Hanging of Louis Nohr

Posted on: July 27th, 2014 by

Account of the Hanging of Louis Nohr

      Hanging of Louis Nohr, May 1871, at Oconto, Wis., as related to Atty Giles V. Megan, by George Merline, an eye witness.

“I was born April 29, 1858, and at the time of the hanging herein related, was a boy past 13 years.  Oconto at that time was a typical lumbering town, and its population perhaps 4,000.  As I recall, Oconto Company, Holt Lumber Company, and Spies Mills operated here.  It was in the pioneer days of the lumber industry, and a large part of the population was made up of so called lumber jacks, who followed the lumber camps in the winter, log drives in the spring, and saw mills in the summer.  They constantly shifted from place to place where lumbering was in progress.  They were for the most part strong and hardy men, and some were of a rough and tough make-up.

On the evening of May the 2, 1871, the Turner Verein, whose membership was made up of persons of German descent, held its annual ball in a hall located in the upstairs of a building on the West side of Superior Street, and near the Holt Lumber Company’s Mill.  Such brick building still stands and the lower part of same is now occupied by Albert Franks as a blacksmith shop.  The lower story of said building was occupied as a butcher shop at that time, by Louie Nohr.  He was about 40 years old, five feet six inches tall, weighed about 150 pounds, and was a member of the Turner Verein and their families were to be admitted to the ball.

Between ten and twelve o’clock in the evening, a small group of men gathered at the bottom of the outside open stairway leading to the hall.  Some of their number had been drinking, and one Dennis White, a river driver, 22 years old, climbed the stairs and attempted to enter the hall.  Previous attempts of the same kind had been made, and Louie Nohr, the butcher, stood guard at the head of the stairs.  He cautioned White and bad words were exchanged.  Nohr held a butcher knife about eighteen inches long at his side, which he raised and struck at White, exclaiming he would cut his head off.  White threw up his arms and the butcher knife cut both of them to the bone severing arteries and muscles alike, with the result that for several weeks afterwards he had to be fed, at Dillon House, where he boarded.

After being slashed, White ran down the stairs and Nohr half way down with a loaded revolver in his hand, at the same time shouting to the gathering of men at the bottom of the stairs to leave the premises.  Apparently they did not heed his command and he fired a shot into or over the crowd, assembled a little to the south of the stairway.  The bullet grazed the chin of John Noyen burning the flesh and cutting off part of his whiskers as well.  Nohr then pointed his gun in a northeasterly direction and fired a second shot which struck Joseph Ruelle, a young man of twenty-one years, who was standing near a hitching post away from the crowd, in the temple.  Ruelle was taken to the Funke Hotel, where the Schedler House now stands, and died one hour later.  Ruelle had finished the common schools, and was about to enter college.  He was a musician in the local band.

The shooting occurred Thursday evening May 2, 1871.  Nohr was immediately arrested and put in jail, where he remained until taken by a mob the following Sunday evening between 6:30 and 7:30.  The jail stood on the site of the present jail, along side of it to the west was the wooden courthouse.

The anger of many local people because of the shooting, ripened into a mad frenzy and hysteria and on Sunday evening a mob formed at the jail.  There were probably only fifteen or twenty men actively engaged in the undertaking, but several hundred people gathered, goading and encouraging the leaders on.  A six by six timber 16 feet long was produced, and with six or eight men on each side, was used as a battering-ram to knock down the jail door.  A. P. Call, a constable who lived in the jail with his family, was in charge of it.  I don’t recall the sheriff.

Mr. Call attempted to block the entrance of the mob by standing in front of the door, but when the timber was thrust in his direction soon got out of the way.  After the door was broken in, about fifteen men climbed upstairs.  The fellow in the first jail cell told the mob leader, “It isn’t me you’re after.  It’s Nohr.  He’s in the other cell.”  They proceeded to the other cell where they found Nohr, and the axes and hammers broke down the bars and took him out of the jail.  They immediately put a rope around his neck and started dragging him north toward the bridge.  The rope was about forty feet long and was pulled by fifteen or twenty men.  He tried to break away and stop the process of the mob by digging his heels in the ground, but to no avail.  When they came to the bridge, someone told Nohr to say his prayers because he was going to hang there.  They passed the bridge however, and kept on going north until they came to the present Court House grounds, which then consisted of a field with a board fence around and a creek running through it, owned by Tom Milledge.

There was a large crowd of people all along the route.  The rope was finally thrown over the limb of a twin oak tree that stood near the north-east corner of the court house grounds, he was hung there.  He was still alive at the hanging but was badly used up, being punched and pummeled by the mob.  There was sufficient daylight at the time of the hanging so that everything could be plainly seen.  At the scene someone yelled, “Look out for revolvers.”  The crowd scattered and someone fell into the nearby creek and nearly drowned.

After 4:00 Monday morning, a dump cart pulled by a team of horses, passed the Merline homestead, which still stands at 114 Washington Street, Oconto.  It was observed by Mrs. Merline, mother of the relator, and it was afterwards reported the dump cart contained the body of Nohr, which had been cut down.  His body was burned in a sand pit behind the Bond Pickle Co.’s plant, in a grove of jack pines.  Thereafter, there was a cut in one of the pines nearest the grave the initials L.N. ’71.  It was reported that the burial was not deep enough and that dogs dug up the remains, which afterwards were collected in a blanket and reburied by Dr. Benz, local coroner, at some other place.

George Smith, Sr., father of George Smith, former chief of police, was mayor of Oconto, and John Merline, father of relator, was city marshal at the time of the hanging.  It was reported that several members of the Turner Verein left Oconto immediately following the shooting of Ruelle and the hanging of Nohr, and did not return for several weeks thereafter.