An 81-year-old New Hampshire man had been living in a cabin in the woods along the Merrimack River for nearly three decades when authorities arrested him and accused him of squatting on private property.
David Lidstone, known to locals as “River Dave,” had outfitted his small cabin with solar panels, the Associated Press reports. He had grown his own food and cut his own firewood. And he had cared for a cat and chickens.
But then the owner of the Canterbury property decided they wanted to tear down the cabin and use that patch of land themselves. So Lidstone received a civil contempt sanction. He has been in jail since July 15.
New Hampshire Neighbors Try to Help
The current property owner, 86-year-old Leonard Giles, only discovered Lidstone was there in 2015, when a town administrator voiced concerns about waste disposal and zoning violations. Lidstone claims that another owner years ago gave him his word that Lidstone could stay there.
A group of locals – led by kayaker Jodie Gedeon, who has known Lidstone for about 20 years – has started a petition drive and gathered money to pay for property taxes.
“He’s just a really, really, big caring guy, and just chooses to live off the grid,” Gedeon told the AP. “It really is about humanity, it really is about compassion, empathy… he’s not hurting anybody.”
The group attended a town selectboard meeting recently at which the board took up the matter of Lidstone’s situation. But board members told them the town has no standing in the dispute.
“You guys are in a quandary,” selectman Robert Steenson said. “So are we.”
Judge Suggests Lidstone, Landowner, Town Officials Work with Mediator
Meanwhile, Lidstone certainly needs the group’s help. He’s apparently not doing much to advance his own cause from inside the jail cell where he’s been stuck since last month.
“You came with your guns, you arrested me, brought me in here, you’ve got all my possessions. You keep ’em,” he told a judge at a recent hearing. “I’ll sit here with your uniform on until I rot, sir.”
Lidstone does not have an attorney of his own. He will be released under any of the following circumstances: if he agrees to leave, if Giles bulldozes the cabin or if 30 days pass since July 15.
New Hampshire’s Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman seemed stymied by Lidstone’s case. He agreed that the 81-year-old isn’t hurting anyone. But he noted that the landowner has rights, too.
“You’re doing your own thing in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state, so there’s a lot of sympathy to you for that,” he told Lidstone. “But there’s a lot of weight on the other side of the balance sheet, and not just about what the [landowner] wants to do with the land, but the weight I feel to uphold the judgment of the court and the rule of law.”
Ultimately, the judge recommended that town officials and Giles work with a mediator. Giles’s lawyer said the logistics of that would be too difficult.
Where to Next for River Dave?
No one knows where Lidstone could go if Giles demolishes the cabin. The U.S. Air Force veteran and father of four earns money as a woodsman and keeps all his possessions in the New Hampshire two-level wooden A-frame cabin.
The AP reached two of Lidstone’s three sons. They said they haven’t been in contact with their father in a while.
But Lidstone’s brother Vincent, who said he doesn’t have the resources to help his brother, recalled their shared childhood fondly, saying they grew up camping, fishing and hunting.
Lidstone’s little cabin in the woods is “exactly the lifestyle he wants,” Vincent said.