preventing him from doing a lot of building.

One day during WW II, Paul read in the daily newspaper in Schenectady that the county airfield, mostly undeveloped at the time, needed to be transformed into a bombing range and military airport. Trees had to be cleared there, pretty big ones at that. Paul read this and went over to Scotia to take a look. He found about ten state or county workers clipping goldenrod with handclippers. He went in and spoke with the person in authority and asked “you want someone to cut trees for you don’t you?” Yes. “What are they cutting goldenrod for?” “They don’t have the skills to cut trees,” came the answer. “Well, you’ve got your man here,” Paul replied.

Paul needed the help of some Adirondackers, so he got in touch with George Morehouse in Bakers Mills to come down and give him a hand with the tree cutting. Each week, Paul would drive up Route 9 to Bakers Mills (at least a 2.5 hour trip one way in those days), pick George up and drive him down to Scotia and the two of them would cut for days at a time. George would stay at Paul and Carolyn Schaefer’s home at night. There were no chain saws available. They required a cross-cut, two-man saw.

“We worked together really smooth,” Paul told me. They cut and they cut. One day, Paul and George got a saw wedged in the tree. They left it, took up another saw and went on cutting. Years later, Paul recovered that wedged saw, all rusted except the blade in the bole of the tree, which was gleaming. “If you want your blade to remain nice and shiny, keep it in a piece of oak or something,” Paul advised. That blade was a part of Paul’s memorabilia destroyed when his barn burned down in the early 1960’s.

One day, after many hours of cutting, George Morehouse said he had to get home. Paul offered to let him stay overnight and drive him home tomorrow. No, I got to get home today, George said. Paul, dead tired, drove George back to Bakers Mills and all the way back. He was so tired on his return journey that he almost failed to stop at a railroad crossing. He put on his brakes a foot before the train roared past him.

So that’s the way Paul Schaefer, the wilderness advocate, guide and homebuilder, got by several years during World War II by selling some of this wood from the airport as lumber and firewood, and turning the little airfield in Scotia, NY into a military facility.

Photo: Paul Schaefer at his Adirondack cabin, c. 1960, courtesy of the Paul Schaefer Collection, Adirondack Research Library.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Changes Planned for Baitfish Transport Regulations

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will propose revisions to the current rule restricting overland transport of uncertified baitfish. DEC is currently developing a proposed revision to the regulations that would allow baitfish to be transported overland within defined “transportation corridors” for use within the same waterbody from which they are collected. DEC anticipates issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in March to be followed by a 45-day public comment period. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Affordable Vegetable Garden Seed Kits Offered

Cornell Cooperative Extension in Warren County is offering its Vegetable Garden Seed Kit Fundraiser for the 2011 planting season. It’s not too early to start preparing for spring and summer planting. The prices for store-bought vegetables are sky-rocketing and growing your own fresh vegetables could save you money. Spending time outdoors and eating your home-grown vegetables is also a perfect way to ‘Go Healthy!’ » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Deep Snow And White-Tail Deer Mortality

It has been a tough two months for the white-tailed deer throughout the Adirondacks, and the snowstorm this past weekend only added to the continuing misery experienced by this popular big game animal since mid-January.

With its long legs, the white-tail has the ability to travel through a snow bound forest when there is up to 12 to 16 inches on the ground. As the snow pack becomes denser, crusted, or deeper, the mobility of this hoofed creature becomes greatly restricted. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dan Ladd: Well Seasoned in the Adirondacks

Author and outdoor journalist Dan Ladd of West Fort Ann, Washington County, has recently released his latest book, Well Seasoned in the Adirondacks: People, Places and Pastimes of Northern New York. The book is a collection of articles and essays, many that have appeared in Ladd’s weekly outdoors column in The Chronicle newspaper of Glens Falls. The book also includes a collection of Laddʼs personal photos.

“Many of my friends in the writing industry, especially those at The Chronicle have suggested I do a book like this,” said Ladd. “In fact, I would encourage any outdoor writer who is regularly published, or has been, to share their experiences and adventures with their readers.”

Well Seasoned in the Adirondacks is organized by the four seasons of the year. Winter features a story on vintage snowmobile restoration as well as others on ice, fishing, small game hunting, skiing and snowshoeing. The Spring and Summer chapters feature everything from fishing, camping and hiking to paddling, including a story about a historic Adirondack canoe trip. The Autumn section is dedicated primarily to hunting and features several of the authorʼs relatives who had an influence on his hunting interest. » Continue Reading.


Friday, March 11, 2011

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights

On Friday afternoons Adirondack Almanack compiles for our readers a collection of the week’s top weblinks. You can find all our weekly web round-ups here.

