Wednesday, December 28, 2011


  I am at the museum door, looking through the glass at the nearly dark streets.  The wind is blowing and snowflakes rush by nearly parallel with the earth.  In this dusk, I can almost see the figures of yesteryear wrapped tightly in their scarves, hurrying up the street.  Perhaps they go to shop, or visit friends in their warm lamplight homes.  Perhaps they are going home to their children, never thinking that they would be shadows in the future, known only by the scraps held within these walls. Perhaps they would know some of those in our “known by to God” picture portrait file.  The lesson of that file is to use a simple pencil and put the names of those loved ones on the back of the picture, so that they will not join this gallery of the lost. 

     Time conquers all, and our vision of days to come is clouded perhaps as an act of mercy by the all knowing one.  What did they think about the future a century ago?  There were dreamers and inventors who tried to pull back the curtain and see the future.  Some succeeded, some failed plausibly, and some visions were absolutely ridiculous.  We can presume that our forecasts are similarly a mixture of fog and fantasy.  There were those who saw a dark future, but generally optimism pervades the writings of those prophets of a century ago.  The twentieth century was not to be all enlightenment and improvement of the human condition.  Even with the strides forward the good was twisted to the service of evil. 

     On June 23, 1911 Thomas Edison, the scientific wizard of his day made his predictions for life in our time in The Miami Metropolis.  He predicted that railway trains would “be driven at incredible speed by electricity (which will also be the motive force of all the world's machinery), generated by "hydraulic" wheels.”, but most

High speed rail as envisioned in 1911

travelers, he predicted would fly through the air “swifter than any swallow, at a speed of two hundred miles an hour, in colossal machines.”  He predicted that gold would no longer be a precious metal, saying; “We are already on the verge of discovering the secret of transmuting metals, which are all substantially the same in matter, though combined in different proportions."  Lastly he predicted that books would be printed on sheets of nickel, so thin that a book two inches thick could contain 40,000 pages.  Though wrong in the method he was right about what we now call the “E-reader.” 

    Many saw better roads in the future reaching to every corner of the nation. Others thought roads would become obsolete.  Why use trains or cars when flight was at hand, no doubt soon to become available to everyone? The Wright Brothers had proven the practicality of air transportation on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk. One article called “Shopping In the Year 2007” read: “Mrs. Darlington's head carried the information that, the latter would stop for Mrs. Mauley in her aerocar in about ten minutes--! So within the next quarter of an hour   the ladies were flitting through the air from their homes in one of the Middle West states toward New York, the Mecca,

Teaching and learning through brain waves

of all shoppers.  At the end of their hour's ride they were landed by their chaufigoer on the roof of the International Trading Company's huge store that occupied the site of

Tourism in the year 2000

old Central Park and contained all the department stores of the city under one roof.”

     In 1911 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, sociologist, writer, and utopian feminist predicted the separation of women from cooking: “In 50 years hence, maybe 100, humanity will find other work to do besides feeding itself. People will pur­chase cooked food and the work will be done by experienced, well-paid cooks. "The average woman is a poor cook with

Cosmopolis – the city of the future as seen in 1911

leanings elsewhere, Two-thirds of the income is wasted by keeping her In the kitchen. The following generation of children will grow up with no longer the Idea of mother be­ing 'only mother,' for she will have a profession."  It doesn’t appear that she was too far off the mark.

     Some predictions seemed ideal to some and ominous to others.  George W. Sheldon, a shipping magnate from Chicago and early founder of the Chamber of Commerce in the United States believed that business interests would come to rule America.  “It will not matter much in the fut­ure which party holds the reins of Government. The routes to be driven by the holders will be dictated by the National Association of Chambers of Commerce. Business men will not only indicate to Congress the legislation necessary for the development of our commercial interests, but also exert a powerful influence in shaping laws for our international well-being.” I leave it to the reader to decide to what extent his prediction was correct.

     Farming and conservation were becoming recognized factors in our future. Mary Houston Gregory wrote a book called “Checking the Waste” (1911), in which she said the future would bring better use of natural resources, and improved farming practices.  Water power for electrical generation and mill operations should replace coal, she said because; “We have been -- prodigal in our consumption of coal. In the past fifty years its per capita use has increased twentyfold, and should the increase con­tinue, the year 2,015 A. D. predicts the U. S. Geological Survey, will see the ex­haustion of our mines.” Fortunately, the predictions of the time that gas would be gone by 1936 and coal by 2015 were far too pessimistic, but she did all too accurately see the ruin that the byproducts of industry would cause.
     She advocated many of the methods of pollution and erosion control that are now commonplace; “The remedies must be thoroughgoing-The soil must be saved from erosion by the planting of forests and by the storing of the flood waters of rivers. The neces­sary elements must be restored by a sci­entific rotation of crops. Coal must be economized by the substitution of low-grade fuels, by the consumption of wood wastes, and by the development of water power. Our forests must be safeguarded by fire protection, by legislation regulat­ing cutting of trees, and by systematic replanting. Insects are to be kept in check by encouraging the nesting and the increase of species of birds which will prevent their depredations. The birds, moreover, thrive only where trees are abundant; conservations of all Kinds go hand In hand. Grazing lands, on which the supply of animal food is largely de­pendent, must be supervised by a proper control, fisheries fostered both by direct culture, and by preventing the poisonous by-products of factories from Injuring our waters.”

