John Tornow, played by Justin Madinafard
in the re-enactment, peers around
a tree as his captors approach.

Coming from a respected family that homesteaded near the Satsop River, John Tornow was born on September 4, 1880. From the time he was just a small child, he preferred the unexplored wilderness near his home as his playground. As he grew, he spent more time with wild animals than he did with people. When the boy was just ten years old, he suffered a near-fatal attack of the German measles that left him with a decided lisp. The doctor proclaimed at the time: "We have saved his life, but he will be deficient in body or in mind.

It was at this time that Tornow began to shun people all together, vanishing into the woods for weeks at a time. Hunting only for food, he

learned to track as well as any, and his shooting skills quickly became legendary. While he shunned school, he did attend the Elizabeth School near the Bauers' home, even up to the age of 16.

By the time he reached his teen years, almost any animal would approach him unafraid, and his family had begun to think he was just a little bit odd. While his elder brothers entered the logging business, eventually owning their own company, Tornow occasionally worked as a logger or trapper, but more often continued to maintain his solitary ways in the wilderness. Living off the land, dressing in animal skins and shoes made of bark, John just wanted to be left alone with nature.

Standing some 6”4” and weighing in at well over 200 pounds, most people thought him a little strange, but harmless.

By the first decade of the 20th century he was rarely venturing out of the woods but would occasionally watch the loggers as they were working. On one occasion he supposedly said to a logger, "I’ll kill anyone who comes after me. These are my woods."

Some say his brothers captured him and had him committed to a sanitarium in Oregon about 1909 or 1910. Stories were rampant that he escaped and returned to the Satsop. However, Tornow was also known to be working near Elma and also on the Wishkah spalsh dam at the same time.

Nothing was seen or heard of John for the next year until he began to occasionally visit his sister, Minnie, and her twin sons, John and Will Bauer, whom he had taught to hunt and fish sharing the skills he knew so well. John Bauer was named after his uncle. 

In late 1910, the rift between the Bauers and the Tornows blew wide open. Ed Tornow, the youngest of the boys, moved his niece, Mary, (Minnie and Henry's daughter) into the house to care for his mom, who was ailing with a broken hip. Louisa Tornow slept in the only downstairs bedroom; Ed and Mary were upstairs. All other boys were gone.

Henry Bauer wasn't happy with that arrangement and tried to get Mary to return home. She refused and a few months later, she became pregnant. Most people believed it was Ed's doing. Early in the pregnancy, Ed took Mary to Aberdeen to have an abortion.

But she died following the procedure. Aberdeen Dr. Robert Stapp was convicted of a botched abortion and sent to prison, though he was later pardoned. 

In August 1911 after returning from a time in the woods, John had an altercation with his brother, Ed, who had shot his beloved dog, Cougar. John responded by shooting Ed's dog and said he was going to the woods "and nobody better come after me." Ed tried to get John declared insane and swore out a warrant. The sheriff went to the woods to serve the warrant, found John, then declared there was nothing wrong with him. He just wanted to be left alone.

Spied occasionally with tangled hair, a long beard and ragged clothes, his legend began to grow as people described him as a giant gorilla-like man seen running through the forest. Some loggers would tell that he appeared to be a large hairy "beast” that would seemingly appear out of nowhere before once again vanishing into the forest. In truth, he was just a man who loved the woods and adapted to life in the wilderness.

Yet, other woodsmen would report of sharing the campfire and food with the man of the wilderness. He would even go trapping with other woodsmen.

In September 1911, Tornow apparently shot and killed a cow grazing in a clearing by his sister’s house not far from the Tornow homestead.

While he was dressing out his kill, a bullet whizzed over his head. Dropping his knife, he lifted his rifle and fired three times at the images somewhat obscured by the woods and dense thicket. But the bullets found their mark, striking the victims in the head and heart. When he stealthily moved in to survey his prey, he was chagrined to discover his two nephews were dead. He then buried the boys in a shallow grave and retreated into the woods of the Wynooche Valley.

