Washington County Historical Society

Gateway to Minnesota History

Month: October 2016

A ‘Goodbye’ from the Editor

 

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, November 1st, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Give to the Max! November 17th
  • What Was That Thing?!
  • Old News: Warning from the Editors
  • Featured Article: A ‘Goodbye’ TO an Editor
Editor’s Note

Well folks, this is my goodbye.

After nearly five years as the Warden’s House Site Manager and Editor of the e-newsletter, I sadly have to report that I no longer will be working at the Washington County Historical Society. It’s been an amazing few years and I’m going to miss so much about this job…Including pestering you lovely peoples’ inboxes once-every-other-week.

So, before I wrap up one-final time, I want to express the deepest and most heartfelt appreciation to each and every one of you’ve made writing this newsletter fun. Thank you for playing along with the “What Is This Thing?!”, thank you for writing emails when enjoyed the featured Article or the Old News, thank you everyone who visited the museums this year, and most importantly, thank you for putting up with my horribly lame attempts at being funny.

Thank you all so much.

I hope you’ll continue to diligently support WCHS and it’s on-going mission to preserve our local history. The best way to support WCHS is to become a member if you aren’t already one. You can also head down to our News Story to learn all the details of Give to the Max! Day which falls on November 17th this year.

Be sure to check out today’s “What Was That Thing?!” so you can at least find out the identity of last issue’s mystery artifact.

If you’re sick of all this lovey-dovey appreciativeness and well-wishes, and would rather read a fairly aggressive editorial piece, look no further than today’s Old News section.

And finally – on the topic of newspapermen getting out of the game – my final Featured Article will share the story of Victor Seward, who ‘retired’ from his position at the Stillwater Messenger only after being murdered by a former employee. Thankfully my departure will be significantly less dramatic.

Remember, you can always check out the Historical Messenger’s online archives to see all the past e-newsletters in case you find yourself missing my always charming wit.

Whew – well, I think it’s time to close up this note before I start to ramble.

For one last time,

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

Give to the Max! November 17th

On Thursday, November 17th, your gift goes farther on Give to the Max Day! Organizations that raise the most money in their size brackets are granted additional cash bonuses and an extra $1,000 is added to one random donation per hour. Another boost of $10,000 will be awarded to a single donation on the 17th.

Even a simple $10 puts our name in the hat!

Here’s what you can do to help:

Schedule Your Donation Early! Beginning November 1st, you can actually log-on to our donation page and schedule your donation to be processed on Give to the Max Day. One random early donation from November 1st – 16th will be given a $10,000 boost!

Spread the Word! Share our Donation Page on your social media pages and email it to your friends!

Donate! The easiest way to make a difference for WCHS is simply by making a gift! GiveMN keeps it easy by accepting all major cards through their secure online payment system. You don’t even have to register any kind of account! Their website is designed with both PC/Mac and mobile platforms in mind.

Thank you all for your continued support of the Washington County Historical Society!

What is This Thing?!

What Was That Thing?! (Round 47)

Well, there won’t be any new challenge today (since I won’t be around in two weeks to tell you all the answer).

But, just to clear up the mystery of last issue…it’s actually an old hand-operated vacuum cleaner! And, I’ve gotta tell you, one of my favorite pieces in the whole collection.

Specifically, this is a Model-C Feeny Vacuum from about 1910. As you can see in this photo, you’d literally grab the handle and pump it up-and-down to create the (fairly limited) suction…all in all, probably just easier to drag the rugs outside and beat them.

I’ve absolutely loved the sometimes off-the-wall guesses a few of you brave folks dared to offer. And other times I was absolutely blown away by how quickly you’d manage to perfectly identitfy artifacts that I thought would be a challenge! Either way, it was a great opportunity to interact with this humble e-newsletter’s readership.

Thank you for playing for the last 94 weeks!

Old News

Warning from the Editors

Let me just say, I’m very glad that I’ve never had to threaten any of the readers of this e-newsletter.

