Tempers Still Smolder In Feuding Towns That Came To Blows
CLAREMONT, Minn. (AP) _ Tempers are still smoldering even though a year has passed since an old feud erupted into a bat-swinging, booze-fueled brawl between residents of this southeast Minnesota town and Dodge Center, seven miles away.
″It’s coming again. Only the next time I’m telling everybody to stay inside and shoot the shotguns out the window,″ said Butch Worrel, the last of 35 people sentenced in connection with the melee.
Saying he found that comment ″incendiary,″ District Court Judge Lawrence Agerter sentenced Worrel last week to 20 days in jail, and ordered him to pay $1,500 in court costs, perform 80 hours of community service and serve three years probation on a felony riot conviction.
The brawl broke out May 19, 1984, just before midnight on Front Street in this town of 591 people. The combatants wielded broken bottles, fence posts, chains and softball bats.
No serious injuries were reported, but ″it could have been a bloodbath,″ Worrel said recently.
Thirty-five people were charged in Dodge County District Court as a result of the mayhem.
But details of what happened that night - and even how the feud, stretching back at least five years, began - remain sketchy.
Police reports say a group of Dodge Center residents drove several times past a bar in Claremont, then stopped in a parking lot half a block away and squared off with about 20 Claremonters.
The bar was locked as word of the confrontation spread, but ″a crowd of possibly 50 Claremont locals then began drinking beer from cans purchased earlier,″ Deputy John Snaza said.
Some Dodge Center residents began congregating on the outskirts of Claremont and others began preparing in their own town for battle as harassed officers tried to keep the peace, deputies said. But all the fighting took place in Claremont.
″Everywhere you looked in Dodge Center you could see some sort of club, such as pipes, chains, fence posts, shovels, tire irons, et cetera,″ Deputy James Jensen said.
Meanwhile, a group of Claremont residents approached the Dodge Center people milling on the outskirts of the town.
″They were carrying weapons also, such as bats, shovels, bumper jacks, tire irons, rakes, et cetera,″ Jensen said.
A year later at the Coffee Cup Cafe, across from where the brawl began, Claremont residents talk about their fear of the ″Seuss Gang,″ a group named after a Dodge Center resident who is said to resemble a character from a children’s book by Dr. Seuss.
″It could happen again,″ said Shirley Ross, a City Council member and owner of the Coffee Cup. ″It all depends on how much drugs and booze is involved with the Seuss Gang.″
But Dodge County Sheriff Ernest Vanderhyde says there’s no such thing as a Seuss gang.
″They’ve been fighting in Claremont for years,″ he said. ″If they can’t find anybody else to fight, they fight among themselves. They’re a real feisty bunch.″
Harvey Howard, a former sheriff and a Claremonter, disagrees.
″There are kids in this town carrying shotguns because of the beatings they were getting,″ says Howard, one of six volunteer firefighters charged with creating a public nuisance and unlawful assembly after they allegedly turned a firehose on the rioters. The charges were dropped.
County Attorney Joseph Wieners, who prosecuted the 35 charged after the affray, said juries ″felt there wasn’t any difference in the conduct between either group.″
″One of the things that has bothered me has been the attempt by some people in Claremont to characterize themselves as wearing white hats,″ Wieners said. ″Their past history is every bit as serious as the Dodge Center people.″
He said he hopes the suspended sentences given to many defendants will help to avert further violence.
″I wanted something hanging over their heads,″ said Wieners, ″a cooling- off period to give some of these people time to grow up.″