Warriors, Saints, and Scoundrels: Brief Portraits of Real People Who Shaped Wisconsin

By Michael Edmonds and Samantha Snyder

Paperback: $22.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-792-1

224 pages, 62 photos, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 E-book edition also available.


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Meet the mayors, ministers, mystics, murderers, & more whose lives influenced and defined the state of Wisconsin in these brief biographies from the past. Co-authors Michael Edmonds, the Wisconsin Historical Society's Director of Programs and Outreach, and Samantha Snyder plumbed the depths of the Society's collections to research and compose lively portraits of eighty of these notable individuals. Among them are a governor who saw ghosts, an incorrigible horse thief, a husband and wife who each stood over seven feet tall, an American Indian chief who defied forced removal, and the first woman to practice law before the Supreme Court.

Each story is followed by recommended sources for readers' continued exploration. Whether you read them on the fly or all in one sitting, these short, colorful narratives will intrigue and inform as you delve into Wisconsin's diverse and diverting history.

Michael Edmonds is also the author of three other Wisconsin Historical Society Press books, including Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan, Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader, and The Wisconsin Capitol: Stories of a Monument and Its People.

For media review copies, author interviews or more information, contact the Wisconsin Historical Society Press marketing office at whspress@wisconsinhistory.org.

Michael Edmonds wrote more than 500 "Odd Wisconsin" sketches for a syndicated weekly newspaper column from 2006 to 2015. He is the author of two award-winning books from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan and Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader, and has written several articles for the Wisconsin Magazine of History and other journals.

Samantha Snyder is a two-time graduate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, most recently completing her Masters in Library and Information Studies from the UW School of Library and Information Studies in May 2015. She currently lives in Washington, DC and works as a reference librarian at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, Va. This is her first book.

Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, Va

Why did you decide to write on Warriors, Saints, & Scoundrels? Why do people need to know these stories, this history? Too many people think history is boring. That's probably because most of us were taught the "heroes and holidays" version that holds famous leaders up for admiration. The truth is, that each of us is making history every day -- what we do, what we say, what we think all shaped the way the world evolves. This book is an attempt to tell the stories of some of the lesser-known characters who played roles, some large and some small, in making Wisconsin what it is today.

Why did you title the book “Warriors, Saints, & Scoundrels?” What are you trying to convey with the title? Well, some of them were soldiers or warriors, some of them were clergy or mystics, and some of them were truly scoundrels. History's not just made by upstanding, admirable people. Some of our forebears were nasty, or at least flawed in the same ways people are today.

How can this book serve as a guide to Wisconsin history, American history? We tried to place each of these people in their proper context, and that means providing enough general history background for readers to learn about larger trends or topics. Many of the sketches comment on, or suggest ideas about, broad issues like race relations, the environment, or crime and justice.

There are lots of fascinating, weird and wonderful stories this book? Who is your favorite Warrior? Saint? Scoundrel? Personally, I'm partial to the mystics like Mary Hayes-Chynoweth and Wingfield Watson, who marched to the beat of a different drummer. Juliet Severance is another example -- imagine preaching free-love at the height of repressive Victorian culture!

How can this book increase our understanding of who Wisconsinites were, and who we are today?Its main value that way is to show that history is made by common people and not just by celebrities. If these forgotten characters could secure rights for women, start important companies, build great fortunes, win civil rights, and discover new wonders of nature, then readers should imagine themselves doing the same.

As anyone can imagine, writing a book is a deeply personal experiences. How has writing “Warriors, Saints, and Scoundrels” been a personal experience for you? Long ago, my first book was about the English biographer Lytten Strachey. He revolutionized the art of writing lives by insisting that authors should tell a compelling story, that history books must not be lifeless compendiums of dead facts. He wrote dozens of brief lives that were collected into books of essays. Trying to compress these Wisconsin character's lives into 400 or 500 words threw me back onto Strachey's principles and techniques, which brought me back to my graduate school days.

Why did you choose to write many short biographies rather than a few longer ones? I think that mass media -- especially the Web and cell phones -- has changed the way readers behave. Few people want to sit down in a comfy chair with a 400-page book. Our dominant media lead most of us to want small, evocative doses of history. This led me to try very short sketches that could be devoured in small bites like truffles, rather than writing the equivalent of sit-down dinner. Whether or not it works remains to be seen.