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Game warden?s field notes document well 'the day all hell broke loose'

Discussion in 'Minnesota Flyway Forum' started by h2ofwlr, Nov 11, 2011.

  1. h2ofwlr

    h2ofwlr Elite Refuge Member

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    Game warden’s field notes document well 'the day all hell broke loose'

    By John Cross, Free Press Staff Writer
    The Mankato Free Press Sun Nov 06, 2011, 12:25 AM CDT
    http://mankatofreepress.com/outdoor...es-document-well-the-day-all-hell-broke-loose

    — Nowadays, one of the first thing waterfowl hunters check is the morning forecast.

    But in the pre-war days of 1940, forecasting the weather was little more than an educated guess.

    There were no weather satellite images, no radar. Most folks relied on their own personal observations or perhaps the booming signal of WCCO radio with what passed then as a weather forecast to guess what kind of weather lay in store for the future.

    So 71 years ago, when Nov. 11, 1940, dawned clear and mild with 50 degree temperatures, waterfowl hunters across Minnesota headed afield lightly clothed, reveling in the unseasonable conditions and largely unprepared for what churned beyond the western horizon.

    Willis Kruger, a Minnesota game warden stationed in Wabasha along the Mississippi River had made plans earlier to team up with another warden to spend the day checking the numerous waterfowl hunters scattered throughout the backwaters of the nearby Mississippi River.

    The previous day, Nov. 10, 1940 — a Sunday — was a routine day according to entries he made in his daily warden’s report at day’s end:

    Nov. 10-Went by car to West Newton. It was raining hard but patrolled part of this area by canoe. Then went to West Newton near Fisher Island. Patrolled this area checking hunters for overlimit, licenses and unplugged guns. Ducks were flying good and a hard rain continued all day. Stayed in slough until dark. Missed two late shooters on account of poor visibility. I was not certain who they were so could not make an arrest. Patrolled nearly all of Weaver Slough and one main camp from where most hunters go out from.

    Once at home, as is the case with today’s conservation officers, duty still called.

    He wrote: The two fishermen from Alma, Wis. called at my home at night questioning. I gave them back the gill net which I found with no tags on. In a telephone conversation with Mr. Appel, Wis. warden, I found out they were good honest fishermen and that the tags no doubt were stolen from the nets. I believe this is the best way to settle this minor trouble as long as Wis. would be involved with it.

    It would be the last routine patrol he would make for several weeks. The next day he was caught in the middle of a historic and tragic event —the Armistice Day Blizzard.

    The massive storm that has been referred to as a day “when all hell broke loose” claimed more than 160 people, 20 of them waterfowl hunters along the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Prairie du Chien, Wis.

    Nov. 11, 1941-Met warden Dragkowski. We decided to check hunters all day and try to find hunter Blair Sherriek whom we believe was hunting in Weaver Bottoms. A very big wind came up so we warned a few hunters to leave area. Arrived home about 5:30 p.m. and immediately went to sheriff’s office and reported bad storm. A call came in that one man was drowned and another in very bad shape at Pughs Point. ...We found blocked roads but finally got to Pughs Point. Conditions were terrible, waves 4 to 5 ft high and any attempts at rescuing hunters would have resulted in death for us. ...We drove around locating cars and missing hunters ... went to Nelson, Wisconsin to answer a call sent in earlier in evening ... both hunters there were found dead, 3 rescued alive.

    Nov. 12-Rescued 2 Rochester hunters alive, aided Sheriff Jacobs in other rescue work ... patrolled West Newton and Weaver Bottom area. All hunters appear to have gotten out safely in this area. Stopped at hunting camps to inquire about missing persons ...We searched the area below Wabasha for 3 St. Paul hunters believed to have drowned. Found overturned boat in Robinson Lake. Waves were very high yet, rescue work very dangerous. All hunters alive are saved.

    Nov. 13-Went by car to Burrichters Slough. I got across ice on Robinson Lake, patrolled islands for bodies of St. Paul hunters. Ice is unsafe to put many people on ... Patrolled this area until 11 a.m. then went to Pughs Point to look for a Wabasha hunter who was drowned. We used boats and pike poles trying to locate his body. ... Bodies of two hunters found at Robinson lake near shore. I walked past them at least 4 times but did not see them. Also was near them Monday night. ... Report of car still parked at West Newton. When we got there it was gone. A Lake City had spent night at farm house after spending entire night in the swamp.

    Nov. 14-Spent most the morning searching for a St. Paul hunter in Robinson Lake. Went home, ate dinner but before I went to Wabasha drove to Pughs Point. Tested ice and took sounding in bay, Ice was safe so got pike poles, ice chisels and went back to Pughs Point, chopped holes all afternoon and searched for body of Wabasha hunter. Returned home at 10:30.

