Shared Photo: Lizzie Cardish, 15, Convicted Arsonist 1906

+18 votes

National Archives Flickr Albums. Lizzie Cardish, 15 years old. 1906 mugshot of the convicted arsonist, a Native American, who was found guilty of arson on a government reservation in Wisconsin for burning down part of the Menominee Indian Training school and sentenced to life in prison; to be served at Leavenworth. Her sentence was later commuted to six years until she reached age 21, where she was housed at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas. Retrieved 22 Oct 2016.

Repository: National Archives at Kansas City (RM-KC) 400 West Pershing Road, Kansas City, MO. Photographer: official mugshot. Public domain image; free of copyright.

I wanted to share this photo of DuBois Copyright Free & CC Image Cabinet with the community. Location: Wisconsin. Date: 1906.
Click here for the image details page or here for the full-sized version (3000 x 1639).

WikiTree profile: Lizzie Fox
in The Tree House by Rod DuBois G2G6 Pilot (181k points)
Love the hat. So different from most mug shots I have seen.
It is unique and also interesting that they allowed her to wear it for the photo. Thanks for your thoughts, Susan.
Glad to read that the ridiculous life sentence was commuted. I suspect that the judge knew that it would be, and was just trying to put the "fear of God" into her and her community. She looks contrite

4 Answers

+9 votes
Best answer
I would not say that was a very nice person , wonder what makes a young girl do a horrible thing like this. Also ruin her own life. Thank you for sharing
by Susan Laursen G2G Astronaut (2.8m points)
selected by Rubén Hernández
This still might not decide it but the 1910 census only lists her as 19 years old, not that she was born in 1891, which the indexer assumed. The names, ages and info on the 1910 census were most likely transcribed from institutional records (leaving room for error), not by interviewing the inmate girls, would be my guess. The 1900 census gives a month and year and would have been a proclamation of her parents, saying that she is 7 years old. The 1920 marriage record states she is 27 and not 29. Those are my thoughts on the difference between the two dates but its not something I'd go to Vegas and bet the farm on.
Thank you. If you hadn't pointed out that art site had an history  section, I would have completely overlooked it and never revisted to see it.
You're welcome, Michele. You and Eric are doing an exceptional job on her profile. I'm sure there are more docs out there on Lizzie that will turn up. Thanks for the collaboration.

By the way, "midwestern limestone caves," that was a good one! Legend/fiction always makes a better story than reality. Thanks, Michele.

I looked at your question above again and thought no, really? Then looked it up. Obviously, I had never heard of the Limestone Caves before and now find that fascinating. What I thought was a complete joke is actually in multiple locations. Touché!

Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed. :-)

Oooookay....back to the profile. I just found the 1920 census from the reservation on which Lizze is enumerated as Frank Kakkak's second wife. Frank lived to a ripe old age as evidenced by his other census records. In fact he was alive when Lizzie's marriage to John Fox occurred. Was the taking of a "2nd wife" on the reservation legally treated as were polygamist "spiritual marriages" in Utah - i.e. not legally recognized? That would explain how she was able to marry on the other side of the state line while still having a living "husband" back on the reservation. Any thoughts? I have to go look at some maps to get a geographic perspective on how the events of her life might have occurred.
Another piece to the name puzzle. On the 1920 census, taken on the reservation, 27 year old Lizze was listed as the wife of Frank Kakkak under the name Elizabeth C. (is that for Cardish?) Kakkak. It might be designated that was because we see another Lizzie in this family group, also designated as Frank's wife, 54 year old Lizzie Kakkak. Interestingly, the marital status for all three was marked "D" for divorced...despite living together with a child from each of the women.  Perhaps the enumerator was flummoxed as to how these relationship(s) could be properly described on the census form - seeing as how bigamy is illegal - and just decided they should all be divorcees. Or, perhaps there were consecutive legal marriages and divorces between the parties for which we just haven't found records.

The man had 2 wives, one being old enough to have given birth to the younger, both with the same name living under the same roof. As a woman, I can imagine what fun that must have been....and also why our Lizzie jumped ship to have an(other) at-least-legal marriage performed the month after this census. Of course, I may just be projecting my own 21st sensibilities on the situation.
Susan, the more we discover about this girl's life, the more it looks like the cards were stacked against her in every way imaginable. It has more drama than a Greek tragedy.
I think she looks nice, if not "very nice", and I am inclined to think that her experience with the "Menominee Indian Training school" was probably  traumatic. The fact that it called itself a "training school" suggests a place where young aboriginal people were not educated, but indoctrinated into abandoning their own heritage and adopting a white persona, etc.
Thank you, that was interesting
In order for us to learn from the mistakes of our past we must first understand what they were. Thanks for sharing, William.
+6 votes

Rod, have you considered adding this girl's profile to the Black Sheep project? It would qualify.
by Michele Britton G2G6 Mach 1 (18.5k points)

I agree that it would qualify for the Black Sheep Project if someone desired to create the profile. Thanks for sharing, Michele.

Edit: Profile created for Lizzie Cardish.


+3 votes

Has anybody tried looking her up on the site? It is the main Wisconsin Historical website or at least Main Offical one. 

