Still Not Talking
Story By John Murray
The Leatherman remains as elusive in death as he was during a mysterious life wandering through Connecticut and New York 150 years ago.
According to an old newspaper account, the Leatherman was an impoverished Frenchman named Jules Bourglay, who fled France after a disastrous courting experience. He had fallen in love with the daughter of a prosperous tanner and went to work at the business to prove he would be a worthy husband. Instead, a mistake by Bourglay destroyed the tannery and he fled to America where he spent several decades hiking a 360-mile loop through Connecticut and New York.
This account has been countered by historian Dan DeLuca who spent 22 years studying the Leatherman, and recently published a book entitled “The Old Leatherman”. DeLuca concluded that the Leatherman was probably French Canadian and had learned Native American skills for surviving in the wilderness. DeLuca has said he believes the Leatherman’s mother might have been Native American. Although DeLuca was unable to provide a positive identification for the Leatherman, this much is known – he lived in caves and makeshift shelters, and spoke to no one. His signature outfit, and the source of his name, was extraordinarily heavy clothes made entirely of leather. Unlike many nomads of the time, the Leatherman followed a precise circuit that took him 34 days to complete, and he became a mini-celebrity every time he re-entered a town or village. Schools were let out so the children could check out the Leatherman.
The Leatherman was found dead inside a shelter in 1889 and was buried in Ossining, New York. His grave, located near a busy road, drew many visitors and created safety concerns. A decision was made to exhume the Leatherman and relocate his remains to the top of a hill, and away from the road. Collecting a DNA sample from his remains was hoped to provide clues to his genetic background. Was he Native American?
A professional team of archaeologists just completed a three-day dig at his gravesite and found nothing more than coffin nails and dirt. There would be no DNA sample, and the mystery of the Leatherman will remain a mystery forever.
He refused to share his secrets in life, so it’s only fitting that his grave refused to unlock the mystery. The Leatherman still isn’t talking.