Wednesday, October 30, 2019


It has been over two months since I wrote the initial part of the story of the events that happened in La Farge on that fateful October evening back in 1947.  Since the article was published in July, I have heard from many people about the incident.  They had many different aspects of the story to tell.
            Nearly a decade ago, LaVerne Campbell told me about the shootings that occurred that night to make sure that I knew what he thought actually happened.  He said that Vincent Campton did not commit suicide, as was officially cited as the cause of death, but instead was shot by Ted (Buck) Rolfe that night in the trailer park.  
            LaVerne said that Vincent was a heavy drinker and when he got drunk, he would beat his wife, Thelma, who was the daughter of Buck Rolfe.  She would often flee to Buck’s trailer for safety and to get away from her husband. After several of these incidents Buck Rolfe told Vincent that if he ever hurt Thelma again, he would kill Vincent. As LaVerne told me, “Buck Rolfe was a man of his word.”
            In 2010, as I was nearing the publishing of my first volume of La Farge’s history, I interviewed Dick Johannesen at his house in Viola.  We talked about La Farge history for a couple of hours and during the conversation, he brought up the shooting of Vincent Campton.  Dick told me that his Dad, Finn Johannesen, was the village president in La Farge in 1947.  On the night of the shooting, Vernon County Sheriff Morris Moon came to the Johannesen house to ask Finn to go with him to the trailer park.  (I also have learned that several other village leaders, including Ted Roberts, were requested by Sheriff Moon to go with him to the shooting site that night.)
            Dick told me that Sheriff Moon laid out the crime scene for the village leaders and explained how it appeared that Vincent had shot himself.  There were apparently no witnesses to his being shot.  (By this time, both Vincent and Thelma had been transported to the hospital in Viroqua.)  Unfortunately, the suicide attempt didn’t seem to add up for the sheriff. Apparently Vincent was shot in the back and Sheriff Moon could not comprehend how Vincent could physically accomplish that.  
            “He didn’t have long enough arms.”  Sheriff Moon apparently used this quote that night, and I heard it repeated by Dick Johannesen and several others who talked to me about this incident.  Vincent also had no flash burns on his body, which might have occurred if the gun barrel was held near his body, as in a suicide attempt.  
            Although the facts about the shooting did not seem to line up for Sheriff Moon that evening, the death certificate for Vincent Campton, who died the day after the shooting at the Viroqua hospital, lists death from “a lung hemorrhage due to a self-inflicted gun/bullet wound”.  Dr. Frank Gollin, who treated Vincent Campton at the scene of the shooting incident, ruled the death a suicide.  (Another source told me that although Vincent was near death and barely conscious when he was transported to Viroqua to the hospital that night, he did mumble something like, “He shot me” repeatedly.)
            We now know that Thelma, after quarreling with a drunken Vincent, had fled to the trailer park that night because her father lived there. She had her two-year old daughter, Karen with her.  Eventually she went to another trailer nearby where Lloyd and Velma Kellar lived, as Velma and Thelma were friends.  Vincent burst into the Kellar trailer with a gun and started to threaten his baby daughter, Karen.  Velma and Thelma tried to get the gun away from Vincent.  In the struggle the gun went off, grazing and wounding Thelma. Vincent then fled the Kellar trailer and Velma called the police and doctor.  This part of the story was shared by Dennis Kellar and Rhonda (Kellar) Wemmer and had been passed down to them by their mother, Velma.
            A rather amazing coincidence happened about two weeks after the first part of this story was published.  I had a phone conversation and then subsequent e-mails with Sandra Carmichael, who is the daughter of Karen Rolfe.  (She told me in an e-mail that her mother, Carron K. Campton, had passed away in July of 2015.)  She wrote me that she and her aunt, Anne (Connelly) Stoltz, had been doing research on the Vincent Campton death at the same time as my column was published. 
            After the shootings of October 1947, Thelma left La Farge. Her daughter, Karen Rolfe was raised by Mettie and Art Alvord on their Jug Creek farm.  Mettie was Buck Rolfe’s aunt.  Karen graduated from La Farge High School in 1963 and moved away from the town where she was born.
            Sandra had never heard about the story of Vincent Campton’s death being a possible murder.  (Actually, Karen never talked with her family about Vincent’s death.)   Others always had told her that he died in World War II. When Sandra had started an online search for Vincent’s records, she found a LaCrosse Tribune article about the 1947 shootings in La Farge. She was shocked to learn about the shooting, or as Sandra phrased it in the e-mail, “Her great-grandfather had shot and killed her grandfather.” 
            Sandra Carmichael and Anne Stoltz came to Viroqua in late July to search for information about Vincent Campton’s death at the county courthouse.  They also stopped to visit with Cecil Rolfe, who was the first child of Thelma, born in 1943.  He told his relatives that I had just written an article about the Vincent Campton death that had been published in the Episcope.  That is when Sandra reached out to me about the case.
            In her e-mail, Sandra said that they found Karen Rolfe’s birth certificate of June 1, 1945 and that Vincent Campton was listed as the father.  They also found a marriage record of Vincent and Thelma that occurred on October 25, 1946 at the home of the La Farge Justice of Peace, E.A. Sewell.  Sandra and Anne also stopped at the Vernon County Sheriff’s office to see if there were any records there about the shootings. In her last e-mail to me, Sandra said the sheriff’s office continues to search for any report about the incident.
            “I can’t believe a whole damn town kept this secret for so many years.  Just boggles me on how many people knew about it and did nothing but turn and look away.” This quote from one of Sandra Carmichael’s e-mails does raise an interesting point.
             It does appear that many people in La Farge did think that Buck Rolfe had shot Vincent Campton that October night in 1947.  It also appears that many of those same people thought that a man who beat his wife and threatened to kill his baby daughter probably deserved this fate. More than one person told me, including some members of the Campton family that “He deserved what he got”. “He had it coming”, was another common refrain from many who I talked to.  (In one rather amazing revelation, I learned that one of Vincent Campton’s brothers had been a friend of Buck Rolfe’s over the years after the shooting.) 
            I have been hesitant to write this concluding “Local History Notebook” on the death of Vincent Campton.  In the end, I was encouraged by both Cecil Rolfe and Sandra Carmichael to write it so the story could be told.  It is not a story that adds to the stature of La Farge as a community, but it may be a story better understood with more light shining on it. I suspect many small towns along the Kickapoo have similar tales stored away in dark places.
            Although many have told me that Buck Rolfe shot Vincent Campton that evening so many years ago to protect his daughter and her baby, my writing this column does not prove the fact.  Indeed, the truth of whatever happened to Vince Campton that night probably will never be known.  Instead, this story may shine a little light on a dark chapter in the history of this little Kickapoo River town.  In the end, that may help some. 
            I would like to thank Cecil Rolfe, Deb Rolfe, Beth Larson, Sarah Tunks, Sandra Carmichael, Anne Stoltz, Mike Campton, Dennis Kellar, Rhonda Wemmer, Ron Roberts, Kent Steinmetz, Dick Johannesen, and Winfred Bold for help with information for this article.
