Carr-Casey Tale at Black River

From Stephentown Genealogy: Roots & More

This story was written by Rev. Ernest D. Smith as part of his Valley Tales series and is recounted here with his permission.

The Carr-Casey Tale at Black River

“Mark Casey shot at Carr first and then Frank ran in and got a rifle and shot at Casey. I remember the old folk telling about it,” said Clarence Carpenter who was talking with Al Silvernail. “It happened before 1910 and we didn’t move to Black River until 1920 so I didn’t see it, but that’s about all the people were talking about up there in 1920.”

I perked up my ears, because while I had heard of the Carr-Casey shooting, I never had heard of it from people who were nearly eye-witnesses.

The scene where this conversation took place was a restaurant where I had gone to get a ten-cent cup of coffee. At a nearby table sat these two men, who loved nothing better than to spiel off tales of yesteryear to anyone who would listen, and right now they were in their high glory because they had a large audience.

“You know,” said Al, “my father bought the old homestead of Frank Carr, and I lived there for over a year when I was seventeen and eighteen years old.”

“And I bet you sat on the very steps that Frank Carr sat on when Casey rode by,” said Clarence.

“I sure have,” said Al, “and you know, those steps are still right there. The old house is gone, but the steps were concrete and all that’s left of the place is the cellar hole and steps.”

At that moment, I decided to go up to Black River Hamlet and find the old steps. It had been the scene of Stephentown’s most notorious murder.

The Hamlet of Black River no longer exists. It was in the northern part of Stephentown, almost on the Berlin line. Beautiful farms and open fields once existed where only black forest trees now grow. The New York State Conservation people bought out almost all the farms and turned the area into a Preserve. The Harringtons and the Watsons and the Carrs all lived there, five miles from Stephentown village. The Watsons had one of the best houses in Stephentown. The plaster was beautifully painted with all kinds of art and designs. It is the only house still standing in the Hamlet. The framework is all pegged and so rugged that the years have affected it but little. However, vandals have almost ruined the fine old structure. The plaster designs are still visible. Al Silvernail took me up to the Hamlet. He still remembers Byron Carr (1879-1972), the brother of Frank, and how he used to gather all the people out under the maple tree across from Frank’s house and play the accordion. Everyone would sing and dance and the woods would ring with laughter. There were no radios or televisions and about once a week a newspaper would find its way to the Hamlet. So the evenings were spent in song.

The Hamlet was near the foot of a long hill and in that sheltered valley Al Silvernail can never remember hearing the wind blow. As a young man, he never knew a real storm. Black River Hamlet was close to being like a heaven on earth.

And then Mark Casey came!!

Mark didn’t exactly live in the Hamlet. He lived about two miles south, going toward Stephentown, but he was a miserable character. Large of body, and strong, he always swaggered around with a heavy revolver strapped to him. He laughed as he shot innocent squirrels, woodchucks, coon, birds and skunks. This he did when he was sober. When drinking, he became vicious and destroyed everything near at hand. He fought and beat up all his neighbors along Black River. He would deliberately enter a home where a family was eating supper around the dining room table, and grinning, would grab the table and up end it into the laps and on the floor of the parents and children, then leave. He was miserable.

Johnny Harrington saw him coming up the hill to his house one day. Johnny was just a small man, not equipped to fight, so he quickly locked his door, told his family not to make a sound. He grabbed his rifle and sighted it on Casey from an upstairs window. Casey shook the door so hard it rattled the house. “Come out and fight, Johnny, you coward,” roared Casey. Casey never knew that only ten feed from his head, a rifle, loaded and ready, only waited for the squeeze of the finger. Fortunately, for Casey, he didn’t try to force the door, or it would have been Johnny Harrington and not Frank Carr who would send Mark Casey to that place where all toughies go.

Mark Casey had been to the South Berlin store. Today it is called Cherry Plain. He was now on his way home. He had his wagon and horse, and in the wagon was his housekeeper sitting beside him. He had been drinking heavily and was in a vile mood. He was shooting his revolver at everything that moved. He passed through the Hamlet, passed the schoolhouse and the Watson driveway, and the Harrington house, then across a little bridge over a stream, and then he saw Frank Carr sitting on his doorstep lacing his shoes. He wasn’t more than fifty feet away.

Without any warning, Mark Casey lifted his revolver and with perfect aim, shot at Frank, but the wagon wheel passed over a pebble at that moment and threw Mark’s aim wild. Seemingly, unperturbed, Frank calmly got up, walked into the house, took his loaded rifle from the wall, walked out on the concrete steps, and threw one shot at the receding wagon. It found a perfect mark. Frank calmly stepped back into the house, put up the rifle, and didn’t know until some time late what had happened.

The horse continued up the hill, going south, with the reins in the hands of the housekeeper, who never bothered to look at the man beside her, thinking he had at last fallen asleep from the effects of the alcohol. She was always happy when he fell asleep. These were her only peaceful moments. She would never think of shortening these periods of peace.

They arrived home and she let Mark sleep. But Mark was in an odd position for him, she thought. So later she tried to awaken him, but Mark Casey wouldn’t bother anyone any more.

Black River Hamlet settled down to being a quiet little place where children would sing again under the maples. Frank Carr sold out and Al Silvernail took possession of the concrete steps. Today he sat again on the same steps, under the same great maple tree as he did some sixty years ago.

Note from Tina Ordone:

In going over some old e-mails from a genealogy friend and cousin, Dick Lacatell, I found a few more notes relative to the Carr-Casey tale. They are recollections, transcribed from a tape made by Alma Carr Meddaugh (Orin Meddaugh was her third husband, d. 1969. He was town clerk for many years)in 1973 and Bud Beach, whom Dick was lucky enough to talk to about the incident.

His notes read:

"Bud and Alma Meddaugh (in a tape recording from 1973) borth portrayed Stephentown as "rough," and the Rathbuns were particularly "hardnosed." They were not alone. Alma said before the renown 1910 murder of Mark Casey by Frank Carr, Mark had previously killed a Rathbun (Barber - see Vanderbilt House). Perry Rathbun from Stephentown was road superintendent during the '20s and his sons were a "tough bunch of guys." In fact one of Perry's gransons changed his surname to his mother's maiden name (Southard) he was so ashamed of "Rathbun." (The Stephentown and Hancock,Berkshire County, Mass. had nothing to do with each other.) Election day seemed to bring out the worst in all of them when they'd come down out of the hills to get drunk. In one disagreement a Rathbun grabbed the hand of a combatant and bit his thumb off. But that was "par for the course," according to Bud."