Stillwater Messenger – November 1, 1884

There are a number of our delinquent subscribers from whom we have received nothing but promises for too many years, who will soon be served with a summons and complaints in a civil action unless they prevent a resort to harsh measures by promptly coming forward and settling with cash or note. We dislike exceedingly to employ the courts to collect any of our accounts, as they are expensive collectors. But we can’t carry them on our books any longer, and give this fair warning to all concerned that we don’t intend to. In most cases the court expenses will be larger than our claims, and we would recommend all to save costs by settling at once.

Featured Article

A ‘Goodbye” TO an Editor

by Brent Peterson

Stillwater is a quiet community. Not much noise except when the bridge is open and the big trucks travel through downtown. There is not much crime and the citizens are kept safe by the ever watchful eye of the Stillwater Police Force. In the days of the lumber era, Stillwater had more than its share of gunfire and bad behavior. Even then, a murder on Main Street was headline news.

Victor Seward was the editor and owner of one of Stillwater’s most successful weekly newspapers. He was a tough editor and he spoke his mind. His colorful and sometimes controversial career came to an abrupt end by an assassin’s bullet.

Seward was born in Laketon, Indiana on July 10, 1845. When he was ten years old, he moved with his family to Mankato, Minnesota. He graduated from the Western Reserve College in Hudson. He returned to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1868 and worked with the St. Paul Dispatch newspaper. At the age of 19, he entered the Union Army in company D, 198th Ohio Regiment, and was mustered out on May 8, 1865. In 1869, Seward started the Redwood Falls Mail newspaper, which he abandoned in 1873. After that, he joined with his brother-in-law, S.S. Taylor, and purchased the Stillwater Messenger. Victor Seward became the sole owner of the paper upon Taylors death in the 1880’s.

He married Elizabeth Putnam in 1871 and together had one child, Mable. The Seward home was on Fifth Street of Stillwater, across from St. Mary’s Church.

On Tuesday, October 11, 1892, Victor Seward was assassinated by a former employee of the Messenger, George Peters. Peters was hired to be a reporter, but the young Peters could not perform the job. Seward was patient with the young reporter, but then suggested to him that he find another vocation. With that, Peters swore vengeance on Seward for firing him.

Nobody took the threat for real, and at about five in the afternoon that October day, Peters returned to Seward’s office, however, he found that Seward was not in. Peters then went into town, and it wasn’t long until he found Seward walking along Main Street. Peters calmly came up to Seward, shooting the editor three times. Seward staggered into the doorway of Drechsler’s Music store. Peters then calmly walked away.

Dr. W.H. Caine, whose office was nearby, heard the shooting and rushed to the street, pushing his way into the music store. He was later joined by Dr. T.C. Clark and Dr. E. O’B. Freligh. At first the wounded Seward was to be taken to the city hospital, but Mrs. Seward arrived and had her husband transferred to their home. Local doctors remained at the Seward residence through the night, but nothing could be done to save his life. Victor Seward died the following morning.

George Peters was arrested and charged with first degree murder. He was found not guilty because of insanity and was sent to the hospital for the insane in Rochester, Minnesota.

After Victor Seward’s funeral, the ownership of the Stillwater Messenger was transferred to his wife Elizabeth. She operated the newspaper as editor for nearly a decade until her health started to fail. She was one of only a handful of women in Minnesota to edit a major newspaper in the 19th Century.

The Sewards are still remembered in this area. At the Warden’s Home Museum in Stillwater, there are two beautiful pastel drawings (photographed above) of the couple that are on display. Even though other editors and other newspapers have come and gone in Stillwater, the Messenger and the Seward family will always have their own historical nitch in St. Croix Valley History.

Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

The Grand Charge of Col. William Colvill

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”
  • WCHS News: Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Vengeance Against the Dakota
  • Featured Article: The Grand Charge of Col. William Colvill

Editor’s Note

Whew! What a beautiful couple of weeks we’ve been having! The weather has been holding up wonderfully and I honestly can’t remember ever having this vibrant of fall colors to enjoy. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with all the foliage-admirers over the past few weeks at the museum.

