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May 2003

Vol. 2, issue 5 

The Northwestern, Oshkosh, WI, September 10, 1885


Horrible drowning accident in the river

One of the most horrible accidents ever recorded in this city—Six persons drowned by the upsetting of a boat – four girls and two men – five rescued from death -- full particulars – names of the lost and saved.

Wednesday A. M. about fifteen minutes of six, a boat being rowed across the Fox River at the point where the St. Paul railroad bridge is located, was capsized, and six persons, at the lowest calculation, lost their lives, while it is possible that others were swallowed by the dark waters. The details of the harrowing accident as learned from private interviews with eye witnesses of the calamity, from persons who narrowly escaped with their lives, and from the parents and relatives of the dead are substantially as follows: A party of young people mostly girls and boys employed in the Diamond Match Company’s works, came to the St. Paul railroad bridge and according to their usual custom prepared to be ferried across the space of water left clear by the draw being swung open. It appears that this was in accordance with the usual plan, an arrangement having been made with the watch at the bridge to row them across each morning for 15 cents each per week.  The boat used is a large flat-bottomed rowboat, to all appearances capable under ordinary circumstances of accommodating fifteen or sixteen persons, and into this craft the entire party stepped with the expectation of being quickly carried across to the other side of the bridge. Statements to the number of persons who embarked in the boat differ materially. Parties in the boat and those who were saved are of the opinion that there were eleven or twelve people aboard, while others assert that there were several more. However this may be, the start was made just after the tug S. W. Hollister had passed through the draw, and in the face of a heavy swell created by the boat, and for which she is somewhat noted. It appears that after getting out where the full force of the swell could be felt the boat rocked considerably and being so heavy laden tipped uncomfortably close to the waters edge. At this some of the girls became frightened and standing up made frantic motions, which still further disturbed the equilibrium of the boat. The result was that most of the party became badly frightened and cried out.  Others arose to their feet and as the boat tipped one way they all crowded to the other side and the entire party was plunged into the swiftly flowing and deep waters.  At this juncture those that were saved were so intent on getting out of the water that they remember but little further than they could see their companions struggling desperately in the water and could hear the most heart rendering shrieks and cries for help. At the time of the accident there were but a few people in the immediate vicinity of the bridge, but alarmed by the cries people rushed to the scene from all directions and in a very few minutes, the bridge and the approaches to it were crowded with a perfect jam of pale faced anxious people. William Wolff who was in the boat was able to swim, but he states the water was so cold he could hardly withstand the effects while with a few strokes he reached the side of the draw and was pulled out upon the timbers by one of the first men to arrive. He quickly recovered, however, and aided in rescuing one of his companions, a little girl who had floated close to the bridge. A young man named Starbeck, who was one of the first on the scene, plunged into the water in a heroic manner and with the aid of others rescued three girls who were taken from the river in a half drowned condition and were hurried to their homes. By this time it had become generally known that a terrible accident had happened and men from the different mills soon put in an appearance and at once set to work to drag the river with grappling hooks. It was not long before their efforts were rewarded, and with groans and sighs from the assembled crowd of spectators the body of Phillip Beery, the night watch man at the bridge, a young man about eighteen years of age and nephew of H. L. Bacon, agent for the Central Road, was drawn slowly to the surface. By this time some five or six persons were engaged in dragging the river, the lines being held by men standing on portions of the bridge, the hooks being carried far out into the river by men in boats. In the course of the next hour and a half one by one the remains of one man and the bodies of four girls were drawn from their watery graves and laid out side by side on a portion of the bridge, but still the sharp hooks were carried out into the water and drawn slowly along again and again, it being believed that there were others to be found. On the bridge and shore hundreds of people had now assembled, who were engaged in watching the operations and conversing in low tones. Every now and then the sound of the low hum of the voices was broken by the cries and lamentations of some heart broken parent, or brother or sister, whose sobs and cries could be plainly heard as they wept over the body of some loved one lost. Some of the parents fell upon the dead bodies of their children and kissed, and caressed in such a loving sorrowful way that even strong man who stood by bowed their heads in respect to the sorrow of the people, while others, rough mannered though they were, were not ashamed to let it be seen that their eyes filled with tears. A more sad site would be difficult to picture than the scene presented as one by one the bodies were borne to the shore on the shoulders of men to a hand car and were quickly carried to desolate homes. As the grappling hooks continued to be used one brought to the surface a shawl, which was quickly recognized by many as belonging to a fellow workman, while another raised a vest, which at once was recognized as the property of Phillip Beery. In one of the pockets of the vest was a gold watch, which when opened was found to have stopped exactly at 13 minutes of six. The search for more bodies continued until a late hour, the results of the work being shown by the names of the following persons who were discovered to have been drowned:

Johanna Matschi, Augusta Weise, Emma Bauer, Lena Maidl, Phillip Beery, Louis Dichtl.

So far as could be learned, the following are the names of those who were rescued:

Anna Hartwig, Tillie Otache, Louisa Morris, Amelia Paulsen, William Wolff.

It was only with the most difficulty that the names or anything concerning the victims could be learned as in the excitement of the moment no one seemed to know the facts and many people interested could speak no English. It seems that most of the people are employed in the match factory, and with the exception of one man, Louis Dichtl, who was employed in Radford Brothers mill, their ages ranged from 12 to 20, two of the girls being quite young and two being in the neighborhood of 20 years each. In all instances the victims belonged to poor hard working families living in the sixth ward, and by their labors assisted materially in the support of not only themselves but also their parents. As soon as the occurrence became known at the Diamond Match Works, the works were shut down and all hands repaired to the river, and the works continued idle throughout the day out of respect to the dead. The police were quickly on hand and kept the bridge clear while the trains were passing by, assisted in the work of dragging the river, and exercised general supervision in order to prevent accidents and preserve order.

A more likely place for an accident could hardly have been found in the river, as the water is between twenty and thirty feet deep at the draw and the current is quite swift. The draw is about sixty feet in width and of course is kept perfectly clear even close to the bridge so that there was no opportunity for those in the middle to cling to anything or to struggle into water where they could touch bottom and not be entirely submerged.

The news of the accident, which was spread over the city at an early hour, was the subject of discussion during the entire day. Throughout the mills and among the laboring classes especially nothing else was talked, and most of those drowned were well known, and coming from that class of people, their deaths caused a severe shock. Various strictures have been passed upon those who were managing the boat, but it does not appear that anyone was particularly to blame, unless it be the entire party who were foolhardy to venture out in the heavy swells in a boat which was evidently overloaded for use in anything but perfectly smooth water.

After the reaction of grief had set in the people to look around for someone upon whom to place the blame of the accident. It was asserted that the dead night watch rocked the boat on purpose to scare the girls, but this statement was not supported by the testimony of those who were in the boat at the time of the accident. Others considered that the blame lay with A. Gore, the day watch of the bridge, who it is claimed receives 20 cents per month for each person he carries across. The feeling against him reached such a pitch at one time that threats were made against his life and the man became convinced that if he didn’t make himself scarce, bodily injury would be done him. The practice of carrying people across in the same manner has been in vogue for the past five years or more and no accident has occurred previous to the tragedy of today.


A short time ago the night watch, who was drowned told a friend that he was bothered greatly by people who wanted to cross the bridge. He stated that as the draw was hard for one man to manage, especially when a high wind is prevailing, he often took the people over in a boat rather than undertake the task of closing the bridge. Relatives and friends of the victims of the accident claimed that the bridge tender kept the bridge open on purpose so that they would be compelled to have him ferry them across.

At one time it was reported about the city that as many as twenty persons had been drowned.

A girl claiming to have witnessed the disaster now says that when the row boat started the majority of the party were standing up and were joking and fooling with one another.

