The Curious Antigo Bank Robbery of 1888

Jun 22, 2018

This week on A Northwoods Moment in History, local historian Gary Entz takes us back to a rather curious bank robbery that took place in Antigo in 1888.

When we hear stories of bank robberies many people automatically think about tales of the Old West or perhaps the gangsters of the 1930s.  However, bank robberies happened in other times and other places as well, and one curious Northwoods bank robbery took place in Antigo during the year 1888.

On April 26, 1888, the cashier at the Bank of Antigo locked the doors to the bank and headed down the street on his dinner break.  While he was absent, someone entered from the rear of the building, pried open the safe, and helped himself to $5,800 in cash.  A witness noticed a man skulking out from the rear of the bank shortly thereafter.  The bank offered a $500 reward for the apprehension of a man described as 5’ 8” tall, about 30 years old, dark complexion with a black moustache, and wearing a dark suit of clothes.

On May 1, Langlade County Sherriff Robins went to Rhinelander and arrested a man by the name of George West, who was alleged to be a “well known crook in Wisconsin and Minnesota.”    West was an alias for George Cook.  He was allegedly the man seen skulking out of the bank on April 26 and was unable to give a satisfactory account of his whereabouts.  However, he had no money on him and none was recovered at the time.  Nevertheless, he was remanded over to the authorities in Antigo and locked up to await trial.  State Senator William Kennedy of Appleton was retained as Cook’s defense attorney and he quickly got Cook released on a $2,000 bail.  Passions in Antigo were at a fever pitch.  Nothing of this sort had ever taken place in the town before, and few believed in Cook’s innocence. 

Judge George Meyers of Appleton convened the Circuit Court for Langlade County in early September, and the trial of George Cook proceeded without delay.  Cook argued that he was a stranger in Antigo, had been in his hotel at the time of the robbery, and mustered up Simon Heiler, a local saloon keeper, and two unidentified men from Hurley as witnesses for his alibi.  Having no evidence other than that Cook vaguely resembled the witness description, the jury acquitted him of the crime.  Cook walked away a free man, and for the time being the case remained unresolved.

"A Northwoods Moment in History" is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.

Music for this commentary came Podington Bear and the Free Music Archive. Sound effects for this commentary came from Freesound. The photo above is used with permisson from the Wisconsin Historical Society and can be found on their website here.