ALEXANDER BOTKIN


From History of Dane County, Wisconsin, publ. by Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1880, page 525-526

ALEXANDER BOTKIN was born in Kentucky in 1801. At an early age he removed to Ohio, and from thence to Alton, Ill., in 1832. He was a Justice of the Peace at the time of the Lovejoy riots and took an active part to preserve law and order. He came to Madison, Wis., in 1841, as Assistant Secretary of State under the Territory, and was for a while a law partner of Alexander P. FIELD. He was a member of the Territorial House of Representatives of 1847-48; was a State Senator in 1849-50, and a member of the Assembly in 1852. He was a candidate for the First Constitutional Convention of 1846, but was defeated by John Y. SMITH, and was voted for by the Whigs in 1849, for United States Senator, against Isaac P. WALKER. He died suddenly at Sun Prairie, March 5, 1857, aged fifty-six years.

In the fall of 1847, BOTKIN, who, by the way, was a great practical joker, was a candidate for the Territorial House of Representatives. He was a Whig and his competitor resided in Marquette County. It was agreed that they would jointly canvass the district; hence, they were to hold a joint discussion at Baraboo. Public notice having been given, nearly all the inhabitants turned out, so that Mrs. PECK's hall was well filled. By agreement, it was BOTKIN's privilege to open the discussion. He commenced by complimenting the intelligence of his auditors, when he flattered up to the highest notch, and in eloquent and glowing terms, eulogized the beautiful valley of the Baraboo, dwelling on its magnificent advantages, its water-power, its great manufacturing privileges, its romantic scenery, its productive soil. Then he paused, and at length exclaimed: "One thing you especially need, and you are justly entitled to it; and that is, a good road over the bluffs. How can you procure it? How can that most desirable end be attained? I will tell you how! If, through your sufferance, I have the honor to represent you in the Territorial Council, send me your petition to organize a company for the purpose of macadamizing the highway over the bluffs. You don't desire to subject the inhabitants of Sauk Prairie to pay toll on the way to your mills, nor persons coming to transact business at the county seat. Hence, I shall endeavor to get an appropriation from the Territorial treasury to macadamize that road." Of course, cheers rolled up for BOTKIN. His competitor hemmed and hawed, and assured them if they voted for him, he would do all for them that BOTKIN could do, or had promised to do. The meeting closed with a speech from William WELCH, of Madison. Then Jim BADGER struck up on the violin, many joined in the dance, and did not go home till morning. The next discussion between these two gentlemen was at Prairie du Sac. BOTKIN's competitor led off, and he thought he would take all the wind out of his antagonist's sails. He started in, depredating their condition, being shut out from communication with the beautiful valley of the Baraboo, and having to pass over such a miserable, dangerous road. If he should be elected, he would put a bill through the Legislature appropriating a sum toward macadamizing the bluffs. At that time, Prairie du Sac was smarting under the removal of the county seat, and hoped to get it back again; hence, anything that would contribute to the advancement of Baraboo, Prairie du Sac was decidedly opposed to. BOTKIN rejoined; "Fellow-citizens: I am astonished at the diabolical proposition made by the gentleman. What is it that he proposes? Why, that you shall be taxed to build up a town in a barren, worthless, rocky, stone-bound region, where there is no town, nor never ought to be one! When I look upon your beautiful, rich prairie, your magnificent river, the trade and business which must necessarily center here, I think with indignation of the proposition made by my opponent, that you should be taxed to help build up a competing town, where neither God nor any sensible man ever intended there should be one." BOTKIN was overwhelmingly elected. He carried both sides of the bluffs.

He was in many respects a most peculiar man, and was well known to all who visited the State capital with any frequency through the last ten or twelve years before his death. He possessed an inexhaustible fund of anecdote and rough humor that made him an entertaining companion in the circles in which he moved. He frequented places of amusement, and was always ready to join in them - was occasionally seen at the dances and by the friendly card table - but never could be induced to violate his habits of the strictest abstinence. He had not received the benefits of a highly polished education, which sometimes caused him to make serious blunder in the use of language. Upon one occasion, in the Senate, he proceeded to speak against some measures adopted by the opposition in secret caucus, protesting strongly against the secrecy which had characterized their proceeding and said, "Mr. President, we want a fair fight. We don't want to go crawling around in the brush about this measure; but we want action on it to be sub rosa and above board." Upon another occasion, in one of the Justices' Courts of the county, he was arguing some question of law or fact, and attempted to quote Iago, as follows: "He who steals my purse steals trash; but he who filches me of my good name, steals that which not enriches him, and makes me - gentlemen of the jury - makes me feel - disagreeable."

A laughable anecdote is told of his electioneering tours. He called upon a Norwegian family, for he was an accomplished master of electioneering arts. He was invited to eat, and at once accepted the invitation. Among other Norwegian delicacies provided was a quantity of pickled ripe cucumbers - yellow and plethoric, with their intestinal contents. They were urged upon the Colonel by his officious hostess until he could no longer refuse without hazarding the vote of the head of the family. He at length attacked a monstrous specimen, and, with tears in his eyes, induced by sharpness of the vinegar, and the contents of the enormous pickle running out of both corners of his mouth and down his protuberant vest, insisted upon her giving him a recipe for the pickles that he could carry home and get some more made like them.

The last convivial occasion at which he was seen was at a dinner, given by Mayor FAIRCHILD, to the Common Councils of Watertown and Madison, and those interested in the W. & M. R.R. He was then called out, and delighted all by his humorous accounts of his efforts as right-of-way agent to secure the best possible terms for the railroad. He related his system of doing his business with an unction and humor that were in the highest degree entertaining. BOTKIN had a good and manly heart. No acquaintance that he ever had in this State will charge him with a mean or dishonest act. His goodness of heart was as unbounded as his humor; he was everybody's friend; "had no arts but manly arts;" and, if merit that received public respect - "A hand open as day to melting charity" - the qualities that made a man generous, patient, honest, forgiving and good, constitute a gentleman and a Christian, the subject of this sketch was both.


Transcribed and contributed to this site by Carol

 

 

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