Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House"

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Roderick Grant
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Re: Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House"

Post by Roderick Grant »

Anything is possible, but to present this sort of thing as a certainty, or even a probability, is irresponsible. Many other possibilities exist that could have served as a trigger, but no one knows for sure what it was. Seven of the 8 died, and unless there was something the survivor said or wrote to clarify the events of that day, everything is speculation.

Lukunor
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Re: Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House"

Post by Lukunor »

Yes, it has to be approached carefully. However, there were two testimonies that seem credible. Harper Harrison, one of the deputies who captured Carlton, testified that Carlton told him Brodelle had been abusive and that it motivated his actions. Dr. Wallis G. Lincoln, who treated Carlton in the jail, said Carlton told him of “an altercation on Saturday [August 15] morning, during which Brodelle abused me for more than a half hour. I told him I would ‘get him,’ and I waited for my chances.”

Even so, Carlton was inconsistent in what he said about his motives. He said he did not even remember murdering Mamah and the children. Later he said he killed everyone to eliminate witnesses. What I find especially intriguing is that like many mass murderers he planned to commit suicide if it didn't come off. He bought his acid for self poisoning in Spring Green on August 7 telling the druggist it was for "farm supplies." This was before the alleged confrontation with Brodelle. So it seems doubtful the murders were spontaneous. A further puzzle is his trip to Chicago around August 1 for no obvious reason, having told his wife he was going to Madison to see a dentist.

I've not drawn a hard conclusion but the testimony on the racial tension suggests to me it was somehow a factor.

Roderick Grant
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Re: Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House"

Post by Roderick Grant »

Odd how all of this has come to light 107 years after the fact. Numerous sources have said no one knew anything about Carlton's motives, that he refused to talk once he was apprehended. If these claims are verified in Drennan's book - which I haven't read - so be it. otherwise it just muddies the waters more.

Mark Hertzberg
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Re: Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House"

Post by Mark Hertzberg »

Roderick, I can’t tell you offhand where I have read it, but I have often read about racism as a possible instigating factor in the murders.
Mark Hertzberg

JimM
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Re: Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House"

Post by JimM »

I agree with Roderick that caution is called for concerning possible racial aspects, yet there remain facts surrounding this particular person at a particular place in time. Although his mental state can not be definitively accounted for, his crazed actions were undeniable. Carlton was a black man from Alabama, and not an immigrant as has been written, so would have lived a fairly predictable life experience in the south less than 50 years after the Civil War. Ending up in Chicago, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume he might have made choice's for a better life and may have found that as best he could. Carlton and his wife were highly recommended by a restauranteur acquaintance of Wright. They would have been mingling with the upper crust of society before going to work for Wright. I recall reading somewhere he wasn't especially pleased to be leaving Chicago.

Pure speculation: It's possible the treatment by some at Taliesin affected him by reminding him of what he thought he had already "gotten away from". It may have been a shock, more so to an unstable person, if expecting to find the same degree of big city enlightenment in the Wisconsin countryside.

Regardless of any attitudes Wright may or may not have had, he obviously had no qualms about being an equal opportunity employer, since until that time local (white) help was the norm. Perhaps he actually liked and felt appreciation towards Wright, and may explain why the murders happened during his absence from Taliesin. Mamah and others could simply have been victims resulting from the frenzy of the moment, for whatever his reasons.

In any event, Carlton's wife did not stay around long enough to ask questions and hightailed down the road towards Spring Green in the middle of things. It's probably helpful to remember that during questioning, she told of Carltons recent erratic behavior and nighttime habit of sleeping with a hatchet; perhaps the shingling axe murder weapon.

Roderick Grant
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Re: Drennan's "Death in a Prairie House"

Post by Roderick Grant »

As to Mrs., it has always been said that she was terrified of her husband, and hid in the root cellar during the attack, fearing that she might end up dead herself.

For FLW's attitude toward the race, see the segment in Cornelia Brierly's book, about the visit of Paul Robeson to T-West.

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