John Tornow - The Wild Man of the Wynoochee
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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 his brother Ed killed his beloved
dog and young John retaliated by killing Ed’s own dog. 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
Indian and his shooting skills quickly
became legendary. He would return to his home only for
brief visits with his parents, usually bearing gifts of game. 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
Satsop River, courtesy Mrs.
Boyer's Fifth Grade Class
|As his brothers
entered the logging business, eventually owning their own company, Tornow
occasionally worked as a logger, 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 nearly 250
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."
he was insane, his brothers captured him and
committed him to a sanitarium in 1909. However, the facility,
located deep in the heart of Oregon’s wilderness, was not able to contain
the large man, as some twelve months later, he escaped into the forest.
was seen or heard of John for the next year until he began to occasionally
visit his sister, her husband, and their twin sons, John and Will Bauer. He refused to have anything to do with his brothers, never having forgiven
them for committing him to the sanitarium.
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.
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
In September, 1911, Tornow shot and killed
a cow grazing in a clearing by his sister’s small two-room cabin on the
Olympic Peninsula. While he was dressing out his kill, a bullet
whizzed over his head and dropping his knife, he lifted his rifle and
fired three times in the direction from where the bullet had originated. When he went into the brush, he found his two 19 year-old twin nephews
lying dead on the ground.
to why John and Will Bauer shot at Tornow, it was suggested that the pair
thought he was a bear feeding off of one of their herd. However,
some historians believe that the boys intentionally made John Tornow their
target. 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. After seeing the dead bodies, Tornow quickly fled
the scene disappearing into the deeply forested Wynoochee Valley. This incident would become the beginning of a legend that would grow large
over the next several years and ultimately result in the death of the
solitary mountain man.
Wynoochee Valley, courtesy
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
When the Bauer boys did not return from
home, their family contacted Chehalis County (Chehalis County would become
Grays Harbor County in 1915) Deputy Sheriff John McKenzie. Soon, the
deputy rounded up a group of more than 50 men to search for the brothers,
who soon returned with the two dead bodies. Both had been shot in the head
and stripped of their weapons.
McKenzie immediately announced that the
shooting had to have been committed by John Tornow and a posse was
rounded up to search for the wild man 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 Wynoochee Valley, wary of the
large man that they knew to have the intuition of an animal and the
skills of an
The posse was skittish, terrified of the wild
man, 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
"ape-man” 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 Wynoochee,” "the Cougar
Man,” and "a 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, 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.
As men continued to search into the winter
they were forced into the lowlands due to deep snows. Tornow simply
headed to higher terrain. Some time later, the wild man broke into
Jackson’s Country Grocery Store intending to help himself to a few
provisions. Often he was known to burglarize cabins and stores in
order to get what he needed to survive. However, on this occasion he
found more than just flour, salt, and matches, but also a strongbox filled
with some $15,000. The grocery also served as the town’s bank.
no time, Chehalis county offered a $1,000 reward for the return of the
stolen money and despite their fears of the "wild man,” 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.
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