Little Bohemia Lodge

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Little Bohemia Lodge as it looked at the time of the FBI raid.

Little Bohemia Lodge is a rural, vacation lodge and restaurant located off US Highway 51 in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The lodge is famous as the setting of a notorious and deadly gun battle between depression era gangsters of the John Dillinger Gang and agents of the FBI (then called the Division of Investigation). The historic rustic lodge remains as it was at the time of the federal raid in the spring of 1934 and, along with original bullet holes from the gun battle still in the walls and windows, Little Bohemia Lodge has a collection of memorabilia from the gun battle.[1]

History Of The Lodge[edit]

Little Bohemia Lodge was built by Emil Wanatka in 1929 on land that he acquired that same year. On April 20, 1934, notorious gangsters John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson, along with Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, and John "Red" Hamilton and others, arrived at the Little Bohemia to hid out and rest. Emil Wanatka's knowledge or lack of knowledge about the gang's exploits is debatable. John Dillinger assured Wanatka the men would cause no trouble for their host. Baby Face Nelson monitored Wanatkain and his wife, Nan, whenever either party left the lodge or spoke on the lodge's phone. Finally, Nan Wanatka and her brother managed to evade Baby Face Nelson, and mailed a letter of warning to the United States Attorney's office in Chicago. In the early morning hours of April 23, a score of federal agents, including special agent in charge Melvin Purvis, approached the lodge. The Wanatka's two dogs announced the agents's arrival by barking, however, the John Dillinger gang had grown used to Nan Wanatka's dogs the gang did not bother to inspect the disturbance. It was only after the agents mistakenly shot and killed Civilian Conservation Corps worker Eugene Boisneau as he and two others drove from the lodge, that the outlaws were alerted. After the gangsters gathered up their weapons and, as planed ahead of time, prepared to jump from a second floor window in the back, a group of federal agents rounded the lodge's rear. The gangsters opened fire on the agents and as the agents retreated, Dillinger, Van Meter, Carroll and Hamilton jumped from the second floor window one at a time into a mound of snow. The gangsters then ran to the beach and west along Little Star Lake. In the thick pine forest, Carroll became separated from the rest of the group. He made his way to Manitowish Waters, stole a car, and made it to St. Paul. Van Meter attempted to flag down a car driven by Nan Wanatka's brother George LaPorte, who was following an ambulance from the work camp to Little Bohemia, but did not stop. They spotted another lodge a short distance away, Mitchell's Rest Lake Resort. The owner, Edward Mitchell, was tending to his sick wife when Dillinger, Van Meter and Hamilton walked in. Hamilton yanked the phone off the hook after asking for a glass of water, while Dillinger put a blanket over Mitchell's wife and asked for a car. The three ended up taking a car driven by Mitchell's carpenter.

Baby Face Nelson, who had been packing in the cottage, had fired at Purvis and fled southeast along Little Star Lake. He took a couple hostage and forced them to drive him out of the area. He then took local switchboard operator Alvin Koerner hostage. Emil Wanatka, who had stopped by, was also taken hostage. At that point, three federal agents, W. Carter Baum, Jay Newman, and Constable Carl Christiansen, arrived from Little Bohemia, acting on a tip about the car that Carroll had stolen in town. Nelson opened up on the agent with a custom automatic mini-machine gun. First to be shot was Baum, who was shot three times in the neck and killed instantly. Newman was hit once in the head, but was only dazed. Christiansen was critically wounded, shot five times in the midsection. After shooting at Wanatka, Nelson stole the federal car and escaped as Newman fired at him.

Public Enemies[edit]

In the summer of 2008, some scenes from the Michael Mann film Public Enemies were filmed on location at Little Bohemia. The events of the shootout were drastically altered for artistic purposes, such as showing Nelson and Van Meter being gunned down by Purvis in a grassy field near Little Bohemia, when in reality, Van Meter was killed in August 1934 in St. Paul, and Nelson was killed in November 1934 in a shootout that also led to the deaths of agents Samuel P. Cowley and Herman Hollis.


Little Bohemia remains operational today as a restaurant and gathering place. The Lodge is open year round, seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A historic display of artifacts and memorabilia from the Dillinger gun battle is available for public viewing along with recent memorabilia and autographs from the filming of Public Enemies.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 46°07′10″N 89°51′27″W / 46.119566°N 89.857478°W / 46.119566; -89.857478