By Jacob Mathias
It was a night of torrid love affairs, lynch mobs, vengeance and murder.
Over 60 people gathered by the Portage Co. Courthouse on Oct. 18 for the second annual Murder on Main Street tour.
The walking tour was developed by Erik McFarland, a defense attorney with the Wisconsin State Public Defenders Office and member of the Portage County Historical Society. Research into Stevens Point led McFarland to create the tour which traces homicides occurring in the earliest days of the downtown district.
“I found all these great stories about really interesting murders that happened within walking distance of each other,” he said. “History is much more fun when you can be in the spot where it happened.”
By using historical records, court documents and newspaper articles, McFarland was able to determine where the various homicides actually took place in the city’s current position. He said many of the street names are different, and a number of the buildings burnt down, so finding exact locations was a challenge.
The tour is held every year on Oct. 18, the anniversary of Stevens Point’s only recorded lynching — and the only double lynching in the state of Wisconsin. The first stop of the tour is at the northwest corner of the courthouse, where the victims of the lynching were locked in what was then the jail.
“Perhaps it’s the darkest day in our county’s history,” said McFarland.
On Oct. 18, 1875, two brothers, Isiah and Amos Courtwright, were forcibly removed from their jail cells by an angry lynch mob and tied to the back of a buggy. The mob and buggy proceeded to drag the brother south on Water St. before stopping near where the Portage Co. Healthcare Center now stands.
The two were then hung with nooses from a large jack pine tree, where they died.
According to McFarland, the brothers were hanged after they shot and killed popular Sheriff Joseph Baker, who was trying to mediate a land dispute between the Courtwrights and another family, the Richardsons.
The full story can be found on the PCHS website.
The remaining homicides on the tour include polyamorous love affairs, a horse deal gone bad and an angry husband whose wife ran away to live in a “house of ill repute.” Many of the more lurid details were difficult to find as the female stenographers of the time were asked to leave the courtroom.
“The newspaper deemed all these details too indecent to print,” said McFarland.
Murder on Main Street returns next year on Oct. 18.