Cryptid Profile: The Trolls of Barron County Wisconsin
Every now and then, while reading up on the strange and unusual, one will come across a bit of information so peculiar, that it completely changes the way you think about things. This may not happen often, in fact, it may only happen once in your entire life depending on who you are, but it's safe to assume that it will happen to everyone at least once. It usually occurs when you least expect it to and often involves a topic that seems quite mundane when thought about out of context.
It's that piece of information from a story, personal account, or historical event that you never could have imagined coming across in your every day life. That strange combination of words that after you're done reading, they cause you to sit back, put your hand on your forehead, and mumble to yourself, "well, this just changes everything." For me, it was reading this story for the first time.
I can't exactly tell you how I came across this story, but I think it was fate. I know I originally set out to find extremely obscure monster legends from the state of Wisconsin, and somehow ended up going down a proverbial rabbit hole that was filled with Native American folklore, ghosts, lake monsters, UFO's, haunted bars, and even Men In Black. But among all those topics, the last thing I ever expected was to come across an encounter with Trolls from over 100yrs ago, but here we are. So sit back, get comfortable, and let me share with you all what I so strangely stumbled across.
The story takes place in 1919 and revolves around the experience of a teenager named Harry Anderson. While most of the limited sources I came across state that Harry was 16 at the time of the encounter, some do claim that he was in fact 13 when this occurred. In reality, it doesn’t matter as the age of Harry is just one of those small details that gets lost to history over time, it doesn’t really affect the story. But anyways, lets get back to it.
The story of Harry Anderson and the Trolls of Barron County goes as such; in 1919, Harry and his family went out for a leisurely drive in the family’s new Model T Ford. It was a relaxing summer evening and the family didn’t really have a destination in mind, they were just content with traveling the backroads of the area and enjoying each other’s company. After some time, Harry’s father made the decision to start their journey back home. It was now 10pm and the family was quite a ways away from any major concentration of people, so they got their bearings and headed towards their home of Eau Claire. But as the vehicle made its way down the desolate primitive highway, it encountered a problem.
Surrounded by nothing but summers darkness and moonlight, the vehicle came to a dead stop in the middle of Highway 25. A bit irritated, Harry’s father got out from behind the wheel, lifted the hood, and instantly recognized that their new vehicle was in need of some oil. Not wanting to stay out in the middle of nowhere all night, Harry’s father handed his son the small oil can that was kept in the Model T and asked him to head up the road to see if he was able to find a farmer willing to part with some oil. His father would remain with the vehicle to keep watch over both his new automobile as well as the rest of his family.
Now, the accounts that I found of this story make no mention as to why Harry was asked to venture alone down this dark highway. The only age (somewhat) given of anyone in the family is Harry’s, so we are left to assume that either everyone else in the family was too young to partake in this impromptu trek, or that they were in some way physically unable to do so. Either way, Harry took the oil can from his father with no questions asked and proceeded to make his way towards an unknown farmers house in the distance.
As he walked through the warm darkness, oil can swinging with the motion of his arm, he came upon a sign on the side of the road. In well-worn letters, the large sign read “Barron, Wisconsin”. Immediately Harry realized how far from home they actually were, nearly 60 miles. So with some added speed in his step, Harry made his way past the sign and farther down the road. Eventually, he spotted a farmhouse in the distance and not wanting to waste any more time, he cut through the farmers field and headed towards the door.
Not much is said on how the interaction between Harry and the farmer went, but the teenager was able to get the oil without much of an issue and proceeded to make his way back to his stranded family. And this fellow seeks of the strange, is where things get weird. As Harry emerged from the farmers field and back onto Highway 25, he took notice of something strange moving towards him in the darkness. The nervous teen placed the oil can on the ground at his feet, strained his eyes in the darkness, and attempted to get a clearer picture as to what could be coming his way. What he saw was completely unexpected and left him, in his own words, terrified.
From out of the darkness and moving directly towards Harry, was what he could only describe as 20 strange looking little “men”. Panicking, he jumped off the road and hid behind a tree as the line of strange creatures made their way past his location without even realizing he was there. Harry stood silent and watched with wide eyes at the odd sight taking place before him. They walked in a single file line and each one was completely bald. They all had extremely white pale skin, almost albino, and they were all wearing crudely fashioned pants that appeared to be stitched together out discarded pieces of leather. This unrefined clothing was held up with what appeared to be thin straps that went over their shoulders. They stood no taller than a small child and they were completely focused on what they were doing, marching.
