Sometimes the rough justice of a mob takes care of business, in a few minutes, that would take the law years to accomplish.
And sometimes, as in this story from the Michigan woods, rough justice comes to the mob.
They were cousins: Big Mac–born a MacDougall–and Little Mac–born a MacDonald–, known collectively as the MacDonald boys, for reasons lost to history. In Menominee, they were known as a couple of bullies and rednecks, destined to come to bad ends.
They set those ends in motion when, in the spring of 1881, they stabbed Sheriff Ruprecht and nearly killed him.
From his bed the sheriff deputized a giant of a man named George Kittson to go after the MacDonalds. George, one of three sons of an English father and a Native American mother, did so with dispatch, and the MacDonalds went to jail for a few months.
They came out of stir in September, breathing fire and vengeance, against the sheriff, against George Kittson, against the world.
George Kittson’s younger brother Norman tended bar at a sleazy joint known as the Montreal House in Menominee’s red-light district, which the locals called Frenchtown. The MacDonalds showed up there as soon as they were released from jail, downing shots at an alarming rate and warning Norman Kittson that George was a dead man.
Eventually, they decided they’d go over and enjoy themselves awhile with the sporting ladies at a nearby brothel. There they ran into the third Kittson brother, young Billy.
Billy was as drunk as the MacDonalds, and a fight broke out. Billy smashed a bottle over one of the MacDonalds’ heads, decided the better part of valor was discretion, and went out, intending to go over to the relative safety of the Montreal House. He met Norman halfway. Norman just had time to shout a warning before the MacDonalds jumped Billy from behind.
As Billy roared defiantly Ain’t scared o’ them SOBs, Big Mac hit him over the head with a club, then stabbed him as he lay on the ground. Norman ran to Billy’s aid, only to be socked in the jaw and nearly knocked out by Little Mac.
Billy staggered to his feet, only to be stabbed in the side of the head by Little Mac.
Norman, almost unconscious, pulled a pistol out of his pocket and fired twice, hitting Little Mac in the leg. The cousins took off, while Billy, bloody and dying, managed to walk into the Montreal House and up to the bar. In the best tradition of the Old West, he ordered a round of drinks for everybody in the house, then fell over dead.
Somebody–history doesn’t say whether it was George Kittson or not–arrested the MacDonalds at the train depot a few hours later, just before they boarded a train. They were taken back to the jail and jugged pending prosecution.
In small towns the world over, no matter what their crimes, it’s often hard to find anyone willing to testify against local bullies, and the MacDonalds were no exception. Word got out the day after Billy Kittson’s murder that the prosecution was having trouble putting together a case against them and they might end up going free.
The lumbermen of the Menominee woods were having none of it. They talked on street corners and in bars and then formed one of those itinerant traveling courts, Honorable Judge Lynch presiding from a non-existent bench.
The loudest (and possibly drunkest) members of the mob were six prominent local businessmen. Bob Stephenson was the superintendent of a lumber company; he brought along rope. A drayman named Frank Saucier offered the use of a large timber to ram through the jailhouse door. Tom Parent and Louis Porter, both timber bosses, and Robert Barclay, ex-sheriff turned livery stable owner, went along as muscle. Max Forvilly, who owned the uptown Forvilly House on Ludington Street, supplied whiskey, the lubricant of most lynch mobs.
At the jail, these six, with a small assortment of hangers-on following them, disarmed the two deputies on duty and bashed on through the jail, finding the two MacDonalds trying to hide in a dark corner of a cell.
Big Mac broke down and cried like a baby. Little Mac went down fighting; he stabbed Louis Porter with a knife he’d hidden in his boot. Porter grabbed an ax and beat Little Mac’s brains out, killing him instantly.
The mob dragged Little Mac’s corpse and a whimpering Big Mac, rope securely around his neck, down Main Street. At one point, they hauled Big Mac over an iron-rail fence, visibly stretching his neck several inches. They even jumped on the bodies and stomped off hunks of flesh with their boots.
They hung one corpse and one barely living man at the railroad crossing; Big Mac moaned and twitched for a mere moment, then died.
Well, even that sobering sight, of two dreadfully mangled bodies swinging in the breeze, didn’t satisfy the drunken mob. They took the bodies to the Frenchtown whorehouse where all the trouble had started, forced the sporting ladies to take turns joining the corpses in bed, then, for a grand finale, threw the girls out of the house and burnt it to the ground with the MacDonalds’ bodies still inside.
The only person who even tried to stop them in their bloody play was Father Menard, the French-Canadian priest at a church on Bellevue Street. He was pushed aside as they dragged the bodies to the Frenchtown whorehouse.
As they brushed him aside, the good father pointed to them and said prophetically Every man of you will die with your boots on!
And, within a very few years, every man in the mob died a violent or unexplained death.
Bob Stephenson, the lumber company superintendent, was burned in a fire at his lumber yard, dying in agony three days later.
Frank Saucier was found dead of no apparent cause on a train trip.
Louis Porter sat down under a tree during a log drive and never got up; apparently, he died of snakebite.
One sliced in two by a saw. . .one committed suicide when he lost all his money in a poker game. . .one drowned. . .
The former sheriff, Robert Barclay, dropped dead while attending a family reunion.
Max Forvilly, the saloonkeeper, was one of the last to die. He lost his business, his family, and finally his sanity. He died last, crazy and alone, at a farm near Peshtigo, many years afterward.
Well–Father Menard was a priest–serving a God who once said, Vengeance is mine.
God or fate, something took vengeance on those who lynched the MacDonald boys, that autumn day in 1881.
The story of the Menominee lynch mob comes from Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s 1985 book Haunted Heartland.