The Story of "Mr. Perdue, Cokato Policeman"

by Mike Worcester

Faces stare out at us from decades past—images of those who walked the same paths we do today. Many of the images that appear in the museum’s 18,000 photos are unknown, even when they have a name attached. Just knowing a name does not always tell the full story.

When the Akerlund photo seen below was donated to the museum in 1994, the only writing on the back was "Mr. Perdue, Cokato policeman." The museum’s newspaper index contained no mentions of anyone named Perdue. A quick check of local history books also provided no references. With no certain date to begin with, looking for information on Perdue would have been a difficult task. So, as happens with so many other pictures, it was filed away in the hope that someday, something may surface to explain more about the photo’s subject.

The chain of events that answered the questions about this particular photo began in mid-July, 1997. While scanning the April 5, 1906 Cokato Enterprise for another research query, it was noted in the village council minutes that the position of village marshal and night watchman had been given to Lee Perdue for $50 per month. Quick scans of the next few years of the Enterprise showed that Perdue was given the night watchman position on an annual basis. (In 1908, he was given an extra dollar for the month of October for his patrolling at the Cokato Street Fair.)

A look at the 1910 census for Cokato Village showed Perdue and his family living on Broadway Street. Included with Lee and his wife, Mary, were their seven children: Leona (a sales girl at the Cokato Bakery), Cassie, Trudie, Dewey, Sallie, Virgie, and Ida. All the children except the youngest two had been born in West Virginia. The entry also indicated that two of Lee and Mary’s children had already died, and that they had been residing in Cokato for about ten years. Just a couple weeks after the basic facts of Perdue’s story were developed, a bigger picture became evident, thanks to none other than Lee Perdue’s grandson.

Shortly before the Corn Carnival, a man named Edward L. Toby and his son, Bruce, from Bloomington, Indiana and Overland Park, Kansas respectively, came into the museum and asked if we had any information on the Perdue family. When asked if a member of the family had ever been a policeman in Cokato, Mr. Toby said yes. A museum staffer went into the document storage room and presented the picture taken by Gust Akerlund of Lee Perdue in his full uniform to Ed Toby (Lee Perdue’s grandson), who was overcome with emotion. For several minutes Mr. Toby sat in a chair and just stared, a hint of moisture in his eyes. The subsequent conversation with Mr. Toby and his son revealed several interesting facts about the Perdue family.

It turns out that Lee Perdue died in 1948, is buried in the Dassel Community Cemetery, and that his full name was Robert E. Lee Perdue. The Perdue family was from West Virginia, but were partisan to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Lee’s father, St. Luke Perdue (d. 1904), is also buried in Dassel, fought for the South, and named his son after his hero, General Robert E. Lee. But apparently Lee felt that dropping the Robert E. portion of his name was a prudent move in this part of the country. Other family members buried in the Dassel Cemetery include Lee’s wife Mary (d. 1952), mother, Mary F. Perdue (d. 1936), brothers Ewell (d. 1958), and Dewey (d. 1954), and sister Sally Dalton (d. 1928). A note on St. Luke’s cemetery listing states that since he was a Confederate soldier, his grave was moved to another part of the cemetery—away from some Union soldiers.

Not every day does the story about one of our photographs develop so fully. But when it does, there is a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. Being able to help someone fill in the missing information about their family heritage also creates a good mood around the office. And being able to make copies of a photo for the descendants of such an intriguing character adds to that mood.

With literally thousands of other photos just waiting for their story to be told, here’s hoping for more moments like that enjoyed by "Mr. Perdue, Cokato policeman."

This article originally appeared in the 21 January 1998 edition of the Enterprise Dispatch.  Reprinted with permission.  ©Cardan, Inc., 1998.