Along with the single file procession, the strange men were also thought to be speaking quietly to one another. Harry listened intently to make out what they were saying when all of a sudden they all broke out into a strange song sung in unison. Now, before I continue with what they were singing, I feel I need to reiterate that this story is bizarre and I am not making any of this up. This is truly believed to have taken place in 1919 and it affected young Harry Anderson so much, that he never wavered on the authenticity of his account well into adulthood. Now, lets get back to it.
As the little troll-like creatures marched on, they all simultaneously broke out into song and sung loudly in perfect harmony with each other. It was almost as if they all linked up and became one voice that was singing through 20 different mouths. Harry was able to hear every word and upon retelling his encounter, he said it went exactly like this; “We won’t stop fighting till the end of the war, in Nineteen-Hundred and Ninety-Four. Sound off one two, sound off three four, detail one two three four. One two three four!”
Again, not making this up.
After the little men finished their song, they went back to speaking quietly to one another and continued moving forward. Eventually they came upon a line of trees along the side of the road and proceed to march into them and out of sight. Harry could hear them shuffling through the underbrush until their sounds faded and they were finally gone. Completely shocked and with heart beating wildly, Harry stepped back onto the road and proceeded to run the entire way back to his stranded family.
When he arrived, he gave his father the oil can, the Model T started back up, and the family continued the long journey back home. Harry retold his encounter to his father and asked if any of them had seen the line of 20 strange little “men” marching in the moonlight, but sadly they had not. The troll-like creatures had marched into Harry’s reality and marched out just as quickly never to be seen again.
And that concludes the story of the Trolls of Barron County. I told you it was bizarre and I wasn’t lying either. But after reading such an account, one must wonder if this story has any basis in fact. While I will admit that it is hard for many people to believe that trolls could actually exist, you have to remember that they are steeped in myth and legend that go back all the way to the days of ancient Norse and Viking culture. They are featured heavily in Scandinavian Folklore (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland) and Northern European stories, and they have constantly evolved throughout history to the point where pretty much everyone can recognize what a troll is.
Also, one must never forget that Wisconsin was settled early on by immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Norway, and other countries within Northern Europe. So the legend of the Troll was present in the state from the moment the first settlers arrived. It’s roots run deep here and to separate trolls from Wisconsin culture would be akin to removing ones own DNA. You can’t take something away that was present the moment the bigger picture started to be built, it would just cause everything around it to fall apart.
Now, does this mean that actual trolls were running around what would eventually be Wisconsin in the late 1700’s early 1800’s? No, of course not (at least I don’t think so). What it does mean though is that since these legends were already present with the people who had immigrated here, everyone who was born after their parents arrival grew up with these legends and believed them to have at least some basis in truth. Families passed down these stories from generation to generation and they stuck so firmly that even in 2019, it would not be difficult to find someone in Wisconsin who has some sort of story that can relate back to trolls. Don’t believe me? Just do a quick google search on the village of Mt. Horeb, or as it’s known in the Badger State, the “Troll Capital of the World.”
So this brings us to the end of the wild ride that is known as Harry Anderson and the 20 little Trolls. Did he really see actual flesh and blood trolls marching under the moonlight just outside of Barron County that hot summer night in 1919? Who truly knows. Is the story really fun regardless if it’s true or not? You bet it is, and that’s all that really matters. This possibly true/possibly fictional encounter was memorable enough to stick around for 100yrs now and we hope that it will stick around for another 100. Finally, one last thing before we go, if these trolls did so happen to actually exist, I really hope that their war came to an end with both sides pleased with the outcome. Because lets face it, having to fight until the wonderful year of 1994 seems like quite the long, drawn out battle. Plus, having to do all that fighting in crudely made leather pants and suspenders sounds like a total nightmare.
But, if for some reason their war never came to an end and they are still fighting somewhere out there, I hope the trolls know that we are with them in spirit.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
Image Credit: Google