Sunday, October 22, 1916, seemed like a good day for a deer hunt at the Adirondack League Club, near Old Forge. Walter D. Gelshenen of Manhassett, Long Island, and his brother-in-law William S. Lawson of New York City hired two local guides, Alexander White and Howard Stell.
They started out early for Fernow Mountain, east of Little Moose Lake and just south of Mountain Pond.
Around 9 am, the group split up to prepare for a deer drive. Lawson and Gelshenen took positions on the side of the mountain and the guides drove down the slope. The land was forested by hardwood timber, and White approached to within 150 feet of Gelshenen when the unthinkable happened. Gelshenen mistook White for a deer and shot him with his .30-30 Winchester rifle. White immediately fell and was dead before the others reached him.
Dr. Robert D. Lindsay of Old Forge was called out as was Dr. Ralph P. Huyck, the Herkimer County coroner. Gelshenen told Huyck that he was positive that he shot a deer, but the coroner criticized the hunter for not taking care before shooting. New York State’s “buck law” allowed hunters to take only bucks, but it appeared Gelshenen did not take time to determine if he was shooting a deer, let alone a buck or a doe. Ultimately, the death was ruled accidental.
The victim, Alexander White, was born Alexis LeBlanc around 1871 at Carleton, Quebec, to Elzeare LeBlanc and Sophie Bichoux. Carleton is in southeast Quebec on the south shore of the Gaspé Peninsula. Alex emigrated to the United States around 1890, anglicized his name to Alexander White, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. For a time he worked for the Rogers coal business in Canton, NY, before gravitating to the Adirondacks where he found employment as a guide at the Adirondack League Club.
In November 1900, Alex married Mary Agnes (“Minnie”) O’Leary in Syracuse. Afterward, they made their home in Old Forge where Minnie died of consumption a few weeks before the Christmas of 1903 at the age of 27. Following her death, Alex continued to work as a guide. On the 1905 NY State Census, he is listed as single and was boarding at the League Club’s Bisby Lodge. On December 24, 1914, Alex married Laura Belle Cole in Solvay, Onondaga Co., NY, and the couple settled on the League Club preserve at Little Moose.
Many guides worked for specific Club members, and White is known to have worked for Dr. James S. Douglas (1837-1918), CEO of the Phelps Dodge Corporation. White took his profession seriously. He joined the Brown’s Tract Guides Association, an organization of guides that promoted conservation through enforcement of state game laws. In 1916, he was elected Vice President of the Association.
Following Alex’s death, his widow Laura B. White returned to Onondaga County where she died in Spafford in 1934. Alex also left several siblings including a brother, Lazare White (b. c.1865) of Forestport, and a sister, Cecilia (b. c.1876), who married Byron H. Rogers of Canton.
The Brown’s Tract Guides Association was predictably angry following the death. White was the second member of the association killed accidentally in recent years. In 1913, guide Frank Holmes was shot at Little Moose Lake. In January 1917, Association secretary Ben Parsons presented a report at the Association’s annual meeting in Old Forge. The report recommended prison sentences (not less than 5 years, or more than 15) for shooting another person when hunting any kind of game. The report also urged the state to outlaw driving deer with people as it had earlier outlawed driving deer with dogs.
State officials took a more conservative approach by continuing to rely on the old buck law to reduce hunting deaths. The law in theory required hunters to look for antlers before firing. However, State Conservation Commissioner George D. Pratt seemed to acknowledge the guides’ concern in his 1917 report to the state legislature. “If, in spite of the buck law, hunters do not refrain from shooting before they have identified their mark, it may be necessary for New York State to define accidental shooting as manslaughter, as has been done in some other jurisdictions.”
The death of Alexander White was one of six during the hunting season of 1916. Five victims were mistaken for deer and shot while hunting. A sixth, apparently accidentally shot himself.
Walter D. Gelshenen
The shooter, Walter Dunne Gelshenen was born in Manhattan on December 1, 1888 and came from a very wealthy family. His father, William H. Gelshenen, was president of Garfield National Bank. On September 14, 1912 in Manhattan, Walter married Alein Lawson of Far Hills, NJ. His life following the shooting was far from happy. During World War I, he served in France with the American Ambulance Field Service. In 1919, he suffered a serious illness that required surgery and then sought treatment in Europe. He died in Paris on June 7, 1920. According to the New York Times, by his will he left his wife only a dollar. His brother and mother received the bulk of his estate.
Howard Stell (b. 1877), the second guide during the hunt was the son of John Stell, who was also an Adirondack guide. Howard lived in Forestport and continued to work at the Adirondack League Club after the shooting, sometimes as a guide for Percy Ballantine, a New York City businessman. Howard Stell died at age 60 in 1937 of a cerebral hemorrhage.
William S. Lawson
William S. Lawson (b. 1889), Gelshenen’s brother-in-law and hunting partner, became a successful mining engineer. He died in Arizona in 1945 at age 56 from a concussion after falling off a horse.
Photos, from above: Alexander White, courtesy the Adirondack League Club archives; and Walter Gelshenen in 1917, courtesy FamilySearch.org, U.S. Passport Applications 1795-1925.