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Odd Wisconsin Archives: Odd Lives

Mrs. Lincoln Grieves in Waukesha

"I am trying as you will perceive, to make the most of this fearfully wearisome summer. . . I live in a retired manner in a private house on the outskirts of the town where there are no other boarders and have all the advantages of the country. . . . I am so miserable over my great sorrows, that... :: Posted on March 13, 2014

Aunt Mary Ann

Wisconsin's first doctor -- in the sense of someone paid to heal the sick -- was a woman of color known simply as Aunt Mary Ann to her Prairie du Chien patients. Her full name was Mary Ann Menard, though she had had two previous husbands before marrying Charles Menard, and raised more than a dozen children from the three... :: Posted on February 28, 2014

Frontier Justice

Judge William C. Frazier arrived in Milwaukee on a Sunday night in June of 1837. Newly appointed to the Eastern Judicial District of Wisconsin, he had time on his hands that evening and joined a friendly game of poker at his inn. The stakes were small at first, but the wagers increased over the course of the night until "small... :: Posted on January 15, 2014

The Voyageur with the Hole in his Side

When a shotgun blew a fist-sized hole in Alexis St. Martin's side on June 6, 1822, military physician William Beaumont was astonished that the young fur trader didn't simply die on the spot. Instead, he recovered, though with a permanent opening through his muscle wall into his stomach that required bandaging for the rest of his life. Unable to support... :: Posted on October 8, 2013

The Man with the Branded Hand

This month, Wisconsin abolitionist Jonathan Walker will be inducted into the National Abolitionist Hall of Fame in Petersboro, N.Y. Known in his own day as "The Man with the Branded Hand," Walker is finally getting national recognition more than 150 years after his dramatic act. At the time, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier honored him with the following lines: "With... :: Posted on October 1, 2013

Wiskonsan's Biggest Booster

In 1838, James Duane Doty (1799-1865) was elected by Wisconsin voters to represent them in Washington. He had already served in the Michigan territorial legislature (1833-35) and finagled having Madison chosen as Wisconsin's territorial capital. He went to Washington in 1838 to represent not only the voters but also absentee landowners, Eastern speculators, and capitalists trying to exploit Wisconsin's natural... :: Posted on September 19, 2013

Husband & Wife Sheriffs

Last week we featured a father-son senatorial team. This week we highlight married partners working as a political team. Our state's first female sheriff was elected in 1924 in Burnett County. This event, which on the surface seems like a huge step for women's rights, was actually just the latest twist in a clever ploy that male sheriffs had been... :: Posted on June 11, 2013

Father-Son Senators

According to the U.S. Senate's history site, the first and only father and son to serve in the Senate at the same time were Henry Dodge of Wisconsin and his son Augustus Caesar Dodge of Iowa. The elder Dodge represented Wisconsin in the Senate from 1848 to 1857. When he arrived in Washington, he joined his son, who was already... :: Posted on June 5, 2013

Joliet and Marquette Head into the Wild

"Accordingly, on the 17th day of May, 1673," Fr. Jacques Marquette wrote in his diary, "we started from the mission of St. Ignace at Michilimakinac, where I then was. The joy that we felt at being selected for this expedition animated our courage, and rendered the labor of paddling from morning to night agreeable to us... we joyfully plied our... :: Posted on May 16, 2013

Harry Selfridge, Merchant Prince

This week public television aired the first episode of a new British series dramatizing the life of Wisconsin native Harry Gordon Selfridge. The producers call him, "the flamboyant entrepreneur and showman seeking to provide London's shoppers with the ultimate merchandise and the ultimate thrill." That may be hyperbole, but in fact much of the consumer culture that surrounds us began,... :: Posted on March 31, 2013

Fearless Woman Hunter

"In my boyhood days" recalled Augustin Grignon* in the summer of 1857, "there was an aged Chippewa woman named 0-cha-own. She was a great huntress, and spent each winter with her dogs in the woods the same as any Indian hunter, and was quite as successful in killing bear, raccoon and other game. Beside a gun,which I presume she used,... :: Posted on March 14, 2013

Mary Hayes-Chynoweth, psychic healer

Here's a story for Women's History Month about a Wisconsin woman who was once well-known but is now all-but-forgotten. She embodied New Age spirituality a century before that term was invented. Here are her own words describing how it all began. "I was crossing the kitchen with a basin of water when, suddenly, some unknown Force pressed me down upon... :: Posted on March 7, 2013

The Long Eventful Life of Hattie Pierce

Born into bondage in North Carolina on Jan. 1, 1829, Mrs. Hattie Pierce, of 1442 Williamson St. in Madison, personally experienced the dramatic social upheavals that most of her neighbors only learned about in schoolbooks. By the time she passed away, slavery had become just a distant memory and horse-drawn wagons had given way to jet airplanes. 'Gone with the... :: Posted on February 14, 2013

Tippecanoe and Tallmadge too?

It's inauguration time again, which called to mind the peculiar fate of Nathaniel Tallmadge (1795-1864). He was Wisconsin's third chief executive, but he could have been the tenth president of the United States instead. Tallmadge was admitted to the bar in 1818 and served in the New York legislature before going on to two terms in the U.S. Senate (1833-1844).... :: Posted on January 17, 2013

Wisconsin Ghost Town

In 1837 two entrepreneurs erected a grist mill on the banks of the Wisconsin just below Portage. All across southern Wisconsin, new communities were springing up from the prairie like mushrooms after a rainstorm. This was the only mill for 40 miles, and pioneer farmers from as far away as Baraboo, Columbus or Madison carted their wheat to the hamlet... :: Posted on January 8, 2013

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