In October of 1912 William J. Gaynor, mayor of New York, advocated tax financed health and welfare programs operated by units of government. It was reported that the Mayor allowed a period of fifteen years in which he predicted that the Government would take over practically all the present-day functions of philanthropy. “In the fulfillment of God’s time” he said “all the people now dependent on charity will be taken care of by the Government.  I know of no reason whatever why men at work who are injured by machinery or those who become sick and incapable should be turned out and not taken care of.  My own notion is that the State is bound in morals and good conscience to take care of them.” That battle is still raging today.

    The specifics of future invention and development are still clouded in mystery to us, as to them, but with regard to the aspirations and conflicts of the citizens of this country, a greater clarity is shown by the study of the past.  There will always be conflicts between the desire to keep for one’s self all one can and the compulsion of our Charitable selves to help neighbors in need, and keep some of our beautiful world unspoiled.  Some see Central Park as becoming a suitable airport, and some see a beautiful place to preserve at all costs.

     So tonight I look with eyes not of today out into the night, and I recall the words of King George VI’s Christmas Broadcast of 1939. To a nation facing the uncertainty of war he quoted poet Minnie Louise Haskins, saying:

 "I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The old man looked around.  Things were getting very settled.  The farmland was cleared.  Roads crossed the land.  There was talk of railroads everywhere.  Steamboats regularly passed on the river.  He was 74 years old now, but still tough and spry enough to dream of the distant shore he would lead his family to - California.  His son was there and gold continued to flow from the land.  He decided to sell out, leave Platteville, and join a wagon train bound for the far west.  Some of those leaving Old Grant were headed for Oregon and some for California.  He was confident that he could make it, and God knew he had seen much more rugged traveling.  He had been west many years ago. He had been one of the first Americans to see the Pacific Northwest.   In 1804 he had signed on with the Lewis and Clark expedition; the “Corps of Discovery”, favored project of President Jefferson who had just shepherded the Louisiana Purchase (announced July 4, 1803). Jefferson wanted to know what the new nation had bought.  The old man had suffered more than most by his own failings, but he had persevered.  He was the only member of the Corps of Discovery captured by the cameras lens.  For more than 20 years he had lived in Southwest Wisconsin; first in Elk Grove, and then in Platteville.  He had been happy farming the land, a citizen of a new territory; just one of many citizens.

     His name was Alexander Hamilton Willard.  He was born in Charlestown, New Hampshire on August 28, 1778.  By 1800 he had moved west to Kentucky.   On June 9, 1800 he joined the United States Army.   His induction papers showed him as a blacksmith. It was in the routine and inglorious service of the nation as an army private that his opportunity to intersect with history occurred.  He was physically strong and handy with his hands.  He knew ironwork, gun repair, and a little carpentry.  He was an accomplished hunter.  In short, he was the kind of man that would be needed to get the expedition up the long rivers and over the endless plains and mountains that entailed the massive west.  He was enlisted in Captain Amos Stoddard’s artillery company at Fort Fayette (modern Pittsburgh).  He went west when Stoddard’s company was assigned to Fort Kaskaskia (near Ellis Grove Illinois – 75 miles south of St. Louis).  In November 1803 Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived to recruit troops for the expedition.  Eleven men were recruited from fort Kaskaskia, six from the infantry company commanded by Captain Russell Bissell and five from the artillery company commanded by Captain Amos Stoddard.  In January 1804 he joined the expeditions company. On May 14, 1804 the expedition commenced.

     The story of the Hardships and triumphs of the Corps of Discovery are well known.  Many articles and books recounted the story at its bicentennial, which we justly celebrated as an extraordinary feat; a feat requiring, as Steven Ambrose’s book title trumpeted, “undaunted courage.”  Despite his accomplishments, Alexander Hamilton Willard is not generally known or celebrated in Grant and Lafayette Counties where he resided from 1827 to 1852, a span of 25 years.  Perhaps this is because he did not promote himself or his deeds.  Years later, a grandson Austin J. Willard Wrote to an inquirer: “I would not give a penny to have every man woman and child in America know that I was the grandson of one of the men who went with Lewis & Clark. I would not give a fig to know if I was the great grandson of Simon Willard or anyone else. Grandfather crossed the Plains in 1852, had no trouble with Indians or any adventure worth relating.” To those who have viewed even dimly the panorama of his life, such an attitude is unfathomable.  Perhaps his grandson felt, as his grandfather apparently did, that greatness is not inherited, it is earned. Here is how Alexander earned his:

