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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Out of Town on a Rail

James Buck came to Milwaukee in 1837 and helped construct many of its first homes and businesses. For decades he would also drop in on friends in the city's newspaper offices, who would give him fragments of papers with stories about local life. These he pasted into scrapbooks alongside other memorabilia which, combined with his memory, allowed Buck to ultimately write a massive, four-volume history of the city. As might be expected, it's more of an anthology of odd tales than a modern narrative history, and it contains this anecdote of early German immigrants.

On April 5, 1850, "a German, living at that time in the Ninth ward, was accused by his wife of abusing her during child-birth, upon which his neighbors went to his house, placed him upon a rail, first giving him a coat of tar and feathers, after which they carried him down Third to West Water, down West Water to Spring, crossed to East Water, down East Water street to the bridge at Walker's Point, crossed to Ferry, up Ferry to South Water, up South Water to Reed, down Reed to Florida, up Florida to Hanover, up Hanover to Elizabeth street, intending to carry him out of town and kill him, which they certainly would have done had they not been prevented by Dr. L. W. Weeks and myself, who succeeded after much trouble in convincing them that such an act would hang every one of them.

"The poor frightened wretch begged piteously for his life all the while. In appearance he resembled nothing that is upon the earth, in the air above or the waters beneath it; and to say that he looked like the devil would certainly be treating that functionary with great disrespect, for although described as having horns and hair, he has never received a coat of tar and feathers yet, being much too sharp for that, although he has, no doubt, often been the indirect cause of its application to others. When released he at once took to the marsh and buried himself in its oozy depths, from which he was finally persuaded to emerge by the constable, aided by a revolver, and taken to jail, where, after being used as a bed bug exterminator for a few days, he was released.

"The most wonderful part of this affair was, that a man could be carried through the city as he was in broad daylight, and no one interfere to rescue him until he came opposite my house; but such was the fact, nevertheless. Neither was there anything done with the brutes who committed this cruel deed." [pages 262-263]

Buck's Pioneer History of Milwaukee has recently been put online in its entirety at Google Books. His 1873 manuscript memoir of coming to Milwaukee is also online, at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

:: Posted in Bizarre Events on September 16, 2007

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