The Cannibal of Colombia County
I live in Salt Point, N Y, which is located in the scenic and historic area of New York called the Hudson Valley. Several years ago, I was in a local bookstore and was glancing through a book called Hudson Valley Tales and Trails, a collection of short stories, written by Patricia Edwards Clyne, first printed in 199O. I came across the story called the Cannibal of Colombia County and happened to notice the name of Harrison Calkins. I was a little concerned at first!!! Of course, I purchased the book! I had to read more!! The story takes place in the town of Austerlitz, NY, which is located in Columbia County, very close to the New York/ /Massachusetts border. This town is approximately a one hour drive from my own home. The story takes place in January 1882 and was a big news story at the time. Subsequently, I have come across this tale in several other local books. It involves Mr. Harrison Calkins, his wife (no first name given), his adopted daughter Isabell Calkins, Oscar Beckwith and Simon Vandercook. Basically, the story involves a small gold mine, greed, murder and a horrendous method to cover up the crime. Mr. Beckwith had discovered a gold mine in the hills of Austerlitz. He discussed this with Mr. Vandercook, who was a border at the Calkins home, and they decide to strike up a deal to share the wealth. Unfortunately, Mr. Vandercook decides to swindle Mr. Beckwith and meets with dire consequences! One snowy, winter day, Mr. Calkins and his wife have to leave town so that Harrison can serve on jury duty in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He leaves Mr. Vandercook with instructions to take care of the animals and the farm in his absence. He also leaves Isabell at home to make meals for Mr. Vandercook. When jury duty is canceled, Harrison decides to come back to his home several days early. When he arrives home late at night in the middle of a snowstorm, he sees that Mr. Beckwith is pulling into his driveway with a bundle of clothing. Mr. Beckwith sees Harrison and makes a speedy departure. Harrison finds this to be very suspicious. Harrison discovers that Mr. Vandercook is missing and has not done any of the chores. He decides to investigate and rides his horse up to Beckwith’s cabin, located on the mountainside. When he arrives he discovers a rancid odor and Mr. Beckwith is nowhere to be found! Harrison returns home and contacts the local sheriff. The investigation uncovers that Beckwith has killed Vandercook and he’s cooking him on the stove in order to cover up the crime. It further appears that Mr. Beckwith was coming to the Calkins residence with the intent to murder Isabell, leave Mr. Vandercook’s bloody clothing at the site and blame the murder on the missing Vandercook. After several years, Mr. Beckwith is apprehended and hung in the town of Hudson, NY. It appears that our relative, Harrison Calkins, was an insightful and brave man. He saved his daughter from being murdered and assisted the local sheriff in uncovering a truly evil crime!!!
Editor’s note: Research shows that Harrison's wife was Mary Hawver, daughter of Gilbert Hawver and Lucinda Wagner. Harrison's line: Hugh- John--Hugh-Stephen-Turner-Absalom--Harrison. The 1910 census shows that Harrison and Mary also had an adopted son --Harry Black. There is a Harrison Calkins Road in Alford, MA! That’s a good clue as to where his farm was.