In early October of 1925 about a dozen members and guests of the Rap-Shaw Club, hailing from Buffalo, Rochester and Elmira – plus an unlucky guest from Hartford, CT named William C. Roach – gathered at their Beaverdam Pond camp for deer hunting.
The camp was located deep in the forest about six miles north of the Beaver River along the western edge of Nehasane Preserve. Since 1917 the club had rented ten acres on the pond from the Webb family. They had a spacious clubhouse, four cabins and a number of outbuildings.
Every year since the club was founded back in 1896 deer hunting was under the direction of a local guide named Jimmy Wilder. He was a young man when he was first hired as a guide for Rap-Shaw Club. Now he was a 55-year-old experienced woodsman. The members of the Club liked the hard working but soft spoken Wilder. He was short, strong, and ordinary looking. Most importantly, he knew the Beaver River country so well he could walk the woods on a moonless night without a light.
On Saturday, October 17, Jimmy Wilder organized a deer drive. About 2:30 in the afternoon five hunters were stationed in a line along a ridge on state land north of Witchhopple Lake. In the valley below a group of “beaters” advanced toward the ridge making noise to drive deer toward the stationary hunters. Bill Roach was first in line on top of a boulder. Next in line, 200 feet away through the brush, was a man from Elmira named Leon Keeton. The next man was John H. Spraker, a truck manufacturer from Buffalo. Two hundred feet beyond Spraker was a man named McGreevy of Elmira. Next in line was Frank J. Crouch of Millport, N.Y. Jimmy Wilder was positioned at the end of the line without a gun. According to the notes kept by Mr. Spraker, here’s what happened next:
“We had been standing on watch about half hour and there had been several shots fired at a deer at the other end of the line by McGreevy and Crouch. Shortly afterwards, five or ten minutes, I heard two shots to the right between myself and Roach. I waited tensely for a few minutes, expecting to see a deer; then I thought I heard a call for help. While listening intently for a further call, Keeton staggered into sight and upon seeing me called, “Help! Help! I have shot a man! Hurry!” I hurried down with Keeton to where Roach had been standing and found him conscious, sitting down leaning over forward, holding a handkerchief to his face. He had been shot in the face, making a terrible wound. As Keeton and I came up, he said, “Who fired?” Keeton said that he had.”
A single bullet from Keeton’s Winchester Carbine had passed through Roach’s face just under the nose. The wound was serious. He needed to reach medical attention immediately. Keeton was initially hysterical. When he calmed down a bit he and McGreevy were dispatched back to the Beaverdam camp about a mile away with instructions to use the telephone there to call the Thompson Brothers, owners of the Norridgewock Hotel at Beaver River Station, explain the situation and get them to send an automobile or wagon to Grassy Point on the south bank of the Beaver River to help in the evacuation of Roach.
Fortunately, Roach was conscious and could walk with assistance from Spraker and Crouch. Wilder ran ahead to Witchhopple Lake to get a rowboat. Wilder met Roach, Spraker and Crouch halfway down the lake and rowed them to the west end where the Red Horse Trail leads back toward the Beaver River. The group then walked about half a mile to Salmon Lake where there was another rowboat.
As Wilder rowed the evacuation party down Salmon Lake they encountered his son-in-law, Herbie Nye, the Club steward, rowing in the opposite direction bringing another hunter from Elmira to camp. Nye turned around and followed them to the foot of Salmon Lake. They needed him because he was the only one who knew how to operate the new motor on the boat used to cross the recently enlarged Beaver River Flow. Nye, Roach, Crouch and Spraker crossed to Grassy Point while the others went back to camp.
An automobile was waiting and the group was soon at the Norridgewock Hotel at Beaver River Station. In the meantime, Clinton and Walter Thompson, the hotel owners, had scoured the country for a doctor and located a Dr. Kauffman from Buffalo who was hunting at another spot on Nehasane Preserve. The doctor walked about 3 ½ miles down the railroad track from Little Rapids to Beaver River Station. On his arrival at about 5:30 PM he gave Roach first aid. He said the case was serious and that Roach must get to a hospital immediately.
The group prevailed on the Beaver River station agent to order a special train from Tupper Lake, 37 miles to the north. Dr. Kauffman called St. Luke’s Hospital in Utica to arrange for an ambulance to meet the train. The train departed Beaver River at 7:46 PM and arrived in Utica at 9:13 PM. By midnight Roach was out of surgery and reported to be in good condition. He later had plastic surgery to restore his damaged face.
According to an article that appeared a few days later on October 22, 1925 in the Rochester Times Union, Keeton claimed to have “lost his sense of direction, for instead of training his gaze in the direction of the “beaters” he was attracted by a small gray object about 200 feet away. He fired twice at this object and then, hearing an outcry, ran toward it and realized his mistake. The gray object was Mr. Roach’s hat and one of the bullets had penetrated the hat the other passing through his face.”
As a precaution, Spraker wrote up a detailed account of his first hand observations and sent it to J.R. Stewart, Asst. Secretary of the Aetna Insurance Co. where Roach worked as Asst. Secretary of the Fire Insurance division. Stewart wrote back to Spraker thanking him for the details and concluding, “Certainly it smooths over everything nicely. It is rather astounding to read that the wound was not a serious one, also that the local hunters assisted Mr. Roach over the trails to the railroad station.”
It took a backwoods community effort to save Roach’s life. A great deal of the credit goes to Jimmy Wilder, the experienced guide who sized up the situation and carried out a plan that got Roach out of the woods with such speed. Fellow hunters, the club steward, the hotel owners, a doctor and a railroad agent all played important parts in the rescue. Their volunteer spirit of cooperation was exactly what was needed in the situation. And it worked.
Photos from above: Rap-Shaw Club Clubhouse, Jimmy Wilder (middle), Beaver River Reservoir Map.