            Winfred Bold called me from his home in Janesville after reading the first part of this story back in July.  He shared his memories about that evening and I will end this by sharing some of what Winfred told me.
            He was a senior at La Farge High School in the fall of 1947 and was at a LHS Senior Play practice in the gym on the night of the shooting.  The trailer park was across the parking lot from the school gym where the play practice was being held.  Winfred said the shootings happened sometime between 7 & 8 pm that night.  He said the students heard the ruckus outside and went out to see what was going on.  The police and a large crowd were there, but nobody would say what had happened. He heard later that Buck Rolfe had shot Vince Campton and that Vince deserved it for beating up and shooting Thelma.
            The next week after the shootings, the one-act play contest was held at the LHS gym.  La Farge students performed three plays that evening and the winning play was “The Bad Penny”. 


As I was preparing to finish up on my first local history book, prior to it being printed in 2010, I received a call from LaVerne Campbell.  He wanted me to stop into the C & S Motors garage building sometime so we could talk about something from the past that had happened in La Farge. Actually, LaVerne really wanted to talk to me about one specific event, a mysterious death that occurred in the village in October of 1947. 
             The conversation with LaVerne took place sometime in 2009 and the following May, I met with Dick Johannesen at his house in Viola to talk about La Farge’s history. During that talk, Dick brought up another recollection of his own about that mysterious death that LaVerne had wanted to talk about.  So, armed with those conversations and the newspaper stories of the day, let’s go back to that time.
            The Post-World War II years were a vibrant time in La Farge.  As the men and women who had served in the armed forces during the war were discharged, most returned to their hometown.  Many were recently married and starting families.  La Farge, like many small towns during that time, was immediately hit with a housing shortage – there were virtually no vacant houses or apartments available.  A housing boom began in the village as new houses were being built along every street, particularly those north of Main Street.  However, due to a nation wide shortage of building materials at the time, building new homes was a slow process.  It took time for those houses to be completed and immediate housing needs still had to be met.
            In January of 1946, La Farge municipal leaders learned that the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) would provide the village with ten temporary housing units (trailers).  The FHA trailers (available from military bases after the war ended) would be loaned to the village with the idea that military veterans would get preference to live in them.  The La Farge village board appointed a committee to purchase land for the new trailer houses.  Soon after, several lots just to the south of the schoolhouse were purchased for the housing project.  (This property is currently the school parking lot just to the south of the gymnasium.)  
            The village was also responsible for providing any rough grading, street access and utility lines to the property.  In March, La Farge Village President Finn Johannesen (Dick’s father) and board member Bill Adams went to Chicago and signed the FHA papers so that La Farge would get the trailers.
            In mid-July the ten trailers arrived in La Farge. Because some of the trailers did not have any water or toilet facilities, the FHA also constructed a building on the grounds that housed showers, bathrooms and a laundry for those who lived in the trailers.  Eight of the trailers were standard models (22 feet long by 7 feet wide), large enough for one or two people.  The other two trailers (double-wide’s at 18 by 20 feet) were expandable and large enough to house a small family.  The FHA set rents for a trailer at $15-20 per month, while the FHA also paid the village for all property taxes and utility fees.  The new trailer camp was filled and operational by the end of August. 
            For the next several years, the trailer camp was usually occupied to capacity.  But as more new houses were built in La Farge in those post-war years, the trailers, because of their size and limited amenities became less desirable.  After a few years, the federal government became less involved in providing housing for WW II veterans as well.  In April of 1949, the FHA gifted all of the buildings at the trailer camp to the village of La Farge.  As more and more of the trailers became vacant, the village decided to sell them.  On October 17, 1950 an auction was held at the site and the ten trailers were sold and soon moved.  The utility building remained on the site.
            The school district bought the trailer park lots after the auction.  The utility building remained on the site and when football was started at LHS in the fall of 1956, the building was used to store the player’s football equipment. The new Wildcat football team also used the shower room and bathroom facilities in the utility building that inaugural year.  
            During the evening of Wednesday, October 22, 1947, an incident occurred in the trailer camp in La Farge.  Two people were shot during the evening and one man died. Here is the front-page story about the incident as printed in the October 30thissue of the La Farge Enterpriseunder the headline:

Vincent Campton Dies Thursday Night at Viroqua

            Vincent La Verne Campton, 26, passed away at the Viroqua hospital Thursday night, as the result of a self-inflicted wound he suffered Wednesday night.  Campton shot himself through the heart following a quarrel with his wife, Thelma, during which he shot her in the leg.
            Mrs. Campton had gone to the trailer park near the school to visit her father, Ted Rolfe, after quarreling with her husband.  She had left the trailer home of her father to go to a neighboring trailer occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Keller.  Campton followed her there and renewed the quarrel.  After striking her he shot her just above the knee with a .22 rifle.  He then ran a short distance from the trailer and shot himself, the bullet piercing the edge of his heart.  Mrs. Keller was a witness to the shooting of Mrs. Campton.
            Mrs. Kellar called Mervin Erickson, who was on duty as night watchman, and Dr. Gollin.  Sheriff Morris Moon was called to the scene.  The Campton couple was taken to the Viroqua hospital, where Campton died Thursday night.
            Campton was a veteran of World War II.
            Mrs. Campton is expected to recover.

            I need to add some clarification before we continue. Velma Kellar, (last name is misspelled a couple of times in the article), who witnessed the shooting of her friend Thelma that fateful nightcalled Mike Erickson, who had the night shift as the village policeman (identified in the article as a watchman).  Dr. Frank Gollin, the village’s doctor at the time, was also called to the scene and arranged transportation to the hospital in Viroqua for both people who were shot.  Another article in the next day’s (October 23) LaCrosse Tribunesaid that Vincent “Campton had not regained consciousness at the time he was moved”.
            There is another side to this story, actually an almost completly different version that was told to me by both LaVerne Campbell and Dick Johannesen.  Next time in the “Local History Notebook” we will look at the other version of what happened that evening in the La Farge trailer park.


Throughout the history of La Farge, there seems to have been a near constant complaint about the state of the roads leading into the village.  I’m sure this is true for other small towns in the state, but it is interesting to note how this little town on the Kickapoo seems to be seeking better roads throughout much of its existence.           
            As you watch the employees of Organic Valley drive into La Farge each morning, you wonder what they think of their commute on some really bad roads.  Perhaps we should adopt a rating system for our local roads leading into the village. Since we have so many bad roads leading into La Farge, we should start our rating system on that end.  
            Let’s start with the worst rating, which we can title “Worse Than Awful” (WTA).  Most of Highway 131 going north from La Farge would fall in this WTA category, although there have been some recent patches here and there along the road to Rockton. Those nice patches only accentuate how most of the rest of the road is worse than awful.  Which is rather surprising since this section of Hwy 131 is a relatively new road, being constructed in the mid-1970s to carry traffic around lovely Lake La Farge.  It appears that some of that original road is now in play in some of the deep and cavernous ruts in the present state highway.
