In the Line of Duty: Joseph Deeghan

Deeghan Family Plot. Insert: Joseph Deeghan’s stone

There was a sense of familiarity as I turned off Route 144, made the immediate left and followed the narrow roadway up the hillside to the sacred grounds of Saint Joseph’s Cemetery. The last time I had visited the cemetery, which sits on the hillside west of Renovo, was to visit the grave of baseball player Michael Roach. Parking where the paved roadway ended, I stepped out of the vehicle and scanned the grounds. A short distance away was the plot of the Carroll family, whose daughter Louise rests there in an unmarked grave. Note more about them can be found here: Louise Carroll and Mike Roach.

I returned to these sacred grounds to pay my respects to another murder victim who rests at the top of the cemetery. The gentleman whose life had brought me back to Saint Joseph’s Cemetery was a constable killed by a bullet fired during an attempt to serve a warrant. I carefully made my way among the stones to the top of the hill, where the Deeghan family plot overlooks the West Branch of the Susquehanna. At first, I did not see the small headstone for Joseph, but finally discovered it at the edge of the woods, hidden among the yellow irises growing around the family stone. Note: While everything I have read, his name was Joseph Patrick Deeghan, but his individual stone notes him as P. Joseph. The dates are correct for his birth and death years, so I’m not sure why the first and middle names are reversed on his headstone.

Born at Renovo in 1875, Joseph Deeghan was one of ten children to Patrick and Bridgit Deeghan. According to newspapers of the time, Deeghan was a well-liked and respected member of the community. In the spring of 1902, Deeghan was elected constable of Renovo’s east end.

On March 2, 1904, Constable Deeghan and Deputy Constable Samuel Myers of Lock Haven arrived at the Huling tower in Keating Township to serve a warrant on Sherman Jamison. Also known as William Snyder, Jamison was a noted outlaw and notorious character who lived in the region. Jamison was believed to have robbed a number of travelers and was involved in robbing freight trains in the region. His wife was described as being as mean as her husband, having been taken into the wilds by Jamison at the age of fourteen – at the time of the shooting she was sixteen with two young children.

In the days before the shooting affair, Mrs. Jamison ran to a neighboring house to seek shelter from the Sherman’s abuse. The following morning, Jamison arrived at the cabin and, having discovered his wife had talked to Mrs. George Pfoutz, threatened to kill the Pfoutz family. In the process of threatening the family, Jamison grabbed Mrs. Pfoutz by the back of the neck and shook her until she fainted. The following morning Mrs. Jamison returned to the Pfoutz cabin to apologize for her husband’s actions revealing that she was afraid he would kill her like he had killed others.

Despite the apology from Mrs. Jamison, Mrs. Pfoutz believed Jamison would follow through with killing her family. She headed to Renovo to talk with authorities about the things Mrs. Jamison revealed during their conversation and the threats made against her by the outlaw. This was enough information for a warrant to be issued for Jamison’s arrest. Mrs. Pfoutz told the court that her son, Simon, could lead the officers to the Jamison cabin.

The two deputies met Simon at the Huling tower in Keating and led the two deputies to the Pfoutz family cabin. While the deputies waited at the Pfoutz cabin, Simon snuck through the woods, discovered the outlaw was at home, and returned to tell the men this information. The men expected trouble and plans were made to take Jamison in without problems. The trio waited until dark, crossed the Sinnemahoning Creek, traveled about a mile to Jamison’s house near the mouth of Wister Run, arriving around 7:30 that night.

The trio drew their revolvers and cautiously approached the cabin. Constable Deeghan knocked on the door and Jamison opened the door. With three revolvers pointed at him, the deputies ordered him to put his hands in the air, which he did so. Instead of bringing him out of the cabin because they thought he would run, the officers moved him back into the small cabin.

Deputy Myers entered the cabin followed by Constable Deeghan. Myers told Mrs. Jamison to light a lamp before turning to Deeghan and asking him to secure Jamison. Deeghan placed his revolver in his pocket and stepped forward to place the prisoner in handcuffs.

Mrs. Jamison, who had been pretending to light a match, tossed a revolver to her husband before opening fire upon Deeghan, Myers, and Pfoutz. A shot fired by Mrs. Jamison grazed Myers’ chest – had the bullet not hit a rib and deflected, he would have been killed. Myers managed to recover his breath and opened fire on Jamison. He managed to fire all twelve shots from his two revolvers and in the darkness of the smoke-filled room, Myers managed to hit nobody, though one bullet was close enough that it caught Jamison’s shirt on fire.

Deeghan was not as lucky. Three bullets fired by the outlaw struck the constable – one in the wrist and two in the stomach.

Jamison managed to crawl out of the smoke-filled cabin and fled into the darkness. Pfoutz, who had been standing near the door of the cabin, saw the outlaw flee and gave chase. Jamison paused at the wagon shed, took aim at his pursuer and fired. The bullet grazed Pfoutz’s leg near the knee.

Myers rushed to the railroad to send a “be on the lookout” for Sherman Jamison and a message to Renovo requesting a doctor and priest to be ready for Deeghan’s arrival. Deeghan was loaded on a cot and was carried to the railroad line, where he was placed on the next train headed toward Renovo. From there, Constable Deeghan was transported to the hospital in Lock Haven.

Joseph Deeghan was just twenty-seven years old when he died two days after arriving at the Lock Haven hospital from the wounds he received while attempting to arrest Sherman Jamison. He left behind his widowed mother, one sister, and six brothers. After services at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Renovo he was taken to the family plot and buried at Drury Run.

I finished remembering the fallen man, thanking Constable Joseph Deeghan for his service, knowing his was a life that was brutally cut short by a desperate outlaw. I finally began to carefully make my way back to the vehicle, leaving the Deeghan family plot atop the hillside overlooking the West Branch Valley.

Note: In the aftermath of the shooting, Mrs. Jamison was arrested on the afternoon of March 4 for her actions and was taken to the prison in Lock Haven, where she was held with her two children. They remained there until Monday, May 9, 1904, when the were finally released. Tickets were purchased and she was put on a train and sent to her mother’s house in Glen Hazel. It does not appear that she was ever charged with her involvement in the shoot-out.

Sherman Jamison disappeared into the mountains of north central Pennsylvania. Despite a reward being offered for his capture, he managed to avoid those searching for him. In late September 1907, the body of a man was discovered along the railroad tracks near Dents Run. The body was determined to be Sherman Jamison and it was believed he had been killed in an attempt to jump aboard – or from – a passing freight train.

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