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Winegar Massacre by Bill Rutherford

Hello, Folks! My name is George Rutherford. Now, most of you never heard of me and how I came to be buried in the Evergreen Cemetery, out west of town but,  if you gather ‘round and sit a spell, I will tell you how I came to be there.

Even though that whole gun battle at Little Bohemia Lodge in 1934, between the Dillinger gang and the FBI, was famous, what happened here, in this little town, eight years before that, probably made it the bloodiest, most violent day in the history of the Northwoods. Before it was over five men were either dead or wounded. Here is how it all happened……..

Back in the 1920’s, this town, which was called Winegar in those days, had almost 2000 people living here. The big industry at the time was the Vilas County Lumber Company, where I was employed. The woods surrounding the town were a busy place. You see, there were two groups of men (and women) working out there among the trees. The first group was the lumberjacks, cutting wood and getting it to the mill in town. The second group, and the one that led to my demise, were all those moonshiners, who had moved up here from Kentucky, and set up their stills deep in the forest. There was so much moonshine being made that, they say, you could knock on almost any door in Winegar and get some good ‘shine. The mill company did not take too kindly to this moonshining. And neither did the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan which had sprung up around town, and was surprisingly powerful. The mill bosses wanted us to get rid of those “goldarn Kentucks” and put an end to the moonshining.  They paid me, and a few other supervisors, some money and extra time off if we could put a stop to it, since it was causing accidents and time lost at the mill.

Now, I was a busy man, back then. You see, not only was I a locomotive engineer at the mill, I was a Methodist minister, and at the same time, I was the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan! Being the leader of that group came in handy, since, in addition to my other duties, I was also the town constable.

So, in the afternoon of August 12th, 1926, my wife, Irma, and I hiked out to the southwest shore of Mermaid Lake. I had two things to do there. First I wanted to arrest Mr. Charles Boring and destroy the still he and his gang was running.  But I also had it in my mind to serve an arrest warrant on murder fugitive Mr. William Stanley, who I expected to find there. He was wanted back in Kentucky on a charge of killing a 25 year old deputy constable in Barrett, KY. As we got close to the still, I could smell the smoke, and hear the sounds of wood chopping and the fire crackling. I loaded my rifle, and told Irma to wait there, while I crept the remaining distance to the still, which was in a little 16 by 20 foot clearing. I snuck past the one of the watchers, Jerry Brandenburg, and made it to the still.

There, tending the fire, was Charles Boring. When he saw me he grabbed for the pistol he kept at his side. As he picked it up I yelled “Give me your gun! Give me that gun!”

Unfortunately for me, and my family, those were the last words I ever spoke. As he turned the gun toward me, I shot my rifle, and the bullet hit him in the hand. He dropped the gun, but, in a flash, picked it up with his other hand, and shot back at me twice.

One of the bullets hit me just above my left eye, and I was dead before I hit the ground. By this time, my wife Irma, had come closer and saw what happened. She ran for help, first to a nearby cabin, and then on to town, a mile and a half away. She returned with a doctor, and they did find Charles Boring at that cabin. Irma asked Boring if he had shot me and he said “No”. The doc bandaged up his hand, and some men took him to town. The doctor meanwhile went to the clearing to find my body and pronounce me dead.

A few hours later, a posse was formed, to track down Jerry Brandenburg, and William Stanley. Two men in the posse, Elmer Monk, and “Big Alix” Garas, waited in a ditch near Brandenburg’s farmhouse.

When they heard voices coming down the road, Elmer Monk raised up and shined his flashlight on the men, and ordered them to halt.

Instead of stopping, Jerry Brandenburg fired five shots at Monk, before Monk gave him a face full of buckshot at close range. Both men fell, badly wounded in the ditch, and Brandenburg laid there ‘til the next morning when some men fetched him to town.

While Monk and Brandenburg were tussling, “Big Alix” was making sure that William Stanley wasn’t going to escape. As Stanley raised his gun to shoot Monk, Garas shot him dead before he could get a shot off. “I shot him and he fell” Garas said later. “As he went down Stanley said “I am killed” and he never moved no more”

They got the critically injured Monk back to town and patched him up; he lost an eye, and a big chunk of his arm. Across the hall from where he was, they had set up a morgue to do autopsies on me and Stanley.

There was quite a bit of unrest in town over the next few days, as angry residents thirsted to lynch Charles Boring for murdering me.

This here cemetery was brand new at the time and, if you notice, my grave is on the highest knob in the cemetery. The town did that to honor my sacrifice, and the also buried me facing southward, so I could look back on the spot where I died.

Sixty days later, trials were held in Eagle River, for Boring and Brandenburg. Charles Boring got life in prison for killing me, and Brandenburg got a shorter sentence for shooting Elmer Monk.

“Big Alix” himself was killed by a gunshot many years later, and his grave is over in the corner there. He was living out in the woods with a guy named Matt Anderson, and they got to drinking and arguing, and ol’ Matt, he shot Alix. A few days later Matt came into town and told Lucille Eschenbauch, “Someone should go to the cabin and check on Alix. I shot him day before yesterday, and he ain’t moved since. I think he might be dead”. And sure enough, he was…..

Well, that’s my story folks, and I hope you enjoyed it.

For a collection of 20 more of Bill's essays on Winegar/Presque Isle read his book:

WINEGAR Reflections, Shelbyville, KY: Wasteland Press, 2016.

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