Speaking of which, you only have two more weekends to visit the Warden’s House and Hay Lake School before we close up for 2016 – so plan your trip now!

At the very least, you absolutely won’t want to miss our fun Halloween-themed events at the Warden’s House this year. Check out our News Stories for all the details on the free movie screening this Thursday and a ‘ghost-hunting’ team’s visit to the Museum on Oct. 29th.

After you read about our events, the always popular “What Is This Thing?!” challenge awaits your best guesses.

When studying American History, the Civil War is rightfully seen as a defining moment of our nation’s story. In fact, the episode is so important that it completely overshadows another war the American military was waging at the same time. In today’s Old News, we’ll look westward instead of east and follow the 3rd Minnesotan Battery in their punitive campaign against the Dakota people.

But don’t worry “Civil War-buffs”, we’ll swing back to the East Coast in our Featured Article and discuss the wartime experiences of Minnesota’s Colonel William Colvill.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News 

Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”

THIS Thurs. October 20th @ 6:30 – 8:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

Join the Washington County Historical Society for a night of (relatively quiet) terror beneath the stars as we screen the 1925 silent-film classic “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Warden’s House Museum!

Bring out the family and help re-capture some of the lost magic of watching a movie outdoors!

The screening will begin at 6:30 PM and the museum will be open to the public from 5:30 until when the film begins. The movie will be shown outside so we recommend dressing warm and please feel free to bring lawn chairs & blankets to sit on.

The selection of “The Phantom of the Opera” is not only appropriate for the Halloween season – but also because the film features the performance of Olive Ann Alcorn – a Stillwater native!

This is a free event made possible by WCHS’ generous supporters and donors.

Concessions will be available for purchase.

 

WCHS News 

Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories

Sat. October 29th @ 11:00 AM, 3:00, & 7:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

On Saturday, October 29th, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group will host their fourth annual, “Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories” program at the Warden’s House Museum. The free event will be held at the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater.

Encore presentations will be held at 11:00AM, 3:00PM, and 7:00PM. Each time slot will feature the same program and will last about 80 minutes.

For the past 7 years, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group has been performing investigations at such famously haunted locales such as the Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie, WI, Waverly Hills Sanitarium, KY, the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and of course, the Warden’s House itself!

During this free and open to the public presentation, founder Justin Miner and his co-investigators will delve into the truly amazing audio and video evidence they have collected while explaining the state-of-the-art equipment, theories, & techniques used during a “ghost hunt”.

More Events

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 47)

A few of you managed to poke your heads out of your foxhole to take a shot at identifying last issue’s What Is This Thing?!

That’s right! Last week’s item is the inside of a World War I-era American ‘doughboy’ helmet. In the States, the design was known as the M1917, but was essentially a copy of the British ‘Brodie’ helmet of 1915.

On the onset of the war, no nation equipped its soldiers with steel helmets. However, the cloth and leather caps soon proved completely ineffective and dangerous for the type of trench-heavy and shrapnel-filled fighting along the Western Front.

This introduction of metallic protective headwear was one of the many technological innovations that can be traced back to the battlefields of the First World War.

Onto today’s challenge!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at sean.pallas@wchsmn.org, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News 

Vengeance Against the Dakota

For obvious reasons, when a person studies the years from 1861-1865; they’re going to be almost completely focused on the battlefields of the Civil War. Few people will give the US-Dakota War of 1862 much consideration.

Lincoln and the Federal Government were not about to a relatively small Native American uprising along the Minnesota River become a distraction from their campaign against the Confederacy. This secondary rebellion would be crushed and dealt with severely. By the end of the conflict, 38 Dakota captives had been hanged in Mankato and the surviving Dakota were utterly and completely exiled from their ancestral homes in Minnesota.

But that is not where the story ends.

