Military Biography -- Tim Siebert's Alexian Brothers' Novitiate Stand Off
On January 1, 1975 a group of Menominee men moved in and took over the Alexian Brothers Novitiate near Gresham, Wisconsin. The group called itself the Menominee Warrior Society. The group claimed that the novitiate and the land it sat on was part of the reservation and the Alexian Brothers had come into possession of it by less than above board means. They also stated that as the Alexian Brothers were no longer using it, the area revert back to the tribe. The Alexians disputed the claim and said that since they still had a caretaker on the property that they still had a claim to the use of the land and building. Some negotiations had gone on between the tribal government and the Alexian Brothers but had not produced any results.
Shortly after the takeover began the state moved to bring the National Guard into the picture to keep the peace between the two sides that had very quickly emerged. On one side was the Menominee Warrior Society. On the other side were local non-Indians. Some of these people felt the takeover was plain wrong or illegal. Others that the National Guard was sympathetic to the Warrior Society or they were just out to cause trouble. Several shooting incidents had occurred between the two groups although no one had been seriously hurt. The standoff continued through the first three weeks of January without any progress being made. By late January 1975 the rotation of various National Guard units had finally reached the two artillery batteries in Stevens Point. Battery B was called up to move into the area to replace units that were on duty at the time. The unit left on January 27. Up to this point all the units assigned to the incident had been there for a specific amount of time, Sunday to Sunday, and then sent home. Battery B was informed that it, too, would be there for a week but later that was changed to "the duration". There, at the same time, were units from Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids.
I was in Battery B at that time. My job was as unit armorer. The job involved keeping the units small weapons in good working order and accounted for. This included, mostly, M-16 rifles and some .45 pistols although the unit did have some team operated larger weapons. Several things were going to make this a very interesting incident for our unit and for me in particular. First, the word "duration" had the ring of a "long time" to it and I was to be married in just three weeks. This meant that blood tests and other papers to be taken care of, plans finalized and so on, had to be taken care of in Stevens Point. Second, our orders for the incident were vague. Just what was to take place and how were we to go about accomplishing the mission?
Battery B was assigned to stay in the Christus Lutheran church basement in Clintonville. This was some miles from the Novitiate but we were told that we should not venture into the town of Shawano because many people there were angry at the Menominee for the takeover and at the National Guard for "protecting" them. The Clintonville church we were assigned to was in the downtown area and as unit armorer I was able to move around the community while trying to find items that the unit might need. The unit was assigned the 3 pm to midnight shift so we had some time to move about the community. During this time I found that, generally, the population of Clintonville favored the Menominee side or were neutral on the whole affair-very different from what we had been told about Shawano. Residents also provided additional food for the men on guard duty-hot drinks, cakes and so on.
Things began to get strange almost from the beginning of the deployment. Our battery was to work an 8 hour shift and then two other units would rotate with us for the other two 8 hour shifts. This meant that each unit would have to check out a weapon to each man for each shift and then check it back in again at the end of the shift. This was my job that is, keeping a close accounting of the weapons and staying in the room they were stored in to keep them secure. However, some genius decided that all this coming and going of weapons was a waste of time and that one unit should send out its rifles to the various check points and observation points. These weapons would then stay at that point for the as long as the units were at the Novitiate. Three units would be sharing one unit’s weapons each day for as long as the incident took without any accounting of the number or serial numbers of the rifles. This involved about 100 fully automatic M-16 rifles. Nothing would happen to the rifles. What could possibly happen to them? Over the course of the roughly one week we were at the Novitiate, at least, one of the M-16’s disappeared. Somehow this turned out to be my fault- after we returned to Stevens Point the F.B.I. would twice come to SPASH where I teach and call me out of class to discuss what I had done with or what had happened to the one weapon we all knew had disappeared. To the best of my knowledge the rifle was never found.
The men of battery B were to have the grave-yard shift for a couple of days. This meant that, roughly, 100 men and officers were to be out on the checkpoints during the night and there was no moon at that time. The Alexian Brothers Novitiate sat in a bowl with small rises on most sides of the 225-acre site. The key checkpoint, 6-B, was in a barn sitting on a rise above the road that led directly to the novitiate. This point was easy to find but the other checkpoints scattered around the novitiate were isolated points located on possible entry routes to the building. On a couple of occasions, locals would ride through the area on snowmobiles and take pot shots at the novitiate. On dark nights, without lights to give one away, this could become very dangerous for any guardsman moving around the area. This was especially true since some of the local population did not appreciate the presence of the Guard in first place. This brings me to the third night of guard duty.
