Crazy Jane

Posted on: July 27th, 2014 by

Green Bay Press – Gazette
January 9, 1934

Identity of Woman Found In Wilderness Never Revealed 

MANY YEARS ago, when the logging industry on the Oconto river and its tributaries was in its infancy, many oxen were used in the woods to break and tramp the roads and to skid and deck the log. These oxen were kept near the city of Oconto during the summer months, then driven to the logging camps in the fall, worked at the camps during the winter month and then returned to Oconto after the camps broke up in the spring.

During one of those winters, one of the lumber companies from Oconto had a logging camp near the northwest corner of Oconto county, in the region of Pickerel lake. The spring came, the snow roads melted, the camp broke up and the oxen had to be driven back to Oconto. That task was assigned to a young lumberjack, Deles Washburn, who had considerable experience driving oxen, a “bull whacker” as they were called, so Washburn left camp one morning with a herd of oxen, for his long walk to Oconto.

The oxen were thin to flesh and tired from a long winter’s work, progress   was slow and darkness overtook Washburn on his first day down river, near where the village of Mountain is now situated, at which place the driver decided to camp for the night. He carried with him hay and grain for the cattle and grub for himself.

Strange Woman Appearance

He had fed the cattle for the night finished his evening meal and was standing around his camp fire when he noticed one of the oxen had wondered away from the rest of the herd. Calling the oxen by name, Washburn was trying to coax the animal back when nearby, in the darkness he heard a woman’s voice say “Don’t be afraid he won’t go far”. and immediately a young woman came from a thicket of underbrush and walked over to where Washburn was standing.

There was no road In the county except this one supply road used by the lumber company in going to and from its logging camp. The nearest settlers were two or three families living at Gillett, some 25 or 30 miles distant. This young woman could not tell the “bull whacker” who she was or where she came from, so it did not take him long to discover that he had a crazy woman on his hands on his long trip to Oconto.


Worked Around Jail

The night was spent around the camp fire and next morning another day’s Journey was commenced and so on until finally they reached Oconto, the oxen were delivered to the lumber company and “Crazy Jane.” as she was afterwards known and called, was turned, over to the county authorities and was temporarily placed in jail while a diligent search and inquiry was going on trying to find out who this woman was or where she came from. Although every effort was made, not the slightest clue could be found which would reveal her identity. She was insane but harmless, so so she was put to work as a servant girl in and about the county jail and given her freedom to do or go as she might wish. She seemed to enjoy her work and every one in the neighborhood knew Crazy Jane.

A number of years later, when Jane had passed middle age, she disappeared from the jail one winter evening just as mysteriously, just as surprisingly as she had appeared from the darkness in the woods several years before. The city of Oconto was searched as well as the surrounding country but no trace of Jane could be found.

No Clue to Identity

There was a wide expanse of marsh land east of Oconto, extending several miles to the Bay shore. This marsh was seldom traversed except by an occasional trapper.

In the spring following the winter night Jane disappeared, a man walking through this marsh discovered the corpse of a woman, about two miles from the county jail.   A coroner’s inquest was held and the body was identified as that of “Crazy Jane”, the verdict being “death due to exposure”, the theory being advanced that Jane had wandered away from the Jail, got lost and froze to death.

Who was this strange, mysterious character, what was her name, where did she come from, how did she ever get away up in the then wilderness at the time of the year when Washburn first met her? Although this happened nearly 70 years ago (1864) yet not the slightest clue has ever been advanced,  not one bit of information has ever been found which, would even tend to identify   this strange, mysterious character.

Also found at: