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Arndt Vest

Vest worn by Charles C.P. Arndt when he was shot on the floor of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, 1842.
(Museum object #1963.300)

On February 11, 1842 the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature met in Madison only to be interrupted by the shooting of one member by another. The legislature was debating the appointment of Enos S. Baker for sheriff of Grant County, one of the most important appointive county offices. Following a debate on the floor of the Council of the Legislative Assembly, Charles C.P. Arndt implied that fellow Council member James R. Vineyard, a personal friend of Baker, had made misstatements on Baker's behalf. After an uproar during which Vineyard denied Arndt's accusations, adjournment was declared.

In the moments following adjournment, Arndt approached Vineyard's desk on the floor of the assembly and the two continued their disagreement. As Arndt came closer to Vineyard he raised his hand and struck Vineyard in the head. Before any other legislator could intervene to separate the two men, Vineyard drew a pistol and shot Arndt in the chest. Arndt reeled backward and fell to the floor, dying where he had fallen about five minutes later.

Authorities quickly rushed Vineyard off to jail where he composed his resignation from the Council. The Council itself, however, refused to accept his resignation, instead voting to expel Vineyard as being unworthy to be a member of their body. After many judicial delays and a change of venue from Dane County to Vineyard's own district in Green County, he was tried and acquitted of manslaughter in October 1843.

Bribery and scandal typified the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature in its early years and this event did not help Wisconsin's reputation as a somewhat unsafe place. Charles Dickens, who was touring the United States at the time of the incident, even cited the affair in his American Notes for General Circulation as an example of rampant lawlessness in the United States.

Although difficult to see in the accompanying image because of the pattern in the fabric, this vest from the Museum's collection, worn by Arndt when he was shot and killed, exhibits the bullet hole (at yellow arrow). The vest itself is on permanent display in the "On Common Ground: Two Hundred Years of Wisconsin History" exhibition at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, 30 North Carroll Street, Madison.

[Sources: Smith, Alice Elizabeth. James Duane Doty: Frontier Promoter (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, c. 1954); Smith, Alice E. The History of Wisconsin, Vol. I: From Exploration to Statehood (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1985).]


Posted on February 04, 2005

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