    He and George Drouillard, the chief scout were the primary hunters who went to shoot game needed to feed the members of the expedition.  He was good with horses and was responsible for their care. He did many things well, but did have several mishaps.  He was a young man like many of the others, and they abused the whiskey.  As a soldier on a military venture he had to take his turn at guarding the camp while the others slept.  On July 12, 1804 at Camp New Island north of the present day Kansas-Nebraska state line Sergeant Ordway found him asleep while on Sentinel Duty.  This was potentially a capital offense punishable by death, because failure to keep guard could have resulted in the death of all.  The captains convened a court-martial.  Willard pled “Guilty of Lying Down, and not Guilty of Going to Sleep."  The verdict was guilty, but death was not the sentence.  He was sentenced to one hundred lashes over four consecutive days, a punishment so awful that he could well have died, but he didn’t.  In August He left a tomahawk at the previous night’s encampment and was ordered to return and retrieve it.  On the way back, fording a stream, he lost hold of his rifle and it sank into the deep water.  As he could not swim, Reuben Field was sent to dive in and retrieve it. 
     He didn’t give up; he didn’t bury himself in bitterness.  He grew up and did better.  Soon he was trusted to negotiate purchases with natives.  He walked with the others, he nearly starved with the others, and he carried loads in long portages when the rivers were impassible.  While hunting he was attacked and almost caught by a Grizzly Bear which chased him almost into the camp.  Vicious Grizzlies were the bane of the expedition.  In the winter of 1804-1805 he used his blacksmithing skills to make iron weapons to trade to the Mandan for food.  In Montana in August 1805 Clark named “Willard’s Creek” after him.  In early February of 1806 he cut his knee badly while butchering Elk, but like all the others he had to keep moving.  By the end of that month he was taken with fever, and remained ill and weak until the end of March, but he still had to travel onward.  He continued to hunt and bargain with the Native Americans along the way for food.  In late August of 1806 he was swept into a raging river in his canoe during a thunderstorm and almost drowned. Despite these hardships, he and his men collected samples of the unique plants and animals of the west for Jefferson’s collection.

     In September of 1806 they were finally back from the long voyage.  Lewis and Clark were treated as national heroes.  The men of the expedition got double pay ($166.66 for Alexander) and 320 acres of bounty land.  Most now had to take up the pursuits of ordinary men, making a living.  In 1806 Willard took up residence in Saint Genevieve Missouri where Henry Dodge, future territorial governor and Senator from Wisconsin was a deputy sheriff under his father.  On February 14, 1807, Valentine’s Day, Alexander Willard married Eleanor McDonald of Shelbyville, Kentucky.  Eleanor was the younger sister of Christiana McDonald Dodge, wife of the same Henry Dodge (married 1801) who was to play so large a part in Wisconsin’s history.  Alexander and Eleanor had twelve children, five daughters and seven sons.

     Willard bought land in Missouri and kept in touch with William Clark.  In June 1807 Clark wrote the following to General Dearborn, the Secretary of War:  "Sir: . . . The Saukees wish to be furnished with a Blacksmith, one has offered to go to the Nation who is a farmer in this neighbourhood (Willard) with a large family. He performed these duties, and on July 1, 1809 was employed by Clark as a blacksmith for the Shawnees and Delaware.  He is said to have participated in the Indian war of 1811 with Tecumseh.  In 1812, when the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) were threatening hostilities Willard served Clark as an express agent (bearer of dispatches) from Saint Louis to Prairie Du Chien, at serious risk to his life.  Clark wrote to the secretary of war: “The views and intentions of those Bands of Indians whome we have suspected were hostily inclined, are no longer to be doubted; the Winnebagoes are Deturmined for War. On the 8th instant a party of that nation [Winnebagees] (some of whom were known) fired on my Express [Alexander Willard] about 40 miles above the Settlements, who was on his return from Prarie de Chien, the Mines & Fort Madison, on the 9th an American Family of women & children was killed on the bank of the Mississippi, a fiew minits before the Express passed the house. . ."

