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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Knight of the Pitcher

This was the nickname given to attorney Moses M. Strong (1810-1894) in 1843 after his "spirited" defense of James Vineyard (1804-1863), the gun-wielding legislator who had killed his colleague Charles Arndt on February 11, 1842.

The shooting of one lawmaker by another under the Capitol dome ranks high among odd Wisconsin events. The story is well-known, and has been featured here in Odd Wisconsin. The vest worn by the victim, complete with bullet hole near the heart, is in our Museum's collections.

Less-known is the legal aftermath of the case. Before the murderous day was out, Vineyard had engaged as his attorney another legislator, Moses M. Strong of Mineral Point. Strong, like Vineyard, was a fervent Democrat from the lead mining region, where carrying concealed weapons was a nearly universal practice and the Southern tradition of defending one's honor was very much alive. After Vineyard was arrested, Strong was successful in delaying a trial with legal motions until he could shepherd through the legislature Wisconsin's first law permitting changes of venue in criminal cases. Then he promptly had the case moved out of Madison and closer to the lead mining district, where many residents felt that Vineyard had only been defending his honor and acting in self-defense (Arndt had slapped him just before the shooting).

Strong's maneuvering took more than a year, and it was not until October of 1843 that the case came before a judge and jury. There appears to be only one contemporary description of the courtroom proceedings, written by a correspondent of the New York Tribune (Nov. 4, 1843). The writer described the jurors as a crew of unintelligent yokels that could not be matched "this side of Botany Bay." He devotes much of his article to Strong's speech for the defendant, and relates that before commencing the address, Strong had a pitcher of whiskey placed upon the table before him. As he proceeded with his appeal on behalf of Vineyard, he drank long and frequently from this, so that before the speech was half concluded the New York reporter says he reeled to and fro like a drunken man.

Strong always denied this, but the incident fixed upon him a colorful sobriquet which he tried in vain to live down -- for years he was known as "The Knight of the Pitcher."

But the jury promptly acquitted Vineyard, whom it decided had acted in self-defense. Strong went on to help write Wisconsin's two constitutions (1846 and 1848) and hold a variety of other important offices. In the 1850s, however, as a railroad lobbyist he was exposed as having been deeply involved in bribing large numbers of legislators, and he retired to Mineral Point. This, combined with his opposition to the Civil War and denunciations of Abraham Lincoln, marginalized Strong politically until his death in 1894.

:: Posted in Odd Lives on March 15, 2007

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