In 1864, General Alfred Sully (pictured right) was given command of cavalry units and an artillery battery on a march through North Dakota to wreak havoc on the Dakota men, women and children who had taken refuge in the Badlands.

There could be no further outbursts from the conquered Dakota people – and this crusade of vengeance would make that a certainty.

“Some Items from the Indian Expedition” – Stillwater Messenger – October 18, 1864

From a private letter from a member of the 3rd Minnesota Battery, we make some interesting extracts. Our readers are familiar with the general details of Sully’s last battle with the Indians, but incidents which fell under the conversation of the writer may prove of interest to our readers. Our correspondent, in his description of the battle says:

“Our line of battle was over three miles long, and the fight was like all Indian fights – very scattering fire and very uncertain where the next charge would be made. Bracket’s Minn. Battalion discovered an opportunity and made a splendid charge on the right, cutting the enemy down with their sabers, and driving them into a ravine, from which they were soon driven by a few shots from a 12 pounder in charge of Sergeant Bromley, killing 27 in three shots. A strong attempt was made to charge the rear of our train but a six pounded in charge of Lieut. Whipple soon checked their advance, our shot killing five and their ponies literally making pemmican of their carcasses.

The Indians contented every inch of the ground for two miles, when they fled to the hills where no man or common horse could follow them, leaving 112 of their dead on the field and all their camp equipage. Our forces moved 3 miles and bivouacked for the night.

At 3 o’clock next morning we started in pursuits, but found it impossible to follow them into the hills and mountains.

Reluctantly abandoning further pursuit, the General turned his attention to the destruction of the large amount of property lefty by the enemy, on the bloody field of Tah-kah-o-kn-ty, and a detail of fifteen hundred men was made for the purpose, and soon the red flames and black clouds of smoke strongly impregnated with the savory odor of baked buffalo and venison told that the hard earned stores of the red men were fast being destroyed; and at sunset the destruction was made complete by firing the woods where large quantities of stores had been concealed, and the fatigued army of the North West moved back ten miles to Camp.

The animals were soon grazing, and the weary soldiers just ready for supper and sleep, when the cry of “Injuns, Innings” caused a general rush for the horses to secure them at the picket ropes, and ‘fall in, fall in” was often repeated, and soon the dark lines of armed men, with hearts filled with stern resolved, and “ready for any fate” showed the impossibility of a surprise in that camp.

The enemy succeeded however in killing two men, privates in Co. D. 2nd Calvary, capturing their arms and horses. One was shot with seven arrows, one which penetrated six inches into his head. Our loss, killed 4 wounded 15. Men who have been long in the army say – and I think with trust that the battle of Tah-kah-o-kn-ty was the most decisive battle ever fought, and great credit is due to the officers and men of Col. Thomas Brigade for their efficiency and good discipline, their coolness while under fire and their readiness to obey orders, and the cheerfulness with which they encountered fatigue, exposure and danger. Company C. 8th Regiment Captain Folsom were detailed as Pioneers and in action for support of the 3rd Minnesota Battery, and I can say that braver or better set of men never shouldered a musket, and Stillwater may well feel proud of them.

All the dead of the enemy were buried with their dogs and goods.

We again reached Heart River, July 31st, having traveled 173 miles, fought a battle, destroyed a large camp in six days. We started form the point west with the trains and struck the Fat-anah-mack-anata, a wild hilly region where it seemed impossible for even a cat to travel, but trusting all to a Black Foot Indian, we reached the Little Missouri, without accident. Here we were fired upon from the bluffs, but our assailants were soon driven back by a few shells from the Battery, and on the morning of Aug. 9th, as we were leaving the river by following up the bed of a stream so narrow that but one wagon could pass at a time, we were fired upon from the hills, and for six hours the battle raged fearfully. Every thing was hid in smoke and dust in the vicinity of the train and every exertion was necessary to prevent straggling.

The wild nature of the country, the hills and mountains hundreds of feet high gaping chasms where a miss-step or the stumbling of a horse would precipitated the unfortunate one into eternity – helped to make the situation more terrible. But stoutly we drove the enemy before us which was done almost entirely by shells.

