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JCR Mystery Man, Part One


It’s hard to know where to begin with today’s bizarre two-part story . . . perhaps with the disappearance of Jay Allen Caldwell from his father’s ranch near Taylor, ND. His father was James Caldwell, as a wheeler-dealer who made his first fortune during the Civil War. The elder Caldwell lost it all in the 1871 Chicago Fire – warehouses, stock, records, and proof of insurance.

Not yet 30 years old, Caldwell started over. In 1883, he moved to the Dickinson area with his mother, his first wife, and their two children, May and Jay. Caldwell became one of the wealthiest ranchers in Stark County – but bad luck seemed to follow wherever he went. His sister’s children were burned to death in one of his sheds; an employee named Folly disappeared and was never heard from again; another employee was found dead in his bed; and the employee’s wife drowned in the nearby Heart River. Mrs. Caldwell passed away as well.

All these events were overshadowed by the mysterious disappearance of Caldwell’s 34 year-old son in 1907. Nobody knew if Jay was dead or alive, or if he had moved to another part of the country. But rumor suggested his relationship with his father bordered on violence.

About the same time Jay disappeared, a man was found wandering around a train depot in Waseca, MN. He had a dent above his left temple, was paralyzed on his right side, couldn’t speak, and appeared to have amnesia. In his clothing, officials found the initials J. C. R., and he gained national interest as: “J. C. R. – Wandering Man of Mystery.”

J. C. R. was placed with a MN German family at first. He learned to walk with a cane, but when he showed no sign of regaining his memory or speech, he was transferred to the Rochester insane asylum. He was kindly-looking man with big brown eyes, and he quickly became a favorite among the staff. The Newark Advocate reported, “He has a winning smile, which illuminates his whole countenance, but his face in repose is pathetic.”

Six years passed before J. C. R. again made national headlines; the Mayo brothers decided to operate to restore his memory. The nation held its breath, but the surgery didn’t work. It did, however, put J. C. R. back in the public eye, and several months later, the Associated Press announced two of James Caldwell’s sisters traveled from Chicago to Rochester to see J. C. R.

The Oakland Tribune reported, “J. C. R. recognized several names spoken by the women, selected the brand of the Cup and Saucer Ranch owned by [Jay] Caldwell’s father, depicted by gesture how a friend of former years shot himself, and injected an eagerness in his pantomime... which he has not hitherto exhibited.” But the women decided J. C. R. was about an inch too short to be their missing nephew.

Some months later, a nurse named Mrs. Pitkin got J. C. R. released by posing as his mother and, along with her attorney, took him to Dickinson. May Caldwell – Jay’s only sibling – recognized him at once, and her descriptions of Jay’s scars and markings matched those of J. C. R. James Caldwell, on the other hand, vehemently refused to recognize this man as his son.

The Bismarck Tribune reported, “[J. C. R.] has visited the old Caldwell farm, in company with old friends, and points out the various landmarks as they are called off, counting off on his fingers accurate distances from place to place. He has also made a drawing of the old pasture fence, showing in what manner he was assaulted on Oct. 14, 1907. If, as believed by many people, the long lost Jay Caldwell is the same person...sensational developments may be looked for within a short time.”

Sensational developments indeed... tune in tomorrow to learn more.


Fort Wayne Daily News. 4 June, 1913.

Newark Advocate (Ohio). 1 Aug, 1913.

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI). 29 Aug, 1913.

Oakland Tribune. 17 Jan, 1914.

Bismarck Tribune. 23 Aug, 1914.

Dickinson Press. 5 May, 1917

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm