Murder Mystery Dinner presented by FWSQ at VFW on July 20

Murder Mystery Dinner presented by Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters at VFW on July 20

The 1836 Fort Winnebago wedding reception of Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark and Lt. Horatio Van Cleve will be re-enacted Saturday, July 20, in Portage. Unlike 188 years ago, however, murder will cast a pall over the couple’s special day and the guests must solve this whodunit.

Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters (FWSQ) invites the public to “Charlotte and Horatio: A Murder Mystery, Dinner and Hearty Helping of History” at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, 215 W. Collins St.

The Portage-area Food Dude, Anthony Sadlon, is catering the 5 p.m. event. The menu includes smoked brisket, smashed potatoes, glazed carrots and, of course, wedding cake. VFW Post 1707, which is partnering with FWSQ, will provide a cash bar.

Tickets cost $50 each and are available online at; at Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters, located at 1824 East State Road 33 in Portage; and from FWSQ committee members.

The event is a Wisconsin Society Daughters of the American Revolution-approved fundraiser, with all proceeds going to support Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters operations.

“As a nonprofit with historic preservation as a mission, fundraising is absolutely essential,” said Dallas Chapman, event chair.

She noted that “Charlotte and Horatio” is a murder mystery written by JaNelle Powers, a DAR member from Lake Geneva. It is set at the 1836 wedding at Fort Winnebago of Charlotte Ouisconsin Clark and Lt. Horatio Van Cleve.

Charlotte was born shortly after her father, Lt. Nathan Clark, and his wife, Charlotte Ann Seymour Clark, arrived at Fort Crawford in present-day Prairie du Chien. Her birthplace provided her middle name — Ouisconsin, spelled in the French style — and she was the first white female born in the Wisconsin Territory.

The family eventually continued their travels to Fort Snelling in Minnesota. But having a father in the army meant Charlotte traveled a great deal in her early years and developed a love of the military.

Shortly before turning 17, Charlotte met Lt. Horatio Van Cleve at Fort Winnebago, where he and her father both were stationed.

They wed, and Charlotte became very civic-minded, championing women’s causes such as the plight of prostitutes and unwed mothers, and suffrage. The first woman elected to the Minneapolis School Board, she helped incorporate and served as the first president of Bethany Home, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of struggling women.

Charlotte also wrote the book “Three Score Years and Ten, Life-Long Memories of Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and Other Parts of the West.”

Horatio originally was from Princeton, N.J. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1831 and then served at frontier posts, including Fort Winnebago.

The lieutenant quit army life when he married Charlotte. He became a teacher, farmer, engineer and surveyor of public lands.

However, when the drums of the Civil War started beating, Horatio returned to the military as a colonel of the 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, eventually being promoted to brigadier general in recognition of his service. He fought at Mill Springs and Perryville in Kentucky, the Siege of Corinth in Mississippi and at Chickamauga, Georgia, as well as commanded the post and forces at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

“I’m really excited about this event because it offers a chance to bring Portage-area history alive in a way that we strive to do at Fort Winnebago Surgeons Quarters,” Chapman said of the murder mystery dinner. “I’m hoping attendees will embrace the idea of traveling back in time to 1836 to help solve the murder. How often do you get a chance to live history that we usually only read about?”

She explained that attendees will be able to mix and mingle with the characters, becoming immersed in the drama and getting an opportunity to solve the mystery by putting all the clues together.

“We’re very excited about this event for a number of reasons,” Chapman said. “Partnering with VFW Post 1707 is an opportunity to embrace our mutual patriotism and deepen our engagement with each other. In fact, the partnership has already led to other collaboration: We’ll be holding a flag-retirement ceremony together in June.” 

In addition, she said she is looking forward to the dinner itself.

“The food is going to be amazing, The Food Dude’s smoked brisket gets rave reviews from everyone,” Chapman said.

Also planned is a silent auction. Among the items up for bid will be a a week’s stay in a New Smyrna Beach condo in Florida and 18 holes of golf for two at Hawk’s Landing Golf Club in Madison. In addition, one lucky ticketholder will win a door prize.

“The Portage area has such rich history and we lose it as we go about our daily lives — grocery shopping, ferrying the kids around, working,” Chapman said. “But if you squint just a bit, the richness of our local history comes into focus. With ‘Horatio and Charlotte,’ we’re hoping to bring one area of that history into sharper focus for the people of Portage, Columbia County and the surrounding area.”

Fort Winnebago Surgeon’s Quarters is home to two historic buildings: the log cabin, where the U.S. Army surgeons of Fort Winnebago resided from 1834-54, and the Garrison School, a one-room schoolhouse that served local pupils from 1850-1960.

Each is stocked with early 19th-century artifacts and documents, including medical equipment, books, furniture, blacksmith items, clocks, crockery, glassware, children’s toys, and more.

In addition to special events, the Surgeons Quarters is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday until mid-October. For more information, visit or call (608) 742-2949.

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