From the time I was very young my maternal grandmother, Norma Schmidt Krueger, used to tell me a story about a family scandal involving her paternal grandfather. The story went like this:
Sometime before the great depression the Schmidt family was living in Rothschild, Wisconsin on the land that they owned between Grand Avenue and the railroad tracks. One of the problems was that “hobos and gypsies” would ride the freight cars and when the train slowed to come into Rothschild they would hop off right about where the Schmidt property was. It was a smallish farm that had some livestock and an orchard. These illegal passengers would go into the family orchard and steal apples to eat. Ottelia Schmidt, the matriarch of the family (who was said to rule the family with an iron fist), directed her husband, Wilhelm Schmidt, to set up a booby-trap in the orchard to stop the thieves. He did this by placing a shotgun in a tree and running a trip-wire that would set off the gun if someone came into the orchard. The trap worked, and one of these migrants was killed in the resulting shotgun blast. Wilhelm Schmidt was tried for this killing and spent time in prison as a result.
When I started researching my family I asked all the Schmidt descendants I knew whether they had ever heard the story, and all of them said they had never heard it. Given that we had good documentation on Wilhelm’s whereabouts from the time of his arrival in the US in 1885 until his death in 1925, I decided that the story must have been my grandmother’s imaginative fabrication.
Today, however, I received an email from a Schmidt family descendant that said:
William Schmidt was my 2nd great grandfather. I was told this story from my Grandpa Schmidt, who was told by his father Albert August Schmidt. I’ve always assumed it to be true.
The “Grandpa Schmidt” in question is Russ Schmidt, who at 93 years of age is the oldest living Schmidt relative. I called him up and asked him about it and he confirmed that he had also heard the story when he was growing up. He said, “It wasn’t my father [Albert August Schmidt] that told me. He never talked about his family. It was someone else in the family. It might have been my mother.”
A third confirmation came from a granddaughter of Wilhelm’s sister Antonia Schmidt. She said:
I heard the story about the shotgun and the going to prison which might be why Nanny [Antonia] never mentioned him [Wilhelm] by name.
Another Schmidt descendant who had heard the story said that it may have been a child who was killed.
So now the story is once again on my radar. I’ve been told that the archives for Marathon County legal cases from the early 1900’s are located in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. The next visit my mother and I take to Wausau we plan to stop there and do some research and see if we can get to the bottom of this once and for all.
UPDATE: You can read the results of this research here: