Game Protectors, The Early Years

By Capt. Tim Huss, Region 1


 …And they told me that they’d been around these woods

and hills a hundred years or more;

That they rode with Boone and Crockett and the Indians down

upon the eastern shore;

That they know the darkest secrets of the woods and rivers,

they know more than just their names,

and they know of things that most men do not know and most

cannot explain…


Port Richmond, New York

October 1, 1894


Major J. Warren Pond, Chief Game Protector:

            My Dear Sir—In accordance with your request I have the honor to submit a special report for the year ending September 30, 1894.

            The number of arrests made during the year was 18—12 violations of section 70 and 6 for violations of section 78.

            Duck shooting, from steam launches, is carried on to a considerable extent in some parts of my district, especially on Long Island Sound, and to undertake to apprehend this class of gunners with any degree of success it is absolutely necessary for me to hire a steam launch or tug. The expense, however, is large and quickly exhausts the amount allowed me monthly for traveling expenses. It seems to me that provisions should be made to reimburse the protectors for actual and necessary expenses incurred in such emergencies.

            Nearly all the violations committed in Richmond County is the work of foreigners—principally Italians—as you have no doubt observed from my monthly reports. To shoot and to trap songbirds seems to me to be the height of their ambition, and, when caught and convicted, invariably have to be committed to jail.

            The game laws, as a whole, have been generally observed in the First District.


Respectfully yours,

 Robert Brown

Protector, First District


Wardens and Hunter

Game Protectors had only been in existence 14 years when Protector Robert Brown submitted his Special Report of Protectors to Major Pond. On June 26, 1880, Chapter 591 of the Laws of 1880 had been signed into law authorizing the Governor of New York to appoint eight persons to be known as game and fish protectors. Their duty would be to enforce statutes established for the preservation of moose, wild deer, birds and fish, and any other game laws, and to bring actions in the name of the people of the state to recover penalties to punish any parties for violating these statutes.

The protectors were to hold office for three years. They were given the power to arrest without warrant, and to seize nets and pounds. The officers were given travelling expenses not to exceed $250 annually, and were paid a yearly salary of $500. A total budget of $6,000 was appropriated to implement the act.

On July 1, 1880, Governor Alonzo B. Cornell appointed the eight protectors. They were assigned to work for the Governor and to report to the Senate. Apparently, the formation of a protector force was a sensitive issue, and the state wanted a degree of control and accountability. In spite of the fact that the natural resources of the state were dwindling, the widely accepted opinion that the taking of fish and game was a freedom to be enjoyed in an unregulated manner by the people was going to be a difficult one to change. Indeed, the work of the early protectors was resented by many.

“I feel that one or two years vigorous work…by the game protectors is worth more for the general protection of game than a dozen years of mild, half-way work. These [people] want to be driven up sharp enough that they will understand it means reform and not a running fight between them and the officers.” So stated Protector William P. Dodge of Prospect, New York in his annual report. He also reports of the public’s reluctance to cooperate with the protector force for fear of being labeled as spies or informers. Additionally, protectors were not often welcomed with open arms. Instances were reported where hotel keepers at prominent fishing resorts would charge a protector who had responded to their call the highest rates for board and boat rental. Protectors often had to make their own shelter and look to their own pack baskets when in areas where public sentiment favored the poachers. In one lake where the state had stocked two million salmon eggs, a protector was unable to obtain the use of any of the eight yachts owned by residents along the lake in order to remove illegal nets these same residents had complained about. The illegal fishermen, however, were given use of these vessels, the excuse being that the residents feared the poachers’ wrath if it was thought that they sided with the protectors. Even the commissioners of the state were reluctant to expand the protector force. They felt that the state had done all that it could reasonably be asked to do. Nevertheless, by 1883 the protector force was increased to 16 men.

The protectors were given specific instruction concerning their conduct. They were expected to devote their principal time to public service without allowing any other avocation or occupation to interfere with the performance of their duty. A Commissioner was assigned to oversee and manage the activities of the protectors.

In his annual report to the senate in 1883, the Commissioner stated that more had been done in the past three months in securing the observance of game laws than had ever been done in the state before. More than twenty indictments had been made for hunting deer out of season and a large number of violations had been documented for minor offenses.