At dark the main force fell back, but skirmishing was kept up all night.

No rest could be had by either men or animals, was everything that moved outside camp was sure to get a shot, and the loud roar of the 12 pounders, the screaming of the shells, as they described their fiery circles through the air, left but a small margin for sleep.

Early next morning the fight was renewed and lasted for three hours, the Indians charging and retreating each time falling back with their numbers reduced, and returning again to be punished and retreat again.

Their loss was heavy – 250 being a low estimate of the number killed.

Our loss killed none.

Wounded 10, our scout being one of the number.

We reached the Yellow Stone, Idaho Territory 160 miles from Heart River on the 12th, and found two steamers loaded with rations and forage for which we were suffering severely. The horses having been 48 hours without food and the men for some time on half rations.

In crossing the Yellow Stone we lost 19 men, 17 mules, and 6 wagons – mostly of the Idaho emigrants. 240 men have deserted and gone to the mines with their horses and arms. One steamer the Island City – has been sunk with fourteen hundred sacks of corn, a number of mules and wagons.”

Featured Article

The Grand Charge of Col. William Colvill

by Betty Roney

Although the event took place in a little Pennsylvanian town, more than a century and a half ago, Minnesotans still revere the memory of that gallant band of volunteers and the man who led the First Minnesota at the Battle of Gettysburg, Col. William Colvill.

Of course, Washington County isn’t the only to put a claim on Col. Colvill’s story. He was born at Forestville, Chautauqua County, New York on April 5th, 1830. And here in Minnesota, he arrived in Cannon Falls, Goodhue County in 1854. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Colvill was the very first volunteer of Goodhue County. He was also one of the few survivors of a grim charge by an undaunted Minnesota line against a much lager Confederate Force on July 2nd and 3rd, 1863. What happened on that Gettysburg battlefield has inspired writers, historians, filmmakers and scholars ever since.

Of the 262 men of the Minnesota First Volunteer Infantry under Col. Colvill’s command, only 47 walked away unscathed.

Included amongst that number were the Stillwater men of Company B. Lieutenant Thomas Sinclair was the only Stillwater officer to be wounded. First Sergeant. David Lord; Sergeants John D. Densmore, Frederick Crome, George A. Oliver, Corporals John B. Stevens, and Edwin Wells; Privates George Arnold, William H. Aucker, Rufus G. Blanchard, Bartholomew Carriegiet, Albert Caplazi, Morritz W. Erhardt, Peter Everson, Charles H. Gove, Charles Hamann, Martin J. Henry, David Johnson, Adam Marty, Fridolin Marty, Erick Nystedt, Andrew P. Quist, John P. Schoembeck, Albert Severs, Ole Thompson, and Joseph A. Tanner were Stillwater’s enlisted men who were wounded. Sergeant Samuel B. Bickerson; Privates William F. Bates and August Koenig were all killed during the ‘grand charge”.

“At the time we made the grand charge,” Colvill later recalled, “I think Gen. (Winfield) Hancock rode a bay horse. His order was ‘Minnesota forward!’, delivered with all his force and action. From the left, after he had ceased to rally the Third Corps, he rushed to the rear near the battery, expecting the other troops had followed or were following him.

Finding none, as was afterward reported to me, he said, ‘My God, are these all the men we have here?’

Then he rushed to he right and gave the order. The men of the regiment all heard the order as he gave it and turned their heads to me, expecting and ready for my order, which was immediately given. “I noticed, as the regiment started, the shining of the muskets as the right shoulder shift was made in one time, the motions corresponding to the steps of the advance and seemed to emphasize the unity of the start. The gleam of the muskets you can imagine. It was grand. The regiment went as one man, taking its swinging gait down the slope.

Going down, the men fell fast. Each man, as he fell, seemed to turn to me as if to say, ‘I can go no further.’”

