Map of Sheridan

The morning of Thursday, Nov. 28, 1895, William Kattkee and his wife, Annie, were having a terrible argument.

Following one exchange, Annie went upstairs to get some beans for dinner. Kattkee followed her. As she started down the stairs, he pulled a hatchet from his coat and split her skull. She fell to the bottom of the stairs, and he unleashed a volley of blows to her head and face.

Their 12-year-old daughter Sophia witnessed the attack. She fled to the barn to get an older brother, perhaps Ernest. He rushed back to the house to find his father leaving with a rope in hand, apparently to hang himself.

The boy grabbed a Winchester rifle, drew a bead on his father, and ordered him to stop. Kattkee meekly held out the rope he’d been carrying, and the boy tied him up with it.

Annie and William had 15 children (five died in childhood), and apparently one of them ran to the neighbors, who got word to Prairie Farm, where Justice of the Peace Ira Sincerebeaux and Constable Noah Harmony — you just can’t make these names up — “hastened to the scene” and took charge of Kattkee.

Evidence from Annie’s body corroborated young Sophia’s account, and Kattkee was arraigned before Justice Shafer in Menomonie on the charge of murder. Kattke pleaded not guilty, and an “examination” was scheduled for Dec. 6 of that year.

The blood-drenched hatchet was taken into evidence, as was a small bottle of strychnine the constable found on Kattkee’s person.

Kattkee was “one of the early settlers of the Town of Sheridan.” He, Anna, and their family lived on 168 acres on the Barron County line, about two miles west-northwest of Vanceburg.

William and Annie were originally from Prussia — more or less what we now think of as northern Poland — and were married and started their family in the Old Country. At the time of the murder, they had 11 children living, several of whom were already grown and out of the house.

The Kattkees had been married a long time. They were both in their mid-50s and their eldest children were in their mid-20s. So what exploded that morning?

Rumor was that Annie claimed the neighbor to the east, a Mr. Beisswanger was “always after her” and that William considered Annie “blemished”. Perhaps it’s not hard to draw a narrative from that, although the mystery remains.

By February of 1896, Kattkee had withdrawn his original plea and pleaded guilty. As far as I can tell, he was sentenced to life in prison at Waupun.

Another enduring mystery is why we haven’t heard more about this: It seems like a hatchet murder in Dunn County would be notable part of the county lore.

I have no definitive answer for that, but the region’s most notorious recent murder came to a dramatic closure two weeks after the Kattkee slaying, when Harry Hayward was executed by hanging in the Hennepin County Jail on Dec. 11, 1895.

A year earlier, passersby found Katherine “Kitty” Ging’s body on a road near Lake Calhoun, a bullet hole behind the ear. There’s a lot to the story, but here’s one tiny telling detail: Hayward had persuaded Ging to purchase a $10,000 life insurance policy (about $270,000 in today’s dollars), with Hayward named as sole beneficiary.

While in jail, the suave, sociopathic and chatty Hayward claimed to have committed three other murders cross-country from California to New York.

Just before the gallows’ trap door swung open, Hayward called out “Pull her tight; I’ll stand pat,” which became his last words. Like many other newspapers, The Dunn County News devoted a full page to the Hayward execution — and all other news, including Annie Kattkee’s horrifying murder, seemed to pale.

Frank Smoot, executive director at the Dunn County Historical Society, can be reached at 715-232-8685, or director@dunnhistory.org.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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