Posts tagged #1800s

The Leatherman

The Leatherman

The Leatherman

This is one of those great stories, a piece of American folklore that intrigues and mystifies. It is a tale about a mysterious character called "The Leatherman" – a man who roamed the countryside in the mid 1800s. He wore a homemade suit constructed from the leather uppers of old boots with a matching leather hat and scarf, he rarely spoke but when when he did French appeared to be his first language. He spent a great many years traveling around New York, Massachusetts and Vermont before settling into a 365 mile loop around Connecticut and the Hudson River, which he completed every 34 days like clockwork. The Leatherman slept in caves where he stored supplies. He grew plants around his caves, foraged and picked up  any supplies he needed from the towns along the way. His strict routine and odd look made him a familiar face along his route; newspapers even commented on his comings and goings. People were not afraid of The Leatherman and offered him aid where they could (although he never asked for it) and he came and went as his schedule dictated.

The Leatherman walked this same route for 6 years until he passed away on March 20, 1889 in Mt. Pleasant, New York. It is believed that he died from cancer and there are stories of him escaping forced hospitalization in order to return to his routine. He was such a well known character even the New York Times documented (rather imaginatively) his passing.

His body was buried in Sparta Cemetery on Route 9 in Scarborough, New York. The headstone read "FINAL RESTING PLACE OFJules Bourglay OF LYONS, FRANCE "THE LEATHER MAN" who regularly walked a 365 mile route through Westchester and Connecticut from the Connecticut River to the Hudson living in caves in the years 1858–1889."  However, much of this epitaph was misinformed. His name was often reported as Jules Bourglay, but this and his apparent French origins we're based on an article written by the Waterbury Daily American in 1884,an article which they retracted.

In October 2010, the Westchester County Supreme Court granted permission to the Ossining Historical Society to exhume the Leatherman's body. They had controversially petitioned to get the Leatherman moved to "a safer and more dignified setting". They also planned to test the DNA of any remains found. However, the tale of The Leatherman took a final twist. When the grave was uncovered, all that was found was dirt and a few nails, no human remains. Nonetheless, the contents of the original grave were moved to the new site and a proper burial took place. The new resting place is marked by a headstone that simply says "The Leatherman."

So what is it about this story that people love? There is often a certain romance that comes with the story of a lone wanderer, a person striking out on their own in to the wilderness. But for me it's the mystique, who was the Leatherman? why did he choose walk that specific route? The lack of hard facts allows your imagination to take over. Was he a lonely, heart-broken soul. Was he just a very private person who loved the outdoors. There is so much that will never be answered, and so much for our minds to fill in, thus creating our own vision of what and who The Leatherman was.

I have been trying to write this article for about three months, trying to separate the fanciful from the factual. I've done my best to present The Leatherman in his true form but if I have missed anything please let me know.

Posted on August 13, 2012 and filed under Hero.

Hugh Glass

Hugh Glass

Hugh Glass

The last thing in life one wants to do is scare a bear with cubs. Worse still a grizzly bear, when alone, in a remote and hostile part of South Dakota. When the bear charges there is little left to do but rollover, play dead and await your fate. Well, unless your name is Hugh Glass.

Glass was a trapper in the 1800's and was attacked while scouting game for his expedition in Grand-River (presently Perkins Country). The story goes that before Glass could fire his rifle the bear was upon him, he drew his knife and fought the animal as it clawed him, ripping at his flesh and shredding his body.

Two fellow trappers ran to his aid and finished off the bear before attending to the mortally wounded Glass. When the expedition leader Andrew Henry arrived he found Glass unconscious. He had been ripped apart, had a broken leg, and gashes so deep that his ribs were exposed. There was no doubt he was a goner. Andrews asked for men to stay with Glass as he passed, and to give him a proper burial. Thomas Fitzpatrick and Jim Bridger volunteered to stay with him and bury the done-for mountain man when the time came. According to the men, after waiting some days they were disturbed by hostile Indians; panicking they grabbed Glass' rifle and equipment and ran for their lives. Glass was alone.

He lay there unconscious but not yet dead. After some time he began to stir and eventually regained consciousness. He was 200 miles from the nearest settlement of Fort Kiowa on the Missouri River. Furious at being left, the thought of revenge spurred him into action and he began his long crawl into American folklore. He set his own leg and tied his bearskin shroud around his exposed wounds. He lay across rotten logs to allow maggots to eat the dead flesh from his injuries, thus preventing them from going gangrenous. Fearing hostile natives he journeyed inland, crawling for six weeks, and surviving on berries, roots and scraps of meat stolen from startled wolves.

With aid from friendly natives and the help of a crude raft he built himself, Glass made it to Fort Kiowa alive and began his long recuperation. He eventually tracked down Fitzpatrick and Bridger but spared both their lives. He did however, reclaim his rifle and returned to the wilderness as a trapper and fur trader. Glass died in the winter of 1833 on the Yellowstone River during an attack by the Arikara.

This is just an incredible story! There has been so much written about this man in the form of both fact and fiction, and it is hard to separate the truth from the legend. Either way this is a great tale of pioneering America and legends they bore. There is now a monument to Glass at the site of the bear attack on the southern shore of Shadehill Reservoir, on the forks of the Grand River. If you ever get chance to visit doff your cap to Old Glass for me.

Posted on April 13, 2012 and filed under Hero.