1869 murders

The Legend of Bloody September
In 1869...four area men were murdered and two others were hung by angry mobs....

By Rose Clark
Juneau County Historical Society

Newspapers across the nation attacked the law enforcement and judiciary of central Wisconsin in 1869. From September 13th to September 25th, and within a 40-mile radius, two murders were swiftly followed by two lynchings. The day before the last lynching, another murder took place in Lemonweir Mills businessman, Richard H. Davis. On September 25th, a sixth murder took place near Necedah.

The story begins on July 27, 1849 when Schuyler Gates, his wife, and six children arrived in Kilbourn, now known as Wisconsin Dells. He built a toll bridge across the narrowest part of the Wisconsin River in the Upper Dells between what is now Blackhawk Island and Adams County. This bridge did much to open the present Juneau County to settlers. His wife died a few months later on October12, 1849. Some years later, Gates opened a photographer business in Kilbourn.

In 1866, Gates began to sell his property and prepare for retirement. He was in his sixties so a few eyebrows were raised a year later, in 1867, when he married a 23-year old young woman, name Mary Ann Cusick.

In 1868, Gates and his young bride embarked on a trip to visit Gates' daughter in Kansas. They loaded their belongings onto several small boats and with $2200 in cash and "marked" bonds tucked into his money belt they embarked down the Wisconsin River.

While camping on an island in the River near Arena they were attacked by two masked bandits. They pistol-whipped Schuyler and left him unconscious, then assaulted Mary Ann, tied her to a tree, and made-off with the $2200. Mary Ann struggled free and got her husband into a boat and brought him to a nearby farm.

After being on the threshold of death for weeks, Gates recovered and was able to testify before the grand jury that he and Mary Ann had been attacked by the notorious Pat Wildrick and his partner in crime, Pat Welch.

Wildrick was soon arrested and found to be carrying $1,100 and "marked" bonds. The case case was to be held inJuneau County Circuit Court at the 1869 fall term.

Wildrick had the reputation of being one of the toughest, meanest outlaws in the Territory, a real early day 'bully boy'. He arrived in Juneau County in 1854 or 1855 and bought a farm in Summit. He was not a farmer, but the leader of cut throats well-known in the Wisconsin River Valley. Prior to her marriage to Gates his young wife had been on very friendly terms with Wildrick. A short time before the attack on Gates, Wildrick had been released from a two-year prison term in the Waupun Penitentiary for assault and battery.

Early on Sept. 13, 1869 Gates crossed the bridge to Sauk County to pcik cranberries. The bridge tender conversed with him. Fifteen minutes later, two cohorts of Wildrick also crossed the bridge.

About 8 a.m., Mr. Schmaltz, a Reedsburg farmer, reported a body on the road about three-quarters of a mile beyond the bridge.

Citizens at once gathered and went to the spot. Among them, a new photographer H. H. Bennett, who photographed the body, with six bullet wounds, as it lay in the middle of the dirt road that is now Trout Road.

Gates was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery where a prominent gravestone to this day is inscribed with the word "murdered."

Meanwhile, Wildrick was in the Portage Jail for a robbery. Most citizens were convinced that this had been a "phony hold-up" to give him an alibi while his accomplices murdered Gates inorder to prevent him from testifying against Wildrick at the trail.

Feelings were running high when Wildrick's short-tempered attorney, William Spain, got into an altercation in Portage with a fellow Civil War soldier named Barney Britt. Spain pulled out a pistol, shot, and killed Britt.

They had been bitter enemies since serving together in Company D, 19th Wisconsin Infantry, Portage Company during the Civil War. Hounded by a mob crying "hang him" Spain sought protection by surrendering to the Portage Marshall, who placed him in lock-up.

The mob soon broke down the doors, dragged Spain to the nearest tree and hung him. The very next evening, in Lyndon Station, Mauston, Baraboo, Portage, and Kilbourn, men were seen quietly gathering. They all seemed to be wearing overcoats and hats low over their eyes even though the weather was warm. The train to Portage was full, as was the stage coach from Baraboo. A crowd estimated at 125 to 150 men gathered outside the jail in Portage. They forced open the door, tied-up the Sheriff and his Deputy, found the necessary keys and opened the locks to Wildrick's cell.

With none of the rushing and shouting that had accompanied the lynching of William Spain the men grabbed Wildrick, placed a noose around his neck, dragged him out of the jail to a tree in a nearby ravine and hung him.

Wildrick's father, Daniel Wildrick of Kilbourn, went to Portage to retrieve the body. Putting his son in a coffin on a wagon, he started for Kilbourn intending to bury him in the Catholic Cemetery.

He was refused burial, and departed toward Lyndon Statoin. Patrick Wildrick is buried in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery near Lyndon Station.

The sixth murder took place on a marsh near Necedah on September 25th. Frank Provensal, a man of mixed blood, was shot by Bill Dandy, son of Chief Dandy. Provensal was living at Petenwell, and was a well known river man. Dandy was brought to trial in Mauston but the jury could not reach a verdict. The State eventually dropped the charge.

And the murder of Lemonweir Mills businessman, Richard H. Davis, remains unsolved.

return to home page