Monday, June 5, 2017

Yours with a Jerk: Getting Stewed and Lewd in Butte des Morts

“Sam where did you go the Fourth, did you go to Bogk’s? You and me went there last year and got pretty drunk, at least I did.”
   - From a letter written by G.R. Woodworth to Samuel Odell dated August 7, 1864.

G.R. Woodworth was in Minnesota when he wrote that letter. Samuel Odell was in Butte des Morts. He’d been in Butte des Morts since 1856. He ran a general goods store. Odell’s store was on Main St. near the shore of Lake Butte des Morts.

Odell's store, located in the larger of the two building on the right.

Exactly and directly one block east of Odell’s store there appears to have been a tavern. That property was owned by brothers Gustavus Bogk and Frederick Bogk. I suspect that is the “Bogk’s” Woodworth was referring to.

The Bogk brothers property was on Erie St. They bought it in 1857. A couple years later, The Petford Hotel was built next door, where Tilly's Too Tavern now stands.

Tilly's Too Tavern near the corner of Washington & Erie streets.
In early 1864, the  Bogk brothers lost their property for non-payment of taxes. But the brothers weren’t done slinging beers. Gustavus Bogk headed to Oshkosh where he eventually established The Oshkosh City Beer and Pleasure Gardens. In 1865, Frederick Bogk bought the Butte des Morts Brewery. The brewery was right behind Sam Odell’s store.

It was while searching for anything at all about the brewery that I came across G.R. Woodworth’s letters to Samuel Odell. The letters reveal nothing about the brewery. But there’s much they do reveal. Check this out...

Well Sam I received your epistle a long time ago and was glad to hear that your Bowells was regular... Everything is high here Except Fucking. That is very low and Plenty to be had at the old Prick… Sam give my love to all of the Girls and tell Mary Ann that I will come back if there is any chance to, since Peter and Dalton left my chance would be good I think. How does Neilson make it go, does he get as much trade as Pete did? Tell Sarah fish to Kiss my Arse… Sam burn this letter as soon as you read it.

From your Friend
G.R. Woodworth
Fairibault Minn.
August 7, 1864

Amen, indeed.

The letters to Odell were transcribed by Scott Cross, archivist for the Oshkosh Public Museum. Cross began posting the letters online in 2007. At that time Cross wrote, “Odell collected and kept everything, from advertising flyers and broadsides to posters and personal correspondence. Among his collection of personal correspondence are letters from a friend, G. R. Woodworth and some unidentified married women. These letters and notes are extremely rare since they deal with the subjects of sexuality and infidelity.”

For example...

Friend Sam
Frank says that you are shoving it to Jane Brown. If that is so, Bully for you. That is better than Mrs. Becker. Don’t you think so? … Sam, do you go over to see Lucy Abels now? I would like to be down there about a week. I think that I could have some fun…. Sam, you would have had a good time if you had been with me last night and got your Old Root Scraped. If I was in your place I would get out of that place and come up here where you can make something. Sam, give my respects to Mr. & Mrs. Hull and my love to Mary Ann petford and get all the fucking you can. 

Write as soon as you get this and tell me the news.
Don’t show this Letter to anyone
From your Friend
G.R. Woodworth
Fairibault, Minn.
February 6, 1865

Woodworth left Minnesota. He went to New York. He badgered Odell to join him. “I don’t see what the Devil you stay in Butte de Morts for…  If I was in your place I would get out of that place and come up here where you can make something.”

Despite all his swagger, you get the sense Woodworth seemed to miss Butte de Morts.

Well Sam Here I am in a store doing a Bully Business and making money... I received a letter from Ed Moran. He said that he had been to Osage and had got back to Butte. He could not keep away from Miss Jones. He is a Hell of a Boy… Sam, I have made $400 since I came home and have got in a Bully place to make more. I have not Drank a Drop of anything since I left Oshkosh… Sam, how does Lucy Abels get along? I would like to see her and Diddle her once more. I suppose all the folks in Butte think that I am a Dam little fool, but I can take care of myself yet… Write as soon as you get this. Don’t show this to anyone.

Yours with a Jerk
G.R. Woodworth
Cherry Creek
Chautauqua County, New York
December 2, 1865

Odell didn’t take Woodworth’s advice. Just the opposite. Odell put down roots in Butte des Morts. In 1866, he purchased the store he’d been leasing from Lathrop Hull. Odell would never leave. But he traveled widely in the little village. Just read the letters.

Samuel Odell married for the first time in 1891, He was 60 years old. His bride was 32-year-old Sarah Van Doren of Winneconne.

Odell died in 1912. He was 92 at the time of his passing. His obituary left out all the good stuff. It mentions he was related to a famous New York family that included a former Governor of that state. As if that mattered. They even botched his headstone. The marker reads O’Dell instead of Odell.

Odell was buried in Winneconne Cemetery on Wednesday, April 10, 1912.  At his funeral, Rev. Gebaroff spoke of “Odell's active interest in Christian work.” It’s too bad G.R. Woodworth wasn’t there. He could have sent his friend off with the sort of flourish Odell deserved... Yours with a Jerk.

Samuel Odell's marker in Winneconne Cemetery.


  1. Is it possible to adopt a deceased person? If so, I hereby wish to adopt (or at least claim) G. R. Woodworth as my great-great uncle. ......and I thought they called him Uncle Woody because of his last name!