As to why John and Will Bauer shot at Tornow, it was suggested that the pair thought the movement at the cabin was a bear feeding off of one of their herd. However, some historians believe that the boys intentionally made John Tornow their target. And there were others who say it wasn't Tornow who killed the boys and offered conjecture that included other hunters, an attorney and even the boys' father.

Though the truth will always remain a mystery, the mountain man, no doubt reasoned that someone was trying to capture or kill him when he returned fire.

This incident would become the beginning of a legend that would grow large over the next 19 months and ultimately result in the death of the solitary mountain man. When the Bauer boys did not return from home, their father, Henry, contacted Ed Payette, the sheriff of Chehalis County (Chehalis County would become Grays Harbor County in 1915). Soon, the deputy rounded up a group of more than 50 men to search for the brothers. They found one body late the next day and the second body early the following morning. Both had been shot in the head and stripped of their weapons.

Payette immediately announced that the shooting had to have been committed by John Tornow and a posse was rounded up to search for the wildman living in the forest. In no time, loggers and farmers making up the posse were roaming the Satsop area and the lower regions of the Wynooche Valley, wary of the large man that they knew to have the intuition of an animal and the skills of an Indian. The posse was skittish, terrified of the wildman, and when one group heard a sound in the brush, a shot rang out, killing a cow. Though the men were sure that Tornow was nearby each time they heard the slightest noise in the woods, they never spotted him. 

The longer they searched and didn’t find the boys' killer, the tales grew more and more exaggerated. Soon, the stories told of a cold-eyed giant constantly traversing the forest in search of prey, who soon earned such labels as "the Wild Man of the Wynooche,” "Wild Man of the Oxbow," "the Cougar Man" and "Mad Daniel Boone.” With each telling, the story became larger and larger until the entire countryside was terrified.

As the stories spread to the adjacent camps of Aberdeen, Montesano, Elma and Hoquiam and deep into the Olympic Mountains, no one felt safe with John Tornow on the prowl. Women and children were warned to stay indoors as the men oiled their hunting rifles and unleashed their dogs for protection.

The search continued into the winter before they were forced into the lowlands due to deep snows. Tornow simply headed to higher terrain.

Any time a cabin or store became burglarized, it was attributed to John. But many in the Satsop area doubted the veracity of those allegations. He didn't have to do that.

Residents of the Upper Satsop Valley, who grew up with John as their neighbor, would often leave food products and other provisions for him. Some even let him have a chicken or two.

Although Tornow was never charged with any of the crimes alleged to him, Chehalis County offered a $1,000 reward for Tornow's capture. Despite their fears of the "wildman,” the number of men hunting Tornow dramatically increased. The blasts of gunfire could be heard echoing in the forest and on February 20, 1912, a gunshot-happy hunter killed a 17 year old boy, mistaking him for Tornow.

A few weeks later, a traveling prospector reported to Deputy Colin McKenzie that he had spotted Tornow at a camp in the Oxbow. Together with Deputy Game Warden Alvah V. Elmer, the pair headed out, but found only a cold campfire at the point where Tornow had been spied. 

In March 1912, McKenzie and Elmer went missing and the reward was increased to $2,000. On March 16th, Deputy Sheriff A. L. Fitzgerald gathered up another posse to hunt for Tornow in both the Oxbow area and Chehalis County. Though they searched high and low for Tornow, what they found instead, were the bodies of McKenzie and Elmer. Both had been shot between the eyes and their clothing, guns and watches were gone. Tornow was definitely acting on preservation of his own life.

Though the searches continued and Tornow was spied here and there, the mountain man continued to elude capture all through 1912 and into the early spring of the next year when the reward was doubled to $4,000.

On April 16th, Deputy Giles Quimby, along with deputized trappers from Shelton, Louis Blair and Charles Lathrop, acting on a tip they received from the sheriff, came upon a small shack made of bark. Believing that the crude cabin belonged to Tornow, Quimby wanted to head back for a posse, but the other two balked at having to share the bounty.

