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Getting schooled in the history of local towns' names
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Listen up, class. It's history time again, Professor Morton presiding.

A few weeks back you'll recall I picked on Brodhead because of its unusual name. At the same time I challenged residents of three other area towns to either know how their town got its name or get the heck out of Dodge.

No, not Dodgeville, Dodge. So just relax, those of you in Dodgeville. You can stay put.

Anyway, I was being facetious about town names but I'll be darned if some of you readers didn't proudly spring into action.

Lesson learned, Professor Morton. Be careful what you wish for.

Then again, there's nothing wrong with a lesson or two. Or in this case, three.

The first person to call and then later show up at my office was Helen Johnson of Browntown. She told me about how the town was named after William Grizzly Brown, a wild-looking bearded gent, and his house still stands.

She then told me about how the old Trickle House was the scene of the murder of Emma Trickle in 1898, leading to her kids being adopted, and more than 100 years later, a California woman came to town to discover her roots and meet one of her relatives from the Trickle family, who is Gerald Miller.

Next came a story about the Devil's Tea Table, which is a large rock outside of town, where people congregate. Rock on, I say.

These stories are some of many documented in the town's new museum, which will be ground central for Browntown's 125th birthday party June 27. I was cordially invited, and when Johnson mentioned something about a tavern in town with a stripper's pole, I marked the date on my calendar. Then drew a star on it. Then circled it.

Next came an email from Bob Keen from Decatur Township outside of Brodhead. The story of the Brodhead's name was already chronicled in this column, without dispute and even duly notarized if you must know, but he disputes a side note.

Get this: Keen claims that Brodhead's tree that famously marks the halfway point between Lake Michigan and The Mississippi River is a fake, a phony. It's full of sap. It's all bark, no bite.

He said the real halfway tree stands on the farm he and his father purchased in 1946, alongside the old Indian trail on the Asmus Estate.

Keen wrote: "Dad grew up on a neighboring farm, known as the "Keen" farm. He often told of Indians camping under this old tree, and visiting the family for needed supplies during their spring and fall migrations. This tree was once judged to be the largest burr oak in Wisconsin. The trail continued to the west through the now extinct little village of Stewart on the old Mohns Road. I have occasionally prospected in the area, finding old horseshoes, nails, etc. An old windmill and pond still exist there."

Well, these are fightin' words, to say the least. This could put the Hatfields vs. the McCoys to shame. The Battle of the Branch seems imminent.

Next came a call from South Wayne's Jim Deetz, who said his town was named after Anthony Wayne, a general under George Washington.

But it wasn't that easy. The area's settlers first gathered in Spafford, but the Spafford Massacre at the hands of the Kickapoo in 1832 put a dent in the population as, ahem, five died.

A train depot was soon built to attract the railroad in an area called Collins, so the people followed. But the locals didn't like Mr. Collins, so Wayne became the name as a tribute to the general.

But alas, another change had to come as the post office notified the residents of a Wayne that already existed, 20 miles south of Fond du Lac. It was home to just 74 folks, but they were first. It's only fair.

Then again, having been pushed around as they had, it would have been fair and fitting for the New Waynes to massacre the Old Waynes. Or they could have combined to create Wayne's World.

But South Wayne it was.

Meanwhile, Deetz still has letters postmarked to a great-grandfather in both Spafford and Collins.

He said this serves as proof, but I assured him I believed his every word.

He suggested I visit someday, and I agreed, but under one condition. So he'll get back to me as to whether or not there's a tavern in town with a stripper's pole.

Finally, into my office walks John Condon, a friendly retiree living the good life in Argyle along the Pecatonica River.

Before I could give him my line about how Argyle was named after a sweater, he tells me he has visited Scotland.

OK, that doesn't mean much, I thought to myself.

Then he tells me he visited the castle that houses the actual Duke of Argyll, whose name belongs to the small Lafayette County town with a slight change of spelling - part of the Americanization process.

Condon then told me the current duke's father actually visited Argyle back in the day.

Still unimpressed, Condon gives me a letter FROM THE DUKE OF ARGYLL himself, thanking Condon for his visit and for Condon's invitation to spent time in Wisconsin, if it suits his honor's fancy.

Well, hard to argue that.

By the way, strange how Condon did not invite me to visit Argyle. I may not be a duke, but I am a wise professor.

Clearly, Mr. Condon is even wiser.

- John Morton covers the city beat for the Monroe Times. and can be reached at or by phone at 608-328-4202, ext. 50. His column appears Mondays.