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Colfax Sesquicentennial 2014: Colfax incorporated

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  In honor of the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration in July of 2014, the Colfax Messenger will be publishing articles about Colfax history from time to time.

Here is Part 4: Colfax incorporates.

 The headline in the July 15, 1904, edition of the Colfax Messenger reads “We Incorporate!”

The article followed on the heels of a referendum election in Colfax several days earlier on July 12.

According to the Messenger, in the election held the previous Tuesday to determine whether or not the village of Colfax should be incorporated, the voters of the village spoke very favorably in favor of the move, the result being as follows: For Incorporation (73); Against (27); for a total of 100 people who voted.

Prior to the referendum election, the Colfax Messenger published a notice on the front page for five weeks, as required by Wisconsin law, that on June 6, 1904, at 2 p.m., at the court house in the city of Menomonie, in County of Dunn, in the state of Wisconsin, an application would be made to the Circuit Court of Dunn County for an order incorporating such territory as a village by the name of Colfax.

According to the notice in the newspaper, the village limits would cover 880 acres.

The hearing in circuit court on June 6 about Colfax applying to incorporate must have been routine because the Messenger did not report on the hearing.

Caucus and election

On August 1, 1904, a caucus was held in the village to nominate residents for various positions that would be voted upon by village residents in an election held on August 6.

The results of the caucus and the election were as follows: George T. Vorland (president); village trustees James Kidd; Dr. L.A. Larsen; Peter Peterson; J. Beebe; E.B. Hill; O.C. Olson. Clerk: A.C. Chase (publisher and editor of the Colfax Messenger). Treasurer: A.J. Running. Supervisor: O.G. Kinney. Assessor: K.A.S. Swenson. Constable: J.H. Clark. Justices of the Peace: D. Pooler and Jacob Thompson.

On September 23, 1904, the Colfax Messenger published the first set of ordinances for the village.

No gambling

Ordinance No. 1 prohibited gambling, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and the use of improper language.

Anyone who was found guilty of gambling could be fined anywhere from $5 to $50.

If someone found guilty of gambling did not pay the fine, that person could be held in the village lock-up or the Dunn County jail until they paid the fine but could not be held in jail for more than 90 days.

Although the Colfax Municipal Building did, indeed, have a jail, the municipal building was not built until 1915, and it is not clear from the article in the September 23, 1904, Messenger where the village “lock-up” was located.

In 1904 in Colfax, gambling must have been considered to be a horrible crime of the worst degree because the ordinance allowed any ordinary citizen to carry out an arrest for gambling, bring that person before the police justice or deliver the person to an officer to be taken before the municipal court of Dunn County.

The ordinance went on to say that “any person or persons within the limits of the Village of Colfax in a state of intoxication, and any person or persons who shall within the limits of said village engage in fighting or riotous behavior, boisterous, or disorderly conduct, or who shall make use of profane or obscene language in public, or indecently expose his own person or the person of another in a public place, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $1 or more than $50.”

Anyone who failed to pay the fine for being drunk in public, using profane language, or indulging in disorderly conduct or indecent exposure, also could be held in jail for up to 90 days.

No pool or bowling

Ordinance No. 2 prohibited minors from playing billiards, pool, pigeon hole, nine pins, cards or dice in public places in the village.

The ordinance did not, however, fine the minors for indulging in such behavior.

Instead, the ordinance held the “owner or keeper or person in charge of any billiard table, pool table, pigeon table, shooting gallery or bowling alley” responsible.

The ordinance also held “the owner or person in charge of any public place within the village of Colfax” responsible who allowed a minor to play cards, dice or any game of chance.

The fine could be anywhere from $1 to $25, and the person could be held in the village lock-up or county jail for up to ten days for not paying the fine.


Ordinance No. 3 set a curfew to “prohibit persons of a certain age from being abroad upon the streets at night.”

Anyone 16 or younger was not allowed in the streets, alleys or public places from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. unless accompanied by someone of “full age” or on an errand by permission or at the direction of his or her parents, guardian or employer.

Being out after 9 p.m. also must have been considered to be a terrible crime, because youngsters who were out and about after curfew could be arrested by the village marshal or peace officer and delivered to his or her parents, guardian or employer.

If the youngster was arrested a second time for violating curfew, he or she would be brought to trial before the police justice or the municipal court in Dunn County, and if convicted, fined anywhere from $1 to $10.

If the fine was not paid, the youngster could held in the village lock-up or the county jail for up to ten days.

The ordinance also included the provision that the village marshal was required to ring the fire bell at 9 p.m. every evening to “warn persons affected by the provisions of this ordinance.”

If the village marshal did not ring the fire bell, people 16 and younger were still subject to arrest for being out after curfew.

No bicycles

Ordinance No. 4 prohibited riding bicycles on the sidewalks in Colfax.

Anyone convicted of riding a bicycle on the sidewalk could be fined anywhere from $1 to $5, and if the fine was not paid, could be held in the village lock-up or county jail for up to ten days.

The ordinance does not set any age limits for riding bicycles, so presumably, small children also could be fined or put in jail for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.

One cannot help but wonder how many sidewalks were in Colfax in 1904.

Other ordinances

Additional ordinances were published in the next several editions of the Messenger:

Ordinance No. 5 prohibited animals running at large. Today we would think of animals at large as dogs or cats. In 1904, animals at large included “ox, bull, cow, heifer, stallion, horse, colt, mule, sheep, boar, hog or pig.”

Ordinance No. 6 prohibited rubbish or obstructions in the streets and alleys.

Ordinance No. 7 prohibited burning rubbish on any lot, street or alley.

Ordinance No. 8 prohibited the encumbering and obstruction of streets, alleys, sidewalks and crosswalks.

Ordinance No. 9 prohibited leaving animals and teams (of horses) unfastened in the public streets and prohibited cruelty to animals. Cruelty included not providing food, water and shelter and pertained especially to horses and mules. The ordinance also prohibited overdriving or overburdening animals, presumably horses and mules.


In the October 14, 1904, edition of the Colfax Messenger, it was reported that “Under the new village laws things seem to have moved along rather quietly, but some seem to pay little heed to their importance. We understand that N.A. Lee has the distinction of having made the first arrest under the new laws, and there being no lock-up, he used his barn where the prisoners were held for six hours. We understand that the fine imposed was quite light.”