A Brush with the Law

My granduncle Joseph (Joe) Albert Vadnais has turned out to be a man of many layers.  One of these layers was uncovered while researching his baseball playing adventures in Ambrose, North Dakota.  To my surprise, and also the surprise of those in Ambrose who knew him, Joe had a brush with the law that could have resulted in his being imprisoned. 

It was on the front page of the February 17, 1911 Ambrose Newsman1 where I found the following article:

Joe was accused of a serious felony crime, “aiding a prisoner to escape.”  I don’t know why Mrs. Vadnais, Joe’s first wife Nellie McGee, was not also charged.  I was pleased to read that Joe’s conduct was “a surprise to everyone, as he was not considered one who would ever get mixed up in a deal of this nature.”  I did find it odd that Joe “knew Miller was in hiding there but he did not consider it was up to him to assist the officers in locating the fugitive.”  I don’t know about you, but I was taught that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”  Anyway, my curiosity was piqued; what was going to happen to Joe?

I next found an article in the June 9, 1911 Ambrose Tribune titled “District Court Convenes Monday,” and in the list of criminal cases was “State of North Dakota vs. Joe Vadnais.  Concealing an escaped prisoner.”2  He would soon find out his fate.

The District Court results were published in the Crosby Eagle on June 23, 1911:3

”Joe Vadnais of Ambrose was arraigned and pled guilty to the charge of concealing an escaped prisoner… Sentence was also passed on Vadnais, and he was released on parole for one year at good behavior.”

The court must have taken into account that Joe had been, up until he concealed the prisoner, an upstanding member of the community.  For everything I read about Joe over his several years in Ambrose, I believe that he was an asset to the town.  However, even though his sentence was parole for one year, he had still been convicted of a felony which meant that he had lost his right to vote.

I thought it was the end of the story until I did a search in the North Dakota Archives for a picture of the governor of North Dakota, John Burke, during the time Joe lived in Ambrose.  The governor had attended the Grand Harvest Festival in Ambrose on August 26, 1910.   I wrote about it in the “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” post about Joe’s baseball days in Ambrose.  Joe more than likely would have met or definitely would have seen the governor at the event.

Postcard showing Governor John Burke at Ambrose, North Dakota on August 20, 19104 
(he would later serve as the United States treasurer for 8 years and as a Supreme Court justice for almost 13 years)

While doing the search to find the picture shown above, one of the results that surfaced included the words “Ambrose,” “Burke,” and Vadnais.”  I could see why Ambrose and Vadnais would be grouped together, but why would Vadnais be associated with Burke?  I clicked on the result, it was a document titled “Public Document #27, Sixth Biennial Report of the State Board of Pardons, Period Ending December 31, 1912.”5  It seems there was more to Joe’s story about his brush with the law.  Among the 30 or so pages of pardons, conditional pardons, denials, restoration of the rights of citizenship, and commutations, I found the following:

In June 1912, Joe’s right to vote was restored by Governor John Burke.  One can only hope that Joe had learned his lesson, albeit the hard way.

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