Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
(This is the third of a four-part series about the "Old St. Anne's Pass" legends all between 1865 and 1940). Area's first cold-blooded killer Mathias Peter Beckers was born March 5, 1871, at Old St. Anne's. He died from gunshot wounds he received on Aug. 20, 1892, (only 21 years old). His mother tried to tell people he died from fever which was common at that time. However, his siblings passed down a much different story. As a small boy, Mathias Peter was awaken during the night by the hysterical sounds of his parents that could see the flames of Old St. Anne's over the hill. He ran with his eldest sister Hubertina through some trees, across a field and down the embankment from the church to fetch pails of water. He watched as his mother fell to her knees while the church burned bright in the nighttime sky. He vowed vengeance and his blood turned cold. The next morning he looked for clues and traced horse prints back to a barn at Maine Prairie. St. Anne's was quickly rebuilt. The hate between Catholics and Protestants was not only an issue in the Kimball area, but it was widespread across the country and globe. As new settlers arrived to the area, they brought their emotions with them. Smaller secret society groups in the area were simply extensions of larger ones. Beginning in the early 1860's, historians argue that Stearns County was a hotbed for southern sympathasizers. As a small boy, Mathias Peter started sneaking out of the house at night and guarding the church in his wooded tree fort. He became highly skilled with a rifle and pistol. When the individuals returned several months later to cast flames upon the church, he and his horse Wirbel, were ready. It seems the local secret society groups initially had a moral standard of not killing others. They hoped simply burning the church would cast a clear enough message that these particular settlers were not welcome. Mathias Peter didn't see it that way. He hunted down each person he thought was connected to the church burnings and tortured them. Kimball celebrated the very first town picnic in the summer of 1892. Due to the lack of official law enforcement, local citizens were appointed as security officers for the event. Mathias Peter attended the picnic and a confrontation ensued causing him to be removed from the town. On Aug. 20, 1892, it all ended in a gun battle that spread between Old St. Anne's, Kimball and what was left of Maine Prairie. As was the code, the secret society members kept their involvements secret. Johann (father), Hubertina (sister) and Michael (brother) buried the dead in unmarked graves. Johann buried his son (Mathias Peter) on the outside of Old St. Anne's cemetery. It has been said by multiple local citizens such as Frank Stelten, Rita Turner and Esther Becker that Old St. Anne's was burned as many as 14 times over a 30 year period (or once every two years). When St. Anne's moved into Kimball, it was again destroyed by fire. In hopes of ending the fires of St. Anne, the new church was built with as much concrete / cinderblock as possible. For it's size, Kimball was long the most religiously diverse community in the entire Stearns County. ********** If you weren't there, you missed a great feast at the first Holiday potluck with Kimball's Historical Society on Nov. 27. Some of those specialties are featured in our keepsake cookbook, always available at Knaus Sausage House. ********** Own a piece of history - The after Thanksgiving and before Christmas event features incredible values from the 65-year history booklet, set-of-10 beautiful historic notecards, historic souvenir trivet and commemorative coffee/hot chocolate cup. Who's left on your list? Shop at home for Christmas. Look at what shaped Kimball and discover the real Kimball beginnings. Reasonably-priced from $7-$10, these gifts keep on giving and are always available at the State Bank of Kimball during regular business hours. ********** In 2008, the Kimball City Hall restoration continues as "she" becomes 100. It's never too late to donate towards this national historic landmark's preservation, guaranteeing a tax deductible item as you prepare for your 2007 I.R.S. reports. Also, keep in mind, that your membership and support keeps history alive for the entire 127 square-mile Kimball area. For more information, donations to the city hall project, your family's history for this column, contact The Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 100, Kimball, Minn. 55353, or phone (320) 398-5743, (320) 398-5250 or toll-free (800) 252-2521, if out of the area. And, if you have enjoyed these recent series of history's mysteries, feel free to send a letter to the editor of this newspaper, and/or let the historical society know. Don't forget to watch this column for our stories and happenings. ********** "Years gone by ... memories we hold dear."