One thing that stands out about a legend — whether it is an individual or an event — is that it survives the test of time. It’s enduring and throughout many generations, people continue to talk about that event or individual.
Such is the situation with the John Tornow story, which occurred in the Satsop and Wynooche areas 100 years ago this year.
Briefly, for the readers who have not heard of the Tornow story — John is alleged to have killed his two twin nephews in September 1911. That touched off a 19-month manhunt, one of the longest in early Northwest history, before he was killed on April 16, 1913.
Before he was slain, six men were his alleged victims: The Bauer twins, John and William, Game Warden A.V. Elmer and Deputy Sheriff Colin McKenzie in March 1912. Then on April 16, 1913, Tornow’s life came to an end when he was shot by Deputy Giles Quimby, but not before the fugitive killed deputized trappers Louis Blair and Charles Lathrop.
John was never charged with any crime, although a $5,000 reward was offered. Sadly, Tornow was slain and not able to prove his case in court. In today’s parlance, he “was a person of interest,” yet no posse could locate him in the lower Olympic Mountains for 19 months.
That’s it in a nutshell, but far from the what may have really transpired. People in the Grays Harbor and Mason County areas love to talk about this story. Some believe Tornow was a demented man and killed in rage. Others say he was an expert woodsman and just wanted to be left alone. Some even say he didn’t kill anybody and it was all a setup.
Whatever their belief, people enjoy talking about it, and many are outspoken.
On Saturday, Nov. 23, at 2 p.m. at Mary Knight School Gym, there will be another opportunity to share the story at a public forum. At one Tornow forum in 1987, people jammed the gym to listen and several spoke. The next year a tombstone dedication was held and again some 300 were there in the tiny Grove Cemetery.
Mark Woytowich will be filming for a possible DVD for those wishing to go on record.
Nearly three years ago, a committee was formed to establish a memorial to the alleged Tornow victims. The goal was to dedicate that memorial on or near the 100th anniversary of the final shooting. That goal was accomplished on April 20 this year when about 150 people were on the hand for the dedication.
Prior to that, in March a small forum was held at the Matlock Grange and a week later, a re-enactment was held at the shootout site, 26.9 miles up the Wynooche Valley Road.
The committee is also asking folks to bring any Tornow memorabilia and artifacts with them to share with the audience. The museum, on the school grounds, will also be open on Nov. 23 after the forum. There is one room in the museum dedicated to the Tornow events and more artifacts are being added. You can see the many items that were unearthed by Dana Anderson with a metal detector, including the most-recent find, a boot that likely was Tornow’s.
Forum attendees also will have an opportunity to stock up on Christmas gifts. If you haven’t purchased the DVDs from the memorial dedication or the re-enactment, you can do that. There will also be Tornow hats, shirts, coffee mugs and lighted shot glasses available for purchase. Tornow books will also be available, including a new one “John Tornow 100 years later.” It’s a 12 by 12, 34-page full-color keepsake that includes most of the historic photos, plus a recap of everything that has transpired in the Tornow story from the tombstone dedication, to the forums in 1987 and this March, to the re-enactment and the memorial dedication.
The following weekend, Saturday, Nov. 30 and Sunday, Dec. 1, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, the committee will have a vending booth at the Aberdeen Eagles Christmas bazaar, Market and K streets, Aberdeen.
So, if you are a Tornow enthusiast or want to know more about this fascinating story, we hope to see you at Mary Knight Gym on Nov. 23. The school is located about 15 miles north on the Brady-Matlock Road on the right.
See you there.
For more information on the forum or the John Tornow story, please visit www.johntornowoutlaw.com
Bill Lindstrom is the former city editor of The Daily World and has devoted years researching the history behind John Tornow.