            Our next rating could be “Awful”, and Highway 82 going towards Viroqua can easily fall into this category.  The road is generally in poor condition from the Kickapoo Valley to the county seat, with some parts worse than others.  The Vernon County Highway Department probably recognizes the condition of the state highway because they have turned pretty much the whole route into a double-yellow No Passing Zone.  Recent flood damage along this route has led to some minor patching in places, but for the most part, Hwy 82 heading west is just plain awful.
            That same highway leading east towards Hillsboro is a little better, so it can be put into the “Poor” category.  Of course, I live on this road, so I drive it every day. It’s a short hop for me to La Farge, where Hwy 82 really gets “Awful” or maybe even WTA as the village’s Main Street. The village’s elected leaders are formulating a plan to fix up La Farge’s Main Street, but it has been a long time in the making and a finished product still does not appear in the immediate future.
            Highway 131, leading south out of La Farge towards Viola is the best state highway serving the community and deserves an “OK” rating. Flood repairs at Lawton’s seems to be a constant on this road lately and the recent washouts along the highway as it gets to Viola seem to create a constant disappearing shoulder act.  The stretch of this state road from La Farge to the county line at Tunnelville is the newest of our local highways, as it was constructed in the early 1980s.
            The best road leading into La Farge, one that would definitely be rated in the “Good” category isn’t a state highway or even a county road.  Yes, the town of Stark’s Plum Run Road is a good road, mainly because it was reconstructed using Ho-Chunk Nation funds and is not a decade old.  Good planning and use of quality materials by the Ho-Chunk make this a dandy road coming into the village.
            Problems with the roads leading into the village have always seemed to be a problem.  A few Local History Notebook’s back, I wrote about how the businesses in La Farge had paid for the dragging and grading of Otter Creek Road (now Hwy 82) in the spring of 1915.  That stretch of road was a notorious bad spot, but heading out La Farge the other way back then would have produced a worse one – Jordan’s Flat.  This section of road leading in from the east (again, now Hwy 82) was a swampy quagmire that was barely passable at any time except the winter when it would freeze up.
            The stories about getting stuck on Jordan’s Flat are too numerous to mention, but a couple can be mentioned here.  If you farmed at the Jordan place, you needed a spare set of draft horses or a good tractor, because you would constantly be helping to pull mired down vehicles out of mud holes.  One time, a circus that was traveling to La Farge had all of the wagons become stuck in the mud there on Jordan’s Flat.  Using an elephant to pull all of the wagons out seemed like the sensible thing to do for the circus owner.  However, the animal pulled too much and the pachyderm had to be pulled out numerous times when it got stuck.  (They probably had to use all the circus horses to get the elephant out of the mud.)  In the end, the elephant did not survive the ordeal!  That’s right, the road at Jordan’s Flat was so bad it killed an elephant! 
            Jordan’s Flat was so bad that an alternate route along the hillsides to the north operated most of the time.  The alternate upper route started just out of La Farge, skirted the north side of the swampy section, ascended to where our house is currently located, crossed to the east at that elevation going above the Baptist Cemetery and Church (today, the Bear Creek Cemetery), before rejoining the road just past the Gold Mine.  Eventually enough rock, gravel and logs were poured into Jordan’s Flat that it became mostly passable for the entire year.      As a matter of fact, the section of Hwy 82 from La Farge to Hillsboro was the first state road completed to La Farge, opening for traffic in 1939.  The new state highway was graveled at the time, but that section also became La Farge’s first paved highway in 1946.
            Here is how I described that momentous event in Volume I of my La Farge history:  A milestone occurred in the village at the end of July.  State Highway 82 running east from Hillsboro was paved to La Farge, making it the first “treated surface road” to ever enter the village.  As one old-timer was quoted in the village newspaper, “This is the first time in 70 years that a person could get into La Farge over a surface treated road in my 70 years of residence in this village.”  Much of the credit for getting the paving project done was credited to Lester Wood, La Farge’s county supervisor, who lobbied for the new road to his hometown.  Editor Widstrand then went on to call for cement surfacing of Highway 82 to Viroqua and paving of County M running north and south out of La Farge.  In March of the following year, Arnott Widstrand would join Lester Wood as representatives from La Farge to appear at a hearing in Madison to petition the state highway department to pave Highway 131 (former Vernon County road M) from Ontario to Readstown.  Eventually extensive graveling work was done on the old river road by the end of 1947.)
            Now, if you think a protest is in order to try to get some new roads, we have had plenty of that in La Farge’s history as well.  From the 1939 protests for better state roads to replace the railroad that was being pulled out of La Farge to the 1975 bridge protests that stopped the school buses from running, there has been plenty of organized complaints.  (Shoot, there was even a local protest movement to NOT build a new Hwy 131 south of La Farge back in the mid-1970s)  But those are stories for another time.  Watch those potholes and deep ruts in the roads, you never know where they may take you.


Recently a rather momentous occurrence happened in the sleepy little Kickapoo River town of La Farge. On August 28th, the Town Tap, the village’s only bar, offered twenty-cent hot dogs and chili dogs for lunch. Although the chili dogs were delicious, the significance of the event was that it marked the 20thanniversary for Phil & Deb’s Town Tap.  That is a rather long time for a bar or tavern to remain under the same ownership in these parts.
            Phil & Deb Campbell purchased the business in 1999 from Bob & Charlotte Hysel, who had operated the bar from 1976 until 1988 and again from 1994 until selling it to the Campbell’s.  Deb Campbell passed away in 2012, but her name remains on the business to this day.  
            When I was at the Town Tap munching on my chili dogs, I shared some information with Phil about some previous owners of the bar.  I had been investigating who had owned the bar some seventy years before due to a conversation that I had at a family reunion back in June.
            There was a Melvin family reunion on June 15that the Methodist Church on Salem Ridge.  Ruth Clark organized the reunion and a nice crowd attended the event that included a tasty potluck lunch, lots of visiting and looking at family scrapbooks, and walking around the Salem Ridge Cemetery to look at family graves. I was at the reunion because I am the grandson of Isa Melvin Campbell, who was the daughter of Scott and Lucy Melvin. At one time, Scott Melvin owned pretty much all of Salem Ridge, so there are lots of family connections to that place.
            At the reunion, I met Susan Krause, who lives in Potosi.  (Susan makes a living by growing organic worms – isn’t that wild!)  She is the daughter of Charlene (Melvin) Krause and the granddaughter of M.P. Melvin, who ran a grocery store in La Farge for several years.  (Another family connection is that M.P. Melvin rented the store from my parents, who had operated a grocery store there in the early 1950s – more on that Steinmetz Grocery operation later in this piece.)
            Susan wondered if I knew anything about a bar that her grandparents on the Krause side had operated in La Farge.  I did not have any information, but I started digging through my research notes to see if I could find anything.  Sure enough, I did.
            In some of my research notes, I found where August Krause has applied for a tavern license on June 1, 1950.  The tavern was then called the La Farge Tap Room and at the time was the east side of the first floor of the old Opera House building. (The west side of the building was a hardware store at that time operated by Vern and Vivian Heckart.)  
