Armed and Dangerous: Adirondack Outlaws
by Niki Kourofsky
A pistol-packing, breeches-wearing bootlegger named Jess Smith came into my life about a year ago, when editor Annie Stoltie ran across the “daring cowgirl” in a Beaver River history. The brief mention was Our Towns gold, just the kind of colorful character we love to share with our readers. We often unearth quirky passages here at Adirondack Life headquarters, home to a sprawling—if somewhat dusty—collection of local titles. Sometimes we can use the tidbits, sometimes we file them away, sometimes we exclaim over them and then move on.
There was no moving on from Jess Smith—at least not for me. I was fascinated by the backwoods bad-girl who ran a lumber-camp speakeasy in the early 1920s. Since a few throwaway lines in an old book aren’t enough to hang an article on, I hatched a plan to write a roundup of regional rowdies. Even if I didn’t find any more material on Ms. Smith—and with such a common name, it wasn’t promising—there were plenty of other folks ’round these parts who took liberties with the law.
That sampling of “Adirondack Outlaws” (including a certain daring cowgirl) appears in our May/June issue, on newsstands now, but there was a whole pack of varmints that didn’t make the lineup. One of the more notorious was Alvin “Sam” Pasco, target of a 10-day manhunt through rural Warren County in the early 20th century.
Pasco had a long criminal career, starting in 1890 with the shooting death of his estranged father, Leander, in the town of Stony Creek. Pasco’s brother-in-law, Cal Wood, was nabbed for the crime—he became the first man from Warren County executed in Dannemora’s electric chair—but local legend has Wood and Pasco drawing lots for the privilege of peppering his pa with buckshot.
By all accounts, Pasco was a six-foot, five-inch bully. Lumber was his trade and, when it came to cutting prime trees, he wasn’t above overlooking property lines. In “The Saga of Sam Pasco” (Adirondack Life, Summer 1976), Kathryn O’Brien writes, “If he saw on someone’s property a straight, tall tree that looked right for cutting, he would try to strike a bargain with the owner. If the owner agreed to sell, Sam would pay the amount asked; if the owner refused to talk business, Sam would cut the tree anyway. By the time the tree was cut and ready for the mill, Sam would challenge the owner to pick out his lumber from all the rest.”
Pasco gave his neighbors around the town of Thurman a choice: deal on his terms or deal with his temper. Sometimes things got out of hand. In 1903 he was sentenced to Clinton Prison, in Dannemora, for setting fire to a timberland. While he was behind bars he threatened to kill a judge, but they let him out anyway. He was sent up again in 1912 for stealing lumber, this time for a decade. He got out early, though, and in 1918 came home to find his house occupied by his cousin’s family. After stewing over the situation for a spell, Pasco told Orlie Eldridge it was time for him to hit the road, along with his wife and seven children.
Eldridge hit the road all right, taking it straight to the deputy sheriff’s house in Athol. Soon a couple of newly minted State Troopers—the department was organized only a year before—arrived on horseback. They found Pasco at a friend’s house and convinced him to talk things over with Eldridge, who was waiting outside. The discussion ended with a bang: Pasco shot Eldridge dead and ran off into the woods.
For the next 10 days a half dozen troopers, armed with carbines and following bloodhounds, combed the wilderness of Warren County but came away empty-handed. Pasco knew the area, and there were homesteaders that helped him along—out of friendship, or fear, or contempt for the out-of-town lawmen. Then someone finally snitched. On April 30 officers surrounded the house where the fugitive was holed up. Once he stepped out the door, Pasco’s story ended in a burst of bullets.
“Adirondack Outlaws,” in our May/June issue, dishes the dirt on 15 other North Country culprits, including cattle thief and counterfeiter Sile Doty, safe-cracker Canton Eddie and the felon an 1897 Plattsburgh Sentinel article dubbed “America’s only lady burglar,” Florence Hilton.