Sunday, January 22, 2012

CryptoWA #26 - The Wild Man of The Wynoochie

The recent sentencing of Colton Harris Moore, a.k.a. The Barefoot Bandit reminded me of something. Whether he knows it or not, the Barefoot Bandit is part of a tradition in Washington State. Our history is full of outlaws who go a bit feral living outside the boundaries of civilization. The forests of Washington seem to attract all manner of troubled souls. Some who grew up on or near the Olympic Peninsula might remember stories of “trip-wire vets” after the Vietnam War. Even hiking the backwoods of Kitsap County, I would sometimes stumble across a crude lean-to, tent or shelter on occasion. If one left the occupants alone everything would be fine.

That was the case with the most infamous “Wild Man,” John Turnow, a.k.a. the Wild Man of The Wynoochie. At some point, the huge man stopped participating in civilized life and started to haunt the woods of Grays Harbor County. He sometimes watched logging operations from the edge of the woods but seemed harmless enough.

Then, everything went seriously wrong. A confrontation with twin nephews in 1911 ended with both young men dead and Turnow a hunted man. For two years Turnow proved his reputation as a woodsman and sharpshooter. Every attempt to find him turned up nothing. His habit of breaking into cabins and businesses yielded $15,000 in loot when he happened upon a general store that also served as the town bank. The resulting reward increased the number of men searching for Turnow. Some who searched for him never returned. Most just came back empty-handed. Some overzealous hunters shot a cow. Another posse killed a 17 year-old boy by mistake.

By this point, John Turnow was regarded as an almost supernatural bogeyman, earning nicknames like “the Mad Daniel Boone” and “the Cougar Man.” “The Wild Man of The Wynoochie” is the name that stuck.

Turnow was finally cornered at the camp near his makeshift shelter in 1913. He shot two of the three men who confronted him. The third, Deputy Giles Quimby, convinced Turnow to reveal where he had hidden his loot in exchange for his freedom. Once Turnow told him, Quimby opened fire in the direction of Turnow’s hiding place and crawled away to get reinforcements. Quimby returned the next day but found that Turnow had died after the gunfight the previous day. His body was brought to Montesano, where hundreds of citizens lined up to gawk at the Wild Man, sometimes taking souvenirs off his corpse.

One thing nobody ever found was the $15,000 in gold and silver coins.


ps: Some more background on John Turnow.