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When August Walgvogel shot Milo Goodenough, his prosecutor in the case was Prescott County District Attorney J.C. Button (he is listed as J.O. Button on some sources, but the J.C. appears accurate). The murder of Milo Goodenough was the first murder trial in Prescott County and Mr. Button was a young prosecutor at the time. He held the office for only two years. Was this young, new prosecutor using what must have been a sensational trial to make a name for himself? Is that the reason behind his zeal in prosecuting what should have been (as far we know) a simple case of self defense? It’s something to think about!
I found quite a bit of information on District Attorney Button. He lived a very interesting, exciting life and had many experiences and adventures. The following is taken from the History of Trempealeau, Wisconsin:
“J.C. Button, for many years a distinguished figure in the legal procedure of Western Wisconsin, is now living in retirement, in the village of Trempealeau at the ripe old age of 84. He has known varied experiences, has seen the world in many lands and climes, has taken an active part in the formation of many of the policies of several Mississippi Valley Counties and has lived to see his fondest hopes and ambitions realized. High thinking and clean living have given him a store of vitality which is still unimpaired, and the world has brought him a full measure of joy and contentment, his only sorrow being the passing away of friends and relatives, whom the passing years have taken one by one. His ruggedness of health and staunchness of character are inherited by a long line of worthy forebears.
The father, Charles button, was of Colonial English stock. As a young man he studied medicine, but never engaged in extensive practice, choosing instead to spend his life in agricultural pursuits. He was married in New York State to Cynthia Watson, who was likewise descended from Colonial Stock.
From New York they went to Lorain County, Ohio, and there, JC, the subject of this sketch was born June 3, 1830. When he was an infant they went to Oakland County, Michigan, and settled on the Stony Point Road, not far from Pontiac. In 1836 they moved to Illinois and settled on a farm 12 miles south of Ottawa.
From there in 1843 they came to Green County, Wisconsin and took up their home eight miles east of Monroe, the county seat. The father died in 1844 and the mother in 1878. Living in pioneer communities and fatherless at the age of 14, young JC had meager opportunities for schooling, most of his schooling being obtained in a little log schoolhouse.
In 1848 he entered the Academic Department of Beloit College and was graduated from the Collegiate Department in 1852. Then he started out for California in search for gold. The parting with his mother was a pathetic one. Standing hat in hand, with his mother’s arm about his neck, he promised never to use profanity, never to indulge in any game of chance, and never to taste or handle intoxicating drinks of any sort. This promise he has kept to this day and to it he attributes his health and happiness. His goodbyes said, he joined his party and continued west as far as Salt Lake City, Utah. There he and a friend struck out alone and located in Salem, Oregon for a time.
From there a young Button went to Portland and from there by ship to San Francisco. After a trip to San Francisco and neighboring mines, he embarked on a ship which carried him to the west coast of Panama, where he secured a team to take him to Graytown, on the Gulf Coast.
Then, touching at points at Florida and Cuba, he reached New York and returned to his home. Desiring to further perfect his education he went to Janesville, Wisconsin and entered the office of Sleeper and Norton where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. It was in 1858 that he opened an office in in St. Croix Falls, Polk Cty, Wisconsin, and started housekeeping in a home which he erected with his own hands.
In the Fall of 1859 he was elected to the office of District attorney and moved to Osceola, the county seat. At the expiration of his term he moved to Prescott, and entered into partnership with J.S. White, a partnership which lasted until 1876. Soon after his arrival in Prescott he was elected District Attorney of Pierce County, a position in which he ably served for a term of 2 years.
Having been in continuous practice of his profession for 20 years part of the time as a public official, Mr. Button determined, in 1877, to take a well deserved vacation traveling in Europe and Asia Minor. Accordingly, he set out and visited in turn, England, Scotland, France and Spain, Egypt, the Holy Land, Turkey and Albania, Greece, Italy, Alsace-Loraine, Germany, Russia, Holland, Belgium, Wales and Ireland.
Among the many notables whom he saw may be mentioned Queen Victoria, and it is remarkable that he attended the funeral of King Victor Immanuel of Italy who died January 9, 1878 and of Pope Pius IX who died in February of the same year.
