By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN It began with a conversation between the postmaster and former police chief.
In the 1970s, Corny Stein, longtime police chief of Delano, told postmaster Walter Grotz that Arthur Johnson found several objects while digging a well on the family farm south of Delano in the late 1800s.
“I was in the post office, and he (Stein) was there and no one else was around,” recalled Grotz. “He told the story to me, and I thought it was fascinating. I had known that Arthur had the farm because he was one of our customers from the post office on the rural route.”
The Johnson farm was located on the County Line Road south of Highway 12, now occupied by Marty Kittok.
Grotz said the story goes that at 14 feet deep, Johnson came across what was first thought to be a dagger, a bronze chisel, and some human bones (later disposed of). The implements were given by Johnson to AW Whittman, a local druggist in Delano, and they still remain in Whittman’s family today.
Whittman owned a drugstore on Railroad Avenue and then moved it to River Street, before selling his store to the Brown Brothers in 1936. It was later sold to James and Esther Moran.
In the late 1940s, AW Whittman’s granddaughter, Patty Hills Babcock, began researching these implements. Grotz said that she was told that the dagger in question was actually a WS foot artillery sword dating from about 1830. About that time Army authorities followed the example of France in going back to Roman types for swords, Grotz said.
The sword and bronze chisel are now in the possession of Margaret (Molly) Hills Person, who lives in Great Falls, MT. Molly and Patty, who is now deceased, are granddaughters of AW Whittman.
“The story Molly tells from checking her handwritten notes is that the location of finding these implements was at a farm between Delano and Watertown near the Crow River’s half-way bridge,” Grotz said. “According to Molly, there has been more interest in the bronze chisel than the sword.”
“It was just always there, and we were always interested in it,” Molly Hills Person said recently from her home in Montana. “After my grandfather died, it was always on a shelf on top of some books. We were always interested in it and would take it out and play with it.”
Hills Person said the artifacts have been the subject of a large amount of conversation over the years, and there has been much speculation about the human bones that were found with the artifacts, and just exactly how they got there. There is also a discrepancy in where the artifacts and bones were actually found.
“I had thought it was found along the Crow River,” Hills Person said. “Walter had some information that it was found near Watertown, I think by the time things go through several hearing aids, things change. Walter may have more accurate information.”
Grotz said if it were indeed found where Hills Person had heard along the Crow River, it brings up questions of how it came into the hands of Arthur Johnson on the farm.
“It would be fun to know, and it’s fun to speculate,” Hills Person said. “It’s a good story it would be fun to know things more accurately. It would be an interesting story whether someone had been buried with it, or had been in a fight and had been killed.”
In recent years, the artifacts have been at Hills Person’s home. As for the future of them, Hills Person said she has not yet decided what will happen to them down the road.
“I know it would be of interest for the historical society to have it,” she said. “I have quite a few things like that I haven’t thought out. All the children have been very interested in it.”
But this week, the sword and chisel will be in Delano on display at several venues for people to see and do their own speculating about the story behind the mysterious sword.
“Since I related this story to the Delano Historical Society, their interest has heightened,” Grotz said.
If anyone has any further information about these implements, contact Jon Steinmetz, president of the historical society, at (763) 972-2655.
“What I speculated was it was Revolutionary era probably a fur trapper or someone out here like that,” Steinmetz said. “They probably fell into the river and died. I can’t imagine anyone digging a hole that deep to bury someone. The halfway bridge location probably makes more sense than the farm. You just wonder what else is out there.”
Sword to be displayed this week locally
The sword and chisel will be displayed at State Bank of Delano Thursday, Nov. 6 beginning at 1 p.m. and on into the early evening, Grotz said.
The artifacts will also be displayed Saturday, Nov. 8 at the Delano-Franklin Heritage Center, located in downtown Delano on Bridge Avenue.
If anyone has any more information about the artifacts, contact historical society president Jon Steinmetz at (763) 972- 2655.