Sunday, November 26, 2017

Rap Shaw Club’s 1925 Hunting Accident

rap shaw club club houseIn 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.

Jimmy Wilder (middle)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.

beaver river reservoirFortunately, 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.

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Ed Pitts is a retired attorney and Administrative Law Judge who lives in Syracuse, NY. He is a past president of the Rap-Shaw Club, an Adirondack sportsman’s club founded in 1896, now located on an island in the Stillwater Reservoir. He has a life-long interest in local history especially of the Adirondacks and Central New York.

11 Responses

  1. kathy says:

    On a deer hunt why would you fire at a small gray object? Even if it was a squirrel would not the caliber explode it?

    • Paul says:

      Obviously this guy was an idiot. This never should have happened.

      Keeton should have been prosecuted.

      I am surprised they had a phone at a camp like that?

      • Edward Pitts says:

        Several club members worked for the telephone company in Elmira so they had the equipment and expertise. They installed the phone line in 1917. Line maintenance was a constant problem. I have a photo that shows the line as it crossed the Beaver River. Looks pretty flimsy.

  2. George says:

    A negligent hunter caused the accident. Not thinking clearly causes a majority of accidents whether it be in a car, boat, or just opening your mouth when not appropriate.

    • John Warren says:

      Wait, is it “negligent” or “not thinking clearly”? You know those are two different things right?

      Your logic is nonexistent.

      • Paul says:

        Not thinking clearly would be a failure to take proper care (negligent) action.

        But I think it sounds like he was clearly not thinking! Shooting at a “small grey object”? Well if you are hunting for deer of course one would just fire at any small grey object out there!

        I am surprised that the season was open on the 17th in 1925. I thought that back then the season opened on the 25th no matter what the day of the week it was?

  3. Tim-Brunswick says:


    I love your comment…hope everyone else “gets it”…!!

  4. Robbin Brown says:

    I am a great daughter to Herbert Nye and Jimmy Wilder was my great grandmothers father. I would love to purchase your book of the RapShaw Club, Mr.Pitts. Could you please let me know how to obtain a copy?
    This is very exciting to me. Thank you for posting this !!!

  5. Cheryl Shaw Holmes says:

    Great story! I love keeping the history alive. Jenny Thompson was my great Aunt and we ventures there by boat as a child. My father hunted there with Uncle Horace Shaw also from the area.
    Thanks again

  6. Noel A. Sherry says:

    Hello Ed Pitts, came across your name and articles on Beaver River and vicinity, as I research a history of Twitchell Lake, nearby in Big Moose, as a member of a committee there, and realized that we have a common interest as Twticell early on was only accessed through Lowville-Fenton’s, Beaver River, and then the trail off the “State Road” past Wood’s Lake south to Twitchell Lake (6 miles). I have map and compassed my way all through the woods between Twitchell and Beaver River/Stillwater, so have a keen interest in this area. You might be able to help us with a mystery we are trying to solve, the namesake for Twitchell Lake, which we have traced to the Twitchell family in Copenhagen, NY- we believe a member of that family or a Guide or Sportsman friend in Copenhagen came up early (1844-1855) to fish or hunt, and ended up naming the Lake for that family. Still trying to nail down our theory, and write an early history. I see a real connection with Wood’s lake since that was passed on the way in to Twitchell in that day, and several of the news accounts from the 1860 and 70’s have fishing parties going in from Number 4 to Wood’s Lake and Twitchell for a week or more. Most of those were Copenhagen men, but no record of a Twitchell in their party. One of my hunches has the person who is the namesake for Wood’s Lake as the one who took Chas E. Twitchell in to fish, or his dad or uncle, and (ala Wallace’s Guide) Chas made a clearing and put up a shanty for parties on the N shore of Twitchell in about 1860. Love to hear what you know about that Wood’s Lake-Twitchell- Big Moose Lake “side trial” off the main route the early sportsmen took in to Albany-Smith’s- Raquette Lakes. Enjoyed your articles for the Almanack. PS. Do you know of an archive of the letter correspondence Wallace carried on to update his later editions, as that archive might hold answers to our questions.
    Noel Sherry, 9 Twitchell Lake, Eagle Bay, NY 13331- Love to hear from you.

  7. Ronald J Hongo says:

    Enjoyed your write-up about the “Rap Shaw Club’s 1925 Hunting Accident”.

    Jimmy Wilder was my great grandfather and Herbie Nye was my grandfather.

    I was just up two Stillwater and was able to get to the island for a tour, which I
    had not seen since about 1954.

    If you have any other write-ups about Stillwater or the Rap Shaw Club, I would be
    interested in reading them.

    Thanks, Ron Hongo

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