Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ever Hear Of The "Leatherman"...?

Here is another one of those characters that pops up in our history from time to time.

I had never heard of this man until I was doing a bit of research on another subject. I got so caught up in this story, I just had to share it with you!

This man could be the poster boy for words like personal freedom, privacy, and making do! Making his own clothes, finding food the best way he could, finding a way to weather out the harshness of brutal weather, finding out a way to avoid being treated by doctors he obviously did not trust and being held in a hospital against his wishes! That, my friends, is what freedom is all about!

An extreme case? You bet! Does it prove a point? You better know it! Would any of us go this far? Unfortunately, probably not! Certainly makes for a good read, though!

Leatherman, June 9, 1885

The Leatherman (ca. 1839–1889) was a vagabond, famous for his handmade leather suit of clothes, who traveled a circuit between the Connecticut and the Hudson River from about 1856 to 1889. Although of unknown origin, he was thought to be Canadian, or possibly French, because of his fluency in French, his broken English and the French Language prayer book found on his person after his death. Although sometimes identified as Jules Bourglay, his identity remains unknown.

Living in rock shelters and "leatherman caves", as they are now locally known, he stopped at towns along his 365 mile loop once every 34 days for food and supplies. He was dubbed the "Leatherman" as his entire adornment, from hat, scarf, clothes to shoes were handmade of leather.

Fluent in French, he communicated mostly with grunts and gestures, rarely using his broken English. When asked about his background, he would abruptly end the conversation. Upon his death, a French prayerbook was found among his possessions. He declined meat as food on Fridays, giving rise to speculation that he might be Roman Catholic.

It is unknown how he earned money, although one store kept a record of his order: "one loaf of bread, a can of sardines, one-pound of fancy crackers, a pie, two quarts of coffee, one gill of brandy and a bottle of beer".

Leatherman was quite popular in Connecticut. Reliable in his rounds, people would have extra food ready for him, which he often ate on their doorsteps. Ten towns along the Leatherman's route passed ordinances exempting him from the state "tramp law" passed in 1879.

The Leatherman survived blizzards and other foul weather by heating his rock shelters with fire. The Connecticut Humane Society had him arrested and hospitalized in 1888, because of a spot on his lip which they thought was a result of the blizzard of 1888. He finally died from cancer of the mouth due to tobacco use, having escaped before he could be treated. His body was found on March 24, 1889 in his Saw Mill Woods cave near Ossining, New York.

His grave is located at the Sparta Cemetery, Route 9, Scarborough, New York. The following inscription is carved on his tombstone:

Jules Bourglay
who regularly walked a 365 mile route
through Westchester and Connecticut from
the Connecticut River to the Hudson
living in caves in the years

Sometimes the most interesting characters can be found quite by accident. I'd be willing to bet that if you checked your local history, you would no doubt find some interesting people lurking in the background, just waiting for you to discover their story!

History can be so much fun...! The secret is to learn from it, and not repeat it! Know what I mean?

BTW, in the article the reference is made to a "gill" of brandy! That is equal to 4 US ounces! Just thought you should know!

Now, let's get some fresh coffee and sit on the patio! I'm sure liking this warmer weather!


Catman said...

I've always loved Emperor Norton and Sam Brannan! Anyone else out there a Clamper? ECV!

HermitJim said...

Hey Catman...
I just read a little on Norton! What a character!

Must have been a very convincing fellow, though, to get so many people to let him have his own way for so long!

I guess that every state has their own collection of characters! I know that Texas did, for sure!

Hey, thanks for coming by today!

chinasyndrome said...

Great story! Thanks Jim.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like quite the character. A sort of modern day Diogynese (sp?), a person who avoided owning material things and wanting only the basic necessities.

Thanks HermitJim.

JoJo said...

What a great story, I love reading things from the past. Thank you for all the reaserch you do and then bring to us. Going to look into this Emperor Norton and Sam Brannan.
Yes this weather is so nice been useing my porch these days loving it. Pass the pot please

Kelle said...

Thanks for sharing this story Jim! We had something similar pop up in our local newspaper last Fall. It was a story of a man who lived to be 98 yrs old and he build an entire small community on his property out of totally recycled goods( from the dump) He even had cottages you could lease by the night , week, month or year. Of course all were totally off grid and he had several outhouses and a bath house. The locals all seemed to tolerate him, many thought he was crazy, but those closest to him gave him a wonderful tribute in the article. He too knew what freedom was! Sadly I'm betting his community was torn down and the property sold :o(

Ben in Texas said...