Two minutes before relief came from the New York 82nd, the colonel was wounded. He rolled into a gully where, he said, he “listened to the bullets zinging along the ground… and it grew dark and became quiet, the stars shining overhead.” He heard the sounds from the rebel line nearby.

“Their ground had been a horrible sight all night. Directly one of them [the Confederate soldiers] in a clear, sweet voice struck up a camp meeting hymn. Instantly the groans and cries ceased, and all joined in. It was a grand refrain, from thousands of wounded men…”

Colvill’s wartime service ended May 6, 1865, when he was mustered out as brevet brigadier general. He returned home to Goodhue County, making his home in Red Wing, where he practiced law and edited the Sentinel newspaper.

He died suddenly June 12, 1905 while attending a Grand Army of the Republic meeting at the Soldiers’ Home near Minnehaha Falls.

He was buried in the family plot in the Cannon Falls cemetery, where a replica of his state capitol statue was erected in 1909.

Two decades later, the 135th Minnesota Infantry, a National Guard regiment tracing descent from the Minnesota First, provided a landscaped setting – with cannon, ornamental stairway, and memorial tablet. In July 1928, President Calvin Coolidge gave an address at the site, and Mrs. Coolidge unveiled the memorial tablet.

Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

Some Whys and Wherefores of Stillwater Prison

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”
  • WCHS News: Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: The Circus Comes to Stillwater!
  • Featured Article: Some Whys and Wherefores of Stillwater Prison

Editor’s Note

Happy October everybody!

October definitely brings some mixed feelings. On one hand, I do love popping on a sweatshirt and taking a stroll around the neighborhood. But on the other, our museums are only open for a few more weeks!

So don’t let 2016 pass without visiting the Warden’s House and Hay Lake School! Until the end of this month, the Warden’s House is open Thursdays-Sundays and Saturdays & Sundays for Hay Lake.

Hopefully we’ll see you there!

In today’s News section, we’ll learn a bit more about the two spooky Halloween-inspired events coming up at the Warden’s House Museums

Of course, we’ll see if you clever folks can tackle a new “What Is This Thing?!” challenge.

Every now and then, I’ll have folks ask me, “What did people do for fun in the 1800s?” Well, head on down to our Old News section to read about the event of the season from way back in 1870.

Finally, we’ll close up today’s e-newsletter with a sneak peek at WCHS latest publication, Thru the Mill, the tale of one man’s experiences as an inmate of the Old Stillwater Prison.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”

Thurs. October 20th @ 6:30 – 8:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

Join the Washington County Historical Society for a night of (relatively quiet) terror beneath the stars as we screen the 1925 silent-film classic “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Warden’s House Museum!

Bring out the family and help re-capture some of the lost magic of watching a movie outdoors!

The screening will begin at 6:30 PM and the museum will be open to the public from 5:30 until when the film begins. The movie will be shown outside so we recommend dressing warm and please feel free to bring lawn chairs & blankets to sit on.

The selection of “The Phantom of the Opera” is not only appropriate for the Halloween season – but also because the film features the performance of Olive Ann Alcorn – a Stillwater native!

This is a free event made possible by WCHS’ generous supporters and donors.

Concessions will be available for purchase.

 

WCHS News

Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories

Sat. October 29th @ 11:00 AM, 3:00, & 7:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

On Saturday, October 29th, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group will host their fourth annual, “Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories” program at the Warden’s House Museum. The free event will be held at the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater.

Encore presentations will be held at 11:00AM, 3:00PM, and 7:00PM. Each time slot will feature the same program and will last about 80 minutes.

For the past 7 years, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group has been performing investigations at such famously haunted locales such as the Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie, WI, Waverly Hills Sanitarium, KY, the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and of course, the Warden’s House itself!

During this free and open to the public presentation, founder Justin Miner and his co-investigators will delve into the truly amazing audio and video evidence they have collected while explaining the state-of-the-art equipment, theories, & techniques used during a “ghost hunt”.

More Events

 

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 46)

A handful of you took a t-churn at guessing the true identity of last week’s zoomed in What Is This Thing?! And a few even managed to guess that yes – indeed this is a butter churn!