The Inquest

Thursday at ten o’clock, the inquest over the remains of the victims of the terrible drowning was held at the office of Justice Rykman, and after the examination of all those who were saved Wednesday, the watch at the bridge and several who assisted in rescuing those who were saved, the proceedings terminated shortly after twelve o’clock, the jury rendering the following verdict:

An inquisition taken at Oshkosh in the County of Winnebago, on the 2nd day of Sept. 1885. before R.W. Rykman, one of the Justices of the Peace of the said county, upon the view of the bodies of Augusta Weise, Emma Bauer, Elenora Matchie, Lena Madle, Louis Dichtl, and Phillemon Beery, these dead, by the jurors whose names are here unto subscribed, who being duly sworn to enquire on behalf of this state, when, in what manner, and by what means, the said deceased came to their deaths by accidental drowning in the Fox River at the city of Oshkosh, on the 2nd day of Sept. 1885. In testimony whereof the said Justice of the Peace and the jurors of this inquest have hereunto set their hands the day and date aforesaid.

R.W. Rykman, Frank Leach, N.C. Holmes, T.F. Hornick, R. Ayres, Julius Martin, S. Ostertag.

The testimony of those who were saved was substantially the same as the account of the drowning published last evening, except that it was shown that the tug S. W. Hollister had passed through the draw some ten minutes before the accident occurred and that one boat had already been ferried across before the fatal trip was made. It was also shown that a portion, if not all of the members of the party were standing up when the start was made. The day watch at the bridge, Mr. Gore, testified that he has been day watch for two years and that seven years ago he was accustomed to being ferried across and used to pay 20 cents a week. Since he had been at the bridge he had been in the habit of taking people over in the boat, but he received no stipulated price, some paying him a little and some paying him nothing. In all he testified he did not receive a dollar a month and did the work more as a matter of convenience than for what money was in it. He had always understood that people crossing the bridge did so at their own risk, but he had received no orders from the company regarding the matter, excepting that the section boss had told him to handle the bridge in whatever manner would be the easiest for him. He had never known or heard of the bridge being kept open so that people would have to patronize the ferry. During the season when the tugboats were running a good deal, he often found the bridge open at six in the morning when he went to work, but during the month he found it open only once or twice. The boat, he said had been placed there by the railroad company so that railroad men could cross over Sundays, as upon every Sunday the bridge is left open most all the time. His description of the boat was that it was a flat-bottomed boat about 18 feet long and three feet broad at the bottom and was modeled with a square stern. He had seen 15 persons carried across the river in it, but he did not think it would be safe for such a number excepting in perfectly smooth water. He considered it dangerous for 11 or 12 people to start out when a swell was rolling unless the boat was headed into the swell. He knew of no such arrangement the night watch had for carrying people across in the boat, but he considered that he was hardly competent to handle the boat, as he had not been around the water a great while.

Another interesting witness was Otto Starback, who is a hero in every sense of the word. Thursday he told in the most modest and unassuming manner imaginable, a story which is worthy of being chronicled in the list of the most heroic deeds. His plain narrative was as follows: While approaching the bridge he heard the voices of the girls and thought they were laughing, but when he reached the middle of the bridge he heard the piteous cries for help. Starting on the run, he threw off his coat as he passed along, and reaching the edge of the bridge, he quickly divested himself of his shoes, and plunged into the water. His attention was first attracted by a dress floating upon the surface, there being no heads visible at that time. Pulling vigorously upon the dress, he brought to the surface the body of a girl, who with utmost difficulty he prevented from clinging to him and taking him to the bottom. Reaching the boat, which was now bottom upwards, he caught hold of another girl who came to the surface, and placed her in a safe position on top of the boat. He then started for the bridge with the girl he first caught, and while on his way he picked up two others and had them cling to himself and each other in such a way that he was enabled to get all three where they were reached by helping hands and drawn to a place of safety. By this time he was so exhausted by the icy cold water that he came near going down himself and had to be pulled from the river by men who were standing near. It was evident from the testimony that had it not been for his bravery at the first critical moment, two at least of the girls saved would have been drowned. Otto Starback is a young German youth 18 years of age who works in one of the mills of Radford Bros. He is dark complexioned, well built, and is as prepossessing in his manners as he is modest in his account of what he has done. The young man is deserving of the most liberal reward and already there is talk of raising a purse for him. The girls especially feel more grateful towards than words can tell, and their praises and promises to remember him are a portion of the reward he has already received. 

