Pepin County Courthouse and Jail

Also known as: 1030741846, 1020751833, 0502783014, 1031771749, 0902712, 02047721
307 W. Madison, Durand, Wisconsin


Overview Looking Southeast

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in June 2012



The Last Lynching in Wisconsin 

Written by J.R. Manning

Ed Maxwell, alias of Ed Williams, shot and killed a deputy sheriff in Pepin County in 1881. His brother, Lon, was accused of killing a second deputy, sent to arrest the brothers. (Maxwell confessed to the shooting, although he claimed it was in self-defense.)

Ed Maxwell had been trained under the influence of Quantrell's Raiders, and although never a part of the gang himself, was associated with the James-Younger Gang. Ed learned the business of horse thievery, and became very good at the craft, stealing horses successfully in five states. He convinced his younger brother, Lon, to join him in his exploits. Lon was always reluctant but went along under the influence of his brother. They performed numerous burglaries but apparently, stealing horses was their specialty.

Lon, always the reluctant one, tried to go straight. He settled in nearby Knapp and took a job as a clerk in a dry goods store. He fell in love with and married a local woman who held quite an influence over him, and despite his brother's best attempts to lure him back into a life of crime, remained straight. Lon took a job in a lumber mill but severely injured his foot with an axe. With bills piling up, he became desperate. Ed had been continuing his crime spree in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and authorities assumed Lon was a part of it all. As long as he was being accused of the crimes anyway, he returned to a life of crime with his brother.

When Lon returned home to his pregnant wife, he was denied any chance to see her. She died in childbirth. Lon was filled with rage over not being able to see her and set out to seek revenge on the men who prevented his visitation. The law set out to find him before anything could happen. When confronted by the two deputy sheriffs, gunfire ensued and the two deputies fell after being shot and killed by the brothers. A huge manhunt followed, but the wily brothers escaped from a posse through the thick Eau Galle woods. They went back to Nebraska to hide, but were soon tracked down near Grand Island. Lon escaped, but Ed was captured, arrested and returned to Durand to face trial.

Before his hearing, a mob descended on the courthouse and overpowered the guards, taking Maxwell into their custody. Still in handcuffs and leg shackles, Maxwell was dragged with a noose to a nearby tree and lynched, his body still swaying from the branch when the crowd dispersed. Reports of the lynching indicate that Williams had died of suffocation before his body reached the tree.

The story of the lynching even made the New York Times via the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Durand was soon ridiculed across the nation as a hanging town, but it turns out that the local residents had little to do with the lynching. Reports of lumberjacks swarming into town and performing the lynching persist to this day.

Ed Williams was considered to be a hardened criminal and one of the most dangerous, and most wanted, men in the area. Lon eluded capture and was never seen again. A skeleton was found near his home in Nebraska and was thought to be that of Lon Williams.

The hanging of Ed "Williams" Maxwell was the last lynching in Wisconsin.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on March 9, 1982
Reference number
Architectural styles
Late 19th and 20th Century Revival: Late Gothic Revival; Mid 19th Century Revival: Exotic Revival
Areas of significance
Politics/Government; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic functions
Courthouse; Correctional facility; Single dwelling
Current functions
Correctional facility; Single dwelling; Courthouse
Periods of significance
1875-1899; 1850-1874
Significant years
1873; 1874; 1895
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 2

Update Log 

  • June 24, 2012: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • June 24, 2012: New photos from J.R. Manning