     Between 1825 and 1827 Willard moved from Missouri to Illinois.  He stayed there but a short time, and in 1827 moved to land near Elk Grove, Lafayette County, Wisconsin.  He purchased and cleared land for himself and his sons.  When the Blackhawk War broke out in 1832 he, and four of his sons served in the militia.  One son, George Clark Willard, was injured, losing the use of his right hand.  Alexander H. Willard then in his 50’s, enrolled for two months in Captain DeLong's Company, Iowa Militia beginning June 3, 1832 and was mustered out on 20 August 1832.  On June 6, 1836 Alexander suffered the senseless death of his son George.  A letter written to the Galena Northwestern Gazette and Galena Advertiser explained it: 

SIR: — The citizens of this county have been much excited by the late atrocious murder of Mr. Geo. C. Willard, a justly esteemed and worthy member of society, cut off in the bloom and vigor of manhood by the assassin hand of one Lyndon B. McUmber, late a deserter from the U.S. Army and Fort Winnebago, and formerly an inmate of the Sing Sing State prison of New York:  On the 6th ult., McU. came to the house of the deceased, armed with a large club, for the purpose of taking away a son of his wife, (by a former husband), whom they had entreated Mr. Willard to take and bring up as an act of charity - being utterly unable to provide for their family, honestly or otherwise, as the whole neighborhood can testify. Mr. Willard took him under his protection, and treated him as his son. The boy had been living with him since last fall, during which time McUmber had once taken him forcible from Mr. Willard for the purpose of carrying on more extensively his pilfering in the country; but the youth (be it said to his credit), refused to aid or abet him in his dishonest career, for which he received a most unmerciful beating from the heartless miscreant, when he fled for succor to that friend whom he knew was ever ready to protect and defend him.
    Mr. Willard was absent from home when McUmber came on the 6th June, and demanded him of Mrs. Willard; but, returning while McUmber was searching for him, he desired him to leave the premises, which he was formerly forbidden to intrude upon, on account of having stolen from Mr. Willard and otherwise harrassed him, by repeatedly threatening to kill him; but, McUmber refused to go away, and being armed, as before stated, with a club, Mr. Willard stepped into the house and procured his gun to defend himself and save the boy from the clutches of the wretch, who had formerly sold him to a citizen of this county as a slave until of age; seeing McUmber riding towards the spot where the youth lay concealed in the field, he mounted his horse to follow him; but McUmber perceiving that he was pursued, returned and [-illegible blot-] and encountered Mr. Willard, striking him a tremendous blow on the left arm with the club. Mr. Willard, having considered the sight of the gun a sufficient protection from any assault, was thus disabled in that arm, not anticipating so bold a manoeuvre, and having been wounded severely through the wrist of the right hand, in his country's service at the battle of the Bad Axe, in the late Indian War so that he could grasp nothing strongly in that hand, his gun was wrested from him by McUmber who immediately ran off with it.
    Anxious to gain possession of his property, Mr. Willard pursued him three miles, and came up to him at the Diggings of Mr. Stuart, having no firearms, and riding with a small dead stick, (which was sworn to at the inquest), only, where he repeatedly desired McUmber to "lay down his gun and go away, and he would not harm him." But McUmber advanced upon Mr. Willard and said "stand off, or I will shoot you," and then passed on two hundred paces farther - Mr. Willard still riding in pursuit, striking at him, though not near enough to inflict a blow. At this juncture they were partially hidden from the view of the witnesses, by an intervening ridge, when the report of the gun was heard, and McUmber was seen running from the spot, on foot, where he had so basely fulfilled his impious threats.
    Mr. Stuart hastened to the place, where lay weltering in his blood, this noble, generous man, the pride of his family, the darling and idolized son, brother and husband, thus untimely torn from his beloved wife and unconscious babes, and hastened into unexplored futurity. He had fallen from his horse on his breast, having been shot through the head - the ball entering to the right of the left ear and passing through the brain, out at the top of the forehead. Mr. Stuart stated that he was speechless and suffering the agonies of death, when he left him in search of the assassin, in company with Mr. R. R. Willard, who nobly forebore to shoot him when he discovered him, choosing rather to deliver him over to the laws of the country, although he had just witnessed the dying struggles of his beloved brother, thus basely murdered without the slightest means of defence.  So died one of his sons, but life requires stoic determination to persevere, so Alexander went on.  Between 1844 and 1850 Alexander sold land to his sons, establishing them as farmers, and he moved to Platteville.  One son, Alexander Hamilton Willard Jr. went to California in 1849 and settled near Sacramento

     Willard decided to go to California too.  He had heard of the gold fields and the growing wealth and opportunity of that new land, and he determined to sell his land, organize an ox drawn wagon train and go.  In 1852, 74 year old Alexander with his wife, some of his children and their families, and some others prepared a train of 49 people and left Platteville for the Sacramento Valley of California. On the way they lost only one man and some livestock.  He applied for more Blackhawk War bounty land in California in 1856, naming as his representative and attorney Hon. Henry Dodge of Wisconsin to receive the Bounty Land Warrant.  He eventually owned land in Lake County and Yolo County near Sacramento.  In 1860 his land was valued at $8,000.00 and his personal property at $2,000.00.  In early 1865 Alexander wrote his son Joel and offered to give him his land if he would manage his ranch and care for his mother.  He said he could not do the work and he did not feel he would live much longer.  His long life ended on March 6,1865.  He was 87 years old.


