Before railroads and automobiles, travelers depended on the quality and skills of North Woods guides to show them the region’s natural beauty, to feed them and provide the best in hunting and fishing. Often, guides were entrusted with taking ladies in the woods.
The guides, especially those not aligned with large hotels, depended on per diem fees for subsistence and quality reputations for honesty, dependability and woodcraft benefited all guides. So when two guides brought dishonor to the profession, guides hoped people realized these two were the exception.
Charles Parker. Charles Parker had served time in a Vermont prison and had outstanding warrants for forgery and theft. As a part time guide at the Forked Lake House, he had a bad reputation among guides and he knew it. It was thought he intended his later actions to ruin the guides that despised him and who later combed the woods in his pursuit.
The wife of George Bull, a political leader in Philadelphia, arrived with friends at Blue Mountain Lake in late July, 1881. Her trunk had not yet arrived so she bade farewell to her friends and agreed to meet them later at their destination, the camp of Connecticut senator Platt at Long Lake. The next day, when guide Charles Parker was pointed out as a safe, reliable guide, Mrs. Bull hired him to take her to Long Lake via the Forked Lake carries. At the Buttermilk Falls carry on July 23rd, Charles Parker grabbed her by the neck and assaulted her and threatened to drown her and hide her body if she didn’t promise silence about his actions. Parker later claimed that Mrs. Bull was drinking and wanted to stop at Kellogg’s Hotel for cloves to scent her breath. There Mrs. Kellogg noticed either there was no dress or it was drawn up, revealing the petticoat. She provided Jamaican ginger but Mrs. Bull remained silent though visibly shaken since still under Parker’s control.
Arriving at Platt’s camp in Parker’s boat, Mrs. Bull became hysterical and fainted and the friends awaiting her quickly attended her. In the confusion, Parker was initially delayed but got away, reached his camp and got his rifle, then sold his boat at Forked Lake and fled. He passed through Lowville, traded in his gun for a new suit of clothes, got to Watertown, took the train to Cape Vincent and wound up in Kingston, Canada. He was captured by Canadian officials and escorted back to Long Lake.
This time Parker was placed in Constable Warren Cole’s custody until testimony could be taken. Parker was in leg irons attached to Cole’s legs and also handcuffed. Another person was assigned as extra guard. After the attached Cole and Parker went upstairs to bed, the additional guard felt unneeded and left. Cole awoke in the morning, August 1st , with Parker gone and both men’s pants undisturbed, prompting the question about what pants Parker wore. Enraged guides took off after him.
Mr. Bull accompanied Cole and they tracked Parker down. Cole urged Parker six times to surrender and then shot him. Nessmuk says it was while Parker dodged behind his wife who was helping him get away. The following May, Mrs. Bull died. Afterward, both Cole and Bull were indicted for murder after Bull abused guides, accusing them of helping Parker get away. The guides claimed Bull urged Cole to shoot while Parker was surrendering. The charges evidently did not stick and this ended the first instance in people’s minds where a guide took advantage of the confidence placed in them.
Charles Brown. George Berkley, age 30 with a wife and children, was the bartender and proprietor of Blood’s, then called Riverside Hotel, in Saranac Lake on June 22, 1888. Charles Brown, a usually well-mannered guide, was drunk and asked for a refill. When he was drunk, Saranac Lakers feared his often violent and out of control behavior. So Berkley refused him, a brief scuffle ensued with Brown being thrown out. Brown swore immediate vengeance.
Brown went to his father’s house for a revolver, hidden by his sister, and took his empty rifle instead, bought cartridges and waited across the street from the Riverside, looking from a store window for Berkley. Berkley was leaving his hotel, talking with another man and did not notice Brown, who advanced on him and shot him in the stomach, then fled the scene in a boat. Berkley died twelve hours later from the wound, enduring much pain. Armed citizens and guides pursued Brown.
Charles Brown was never caught, but the papers kept track of him. A mile from the village, he asked for matches from a man and about Berkley. Hearing he was dead, Brown fled into the woods. People’s fears of him helped Brown. He had fled down the river from Saranac Lake to Bill Carey’s camp at Long Lake where two men intended to arrest him but didn’t. He went through Long Lake and passed five teamsters who stopped and pursued him. He fled in the woods to Blue Mountain and ended up at Potter’s on Cedar River where Potter gave him away to men eating lunch. He ended up at a Moose River lumber camp, was recognized, but threatened those about to take action against him and camped out at Muncy’s at Little Rapids.
While on the south branch Moose River, Warren Cole (the Parker killer) and Racquette Laker Charles Blanchard stayed briefly at the Forge House while tracking Brown in the area. In November 1888, Brown reportedly was at Sweeney Carry where he threatened Berkley’s brother if he came near. In July 1889, it was rumored that Brown was working on a cattle ranch in Texas. Almost ten years later, Charles Brown appeared at a lumber camp at Star Lake in the Benson Mines area, was recognized and admitted his identity. He said he intended to volunteer in a regiment going to Cuba and is no longer heard from.
Photograph from the Goodsell Museum, Old Forge.