The Chateaugay Thaw, by Rev. Alanzo Teall Worden

A story is told of a traveler bold,
In the days of the Hartford coach,
In a big blanket rolled, for the weather was cold,
Here he was just as snug as a roach.
But the snow gathers deep as onward they creep,
And the snow rising higher he saw.
And the driver he cried to the man at his side,
“We shall soon get a Chateaugay thaw.”

Then the man in the coach, lying snug as a roach,
Gently smiled like an infant at sleep,
But the horses’ slow gait never told him his fate
In the snowdrifts so wide and as deep.
At last came a shout and they tumbled him out,
And a sleigh was his fate, then he saw
But a man with a song, pointing to the sky,
Saying, “here comes a Chateaugay thaw.”

“Let it come” said our man, “Just as quick as it can,
For I never was fond of the snow;
Let it melt from the hills, let it run down the rills,
Then back to our coach we may go.”
But the wind raised the song and the snows sailed along,
And the cold it was piercing and raw,
And the man in the rug from his covering snug,
Wished and prayed for the Chateaugay thaw.

When the sleigh with it’s load reached the old Malone road,
Where the drifts reared themselves mountain high,
Malone on the west buried deep out of sight,
Left a white desert plain ‘neath the sky.
Not a fence nor a tree could the traveler see,
As he covered close down in the straw,
And the driver he sighed as the prospects he eyed,
“By George, here’s a Chateaugay thaw.”

While he spoke, lo! the snow hides from the track,
And is drifting high over the sled.
Then the traveler bold, though decrepit and old,
Hurled the driver down in the straw,
Crying out, “Driver, speak, e’er my vengeance I wreak,
What d’ya mean by a Chateaugay thaw?”

Then the old gossips say, he arose in the sleigh,
And extended his hand o’er the scene,
And he laughed and then shrieked,
And the sleigh groaned and creaked,
And he said, “I will tell you just what I mean.
“When the north wind doth blow and there’s ten feet of snow,
And the ice devils nibble and gnaw,
When the snow fills your eyes and the drifts quickly rise,
This is known as a Chateaugay thaw.”

Then the traveler arose and he smote him with blows,
And they sank in a deadly embrace.
And none knew the spot till the June sun was hot,
And a hunter by chance found the place.
Here they made them a grave,
Where the storms loudly rave,
And the epitaph lately I saw.
“Two men lie beneath and they came by their death
Frozen stiff in a Chateaugay thaw.”

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Bootlegger’s Paradise, by Dorothy LaBelle

A Glimpse into Chateaugay’s History

One would be remiss if, in recording a history of the birth and growth of a town, one would neglect a particularly colorful segment of its glorious past.

In the decade following World War I, our country enjoyed an unprecedented prosperity. Money was plentiful, and life was good. The only war was the war against liquor.

Bootlegging and hijacking were the rule, and not the exception in this border town, which was the focal point of more than its share of excitement. Thrill packed midnight rides to deliver a cargo of contraband and liquor from “wet” Canada to the officially “dry” United States were commonplace events on the lonely country roads in this territory.

Ingenuity was a prime requisite for the professional bootlegger. It was necessary to route the loaded caravans over back roads and fields to cross the main Route [US] 11 without detection. From that point on it was comparatively easy to reach a Chateaugay Lake hideaway where the liquor was picked up by other transportation and carried downstate.

In winter the “caravan” consisted of four or five heavy sleighs each drawn by a two-horse team. In the summer it was necessary to switch to large automobiles, usually a heavy Cadillac.

While to an extent traveling was easier by horse and sleigh over snow covered fields and back roads, the load was hard to conceal in the event the Border Patrol caught up with the culprits. The Cadillacs, however, were innocent appearing to the naked eye. Several bottles could be concealed in false roofs and the hollowed space between the inside of the car doors and the outer shell without attracting undue attention.

When hit by a real “Chateaugay Thaw”, many North Country roads were left impassable in those days. While some traffickers were discouraged by the weather, others, made of sterner stuff, refused to permit a variable thing as the weather to interfere with their profitable ventures.

One group of smugglers can not understand to this day how they were trailed to their hideaway. They would probably find it hard to believe that cagey as they were a pair of horses outwitted them. The smugglers, carrying heavy loads on five horse drawn sleighs, covered their trail carefully after one load had been seized by the Customs Patrol on the Lost Nation Road. Drifting snow helped to obliterate the remaining traces on the lone journey to a lumber camp hideaway across Upper Chateaugay Lake. The bootleggers had reason to believe that they had successfully eluded their pursuers.

Consequently, they were an amazed and crestfallen group when the Border Patrol rode into camp with the captured team and relieved them of their ill-gotten goods. To this day, the survivors whisper darkly of a stool-pigeon in their midst.

However, the patrolmen insisted that no stool pigeon was responsible. They simply gave the horses their leads and the faithful beasts led them unswervingly to the camp. The only ‘stool-pigeon’ was the horses’ native homing instinct.

A local native related another amusing incident. A truck heavily loaded with contraband liquor was backed into a barn east of the village. Several willing hands unloaded the haul. Much to their chagrin, the then weightless truck could not clear the barn door. It took much jockeying and a partial reloading before the truck could finally be freed from its trap.

There was another breed beside the professional bootlegger who caused many headaches for the Border Patrol. These were the enterprising individuals who devised unique methods of getting a small haul across the border for their own personal use.

One time an apparently innocent touring car stopped at the border and declared several cartons of eggs purchased in Canada. Quite by accident a patrolman discovered that the eggs were fake and each hollowed shell contained pure whiskey.

It is a well-known fact that Prohibition initiated the birth of violence and organized crime. Gangsters flourished, and fortunes were made and lost in a single day. It is little wonder that such powerful mobsters as “Legs” Diamond and “Dutch Schultz” were very much interested in the lucrative border traffic.

The heyday of the Prohibition era has been buried for nearly forty years; but memories are still vivid, and the stories have lost none of their dramatic impact. For Chateaugay, with its nearness to Canada and its dozens of back roads and wooded areas, was indeed a veritable “Bootlegger’s Paradise”.