     Alexander Hamilton Willard is buried in Franklin (formerly Georgetown), California about 20 miles south of Sacramento.  In 1943 The Mountain Democrat and Placerville Republican of California carried and article headed “Franklin’s Pioneer Willard Trekked 3000 Miles with Sacagwea.”  It reported that “Very little is known about the early settlement by folk now living there.  They merely tell that the old folk have died off who knew anything about it.  Mrs. Smith, brilliant widow of the town, who was born in 1872 frankly admits she knows nothing of the whereabouts of the pioneers.  When she learned that the grave of Alexander Willard, one of the members of the Lewis & Clark expedition, had been outside her front door for the seventy years she has lived there, the lady was flabbergasted.  One ventures to say that before a fortnight has passed the whole town of Franklin will journey out their back doors to read the dimly outlined letters:
“Alexander H. Willard”
Died March 6, 1865
Aged 87 years 7 months

     We in Southwest Wisconsin seem to remember even less of this man and his life than they had in California.  Since the 1943 article the state of California has designated his grave as a landmark and a plaque is there to remind the occasional visitor of who this man was and what he did.  Perhaps we should take a few steps to memorialize him for those who occasionally come here in the future looking for the shadows of a man who showed the spirit of our young country in the things he did.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


My sister Melanie wrote these words for a friend of a friend to sum up what she has learned from her experience with cancer. We all await the day when that word will prompt; "cancer?  What's that?." This Christmas let's pray that the day comes soon when cancer is a historical reference and nothing more.

To my unknown friend, 
In the world of cancer we are blood brothers/sisters. We are two people walking the same path, strangers brought together by circumstance. There are people who will tell you that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to them….I am not one of them. However, it is not the worst thing either. There are things that I have learned along the way. There are blessings that I don’t take for granted anymore. There is a reason for everything, I may not know today what it is, but there is still a reason. Below are some random thoughts that I wanted to share with you:

1.     CANCER - it is a tough word. They don’t call it the big ‘C’ for nothing. Once you get used to the word in relation to ‘you’ it gets a little easier. It is not a death sentence anymore. Think about it – you probably know more people who have survived cancer than who have not.
2.     There is no right or wrong way to deal with cancer. Whatever helps you make it through your treatment is the right way for you. Don’t worry about putting on a happy face for others – it takes too much energy. However, after you get through the shock you will find that there are many reasons to be hopeful if not happy. It just feels better to believe in happy endings!
3.     Give yourself permission to have good days and bad days. No one gets out of this journey without running the gamut of emotions. Some days you will be afraid and pessimistic and other days you will feel strong and optimistic.  Beware the middle of the night, when the house is quiet and everyone is asleep but you, that’s when you will think too much and sleep too little. But know that morning will come and the sun will shine again!
4.     It is not your fault regardless of what you ate, drank, or did. It is the luck of the draw and you pulled the short straw. Don’t beat yourself up thinking about what you should/should not have done. Yes, we should all believe what our bodies are telling us. We should pay attention to symptoms and signs. We should go to the doctor sooner. Ok, we know this now so let’s move on.
5.     Recognize that in some ways it is harder on your loved ones than it is on you. They want to make it better for you and they cannot. It is especially hard on spouses, children, siblings, and parents who feel it is their job to protect you. You are the one going through it, so you know that it is unpleasant but doable, but your friends and family will worry that you are hurting or sick.
6.     Amazingly a lot of people will be nice to you just because you have no hair. Strangers will hold the door open for you. People you haven’t seen in years will tell you they are; “praying for you”, “sending good Karma your way”, “wishing you good thoughts”, “sending you good vibes”, or just plain “thinking about you”. How lucky is that, the whole world is on your side when you have cancer.
7.     Remember that this is an opportunity to strengthen friendships and family relationships. You will say “I love you” more often and others will too. You will learn not to sweat the little stuff because, really in the long run, most of the stuff we squabble about in life is pretty silly. You will re-evaluate the choices you made in life, the friends you picked, the person you married. If these are the people standing with you today you can feel good that you made the right decision so many years ago.
Good luck to you my unknown friend. May you fight a good fight with dignity and grace. 

1890 Rosa Mystica Holy Card: "It is in the midst of thorns the Christian seeks the crown of the rose"

Monday, December 5, 2011


     Grant County and Potosi particularly was untamed frontier territory in 1844.  A wide open community of merchants, river men, drunkards, slave-owners, and brawlers was revealed to the visitor, and many of those who visited wrote in not so endearing terms of the town.  Of course, most were decent hard working citizens and immigrants trying to make a new life in the “pale of settlement” beyond which the countries natives held sway and you traveled at the risk of your life.  This frontier brought from all over the world opportunists who had a temperament as wild as the land.  Charles Latimer was one of these.

