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The Leather Breeches Hermit

Location: Tinker Falls Trail, Tully, NY
(42.783297, -76.033128)

In July of 1872, Levi Rowley stood outside his tiny cabin, just across from Tinker Falls, splitting wood. “Leather Breeches,” as he was known, lived a life of subsistence, raising a few scrawny cattle, clothed in sleep skin, and generally considered a hermit by those who knew him. However, the whispers swirling about his reputation were not just in regard to his odd hermit ways. Rumor had it that Levi’s self-denying lifestyle had allowed him to mass a fair sum of money, a treasure of sorts, and it seemed his family thought said the money was either hidden in his cabin or buried on his property.

Levi had a 19-year-old nephew, Eugene Brigg, the son of his deceased sister. The Cortland Standard & Journal described Eugene as “…a country loafer and bad character generally, who has before now been in the hands of the law. Indeed, he is described as something more than a bad character, being a regular salvage, eating raw meat like a carnivorous beast.” It was that fateful July afternoon, that Eugene crept up behind his uncle, laboring in the sweltering heat, and ruthlessly shot him. Despite Eugene’s nefarious intentions, the bullet did not kill his uncle, but instead passed through his back, just narrowly missing his lung before exiting his shoulder. When Levi turned around to assess his attacker, Eugene fled in terror.

Levi, fearing further attacks on his life, ran to his neighbors, where he convalesced. A nearly week-long manhunt was launched in search of his greedy, would-be assassin. Finally, in a run-down shanty buried deep in the murky swamps of Labrador Hollow, the sheriff discovered Eugene, subsisting off raw frogs and other pond life. Eugene was swiftly convicted at sent to prison in Auburn.

In response to his attempted murder, Levi altered his will to leave all his money and worldly positions to his remaining sister, removing Eugene and his family entirely from the will. In the Cortland Standard, it was reported, “He (Levi) states that he has money buried but refuses to tell where it is, in hopes that he may live, which begins to be thought possible, although for several days it was thought he would die.”

Levi went on to live another 25 years, maintaining a life of solitude. During that time, he was considered an upright, if not a strange man, by the public. After his eventual death, the mystery lingered; is Leather Breeches’ money and treasure still buried somewhere near Tinker Falls? Or was it all just a farce meant to torment his greedy, murderous nephew? As in life so in death, for the only one who would ever know for sure took his secrets alone to the grave.

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