by Old Uncle Crow
I Have been hearing, reading and thinking about history, now, for over fifty years. It all began for me in my childhood at the time of the Korean war, when my father would show to me on a globe of the world with a shoelace how far it had been from France to London, and England to Berlin, during the World War II air-raids–and, now, how far the Russian bombers would have to fly from Moscow to our house in south Minneapolis.
Then, all unknown to myself, I began an historian’s actual work during the long hot summers of the 1950’s, while staying on my maternal grandfather’s farm, on the high ground between Eagle Lake and Madison Lake, Minnesota, just East of old Mankato, in its a brooding valley at the southernmost bend of the Minnesota River. There I lived in those long-ago days, and in a much different world than ours of today, with my Grandpa, his unmarried son, my Uncle Emmett, and my Great-Aunty Leona. She was Grandpa’s sister-in-law, and she kept house there for many years, after my Grandmother died in childbirth in 1920. Emma Jacobson died when Uncle Emmett was born, and the story was that she had been weakened by a bout of Spanish influenza after Mom’s birth, in 1918.
To be sure, it was a bit of a scandal in the neighborhood that Grandpa never married Leona. Indeed, the story went that both Leona and her older sister Alma had gotten into a contest rather, to marry Grandpa after his widowhood. In those days, people did not marry for ‘love’ in the kind of short-lived coma that they so often get into, now. And, in Grandpa’s case, both of his sisters-in-law dissembled about their own feelings, telling him simply:
‘You should have somebody to help raise them kids!’
My Great-Aunt Huldy Olsen used to tell me these tales against her sisters-in-law with raised eyebrows and much tutting–but, she always added:
‘Your Granddad is a good man, and he has always been good to his horses and livestock!’
An all-together sensible reason to marry a man, in other words….
I Have already written about how my Great-Aunty Leona would tell me over-and-over, and word-for-word, about how her Grandmother Wilhelmina Schippel had carried her three-year-old son Henry and eight-months’ old baby Albert to safety in Fort Ridgeley, during the 1862 Dakota Indian uprising. And so she told me many other stories of my family relatives. There were many stories about Leona’s scapegrace baby brother Carl. One of these was about the Schuck-murders [or, Schuch-murders — ed] near Waseca, Minnesota, in the early 1930’s [sic]. Her tales had always a moral, and the moral of this one was to not go around getting married outside of your religion.
And, also, not to ‘talk back to the authorities!’
MAGLYS Were Swiss-Germans, and they worshipped at the old Immanuel lutheran church, on North 2nd Street in old Mankato, as did the Schippels. All except Albert Schippel, that is, who grew up to become an architect and ‘…designed half of Mankato, Buddy!’ as Leona always said pridefully to me.
In the first-born generation, indeed, Architect Albert Schippel grew to achieve a real American success. So, he abandoned the German-language confession of childhood, became presbyterian–and his end was Glenwood (the swell presbyterian cemetery, in the Glenwood ravine….)
As to Carl Magly, he enjoyed his older sisters’ disapproval twice-over:
He smoked cigarets and drank whisky–and, ‘he married Catholic!’
And as to the Schuck-murders, Carl Magly’s wife was to be Marie Schuck….
IT Was on a Saturday evening in the early 1930’s [18 May 1929 — ed], the story goes, and the elder Schucks had left their farm-place outside of Waseca, together with some of their children, to go to mass. When they returned it was to a scene of carnage, and several of their children lay dead in the house and yard. One little boy was found in the wood-pile….
Robbery of course was the motive, as the Schucks it was said had a safe in their house, and my Great-Uncle Carl Magly became a police-suspect, as it was known he was seeing family-member Marie Schuck. The police hauled in Carl Magly for questioning.
He ‘sassed them back,’ Leona said, and so he got flung into a cell, his family were called, and the whole scandal got out:
‘There he was, Buddy, running around with Catholics!’ said Leona, ‘And so you can bet the police gave him a rough time about that, too! Especially when he talked back to them!’
