German-Americans faced many problems during the World Wars, especially in the First World War. Besides feeling emotionally divided between their “homeland” and their new country, many German-Americans faced heavy Anti-German sentiment in the United States. The offices of German-language newspapers were closed; books deemed “Pro-German” were burned. Any German-Americans thought to have shown support or sympathy for Germany ran the risk of being named in newspapers as disloyal and, at times, risked physical harm.
John Meints, a German-American farmer living in Luverne, Minnesota, felt the fervor of Anti-German vigilantes. In the spring of 1918, he was suspected of being interested in or contributing to a Non-Partisan League newspaper. Other reports state that Meints was disloyal because he was not supporting war bond drives. On June 19th, Meints was taken from his house by a large group of local men and driven to Iowa, about fifteen miles south of Luverne. He was dropped off and told not to return to Minnesota. He then traveled to St. Paul and reported this incident to the Department of Justice, who investigated and told him it was safe to go back home. The agent also advised Meints that it would be safer for him to stay with one of his sons, who lived twelve miles out of the town.
On August 19, 1918, about a month after he returned to Luverne, men forced their way into the house of one of Meints’ sons and demanded to see Meints. The men then forcibly removed him from the house and drove to the South Dakota border. According to court records, once they reached the boarder, masked men “assaulted him, whipped him, threatened to shoot him, besmeared his body with tar and feathers, and told him to cross the line into South Dakota, and that if he ever returned to Minnesota he would be hanged.”
Meints again went to the authorities and sued 32 of the men involved. He sought $100,000 in damages for false imprisonment. The trial was held in Mankato, Minnesota and produced more than 1,100 pages of testimony. The outcome was against Meints, because the U.S. District Court jury agreed with the defendants that he was disloyal. Meints appealed and in 1922, he settled out of court for $6,000.
Below is a Minneapolis Tribune article describing the festive and happy homecoming the 32 accused defendants received:
Welcome home by a large delegation of Luverne (Minn.) citizens, headed by a band, was the sequel yesterday to the acquittal of 32 residents in federal court at Mankato on the charge of kidnapping, tarring and feathering John Meintz, according to dispatches from Luverne last night.
Meintz asked personal damages of $100,000 as balm for the treatment he received on the night of August 19, 1918. The jury denied him any damages, after deliberating one hour and a half.
Judge Wilbur F. Booth, in charging the jury, said that the evidence was overwhelming in support of the contention that Meintz was disloyal and that there was a strong feeling against him in the community.
The action of the Luverne citizens in staging a celebration was taken as an indication of strong approval of the acquittal verdict, according to dispatches.
Star Tribune website
The Federal reporter, Volume 276