Six carriages full of men roll over “the high wagon bridge from Red Wing. As they pass the island resorts, echos are
heard of the blasphemy, the maledictions, the ribaldry of earlier hours. There are subdued groans and curses.
“The carriages pass well beyond the saloons. Leaving the teams in charge of the drivers, the others walk quietly
down to Cook’s saloon and resort.
“In a shorter time than it takes to tell Sheriff Oluff O. Halls of Pierce County and his 14 men have surrounded and
raided one of the most notorious brothels in the Northwest and taken its habitués and a number of their patrons into
* * *
The date was Sept. 27, 1908, and the article was part of a newspaper account by the Red Wing Republican in what
was believed to be the only special Sunday edition ever published.
According to other newspaper clippings in a collection from the Archives Library at the University of Wisconsin – River
Falls, the brothel and several saloons had been operating on the Island for over 25 years.
Charles and May Cook, the proprietors of the brothel and two taverns, were arrested in their room in the saloon
building, the front page article relates.
“While the Cooks were being arrested, the officers not there engaged raided the resort a hundred yards or so further
upstream, a place which has had a most unsavory reputation. Five women were there gathered in, also six young
men (it was later reported that six women and four men were arrested)
“They pleaded for mercy but the strong arm of the law was relentless and they were arrested.”
“AS THE ENTRANCE was made some of the men took to the tall timber.” the reporter, who had accompanied the
posse recounted. “Those remaining were meek as lambs.”
“The ‘girls’ thought the arrest was a joke at first but they soon realized it was the real thing.”
One attempted to call the Cooks and warn them, the story points out, but she was stopped.
The description of the Island establishments was in a separate newspaper account:
“For a quarter of a century, the resorts on the Island have swallowed up the manhood, the morality, the money and
even the lives of men who have come within their zone, without ever being molested and with only an occasional faint
voice raised against them.
“Sodem and Gomorrah in their palmist days of licentiousness would have to look to their laurels were they to be
compared with the island over which sounds the peals of Red Wing’s church bells, and yet Heaven has not sent fire to
destroy it nor has the public conscience of Red Wing risen in its might and smitten it, nor has Pierce County felt much
uneasiness about this festering ulcer on her body.”
|Red Wing Republican Eagle
Progress Edition, 1976, pg. 1 & 7
The article points out that a quarter of a century earlier enough pressure was brought on island bar owners that the establishments were burned. As one
account put it:
THE WHOLE FILTHY mess was consigned to the flames but it was freely charged that some interested individual fired the place to hide forever the evidence of
a hundred unpunished crimes.”
The newspaper later in the same article lashed out at both Pierce County and Red Wing for allowing the brothel and bars to operate there for 25 years before
“Is depravity so pronounced, corruption so general and cowardice so great that the county of Pierce and the city of Red Wing should pass this unnoticed?
“Granted that Pierce County is legally responsible for conditions on the island. It need not simply be taken for granted that Red Wing furnishes nine-tenths of
the sacrifices which the island claims on the altars of vice and corruption for that is an indisputable fact.
“Although in Wisconsin and beyond our jurisdiction, there has never been a time when the right kind of public sentiment in Red Wing could not have morally
controlled the island…”
Sheriff Halls promised legal immunity for those Red Wingites who would testify at the Cook trial.
May Cook and Maggy Murphy, who ran the house of ill repute for the Cooks, remained in jail from the time of their arrest until their trial while Charles Cook was
out on bail. The exact date of the trial wasn’t available.
THE THREE WERE fined a total of $516. And the four acres of Island property owned by Cook was deeded over to Red Wing’s board of public works to be
converted into a park and picnic grounds. The city planned at that time to acquire about 60 to 70 acres adjacent the Cook property and owned by LaGrange
Mills as part of the park.
When completed the park featured a “tourist camp, bathing beach, baseball park and athletic field,” and summer homes were later built in one section.
On March 25, 1909, May Cook went back to one of the Cook taverns and attempted to reopen it, according to a story in the Spring Valley, Wis. newspaper.
Then Sheriff James Gilmore “went down to get her out, but she stood him off with a revolver.
“Later he went again and arrested her, taking her and her barkeeper to jail in Ellsworth. Mrs. Cook and her fellow sinner were fined small sums and let go.”
However, the report points out, a gang of men along with former Sheriff Halls who made the raid, went out in the meantime and pulled the buildings down.
On April 6, 1909, according to the Red Wing Republican, Trenton Township voters overwhelmingly chose not to renew any liquor licenses in that township.
The vote was 122 to 51.
“Trenton has gone dry.” The account pointed out. “At the election held yesterday, license was buried under an avalanche of good men’s votes.”
A MOVE BEGAN then to cede the island to Minnesota. Pierce Countians favoring the move claimed it was just too far from Ellsworth for county authorities to
Four years earlier a similar attempt was made, but a Maiden Rock attorney W.C. Owen, representing Trenton Township, defeated the move. Owen later
represented the Cooks in their trial.
“It is not unlikely,” a Red Wing newspaper account pointed out, “that the question with regard to the transfer of the… [rest of article is lost].