It has been learned that Augusta Weise, one of the young ladies drowned, was about to be married and that she had her wedding clothes all completed. It is said that the young man to whom she was engaged is well nigh frantic with grief.

The funerals of Philomen Beery and Augusta Weise took place Thursday afternoon.

The jury considered for some time the advisability of making recommendations looking to the prevention of the recurrence of such an accident, but finally decided not to do so.


A gentleman who was an early spectator at the drowning accident last Wednesday, expresses the opinion that the great mistake made was the failure to put forth any efforts to resuscitate the people as soon as they were taken from the river. It is now asserted that there was a possibility of having restored to life some of the first who were raised to the surface, had the proper measures been put forth as soon as possible. It is claimed that the first who were taken from the water had not been in long enough to put rescue out of the question, and it is even asserted that one of the victims breathed or gasped a little after having been removed to the bridge. Several parties were anxious to have measures taken to resuscitate the victims, but as no one felt competent to commence or to direct the work nothing was done. Local doctors have expressed the belief that the bodies had been in the water too long and that life was extinct when they were taken out. There are instances on record, however, where persons have been saved after being underwater for a considerable length of time, and at any rate the bare possibility of success should be sufficient to cause all efforts to be made. The sooner the people understand what should be done in the case of drowning, and learn to go about it at once, by so much will the chances of a rescue be increased.


Last Friday the unusual sight of a quadruple funeral was witnessed on the streets of the city by large numbers of people whose attention was attracted by this sorrowful spectacle. The services were the last rites over the remains of four of the young people who perished in the terrible drowning accident of the 2nd and formed the last act in the history of the most terrible calamity by which the city of Oshkosh has ever been visited. Yesterday the remains of Phillemon Beery and Augusta Weise were buried and today the remains of Louis Dichtl, Elenora Matchie, Lena Madle and Emma Bauer were interred. The funeral services were held in St. Vincent de Paul’s Catholic church, the south side, and were attended by an immense number of people. The funeral procession was headed by three hearses and a double seated carriage in which was carried the remains of one of the youngest girls. Following came a carriage filled with little girls dressed in white and carrying a profusion of the most beautiful floral designs and bouquets. The procession itself was one of the largest ever seen in the city and as it passed through the streets hundreds of people gathered along the walks to witness the carriages pass by, gave expression to words of sympathy and sorrow. The funeral today presented to the public the most sorrowful aspect of the tragedy and gave to the minds of many an only too vivid realization of the sorrow and desolation the accident has caused.

NOTE:  Johanna Matschi is mentioned once as a drowning victim but Elenora Matschi is mentioned twice later in the story. Further research will be necessary to determine the correct name. 

Anyone in Oshkosh want to volunteer to check the records at Riverside Cemetery? 

Highholder Family Tree now over 5000 individuals.
See December Monthly Highholder to learn how to submit your information.
New Website of SPANBAUER genealogy

compiled by Stan SPANBAUER

Translations of pages from the 1902 meeting book 

First installment/ more next month

Thanks to Fred Schroeder

The St. Bonifacius Youth Club of Oshkosh, Wis.   Page 77, 79 

In the following an attempt is made very short to describe the Club’s work of the St. Bonifacius Youth Club since its origination. It does not lay in the nature of matter that speak from important, fare carrying happenings . The efficacy of a club like this is more a quiet, inside then outside, „ prevent suffering, carry suffering”.

The history of this club reflects the experience of the most clubs. Planted as tender little tree, it must have made convulsive strenuous effort to make strong roots. Now but grown to a strong tree can the club look back without fear to look against the storms of the future.

