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Murder in Wisconsin:online stories short story
I hadn’t seen Dave Duncan for several weeks and I went out to see him because I had a work project that I wanted to discuss with him and his partner Bill Walters. I could use the help of their ox teams. Although I edit the local paper I also have some land I’m trying to clear for farming. Walters was there and told me Duncan was away on personal business and then told me Duncan said I wasn’t honest and didn’t want to deal with me.
Being a bit suspicious of Walters I went into town and talked to the folks in town. I had known Duncan from the time he came to LaCrosse in 1841.He’d come from Galena, Illinois and built a log cabin in an area known as Mormon Coulee and began farming with a yoke of oxen. Bill Walters who he had known from somewhere came and stayed with him. This was somewhat contradicted by the sheriff’s testimony in court. According to the sheriff they had come here together. I checked back issues of the paper but we had not written anything about them at that time.
. I didn’t know much about him but he didn’t seem trustworthy. Watts never struck me as a reliable type and it didn’t seem like Duncan would have wanted him as a partner. It seemed more like an old acquaintance who was imposing on a friendship. Probably wouldn’t make much difference in the final judgment. Anyhow..
There was always an impressive view of the river from the bluff above their cabin. Qne I often go up there to get a fresh perspective on things. A couple of days later I was out riding in the area above the cabin with my dog trotting along beside my horse. The dog got agitated and ran into the woods leading me to where a body was partially covered by dead branches and leaves. Duncan’s head had been crushed and his throat slit as well. Most of his clothes were gone. I found later another difference in evidence as the sheriffs testimony did not mention the knife wound.
I went to the sheriff’s office when I got to town and found Walters was already under suspicion
The town was in an uproar and demanding action. Walters had come into town and headed for the saloon. He drank all afternoon. He was loud and beligerant bragging about how he had killed his partner in a fight. According to him Duncan had struck him first and he hit him with an axe handle in self-defense.
According to the information the sheriff got from Walters both he and Duncan owned the cabin and they had built it together. They had gotten into an argument over money. Walters asked Duncan for some money. Duncan said he already owed him eighty dollars. They had a fight and Duncan laid the first blow. Then Walters picked up an axe handle and hit Duncan over the head killing him instantly. He then took his clothes and money and what other belonging there were and he then dragged the body up the bluff near a stone quarry and covered it with brush.
Well, he was arrested. The sheriff had Walters view the body and stand next to the casket at the funeral. He showed no emotion or regret. I noted that some men had ropes hidden on their persons and I heard rumors of a lynching.. Fortunately one of the local ministers heard of the plans and convinced them to let the law take care of the situation. Mob violence would be a disgrace to the town.
I put the ministers plea in e paper along with an editorial of my own. I said that the rule of law in important in this country and that if we resort to vigilante justice we are not better than the criminal they want to hang. Somehow the situation blew over.
Incarceration was a problem. We were a fairly new community with a population of about 750 people. We had no jail. They put him in chains and locked him in the basement of a building on Pearle Street. The ceiling above was filled with a layer of broken rocks, so trying to go through the ceiling would result in have stones falling on you.
Somehow Walters dug through the foundation walls and escaped., A couple of days later some boys found him hiding behind a store. He was captured again, chained, locked up and escaped again.
A few days later a stagecoach driver spotted him working as a hostler at a stage stop. He was taken into custody and sent to Bad Ax County where he was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the deliberate murder of Duncan.
Justice never was served in this murder though. When the Civil War started Walters was given the chance for a pardon if he joined the Union Army..He did enlist as a private in December 1861. Then he deserted and was never found.
This story is a fictionalized version of a murder that occurred in LaCrosse, Wisconsin in 1852.
© 2011 Don A. Hoglund