            After a gymnasium was built at the school in 1936, the La Farge Opera House was used less and less for community events.  Herman Abelt purchased the building in the early 1940s and converted it from the original design, which had a huge, open two-story space for the Opera House.  The roof was lowered and several offices were formed on the “new” second floor space. (Eventually those offices were converted to several apartments.)  The street level floor was divided into two places for businesses to operate.  Soon after, taverns started occupying the east side space.   
            In my research on the tavern owners of that era, I found that in 1944, the bar was known as Heckart’s Tavern and was operated by Vern and Vivian Heckart.  A year later, there was another Christmas ad for Heckart’s Tavern, but by 1946, the bar was called the “La Farge Tap Room” and was operated by Bill and Madelyn Cottrill. The bar remained under that name until the Krause’s took over the business in 1950.
            August and Alice Krause renamed the bar the “Tumbler Tavern”.  I found that name for the bar when the Krause’s helped sponsor an ad in the La Farge newspaper for the championship LHS basketball team in March of 1951.  There was also a Christmas/New Year’s ad for the Tumbler Tavern in an issue of the La Farge Enterprise in December of 1950.
            But the Krause’s didn’t stay very long as the bar was called the “Club La Farge” by December of 1951.  That name remained with the bar for most of the next decade of the 1950s with several different owners.  Ray Merwin was one of those owners and he added a back room to the building when he owned the tavern.
            By the 1970s, Jerry and Marie Brickl owned the bar, which they called “Jerry & Marie’s Place”.  They also began a supper club, “The Matador”, in the space on the west side, converting an apartment that had been there.  Brickl’s also renovated a kitchen space between the bar and supper club to serve both businesses.  Bob & Charlotte Hysel bought the business from Brickl’s in 1976 and opened up the supper club to be part of the bar, renovated the kitchen and put in new restrooms. Hysel’s also named their bar, the “Town Tap”, a name that remains today.
            The name of the Club La Farge tavern brought back a memory of a story that Rex Bufton told me many years ago.  It seems that Rex was a bartender at the Club La Farge in the early 1950s.  This was also a time when my parents, Earl and Hope Steinmetz, were running a grocery store in La Farge (at the current site of the La Farge Episcope newspaper office).
            Rex told me that my parents would like to stop in for a drink or two at the Club La Farge after closing the grocery store on Saturday nights. During that time, Saturday nights were crazy busy for La Farge stores and sometimes it would be nearly midnight by the time that my parents got the grocery store closed and locked up.
            Although the bars in La Farge were open until 1 am at that time, there was a village ordinance that no drinks could be served after midnight. Rex told me that sometimes my parents didn’t get to the bar until after midnight.  In order for them to get a drink, Rex would pour out the contents of their drinks into glasses and set them under the bar before the midnight hour struck.  So, they were technically poured before the cutoff hour.  Then when my parents arrived, he would take the drinks out, add some ice and serve them.  It was kind of a “No harm, No foul” kind of thing, I guess.
            By 1954, my Dad had joined LaVerne Campbell in the C&S Motors garage business in La Farge so the late Saturday nights at the grocery store for my parents ended.  They rented the grocery store to my Mom’s cousin, M.P. Melvin, who operated Melvin’s Super IGA Market at the location through much of the next decade.  (And we are once again connected to Susan Krause, the granddaughter of M.P. Melvin.) 
            That post-WW II era was a time of growth for bars in La Farge.  In 1946, Ray Hollenbeck and Doug Gabrielson had wedged a bar into the space between the theater building and Ned’s Pool Hall right across the street from the Club La Farge.  Stan Hollenbeck joined his brother in operating the bar, called the G.I. Tavern, by 1947 and they continued operating the bar through the early 1950s.  But that’s another bar story for another time in this little history of La Farge.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

La Farge's Commercial Club

A meeting of professional men was held at the Masonic Temple on Friday evening, September 3, for the purpose of organizing a Commercial Club.
            Thus began an article in the September 9, 1937 issue of the La Farge Enterprise newspaper about the establishment of an organization of village businessmen.  The article went on to tell what the new club was going to be all about: The purpose of the organization is to bring together the business and professional men of La Farge for the purpose of bringing about uniform business practices, better harmony and to aid in the development of this Community.  It is hoped that through the efforts of the Community Club that La Farge will be selected as the Headquarters for the Kickapoo River Flood Control Survey, and later headquarters for this project.
            At a later meeting held on September 7th of that year, the new Commercial Club elected Ralph Freeze, an attorney in the village as its first President.  Other officers elected in that 1937 organizational meeting were Secretary – Gene Calhoun, who ran a funeral home in the village and Treasurer – Mac Marshall, who owned a Main Street hotel.  The four Directors elected to fill out the Executive Committee of the club were Bernard Brokaw, William Adams, who ran a hardware store in La Farge, Harry Lounsbury, who ran the village’s drug store and Emory Thayer, the manager of Nuzum’s Lumber. 
            At the time that the new Commercial Club was formed, La Farge and the entire Kickapoo Valley were undergoing some dynamic times. As was mentioned earlier regarding the flood control survey, Congress had approved a federal study of the Kickapoo Valley in August of 1937.  The study would be held over the next few years and La Farge’s business community wanted the village to be the center of that project.  Besides the federal flood control study, an impending event of another nature loomed in the immediate future – the abandonment of the Kickapoo Valley’s railroad.
            In August of 1937 a protest meeting was held in La Farge regarding the proposed abandonment of the Valley’s railroad.  At that meeting, the Kickapoo Valley Defense Association (KVDA) was formed with La Farge Village President Arch Davidson serving as president of the new organization.  Davidson had been a leader in the Valley to get the flood control study (In January of 1937, Davidson and Ralph Nuzum, who owned the lumberyard in town, had spearheaded a petition drive to be sent to Congress in favor of the flood control study. The petitions sent to Congress had been gathered by the Kickapoo Flood Control Association, another organization that Davidson served as president.), and now he would lead the fight to save the railroad.
            One of the first things that the new Commercial Club did was to sponsor a Harvest Festival & Fair to be held in La Farge in mid-October of 1937.  The new festival, which featured a parade and a variety of activities was a success and was held under the sponsorship of the new businessmen’s club for several more years. In 1939, all of the businesses in La Farge closed from noon to 6 pm on the day of the festival.
            Later in 1939, members of the La Farge Commercial Club went to Hillsboro to celebrate the opening of the new state highway between the two communities.  The last section of the new Highway 82 had been completed that fall.  With the Kickapoo Valley’s railroad gone by this time, the development of state highways to La Farge was a main concern for village leaders.  With the completion of Hwy 82, La Farge had the first state road to the village. While at the meeting in Hillsboro, the community leaders from both towns also celebrated the re-opening of the Hillsboro Brewery and sampled some of the “Hillsboro Pale” that was again being made.