I think I'll actually go look her up on it and see if I can find anything.

by Amanda Frank G2G6 Mach 5 (51.0k points)
Great, let us know if you find anything interesting, Amanda.
Now while I did not find any records on the actually website they do give you links and ideas for other places to look. I went to one of the newspaper ones and I sure did find things, both for Lizzie and for my own family. With Lizzie I got 9 results and all tell a bit of the story involving the fire. Since I'm on my phone typing this I'm going to make a separate comment for each article so I have less of a chance of losing what I've typed when going back and forth between windows.

So the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern dated March 2, 1906 pg. 6 says this about Lizzie

For the second time, two Indian girls, Lizzie Cardish, aged fifteen, and Louise La Motte. aged seventeen, have been placed on trial in United States court at Milwaukee on charges of having set fire to the school on the Keshena reservation. Their attorney filed a demurrer and the case was taken under advisement.

This next one from Oshkosh Daily Northwestern June 13, 1906 page 8 you just have to read for yourself.

It gives more clarity to some things.

Now we actually have a small mention from an Iowa paper. From the Postville Review June 22,1906 on page 2

Life imprisonment at the government penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth was the sentence of Lizzie Cardish, the Indian girl who pleaded guilty to setting fire to the reservation school at Oneida, Wis.

The Eau Claire Leader on August 21, 1906 (page 3) is the first mention of her possibly being pardoned.

Inquiries received from the department of justice by federal court officials at Milwaukee, lead to the belief that Lizzie Cardish, the Oneida Indian girl recently sentenced to Fort Leavenworth for life for setting fire to a school house on the reservation is to be pardoned.

Now are getting close to the end of Lizzie's tale. From the Des Moines Daily News September 12, 1906 on page 10.



MILWAUKEE, Wis, Sept.- Lizzie Cardish, the 15 year old Indian girl sentenced to imprisonment for life- has had her sentence commuted by President Roosevelt to imprisonment in some industrial school until she is 21 years old. Lizzie and a companion were arrested for firing a schoolhouse on the Keshena reservation. Lizzie admitted the crime and under the antiquated laws it was the duty of Judge Quaries to sentence her to life imprisonment and she was taken to the penitentiary at Lansing, Kan. A petition for commutation of her sentence was prepared immediately and signed by Judge Quaries and the government officials.

There are maybe 2-3 more articles to go and one is a twist but its going to have to wait till tomorrow.

These are wonderful news sources Amanda. Perhaps someone will write citations for them and add them in-line to her biography. Well done.
Thank you and thanks for reminding me to finish up the last couple ones.

Okay, we skip one from Wisconsin because it has all the information as the previous one but shortened. This one comes from the Des Moines Daily News September 27, 1906 page 5.


MILWAUKEE, Wis, Sept 26- Little Lizzie Cardish, of tanned face and arms, won't go to prison for life for burning the Keshena Indian school. 

But she's going to a reform school until she know's better. Then she will be free to live her care-free life again. A United States Judge doesn't think she will burn any more schools.

Lizzie is an Indian girl of 15. She has passed all her life on a Wisconsin reservation. But she didn't like it. She pined for a change of scene. First of all she wanted to go to Carlisle. But the commissioner wouldn't allow her. He told her to stay in the school at Keshena.

So Lizzie thought the best way to get to Carlisle would be to burn the Keshena school. She did it.

With another Indian girl, Louisa LaMotte, she clambered into the building and set the fire. It cost the government $75,000 to replace it. She is an Indian. When the Indian hates, he burns. Lizzie hated the school. She burned it.

First off she was arrested, but because of a faulty indictment she was released. But the next grand jury fixed it and Lizzie Cardish was sentenced to prison for life. She took all the blame for the burning.

Under the indian laws, imprisonment for life was the only punishment for the Indian girl. She got it. No soon had the sentence been pronounced when the officers of the court asked for her pardon or at least a commutation of sentence. Now it has been granted by President Roosevelt and Lizzie will leave the awful Ft. Leavenworth prison.

Now you can tell who ever wrote that has some issues with Native Americans but I also need to give this mystery writer because this is the most detailed account of all the events leading up to this in the papers so far.

We hear of Lizzie Cardish one last time in the newspapers (or at least from what I can find) in the Ogden Standard Ogden City Utah April 19, 1910 page 1. The article is called Taft Pardons Three Persons, I'll skip to the part where they talk about her.

Lizzie Cardish, an Indian girl, has had her sentence, of confinement in a reform school until she reached the age of 21, commuted to expire immediately. When she was 15 years old, she pleaded guilty in the United States court for the easter district of Wisconsin, to a charge of arson. She acted under the influence of older students.

And that is where the story of Lizzie Cardish ends.

+5 votes
Lizzie is my relative through her second marriage. I would suggest to everyone that has posted regarding Lizzie and her arson conviction that you do some research on the residential/boarding school issue with Native American and First Nations peoples. Children had less of a chance of surviving residential school than a soldier fighting in an active conflict. These schools were meant to "Kill the Indian, save the man." She grew up to be an amazing woman who spent her life empowering Menominee women in the community.
I appreciate your excellent contribution to the discussion. The value of this perspective is crucial in balancing the struggle of Native Americans living under the pressure of government structured education and policy with media reports. I am delighted to hear that Lizzie became such a positive influence. Thanks for sharing and you are more than welcome to add to the conversation.

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