Slowly, the job of the Game Protector began to gain respect. Indeed, it was not long before it was a coveted position, often given as a political patronage appointment. By 1898, the situation drew the attention of Governor Theodore Roosevelt who stated publicly that he wanted protectors appointed who were proficient with gun and rod, who could live comfortably in the woods, and were intimate with the wilderness. This sentiment, and the evolution of the Game Protectors into a uniformed force by the turn of the century, helped to professionalize the occupation. The stories and legends began to be told as well.

On the morning of Sunday, April 5, 1914, Game Protector Samuel Taylor of Boukville, New York in upstate Madison County joined forces with Game Protector John Willis of Oneida to patrol along the banks of the Mohawk River. The purpose of their patrol was to check for illegal duck hunting. Soon they heard shooting in woods east of Riverside Park. Investigating the shooting, the protectors saw several men shooting birds. One of the men was in possession of a shotgun; another was picking up dead birds. After following the violators for a time, the protectors finally stepped out in front of the party, instructing them to surrender and advising them that they were under arrest. At that time, the man carrying the shotgun fired, striking Game Protector Taylor in the chest and abdomen. He fell to the ground mortally wounded. Protector Willis drew his service revolver and returned fire, failing to hit the assailants. Urgently, he did his best to get assistance for his fallen partner. In the age before radios, this was not easy to do. Despite John Willis’ heroic efforts, shortly after midnight on April 6, 1914, Sam Taylor died at Oneida County Hospital. His assailants were never brought to justice.

In a footnote to this incident, the desperate nature of the illegal hunters at this time is evident in another shooting incident involving Special Game Protector Bert J. Anson of Utica, New York. (“Specials” as they were called, were volunteer game protectors appointed by local protectors or politicians. The title continued to exist into the early 1970s, when the position was discontinued). On November 1, 1914, Mr. Anson “…was assaulted by two foreigners…” Perhaps due to a higher sense of alertness after the murder of Sam Taylor, Special Protector Anson was able to protect himself, killing one of his assailants and dangerously wounding the other. An inquest held by the coroner found him “blameless” in this incident. Unfortunately, this was not to be the last deadly episode of the era.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1919, John H. Woodruff of Scotia, a young newly-married Game Protector, bid his young wife good-bye and proceeded to patrol in and around Schenectady County outside Albany, the state capital. While not much is known of Mr. Woodruff’s personal life, it is known that he was a dedicated Game Protector. He “…was zealous in his prosecutions of men caught violating the state law.” It was stated that “…hunters of game out of season hated Woodruff.” This Thanksgiving Day, his wife would be the last known person to see him alive.

When Protector Woodruff did not return home, an intense search was organized in an attempt to determine his whereabouts. Despite the efforts of the searchers, John Woodruff could not be found. The search was discontinued, with the young Game Protector’s fate a mystery.

On April 4, 1921, nearly a year and a half after he disappeared, John Wodruff’s remains were found. The grisly discovery was made by George H. Barrett of Rotterdam who had been in the woods hunting arbutus near the bed of a creek near Nine Mile Bridge on Amsterdam Road. Protector Woodruff’s body “…lay doubled up in a shallow hole in the creek bed, all but the lower portion of the skull covered by flat stones. The entire top of the skull, which had been detached from the rest of the body, had been smashed in by a heavy weapon in the hands of a powerful man.” These were the words of Coroner A.G. Baxter. The Game Protector’s revolver was missing.

Because so much time had lapsed, clues to John Woodruff’s murder were few. His wife told authorities that her husband’s life had been threatened at least once. “In the summer of 1919 he received a letter,” the contents of which “he refused to disclose to her.” In fact, he destroyed the letter before his wife could read it, an unfortunate incident since it may have provided a valuable clue to the identity of his murderer. Game Protector Woodruff’s murder has never been solved.

Unfortunately, the Long Island region was not to be exempt from tragedy regarding the work of the Game Protectors. William T. Cramer was appointed to the position of Game Protector in Nassau County on January 11, 1917. A short stocky man of determined bearing, Bill Cramer is described in the 19th Annual Report of the Conservation Department in 1929 as a “highly efficient” Game Protector. He is further described as “… a lover of nature…” who “…derived pleasure from protecting the wild life of the forest, field, and stream.”

