Oshkosh Officer Louis Hardy

Louis J Hardy was born in Germany in the 1840s, and settled in Oshkosh some time around 1868. Upon arriving, he joined the Wisconsin National Guard (Company F, Second Infantry) and served five years.

Hardy was a shoemaker in 1880, then an engineer of the Oshkosh Gas Company for a while. With his wife Augusta Nemitz and two children, he lived at 210 Oregon Street (later renumbered to 1412 Oregon).

He joined the Oshkosh Police Department in the spring of 1890. At that time, the police department was very basic – each officer had a “beat” they walked and carried a nightstick. A cop could carry a gun if they brought their own from home, but were not issued any by the department.

Louis first appears in the news (as near as I can tell) for arresting a “tramp named Smith” in July 1890 who was accused of stealing $100 from “a farmer named Gruber” on the Buttes des Morts road, where he was employed as a hired hand.

Hardy’s primary beat was on South Main Street “just beyond the bridge.” It was a rowdy part of town with saloons and drunken fights. On July 28, 1890, shortly after his first publicity, two men were fighting in Robert Johnson’s saloon at 45 Kansas Street near Eighth. Concerned bar patrons flagged down Hardy, who was able to break up the fight and dragged one of the men (Frank Kitzinger) – with the help of another bar patron (cigar manufacturer Charles A. Bass) – to the police station at Otter and State. (Apparently this was all done on foot.)

Hardy went back to the saloon to arrest the second man. People in the bar said the man, Henry Ripple, had been threatening them with a revolver, saying he would shoot the next man who touched him. Hardy couldn’t find any gun, but arrested him anyway for his role in the fight. Ripple had a bad reputation. One news report said his history could “fill volumes,” though I’m not sure what specifically he had done.

Not far from the saloon, Ripple reached in his pocket and pulled out a gun that had been missed in the search. It was a .32 revolver, and Ripple got off at least two shots, probably three. Hardy staggered to Fred Schild’s saloon, next door to Johnson’s, fell face down and died in a groan. Ripple went back into Johnson’s saloon. Johnson’s 17-year old daughter Amanda saw him reloading his revolver, so she ran upstairs frightened.

Police were alerted and came to the scene, including police chief RJ Weisbrod. Ripple had not gone far and was found behind the saloon. The chief had to hold people back with his club as calls for a lynching were strong. A horse-drawn carriage driven by Officer Frohib brought Ripple to the police station. When asked for a statement, Chief Weisbrod said the newspaper was the cause of Hardy’s death because they had spread stories of Hardy using his club on tramps, and this made Hardy more hesitant to use it on Ripple. Reporters spoke to Ripple at the city jail, and he said he only shot Hardy after Hardy beat him with a club, though this was contradicted by all the witnesses. Ripple did have a bruise on his shoulder he claimed was from the club.

The reporters returned to the jail later and Ripple changed his story to say he thought Hardy was trying to rob him, and fired the gun to scare him off. There was no intention of hitting him. When asked about his life, Ripple said he did not know when or where he was born, but thought he was about 50 years old. He had been married twice. His first wife was named O’Brien but divorced him to marry a Dr. Finney in Clintonville. His second wife was a Mrs. Brennan who lived on 50 acres of land outside the city. Sometimes she let him stay there, but most of the time he camped in a shanty in the woods and made axe handles. He had served three years in the Civil War and after it ended re-enlisted for another year. He was receiving a pension of $4 a month. Sometimes he would play the fiddle at dances.

Ripple went on trial, and again people called for a lynching as he was brought between the jail and the courthouse. His defense attorney made every effort to get him released. Hardy had no warrant. The aggressor in the fight was Kitzinger, not Ripple, so the arrest of Ripple was improper. And he said witness Charles Bass was a “known falsifier.”

He was found guilty and sentenced to Waupun for life. His time inside was relatively uneventful except on one occasion where he was using a wheelbarrow to carry a stove. At one point, he had to wheel over a plank between two windows, fourteen feet above the ground. He somehow slipped and fell, with the wheelbarrow and stove crashing down on him. Early reports were not positive, but he recovered. Ripple died on June 5, 1905 and was brought back to Oshkosh to be buried in Boyd Cemetery.

Augusta Hardy passed on June 23, 1928, still living in the family home on Oregon Street, her residence for 50 years.

Louis Hardy’s son Oscar J. Hardy was born July 4, 1874 in Oshkosh. He began working for the Daily Northwestern as a carrier when he was a boy; became director of news carriers; promoted to business office; 1897 promoted to business manager when Charles Ruggles Boardman was appointed adjutant general of the Wisconsin National Guard; promoted to general manager in 1905 while Colonel Hicks was serving as Minister to Peru and Chile; 1917 became trustee for Hicks’ estate upon his death. Hicks left Hardy the newspaper and $500,000.

On March 23, 1914, Oscar Hardy married Gertrude Weidner, daughter of Julius Weidner – publisher of the Wisconsin Telegram; he had two daughters, Susan Hardy Heaney and Doris Hardy Schwalm – Doris was married to a prominent beer manufacturer; Director Oshkosh National Bank; President Oshkosh Motor Truck, Incorporated; and died in 1950 at Mercy Hospital. Son-in-law Schwalm left the brewing business to take over the newspaper. Oddly, in Oscar’s obituary and other biographical sources, his father is referred to as “an electrical engineer,” completely ignoring the incident that he’s best known for.

The Oshkosh Public Museum has a photograph of Oscar Hardy visiting Carl Laemmle in Hollywood.

Ripple’s son Ernest Henry Ripple was born August 19, 1876 in Winnebago County and had been a farmer; Ernest died in August 1952 at Mercy Hospital. He was buried at the County Farm in an unmarked grave. He was 76 years old, divorced, and insane.

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