So, get it…”t-churn” instead of “turn”! Yeesh, that’s…that’s just even a joke. I’m really sorry everybody.

You know, I put all this time and effort into making puns and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Better. I grew up here in Minnesota, the Land o’ Lakes itself so I should know better. We pride ourselves on being ‘crème de lacrème‘. Next issue, I’ll reevaluate my writing and try my hardest to be less cheesy. You can all cow-nt on it.

…I think I’ve milked this enough.

Eh, hem. Anyways, this is a rather large commercial-grade machine known as a “Union #1 Butter Churn“. On the opposite side of the hand crank, the company went out of their way to even specifically list all the State Fairs at which their design had won awards. Among those was the prestigious 1893 Chicago World’s Fair!

Thanks for playing everyone!

Time to zoom in to our next artifact!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at sean.pallas@wchsmn.org, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News

The Circus Comes to Stillwater!

I think there’s a misconception that county historical societies are 100% and entirely focused on their small narrow pieces of local histories. And while, yes, we will chronicle the lives of our communities’ farmers, politicians, wives, and doctors…these men and women didn’t live in a vacuum.

There are plenty of opportunities to tie historic Stillwater to the big picture of American history. Dan Castello’s Great Circus and Egyptian Caravan’s visit to Stillwater in October 1870 is perhaps one of the most fun.

Now, you may have not heard of Dan Castello (pictured to the right), but he had made a name for himself the previous year by being the first circus to perform on both coasts of the United States in the same season. The endeavor was enormously successful and earned him a reported $60,000 (about $1 million in 2016).

Stillwater was actually one of his final stops on his Egyptian Caravan tour. The whole operation spent the year traveling aboard the 152 foot long Benton, loading and unloading the entire operation at water adjacent venues along the Great Lakes and Midwest. Naturally, this included the highlight of the “Egyptian Caravan”, the 8 camels purchased from the Army after they proved to be unsuccessful replacement mules in Arizona and Nevada.

A staunch Unionist, Castello’s performance also concluded with a satirical depiction of a Ku Klux Klan initiation ceremony. It’s not hard to imagine Stillwater’s Civil War veterans enjoying this jab at the inheritors of Confederate-ideals.

1870 would be the only year Castello would tour with this group, for he was destined for bigger and better things.

In 1871, Castello and his co-investor William C. Coup entered a partnership with the legendary P.T. Barnum. The three revolutionized the circus-industry and would eventually develop the “Greatest Show on Earth”.

Stillwater Republican – October 4, 1870

Dan Castello’s Circus and Egyptian Caravan, are advertised for this city next Saturday afternoon and evening. This is the first circus that has visited us this season, and from all reports, we believe it to be the best show traveling. At all events, they understand the value of printer’s ink, as attested by the flaming advertisement on this page, and their mammoth posters around town.The last are a good show themselves, and triumphs of the art of printing.

There is connected with this show a first class ballet troupe, which is a new featured, and attractive, in the business. Those desirous of seeing a show of this kind had better tend out on this one, as it will, in probability, be the last.

The above information about Dan Castello’s life is from “Grand Entree: The Birth of the Greatest Show on Earth, 1870-1875″. Available online.

Featured Article

Some Whys and Wherefores of Stillwater Prison

from “Thru the Mill” by ‘4342’ – George Bartlett

No changes have been made in these rules for a number of years, to my personal knowledge, as I have seen copies of them dated as far back as 1905, the same as these given here which are quotes from the 18th Biennial Report of the prison for 1913-1914 recently published.

Changes in conditions have not in any manner affected the rules themselves. A good example of this is found by noting paragraph 12, under Shop Rules, just quoted.

