Illegal bullhead fishing in Minnesota resulted in 3 murders in 1940 — and armed game wardens
“Waterville friends of the murderer said he could drop five quail with as many shots, and the unarmed wardens had no chance at all.”
WATERVILLE — Decades ago, the Minnesota conservation officers, then known as game wardens, generally didn’t carry weapons on duty, but that changed following a single deadly encounter on July 12, 1940, that left three wardens slaughtered and their killer dead in less than a minute.
At the time, investigators were in the process of tracking down an illegal bullhead shipping ring that was sending Minnesota bullheads to fish markets in Sioux City and Des Moines in Iowa, as well as Sioux Falls in South Dakota, according to an Associated Press story on the matter.
Three wardens went to speak to Bryant Baumgartner, operator of a fish market at Waterville: A. M. Holt, a veteran game warden who had been stationed at Worthington for the past four months; D. P. Brady, a Windom warden “well known here” according to the Worthington Daily Globe story on the murders; and Marcus Whipps, of Kasota.
The wardens went to visit Baumgartner after they received reports of sales made to fish dealers, “whose bullhead operations were seriously curtailed by conservation department orders several months ago, prohibiting possession of more than 50 such fish at any one time.”
The wardens asked Baumgartner for his license and his records. He went into his house, adjacent to the fish market, and came out with a shotgun.
Witnesses Charles Coon and H. B. McCart recalled how the encounter went afterward.
“It’s no use getting smart with that thing, Baumgartner,” Brady said.
“I’ll show you whether I’ll get smart,” Baumgartner replied, opening fire on Brady first, and then slaying the other two men.
“Waterville friends of the murderer said he could drop five quail with as many shots, and the unarmed wardens had no chance at all,” the Globe’s account of the incident states.
“After firing the three shots, Baumgartner carried the gun to a fence nearby, leaned it against the pickets and pulled the trigger, dying instantly,” the article continued. “Friends said Baumgartner was well-liked in the community and had shown no violent tendencies. His wife and son were at home when the tragedy occurred.”
With the characteristic bluntness of the newspapers of the day, the top headline was “Community Honors Slain Game Wardens,” with a subhead of “Holt, Brady and Whipps Shot by Mad Fisherman.”
In the inquiry that followed, investigators tried to “see what was behind the shooting and the details of the way the game was being run up to this time,” said Dr. J.J. Kolars, LeSueur county coroner, in another Associated Press story.
Mandt Torrison, special assistant attorney general in the conservation department, said his inquiries revealed that the tragedy was the outgrowth of long local standing bitterness over enforcement of bullhead regulations.
An average individual catch of bullheads at the time was about 30 pounds, or 150 fish, but state law said a person couldn’t take more than 50 in a day or be in possession of more than 50 bullheads at a time.
The move to arm and uniform the wardens began soon after the triple murder, and was complete less than a year later.
3 fallen wardens
Adolph Melvin Holt, born July 26, 1888, at Preston, in Fillmore County, was the son of Otto N. and Johanna Olson Holt. He had operated confectionaries in LeRoy and Bagley before he entered the state forestry service and transferred to the game and fish division in 1925. He had transferred from Clearwater County to Worthington in March of 1940. He left behind a widow and two adult children, as well as his parents and four siblings.
D.P. Brady, age 50, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Brady. He had been in the game warden service for 26 years and was buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Windom. He was unmarried and left behind his parents and seven siblings.
“D. P. Brady was known as a fearless warden who had been wounded at least once in his work and who had covered his district actively for more than 20 years,” the Globe wrote. “He handled the Rock-Nobles area when there was no regular warden and was called in frequently on law enforcement cases here.”
Marcus Whipps, a native of LeCenter, left behind a widow, a daughter and two sons, his mother and four siblings.