Matt Starwich – Ravensdale’s Own Wild West Hero


No wild west story is complete without a gun slinging hero of a Sheriff. Pat Garrett took down Billy the Kid. With the help of Buffalo Bill Cody, Bat Masterson rescued Billy Thompson. And who can forget the fight at the O.K. Corral? Wyatt Earp, his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and friend Doc Holliday took down a whole gang of criminals. And of course, there is Wild Bill Hickok. And if you lived along the rural mining towns of the Northern Pacific Railway, you would encounter our “every-day hero.” Sheriff Matt Starwich.


In the early 20th century, Starwich was the deputy sheriff of the Ravensdale District and the only officer of law for over 700 square miles. His district included 16 coal mining towns surrounded by dense, dark forests. Forests that a criminal could hide in for days, missing you by inches with his shotgun. Old west towns full of tough men like coal miners, loggers and farmers. Men tired from a long day’s work, men ready to drink and men ready to fight. Saloons and brothels dotted the railway. His territory included the towns of “Ravensdale, Taylor, Hobart, Maple Valley, Covington, and more.” [1]

Newspapers often featured stories of his heroism. In the August 2, 1908 Seattle Sunday times Deputy Starwich “recounts his adventures:

“The hardest fight I ever had was three Montenegrins who killed Marshal Millerat Kent last winter. Justice of the Peace John C. Storey and I went after the foreigners as soon as we learned of the Miller murder. When we met them on the Milwaukee line there was a battle in which we exchanged twenty-five shots in two minutes. Storey and I were out in the open, while the Montenegrins were hidden by trees and stumps. Then our ammunition gave out. When we counted the casualties Storey was badly injured, one of our antagonists was wounded in the knee cap by a bullet, and he couldn’t walk, while another was hit in the foot.

“But even with this wound this second Montenegrin and the unharmed one made their escape. Barefooted they tramped through the snow twenty-six miles over the mountains before we were able to catch them. This little incident meant three days and three nights without sleep for me. Justice Storey recovered from his wound.”[1]

There was that time in 1904, when Saloon owner Frank Groshe walked into his infamous Austrian Saloon in Ravensdale,  offering to buy his family members a drink, only to set his eyes upon his enemy Billy Bolton. As Groshe pulled out his revolver, Sheriff Starwich interfered. Groshe jump behind the bar and grab the beer pump like a club threatening all of the patrons. Deputy Starwich convinced Groshe to drop the club, at which point he obeyed only to take out his Gatling gun, missing Starwich by inches. A gun fight then ensued. After the smoke cleared, Groshe is found knocked out and the only thing filled with holes was the ceiling. Needless to say, Deputy Starwich saved the day again. [2]

The stories go on and on:

“Five laborers who took a day off at Kanaskat…filled themselves with whiskey, terrorized the village, and finally took over the railroad station. The “Little Giant” was called. He went walking down the railroad right of way unarmed. He entered the station and methodically knocked the five men by one. Then he handcuffed them and took them to jail.” [3]

“Starwich had no such fears. He walked to the door of the house and ordered the killer to come out. The killer refused. Starwich kicked down the door and entered. Poiznsk, according to newspaper accounts, was hiding behind a bureau. The slayer leveled a pistol at Starwich and fired three shots. Persons outside feared the consequences until out came Starwich, dragging the unconscious slayer after him. The officer had dodged the shots and then knocked the slayer out. Then he had to quiet the mob, which wanted to lynch Poiznsk. He succeeded.” [3]

“informed that bandits planned to loot the Carnation bank. Mr. Starwich hid in the bank at night, killed one of the robbers, and arrested three others”.[3]

“Starwich quelling a riot in Ravensdale, arrested so many men the jail wouldn’t hold them. So he stopped the next train, commandeered a coach, and took all his prisoners to Seattle.”[3]

“Deputy Sheriff Matt Starwich again proved that he is a man of nerve and resourcefulness on Friday night, when he leaped from a rapidly moving train near Georgetown after a prisoner who had jumped off, and recaptured him after a dash of 200 yards.”

Deputy Sheriff Matt Starwich was elected King County Sheriff in 1920, going on to serve Seattle during the prohibition era. He served two terms and had it not been the law he would have served three. He died on December 6, 1941 in Seattle.

“It’s a pretty strenuous life, all right, and keeps one hustling. I don’t have much time for rest, and my wife says she never knows whether I’m coming back or not, when I start out. She worries a good deal, but I am getting things pretty well organized and systematized now, and the people are beginning to respect the law.” -Matt Starwich, 1908[1]


  1. ^”Matt Starwich — Everyday Hero,” The Seattle Sunday Times magazine section,August 2, 1908
  2. ^”Ravensdale saloon man ran amuck” The Seattle Star, October 26, 1904
  3. ^”Matt Starwich taken by death”The Seattle Sunday Times, December 7, 1941
  4. ^Olson, D., & Olson, C. (2003).Black Diamond: Mining the memories. Black Diamond, WA: Black Diamond Historical Society.

^The Day Carnation Became the Wild, Wild West. (2018, January 18). Retrieved March 14, 2019, from