Upon his return to America Mr. Button came to Trempealeau County in the fall of 1878 for the purpose of assisting his brother, S. W. Button. SW Button had been in partnership with Judge Newman and upon the elevation of Judge Newman to the District Court bench found the work too strenuous for his failing health and so called his brother JC to his assistance, going himself to the panhandle country in Texas, where his health was restored, after which he took up the practice of his profession in Sparta, Wisconsin.
Accordingly, JC Button took up his home in Trempealeu Village, where he has since resided. For one term he was District Attorney of this county. He is a man of sincere conviction, and his highly honored and respected throughout the community. Mr. Button was married, June 16, 1858 to Charlotte Wheaton, daughter of Cyrus Wheaton of Green County, Wisconsin.
Mrs. Button died in December of 1890. Their only child, Charles, died at the age of 4 years and ten months of age.”
Button died May 3, 1922 in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, taking his reasoning behind prosecuting August Walvogel with such a vengeance to his grave.
I like to dig deep. Deeper than I need to probably, but it does help me get a feel for the story I am telling. In my upcoming book, Docia’s Diary, Docia’s first husband, August Waldovogel’s criminal case is prominently featured. It was, of course, a big part of Docia’s life. Everything changed the minute August picked up his gun full of duck shot and fired it through the door into Milo Goodenough’s face.
But there are so many questions surrounding this case. Why was Milo Goodenough at August’s house after dark on that May evening in 1866? Who was the other man with him, who ran off into the woods? Just what, if any, was the relationship between August and Milo? Or between Milo and Docia??
Unfortunately there is a lot of conjecture and very little evidence. But there are clues and they start not with Milo, but with his father.
Milo’s father was Stillman Hebron Goodenough (1818-1911). His mother was Flora Angeline Wood (1820-1852). She was the first of three wives. Stillman and Flora had three sons, John R. (1839-1916) Milo, and William H. 1844-1862). There is not much info available about the Goodenough family prior to Flora’s death in 1852. Perhaps they just farmed and behaved themselves. Or perhaps not. After Flora died in 1852, Stillman married his second wife, Celia, in that same year. At this time the family lived in Dodge, Wisconsin.
In 1857, Stillman, along with his son John R., decided to take up a new occupation. Apparently farming wasn’t as lucrative as they’d hoped. The following is a news article from the Milwaukee Sentinal dated December 29, 1857: (I’ve left the article as printed, errors included!)
Gang of Robbers: Milwaukee Sentinal Dec. 29, 1857 Editor: I recieved a notice of an attempt to rob and murder near this place, and thinking that your readers would like to have it reported in length, I give you the following: On the 18th, four young men, named Frank Sanders, George Sanders, John R Goodenough and John Barnes, went to the homeof Mr. Guy living in the town of Achippun, three miles south of Neosho, with intent to roband murder. Mr. Guy was supposed to have about $1000.00 in his home; they went to the house, Guy asked what they wanted; they said,” Clinker”, Frank Sanders said to his conrad to strike a light. They immediately lit a lantern and Frank commenced pounding the old gentlemen with a large club while in bed. Guy succeeded in getting out of the house after a scuffle and being wounded in the head with the club and recieveing a sevvere wound on the thigh with a corn cutter, he raised a cry of Murder, upon which the ruffians fled. The wounds were considered dangerous. One of the Sanders lost his cap, which showed their direction. On the 17th, Frank Sanders, George Sanders, Stillman Goodenough and John R. Goodenough were arrested and taken before Squire Harris for examination. Frank and George Sanders, in default of $1000. bail each, were committed tothe county jail to await trial, the others were discharged. The community being satisfied that they were different ties with the affair, by their united story proceeded to find John Barns and from him got all the particulars. John Barns broke out of jail about the 10th and came immediately to Stillman Goodenough for help to flee the country, and while there he was initiated into a band of bandits with signs of recognition and act. The forms of recognition were quite interesting to this community. He was sworn over a testament and a bottle of whisky to be true to the gang and never