So, with guns ready, they approached the shack when a shot rang out, hitting Blair who fell into the nearby bushes. Lathrop returned fire, but was immediately hit in the neck. The injured Lathrop got off about three shots before his rifle jammed and Tornow finished him off. He fell almost on top of Blair. Quimby, meantime, hidden behind a tree stump some 75 feet distant, fired several shots at Tornow. Suddenly, the shooting stopped and, on his seventh and final shot, Quimby saw Tornow's head drop to his chest.

Though no return shots were fired, Quimby wasn’t sure if he had hit the man or if Tornow might be just "playing dead.” Stealthily, the shaking Quimby scurried away through the woods, beating a hasty retreat to Simpson Camp 5, where he telephoned Sheriff Schelle Mathews, who was his brother-in-law.

Mathews gathered up another posse and the men began the trek back to the spot where Quimby had fired on Tornow. After cautiously approaching the trees, Tornow was found dead leaning against a hemlock, his head drooped to his chest. He wore three sets of clothing, including tin pants he had taken off Elmer. His worn caulk boots were also from the slain McKenzie, though they were too small for him and he cut holes in the toes. His feet were in bad shape and wrapped in rags. His hair was long, dirty and matted and he had grown a dark beard. He was gaunt and only a shell of his massive self.

Before Tornow's body was even returned to Montesano, word had already reached the town that the "wildman” had been killed and curious gawkers began lining the street in order to get a peek at the legendary mountain man.

Deputy Sheriff Giles Quimby told newspaper reporters that John Tornow had "the most horrible face I ever saw. The shaggy beard and long hair, out of which gleamed two shining, murderous eyes, haunts me now. I could only see his face as he uncovered himself to fire a shot, and all the hatred that could fire from the soul of a human being was evident.”

This further fueled the curiosity seekers’ desire to see the wildman's face. In response, John's eldest brother, Fred, who had traveled up from Portland, tried to prevent the body’s public display. However, when some 250 gawkers stormed the tiny morgue demanding to see the body, the overwhelmed coroner allowed them inside. Before it was said and done, the crowd required dozens of deputy sheriffs to prevent the nearly 700 citizens from tearing off bits of the dead man’s clothing and removing locks of his hair.

Postcards were printed that featured a photo of Tornow in various poses of death, such as tied to a tree or propped against a plank. Numerous newspaper articles screamed headlines calling Tornow "The Great Outlaw of Western Washington."

Of his brother’s death, Fred Tornow would, when questioned by the press, say: "I am glad John is dead. It was the best way. Now that it is over, I would rather see him killed outright than linger in a prison cell.”

At the time of his death, Tornow had more than $1,600 in the Montesano bank, owned real estate in Aberdeen and a large timber claim in Chehalis County.

Giles Quimby was proclaimed a hero for finally killing the feared "Wildman of the Wynooche,” so much so that he received offers to appear on stage to tell of his gruesome tale. Quimby politely turned down these offers. It was more than a year later that he finally received one-third of the reward money. Lathrop and Blair relatives received nothing.

Tornow was buried in the family Rabideaux (now Grove) cemetery, near the homestead. More than 300 people attended a dedication of the new memorial tombstone in 1988. He is buried next to his parents and a few feet from the Bauer twins.

In April, 2013, 100 years after Tornow's death, a memorial was erected at the Tornow Lake campsite to honor the six victims, alleged to have been killed by the Wildman of the Oxbow.

Adapted from the website: Legends of America

John Tornow Tours

Tours of John Tornow sites have ended for 2021. We anticipate resuming them in April, perhaps April 16, although that is Easter weekend. Stay tuned for the date of the first tour for 2022. Tours will likely be once a month with perhaps two a month in the summer.

We were elated that nearly 120 signed up for the five tours we held this year. The committee was able to present a check for $300 to the Matlock Museum to help cover expenses for painting and power washing the museum’s exterior.