            The opening of the new state highway between La Farge and Hillsboro was the result of strong lobbying by village leaders, led by Davidson.  When the railroad abandonment became a certainty earlier in the year, the KVDA switched its emphasis to getting new and improved state roads to the Kickapoo Valley.  Because the railroad had been used extensively by many Kickapoo Valley businesses, especially for the receiving of goods to sell, a new and reliable highway system was needed as a replacement.  Davidson and other La Farge businessmen continued to have the state improve and gravel Highway 82 to Viroqua and to have the state designate the old “River Road” (then County Hwy M) as a state highway.
            Having good roads to La Farge had always been a priority for its business community.  In 1915, La Farge businesses had donated money to have the Otter Creek Road dragged and graded.  At the same time, June of 1915, three La Farge businesses – Chase’s, DeJean’s and Householder’s – had placed a notice in the local newspaper announcing that their stores would be closing at 8 pm except for Wednesday and Saturday. Operating hours for local businesses could be a point of contention in a small town like La Farge.  Probably because the stores actually competed for people’s business when they came to town to shop, establishing a mutual time for hours of operation was difficult to achieve at times.  But later that month the community came together to promote La Farge’s 4th of July Celebration.
            A call was made to all the automobile owners in the La Farge area, estimated to be about 75 at the time, for a Booster Club Trip to promote the 4th of July.  Eventually 36 automobiles and around 150 people went on the booster trip that included stops in West Lima, Bloom City, Woodstock, Rock Bridge, Hub City and Yuba in the morning of that last Saturday of June in 1915.  When the booster caravan reached Hillsboro, everyone stopped for lunch before continuing on to Dilly, Valley and Rockton in the afternoon to conclude the trip.  La Farge’s 4th of July Celebration was well attended and successful that year thanks to the efforts of the business community.
            In 1920, the La Farge businessmen united once again to sponsor the La Farge baseball team.  The “town team” was the pride of the village and always seemed to play for a championship each year.  Over the years, the sponsorship by La Farge’s businesses for the ball team was a given.
            During World War II, the La Farge Commercial Club ceased to function as the village turned its attention to various drives to support the war effort.  After the war was over, there were calls for the Commercial Club to again unite La Farge’s business community.  In 1947, the La Farge Development Association was formed and Casey Sanford was chosen as its first president.  Sanford, who owned a men’s clothing store on La Farge’s Main Street, led the new organization in helping with the village’s annual 4thof July Celebration. The new business organization sponsored a raffle for that year’s Independence Day.  The following year, the development association co-sponsored the 4thof July with the newly formed VFW Post.
            In 1949, a Lions Club was formed in La Farge and it seemed to take the place of the previous business organizations.  The president of that first Lions Club in La Farge was Ed Deibig, who owned the Chevy-Buick garage in town.  The new Lions Club sponsored a “Wild West Rodeo” that was held on Labor Day.  The rodeo was held at Calhoon Park, but crowds that first year were small because of rainy weather. 
             That Christmas season, the Lions Club sponsored a “Clock Stops Contest” fundraiser. People would pay to make a guess on how long a hand-wound clock would run. The clock was on display in the front window of one of the Main Street stores.  The clock ran for 92 hours before stopping and a winner was announced with much Yuletide fanfare.
            One of the main projects that the La Farge Lions Club undertook was to build new tennis courts in town.  Using proceeds from several more successful rodeos, the courts were constructed beyond the left field fence at Calhoon Park.  John Ferris, who ran a funeral parlor and furniture store in the village, was key in making the rodeos successful.  Finn Johannesen, who ran a grocery store in town and also served as the village’s president for several years, led the Lions club in getting the tennis courts completed.
            Over the years several different business organizations were formed in La Farge to provide some type of order in the commercial sector of the village.  Some times the individual businesses had to act upon their own.  
            In May of 1947, a notice appeared in the Enterprise that the four grocery stores in town – the Cash Store, Clover Farm Store, Andrews Market and Kennedy’s Grocery – would all be closed during the summer on Thursday afternoons.  The reason given for the new closing hours were due to the late Wednesday nights when the free movies were held on Main Street during the summer.  At a time when those La Farge grocery stores were sometimes open for 15 hours a day, a break was needed for the workers in the store to catch some rest.
            Different times; different needs for this little Kickapoo River town.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


In this conclusion about the strange death of Robert Morris that occurred in La Farge on February 24, 1928, the focus will shift to the legal proceedings to punish a possible murderer in the case.  In the last installment, we learned that several people had come forward to implicate Frank Traister regarding the death of Morris.  Robert Morris had been in the upstairs apartment of Traister, who lived with his family in the Travers Building on La Farge’s Main Street, on the evening prior to his death.  
            Following investigations by the Vernon County Sheriff and a Pinkerton Agency detective brought in for the case, Frank Traister was arrested on an alcohol charge (Traister was known to have run a speakeasy from his apartment).  After questioning in Viroqua by the Vernon County District Attorney, Traister eventually admitted guilt to a 4thdegree murder (manslaughter) charge and was sentenced for up to two years in the state penitentiary.  So that is where we ended last time, but that is certainly not the end of the story.
            In the March 22, 1928 issue of the La Farge Enterprise newspaper, a front-page headline boldly screams out, “TRAISTER CASE STILL UNSETTLED”.  Under the headline, Enterprise editor B.W. Koob, who had been hesitant to print very many first-hand accounts on the case since its earliest phases writes:
            Reliable and authentic reports regarding the proceedings in the Traister case, have failed to reach this office, as it appears there has been several unforeseen obstacles presented.  The following data is taken from last week’s Vernon County Censor:
            It is interesting to see how often the editor of the Enterprise uses other newspapers’ accounts when covering this story. In his original account of Robert Morris’ death, Editor Koob had a lengthy article about the deadly incident. But in the weeks following the strange death, Koob seems to rely solely on other newspapers for presenting information. This practice will continue as Traister’s legal case plays out over several months.  Let us return to the March 15tharticle in the Vernon County Censor that Koob had introduced:
            The case of State of Wisconsin vs. Frank Traister, of La Farge, seems to be arousing considerable interest among our citizens.  Proceedings were had before Judge Mahoney on Monday in which the defendant was sentenced to the Penitentiary for from one to two years on a plea of manslaughter in the fourth degree.
            Prior to that time attorneys had been employed to look after his interest, but no notice was served upon his attorneys of any proceedings and upon learning what had taken place his attorneys immediately appeared in court and demanded that he be brought before the court to ascertain whether or not he had entered a plea of guilt understandingly.  The court refused to order the prisoner brought before the court, but affidavits were obtained stating the true facts in the matter, and Attorney Bennett went to Madison and appeared before the Supreme Court, Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., and that court issued an order directing the County Judge to proceed no further in the matter and to grant the defendant the proper hearing that he might be tried on the merits or in the alternative to show cause before the Supreme Court why he should not do that.