     He was born in Great Britain on August 28, 1810 and baptized at All Saints Church, Oxford on 18 February 1811.  His father, Edward Latimer was a wealthy wine merchant and Master of Heddington Manor, Oxford.  In 1823 Charles went to Westminster School, where he was made a King‘s Scholar in 1824, but he left in 1826 at age 16 to seek his fortune in the wider world.  He did not attend a university as his older siblings had, but directly entered upon the study of law.  He was made a Freeman of the City of Oxford on 23 July 1832, meaning that he could enter into business and vote in that city.  Charles emigrated to America in May of 1836 and died in Potosi on February 23, 1844 at the age of 33.  How he came to his end, and what he did in those eight years made both a sad and remarkable story.

     When his death was reported in the Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette on June 29, 1844 he was described thusly: 

“Mr Charles Latimer united in his own person a rare combination of qualities. He possessed a sound mind in a sound body. His mental powers were broad and massive, and his acquirements and information extensive. He had great decision of character; and though his will was powerful, and his feelings strong, he was remarkable for coolness and self-possession. He was ingenuous and candid in the highest degree, and his kindly and cheerful spirit endeared him to those who enjoyed his unrestrained intercourse and intimacy.” 

Our local legend is that it was in his strong feelings and “candid” nature, along with alcoholic tendencies and a streak of paranoia that he found his troubles and eventually his death.

     When he came to America it was rumored that he went to Canada to participate in the “Patriots’ War”, a rebellion to establish and independent republic led by Robert Nelson, William Lyon Mackenzie and others. These “Patriots” invaded Canada from the United States in 1838 and were defeated by the British colonial government.  After the defeat Latimer acted as an agent for Mackenzie’s publication, Mackenzie’s Gazette selling subscriptions, and pushing Mackenzie’s cause in Chicago. 

     Latimer next appears as a lawyer in Rockford, Illinois in 1841.   In those days in the Rock River valley of Illinois a secret criminal organization plundered the citizens of the then sparsely populated country.  There were few agencies of law enforcement to stop them.  The members of this organization covered their crimes by appearing to be regular farmers and townsmen.  By secret contacts they managed the theft of horses and goods and conveyed them to nearby fellow gangsters, so that they did not seem absent for long when the crimes occurred and suspicion did not fall upon them.  They also managed a counterfeiting operation.  John, William, and David Driscoll and their family members of DeKalb County were the managing directors of this enterprise, planning, directing and controlling the activities of the gang. Their activities encompassed most of the country from Texas to Ohio.

       Eventually a vigilante group called the Regulators was formed, composed of respected citizens and led by one John Campbell.  Charles Latimer and two other lawyers were members of this group.  The regulators took the law into their own hands, horsewhipping those found engaged in horse stealing and other crimes. Eventually they confronted the Driscoll’s who were ordered to leave the country.  Rather than capitulating, the Driscoll’s called a meeting of the syndicate and David and Taylor Driscoll were given the task of assassinating Campbell.  On Sunday June 27, 1841, after he and his family returned from church late in the day, Campbell was shot through the heart by David Driscoll who had hidden in the brush nearby.  Campbell’s wife recognized the fleeing assassins.  After Campbell’s funeral the men of Rockford, roused to murderous wrath, took up their guns and rode to avenge Campbell’s death.  They caught John and William Driscoll, but not David or Taylor.  With hundreds of locals of all professions present, including ministers, lawyers, sheriffs, and justices of the peace an impromptu “trial” was held in at a place called Washington Grove.  Several lawyers spoke for the Driscoll’s and Charles Latimer spoke “for the people.” In the history of Ogle County Illinois his speech is detailed:
    “Latimer, for the people, made a vehement address, saying that nothing but blood would palliate the crimes that had been committed, that as long as the gang of outlaws were permitted to remain on the earth, no community would be safe from their depredations and crimes. The Driscoll's if not the head centres and authors and instigators of the untold robberies and murders that had been committed in the country, were at least accomplices, and had shared in the plunder. He maintained that the people were justified in taking the course they had, that their safety demanded it, that the murder of Campbell must be avenged, and that if the actual murderers could not be found, those who planned the foul deed must suffer in their stead, and concluded by urging the immediate execution of John Driscoll and his son William.  These arguments had the effect of stilling the clamors of those were called the "weak-kneed", and to dispel from the minds of the prisoners all hopes of a stay of proceedings.
The men were formed in line, numbered, and divided into two death divisions, as nearly equal as the number would permit, fifty-five in one division and fifty-six in the other. One division was detailed to the execution of the old man, and the other to the execution of William. The old man was lead forth first; his eyes were bandaged, and he was made to kneel upon the earth. All things in readiness, the signal to fire was given, and the old man fell to the earth, riddled and shattered to pieces with the charges of fifty-six rifles.
William's fate came next. In the last hour, abject fear overcame his former boldness, and his hair turned almost white. In a semi-conscience condition he was lead forth, and in a few minutes his body was riddled by the discharges from the other fifty-five rifles, and lay bleeding and quivering by the side of his father.”