Indeed, Game Protector Cramer seems to have greatly enjoyed his job. A photograph taken on May 23, 1923, shows him standing proudly near the shores of Cayuga Lake in upstate New York, along with other Game Protectors, burning 23 illegal nets seized for illegal fishing activity. That he was in the picture at all is remarkable considering the facts of October 1, 1922.

Back in his home territory along Jamaica Bay in Queens County, in what was then known as Horstmann’s Woods, on a fall Sunday morning, Game Protector Cramer encountered Antonio Marino and Fillipo Garraputo shooting protected songbirds. In attempting to arrest the two men for this as well as for hunting without a license, Protector Cramer was knocked down by a blow to the head with a shotgun wielded by one of the game law violators. Not satisfied with laying his scalp open with the blow, the assailants then shot Protector Cramer three times in the back of the head and neck with a .38 caliber pistol.

Despite his wounds, the Game Protector was able to draw his own revolver and shoot one of the assailants in the hand and the other in the groin just as they were preparing to shoot him again. Having been wounded themselves, the assailants then fled. With two bullets embedded in the back of his head and another in his neck that glanced off of a cervical vertebrate, Bill Cramer was not expected to live.

Somehow, Game Protector Cramer recovered from these serious wounds; living to see his assailants brought to justice. Marino and Garraputo had left the state after the incident in order to avoid arrest. Upon returning to New York, however, they were arrested. Garraputo died of unknown causes before he could be prosecuted. Antonio Marino was tried, and convicted of assault in the 2nd degree, and sentenced to five years in prison on December 26, 1923. Perhaps if assailants of Game Protectors had been dealt with more harshly, the final incident involving Bill Cramer might have been avoided.

Having received reports of illegal hunting in Idlewild Woods near present day JFK International Airport, Bill Cramer teamed up with Game Protector Joseph Allen to investigate. Interestingly, Joe Allen’s father, Thomas Allen, was a Game Protector in Nassau County from March 16, 1911 to January 3, 1929. Bill Cramer had evidently worked closely with the senior Allen over the years.

Patrolling Idlewild Woods near Baisley Park, Bill Cramer and Joe Allen discovered Joseph Lentine of Boerum Street in Brooklyn at around 10:00 a.m. in possession of illegal songbirds which he had apparently shot. While arresting Lentine for this, another shot rang out close by. With Lentine in custody, the two Game Protectors headed off toward the sound of the shot to investigate. Lentine shouted out a warning in Italian, resulting in a series of shots being fired. In the resulting struggle, Bill Cramer was killed instantly by a shotgun blast to the face. The second illegal hunter, later identified as Frank Aldino, was shot in the wrist. Game Protector Joe Allen was severely beaten.

Although severely injured, Joe Allen managed to make his way out of the woods onto the road where he was assisted by a passing motorist. New York City Police Officers from three precincts searched the woods that day, attempting to locate the assailants.

On October 8, 1929, Frank Aldino was arrested in Newark, New Jersey for the murder of Game Protector William T. Cramer. His defense was that because Cramer and Allen were not in uniform he thought that he was being robbed. He also stated that the shotgun had discharged accidentally. On the following day, October 9, he was indicted.

The trial commenced on November 26, 1929. It lasted two days, with Joe Allen testifying the first day and Frank Aldino on the second. On November 28th, Frank Aldino was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison by County Judge Frank Adel of Long Island City. Aldino was remanded to Sing Sing in Ossining, New York.

Bill Cramer was 38 years old at the time he was killed. He was not married, and resided in Ridgewood, Queens. Surely his devotion to duty, having once before been seriously assaulted, has to be recognized as the highest level of valor in the history of natural resource protection.

The story of Bill Cramer reflects the stubborn determination with which the Game Protectors approached their job. Remember that this was a time when laws protecting fish and wildlife were not widely accepted. Game Protectors were resented, and in many instances despised. These early protectors set the tone for what was to become a highly respected law enforcement profession and, despite its small numbers of men, a force to be reckoned with.