Marshfield, July 1922: The explosive Wood County Drainage Feud — Part II
James and Clementine Chapman fall victim
By Kris Leonhardt
A knock on the door broke the silence as Wood County Commissioner James Chapman and his wife, Clementine, stood in their residence in the town of Cameron. With the holiday season upon them, visits were plentiful from family and friends and not at all a surprise.
They accepted the delivery of a package and were filled with Christmas cheer, realizing that a far-off friend or family member had remembered them and cherished them enough to send a gift.
They wished the kind deliverer a blessed holiday and then made their way to the kitchen table to open the gift in a more comfortable position.
Mr. Chapman aided his wife in gaining access to its contents, and the package suddenly burst open, creating a deafening sound while emitting shrapnel into the air.
When James came to, his wife lay crumpled on the ground, and his right arm lay motionless and unrecognizable.
The couple was rushed to the hospital, where Clementine later succumbed to her injuries. James’ left leg was severely wounded, and he was missing a major portion of his right arm.
As authorities combed the demolished kitchen of the Chapman residence, evidence of a bomb was detected, and officials were left wondering why. Had the bootleggers retaliated for the crackdown on moonshining, or was there something more complicated?
It was not long before suspicion fell on a local farmer who had verbally, and loudly, opposed the Mill Creek dredging project after postal inspectors discovered a package addressed to one of Chapman’s political associates.
Marshfield residents looked for a speedy arrest — one that did not come.
As the days ticked by, talk of lynching grew louder and louder. Finally, an arrest was made.
Refusing to plead and declining a lawyer, the farmer was remanded for trial. His 16-year-old son was also held to serve as a material witness.
While they were in jail, officials searched their property and found TNT and other explosive-making materials.
The farmer remained in jail until March, when he was found guilty in a weeklong trial. He was sentenced to life in prison. Though he continued to claim his innocence, the system held tight to its decision.
James Chapman died seven years later and was laid to rest near Clementine at Hillside Cemetery in Marshfield.
Kris Leonhardt may be contacted by mail at P.O. Box 51, Marshfield, WI 54449 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.