Sunday, September 22, 2013

Newcomb Spoor (1852-1935)

From the 1917 Wisconsin Blue Book.

   A multi-term member of the Wisconsin State House of Representatives, Newcomb Spoor (and his rather odd name) left a memorable mark on Wisconsin law when in 1913 he introduced a bill in the legislature that prohibited frogs and toads from being hunted out of season. An ardent conservationist and outdoorsman, Spoor was a New Yorker by birth, being born in the city of Oswego on March 27, 1852, one of five children born to Cornelius VanWormer (1823-1891) and Charity Delia Huntsinger Spoor (1830-1892). The Spoor family removed from New York to Wisconsin shortly after Newcomb's birth and eventually settled in Waushara County. 
   Spoor's education took place in the Berlin, Wisconsin school system and he graduated from the Berlin High School in 1874. He married on December 20, 1878, to Jennie Sherman (born 1859) and the couple are recorded as being childless throughout the duration of their marriage. Despite a lack of biographical material on Mr. Spoor, it appears that he spent a good majority of his life engaged as a machinist and farmer in Green Lake County area, as well as spending time in the wilderness of Silver Lake, where he owned a cottage. 
  The Wisconsin Blue Book notes that Spoor held a number of local town offices prior to his service in the state assembly, but fails to elaborate on what they may have been. He was elected to his first term in the legislature in November 1910, defeating Democratic nominee Charles Boettage by a vote of 1,593 to 1,397. During this term, Spoor held a seat on the house committees on Agriculture exhibitions, Banks and Elections. In 1912 he won a second term in the house, again defeating Charles Boettage by a slim margin, 1,425 votes to 1,393. 

Newcomb "Newt" Spoor, pictured in the 1913 Wisconsin Blue Book.

   It was during the 1912-1914 session of the legislature that Newcomb Spoor left his imprint on Wisconsin history. A man with a keen knowledge of environmental affairs and conservation, Spoor had for nearly three decades prior to his legislative service pursued the study of the frog, learning of its spawning habits, the creature's diet, and "the frog catching industry of the region, with its headquarters in Oshkosh, Wisconsin". During his years of study on the frog, Spoor took careful note that wherever the frog lived in abundance, crops grew well, as the insects that usually hampered crop growth were the frog's primary food source. Spoor also found that wherever the frog population had been destroyed by hunting, "grasshoppers and bugs had ruined everything."
   After his decades of research, Spoor was in the midst of his second term in the assembly when he first drew up his bill for the protection of frogs and toads. As Spoor himself related in an interview in the 1921 edition of the American Magazine
"I drew up my frog bill for the legislature in 1913. For five weeks it lay at my desk before I dared introduce it; I knew I'd be laughed at. The night of the hearing the galleries of the assembly chamber were chock-full--with people who had come to laugh. I decided to give them what they wanted. A bunch of my friends in the assembly were supplied with wooden rattlers, and after I had made my speech they started them going. The whole place sounded like it was full of frogs and it brought down the house. There was only one vote against me."
  Although his bill was denounced by some people as a piece of "freak legislation", Spoor and his green friend got the last laugh. The bill passed the legislature and in the months after its passage, Spoor's legislation received substantial press in the literature of the time, including the below caricature in the Milwaukee Journal. In the 1921 write-up on Spoor in Volume 92 of the American Magazine, it was noted that many farmers "have renewed cause to thank the 'father of the frog law" due to his foresight in keeping the frog population at a level where it could be of use in the elimination of insects.

This caricature of Newcomb Spoor appeared in the March 5, 1913 edition of the Milwaukee Journal.

   With his becoming the "father of the frog law", Newcomb Spoor continued to represent the county of Green Lake in the Wisconsin assembly, being reelected in 1914 and 1916, in the latter year defeating local Judge Herman Megow by a vote of 1,685 to 413. At the conclusion of his fourth term in 1919, Spoor chose not to be a candidate for reelection. Three years following his leaving the legislature, Spoor chose to reenter politics, mounting what would be his last campaign for public office. In November 1922 he won re-election to the Assembly for his fifth term, this time representing the county of Waushara. During the 1923-25 term, Spoor held the position of chairman of the committee on Fish and Game, and also served on the committee on Rules. During his stewardship of the Fish and Game committee, the Milwaukee Journal noted that Spoor was "influential in obtaining state appropriations for fish hatchery programs and enforcement of laws to protect fish and game."

From Volume 92 of the American Magazine, 1921.

    At the conclusion of his final term in the legislature, Newcomb Spoor retired to private life in his native town of Berlin. During his twilight years, he spent a good majority of his time at his cottage in Silver Lake, Wisconsin, pursuing life in the great outdoors. Remarked by the American Magazine as an "ardent and philosophical fisherman", the knowledgeable Spoor is recorded as having acted as a tour guide and counselor to many visiting city dwellers who vacationed in the wilderness area of Silver Lake, even helping to rescue endangered swimmers and boaters. In 1927 Spoor received the honor of having eight acres of wilderness near his home in Silver Lake named in his honor. Dubbed "Newcomb Spoor Park", this protected area was a fitting tribute to a man who had devoted so much of his private and public life to conservation and environmental causes.
  Newcomb Spoor died at age 83 in September 1935. A burial location for both Spoor and his wife is unknown at the time of this writing, but seeing that both his mother and father are interred at the Oakwood Cemetery in Berlin, it may not be a foregone conclusion that Spoor and his wife may be buried there.

From the July 10, 1927 edition of the Milwaukee Journal.

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