Madden and Deputies

Madden and Deputies

The Sheriff and Deputies who arrested famed Winter Wisconsin folk Outlaw John Dietz. This photo has Sheriff Madden and the famous two Deputies Thorbahn and Van Alstyne are identified in the photo. The other deputy is unknown. Maybe you'll recognize him.

Sheriff Madden, Deputies Thorbahn and Van Alstyne are mentioned in detail on the Sawyer County website

John Deitz was Wisconsin's David, a little man with a Winchester rifle who warred with lumber giants. Highly romanticized hero to supporters, gun-crazy anarchist to opponents, "The Defender of Cameron Dam" caught the nation's eye -- and its fancy -- in the waning days of the timber era.

His Goliath was the Chippewa Lumber & Boom Co., part of the giant Weyerhaeuser umbrella. Deitz bought 160 acres near the company's Cameron dam on the Thornapple River in Sawyer County and in 1904 moved his family there.

But tangled papers and Deitz's stubborn, contrary nature conspired to turn his dreams into melodramatic tragedy. First, the farm deed incorrectly omitted the company's dam and flowage rights. Then, when Deitz felt wronged by the company's denial of money he felt he was owed for back wages and for spring flood damage on his land, he demanded a toll on all logs that passed through the dam.

The company refused, and when crews reached Cameron dam in 1904, Deitz was there with his Winchester.

For two years Deitz kept at bay not only lumber crews, but lawyers, the sheriff, various marshals and others who tried to intervene. Supporters, including his sons Clarence and Leslie, helped him guard the dam, ignoring every legal and emotional plea to end a standoff that had far outgrown its roots.

"DEITZ WILL FIGHT TO DEATH," read newspaper headlines, further building the image of the poor man wronged by the forces of wealth and power.

The romance turned bloody on July 25, 1906, when the Sawyer County sheriff and an armed posse from Milwaukee -- dressed as local militia -- surprised Deitz and his family. A shot parted Clarence's hair, leaving him bloodied, and one intruder was also wounded.

The legend was truly aloft. While the sheriff told the press, "The only way to take Deitz is to kill the whole family . . .," others rallied to the man who had been beset by company-hired thugs. What had begun as a misguided dispute over property rights was suddenly a national rallying point in the class struggle.

Sympathetic reporters from all over deified Deitz. Letters of support flooded the governor's office, discouraging further use of force. Milwaukee socialists especially rushed to his support; a Milwaukee theatrical agent offered to put Deitz on stage, even promising bail money if he was arrested.

Eventually, Deitz settled with the company for back wages and his battle should have ended. But in 1910, a fight broke out in town and Deitz, ever the combatant, shot and almost killed his antagonist. In attempting to serve an arrest warrant, authorities wounded Deitz's daughter and arrested his son, and Deitz's last stand was on.

Faced with a force of nearly 75 men, Deitz resisted again. During a fantastic shootout, hundreds of bullets hit the cabin where he and his family sought cover. Far fewer shots were returned, but one killed Deputy Oscar Harp.

Light years from the property rights tussle that had lit the fuse, Deitz was tried for murder. Despite public sympathy, again in large portion from Milwaukee, he was convicted. His life sentence was later reduced and he rejoined his family in Milwaukee, where he died in 1924.


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