5 of the Unluckiest Adirondackers in History
by Niki KourofskyThe Irish have it all: great beer, the gift of gab and, of course, luck. Every St. Patrick’s Day they share a bit of luck with the rest of us—so, in honor of the holiday, here’s a list of five famous Adirondackers—and honorary Adirondackers—who could have used a dose of good fortune. Or at least a tall Guinness.
1. Father Isaac Jogues. Some say you make your own luck—or lack thereof. That’s certainly the case with Father Isaac Jogues, the first European to set eyes on Lake George and possibly the first to breach the interior of the Adirondack wilderness. In August of 1642, while traveling up the St. Lawrence, the Jesuit missionary and his party were captured by Mohawk warriors and dragged to Ossernenon, a village about 30 miles from Albany. Jogues would later recount that he and his fellow captives suffered “hunger, the fiercely burning heat, the threats and hatred of those Leopards, the pain of our wounds—which, for not being dressed, became putrid even to the extent of breeding worms.” The missionary was given an extra measure of abuse, a parade of beatings, burnings and insults that ended in some intense finger mutilation. After years as a slave—still stubbornly trying to convert his adoptive flock—Jogues managed to escape. He should have cashed in his chips and walked away. Instead, he went back, and this time the Mohawks ignored his fingers and went for the throat. Joques was beheaded in 1646, the fall guy for a disastrous corn harvest. (To read about a modern pilgrimage in honor of Joques’s troubled travels, see “O Father, Where Art Thou?”, from our October 2009 issue.
2. John Cheney. This 19th-century Adirondack guide seemed to court calamity. Through his long years in the wilderness, squiring such notables as Seneca Ray Stoddard and Ebenezer Emmons, Cheney was forced to dodge trees during a blowdown, jump past bullets fired by overexcited clients—he even managed to shoot himself once—and flee ticked-off moose and bears, plus one starving wolf. Cheney’s most tragic mishap occurred in September of 1845, in the town of Newcomb, as he was guiding a group that included David Henderson of the McIntyre Iron Works. When they stopped to rest by a small “duck hole” near the Flowed Land—a spot now known as Calamity Pond—a pistol discharged, mortally wounding Henderson. Although accounts of the tragedy vary, Cheney has often been blamed.
3. Kate Myers. When Myers, of New York City, married the successful romance novelist Ned Buntline in 1860, the young debutante probably never dreamed she’d end up in a small, shabby cabin in the middle of the Adirondack wilderness. Buntline was the nom de plume of No-Nothing Party rabble-rouser Edward Judson, who may have chosen the central Adirondacks to escape creditors, arrest warrants and political activists out for his hide. The joke went ’round that once Buntline, a hard-drinking blowhard, lured Myers to his spread on Eagle Lake, he took away her shoes to ensure she couldn’t escape. But this down-on-her-luck barefoot bride took off anyway, disappearing with her baby in less than 18 months.
4. William Osborne. Osborne had plenty to be pleased with in his life. The well-liked owner of Lake Pleasant’s Osborne Inn was a big name in Hamilton County politics and, as under-sheriff in 1899, he had the honor of capturing one of the area’s most notorious criminals, the Windfall Gang’s Charles Wadsworth. But there were bumps in the road, too. His father, Hiram Osborne, had been murdered by a rival innkeeper outside their adjacent Fish House hotels in 1895. And William’s own death was a shocker: in 1902 he was wounded in the relative safety of a July 4th community baseball game and succumbed to his injury a month later.
5. Charles Herreshoff. Herreshoff was a less-than-savvy businessman, who, around the turn of the 19th century, was lucky enough to marry into the family that owned John Brown Tract, a block of 210,ooo isolated Adirondack acres around Old Forge. (His father-in-law, John Brown, was less lucky, saddled with two undesirable sons-in-law—the other being the mastermind behind that dubious land investment.) In 1811 Herreshoff visited the tract and saw the means of redeeming his reputation and fortune. Looking around at his father-in-law’s failed development—abandoned homes and mills, dams in disrepair—he concluded that the area just needed more roads to turn a profit. Sure of his success, he built a two-story manor—with spacious rooms and a tasteful veranda—in modern-day Thendara. He planted crops and brought in sheep, though his flock was quickly decimated by weather and wildlife. And the year without summer, 1816, didn’t help his agricultural aspirations at all. So Herreshoff turned to mining, banking on a sketchy iron ore deposit to save him. It didn’t. With creditors cutting him off and water flooding his mine, Herreshoff took a pistol out to his fields and shot himself. (For more of the Brown family saga, and similarly doomed attempts to tame the backcountry, check out Glenn Pearsall’s When Men and Mountains Meet: Stories of Hope and Despair in the Adirondack Wilderness After the American Revolution.)