When I first started researching my father’s family history, (many, many moons ago), I wrote to a relative (I forget who) asking what they knew about the family. The response I received contained what little information they had to share, along with a mention of memories of my great grandmother Gert not speaking to one of her sisters. Something to do with politics. Now I am wondering if maybe it was something else entirely.
Carrie Rosa and John Cain had, along with several daughters, six sons (in order of birth):
Albert (Bert) b1887
Henry (Harry) b1892
While doing research in Oconto County newspapers, I ran into several articles in which Bert Cain was the subject, and not in a good way. In fact a few of the Cain brothers were showing up in the newspaper regarding some crime or other they had committed.
James and William* were caught using dynamite to catch fish in the Oconto River in 1915. I don’t know how, or if, William was punished, as there was no judgment found with his name on it, but James was charged $5.00 and spent 30 days in jail. (This was the only time William showed up in court.) James, however, was convicted in 1922 of being in possession of privately manufactured liquor. This time he paid a $200 fine and spent 90 days in jail. Ouch! Milton, the youngest, was always trying to get into saloons when he was underage and was fined twice for his attempts, once in 1912 ($2.00) and again in 1915 ($1.00).
Now to Bert.
Before I dove into the rabbit hole of my latest newspaper research I didn’t know much about Bert. I knew his wife’s name was Florence ____; they never had any children together, that I am aware of; and in 1955 he committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head. I can say with certainty that I now know a lot more.
Bert and Flo owned/ran a drinking establishment called Swamp Saloon in the Town of Little River, in Oconto County for many years.
The first time he shows up in trouble in the newspaper was in 1920. He was on trial for manslaughter.
All told he paid a fine of $750 for killing someone.
The next time Bert shows up in court is in 1921. He was arrested and charged with selling liquor in violation of the National Prohibition Act, which had been passed in 1919.
Another arrest occurred in 1925. Again for selling liquor. On the face of things this seems pretty innocuous, just another violator of prohibition. (The prohibition act, while enacted basically good intentions, was a farce that didn’t really address the problem of alcoholism and domestic violence, which was the actual intent. It merely made scummy mobsters rich.) The saloon was most likely closed during the trial, along with others.
In reading over the case file I wasn’t really expecting much of interest to show up, after all it was just another case of illegal liquor sales, but boy was I surprised.
It appears that Bert and Flo, while never being charged as such, were also ‘procurers’ or pimps. They conveniently provided prostitutes for interested ‘clients’, and took a part of the ladies’ profits, renting the rooms in their ‘hotel’ for the use of the couples. Below are clips from the court case regarding their prostitution related offenses:
There was no judgment in this case as it was the preliminary hearing to decide whether or not to proceed to trial. Bert and Flo probably pled guilty and paid the fine. They didn’t serve any time in jail as far as I can tell.
In 1931 Bert was again in court for the same reason, as seen in this amusing newspaper article:
I could find no case specific to this time period for Bert. Again, it doesn’t appear that he actually went to jail for any of these offenses, and probably paid another fine.
Bert and Flo continued to operate their saloon until 1933 when an unfortunate and terrifying event occurred:
The article mentions a daughter Leona [age 17], this would be Florence’s daughter from a previous marriage. This incident didn’t stop Bert and Flo though, they continued to operate drinking and eating establishments as shown in this Billboard magazine news clip from 1941:
As to their prostitution related activities, the length of time of their involvement is not clear. I can find no record of either Bert or Flo being brought to court for them, at least in Oconto County.
We don’t know how much of this activity Gertrude was aware of. But my guess is that it is this brother and sister-in-law whom she didn’t much associate with.
- This is a link to the court hearing for James and William, with testimony. Makes for some interesting reading.