Term: Caspar Partridge case, 1850-1855
episode of racist hysteria resulting in the kidnapping of a Menominee child by white settlers.
On April 9, 1850, Alvin and Lucia Partridge took their children maple sugaring in the woods near their farm in the Winnebago Co. township of Vinland, outside Oshkosh. Their four-year-old son, Caspar, wandered away and, despite days of searching by hundreds of neighbors, was never seen again.
Relations between new settlers and the Menominee Indians were tense at the time. The federal government was trying to force the Menominee off their Wisconsin homeland, the tribe was resisting through legal means, and disputes over local tribal boundaries and annuity payments had increased anxiety. Many settlers could recall the violence of the Black Hawk War 18 years earlier, and rumors spread through white communities that Caspar Partridge had been stolen by Menominee Indians.
Eighteen months later, Mr. Partridge's sister spotted a light-skinned boy with a Menominee family near Waupaca. Twenty-two white men invaded their camp, seized the child (named Oakaha), and summoned Alvin Partridge, who thought the boy might be his missing son but was not sure.
Other members of the Partridge family were more certain and obtained a writ of habeas corpus to prevent Oakaha from being returned to the Menominee. In early 1852 a six-day trial was held in Oshkosh to determine Oakaha's true parents. In their testimony, Partridge family members pointed to a general physical resemblance, but Menominee elders, Catholic missionaries, and white traders all swore that they had known the child since his birth. The judge ruled that Oakaha should be returned to his Menominee mother, but before that could occur, vigilantes spirited te boy away to the Partridge homestead in Ohio.
Eighteen months later, in May of 1853, a child's decomposed remains discovered on the Partridge family's Wisconsin farm were assumed to be those of Caspar Partridge. This prompted federal officials to track Oakaha to McHenry Co., Illinois, where they seized him late in 1854. They were en route to northern Wisconsin to reunite the boy with his mother when the Partridges filed an injunction to stop them. Before a legal hearing could be held, family members kidnapped him a second time, on March 5, 1855 in Milwaukee, and then fled into the wilds of Kansas Territory.
Despite repeated efforts, neither the federal government nor the Menominee Nation were able to recover Oakaha again. Renamed Joseph Partridge, he grew up in Kansas, served in the Civil War, and spent most of his adult life plagued by mental health and financial problems. He wandered unhappily throughout the Midwest until his death near New Lisbon, Wis., in 1916.
View more information in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Summer, 1975): 258-312.
[Source: Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Summer, 1975): 258-312.]