            Besides being one amazingly long run-on sentence, that last part of the V.C. Censor article provides some new information in the Traister case.  First, after initially appearing to have had no counsel in the case, Frank Traister subsequently was being represented by one of the top lawyers in Vernon County, J. Henry Bennett.  It is amazing to think that Traister was originally sentenced in the county court without any counsel, but that appears to be what happened. When attorney Bennett heard what had happened to his client, he immediately tried to get Vernon County Judge Daniel Mahoney to change or vacate the charge, but was denied access to the court.  That prompted Bennett to hop in his Model T Roadster (or whatever prominent attorneys drove back then) and head to Madison to get the Wisconsin Supreme Court to issue a legal stop to the proceedings against his client.  The Supreme Court issued an order for the Vernon County Judge “to proceed no farther”.
            I wonder how Frank Traister, who does not seem to have a job since it is never mentioned in any of the articles, could afford to hire a top law firm to represent him.  Perhaps Traister’s father-in-law, Chancy Parr provided the money.  Parr, a distinguished Civil War veteran and President of the G.A.R. Post in La Farge, was married five times.  Frank Traister’s mother was Chancy Parr’s fifth and last wife. I’m presuming that Parr would have had the financial means to hire the Bennett law firm in Viroqua to represent his wife’s son.
            The La Farge Enterprise printed another Vernon County Censor article in the March 29th issue.  The front-page headline read, STAY ORDERED IN TRAISTER PROCEEDINGS.  The reprinted article followed:
            Viroqua County Censor: All proceedings in the case of Frank Traister, La Farge, execution of whose sentence of from one to two years on a plea of guilty to manslaughter in the fourth degree in connection with the death of Robert Morris on February 24th, has been held up, have been suspended pending a return to the supreme court writ by Judge D. O. Mahoney ordered for April 7th.
            Traister, who is still held in the Vernon County jail, was not arraigned in court yesterday to which time the case had been adjourned.  Judge Mahoney has ordered a stay of all proceedings until a return on the alternative writ issued by the supreme court, demanding that the sentence be set aside and Traister given a trial is made.
            From this article in the V.C. Censor, we can deduce that attorney J. Henry Bennett was able to get the Wisconsin Supreme Court to halt the proceedings of the Vernon County Court against his client.  Although still in the Vernon County jail, Frank Traister at least did not have to go to the state penitentiary in Waupun.  Getting a new trial and getting out of jail was another thing all together.
            In the April 19, 1928 issue of the Enterprise, there was this article listed under the headline, “TRAISTER CASE TAKEN UNDER ADVISEMENT”:
            Norwalk Star:Whether or not that Frank Traister, La Farge man being held in Vernon County jail in connection with the death of Robert Morris, also of La Farge, will be admitted to trial over his plea of guilty for manslaughter, will be determined by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
            The Supreme Court on Saturday took the appeal of attorneys under advisement, whether it will issue a peremptory writ of mandamus ordering the Vernon County court to withdraw his plea of guilty, and be tried.
            Attorneys C. J. Smith and J. Henry Bennett, for the defendant, took the case to the Supreme Court on the allegation that Traister was “railroaded” into court to plead guilty unbeknown to his counsel.
            Following the legal proceedings for this case proved to be tricky.  Back in 2013, when I first started research on this murder case, I went to the Clerk of Court’s office in Viroqua to see if they had the records.  The records for that far back (1928) were no longer there, but had been transferred to the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) to be archived.
            The WHS had deposited the old Vernon County court records at the WHS Area Research Center (ARC) at the Murphy Library on the UW-LaCrosse campus.  I had done some previous research at that site, so I made contact with the folks at the ARC to see what they could find.  Ed Hill, retired librarian and local history aficionado, did some digging for me and sent along a copy of the registration of official documents by Vernon County in the case.  From this document, I was able to get a better picture of the time line regarding the legal proceedings.  (Ed Hill later called me about what he had sent regarding the Traister Case.  He said that all of the hearing and court proceedings were on file at the UW-LaCrosse ARC and could be viewed there.)
            The La Farge Enterprise provided the next information on the Traister Case in the May 10, 1928 issue.  Under a front-page headline that read Traister Gets New Trial, the article read:
            The county court of Vernon County must receive the application of Frank Traister to permit him to withdraw his plea of guilty to manslaughter in connection with the death of Robert Morris, also of La Farge, the supreme court held on Tuesday of this week.  Traister is now serving a sentence of one to two years for alleged offense. 
            Traister was arrested on a charge of violating the prohibition laws and while being held in the county jail he was persuaded to plead guilty to manslaughter in connection with the death of Morris. Morris was found nearly dead at the foot of the stairway leading to the living quarters of the Traister family, and is believed to have died as the result of a skull fracture. 
            Traister had an attorney who was told that the only charge against him was the one involving an alleged violation of the liquor laws and this case was set before a justice of the peace.  The attorney waited at the justice’s office but found that while he had been waiting Traister had been induced to plead guilty to a manslaughter charge.
            After Traister’s attorney, J. Henry Bennett, had obtained the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that his client should have a new trail on the manslaughter charges, the Vernon County Court had to act.  On May 16th papers were filed in the county court as a “Petition of Frank Traister to withdraw plea of guilty and Judgment vacated filed”.  At the same time, an “Order setting aside plea and sentence filed” also appeared on the listing of legal filings in the case.
            Three days later an order was filed in court for the Vernon County Sheriff to continue to hold Frank Traister in jail.  On that same day, May 19, 1928, another order was filed requiring “bail and commitment after arrest and before trial”.  On June 27th, a notation on the filings in the Traister case notes read, “Bail Bond, certificate of deposit for $500.00 filed”.  By that time it appears that Frank Traister was out of the county jail for the first time since he had been arrested back in early March.
            Traister, this time with his attorneys present, was back in the Vernon County Court in early October.  On the 5th of that month, an “Affidavit of Order for witnesses of indigent defendant” was filed and a trail was held three days later. The court record shows that Traister was “Tried by Jury who return a verdict of “not guilty”.  The next week’s issue of the Enterprise had a short notice that Judge Mahoney had dismissed the Traister case due to a lack of evidence.  I am assuming that the editor of the La Farge newspaper had it wrong on the outcome of the Frank Traister case, but regardless, Traister was a free man.           
            Although arrested on a “liquor charge” originally, then subsequently sentenced to time in the state penitentiary on a manslaughter charge, Frank Traister eventually was not found guilty of anything.  
            Later in 1928, in an October issue of the La Farge Enterprise, there was a notice in the school news section that May Traister, 2ndgrade and brother Harold in 4thgrade had perfect attendance for the first quarter at the La Farge School.  They were the two youngest children of Frank and Cora Traister.
            Life went on, except of course, for Robert Morris.   

Thursday, May 9, 2019


The first time that I ever heard about the murder of Robert Morris was when I was talking to my aunt, Alice Lawrence, twenty years ago when I was just starting this little local history project.  We were talking about some events from La Farge’s “Dark Side” from the past and she brought up the death of Morris.  She did not remember Morris’ name, but did remember the Traister name and where the family lived at that time.