divulge any of their rascality under penalty of death. the gang composed of Stillman Goodenough, President:John R. Goodenough, his wife and Elizabeth Sanders, all living in that neighborhood and others living in Watertown and still further south. Upongetting this information, Stillman, his wife Celia, JohnR. his son, and Elizabeth Sanders were arrestedand committed in default of bail. There was considerable stolen property found on the premises of Goodenough: also a pass book found belonging to John R. in which was found the following to wit: Van Colts Jewelry Store, can be broken into with little labor and $3,000. worth taken: Jewelry Store in Saukegan can be broken into byLib, or someone else– no one sleeps in the store: McHenry Co.Ill. good open bays– barn 50 yds from the house with door on back of barn–never discovered, and etc. They concocted a plan to kill and rob a man by name of Elliot living near Watertown and also Dr. John Goodenough, when he started for Berlin, as he was about to move his family there, and was to carry considerable amount with him. Their plans have been somewhat interupted by their timely arrest — you will hear more soon. great credit is due Mr. D.S. VanOrden and Mr. Davis of Neosho for their activity in ferreting out this gang/ Neosho, Dec. 23, 1857 Note: Fred Moses Goodenough as a baby went to jail with Celia. “
*Stillman had two sons with Celia, Moses and Silas, and none with his third wife, Hannah.
Stillman went to prison at Waupun. The same prison that August would later be sent to after Milo Goodenough died. (not sure if John R. went to prison or not, he and the other two boys are listed in the 1860 census as living with other families and working as farm laborers.)
There is no evidence that Milo or William H. were involved, as they would have been younger teens. But I am guessing they sure knew about it and were being groomed in some fashion by their father for future exploits.
The Dr. John Goodenough, whom they planned to rob was in fact, Stillman’s older brother. Apparently family ties did not matter much to them!
By the time the Civil War erupted Stillman was out of prison. He and all three of his sons, served in the War.
Stillman, Milo and William were listed with a Wisconsin Company, while John R. is out of Minnesota. Unfortunately William H. died in the war that year, while Stillman was severely injured (no details on this). And guess where this family lived in 1863? Concord, Jefferson County, Wisconsin. That’s right. Right along with the Ingalls and the Quiner families.
Did the Goodenough’s know the Ingalls and Quiners? We have no evidence of this BUT…in 1865 Milo married Sophia Fischer in Milwaukee…and by 1868 he and his wife were living in Section 28 of South Rock Elm, Wisconsin, with neighbors Lansford Ingalls and family living not too far way in Section 26.
Only one section between them in a small community. It’s not too far fetched to think that the two families were at least aware of one another if not intimate. They must have seen each other at various town functions, meetings, in town at the General Store, the Mill, etc. And we know August was in Rock Elm at that time as well because that’s when he met Docia, marrying her in 1866.
James and Hiram Ingalls were in the Civil War, as was Milo. James and Milo would have been around the same age. Were they friends? Or was Milo the type of guy you really didn’t want to know? Was he a thug, a tough guy? Dishonest?
It’s hard to say. We know of his past, we know his father was less than honest. Prison may have reformed the guy but was it only the war injuries that kept him from robbing again? Maybe, just maybe, dear dad passed the torch to his young son.
Milo Goodenough and his family, which now included baby daughter Flora, born in 1867, were living in Rock Elm. By this time Docia and August had settled in Plum Creek, some 11 miles in between. By horse that would take 2-3 hours, maybe less if the horse is racing and depending on the terrain. It wasn’t a short distance in those day in other words.
What was Goodenough doing in Plum Creek, after dark, 11 miles from his wife and child? With another man. Pounding on August’s door, or trying to get in.
Robbery? Revenge? Was he drunk?
Here are the facts: August was the paymaster at the mill in Plum Creek. Goodenough lived in the same area as August’s inlaws. Goodenough comes from a family of thieves. The second man who with him has never been identified, never came forward as a witness.
I have my own theory(s) which I will be exploring in further posts.
We have some more digging to do!
In my next post we’ll be looking at the Prosecuting attorney in this case!