52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks  topic is Conflict.

In my 2nd great-grandfather, John Desens, probate file, I found what might be a conflict.  It looks like John’s son-in-law, Albert Triebes, put in a claim for $75.00 for attending to the burial of John Desens and traveling from Forest Park, Illinois to Greenwood, Wisconsin and back.  His claimed was denied. [1]

john desens estae

Albert Triebes then wrote a letter to the administrator.  Here is a transcript of that letter.

Forest Park, Ill

July 17 – 08

Dear Sir,

I have rec’d your registered letters.  You say my claim is not legal, and the heirs do not want to allow me for the claim.  Let the court decide it.  Even if it will be an additional expense, I do not like to see them have their own way.  For my part they can keep it all.

Yours Resp,

Alb. Trebes

91 Marengo St.

Forest Park, Ill [2]



It sounds to me like there was a little conflict here.  My father never mentioned his cousins from this side of his family.  I heard the name Triebes and that they were somehow related to my father’s family, but nobody seemed to know how they were related.  My Godfather, Lou Schultz, gave me a lot of information on my father’s family too, and he never mentioned them either.  This happened many years before my father or Lou were born so they may never have met any of them or even been told about this side of the family.  So it is very likely there was some conflict here.

Why was John’s son-in-law taking care of the burial and not his son, Carl, my great-grandfather?  Maybe there was conflict between Carl and his father John.


[1] Author: Wisconsin. County Court (Clark County); Probate Place: Clark, Wisconsin. Source Information: Wisconsin, Wills and Probate Records, 1800-1987 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2015.Original data: Wisconsin County, District and Probate Courts.

[2] Ibid.

John Desens Killed by Neighbor

John's Farm

John’s Farm

On a June day in 1907 John Desens was working on his farm in Clark County, Wisconsin near the town of Greenwood, when he noticed that something had eaten his grain.  He did not own any cattle and the only cattle nearby belonged to his neighbor Fred Zell.  John was walking his horses out to the pasture, when he saw his neighbor, Fred, on the road.  John called to Fred and said, “Your cattle have been eating my grain.”  Fred asked him, “How can you say my stock is eating your grain?”  John replied, “Come and see for yourself, you can see the grain is eaten off.”  Fred yelled to John, “You son of a bitch.  You come on the road and I will fix you!”  John said, “No, I don’t want to fight, I am an old man, and all I ask of you is to keep your stock out of my grain.”  John heard the gate open, and the next thing he knew Fred had him by the throat, choking him, and pushed him up against the fence post.  John took out his knife and tried to cut himself loose.  He cut where ever he could.  John fell and Fred fell on top of him. John didn’t want to get his eyes cut so he managed to roll over.  John woke up lying in the field and an officer was talking to him.  John said to the officer, “Leave me lie here a little longer and I will die.  I do not want to go to jail.”  The office told him that he wasn’t going to take him to jail, but to a doctor.  When the officer found John, he had been cut and bleeding.  John stated that his side hurt and asked for some water.  The officer got him some water and noticed that John was covered with dried blood and flies.  The officer also saw that there was blood oozing from John’s leg and at first thought that John had been shot.  He ripped the pant leg and saw that he had a gash on his leg.  The officer and some other men got a wagon, filled it with hay, got some blankets from John’s house, and took him into town to the doctor.  Later that day the officer got a call to take John to the local hotel.  He had taken Fred Zell there earlier that day.  There was only one room available so he put John in the same room as Fred.   This was in place of a hospital as there was no hospital in the town.  Two days later John went by the officer’s house and said he was going to walk home.  The next day Saturday the officer and district attorney went out to John’s house.  They showed him a knife they had gotten from Mrs. Zell and asked him if that was his knife.  John said that it was like his except that he had a piece of wood in it so that he could open it easier and this one had the tip of the blade broke off and a small piece of the blade was bent over. A week later on July 6, 1907 John succumbed to the stab wounds in his chest and died alone in his house.[1]

Fred Zell was seriously injured and it took him months to recover.  His hand was almost severed from his arm.  Fred did recover, but didn’t regain full use of his hand.  Fred died in 1932.  A newspaper account said that Fred Zell was resting his arm on the gate talking to John about the cattle when all of a sudden John started cutting Fred’s hand. [2]