            She said that Frank Traister ran a speakeasy in the upstairs apartment that he rented at the old Travers Building then located on Main Street.  According to my Aunt Alice’s version of the story, Morris, Traister and some other men were drinking and playing cards late at night in that apartment.  She said that they caught Morris cheating at cards and the other card players threw him down the stairs.  From the fall down the stairs, Morris broke his neck and he was found dead the next morning, lying on the sidewalk in front of the building. My aunt’s version of the story leads us into a continuation of looking at the aftermath of the death of Robert Morris.
            Let us return to the year of 1928 and take a look at the lead story in the March 8th issue of the La Farge Enterprise newspaper.  It began under a headline of “New angle In Morris Death”:
            While it is hardly possible for the Enterprise to issue statements with a degree of authenticity relating to the disaster which befell Robert Morris, on Thursday two weeks ago, we have been able to secure certain facts connected with the case which we believe we are free to publish without fear of contradiction.
            Shortly after the funeral of Robert Morris, Frank Traister was taken into custody by county officials, and after a hearing at the county seat, was placed under $1,000 bonds, which, being unable to furnish, caused the officers to place him in the county jail.  His trial was set for Monday, March 12th, according to plans in force at the time this is being put into type.
            Herman Henthorne, a farmer living a few miles from Viroqua, who with Harley Harris, of the village, were inmates of the Traister apartment at the time of the accident, were taken to Viroqua, where, in the county attorney’s office, certain details of the case which were not brought out at the inquest held on the day following the death of Robert Morris, were made to present a somewhat different angle regarding the death of Robert Morris.
            With these opening paragraphs in the Enterprise article, the story that was told to me by my Aunt Alice starts to come together.  Vernon County Sheriff Martin Larson arrested Frank Traister and took him to the county jail in Viroqua.  While there, Vernon County District Attorney Martin Gulbrandson questioned Traister about the night of Morris’ death.  Let’s return to the Enterprise article:
            Frank Traister has made a signed confession that he was standing at the top of the stairway and witnessed R. Morris roll down the stairs, from which catastrophe he is supposed to have received the blow which soon afterward caused his death.
            At the time this is being put in type, Wednesday afternoon, the county sheriff, in company with a special representative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, of Minneapolis, are in the village, going over the scene of the accident, and putting certain parties who are more or less involved in the case, through the third degree.
            The editor of the Enterprise, perhaps to protect the reputations of Frank Traister and the other men in the apartment that night, is loathe to declare the death of Robert Morris a murder.  The story published in the March 14, 1928 issue of the LaCrosse Tribune does not show the same constraint.  Under a headline of “Hold Evidence In Morris Death Case Points to Foul Play”, the article in the Tribune read:
            That Vernon County authorities have in their possession sufficient evidence on which to arraign Frank Traister, La Farge, on a murder count, seemed a certainty as the probing of the mysterious death of Robert Morris went forward today.
            Most important of this evidence divulged today by Martin Gulbrandson, district attorney for Vernon County, was that blood stains were discovered on the upper landing of the stairway, leading directly into the Traister residence, and below which the frozen form of Morris was discovered by a laborer at 5:30 on the morning of February 24th.
            Authorities point to this evidence as the most conclusive of any yet uncovered in connection with the case, since it has been maintained by Traister and his associates that Morris sustained the severe skull fracture, contributing to his death, in his tumble down the stair case.  It indicated to authorities that an assault had been made and aided in bearing out their contention that foul play had been committed.  Other evidence authorities are believed to have in their possession has not been divulged.
            C. A. Hedin, St. Paul, special investigator brought in on the case, went over the ground with Sheriff Martin Larson yesterday, making a trip to La Farge and discussing various phases of the case with Vernon County officials. The findings of the special detective were not disclosed, but he was to remain with the authorities until the case was cleared up.
            District Attorney Gulbrandson over long distance today said that meanwhile Traister, who was placed under arrest last Friday, and from whose stairway Morris was said by him to have fallen, was being held on a liquor charge.  He (Gulbrandson)said the preliminary hearing was set for Monday, but said the arraignment on this charge would be postponed in the event other clues pointing to Traister’s implication in a murder count were uncovered.
            It appears from this account in the LaCrosse Tribune that Frank Traister was originally arrested on the “liquor charge”, or that Traister was running a speakeasy of sorts out of his Main Street apartment.  Remember that this event occurred during the days of Prohibition in the United States, so there are federal and state laws in effect regarding illegal bars or taverns, “speakeasies” being in operation.  The Tribune article then goes on to capture the mood in La Farge as found by conversations that the reporter had with residents of the village.  The article continued:
            Through its own investigation, carried on in the city with parties who have recently been at La Farge and who know personally the persons involved, The Tribune learned today that considerable feeling is in evidence in that village, the majority of residents contending the action should be brought on a charge of murder.
            Complete disregard on the part of the Traisters of Morris’ well-being after his injury was explained here as a means they adopted in endeavoring to cover up on any possible connection with his injury, it is alleged.
            Morris was known to have sought liquor at the Traister home on the night previous to his death, spending close to an hour before 11:30 that night in Traister’s quarters.  He was believed to have departed around midnight, and lay at the bottom of the stairway until 5:30 in the morning, when he was found in a dying state, with his hands and feet frozen.
            Detective Hedin was scheduled to question Traister at the Vernon County jail today.  Authorities previously have questioned him and on all occasions he has maintained that his original story – that Morris was injured in the fall – was the truth.
            It is interesting that although the editor of the Enterprise did not want to speculate on the alleged murder as the Tribune article had done, the local La Farge newspaper did reprint the entire Tribune article in the March 15thissue of the Enterprise.  The following week (March 22nd) the La Farge newspaper reprinted an article about the Morris murder case that had been originally printed in a Viroqua newspaper, the Vernon County Censor. Although the Enterprise account led with the following disclaimer, “Reliable and authentic reports regarding the proceedings in the Traister case, have failed to reach this office, as it appears there has been several unforeseen obstacles presented”, the VC Censor, again like the Tribune article the week before, was reprinted in its entirety.  The lead paragraph in the VC Censor article read”
            The case of the State of Wisconsin vs. Frank Traister, of La Farge, seems to be arousing considerable interest among our citizens.  Proceedings were had before Judge Mahoney on Monday in which the defendant was sentenced to the Penitentiary for from one to two years on a plea of manslaughter in the fourth degree.
            Piecing the information from the several articles together, it appears that Frank Traister, who was originally arrested on alcohol – related charges, eventually admitted to having a part in Morris’ death, probably after questioning by the detective and county sheriff.  Perhaps to avoid being tried for a more severe offense, Traister agreed to plead guilty on the manslaughter charge.  It appears that Traister was headed for a year or two in the state penitentiary at Waupun.  Or was he?
More next time on the murder of Robert Morris.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Murder or Not? The Death of Robert Morris

Although I have tried to focus on the positive when writing this little history of the community of La Farge, there are some bad things that happened in the town as well.  I have not ignored the negative entirely.  Back in 2010, I wrote about the death of Sam Hook, a storeowner in Seelyburg who died under mysterious circumstances as his general store was being robbed and set on fire.  That two-part Local History Notebook about Sam Hook’s unusual and tragic ending in 1917 detailed how his death was investigated thoroughly.  In the end though regarding the death of Sam Hook, nobody was ever prosecuted for a crime, although Seelyburg residents always contended that he was murdered.