Established was the Club on 10.June 1888 of that time zealous Assistant of the St. Vincent de Paul parish the holiness Heinrich Blum, an put under the Guardian of the holy Bonifacius. The first Officers were: President, John Schöttl; Vice President ,John Polak; Secretari, J.J.Stadtmiller: Treasurer, John Koplitz.

During their time on Board a enthusiastic decision was made to purchase a Club flag for $ 150. On 19. November of the same year the holiness Leonhard Siepker

Took over the spiritual management of the club. After as the Director of the club

Followed B.Siepker the holiness Joseph Vaan Treek, which brought again more enthusiasm under the members. At the Fest of Maria ƒ Reception- (pregnancy) 1889 was a new flag blessed by which opportunity the holiness Director a very sense full educational speech made to the members of the club.

On June of the year 1890 was the second election of officers. Elected were:

Joseph Drexler, President; Wenzel Mottl, Vice President; Matthias Fuchs, Secretary; A. Miller, treasurer; Marshall, T.Bork.

From the list of Club members we see ,that the club at that time counted 49 members.

Now comes the storm= and urge-impulse =period of the club. After the meeting 14. December, the club dissolved. In the mentioned meeting refused a few members to pay the fines. The emotions heated up, and the result was, that the Club was carried into the grave. For a long time existed no Youth club in the St. Vincent de Paul parish.

About 3 years later on 10. September 1893 the first meeting was held of the new founded St. Bonifacius Youth =Support Club in the St. Vincent school hall. The club was new established with 17 members.

Like the name said , this club was not only a club of youths in the sense of a simple words, also the club made it for the purpose to support their sick members. The support was 3 Dollars per week. The re=organization of the club was mostly the effort of the Reverent W.Brüker . The club holds this holiness Herr, because of this in thank full remembrance. As Officers of this new established Club were elected:

Joseph Drexler, President; F.Karst, Vice President; 1. Secretary, M.Baier; 2. Secretary, F.Koplitz; Treasurer, A.Miller; Marshall, F.Bibel.

Since now the Clubs cash was in low tide, so it was decided to present theater pieces. It was a great success , so right away risking a second one, title„ a famous right case” this was performed much better as the previous. The clear proceeds were $ 130

Which sum helped the club very much.

In April of the next year the Club suffered a tart loss, Reverent Brücker was re called from the holiness Herr Archbishop of Oshkosh, and was transferred to another area. The Club brought prove of his gratitude to the leaving Director in a form of a honorable resolution vote of thanks. In June of the year 1895 again the yearly Officers election was held. The previous officers did such a remarkable job and trust and were reelected.

During this year a few changes were made in the Constitution. So was for an example Article 15 Part 2 and 3 changed. In September of this year the spiritual management of the Club were placed in the hands of Reverent Stehling. The Club had already experiences in the performance of theater-games. Because on advise of the spiritual Director was then in January 1896 a play, * Der Hergott Schnitzer from Ammergau *performed. (Hergott = God. Schnitzer = Carver.-someone who carves this figures. Ammergau a town in Bavaria). The waiting of all (people) was through the shining performance still surpassed. The Protocol from 8. March stated that Article 18 Part 20 was amendiert ?-amended. The delegates of the 5th State meeting were advised ,to the best of the Youth Clubs following Resolution to present the State meeting: “ The men clubs shall all youths which leave the Youth clubs to get married admit free and without costs. “ The of the June 1896 again coming back election brought the following results: Josef Drexler, President; Al. Freitag, Vice President; F.Bibel, Secretary; J. Drexler, 2th Secretary; F.Karst, Treasurer; M.Straus, Marshall.

The club made good progress. The membership growth was steady . It prevailed a brotherly spirit. Every member fulfilled true his duties. In the meeting held on 11. January 1897 ? it was decided at the monthly meetings to connect small entertainment to make the meetings more attractive and to have greater participation .