     One hundred and eleven of these regulators were indicted, tried, and acquitted for the lynching of the Driscoll’s, but not everyone in the community approved of the act.  The Rockford Star was vehement: “And had it come to this that in a land of civilization and Christianity, blessed with as wholesome a code of laws as man's ingenuity ever invented, a few desperadoes shall rise up and inflict all manner of punishment, even DEATH, upon whomsoever they please? Shall all Civil Law be sacrificed and trampled in the dust at the shrine of Mobocracy?  After the issuance of the Star criticizing the regulators, the office of that publication was broken into, and the type scattered and trampled.  The Editor and publisher, Mr. Knappen sold out and left town.  The History of Rockford and Winnebago County reveals: “Thirty years later Mr. Thurston (Henry Thurston owner of the Rockford House- a boarding house) divulged the fact that D. S. Haight, Charles Latimer and Adam Keith were the perpetrators of this mischief.”
Perhaps Latimer’s practice suffered as a result of his part in this vigilantism and vandalism.  At any rate, he moved to Grant County Wisconsin and in seeming mockery of justice, again took up the practice of law in Potosi.

     In Rockford the report was: “February 23, 1844, Charles Latimer, a former lawyer and well known citizen of Rockford, was shot at Potoski, Wisconsin.” The name of the small town was misspelled.  What had happened?  The accounts vary considerably but the 
history of Grant County (1881) describes the events leading to his 
death as follows:  

“The death of Charles Latimer in February, 1844, at the hands of 
one Gloster, at Potosi, created at the time much local excitement 
and was characterized as "the most tragical occurrence that has 
disgraced this portion of the Territory for years.

"Latimer was an Englishman by "birth, and had fled from Canada 
in consequence of his participation in the patriot war. He was a 
lawyer by profession, a man of brilliant parts and a ripe scholar, 
but unfortunately addicted to intemperance and the abuse of the 
American eagle. The former habit was viewed according to the 
custom of the time, with a great deal of tolerance, the latter with 
quite the reverse.

On the evening, about the middle of February in the saloon of 
Clark & Woods, Latimer became involved in a discussion on 
the right of foreigners to vote, and during the discussion he 
animadverted somewhat severely upon American character and 
customs, when he was knocked down by Gloster, who was present. 
Latimer continued his remarks and was again knocked down, he 
making no show of resistance. Soon after this, having in the 
meantime indulged in more liquor, Latimer approached Col. White and charged him with being the cause of his having received a 
black eye. The Colonel was a professional gambler, a Kentuckian 
by birth, and a man of fine physique and polished manners, who 
had the reputation of having upon more than one occasion "winged his man." The tone used by Latimer was highly insulting, and the 
Colonel immediately knocked him down. This was on Saturday 
night. On the following morning Gloster went to Latimer, begged 
his pardon, and they parted apparently good friends. On Monday 
morning, a note was received by Col. White from Latimer asking 
for the satisfaction usual among gentlemen. The challenge was 
accepted, and weapons rifles, at one hundred yards agreed upon, 
the time being set for the next morning. Gloster acted as the friend 
of Col. White, Latimer being also provided with a friend who acted as his second. At 3 o'clock on the morning of the intended meeting, the two principals were arrested and held to bail. This however, 
only resulted in changing the place of meeting from Wisconsin to 
Iowa Territory. Promptly to the hour all were on hand, and the 
principals posted. At this juncture, Samuel Morris, an Acting 
Constable of the county, James F. Chapman, Justice of the Peace, Maj. John R. Coons, and one or two others appeared upon the 
scene to assert the majesty of the law and act as peacemakers. 
Being worthy citizens and men of honor, averse to all such bloody proceedings, they went earnestly to work to stop the combat and 
succeeded. After much solicitation, both parties agreed to refer the dispute to a committee, who after a review of the case, decided 
that it was a misunderstanding all around, and no apologies were 
necessary on either side. The reconciliation having been effected, 
they returned to town and all might have been well had not 
malicious busybodies whispered in the besotted ear of Latimer that Gloster had further intentions against his person. Maddened with 
the fumes of the poisonous liquor, each day added to his frenzy 
until the erstwhile talented gentleman was reduced to an 
irresponsible maniac. On the night preceding the fatal encounter, Latimer was again informed that Gloster had used menacing 
language against him. In the state of delirium which then 
enveloped him, this was like touching a match to powder, and 
after passing a sleepless night, Latimer armed himself with a Bowie knife and two horse pistols, one of which, in his deranged 
condition of mind, he loaded with powder and the other with ball 
and sallied forth to met his foe. Intercepting Gloster as he was 
going to breakfast, he fired at him once, but as the pistol was only 
loaded with powder it simply burned and blackened his face. 
Gloster cried that he was unarmed and asked his antagonist not to kill him, and the latter told him to go and arm himself Gloster 
hastily withdrew, and some time afterward re-appeared armed with a double-barreled shotgun. Latimer had been impatiently awaiting his return, whittling a pine stick with a Bowie knife in the 
meantime, and as his eye caught sight of the man approaching with the gun in his hand advanced with raised pistol. His gait, however, was unsteady, and his aim uncertain. Gloster cocked his gun and 
raised it to his shoulder, but retreated step by step until he came to an open culvert where the branch runs near the corner of 
Lewis' store. Here he stopped and warned Latimer and his friends 
that if he advanced a step nearer he would fire. The words were 
unheeded, and a second later, poor Latimer lay weltering in his 
gore. Samuel Wilson who was his friend and intimate, and who, 
during the morning had made several unsuccessful attempts to 
dissuade him from his purpose, received him in his arms as he fell and conveyed him to a place nearby where he expired. The 
authorities were strongly censured for not preventing this untimely meeting. Gloster surrendered himself to the officers, and, upon 
examination, was acquitted on the ground of self-defense. He 
remained but a short time in Potosi after the commission of the 
deed; and died a few years later in Chicago.”
     At home in Great Britain the incident was seen differently; “Several weeks since a rumour reached Oxford that Mr. Charles Latimer, son of Edward Latimer, Esq., of Heddington House, near this city, had fallen in one of those fatal affrays which are the 
disgrace of some portions of the United States… This tragical 
affair is veiled in mystery. Of the circumstances which led to it nothing is known here beyond the vaguest rumour, and from the 
Report to which we have referred, it would appear, that even on 
the spot the facts are unknown, and that it is attempted to screen 
the living at the expense of the dead.  Mr. Charles Latimer united 
in his own person a rare combination of qualities. He possessed a 
sound mind in a sound body. His mental powers were broad and 
massive, and his acquirements and information extensive. He had 
great decision of character; and though his will was powerful, and his feelings strong, he was remarkable for coolness and 
self-possession. He was ingenuous and candid in the highest degree, and his kindly and cheerful spirit endeared him to those who 
enjoyed his unrestrained intercourse and intimacy.”