Subscribe! More than 4,900 people get Adirondack Almanack each day via RSS, E-Mail, or Twitter or Facebook updates. It’s a convenient way to get the latest news and information about the Adirondacks.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Remembering Roger Tubby, Ambassador from the Adirondacks

Roger Tubby died twenty years ago, in January, 1991, at the age of eighty. In Saranac Lake, if not the entire Adirondack region, people should be celebrating the centennial of his birth. If anyone wonders why, I hope this tribute to Tubby which I wrote for the Lake George Mirror in 1998 will help.

The Harrietstown Cemetery near Saranac Lake is a sloping meadow overlooking the Whiteface and Sentinel Ranges. My wife’s great-grandparents, who farmed nearby, are buried here. As we walk among the rows of headstones, we come upon one which is, if anything, more modest than its austere neighbors. Engraved in the stone are these words: “Ad Astra per Aspera.” Reach for the stars. This is the grave of Roger Tubby.

“Ad Astra per Aspera” was Roger Tubby’s motto from youth onward. “At least I got close to some of the stars, earthbound, and even counseled one of them, President Kennedy, to reach for the moon, and beyond,” he once wrote to friends. Quite true, of course. He served, at various times and in a variety of capacities, Presidents Truman and Johnson, Governors Harriman and Carey, and candidate Adlai Stevenson, as well as John F. Kennedy,who appointed him U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations at Geneva. (And for years afterward it was the custom of his friends, if they happened to meet him if the street or in the hardware store, to call out, “Good morning, Mr. Ambassador!”)

Roger Tubby himself may have sometimes doubted that he reached the stars. As a young man, he wanted to be president, or at the very least a senator. But reach them he did, and not because he was an adviser to princes – powerful as that position may be. His greatest achievement may well have been his life in the north country. When he moved to Saranac Lake, he was aware that he was choosing not just a place to live but a way of life. As he himself once said, “I came up here because I wanted to live in an area, a society, where the individual still does have some personal responsibility and can still contribute to the community.”

I cannot claim to have known Roger Tubby well. He was a man of my parent’s generation, and their friend. Even as a teenager, however, I enjoyed talking to him, and because he enjoyed talking to younger people, he was a favorite of his friends’ children. Much of what I know about him comes from those conversations.

Roger Tubby, his wife Ann and their children moved to Saranac Lake from Washington in 1953. With the encouragement and perhaps at the suggestion of Adirondack writer William Chapman White, he and his friend Jim Loeb had just purchased the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Before that, Tubby had been President Truman’s Press Secretary. After Eisenhower’s inauguration, he accompanied Truman back to Missouri. The President asked him to stay on there as his aide. Tubby declined. “I wanted to be independent,” he said.

When Tubby and Loeb began publishing the Enterprise, the north country was in the midst of one of its frequent depressions. “I thought we needed to work with other communities to bring things around,” Tubby recalled. “It seemed to me that promotion had been carried out in such a piecemeal way – village by village, resort by resort.” With the help of people like Nate Proller of Warren County, Tubby established the Adirondack Park Association, known today as the Adirondack North Country Association, or ANCA – a fourteen-county association whose primary mission is to create jobs in the Adirondacks.

The Association supported the construction of Gore Mountain Ski Center, the Prospect Mountain Highway, and, most notably, the Adirondack Northway.

“I was accused of being on both sides of the fence, because on one hand, I wanted to keep suburban sprawl from entering the Adirondacks, and, on the other, I felt that the Northway would fulfill our industries’ need for better roads and open the area to year-round tourism,” said Tubby.

He was elected chairman of a state-wide committee appointed to secure passage of a constitutional amendment authorizing the state to build the highway across Forest Preserve lands. Had the referendum failed, the Northway would have been built east of Lake George and along the shore of Lake Champlain. Tubby’s experience as a newspaperman and a press officer was put to good use. He organized public hearings, developed an advertising campaign and sent out press releases; he mobilized the local chambers of commerce and calmed the fears of the conservationists, many of who were initially opposed to the Adirondack route. Due in no small part to Tubby’s efforts, the amendment was approved by a majority of New Yorkers.

Tubby once said, “If we can have a decent level of employment here, or in any small town, there are real living rewards.”

One of the rewards of living in a small town, Tubby discovered, was that being useful to his neighbors could be as gratifying as serving his nation. “There’s much joy in being engaged with all sorts of people on all sorts of projects: joy in being intrigued or challenged by new ventures,” he said. If the performance of civic duty turned out to be a pleasure, it was a noble pleasure.

