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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Jefferson Davis Takes a Licking

"It is probably known to but very few of the present citizens of our state that Wisconsin has the high distinction of having given Mr. Jefferson Davis…his first public whipping." So begins the story recounted in the Milwaukee Sentinel, as heard from the man who gave Mr. Davis that first licking, a Mr. Stewart. At the time of the fight, around 1830 or 1831, both men were soldiers stationed at Fort Winnebago in Portage.

Stewart told the newspaper that in those days the future president of the Confederacy was attracted to a lovely young local woman and had a jealous streak that flared up wherever she was concerned. Davis got it in his head that Stewart was also interested in the lady, and in a fit of anger "swore by all the buttons on his coat that he would cowhide the miserable Yankee out of his skin."

So Davis lay in wait for Stewart, and when his rival appeared began whipping him without any explanation. It seems, however, that Davis failed to consider that Stewart might fight back – and Stewart was bigger. Davis only got in two lashes before Stewart threw two punches, knocked Davis down, and began applying punishment of his own.

Stewart demanded that he keep away in the future, especially as he had no reason to be jealous; he insisted there was nothing between himself and the woman in question. After publicly tweaking the proud Southerner's nose and amusing himself by slapping and pinching him, Stewart extracted a promise from Davis to leave him alone. Davis later remarked that he had "never received two such blows from man or horse."

More stories about Jefferson Davis in Wisconsin can be found in our collection of local history and biography articles. Fort Winnebago's original orderly ledger books and climatological observations are online at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.
:: Posted in Curiosities on July 14, 2011

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