    Nov. 15-Went to Pughs Point. Helped with rescue work in recovery of Wabasha hunter. Received a call St. Paul police was sending an expert down to recover body. Met him at Burrichter . He stated we were using the only right method to recover body. ... Spent entire day recovering bodies.

    Five days after the storm, Kruger was still participating in searches for missing hunters. However, he once again began his law enforcement duties.

    Nov. 16- Went to Pughs Point. Worked all morning on rescue work. At 1 p.m. went to Reeds after net of James Cudra. Dragged river for body of Wabasha hunter. ... Made trip down to Fisher Island looking for hunters’ equipment. Caught Richard Drips shooting ducks in open water. Took his gun and license and when I looked at his license he was only sixteen years old. Told him he was under advisement but gave back gun and license. Will investigate later as to age as he certainly looked over 16 years. Went to boat landing at Wabasha, helped unload a seine and then returned home. Had calls to answer and several parties called at home for information about hunting. ... I have several investigations to make but have had no time to spare. They are minor charges so will take care of first part of week.

    Kruger apparently finally got a few days off since his next daily report was dated Nov. 21, 1940. For the rest of the month, Kruger continued periodically to search for the missing hunters.

    But it was now the deer season and the trapping season also was ramping up. More of Kruger’s daily reports were dominated with issuing retaining tags for deer, patrolling trappers or supervising gill-netting activities.

    Nevertheless, his daily reports continued to search near Pughs Point for the missing Wabasha hunter as late as Nov. 27.

    Evidently, nature rather than lack of effort finally ended the search. By Nov. 28, winter was gaining the upper hand as the river bottoms began to ice over for good.

    Nov. 30-It snowed all morning and I stayed at home. At noon, patrolled out towards Thielman. Watched for pheasants to get a better check on them. Issued some retaining tags there. ... Patrolled part of the area for pheasant sign but drifting made this work useless and no hunters were out. Returned to Wabasha about 5:30 and worked on monthly expense account. Completed daily reports for mailing.

    The body of the missing Wabasha hunter was never recovered.



    Editor’s note: The preceding accounts were taken from the daily warden’s reports filed by Game Warden Willis Kruger during his career that spanned from 1939-1970, all of it while stationed in Wabasha. He died in the 1980s. His daily reports were saved by his son, Richard Kruger, who served as a Minnesota game warden/conservation officer in Blue Earth County from 1960-1992 and still resides in Mankato. Krugers son, William, also a Mankato resident, is a third generation state law enforcement officer as a member with the Minnesota State Patrol.



    John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by email at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.
     
  2. Ringbill

    Ringbill Elite Refuge Member Flyway Manager

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    What a cool account from his perspective and the fact that there was so many body recoveries. As a retired LEO, I surely don't envy him trying to do what he had to do back then. When I was young, decades ago, I guided an old timer that was involved with that storm and area down there.

    Ringbill
     
  3. Ringbill

    Ringbill Elite Refuge Member Flyway Manager

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    What a cool account from his perspective and the fact that there was so many body recoveries. As a retired LEO, I surely don't envy him trying to do what he had to do back then. When I was young, decades ago, I guided an old timer that was involved with that storm and area down there.

    Ringbill
     
  4. Berganser

    Berganser Elite Refuge Member

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    Pretty neat read! No matter how many times I read articles about that storm,
    I still find it very interesting and could only imagine what was gouing thru their minds. I'm talking about the whole day. From warm weather, to the rain, sleet, ducks and more ducks and snow, tremendous winds.. Just absolutly brutal!!
     
  5. Ringbill

    Ringbill Elite Refuge Member Flyway Manager

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    I agree with you Bergy, as I too am just fasinated by that event. I've got my own memories of the Halloween storm, and that was quite the event also, but fortunately without the tradgedy. Man, did the ducks fly back then!

    Ringbill
     
  6. h2ofwlr

    h2ofwlr Elite Refuge Member

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    This weather of yesterday/today in The TC are of MN kind of reminded me of what happened back then in this sense: We had 72 at 4PM, 64 degree temps at 9PM last night, @ 11 we had thunderstoms, 8 hours later snow is flying here and 34...


    This has some interesting photos too.
    http://wjon.com/armistice-day-blizzard-on-this-date-in-central-minnesota-history/

    Armistice Day Blizzard – on ‘This Date In Central Minnesota History’
    By Jim Maurice November 11, 2011

    The Soo Line between Albany and Holdingford (Stearns History Museum)
    UNDATED - November 11th, 1940 – Armistice Day Blizzard

    Blizzard is a word that brings fear, excitement, danger and awe to those who have experienced one. Today marks the anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard. This storm has been called the worst storm that this state has ever seen. Monday, November 11, 1940 started out as an unseasonably warm and beautiful late fall day. But, as the day wore on, temperatures began to fall. Changes occurred rapidly as a fast moving cold front rolled northwestward bringing with it the dangerous characteristics of a blizzard: high winds, falling temperatures, and heavy snow. The storm came as a surprise; women wore open-toed shoes to work, duck hunters wore light jackets. There was some talk of snow in some areas, but no one expected more than a few inches. As the weather became more ominous, schools and businesses began to close.