In one of our last conversations, when I was in graduate school, a story about a long-time town supervisor led Mr. Tubby to recall an essay by G. K. Chesterton, from which I quote:

“The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community, we choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.”

Roger Tubby may have found his greatest reward in the companions his small town chose for him. He knew the French-Canadian logger, the Calvinist farmer, the merchant, the town supervisors. He knew them, grew fond of them, and became their loyal friend.They returned the compliment.

The village of Saranac Lake has dedicated a park in Roger Tubby’s memory. At least his name will live on. I hope that his example will, too; for it teaches us that small town life, far from being a substitute for life in the capitals, is a life worth choosing for its own sake. Roger Tubby appears to have thought it the best life possible.

For more news and commentary from Lake George, subscribe to the Lake George Mirror or visit lakegeorgemirrormagazine.com

Photos: Tubby with President Harry Truman in 1952, when he was Truman’s press secretary; below, Tubby (left) with Adlai Stevenson in 1956.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Avalanches at Whiteface, Colden Trap Dyke

A number of notable avalanches have occurred over the last month in the Adirondacks. Whiteface Mountain Ski Center officials have told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that two avalanches have occurred this season on the Slides area of the mountain. Officials said both events were triggered by one or more skiers. The most recent (Tuesday morning) is believed to have been caused by someone who entered the Slides area from Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway. The Slides are not accessible by chairlifts, but can be accessed by a traverse from the top of the summit chairlift. The previous Whiteface avalanche occurred at the Slides on February 26th. About five avalanches are reported to have occurred at Whiteface over the past ten years.

Forest Ranger Jim Giglinto, who patrols the High Peaks, told the paper that there was an Avalanche in the Trap Dyke during the mid-February thaw. He said there have likely been other avalanches that have not been reported. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued an Avalanche Warning at the beginning of February.

On February 27th of last year two backcountry skiers were caught in an avalanche on Angel Slide, Wright Peak. The potentially deadly avalanche occurred just a month after Phil Brown wrote A Short History of Adirondack Avalanches. Ian Measeck of Glens Falls told his story to Adirondack Almanack readers here. A skier died in an avalanche on the same slide in 2000.

While avalanche danger increases during and immediately after major snowfalls, as well as during thaws, avalanches can occur in any situation where snow, slope and weather conditions combine to create the proper conditions. DEC warns to take the following precautions when traveling in avalanche prone terrain (between 25 and 50 degree slope with little vegetation): know avalanche rescue techniques; practice safe route finding; carry safety equipment (transceiver, probe, shovel); never travel alone; know the terrain, weather and snow conditions; and inform someone where you plan to go and when you expect to return.

Information on avalanche danger and safety precautions is available on the DEC website. A brochure titled “Avalanche Preparedness in the Adirondacks” is also available for download [pdf].


Friday, March 11, 2011

Rainy Day Fun in Lake Placid

You’re in Lake Placid, ready for a day of winter fun, when the unpredictable happens; it’s raining and the conditions at the winter sports venues are less than ideal. So what can you do when your plans are washed out? Luckily there are still plenty of options for those rainy days.

The Olympic Museum in the Olympic Center contains several thousand items of Olympic memorabilia, and is worth a visit. From a dress belonging to skating superstar Sonia Henie to props from the Disney movie “Miracle”, the Museum holds an astounding array of historical items that tell the story of Lake Placid’s Olympic Legacy. The Museum is open from 10 am until 5 pm Monday-Sunday. For information call 518-523-1655.

If you feel like watching movies, the historic Palace Theater on Main Street in Lake Placid is the place to go; it hosts a variety of movies and two show times a day, including matinees on the weekends. Built in 1926, the Palace was originally called the Adirondack Theatre, and was home to silent movies and stage shows. It is also home to an original theatre organ, and its charming marquee still lights up Main Street. For more information, call them at 518-523-9271.

Bowlwinkles on the south side of Main Street is another place to visit on a rainy day. It is the only bowling alley in Lake Placid, and includes an arcade and laser tag. There is also a bar and grill on the premises. Call at 518-523-7868.

Immerse yourself in Lake Placid’s Olympic culture by visiting the Olympic Training Center. Located on Sentinel Road, the Olympic Training Center is the only one on the East Coast and primarily houses winter athletes. Take a tour and view the facilities where many Olympians live and train. Call 518-523-2600 for any inquiries.

The Olympic Center also hosts tours with knowledgeable area residents and historians; in addition to tours, you are welcome to wander on your own and watch a hockey game or figure skating practice. For more information, call 518-523-1655.


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