President Grover Cleveland’s favorite Adirondacks guide vanished in woods after shooting friend in 1888
BY DAVID J. KRAJICEK
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Sunday, April 23, 2017, 4:15 AM
Adirondacks guide Charles Brown (not pictured) gunned down his pal in 1888, but was never caught. (PHIL BUNK)
The sun was still high in the sky, but Charles Brown was already sloshed.
The crackerjack Adirondacks guide found himself without a trout-fishing patron on the hook on that second day of summer in 1888. So he submerged his gullet in whisky at the Blood’s Hotel saloon in Saranac Lake.
“Brown was ordinarily a peaceful and respected citizen,” local historian Alfred Donaldson would later write, “but one of those unfortunates who became dangerously irresponsible under the influence of liquor.”
The bartender tried to nudge Brown homeward. When that didn’t work, he corked the guide’s bottle. And, like most drunks, Brown reacted like a cornered bear to the news that he’d been cut off.
Grover Cleveland had secret dental surgery on a yacht in 1893
He howled at the hotel’s owner, his old friend George Berkeley, who backed the barkeep and pointed Brown toward the door.
The guide staggered home in a rage, retrieved a weapon and marched back toward Blood’s, intent on revenge.
Charlie Brown, a bachelor at 32, was the son of a Saranac Lake farmer. He became a legendary outdoorsman, making a living by guiding “Murray’s Fools,” city rubes from New York who rushed north to lakeside hotels and sanitoria, inspired by William Murray’s 1869 book, “Adventures in the Wilderness, or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks.”
Like western cowboys, Adirondack guides were cut from a rustic template.
Their faces smeared with tar oil to repel black flies, these brawny men paddled trout-hunting clients around the mountain lakes in featherweight Adirondack guideboats — chubby canoes painted identically with dark blue sides, forest green interiors and black gunwales. In the fall they donned woolens and guided deer hunts.
Brown was the preferred guide of President Grover Cleveland, seen fishing in canoe in 1904. (BETTMANN/BETTMANN ARCHIVE)
A New York newsman who journeyed upstate penned a noble-savage ode to the “unlettered” guides, whom he described as “inured to all sorts of weather, to abstinence, to great labor, to patient submission, to bad luck with rod or gun, and to the whims of all sorts of conditions of visitors. . .. They are nearly all gentlemen . . . whose simple gentility and natural politeness one cannot help feeling the sincerest admiration.”
Among these saints, Brown, licensed as guide No. 120, enjoyed exalted status.
He was the preferred guide of President Grover Cleveland, an avid trout-chaser who spent month-long summer vacations on Upper Saranac Lake. Cleveland was serious — and honest — about his leisure time. He once said his goal there was to catch fish and transact as little official business as possible.
Brown helped that cause by spending long days ferrying the corpulent Cleveland — always trailing smoke from a fat cigar — as he pitched artificial flies or trolled with bait in search of mighty lake trout.
Brown loved his job, but he pooped in his lunch pail on that day at Blood’s Hotel.
He returned with a deer rifle and took up a sniper’s position in a nook at Main and River Sts., opposite Blood’s. After an hour, owner George Berkeley stepped out on the porch. Brown leveled the rifle sights on his friend and dropped him with a single shot.
He casually ambled away, ducking into the woods near the crooked northern finger of Upper Saranac. The next morning, he showed himself briefly and asked a friend about Berkeley’s condition.
“He died,” the man replied.
The deadly incident took place at Blood’s Hotel saloon in Saranac Lake. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/ DETROIT PUBLISHING CO)
Brown said, “Then I suppose they’re after me.”
He pivoted back to the woods.
Berkeley, 34, died a miserable death, lingering for 11 hours. He left a widow, Mary, and a daughter, Mabel, 11.
Local law enforcers were outmatched by the fugitive’s forest skills, and he went undetected for weeks. Friends of Berkeley put up rewards totaling $5,500 — more than $150,000 in today’s money — that attracted scores of hardened bounty hunters.
But the loot went uncollected, despite occasional Brown sightings.
Five months after the murder, George Berkeley’s brother crossed paths with the killer at Sweeney’s Carry, a canoe portage south of Saranac Lake.
“Brown is said to be in a forlorn condition as to clothing and health, and to begin to show signs of exhaustion from poor food and exposure,” the Plattsburgh Telegram reported.
“He is said to have told acquaintances that he expected to die of fatigue and exposure in the woods, and to declare that he will not allow himself to be taken alive.”
Cleveland spent month-long summer vacations in the area, staying in this cottage. (S R STODDARD)
And he was not.
Some say Brown made his way to Alaska to join his younger brother, Mason, a Klondike guide. Others say he traded his woollens for leather and became a Texas cowboy. Still others swore they saw Brown in the Adirondacks a decade after the shooting.
In April 1907, Thomas Haffen and his hunting dog followed bear tracks off an old Indian trail near Northville, N.Y. They found a few human bones scattered about well into the woods beside a gushing spring.
A rusty old rifle leaned against a tree whose trunk had partially enveloped the barrel. On the ground lay the remains of a small metal case, a fancy box compass, a knife and a key ring.
The gun barrel was said to have been etched with “120,” Brown’s guiding license number, and the case and compass bore the initials CB.
“Haffen is sure he has found the remains of the woodsman,” said the Plattsburgh Sentinel.
The man sought a reward, but 19 years had diminished incentives. No one up north bothered to officially decree whether or not the bones belonged to President Cleveland’s favorite guide.
Adirondacks guide vanished in woods after shooting friend in 1888 - NY Daily News