We thank everyone who participated, and the museum board thanks you as well. We will either continue to help the museum or select a new project for tour proceeds in 2022.
Enjoy these photos from the various 2021 tours.

New book captures legend of John Tornow

By John Dodge
The Olympian
Soundings column Oct. 28, 2014

So, who was John Tornow?  Was he the early 20th Century crazed killer who killed six men including his two nephews, deep in the old-growth forests of the Olympic Peninsula?

Or was he a reclusive well-intentioned victim of circumstances, slightly off-center from a bout with German measles at age 10, but someone who would have lived a harmless life alone in the woods if he had been left alone to his devices?

We’ll never know for sure. But we can form an uneducated opinion after reading veteran journalist Bill Lindstrom’s just published, fact-based novel, Villain or Victim? The Untold Story of the Wildman of the Wynooche.

In one respect, Tornow’s is not an untold story. He’s been the stuff of legend for 100 years to the residents of the Grays Harbor area, whether they reside in the remote river valleys that flow from the Olympic mountains or the weather-beaten, soggy towns of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Elma that surround these mountains.

But Lindstrom’s 502-page debut novel, which borders on creative nonfiction, is the most deeply researched of the books, magazine articles and hand-me-down tales about the legendary nature lover, turned fugitive, turned “Beast Man.”

Lindstrom, 72, whose 50 years in journalism included stints at The Olympian and The Daily World in Aberdeen as sports editor and city editor, grew fascinated with the John Tornow story while reporting on efforts in 1986 to finally mark Tornow’s grave with a tombstone. The granite stone replaced a broken rock and a coffee can that had marked the final resting place for years in the Grove Cemetery, nine miles south of Matlock in rural Mason County, not far from the old Tornow homestead in the Satsop River Valley.

What really ignited his book project was the fact that 300 people showed up in 1987 for the ceremony to unveil the tombstone of this enigmatic loner responsible for as many as six killings. He allegedly shot to death his twin nephews, John and William Bauer, on Sept. 3, 1911, triggering a 19-month manhunt in the backcountry of Mason and Grays Harbor (Chehalis) counties that lasted until April 16, 1913, when the raggedly, gaunt fugitive was gunned down in a shootout that also claimed the lives of two deputies. He also shot to death two other deputies in March 1912, who came upon Tornow in one of his many backcountry encampments.

The death of the Bauer twins is the most puzzling of all. Lindstrom spends considerable time in the early chapters of the book establishing the strong kinship they had with their uncle, who taught them how to hunt and fish under the approving eye of his sister, their mother, Minnie Bauer. The boys that day were armed with rifles and hunting a bear that had mauled one of the Bauer’s cows. Tornow was in the woods and armed with a rifle, too. Did they mistakenly shoot at each other with tragic consequences? Are there others, including Tornow’s alienated younger brother, Ed Tornow, who would make a better suspect?

All suspicion was cast on John Tornow, whose life as a hunted man continued until his death at age 33. There was no turning back the posses. There was no turning back to the life of peaceful solitude, logging and hunting that had defined Tornow until then.

Lindstrom does not hesitate when asked: Was Tornow at villain or a victim?

“To me, he definitely is a victim,” Lindstrom said. “He did become a fugitive, but he was never formally charged with a crime. However, I do think he shot some of the deputies during the manhunt.”  

Lindstrom keeps the narrative alive through real-life figures of the day, including The Daily World reporter Dan Cloud. Many of Cloud’s newspaper accounts of the manhunt — and those of other Pacific Northwest reporters assigned to the story — are included in the book, helping to set the suspenseful stage.

One of my favorite stories had Cloud attending a monthly community meeting at the Matlock Grange in the summer of 1912. Some of 70 in attendance, including neighbors and friends of the Tornow family, which homesteaded in the upper Satsop Valley in the early 1880s, confessed to helping feed and clothe the fugitive Tornow.

“How many believe John Tornow killed the Bauer boys?” Cloud asked the gathering. Only two hands went up.

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