There is certainly sufficient character assassination in the American newspaper accounts to agree with the British sentiment that in conveying the story, Latimer was portrayed as a crazed alcoholic maniac, perhaps wrongly. The Grant County Herald maintained that “He has sustained the reputation of a peaceable citizen, of a talented lawyer, and an honest man,--but he was intemperate, and this will account for his strange, reprehensible conduct.” This has the sound of an “us versus them” apologia.  He was a foreigner, he insulted our country, he was a drunk who pickled his brain so much that he became a mad, paranoid, and lunatic.  Surely all this was his fault; the survivors said so, but was it so?
     In Rockford Latimer was a founding member of the Whig Hill Lyceum, a debating society.  No doubt his forensic abilities were formidable.  Rev. Edward Mathews, the abolitionist, who was himself threatened and run out of Potosi by its pro-southern thugs spoke well of Latimer even though he was against abolition: “I announced a lecture, or, if any wished to defend slavery I invited them to discuss the question at the meeting. Mr. [Charles] Latimer, a lawyer, an Englishman—from Oxford, my native city—arose and remarked that as one state could not make laws for another he did not see how those who were endeavouring to procure emancipation could reconcile their movements with the doctrine of state rights… I regret to add that Mr. Latimer died by the hand of an assassin in Potosi.” Latimer was a man who loved civilized debate.  He fell at the hands of men who, being of southern extraction, held to the code duello for any perceived affront, and yet the story is that Latimer challenged his killer and hunted him down.  Of course the other side is that Latimer was impetuous and, though a lawyer a veteran of gross acts of lawlessness in the “Prairie State.”  He had been a party to an extra legal execution, but he had also seen enough bushwhackers and banditti to know that safety could not be assumed on friendly assurances.  Perhaps Gloster and White were spreading rumors in an attempt to draw him out for easy execution.  Latimer had not even loaded his weapons correctly according to the accepted account.  It seems highly unlikely that a man going out to risk his life would be so careless. There is no allegation that Latimer was drunk at the time of his death, rather he supposedly went to confront Gloster in front of a saloon. Gloster then procured a loaded double barrel shotgun from within the saloon, and allegedly fired on Latimer only when backed into an area from which retreat was impossible.  It is alleged that Latimer, seeing the man armed with a shotgun strode toward him and shot first with his recklessly prepared pistol.  This would be obvious suicide and makes no logical sense.

    We will probably never know the full and accurate details of the death of Charles Latimer.  He left his country and came to a wild frontier, becoming in the process as wild as country itself.  He was not a lawful man, feeling that in a land with no law a person could take the law into their own hands.  In time, he fell victim to the lawless character of the frontier which was Grant County in those days.