When I first ran across this story, I had two newspaper accounts and a mention of it in a book.[3] [4] [5] I didn’t know if John Desens was my great-great grandfather or not.  His wife had the same name as my great-great grandmother (already deceased at this time) and his one son (also already deceased at this time) had the same name as a sibling of my great grandfather.[6]  I sent for John’s death certificate hoping that the informant would be some relative that I knew, but it did not list an informant.[7]  Then last summer I made a trip to Clark County Wisconsin.  I asked to see the probate file, but it was no longer kept there.  It was now in the state archives.  I then asked to see the criminal file for Fred Zell because the paper said most likely he would be charged with John Desens death.[8]  I had to pay $5.00 and they would search for it at a later date and send it to me.  Then I asked to see land records which I was able to see.  The Land records gave a legal description and I was able to locate the farm on a current day map, but it didn’t give me any clues to if this was my ancestor or not.  A few weeks later I received the criminal file.  There appears to be pages missing, but there are 21 pages of testimony from the officer who found John Desens lying in his yard that day in June.  So I only have John’s story through the officer. [9]

Fred Zell’s story is missing.  Although, the paper had Zell’s story about how John went after him first.[10]  In the end the court did not charge Fred Zell with John Desens death because lack of evidence as to who started the fight.[11]  I have some questions and they were not answered in the court documents to my satisfaction.  John was 74[12] years old and Fred was 46.[13]  It seems to me that Fred would have the advantage being younger and most likely be stronger than John.  If John cut first almost severing Fred’s hand, how could Fred have stabbed John?  Did Fred have a knife on him to stab John, or did he get John’s knife away from him and use it on John?  How did Fred get back to his farm or get help?  Why was John left to die? It sounds like he was left lying there in the field for a long time because of the dry blood and flies on him.  He was in and out of consciousness.   Paper also said Fred Zell was the worse of the two,[14] yet he lived for 25 more years.[15]  I think if the investigation was done today that they would be more thorough.

I sent to the state archives for John’s probate file and right on the first page is the evidence that John is my great-great grandfather.  It lists my great grandfather Carl Desens at 111 Washington Street, Forest Park, IL as his son.[16]  An interesting side note about the probate file.  Fred Zell was suing John’s estate for $5000.[17]  All of John’s 80 acres were only worth $1200.[18] He did not have much else and had some debts that needed to be paid out of the estate.[19]  Fred Zell received $1.00.[20]  I find this story very sad.  Although I never knew my 2nd great grandfather, I felt sad that he was left in the field to die.  I felt anger at the neighbor for his part in this and the fact that he was younger and probably stronger, and frustration at district attorney for not investigating it better.  There are so many unanswered questions.

I visited John’s grave when I was up there last summer, however at the time, I was not sure if he was my ancestor or not.  I also did not have all the details of the crime.  I would like to go back and visit his grave again and take some flowers.  I want him to know that someone cares.  That I care!

John Desens Tombstone

Copyright © 2015 Gail Grunst


[1] Criminal file for Fred Zell, Clerk of the Court, 517 Court Street, Room 405, Neillsville, Wisconsin 54456.  Sent by Elizabeth Frost, Deputy Clerk to Abigail Grunst.

[2] Neillsville times(Neillsville, Clark County, Wis) July 11, 1907.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Marshfield Times ( Marshfield, Wood County, Wis) July 17,1907

[5] Hub of Clark County (1853 – 1934)

[6] United Church of Christ East Cemetery Index(formerly the German Immanuel Evangelical & Reformed Church) Warner Township, Clark County, WI, Compiled by Stan and Janet Schwarze.

[7] Death Record of John Desens, Pre -1907 Wisconsin Death Record County Clark, Volume # 01 Page # 438. Filed at the State Historical Archives of Wisconsin, Miroforms room, 816 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

[8] Marshfield Times ( Marshfield, Wood County, Wis) July 17,1907

[9] Criminal file for Fred Zell, Clerk of the Court, 517 Court Street, Room 405, Neillsville, Wisconsin 54456.  Sent by Elizabeth Frost, Deputy Clerk to Abigail Grunst.

