In The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, John Muir relates his father's stern ways, but life for children could be much worse than having a stern disciplinarian for a father. At the same time the Muirs were settling in Marquette County, another small boy close to John's age, was here too, but he lost his life to cruelty. Think about children and how they have been treated over time. John Muir, for instance, talked about attending school only for a few months in Marquette County, but he'd begun school in Scotland when he was three years old and went until he came to America. It was typical well into the 1940s for boys here to only attend school until 8th grade because after that they worked on the farm and in the fields and they often missed school days when they were needed at home. John also wrote about being put to the plough when he could barely see over the handles, but this, too, was typical for farm children and not cruel or unusual. When John Muir came back in 1896 to visit, he asked a boy ploughing in the field who owned the land where he grew up at Fountain Lake. That boy ploughing was the same age as Muir would have been when he first learned about life in rural Wisconsin.
This is Emmanuel Dannan's grave, a boy who lived not far from the Muirs. Take time out to read his story.
A number of years ago, the Marquette County Board set aside November 30 each year to remember Emmanuel Dannan. Emmanuel’s story is worth repeating, but each year, fewer people think about him even on the day set aside to tell his story. Perhaps the truth is too painful to hear. It happened right here in Marquette County. Eight year old Emmanuel Dannan was beaten to death in 1851 by his adoptive father because he refused to lie. He was buried first in an unmarked grave, then moved to Greenwood Cemetery in the Town of Buffalo where people who wanted his story repeated time and again raised a Montello granite headstone. It reads, Emmanuel Dannan, the boy who would not tell a lie.
Emmanuel Dannon was born in 1843, the sixth child of Mary and Benjamin Dannon of Devonshire, England. His family came to Milwaukee where his father, who was sexton of St. Paul’s church in Milwaukee, died of tuberculosis in 1846 and his mother died on July 22, 1847. At first, an uncle took the children in, but their luck turned from bad to worse when the uncle died, too. Some of the children were placed in foster homes, but Emmanuel went to the Milwaukee Poor House until he was adopted by Samuel and Elsie Norton who took him to their home in the frontier county of Marquette. The Nortons had moved to the Town of Buffalo in Marquette County from Illinois.
The Nortons had two adoptive children—Emmanuel and a little girl. The couple came under suspicion when a travelling peddler went missing and his horse was found in the Norton pasture. The year was 1851, just 3 years after Wisconsin gained statehood.
An 1855 account of the death of Emmanuel in the book Littell’s Living Age, Volume 195, says that Emmanuel witnessed Elsie doing something wrong and when he told his foster sister, he was accused by the mother of lying. She demanded Samuel make him tell the truth. Samuel “having stripped him to his shirt, wound that around his neck, and tied him up by a cord by both wrists to a rafter so that his feet but barely touched the ground” and beat him, demanding that he admit he was lying. Emmanuel refused to lie, repeating again and again that he’d told the truth and after two hours of beating, according to the account, said, “Pa, I’m so cold,” and died.
Samuel and Elsie were tried and found guilty of manslaughter. Marquette County Court records saved from the dumpster by the Thalacker family read “come the jury into open court and render a verdict and say they find the defendant ‘Guilty of manslaughter in the first degree.’” Both Samuel and Elsie were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in the state prison.
“Those who knew him,” it says in the 1855 Littell’s account of Emmanuel, “spoke of him as an intelligent, bright blue-eyed boy, and very winning in his playful little ways.”
People in Milwaukee began to raise money for a monument for the boy who would not tell a lie. Even after death, Emmanuel’s fate continued to be bleak when a man hired to raise funds failed to raise the money needed and kept what was donated as payment for his work.
In 1858, the Crooker family moved Emmanuel’s body from their farmland to the small settler’s cemetery on County Trunk B across from the Greenwood Presbyterian Church in Marquette County. About 50 years later, according to numerous newspaper accounts, Mrs. Tony Utke put a small rock on the grave which stayed as its only marker until 1954 when the Milwaukee Sentinel ran a story about the little boy. Clarence Troost Jr. of the Montello Granite Company and Omar Bittman of the Bittman Monument Company of Milwaukee, contributed a Montello Granite marker that was placed in May of that year.
In 1972 Emmanuel’s story was repeated again in University of Wisconsin Professor Robert Gard’s book On the Trail of the Serpent. Over time, Marquette County historians Hazel Herrick and Fran Sprain and others repeated the little boy’s sad story.
Emmanuel’s story was told again and again and the Marquette County Board of Supervisors declared November 30 to be Truth Day. In 2001 a sesquicentennial recognition of Emmanuel’s life and death took place at the little Greenwood Cemetery and here we are, over 160 years after Samuel Norton beat the 8 year old boy to death for refusing to lie and we have a chance to recall his life and Truth Day.
It’s an important story. One that scores of people have repeated over and over, time and again, saving it, making sure it doesn’t die like little Emmanuel did in his home, tied to rafters, refusing to lie. It’s a story that challenges us to ask how a young, innocent boy could come to such a tragic and horrible end, how adults could do such harm to a child, and how our lives stack up to Emmanuel’s staunch refusal to tell a lie.
Repeating the story of Emmanuel Dannan brings us a little closer to grace. It reminds us lives do matter, the truth does matter, and that courage comes in many forms. Emmanuel Dannan holds a looking glass up for us to see ourselves. His story gives us a chance to be better people. The little boy’s life and death means something even 165 years later. It gives us the opportunity to repeat his story, keep his memory alive, look around us for injustice, and ponder the truth in our own lives.
