Arndt Vest | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Arndt Vest

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Arndt Vest | Wisconsin Historical Society

Vest worn by Charles C.P. Arndt when he was shot on the floor of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, 1842.
(Museum object #1963.300)

Vest worn by Charles C.P. Arndt when he was shot on the floor of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, 1842.
(Museum object #1963.300)

On February 11, 1842 the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature met in Madison only to be interrupted by the shooting of one member by another. The legislature was debating the appointment of Enos S. Baker for sheriff of Grant County, one of the most important appointive county offices. During a debate on the floor of the Council of the Legislative Assembly, Baker supporter Charles C.P. Arndt implied fellow Council member James R. Vineyard, who opposed Baker’s nomination “had given the highest testimonials as to the character of the nominee.” Vineyard rebuked Arndt’s statement as a falsehood. After an uproar during which Vineyard and Arndt exchanged “some personal and rather violent words”, adjournment was declared.

Moments following adjournment, Arndt approached Vineyard's desk on the floor of the assembly and the two continued their disagreement. Arndt demanded to know if Vineyard accused him of uttering a falsehood in his remarks. Vineyard answered “yes” or “they were false.” Arndt came closer to Vineyard, raised his hand and struck Vineyard in the head. Before any other legislator could intervene to separate the two men, Vineyard drew a pistol and shot Arndt in the chest. Arndt reeled backward and fell to the floor, dying where he had fallen about five minutes later.

Authorities quickly took Vineyard into custody and escorted him to his room at the American Hotel. There, Vineyard met privately with legal counsel before he was taken off to jail. Shortly thereafter he composed his resignation from the Council. The Council itself, however, refused to accept his resignation, instead voting to expel Vineyard as being unworthy to be a member of their body. After many judicial delays and a change of venue from Dane County to Vineyard's own district in Green County, he was tried and acquitted of manslaughter in October 1843.

Bribery and scandal typified the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature in its early years and this event did not help Wisconsin's reputation as a somewhat unsafe place. Charles Dickens, who was touring the United States at the time of the incident, even cited the affair in his American Notes for General Circulation as an example of rampant lawlessness in the United States.

Although difficult to see in the accompanying image because of the pattern in the fabric, this vest from the Museum's collection, worn by Arndt when he was shot and killed, exhibits the bullet hole (at yellow arrow).

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[Sources: Smith, Alice Elizabeth. James Duane Doty: Frontier Promoter (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, c. 1954); Smith, Alice E. The History of Wisconsin, Vol. I: From Exploration to Statehood (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1985). Strong, Moses. The history of the Territory of Wisconsin from 1836 to 1848 (Madison: Democrat Printing Co, 1885), p. 381-385. Southport Telegraph, (Kenosha, Wisconsin) February 22, 1842, p.2]


Posted on August 02, 2022