    St. Cloud (Stearns History Museum)
    The blizzard raged for three days and nights. 16 inches of snow fell in St. Cloud, and Collegeville recorded a whopping 26.6 inches! The St. Cloud Times recorded 12 foot drifts the next day. Many people were stranded for days before snowplows could open roads through the drifted over roads.

    49 Minnesotans perished. A 13-year-old girl from Roscoe, Adella Osendorf, died while searching for her father in the farm yard. She was found frozen to death 150 feet from the barn. A farmer near Princeton, John Beto, went to look for his horses in the pasture. His frozen body was found leaning on a fence 80 rods from his house the next day. Many people died from exertion and exhaustion, from shoveling snow, trying to get through huge drifts, etc. 17 duck hunters froze to death when caught in the storm unprepared. Two trains collided in Watkins, resulting in two deaths. It is believed the crash occurred when one of the trains, failing to find its sidetrack in the storm, remained on the main line, contrary to orders.


    St. Cloud (Stearns History Museum)
    The real terror of the storm lay not in its severity but with the lack of warning in which it came. The weather forecasters of 1940 relied on practices considered primitive according to today’s standards. The upper atmosphere, the best indicator of oncoming weather systems, was measured by means of helium filled balloons that were sent up to a height of 100,000 feet with instruments capable of measuring wind velocity, temperature changes, and pressure. This data was radioed down to weather stations on the ground. Some weather bureaus also used aircraft to observe conditions. But as the air became turbulent, these methods became less effective and weather stations relied on reports relayed from other stations to issue reports of oncoming severe weather.

    In a state where rapid climatic changes are commonplace and there are more days of life threatening weather per year than any other it is no surprise that second guessing the weatherman is a longstanding Minnesota custom. We Minnesotans know to never underestimate Mother Nature!

    Thanks to Steve Penick and Sarah Warmka from the Stearns History Museum for their help with our series, “This Date In Central Minnesota History” on WJON.


    After this event it transformed how roads were to be built in MN. Many were "flat' to the terrain. Notice today how they are 3-6' higher than the surrrounding land? This is to limit the amount of drifting snow on the road bed.

    This photo is possibly in the Northfield area:
    [​IMG]
     
  7. h2ofwlr

    h2ofwlr Elite Refuge Member

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    Article of just is an hour west of the TC area:
    http://www.herald-journal.com/archives/2004/stories/snow.html

    1940 Armistice Day blizzard: a storm like no other
    By Jane Otto
    Herald Journal, Nov. 8, 2004

    For most people who lived through the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard, it’s a memory that hasn’t faded with time.

    “That was a storm, I’ll tell ya,” Winsted’s Brian Cafferty said. “The snow just kept getting heavier, heavier, and heavier, and blowing, blowing and blowing, until you didn’t see anything.”

    The Minnesota State Climatology Office rated the Nov. 11, 1940 snowstorm as the No. 2 weather event of the 20th century. Only, the 1930s’ dust bowl outranked it.

    The storm took the lives of 49 Minnesotans, mainly duck hunters caught unaware by the deadly weather.

    Nationwide, more than 150 people died in the windy, snowy assault that cut a 1,000-mile-long swatch through the country’s middle.

    An innocent beginning
    Several people in the area, old enough to remember, recalled the day having a warm, rainy start.

    Some areas of southeast Minnesota had topped 60 degrees, according to the state climatology office.

    At that time, the 21-year-old Cafferty had a garage at Sherman Station, four miles west of Winsted. The garage stood next to the creamery, which Bertram Nelson ran. Both buildings are now gone.

    Rain changed to snow later that morning. “It was nice and wet and coming straight down,” Cafferty said.

    Cafferty spent much of the late morning pulling out cars getting stuck in the rapidly falling snow on their way to the creamery.

    Some farmers brought their milk in horse-drawn wagons, but the horses found it too deep to plod through, Cafferty recalled.

    That same morning Cafferty’s younger brothers, Jimmy, Frankie, and Jerome left the Cafferty farm, which was on Falcon Avenue, 1 1/2 miles north of Sherman Station. The three boys were stranded en route to the dentist.

    Not far from the creamery, the boys got their older brother to pull the car to his garage.

    Temperatures dropped quickly, however, and the winds picked up that afternoon. For 24 hours, winds averaged 25 mph and gusted at more than 60 mph.

    As the storm worsened, the four brothers huddled around the creamery stove for warmth. The wind was so strong it blew the curtains horizontal, Cafferty said.