Everybody hears their own drummer and his just lead him in a different direction. No harm, no foul!.

Dizzy-Dick said...

When I was a kid, being a Hobo was a profession. They marked the houses where their kind could get hand-outs. My first few years were spent in small rail-road towns. Seeing Hoboes or Bums or whatever you call them, was a way of life. It was the life they chose and were happy in it.

Jane said...

You can meet some of the most interesting people,in some of the most out of the way places! Well worth the read. Thanks for sharing this story with the rest of us. Blessings jane

HermitJim said...

Hey China...
Glad you liked it! Finding out about some of these people is really a good way to spend some time in the Winter!

Might as well learn something while I'm penned up.

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Anon 7:23...
I reckon that his type has been around as long as mankind.

We always see stories about those that break away and refuse to follow the "accepted" way of doing things!Many in our past...and more in our future, I guess!

Thanks for your visit today!

Hey JoJo...
Studying history and the people of the time long ago is always entertaining! Educational as well!

Glad you can sit on your porch again! Nice, isn't it?

Thanks, sweetie, for coming by today!

Hey Kelle...
That's what usually happens to those that are different. Property cleared and sold, memories filed away to be forgotten, and society glad to see the "different" gone from their view!

Since he lived to be 98, I'm thinking he did something right!

I sure appreciate you coming by this morning!

Hey Ben...
Sure would be a dull world if we all marched to the same tune, right?

Glad to see you back on the boards again, buddy! Hope you are continuing to feel OK.

Have a good day...and thanks for coming by today!

Hey Dizzy...
I think in many ways, we used to be a lot more tolerant of folks that were a bit off the norm!

Now days, anyone like this would just be thrown in jail or run out of the community!

Hey, I'm sure glad you could come by today!

Hey Jane...
Sometimes they do seem to just pop up, don't they?

Wonder if that's a sign or something? Guess we'll never know!

I sure do appreciate you coming by today!

Mechanic in Illinois said...

Wearing all that leather was probably a rough thing and I'm sure he needed alot of gills of brandy. Thanks for the story and have a great tuesday.

Dizzy-Dick said...

Now I know where the expression, “Filled up to the gills” came from. . .

HermitJim said...

Hey Mechanic...
I'm sure that he took a little more when ever he could! Had to beat old man Winter one way or another...

That leather must have been heavy when wet, don't you think?

Thanks, my friend, for coming by today!

Hey Dizzy...
One can only wonder. So many things to learn about, how could anyone ever get bored?

I really appreciate the visit!

Rae said...

Wonder if any of his way of living was the result of mental illness. Maybe or maybe not, but too many times nowadays people are asocial and homeless like that because of mental disease. Everyone assumes that they are just lazy or don't want to work, when really they are in need of psychological help.

Marjie said...

There were some very interesting characters around, before the government took up trying to control our lives so much! Great article.

Kathie said...

Wow Jim, fascinating story, bet if a person spoke the Leatherman's language he would have had "some" stories to tell, thanks for sharing this, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

HermitJim said...

Hey Rae...
We'll probably never know what his back story really was! I'm sure there was a little mental illness in there somewhere.

Now days, anyone not agreeing with the popular view is seen as sick.

Either way, at last he is at rest now! Thanks, Rae, for coming by today!

Hey Marjie...
I'm sure that many were picked up for "their own good"! That seems to be the popular way now days.

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Kathie...
From what I understand...he spoke French but didn't like to talk about himself! I don't blame him much!

I appreciate you coming by today!

Anonymous said...

Hey Jim,
Growing up long ago in East Texas, us kids knew many people like The Leather Man.

They were an accepted part of the communities.

The old lady who looked like a parade when she walked her fields, dogs-cats-goats-geese following her through the meadows.

The old man living next to the country church who would sit on his front porch and sing along with the people in the church, but professed to be a heathen,while quoting scripture.

The old man who could not read a word, or write, but who was a millionaire. He would give the little kids beef jerky, but would not give an adult a drink of water on a hot day.

The old man who kept a fire burning in a pit in his back yard all year long, day and night.

Many more. They were held as town treasures. Accepted, protected.

I did not realize as a child what a rich heritage I had been given.

Anna Mouse