This year the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its Law Enforcement Division. It all began in 1887 with the commissioning of the first game warden, setting the foundation of what is the Law Enforcement Division today.
In preparing for the anniversary the Law Enforcement Division began compiling historic information, documents and photographs. During this research, information was discovered indicating that two conservation officers had died in the line of duty and had not been recognized for their sacrifice on a state or federal level.
Field staff were assigned to conduct thorough investigations related to the deaths of the two officers using media outlets, libraries, archived department records, county coroners’ records and the Internet.
In December of 2011, the Law Enforcement Division determined that the two men had in fact worked as conservation officers and died in the performance of their official duties. The two case files were then submitted by Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Board of Directors for review. Along with that submission went a request that their names to be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Recently the Division was notified that Deputy Game Warden Julius A. Salmonson (end of watch 11/15/1908) and Conservation Officer Theron A. Craw (end of watch 11/5/1928) met the criteria to be permanently added to the memorial. Their names will be added during the National Peace Officer’s Memorial Day Service on May 15.
Deputy Game Warden Julius A. Salmonson died Nov. 15, 1908 along with his brother and a deputy sheriff. Salmonson had been investigating the unlawful setting of fishing nets on White Lake in Muskegon County.
Deputy Game Warden Salmonson had requested the assistance of his brother and the deputy sheriff as he was expecting trouble from local anglers. Their deaths were ruled accidental due to “drowning in an unknown and mysterious manner.” Deputy Game Warden Salmonson was survived by his wife and five-year-old daughter.
On Oct. 31, 1928 Conservation Officer Theron A. Craw, age 28, was accidentally shot by his partner while protecting recently planted fish stocks near Acme Creek in Grand Traverse County.
The two officers were shooting merganser ducks that were feeding on the fish when CO Craw stepped in front of his partner and was struck in the back by shotgun pellets. CO Craw was taken to Munson Hospital in Traverse City where he died on Nov. 5, 1928.
At the hospital CO Craw pleaded that his partner not be blamed for the incident, as he had stood up in his partner’s line of fire. Commissioned as an officer in January of 1928, Craw was highly respected and admired by those he came in contact with. CO Craw was the son of District Supervisor Conservation Officer Mark Craw of Traverse City who served from 1900-1947.
“These officers gave their lives while protecting Michigan’s natural resources,” stated Gary Hagler, Chief of Law Enforcement Division. “Their sacrifice will not be forgotten, nor will the sacrifice of the families they left behind.”
“We will remember these conservation officers and all of the other conservation officers who have fallen in the line of duty by ensuring they have a proper memorial here in Michigan at the Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center on Higgins Lake,” stated Chief Hagler. The Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center was initially built in 1939 to provide a training center for conservation officers.
On May 15 this memorial location will be dedicated to conservation officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting this state’s natural resources and the citizens who enjoy them. Anyone wishing to contribute to a fund for the construction of the memorial can find more information at www.mcoa-online.net.
Twelve Michigan conservation officers have died from job related incidents. Nine are now recognized on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Efforts continue to include the three additional officers to this national registry.