I Have said that my unmarried Uncle Emmett lived there, on Grandpa’s farm, and he supplied me with his own version–or, anyway, additional information. It was no doubt colored by the fact that he, too, was in his Aunt Leona’s bad books, not only because he, too, took cigarets and whisky–but because, growing up in the 1930’s, he enjoyed no-end going around with ‘Uncle Magly’, hunting and fishing.
When I asked him about the Schuck-murders and ‘do YOU think Uncle Carl done it, Uncle Emmett, Leona says he’s awful bad sometimes, and smokes and drinks and everything…?’ Uncle Emmett laughed at me:
‘Jesus Christ, kid, there’s more than one side to a story, you know–plus around here, God damn it, maybe TWO or THREE sides to everything! Besides, you know he married Marie Magly, and I don’t suppose any woman in her right mind would marry somebody who’d just killed off her family–Hell, the God damn fool might take notions and do HER in too!’
‘Well,’ I asked, ‘What HAPPENED with the police when they questioned Uncle Carl? Did he ever tell YOU? Did they really beat him up?’
Uncle Emmett laughed and settled back on the straw-bales, where we had our best talks in the evenings, before milking cows–he was in his story-telling mode:
‘I Guess…’ he drawled in the old Eagle Lake-Madison Lake, Minnesota, ‘lakese’ way. ‘I guess!
‘You see the sonsofbitches (the police, Uncle Emmett meant) thought they had him dead-to-rights because them Schucks weren’t too happy about their sweet Marie going around with that Lutheran sonofabitch Carl Magly. So they hauled him in and put it to him, and I guess he made ’em pretty sore so maybe they gave him a little poke or two!
‘I mean you can’t blame the bastards, I ‘pose–all day long they deal with these assholes that talk back, so they get, Hell, I don’t know…pissed off!’
‘What did he SAY, Uncle Emmett? What did he say to piss ’em off?’ I demanded. I was getting excited because I thought maybe there would be some good lines that I could use on Leona (if they weren’t too bad) when she got after me about chores and things. My Great-Aunty especially detested ‘that mouthy backtalk!’
‘Well now…!’ Uncle Emmett laced his fingers over a knee and leaned back on the south side of the gray-painted barn, where evening swallows looped low overhead, twittering.
‘They got a back room where they put guys under a real bright light, and they set Uncle Magly down on his ass on a stool and said:
‘”Alright for you, you sly sonofabitch, you ain’t gonna get outta this one, so now we’ll just clear up a few details. Now then, God damn it, where was you on the night of the fifth?”
‘Anyway Uncle Magly didn’t care for their smart-ass tone of voice one damn bit so he sassed ’em right back:
“Wal…I was DRINKIN’ it!”
‘Of course THAT set the dirty cock-knockers off like a bunch of firecrackers, and they roughed him up and threw him on the floor and put a nightstick across his throat and said:
‘”Alright, Wise Guy! And just where in Hell was you ON THE SIXTH?”
‘So Uncle Magly grinned at the bastards like a cat eating shit and just as soon as they let him talk he said:
‘” I DON’T REMEMBER A GOD DAMN THING AFTER THAT FIFTH–HMPH, SO THERE!”
‘So the shit hit the fan then, and they tossed the sonofabitch in the jug and called up his folks. Je-sus Kee-rist….’ Uncle Emmett licked and rolled up another cigaret and spat meditatively a tobacco-fragment into the dusky light of early evening:
‘IT Was Hell around HERE I can tell you. Christ Almighty, Leona was on HER God damn high horse for a month!’
[IT Was in the winter of 2005-6 that Irene Sutlief of Waseca, Minnesota, and Richard Bloch of that place, told me that many years afterward a bachelor neighbor of the Schuck family died, leaving a written confession. And, so, a melancholy story of greed and violence came to be a part of my childhood story–and, my earliest formation as a young historian. For already, then, fifty years ago I had happened on one of the essential tasks of all historianship, namely the question of interrogating ones sources.
[Otherwise, those who wish to learn more of the Schuck-murders are invited to consult the website of the Waseca County Historical Society — ed]
copyrighted by tiocuervo 8th March 2006