[10] Neillsville times(Neillsville, Clark County, Wis) July 11, 1907

[11] Criminal file for Fred Zell, Clerk of the Court, 517 Court Street, Room 405, Neillsville, Wisconsin 54456.  Sent by Elizabeth Frost, Deputy Clerk to Abigail Grunst

[12] Death Record of John Desens, Pre -1907 Wisconsin Death Record County Clark, Volume # 01 Page # 438. Filed at the State Historical Archives of Wisconsin, Miroforms room, 816 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

[13] Obituary of Frederick W. Zell.  Greenwood Gleaner (Greenwood, Clark County Wisconsin) August 25, 1932.

[14] Marshfield Times ( Marshfield, Wood County, Wis) July 17,1907

[15] Obituary of Frederick W. Zell.  Greenwood Gleaner (Greenwood, Clark County Wisconsin) August 25, 1932.

[16] Probate file for John Desens filed in the McIntyre Library at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 103 Garfield Ave, Eau Claire, WI 54701.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

My Research Trip to Neillsville Wisconsin

John Desens Tombstone


Last week I took a genealogy trip to the middle of Wisconsin in search of a man that I believe could be my great-great grandfather.  Let’s put it this way, I am 95% sure that this man is my great-great grandfather.  What I need is a document that proves it.  I believe this man to be my great-great grandfather because he has the same name and his wife has the same name as my great-great grandmother.  His son that lived nearby has the same name as my great grandfather’s brother.  My father told me way back in 1979 that we had ancestors who lived in Wisconsin and were killed by Indians.  Well the man I think is my great-great grandfather was killed by his neighbor and his son was killed by an accident with his shot gun.  This is a lot of circumstantial evidence.  So to Wisconsin I went with hopes of getting the documentation that I need.

My ancestor lived on a farm near Greenwood Wisconsin.  Since he owned land, I figured that there should be a probate file.  So my first stop at the Court House in Neillsville, Wisconsin was the Probate Office.  I was told that the old probate files had been transferred to the Wisconsin State Archives in Madison, but she was able to tell me that there is a file and gave me the number.  Then I went to the Circuit Clerk to see if there was a criminal file for the neighbor that killed him.  I was not allowed to search, they will search for me at their convenience.  I filled out a form and paid $5.00 for the search.  I will see if anything comes of it.  My next stop was the land office since he owned land.  The lady in this office was great!  She showed me to the Grantor and Grantee books and let me search.  I knew his death date so I started with the Grantor books for 1907 and found the sale of the farm in Sept of 1907.  I did not recognize the name of the man who purchased it.  Next I wanted to see the title and get a legal description.  So I copied down the information and went back to clerk with the information of the book and page number the title should be in.  She had to take to the basement of the court house. In the basement the book shelves were covered with plastic tarps.  She pulls a tarp back, pulls out the book and opens to the page.  I was able to write down the legal description.  Then next to that title was one for his son.  I wrote down that legal description too.  It appeared that they each owned 40 acres next to one another.  The clerk asked me if I would like to know where the farms were today.  She anticipated my next question!  We went back upstairs to look at the current plot book. By the legal description we were able to find the farms and the roads that they are on today.

My husband and I drove out to the farm, and I was able to get some pictures and see what it looks like today.  Then we went to find the cemetery where he is buried.  I had this information from the Internet.  I was hoping he had a headstone so I could find his grave and he did, but his son who is buried right next to him did not.  The church he went to is close by the cemetery.   Both Church and Cemetery are close to his farm.

I should say that before I went I had sent for his death certificate which said he died of multiple stab wounds to the chest.  This peaked my curiosity about his death and contacted a library in the area to see if they had obits.  They found a newspaper article about his death.  I still don’t have the proof I need, but I’m still working on it.  It looks like my next trip is to the Wisconsin State Archives in Madison.

Note: When I have all the information I need, I intend to write his story.  That is why I am not including too many details here.  This is intended to be more about my research trip.


Copyright © 2014 Gail Grunst