            Eleven years after Sam Hook’s death, another mysterious death took place on Main Street of La Farge.  It involved the death of Robert Morris, who died on February 24, 1928.  The circumstances of Morris’ death and the legal maneuverings that followed make for another interesting story from La Farge’s past.  To begin, let’s look at the story of the death of Robert Morris as told in the March 1, 1928 issue of the La Farge Enterprise newspaper.  The headline on page 1 of the Enterprise read, “Robert Morris Found Lying Unconscious On Sidewalk Friday”. A sub-headline under that lead read, “Both Hands Frozen and Face Covered With Blood”.  The article in La Farge’s weekly newspaper at the time continued:
            Excitement ran high in the village on last Friday morning when the intelligence was passed about that Robert Morris had been found on the street just before daybreak, almost frozen to death.  The unconscious man was first discovered by John Mullett, who chanced to pass by the stairway leading to the second floor of the Travers building, heard a strange sound, at first thinking it might have been a dog that had crawled up the stairway seeking shelter from the extremely cold night air.
            Let me interject here that the Travers building is the former post office in La Farge, the brick building that last housed a real estate office and sat between the current post office and the Zzip Stop. It was torn down a few years ago after it started to fall down.  For more information on the building, check out my Local History Notebook columns when I wrote about it in 2013.  In 1928, the building had a covered outside stairway that led up to the second story apartments.  Now; let’s return to the Enterprise article:
Upon drawing closer, however, Mr. Mullett discovered the sound issued from the numb human, who was lying on the snow-covered walk with his head resting on the lowest step of the stairway.  Mr. Mullet immediately hastened to the Central Hotel next door, and divesting the knowledge of his discovery to those within the hotel, who were already about, lost no time in notifying Marshall Showen, and as quickly as the village official arrived on the scene of the tragedy, he, with two other men, loaded the unfortunate onto a handsled and placed him on the cot in the village lock-up.
            The Central Hotel was located where the present post office of La Farge sits.  Beside the hotel there was another large store building that would have been next to the Travers building.  Both of those buildings burned down during the great hotel fire of 1942.  When Robert Morris was sledded to the jail by Village Marshall Showen and others, they probably only had to go a block or so. Taking the severely injured man to jail seems like a strange choice, especially when you had warm rooms at the hotel right next door.  But there are lots of strange occurrences involving this case, so let’s return to the newspaper story:
Not once since the man was first discovered until life became extinct did he regain consciousness.  Immediately after the man was placed on the cot, Dr. Haggerty was called, but his services were of no avail, as the man’s life ebbed before he arrived.  Parties who remained with the man after he was placed on the bed say that he opened his mouth once or twice, but that was the last and the only sign of life.
            At the inquest and hearing held in the afternoon, conducted by the district attorney and county sheriff, the details of the case were brought out. Depending on the strength of our memory, this is the way we got the run of the dope:
            “Run of the dope”?  That sounds like something from a present day song infused with hip-hop slang. Dr. Eber Haggerty, who was called to the jail to pronounce Morris dead on that cold February morning in 1928, lived a block away from the jail.  His house that contained an office for his medical practice sat across the street from the newly constructed Masonic Temple that would be formerly dedicated later that year.  Meanwhile, back to the story:
            It appears that quite late last Thursday evening Robert Morris mounted the stairway of the Travers building, a portion of the second story of which is occupied by Frank Traister and his family.  Morris, knocking on the door, made inquiry of Frank Traister, who answered the knock, if he could get something to drink.  Upon receiving an answer from Traister in the negative, Morris turned from the door and Traister closed it and went back to his chair.  Perhaps a moment afterward a commotion was heard within the hallway, and upon investigation, it was found that Mr. Morris had fallen down the stairway. With the aid of a second party, Frank Traister carried the man to the doorway of the Central Hotel, where inquiry was made regarding the engaging of a room, but was told that the house had no rooms available.  Morris was then taken back and deposited at the bottom of the stairway, where it was presumed he would soon be able to collect his senses and repair to a place of warmth and shelter for the night.  The accident, as near as we were able to determine, happened about 11:30 in the evening, and if the man remained outside from that time until he was found in the morning around 5 o’clock, small wonder that his fingers and hands were frozen white, when one remembers that a temperature of between 12 and 15 degrees below zero prevailed throughout the night.
            First of all, it is important to know that in 1928, the United States had Prohibition in effect, so there were no bars or taverns in La Farge.  It does seem interesting that Robert Morris goes to the Traister apartment at nearly midnight on a Thursday evening to get something to drink.  Another interesting part of the story was that Frank Traister and somebody else (and don’t you wonder who that person was at that time of the night) carried a badly injured Morris over to the hotel to get him a room. That seems like a decent thing to do. But then Traister and his buddy drop off Morris back at the bottom of the stairs to sleep it off.  There is not much compassion in that determination.
            Perhaps, Traister could have let Morris stay the night in his apartment where the injured man could recover from his fall. At the time Frank Traister and his wife Cora had four children who lived in that second story apartment in the Travers building.  The children were John, aged 14, then there was Floyd, 12; Harold, 9 and little May or Mae (found it spelled both ways) Traister aged 7.  With all of those kids, perhaps there wasn’t any room in the apartment for the injured man?  But wouldn’t you think that Morris could have been laid on the kitchen floor to get him out of that bitter -15 degree cold night?  Frank Traister does not seem to have much compassion for Morris in this situation.  We perhaps will learn more about why that may have been, when other information starts to come out about Frank Traister.  (Don’t forget about little May Traister, the 7-year old daughter – she may be a key in this case.)  The newspaper article continued:
            Arrangements were made Saturday afternoon to conduct the funeral on Sunday, but all such plans were cancelled when those closely related to the deceased were advised by county officials that a post-mortem examination would be held over the body on the following Monday.  It appears that a more thorough and careful search of the premises upon which the tragedy occurred, by village and county officials, brought to light certain complexities connected with the matter which they wished to investigate and to effect a possible solution thereof. 
            Following the post-mortem examination of the body, on Monday afternoon, by local and deputy state medical examiners, the funeral was held Tuesday, at 2 o’clock, at the Free Methodist Church in the village.
            Mr. Morris was a man of close to 40 years of age, and only until quite recently, was in another section of the country, but returned to La Farge last fall and had been making his home with his brother, John.  We have endeavored to report the particulars of this case to the best of our ability.  As is always the case when an accident of this nature occurs, one will hear a great many and different stories, but we have tried to adhere only to those statements brought out at the inquest.
            Thus ended the newspaper article about the death of Robert Morris.  As mentioned in the concluding paragraph, there were many stories swirling around La Farge regarding Morris’ untimely death.  Some of those stories had more merit than others and soon, more stories about that frigid February night on La Farge’s Main Street would surface.  Next time in the history blog, we will continue to look at the unseemly death of Robert Morris.