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Guide to the George Brooks Papers, circa 1930s-1950s MSS 080

Guide to the George Brooks Papers, circa 1930s-1950s

MSS 080

Summary Information

George Brooks (1897-1978) was a La Crosse, Wis., resident who worked at the Bodega Lunch Club, but was best known for training bloodhounds. From 1932 to about 1960, Brooks assisted law enforcement officials in over 3000 cases in tracking and apprehending criminal suspects and finding individuals who were lost. His most famous cases included the apprehension of Jens Thompson in 1937, a Freeborn, Minnesota, resident who shot four neighbors, and the 1939 tracking of Ray Olson in northern Wisconsin, who after shooting two deputies, was later killed while trying to escape. Brooks gained national fame, and articles about Brooks and his dogs appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine, American Magazine, and  Reader's Digest.. The collection includes correspondence (1938-1955), photographs (ca. 1930s-1950s) of dogs and pedigrees, the La Crosse area, and people. Most photographs are black and white, and the bulk of them do not include dates, names, or any type of caption. Other materials include publicity items (ca. 1930s-1950s) such as posters, a photocopy of a radio script, and other materials.
Collection Title
George Brooks Papers
Date of Materials
circa 1930s-1950s
Brooks, George, 1897-1978
Call Number
MSS 080
1.0 cubic foot
Physical Description
1 archives box, 1 flat box
Language of Materials
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], George Brooks Papers, MSS 080, La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Biographical Note

George Brooks was born February 24, 1897, in Onalaska, Wis., and was the son of John and Charlotte (Filkins) Brooks. He had originally intended to become a pharmacist, but ran out of money while in his second year of school and began working at the Bodega Lunch Club in downtown La Crosse. Brooks worked at the soda fountain and kept that job for the next forty-two years.

Brooks began training hunting dogs, but felt that it was not a worthwhile pursuit since laws restricted hunting to just several weeks a year. In 1932, he purchased his first bloodhound from England. While his new dog, Lady, was still a puppy, a local sheriff requested help from Brooks with a case. A bank had been robbed in Mindoro, Minnesota, and two of the suspects were hiding out in the woods. While on a leash, Lady was able to track the scent of the suspects to the banks of a stream, but was unable to locate them. Later, when the two were apprehended, they admitted to hiding under water and breathing through hollow reeds. As Brooks remembered, this was the only case where one of his dogs was unable to find where a suspect was hiding.

Brooks owned over forty bloodhounds over the course of his life, and he was frequently called upon by local law enforcement to track down criminal suspects and find lost children and other missing persons. He never accepted payment for his services and had an agreement with his boss at the Bodega Lunch Club, William Bonadurer, that he could leave work whenever his dogs were needed. Brooks trained his dogs to track individuals silently, without barking, and never trained his dogs to be vicious. He carried a gun and a deputy sheriff's badge because he and his dogs were usually first to reach a criminal suspect.

Brooks trained his dogs by having La Crosse area children lay out trails throughout the city and surrounding area. He would then take the dogs out to follow the trails. Brooks would treat the children to ice cream cones in exchange for their work.

While Brooks and his bloodhounds were well known in the La Crosse area, two cases brought him into the national spotlight. One involved a man named Jens Thompson, from Freeborn, Minnesota, who shot and killed four of his neighbors in a quarrel in July 1937. Brooks and his hounds trailed Thompson over four counties until Thompson finally gave up because he felt that he could not evade the dogs.

In another case that began in 1939 in Cable, Wisconsin, Ray Olson shot and killed two deputies. Brooks' dogs followed Olson for two weeks, while he tried to elude the dogs by burning cabins he stayed in and traveling on water, but the dogs were always able to pick up the scent again. Olson was finally killed trying to escape.

The success Brooks and his dogs experienced lead to more national exposure. Articles appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Life Magazine, American Magazine, and  Reader's Digest. Brooks estimated that he worked on over 3000 cases during his lifetime. Law enforcement officials and friends honored him at a testimonial dinner at the Stoddard Hotel in 1958.

After a heart attack in 1960, Brooks preferred to stay closer to home. He passed away on April 11, 1978, in La Crosse, and is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Tomah, Wisconsin.

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Scope and Contents

The George Brooks collection includes correspondence, photographic images, and publicity materials. Correspondence (1938-1955) is limited and includes a subpoena, letters, and telegrams written to Brooks. All correspondence pertains to his work with bloodhounds.

Photographic images are more extensive. All are black and white photographs with the exception of one colorized photograph. They range in size from 2 x 4 inches to 8 x 10 inches. Most are not labeled with dates, names, or captions. Photographic images are separated into three categories: dogs and pedigrees, La Crosse area, and people.

Photographs of dogs and pedigrees (ca. 1930s-1950s) include photographs of Brook's bloodhounds and several pedigrees. A few images of another dog are included as well.

Photographs of La Crosse area scenes (ca. 1930s-1950s) include a photograph of a window display advertising Brooks' appearance in Life Magazine, pictures of the Cass Street Bridge in La Crosse, Wis., and other area photos.

Photographs of people (ca. 1930s-1950s) include Brooks with his dogs, Brooks working at the Bodega Lunch Club, and photographs of other unidentified individuals.

Publicity materials are separated into two categories by size. They include posters, a photocopy of a radio show script, and other materials.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 2005

800 Main St.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 54601
(608) 789-7136

Access to Materials

Materials in this collection are available for patron use.

Acquisitions Information

(Accession no. 2004.007) Purchased from the Paul Mahoney Estate Auction and donated by Jan Correll, 2004

Processing Information

Processed by Christine Stolz, 2005

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(Clipping file)
 Biography--Brooks, George
(Ephemera file)
 Biography--Brooks, George
(Picture file)
 Portraits--Brooks, George

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • La Crosse (Wis.)--Photographs

Personal Name(s)

  • Brooks, George, 1897-1978


  • Bloodhound--Training--Wisconsin--La Crosse

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

Correspondence, circa 1930s-1950s 

1 1

Photographic images 

Box Folder

Dogs and pedigrees, circa 1930s-1950s 

1 2

La Crosse area, circa 1930s-1950s 

1 3

People, circa 1930s-1950s 

1 4
Box Folder Oversize

Publicity, circa 1930s-1950s 

1 5 2