Any inmate found with a pencil in his possession, unless he had special permission from the Warden or Deputy, was reported for breach of discipline. But, any prisoner who had the money could purchase a fountain pen from the Steward’s Department, which he might carry and use as he liked. As far as I could learn regarding this ruling, the carrying of pencils was prohibited some time ago in order to keep prisoners from writing notes to each other. When the fountain pens were permitted, the rule regarding pencils was still kept in force, and officers were reporting men for breaking the pencil rule when I left the institution. This is one of the many such rules that make it harder for the poor devil obliged to obey them, with no real advantage of benefit either to him or the institution but a source of worry to both.

An officer said to me one day, “You better not change that,” when I spoke of a short cut I might make in the keeping of my records, “We have been doing it the old way now for 20 years, so we had better not change it.”

It is also stated in the rules governing Guards and Officers, that no prisoners shall at an time be allowed in the yard at night unless in the custody of an officer. During the summer of 1913 a convict affected with tuberculosis received permission to sleep in a tent in the prison yard. When his work was done for the day, he reported to the Cell House with his regular crew, got his supper and went to his tent, in the upper part of the yard, escorted by an armed guard, where he was left the rest of the night unguarded. In the morning he reported to the Hospital Building, near which his tent was pitched, and the officer accompanied him to the Cell House.

Though this prisoner was left all night in an open tent with no guards on the walls and no one to watch him, it was deemed necessary to have an officer go with him and from the tent to see that he did not run away. This was according to the rules, and though the officer who used to walk with him through the yard often told me how foolish he himself used to feel when taking this prison to and form the Cell House, he realized that any deviation from this method of procedure might be cause of his dismissal.

To impress upon the prisoner the necessity of saluting an officer at all times, and in all places, the rules is referred to twice in the Shop Rules, paragraph 4 and 9, and also in paragraph 8 of the General Rules. This was important and punishable by a severe reprimand and mark, or the loss of tobacco privileges for thirty days. When a convict walked through the shops, to be on the safe side, he had to keep his arms waving in all directions like a windmill, or he was liable to a report for “not saluting an officer.”

The tobacco was passed to the cells by the Cell House Captain, Sunday morning just before chapel. No outside tobacco of any kind was permitted. Third grade prisoners at the old prison ate all their meals in their cells, which were dark and gloomy, located in the Dark Block, behind the Library, and shut off from all light from the front windows. At the new prison they eat in a separate portion of the regular dining room, but are given only stipulated amounts of food at each meal, the same in quality as the upper grades. No tobacco, papers, mail or privileges of any kind were allowed third grade prisoners, except bathing and chapel. Letters and papers received fro them were kept until they were advanced to the second grade. Their hair was kept clipped short, and wearing the striped clothing they were marked as bad men and their every move watched.

A list of 43 offenses is given in the rule book, the same list appearing in the 18th Biennial Report, as follows:

Altering clothing, bed not properly made, clothing not in proper order, communicating by signs, defacing property, dilatory, dirty cell or furnishing, disobedience, disturbance in cellhouse, fighting, hands in pockets, hand or face not clean, hair not combed, insolence to officers, insolence to foremen, insolence to fellow prisoners, inattentive in line, inattentive at work, inattentive in school, laughing and fooling, loud talk in cell, loud reading in cell, malicious mischief, not out of bed promptly not at door for count, not wearing outside shirt, not promptly out of cell when brake is drawn, out of place in shop or line, profanity, quarreling, shirking, spitting on the floor, staring at visitors, stealing, trading, talking in chapel, talking in line, talking in school, talking at work, talking from cell to cell, talking in corridor, throwing away food.

After a prisoner has spent his first 30 days in the Silent City, he discovers half a hundred more offenses not mentioned above. These he becomes familiar with, generally by either receiving a severe reprimand, or being reported and sent to court for breaking them. Ignorance of the law, especially in Stillwater prison, is no excuse for the offender.

Note the 22nd offense on the above list, “Loud talk in cell.” I never heard an explanation for this ruling, as it was an offense punishable by solitary confinement to even read aloud or talk to one’s self in the cell. This rule was probably in force years ago when two men were permitted to occupy one cell, and has never been changed on the records.

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Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.