World War I brought gunfire to Withee

The State Guard surrounded the Krueger home in Clark County in 1918. The picture was taken several days after a shootout between federal agents and area persons and the Krueger family. The sons of Mrs. Caroline Krueger were accused of failing to report for draft registration and possible military service.

     It was September 12, 1918, when men were to register for the armed service draft of World War I.
     According to United States law, several weeks could elapse before any action was taken to bring up the tardy.
     Near Withee in Clark County it was different. A seething hatred built up, resulting in a shootout with the Krueger family.
     Ludwig Kruger, a lumberman, had died nearly 10 years before. His widow, Caroline, 57, and four sons continued on the farm. She had taught Sunday School in the Congregational Church and taught her sons - "Thou shall not kill."
     Leslie, 23, had registered and later spent some time at Camp Grant. He had been around home on the tragic day of September 14. Louis, 30, had not registered, but went west to work.

Threshing on registration day

     Frank, 37, and Ennis, 19, were threshing on the day of registration. They were not hiding, as reported; Frank had taken cream to town in the morning. In the afternoon the two were working in the cornfield near the road when a car drove up.
     In the car were Federal Marshals Joseph Ganz, La Crosse, and John F. LaMonte, Madison. Along with them were Peter Rasmussen, Own law officer, and Earle Kidd, an Owen businessman.
      One called Frank to come, and in turn Frank told the man to come to him. The men did not identify themselves. Suddenly a shot rang out. Ennis was carrying a pistol and returned the fire. The two Krueger men zigzagged for the buildings.
      The two officers hid in a ditch while the men with the car went after their friends.
      The deputy U.S. Marshall and the other federal agent, who was on vacation, had come to serve a warrant. They traveled by train from Eau Claire to Owen where they had a leisurely dinner at the hotel, then took in the ball game at the 3-I picnic. (The 3-I were made up of people who had come from Iowa, Indiana and Illinois.) Before leaving, they informed the people there would be some excitement at the Kruegers.

Hundreds gathered at shoot out

More than 400 shots were fired into the Krueger home near Withee in 1918 by men led by U.S. Marshals. They were there to apprehend the Krueger brothers on charges of not registering for the military draft. Some holes appear in the window and others in the top right corner were patched with plaster.

     Soon, hundreds of persons gathered and the lead flew. The Krueger house stood at the corner of a section with access from all sides. In all 400 bullet holes were in the house.
     It had been a fine house, built about 1914, -- was wired for electricity, had steam heat, a full tiled bath room in working order, two stairways, a build-in icebox to fill from the porch and bevel-edged window panes.
     Wild stories were told that the house was a fortress with hidden tunnels. It was stocked with food, but what farm home wasn't after the government urged Victory Gardens and sent bulletins on how to store food.
     During the fracas, Harry Jensen, station manager at Withee, was shot. The crowd and posse surrounding the farm house believed the Krueger's had done the shooting although the bullet would have had to gone quite a distance, then pass though the windshield to the backseat of a car, according to reports.
     Jensen reportedly bled to death, although accounts varied, including where the bullet struck him. Some felt the bullet had not come from the Kruegers.
     Several questions remained unanswered. For instance, why was there no death certificate? Why did the railroad-company never include records that the man had died? No marker is at the spot designated in the cemetery book.

Escape by walking out

     Leslie Krueger escaped by walking out at dusk among the hundreds who had gathered, asking, "Have you seen the Kruegers?" The Home Guard had been called from Neillsville but none could have identified the brothers.
     Frank was shot through the legs and crawled to the house. Robert Vater, the only neighbor who had any consideration for the family, found Frank in the bathroom and took him home for aide. However, Frank was taken into custody and spent the night in the Owen jail. He then was taken on a cot in the box car to the hospital at Chippewa Falls.
     Caroline Krueger waved a flag for cease fire even though shots were fired after that. She was taken to Eau Claire jail until the trials.

Wounds "gain" in severity

     Emil Laino, 34, who was one of the mob, had four wounds. He was taken to the Marshfield hospital on a special train. His wounds increased by the time of the trial and again in the court case for damages.
     Ennis Krueger also escaped from the mob. Later a federal agent from Montana shot a sleeping man in a barn at Polly in Taylor County. None of the family identified him. A handful of people were at the funeral. Nine years later the mother had the body exhumed and identified it as that of an old man. It rests at the far end of the family plot.
     The mother, Frank and Leslie were tried for first degree murder in one of the longest trials in Clark County. Leslie had been apprehended in another state with a draft card of a Chippewa Falls man wanted for non-support. The two were sentenced to the State Prison at Waupun for life. Caroline Krueger's freedom ended at the door when she was taken by federal agents on charges of harboring draft evaders.

Mother kept under bond

     She was kept under bond and allowed to live at the home of a brother-in-law in the eastern part of the state. Upon return home, alone, she found the animals gone, the feed had been sold, the barn burned and the caretaker had let the pipes freeze and ruined the bathroom and wall and ceiling below. She lived in the kitchen.
     Much of her time was spent writing to her sons in prison. She applied for pardons, but each time pleas for a retrial had been denied.
     Mrs. Krueger's income was from selling plums and a few dollars from her sons who earned about $3 a month in prison. After Louis returned home he made a roof over the barn basement and had livestock again, but life was hard.
     It was in the 1930s, through the effort of a German-American society in Milwaukee, that the two brothers, Frank and Leslie, were pardoned. That did not solve the problem as Frank was immediately sent to Mendota to be incarcerated for tests for insanity. In due time both were free to return home.
     The Kruegers were not born in Germany as many claimed. The brothers and their parents were all born in this country.
     The three brothers specialized in work to help others. They had a steam engine and operated a threshing machine, a stationary sawmill and a well-drilling rig. In time some of the people mellowed, realizing that maybe justice had been served. The house was never restored and the family kept much to themselves.
     Caroline Krueger died in 1941 and the bachelor brothers continued to live in the big house, each on a different floor. Frank died in 1958; Leslie in 1961; and Louis, who had never driven an automobile, was killed in an automobile accident in 1963.
     There are a number of questions never resolved: Why was the state fire marshal called the day before the barn was burned? Why did the insurance company cancel the policy on Sept. 14? Who was the unidentified person attending each of the brother's funerals, only to leave just before the close of the service?
     Van Hansen, Clark County register of deeds, bought the place and has painted the outside a somber gray.
     The story of the "war" in Clark County reached every major newspaper and made headlines in Europe. The only good credited to the affair was changing the term "slacker" to "conscientious objector" years later and treating those more like human beings

--Florence Garbush, Researcher of Krueger story

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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