Who were these people? Were they two of the vilest people to ever call Michigan home or were they someone’s sweet great- great-uncle and great-great-aunt?
Up until a few months ago I thought they were the former. I believed they were Jim Carr and Maggie Duncan. Both lived during the lumbering era of the 1880s when Clare County was in the midst of a short-lived economic boom brought about by the lumbering of the county’s many forests. Carr owned the Devil’s Ranch Stockade, a combination saloon and whorehouse in that small mid-Michigan community located in the small community of Harrison. Carr ran the saloon while—at least it seems from the arrest records–Duncan handled the prostitutes.
In fact I was so sure I included those two photos in blog post entitled “Jim and Maggie: Disreputable, Despicable and Clare County’s Own.,” which provided a summary of the lives and their crimes. I was confident in my identification because those same photos appeared in two books: Frankie and the Barons by Stuart Gross, and Michigan Rogues, Desperadoes, Cut-Throats by Tom Powers.
Then Angela Kellogg tossed the proverbial monkey wrench into things.
In 2013, Kellogg, a Harrison librarian, was working with Cody Beemer on a book about Harrison. Because the book would primarily use photographs to tell the county’s history, Kellogg intended to use the two photos. However, she first wanted to ensure the two photos were actually of Carr and Duncan. She didn’t doubt that photos of the two existed, or at least had once existed. It’s likely both would have taken time away from their criminal enterprises to sit for a portrait with the local photographer. Many people did back then either to share or for the novelty of it.
So it was likely there had been photos of Carr and Duncan taken, but if they still existed neither Kellogg or Beemer had ever seen them, and Kellogg was not going to include any photo she could not positively identify.
It’s a Journalism 101 rule writers of history too often forget: “If your mother says she loves you, get proof.”
So Kellogg sought to contact the two authors to get that proof. Powers quickly responded saying he copied the photos from the book by Gross but had not confirmed the identity of the two figures. (I can’t blame the man since it was the same thing I had done when I wrote my Carr/Duncan post.)
That left Gross. Unfortunately getting that proof proved difficult since Gross had died in 1996. Undeterred, Kellogg contacted the book publisher Gross had used and was directed to a woman who worked there now and had been an intern when Gross was putting the finishing touches on his “Frankie” book. She remembered rather lengthy discussions on the topic of the two photos and told Kellogg that Gross felt very strongly the two photos were the infamous pair and so pushed for their publication. However, Kellogg’s source did not remember any real evidence that Gross had to back up his assertion.
Why Gross was so insistent is not known. he must have had some evidence, even circumstantial. However, whatever evidence he produced had been enough so that his argument carried the day; the two photos became Carr and Duncan.
But not in Kellogg and Beemer’s book. The story of Carr and Duncan is told but no photos of them are included. Journalism 101.
Then the question still remains: Who were these people? Are they Carr and Duncan or are they someone’s kindly old relative long deceased who may now have hundreds of heirs.
If you know, please let Angie Kellogg at the Harrison District Library know, respond to this post, or send an email to the Clare County Historical Society. Maybe someone still has the archives of Stuart Gross. Maybe somewhere in there is the evidence that had convinced Gross.
In the meantime, be vigilant. You already know you have to take what you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. Maybe an entire salt shaker. It might also be worth exercising that same note of caution with what you read in books, especially if they rely heavily on the research of others. As this story shows, not everything you read is necessarily accurate. At the same time, please note that the remaining information on Carr and Duncan that appears in the Gross and Power books appears to be historically accurate, although both seem to rely on the research of others and on old newspaper accounts.
Note: Kellogg and Beemer’s book on Harrison (with 100% verified information) is available by contacting Kellogg at the above link.