Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lost in the Boreas Country: Herbert Short, 1930 (Conclusion)

Word of the manhunt for Herbert Short had reached both Auburn and Dannemora prisons, and soon after, searchers were joined by a team of 20 corrections officers from Dannemora. For them the effort was deeply personal: they were, after all, desperately hoping to find their good friend alive and well.

But he had gone missing on November 5, and an estimated 100 searchers had found nothing after several days. On November 9, Tremaine Hughes, a pilot among the state troopers’ ranks, took to the air in what was described as the first aerial effort by the police on a missing-person mission. Heavy bags of clothes and food were sent aloft, to be dropped if Short were sighted. But the effort proved fruitless. Searchers on the ground said they could hear the plane at times, but the woods were so thick that, even without leaves on the trees, they couldn’t see Hughes circling above them.

On November 10, four officers from Auburn joined the hunt, but temperatures near zero and a recent eight-inch snowfall left most searchers convinced they were on a recovery mission, not a rescue.

Some groups of men, led by experienced guides, had undertaken three-day trips into the woods. Others, led by District Forest Ranger Patrick Cunningham, used a version of the shoulder-to-shoulder system, spaced farther apart and moving slowly along while probing brush, snow, and under fallen trees. At intervals, silence was enforced after shots were fired in hopes of generating a response. There was none.

Joining the effort on November 10 were Herbert’s sons — Harold, 23, who left his studies at Brooklyn Law School, and Herbert Junior, 18, a student at RPI in Troy. The boys remained optimistic that their father was still alive, based on his extensive experience in the woods. But for the same reason, most of the searchers by that time believed he was dead. Otherwise, his experience would have led Herbert to find a path, light a signal fire, or discharge his gun as a call for help. Still, said Harold, his dad had been lost in the woods several years earlier and emerged unscathed after two days and nights in the wilds. He was a seasoned woodsman who knew how to take care of himself.

On November 12, a $500 reward was offered to anyone (except for state employees) who found Short. The money came in equal parts from employees of Auburn and Clinton Prisons. Soon after, Herbert Jr. added $350, bringing the total to $850.

It was generally believed this was nothing more than a case of a hunter lost in the woods, but darker possibilities were raised by corrections employees, especially those at Dannemora. There was talk among the inmates that Short was a marked man because of his role in suppressing the riot that left three inmates dead and twenty injured. It was true that on many past occasions, inmates from inside had used connections to gain the aid of criminals on the outside.

The notion that a gangster had been recruited to assassinate Short was surely plausible in many scenarios, but this was not one of them. The group of hunters involved were well known to each other, and hunted in a remote area unfamiliar to most Adirondack residents, let alone flatlanders.

Within the next few days of searching there were a few hopeful moments, one when a handkerchief was found, and another when food wrappings were recovered. Short’s wife confirmed that he did own a similar handkerchief, and it was possible the wrapping once held the sandwich he carried, but neither proved to be a substantial clue to his whereabouts.

Some who believed he might never be found pointed out that bones estimated to have been in the Boreas woods for 40 years had recently been recovered. Other persons missing in the mountains had vanished without a trace.

But the search went on, and persistence paid off. On November 15, ten days after the ill-fated hunting trip began, Short’s body was found, “his feet mired in the muck and coarse grass of a small swamp,” according to most accounts. He lay not far from Brace Dam, roughly a mile north of where today’s Blue Ridge Road crosses the Boreas River, and within a mile of where the hunters had begun their deer drive.

Experienced woodsmen deduced that Short had become turned around in the woods, for he was found “at a point directly opposite” where he intended to go after splitting off from the party. It was believed that the shouts and shots of his friends were heard by Short, but he headed in the wrong direction and was eventually out of hearing range. That was the likeliest explanation, but the truth was, no one would ever know for certain what had happened.

The discovery of his remains was made by a pair of searchers, one of them a trooper from Malone, and the other Leo Adams, Short’s very close friend from Dannemora and a companion on the hunting expedition that ended in tragedy.

Of the 28 hunters to die in New York forests that year, Short was the only one to become lost and succumb to weather conditions. His death was attributed to exposure.

[Note: Many details of Short’s end were reported by various newspapers that offered directly opposing accounts, and thus were not used in the above retelling. Some said his clothing and body were frozen and perfectly preserved, while others said his clothing was badly torn and his body was decomposing. One account said he was found mired waist-deep in mud, while the Albany Times Union repeatedly said he drowned in the Boreas River. Other discrepancies: his rifle was described as empty, fully loaded, and containing a few shots; he had no matches, he made no campfire, and a burned-out campfire was found near the corpse; he had no food, he ate his small lunch, and he had shot a deer, hung it up, and had the tongue and liver in his backpack.]

Photos: headline, Niagara Falls Gazette (1930); headline, Plattsburgh Sentinel (1930); headline, Ogdensburg Republican-Journal (1930); headline, The Troy Times (1930); 1897 map of Brace Dam/Boreas River area

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

7 Responses

  1. Kathy says:

    Love your tales,thanx again…

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    Thanks for the great story.

  3. Balian the Cat says:

    27 OTHER hunters died in NY forests that year and his was the only one related to exposure?!

    Really good stuff, Larry. I especially liked the disclosure of inconsistencies at the end. I may hire you to explain today’s news to me sometime as it’s beyond obvious at this point that it would be folly to take any single source at face value.

  4. Beth Rowland says:

    Another good—but sad—story from you, Larry. Love your work.

  5. Boreas says:

    Another good read, Larry. Keep ’em coming!!

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