That night there were two of us left at the church to guard the unit’s equipment. We received news that a group of local people were going to try to enter the novitiate’s grounds through a particular check point. Along with this news came the order that we were to pick up and deliver 4,000 rounds of M-16 ammunition and 6 flak jackets to that check point. The idea was that the men on duty were to try to block anyone trying to break into the grounds. However, with only two of us at the church it meant that one had to stay to guard the remaining equipment while the other, alone, would deliver the items to the checkpoint. Through a strange piece of logic, I was chosen to deliver the ammunition and flak jackets. I went over to the local armory that was used as a supply point and checked out an army pick up truck and filled it with what ammunition they could give me and 6 flak jackets. Army regulations state that anyone driving must have an assistant driver but this was not to be followed, as we did not have anyone else. My job was to drive dark that is with no lights, to a checkpoint the location of which was only dimly described to me by the officer in charge. Off I went into the dark. After driving for a while in the general direction I was given I decided that I needed directions to the checkpoint. I pulled into the parking lot of a local bar and went in to ask where the point was (as it turned out the basement of a farmhouse). This, of course, meant leaving all the equipment in the back of the pick up unguarded. Needless to say, this caused me some discomfort at the time. Fortunately, no one bothered the truck and after returning to it I started on my way. The checkpoint was found and the equipment delivered. As it later turned out the original report was wrong and nothing happened in that area that night. I still shudder looking back on that night, riding around in unfamiliar country with no lights, back roads, and all that stuff in the back on the truck. That seems to be the way the whole Novitiate takeover affair was run.
In any case, I still had my personal affairs to deal with. The guard did let me take a day to go back to Stevens Point to get my blood test and fill out some forms for my upcoming wedding - just 15 days in the future. We still did not know how long my unit would be in the Gresham area. Would I be allowed to go to Sun Prairie to be married? By late that afternoon, I was back at the Clintonville church and on duty.
B Battery had been in Clintonville nearly a week when the tension began to build as word came that Marlon Brando and Father James Groppie were coming to the Novitiate to see if they could negotiate a solution. Mr. Brando was an advocate of Native American rights. It was feared that this might cause more trouble. By this time, I had not been lax in expressing the opinion that, perhaps, the Warrior Society had a point. The site was theirs, they had good ideas for its use and they had a right to occupy it as the Alexians had not used it for quite some time. This was not the popular point of view among the various men in the unit. They did not want to be there and they felt that the Menominee had taken them from their families and jobs. They were irritated. My position did nothing to appease them. The unit also had at least one person that felt he could, single handedly, resolve the problem. To that end he carried, not only his issued weapon, but a large caliber pistol and, at least, one hunting style knife hidden in his clothing. This person had several of us nervous. Would he take things into his own hands? As it turned out his bravado was just all talk.
Toward the end of our week at the Novitiate, the unit officers decided that I should have a turn at guard duty and, apparently, because of my expressed sympathy to the Warrior position it was also decided that I should be placed at checkpoint 6B, in the barn. Since my position was so "radical" it was likewise decided that I should not be allowed to carry a weapon that actually shot something. I was given a riot stick to stand guard with - now if that did not look foolish - standing guard on top of a hill with several rifles aimed at that point and using only a stick. To add to the image, as unit armorer I was not usually issued a helmet and liner. I was to be back at the base at most times. However, at point 6B I was required to wear a helmet. A helmet was found but no liner. So there I stood with my stick and a steel helmet balanced on my head and hanging down over my nose and half way down my ears. What a sight! It did prove to be interesting because in the barn the guard had set up trench glasses so as to get a close-up of the front of the novitiate building. As one looked through the glasses, it was unnerving to see several rifles aimed right back at you. The area of the barn where the glasses were located also had a rather large number of bullet holes in it so it was obvious that the people in the novitiate were not disinclined to fire at the barn I, of course, could shoot back with my stick!
Despite some very uncomfortable situations - both weather and situational - our unit did not suffer any adverse circumstances during our stay at the novitiate and the whole affair came to an end on February 2, 1975. We packed up and went home. We, of course, went home one rifle short. My family and future wife’s family were rather happy as we could now proceed with the wedding without having to worry about my being called up to go back to Gresham. Later, as a joke, one of our sergeants gave each of us a campaign ribbon, which consisted of a mushroom. The idea being that a mushroom grows in the dark after one spreads a great deal of manure around. That was our impression of the way the National Guard ran the whole affair - in the dark and a lot of manure.