You are on the corner of County Road B and 18th Road. You can see on the map above that Grand River Wildlife Area is just across the road and there are many parking places and many places to walk in this DNR owned land. The entire map can be accessed through the DNR website and the button above that links you to it. There is restored prairie, wetlands, hardwood forests and the Grand River. It's especially nice in the spring and fall when migrating birds are in abundance. You can hear spring peepers and other frogs very early in the year here.
Look for the Kestrel houses at Grand River and read about the collaboration that installed them, creating a breeding place for these birds.
Collaboration places kestrel nesting houses in Grand River Marsh
Jim Anderson and his wife Jackie have been monitoring and caring for the bluebird houses at Grand River Marsh Wildlife Area and Germania Marsh Wildlife Area for the past dozen years. In his frequent trips across the marsh, he met Jeff Lange, Wildlife Technician with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the two often shared conversations about their love of the outdoors. So when Lange wanted to put together a project installing kestrel houses at Grand River, he knew Anderson might want to help. Help he did, by building seven kestrel houses that are being installed in a collaborative effort between the private citizen volunteer, the DNR and Alliant Energy.
“Kestrels are neat little birds,” said Lange. “They are only one of two falcons in Wisconsin. One is the peregrine and the other is the kestrel. And they are one of only six falcon species in the entire US.”
Lange wanted to give the small falcons more places to nest on the wide open marsh and prairie that offer food opportunities for the bird. There have been a pair of kestrels nesting in a box near a DNR work shed for several years and Lange has watched them breed young each year as he goes about his work.
Like other collaborative projects the DNR has put together in Marquette County, this will benefit both the animal and people. Kestrels are beautiful birds to watch, plus they eat insects and small mammals like mice that can be pests to people. Kestrels help keep the rodent population under control. Without nesting boxes, the birds would find hollows in tree trunks, but changing landscapes that come with the cutting of wood that has increased for logging as well as for wood burning furnaces, decreases the availability of nesting spots for the falcons. Nest boxes, which are usually readily used by kestrels, will give them more chances to breed in Marquette County. They are secondary nesters, meaning they do not excavate their own nest cavity like a woodpecker, but need to find a hole already present in which to build their nest.
Last year, DNR Wildlife Technician Jim Holzwart put together a collaborative project that placed nesting platforms for herons in Grand River Marsh Wildlife Area. That project also was a private citizen group, business and DNR effort and was reported on in the Marquette County Tribune. Jim Lange took his inspiration from that successful project and looked for people to help on the kestrel house installation. He found Jim Anderson as well as Alliant Energy.
Anderson, who lives in Montello, feels a deep connection to the Grand River Marsh area as well as the Germania Marsh and all the wildlife that lives there. He speaks freely and passionately about looking into the eyes of snapping turtle or talking with a coyote that came face to face with him and his dog. He often can be found running or walking through the wetlands and when he installed his first bluebird house and that afternoon watched a pair of the azure birds begin to build their nest in the box, he was hooked. He’s been cleaning, recording, and monitoring 14 houses ever since. He finds flying squirrels, mice and other critters using the houses in the winter and lets them stay as tenants until it’s time to clean them for the migrating bluebirds.
Anderson and Lange found common ground in their love of the land and critters that inhabit the wildlife areas. Lange has worked for the DNR for 25 years, the last nine out of the Berlin office. He was inspired to work in wildlife by a naturalist he met when he was a youngster and took part in a program at the Eagle Valley Nature Preserve. Lange went on to study biology and wildlife and worked for a while at the McKenzie Environmental Education Center.
Unlike the easily spotted red-tailed hawk that looms large in the sky or in tree tops, the kestrel is about the size of a mourning dove or blue jay and can often be seen sitting on a utility pole or on the wires. The male plumage is bright with blue/gray wings and cinnamon color on the breast. The female is larger than the male, but not as brightly colored. Both have the sharply hooked beak of a raptor and long talons on their feet to pick up prey as they dive from the sky. Kestrels often hover over an open field, hunting for insects, snakes or small mammals.
The nesting pairs at Grand River and elsewhere will lay four to six eggs with a 30 day incubation period. The young fledge in about four weeks and the parents continue feeding the fledglings for about another two weeks or more. Because kestrels easily adapt to human activity, they are easy to view and watch as they go about their raptor work. You can learn more about kestrels at www.kestrelresearch.com and www.kestrel.peregrinefund.org . The sites have information about how to build nesting boxes and how citizens can take part in research about the bird. You can also watch live kestrel cams as the birds brood their young in Boise, Idaho and watch highlights from last year’s cams.
Once a pair chooses a nesting site, the male will often return year after year and establish a territory. Boxes at Grand River will be placed far enough apart as to allow needed space for hunting for the birds. Kestrels only migrate as food becomes scarce, so, for instance, the male kestrel near the DNR shed at Grand River Marsh stays over each winter, finding enough food in his territory through the long, cold season.
Collaboration and cooperation are important to the kestrel pair as they raise their young as well as it is important for us humans in order to be able to help maintain these beautiful and important birds in our ecosystems. By putting together this kestrel nesting box project, Jeff Lange, Jim Anderson and Alliant Energy have given the birds a better chance of survival and have given us humans the opportunity to see these small winged falcons in our skies.
To learn more about the nesting boxes at the Grand River Marsh Wildlife Area, call Jeff Lange at 920-229-6633.