On a decision from a meeting held on 13. June were other items –words added to article 18, Par.20: „ when members through their business are prevented to attend any meetings during the year, must pay 75 ¢ the all meetings are free. Like usually the Officers election was held on June 1897. the results of the same were:

M. Bayer, President; O.Ostertag, Vice President, F. Bibel, Secretary; J.Drexler, 2th Secretary; F.Kempinger, Treasurer; M.Strauß, Marshall. Early October 0f this year Reverend J.Schiltz took over the leadership of the club, but not long was the club allowed to have the holy highness Herr as spiritual Director, then already after 2 month was the same from holy highness Herr Archbishop transferred to another place. Really we did not see unwillingly to let him go, that the same in such a relative short time was very much liked under the youths.

At the quarter yearly meeting in March 1898 was a price – bounty established which will be given to the one who brings the most members to the club. This amount was later given to Mr. Ostertag. At the same time (that time) falls also the revision of the Constitution. So many changes, improvements were made during the time on the Constitution, so it looked advisable t0 print new the laws and bylaws. The club shared also the State unit of the D.RK.= ( ?German Red Cross) support-assistance= and Youth Club of Appleton.

The time came also along for the yearly Officers election.

On June 11,the following Herren were elected: A.Böttcher, President; J.Pable, Vice President; G.Bork,Secretary; J.Drexler, 2th Secretary; F.Kempinger, Treasurer.

On a constantly request of the club the Reverent Stehling took over again the spiritual management of the club in 1898. Now started the blossom time of the club.

After to the inside and to the outside the club enfolded in more active work.

The number of members went much higher than expected. Not almost one meeting was held were a new member has joined the club. Especially were Mr. M.Bayer, and

O. Ostertag which brought the club many members.

In Spring of the year 1899 was a entertainment branch established. The plan found at the time enthusiastic approval. But the eagerness for that matter became soon much slower, partly because there were no fitting rooms available, partly , because the experience teaches that the interest in a such matter slower and slower only to a few.

In April Mr. F.Prellwiß past away conscientious member of the club. This is the first death which the records of the club are stating. In June1899was again Officers election. The following Gentlemen were the favored: J. Bauer, President; R.Kritz, Vice President; F.Pollak, Secretary; M.Bayer, second Secretary; F.Miller, Treasure; E.Grabner, Marshall.

It were the earnings of the Youth Club to make the first finances, to install a steam heating apparatus in the school and Parson (Parish) house. It was namely decided of the club to make an Excursion to Calumet Harbar and the net proceeds of that affair to buy a steam apparatus. $ 121 were made by this Excursion and for this purpose given to the treasurer of the parish. (municipality).

In the meeting of 11 September it was decided , to pay in the future $4 per week


Through the Delegate F.Pollak the club shared –attend the first meeting of the State –Unit of the Youth Clubs of Wisconsin. Milwaukee was the meeting place.

In the year 1900 the following Officers were elected: J.Pable, President; J.Reichenberger, Vice president; E.Bayer, first secretary; F.Pollak, second Secretary; J.Stadler, Treasurer; F.Drexler, Marshall.

In November of the year 1900 Mr. J.Mathe passed away, a brave member of the club. E.Bayer the new elected Secretary of the club left shortly after he took the this position ,the City. J.J.Jungwirth was for his position appointed. In April of the year 1901 A.Böttcher one of the oldest bravest member of the club passed away.

At the District meeting of the youth clubs in Racine the club attended with Delegates.

As Officers for the year 1901-1902 were elected: President J.Pable, Vice President, R.Kritz, First Secretary, J.Jungwirth; second Secretary, F.Kellermann; Treasurer, M.Ostertag; Marshall, G.Schneider.

Herewith we close the history of this club. At present the club is in a blossomed format. He is one of the biggest Youth Clubs of Wisconsin. The club counted at present 105 members, surely a represent able number. He started small but true united stick together untiring diligent work has the undertaking crowned with success.

With entitled pride can the members look back today 0f their club and all are always have their mind , interest, to progress the club, and through rigorous propaganda to lead always more new members to the club. Blossom further St. Bonifacius Youth Club; honor your founders, your members to enjoy. Honor to God, for the welfare-salvation of the members, spread and follow your password

God the Youths, God the Future. 

Contact: Peter Kinderman
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