    Later that night, the window was gone and snow piled high inside.

    The long crawl home
    Concerned about milking the cows, Cafferty left the creamery at about 4:30 a.m., with Jimmy and Frankie.

    “We figured the cows weren’t milked and we didn’t know how long it had been since they were,” Cafferty said. “We had no phone then and you couldn’t holler.”

    Only about 12 or 13 then, Jerome stayed with the Nelsons, who lived above the creamery.

    Before bucking the blizzard, Cafferty recalled Nelson giving them rugs to block the wind. “Nobody had heavy clothes. It was so warm that morning,” Cafferty said.

    The gusty winds and blowing snow became too much for Frankie. Pale and winded from the storm’s gale, Frankie almost died, Cafferty said.

    Covering Frankie in the rugs, they waited until he could go on.

    “Frankie got his air back,” Cafferty said, and the threesome continued their trek through that wild, white world. “We just kept scratching and crawling, not knowing where we were going.”

    Cafferty couldn’t recall how long the trip took, but the brothers made it home, only to learn younger brother Mark had milked the cows.

    Jerome didn’t return until two days later, after the winds died and the roads were somewhat passable.

    Other stories
    Not everyone in the area had as treacherous a 1940 Armistice Day as Cafferty.

    For most people, it was like running outside for a snapshot and then quickly returning to cover.

    “Everybody that was home, stayed home,” Don Gutzke of Howard Lake said.

    Ten years old at the time, Gutzke lived in town. Most merchants lived above their businesses, with no need to travel to and from town.

    “When you think of how many people were home, there weren’t many disasters,” Gutzke said. “It was really fortunate the town was so closely knit.”

    Living in town and being the local paper boy, Gutzke knew much of what went on in the then 10-square-block area. He knew Doc Meintsma, the town dentist, only made it half-way home that Nov. 11.

    Meinstma lived on 13th Avenue, the town’s western edge. “He never drove,” Gutzke said. “He’d walk to work, walk home for lunch, and back again.”

    Heading home during the height of the storm, Meinstma was forced to stop at Hank Gruenhagen’s, Gutzke said. “He just waited too long.”

    Just 24 at the time, Verna Glessing also lived and worked in town. She recalled going to work that morning in warm, wet weather that quickly turned foul.

    She worked at the bank her father owned. At that time, it stood where the Posey Patch is now.

    “We opened the bank, but nobody came in,” she said. “It was very deep snow to walk in.”

    Closer to Winsted, Ed Fasching, then 14, recalled his family raising pullets for laying hens. Due to the warm fall that year, the Faschings hadn’t prepared the brooding house for winter yet.

    “The next morning, we found them hanging upside down frozen, with their feet still stuck to the limbs,” Fasching said.

    Two to three weeks later, Fasching found about a dozen of his neighbor’s turkeys, still alive, huddled under a snow bank.

    Fasching couldn’t remember another storm like it.

    Those who had electricity then, didn’t have it for up to a week.

    For three days, no mail and no trains came.

    By Wednesday, snowplows attempted moving 8-foot high drifts of heavy, wet snow, but needed men shoveling to aid their progress.

    Howard Lake’s Don and Dorothy Mitchell well remember those snow drifts. The newly married couple had just moved to the white house opposite the county fairgrounds.

    They stayed put during the storm’s wrath, but ventured outside the next day, Don Mitchell said. “I remember taking a walk the next day. The only way to get around was to walk. The drifts were too big.”

    They turned the corner onto Highway 12 and saw a snow-clogged east-west artery.

    The couple walked on and then up a massive snow bank to be face-to-face with the street light that was strung across the intersection.

    “We were as high as the top floor of the old Custer Hotel,” Don Mitchell said.

    Mitchell, as well as the others, said the 1940 blizzard was like no other, whether it was the sudden turn of events, the snowplows used then, or no TVs to forewarn folks.

    Fasching and Glessing remembered a 1941 St. Patrick’s Day storm, and of course, the 1991 Halloween blizzard, which the state climatologist ranks as the No. 3 Minnesota weather event.

    “I can remember back to the 1930s and that was the worst one,” Mitchell said of the Armistice Day storm. “Nobody ventured out. They just sat home by the fire.”
     
  8. BWP 5p

    BWP 5p Refuge Member

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    Just WOW. I knew of the storm and had read about it before........but what an unbelievable event.:eek:

    Thanks for all the links and sharing.:clap:clap
     
  9. h2ofwlr

    h2ofwlr Elite Refuge Member

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    With the blizzard in parts of the upper midwest today, this is a timely reminder that weather can wreck havoc then and today.
     
  10. Bullet21XD

    Bullet21XD Elite Refuge Member

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    You had first hand experience with that Nov. 11 storm?
     

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