Have you heard the legend of the "Cowboy of the Ramapos?" It's one of the Hudson Valley's oldest tales that actually has some truth behind it.

I'm constantly fascinated by the history and lore around the Hudson Valley. Some of the history is well-known like how Benedict Arnold tried to sell West Point off to the British, forever casting him as a treasonous traitor. Some of the lore is outrageous like the story of the hulk-like Gorton Turtle.

Read more here: Is This the Hudson Valley's Most Unbelievable Urban Legend?

 

But sometimes, there's something right in the middle. A story with details closely tied to fact with elements of the impossible woven in. This brings us to the "Cowboy of the Ramapos."

Orange County, NY Legends & Lore

Travel to the 1841 Orange County Court House in Goshen and you'll see a red and yellow mile marker titled "Claudius Smith."

The Legends & Lore mile marker explains how Smith was a well-known marauder during the Revolutionary War era. The plaque goes on to explain that Smith's skull is said to have been embedded into the masonry of the front door of that very courthouse.

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So, what did Claudius Smith do to create such scorn and earn him a plaque?

Claudius Smith Plaque in Goshen, NY

Prior to his skull being filled with mortar and stuck into the construction of the Orange County Cout House, Claudius Smith was a soldier at the beginning. He fought for the British King during the Seven Years' War (also known as the French and Indian War).

Following this, Smith quickly became known for his theft and debt accrual. His typical crimes included stealing livestock and escaping from jail. According to the Journal of the American Revolution, Smith escaped from jail 4 different times. Aside from his successful thieving habits, Smith is said to have been handy with disguising himself.

It wasn't until the Revolutionary War however that Smith truly made a commotion.

Claudius Smith Earns the Nickname "Cowboy of the Ramapos"

Smith, being a supporter of the King amongst an area of Patriots, was not a well-liked guy. By this time, Smith had a whole group of marauders and a pretty large operation thieving from Patriots and sharing with Torys of New York City. He had multiple outposts where he would harbor his stolen livestock including the now-titled "Claudius Smith's Den" in Harriman State Park.

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According to the Monroe Historical Society, he also had a couple of "lairs" sprinkled around the Ramapo Mountains, hence his nickname "Cowboy of the Ramapos."

The Heist That Ended the "Cowboy of the Ramapos"

Smith and his gang committed dozens of robberies during their run. But, during the robbery of Major Nathaniel Strong, a Patriot, the gang ended up murdering the Major.

A bounty of $1200 was put out for whoever found Smith and turned him in.

Claudius Smith, along with a couple of other members of his gang, including two of his sons, were eventually turned over. Smith was hanged for this crime, along with one of his sons. According to The History Channel, Smith's other son would go on to continue leading Smith's gang of marauders.

As legend has it according to the Monroe Historical Society, Smith's mother had predicted her son's criminal career and early death from it.

 You will die like a trooper’s horse, with your shoes on

It is said that Claudius Smith removed his boots prior to being hanged at the spot that is now a Presbyterian Church Park in Orange County.

The reason this story is a part of the Lore & Legends series of the Historical Mile Markers is because there's not a lot of solidified evidence that Smith's skull sits in the bedrock of the Orange County Courthouse. Claudius Smith was real though. As were his many crimes.

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Gallery Credit: Nick Kessler

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