Did This 19th-Century Man Go Too Far to Protect … a Dam?
Born in Winneconne, Wis., on April 3, 1861, John F. Deitz (or Dietz) is remembered alternately as an outlaw or folk hero in state lore due to his yearslong land rights dispute with the Chippewa Lumber & Boom Co.
In 1904, he began demanding a toll for logs sluiced down the Thornapple River through the existing Cameron Dam, which abutted his property southeast of Winter, in northwest Wisconsin. Contesting his ownership claim to the dam, the lumber company sicced the law on Deitz. The landowner successfully resisted arrest for six years, fending off lawmen and company men alike at gunpoint, though a deputy and two of Deitz’s own children were wounded during various confrontations.
The press largely portrayed Deitz as a common man fighting corporate greed, while others saw him as little more than a trigger-happy lawbreaker. Things came to a head on Oct. 8, 1910, when a sheriff’s posse surrounded the family home, and a gun battle ensued. Deputy Oscar Harp was killed before Deitz surrendered.
“John seems very self-assured, even though behind bars,” says Tony Sapienza, who bought this undated real photo postcard several years ago. “I found the little girl (his daughter?) interesting. Also note that part of the pinkie on his right hand is gone, and his left hand appears to be in a cast.”
Charged with murder, Deitz was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1921, Wisconsin Governor John J. Blaine, bowing to public pressure, pardoned the “Defender of Cameron Dam.” Deitz died in Milwaukee three years later. The family farmstead and dam have long since disappeared.