A brief account of a life in the woods
By Allan G. Blue
EWB was born on August 3, 1890, at the Home Farm near the town of North Gage, Oneida County, NY. When I (AGB) was a boy, he took me to a part of the Home Farm that bordered the West Canada Creek and showed me the remains of a log cabin he had built there from trees he had felled himself.
The camp was built near a spot on the West Canada called Blue's Eddy, which the Indians apparently used as a fording place and campground. EWB amassed quite a collection of Indian points and scraping tools that he would find there at low water.
(This collection is now in the NY State Museum, where some were dated to be at least 9,000 years old.)
I know very little else about his early life on the farm. He did once tell me that whenever he and his brothers had stayed out too late or had otherwise vexed their father, Arthur Grant Blue, would not say a great deal but would see to it that their next day was spent in the hot sun hoeing corn from just after breakfast until supper time.
Ernest and the other children attended school in Holland Patent, Ernest graduating in 1909 in a class of nine. In the summer of 1910, he joined the Biltmore Forest School, which at the time was temporarily operating on the lands of the Cummer - Diggens Lumber Company near Cadillac, Michigan.
(The Biltmore School was a 'travelling' school, which moved from location to location. Students could enroll at any time, and were graduated when they had completed all of the courses, which were taught in series. Tuition was $960, and each student had to provide his own horse.)
This site, near the town of Brevard, now houses the Cradle Of Forestry In America Museum. EWB's Biltmore Diploma is on display there. Here's a side story about that:
I approached a curator to see if they would be interested in having EWB's Biltmore Diploma. The reaction was quite dramatic.
It seemed they were holding the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Museum & Visitors Orientation Center that very afternoon and to have the son of an early graduate there would be a real coup! Would I participate? Would I give a little speech? Would I agree to a television interview?
But they kept the shovel. . .
EWB graduated Biltmore in August of 1911.
He immediately went to work for the Finch, Pruyn Company of Glens Falls, NY, cruising timber on the company's vast holdings in Hamilton and Essex Counties.
On April 20, 1912 he was hired by the NYS Conservation Commission as a laborer at the Saranac Inn Tree Nursery. His pay was 22 cents an hour. The man in charge of the nursery was Robert Rosenbluth, who was to play a large part in EWB's future. Living quarters were primitive, and for a time EWB shared a double bunk with a notorious ex-hobo known as "Four Track Red," who was an ex-convict just released from state prison.
Rosenbluth argued that, if prisoners could be kept occupied by a program such as he proposed, they would be less apt to cause more trouble while the prison shops were being rebuilt and the men had to be locked in their cells 24 hours a day. The top officials at Albany - much against the wishes of the Warden at Clinton Prison - gave Rosenbluth the go-ahead for a small trial program. (Twelve prisoners.)
He left for Dannemora immediately, taking EWB with him as his principal assistant. The date was May 10, 1912. Rosenbluth was all of 25 years old, and Ernest was 22. EWB's starting wage was $2 a day. On September 9, 1912, he was given the official title of Foreman (Lumbering) at $1200/year.
(Note: The men arrived at Dannemora with a weekend to kill and took an excursion train to Montreal without realizing that, between them, they only had 40 cents beyond the price of the train ticket. Rosenbluth's unpublished "recollections" gives an amusing account of the trip, including how they were saved from starvation by a woman who boarded a train in a hurry and left behind a paper sack which turned out to be full of bananas.)
The fierce riots and fires had shown what the inmates were capable of. Yet without guards and without guns, EWB and a few others (Rosenbluth had gone off to other things) maintained a series of camps 20 miles or more away from the prison in the bleak areas to the west of Dannemora, planting trees day after day.
They lived in tents, and no matter where they happened to be located at any given time, the prisoners always called the site "Camp Blue."
To my knowledge, not one ever tried to escape even though Canada was not that far away.
(I have a framed tribute to EWB that was made, signed, and presented to him by the inmates upon his departure from Clinton.)
There exists a business card that shows EWB with the title of Forester Of Clinton Prison. I do not know if this was an official title he held at one time or if it was just meant to describe the duties he performed at the Institution.