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 firstname.lastname@example.org.