When Carlton Banker reappeared
The Morning Herald’s November 13th, 1922 front page headline couldn’t be missed. In a rare usage of three-inch high, thick, dark type, the meaning of the words, “SKELETON CARLTON BANKER FOUND” were easily understood by anyone who’d lived in Gloversville, central New York State, or the Adirondacks six years earlier, when the northern woods seemingly swallowed up Banker, an experienced hunter and Superintendent of the FJ&G Railroad Electric Division, and 250 searchers failed to find him.
During 2010, I used this column to retell Carlton Banker’s story and that of his guide and friend, ‘Foxey’ Brown. Unknown to me, at the same time Dr. Charles Yaple, SUNY Cortland Professor of Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies, was writing a book he titled, “Foxey Brown, An Historical Novel”, published in 2011 and still available. Dr. Yaple somehow discovered my article, we communicated, shared information, and I extended him permission to use photographs from our FMCC Evans Library’s FJ&G Documents Collection housed within the K.R. Dorn Regional History Collection. Dr. Yaple kindly included my song, “The Ballad of Carlton Banker” in his book. Both Yaple’s book and my article focused on Banker’s disappearance and the subsequent manhunt, said to have been the largest in Adirondack history before the more recent Garrow event, but at the same time, neither of us gave much space to relating the story of Banker’s rediscovery. This then is that story.
On Nov. 10, 1922, experienced Hamilton County guide and Piseco resident William Abrams was conducting a typical deer drive, flushing deer from the brush for a party of hunters, when his eyes caught the glint of a shiny object reflected by the sun. It was the cover of a metal tobacco box. Abrams curiosity was aroused, and he knelt to examine the object. Who would have dropped it in such a remote location, he must have wondered. As the Morning Herald related it, “A careful examination ensued, bringing to light a rifle, its barrel and fittings a mass of rust, and its stock half destroyed.” One can almost see him rising to examine the rusted rifle, then kneeling again, running his hands through the layers of fallen twigs and old leaves to reveal more unexpected discoveries.
“Other belongings found were a watch and chain, a silver-backed pocket comb, a compass, a large hunting knife and a smaller four-bladed pocket knife, both badly rusted, a small pair of opera glasses, scraps of clothing and a small pair of women’s boots.” Beneath this collection of typical hunter’s possessions, Abrams found something else as well: Ones, which he strongly suspected were human. As the Herald’s reporter observed, “Only a vestige of the man remained.”
William Abrams probably realized immediately who he’d found, having been part of the original hunt for Banker whose disappearance had as yet never been explained, and it was common knowledge that Banker, well-known in Hamilton County from many earlier hunting and fishing trips, had such small feet he had to wear women’s-sized shoes and boots.
Abrams deer drive was no doubt over for that day, and his clients hopefully found their own deer. “He immediately came out and notified Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Head of Wells.” With two state troopers, he guided Dr. Head back to the scene. “All the belongings were removed to Wells, and there, Banker’s two daughters “positively identified their mother’s opera glasses, the watch, chain and the other rescued objects.” If any doubt remained, “Mr. Edward Barringer of the A.D. Norton jewelry store corroborated the daughter’s identification of the watch.” The firm, readers were informed, kept a record of every watch they sold or repaired: They had repaired Banker’s watch once, and left an identifying touch mark inside the case, noting it in their files.
Thus also ended the many false rumors that had flown about regarding Banker’s disappearance, and there were many. Some claimed he’d survived and used his disappearance to escape his wife and family in Gloversville to start a new life somewhere else. Some insisted he’d wandered into quicksand and been swallowed up. One person claimed to have seen him in Canada, someone else in Hartford, Connecticut. The meanest and most active rumor suggested his guide and friend Foxey Brown for some unknown reason had done away with him, which unkind story resulted in Brown being no longer able to get clients and having to leave the Adirondacks altogether.
Questions regarding Carlton Banker’s last moments will never be answered. Gloversville attorney William Baker, representing Banker’s adult daughters, stated “Banker may have suffered a sudden stroke: High blood pressure from which he suffered according to his physician, might have struck him down any moment.” All agreed Banker knew the area well, so why didn’t he find his way out, and even more questionable, why didn’t he just remain where Foxey Brown had placed him during the hunt? For whatever reason, he’d somehow wandered, not just a short distance either, but “about six miles from the location where he’d been placed.”
Carlton Banker, or whatever parts of him were collected from the northern woods, resides in Gloversville’s Prospect Hill Cemetery next to his wife, who died in 1920, never knowing of the discovery of her husband’s remains. Strangely, William Abrams discovery of Carlton Banker’s body came exactly six years to the day after his disappearance, 98 years and a few days before the publication of this article.