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1/29/2013 11:16:00 AM
High crimes and misdemeanors, Braidwood courts

Sandy Vasko

It is no secret that early Braidwood was wild and wooly. We have often talked about the brawls, murders and other assorted goings on. Today we look at what happened to those who did get caught and charged.

We start in 1868. Braidwood had just started her life as a boom town. Miners, mostly from the British Isles, had flocked into town. Accommodations for them had yet to be built and most were crowded into boarding houses, back rooms and any other place where they could lay their heads. Away from the mines there was little to do but drink, and that had its consequences.

At that early date Braidwood did not have her own court system or police department; all arrests were made by county sheriffs, all cases were tried in Joliet at the Circuit Court.

We read in the Wilmington Independent, "The case of the People vs. Golborough, charged with assault with an attempt to kill, was arraigned, and under advice of counsel plead guilty. The case lost a full share of its aggravation from a further discovery of facts, the prisoner was let off easily; the sentence of the Court being a fine of 50 dollars (about $830 today), and 20 days in the county jail added to the time already spent by the prisoner in the charitable institution."

The fine seems light for attempted murder, however, at that date, when a fight broke out, both were automatically charged with attempted murder.

By the 1870s the town had established a justice system and had a police force. We read in August 1872, "On Wednesday last two noted pugilists (fighters) in Braidwood were found engaging in the manly art, and arrested by chief of police, O'Donnell. They were speedily arraigned before Justice Mooney who fined each of the champions $5 (about $90 today) and costs."

As time went by, fighting was so common place that fines were lowered. In June 1874 we read, "Mr. Grace, a resident of Braidwood, was attacked by a Braidwood magistrate on Saturday evening last. Grace was unceremoniously choked and told to consider himself arrested. "What for?" he asked, giving his assailant a blow with a pick handle, felling the magistrate. No satisfactory answer was elicited. A warrant was subsequently issued by the city attorney, and Grace was fined $3 (about $60 today) and costs."

However, the courts were not so lenient in the case of outsiders. In August of the same year we read, "Two young bloods, from Wilmington, came to Braidwood last Sunday well filled with Wilmington whisky, and for amusement struck a horse they were passing causing him to throw the rider, a young son of J. H. Ward, of this city. It happened that Mr. Ward saw the affair, and the result was these nasty young men were lodged in the calaboose, and next morning, after an admonition in the shape of a fine, were allowed to depart. It only cost them $40 (about $790 today)."

Obviously in Braidwood it was a much more serious crime to spook a horse than to hit a magistrate with a pick axe.

A week later we read, "John Roat, A Bohemian, keeps a saloon in Lower Braidwood, where he dispenses spiritual blessings, and is sometimes jubilant. At such times John is unfortunate and liable to indiscretions, and his latest indiscretion was in resisting an officer who was about to arrest him for disorderly conduct. It all ended in John's being conquered, and finally brought to the court, where he told of suffering untold miseries from the gentle handling he had received, and the thirteen hours he spent in reflecting on his errors while in durance vile. The court imposed a fine of $10 (about $190 today) and costs, but suspended the fine on condition of good behavior."

No doubt the suspended sentence had to do with Mr. Roat providing a vital service to the community.

There seemed to be no set fine for offenses, perhaps depending on the mood of the judge. For instance in the same week as the above we read, "Three of the C&W's imported workmen came to a bed of sorrow last Monday night. Two of them had a little fight and one had a little drunk. Monday morning the three were brought into Justice Morgan's court where they plead guilty, and were fined each in the sum of $50 (about $980 today) and costs. Not having sufficient change to satisfy the demands of the law, were committed to work out the fines on the streets. They were all discharged by order of the mayor. The offences were trivial."

Note that the mayor had the right to change the court-ordered fine.

A week later we read, "But two weeks married, a quarrel, and a wife whipped by her husband, were the facts which sent C. Wetherell to the lock up in default of paying a fine of $10 (about $200 today) and costs."

It seemed to be a lesson to the community. Fight in the streets if you must, beat your wife till she bleeds, but whatever you do don't spook a horse.

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