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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Scared Out of Town

We've all probably encountered someone who makes a career out of telling the same story over and over again. In the 1850s, a Prairie du Chien attorney named A.V. Blair made this mistake and was repaid with a practical joke that frightened him out of town.

Pirates and Vigilantes

It all started with a band of river pirates who traveled up and down the Mississippi terrorizing small towns. Eventually the citizens of Prairie du Chien, including Blair, took it upon themselves to deliver justice. They rounded up nearly 25 alleged members of the gang and in an impromptu court sentenced them to lashings and head-shavings.The sentence was promptly carried out by the mob of vigilantes, and one of the accused defiantly swore vengeance on the town and its citizens.

Attorney Blair had played a prominent part in the proceedings and interpreted the remarks as a personal threat. To hear him tell the story -- and he told it often, to anyone who would listen -- he was no longer safe on the streets. As he recounted the tale, his own role grew ever bigger, like the proverbial fish that got away. Finally his law partner decided to put an end to it by playing a joke on Blair.

The Practical Joke

In the middle of the night, he snuck out of the house where he and Blair lodged and began to yell and bang on the door. He claimed to be one of the pirates who had "come to be avenged" and implied that a mob was with him.

Blair jumped from bed and ran for his life, forgetting not only a nearby pair of loaded guns but also his pants, shoes and hat. He ran half-naked through Prairie du Chien at top speed until he reached the home of his partner's father. The two men returned to his lodgings to fight off the pirate avengers.

By then, his partner had returned to bed and feigned sleep. When roused, he claimed he had heard nothing. The story of Blair's half-dressed flight from imaginary enemies quickly made the rounds in neighboring river towns.

Scared the Story Out of Him

Blair never caught on to the joke. He left Prairie du Chien for parts unknown just before the Civil War, without ever again retailing his heroic role in catching the pirates. His partner's prank had scared the story right out of him, though perhaps he told an even more embellished version in his new home for years to come.

[Source: Jones, B.W. History of Crawford and Richland Counties, Wisconsin (Springfield, Wis., 1884): 395-396.]

:: Posted in Curiosities on November 3, 2011
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