Warden recovers from vicious assault to become commissioner

By John Ford Sr. | Feb 02, 2011
Courtesy of: John Marsh Warden Maynard Marsh in the hospital

Looking back in game warden history, a serious incident occurred Aug. 6, 1946, in Hollis that nearly added another name to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Augusta.

Wardens in those days faced life-threatening dangers while protecting our state's natural resources. Probably much more so than today.

This assault nearly claimed the life of a well-respected game warden who eventually climbed the ladder of success and became commissioner of Inland Fish and Game.

Unlike the wardens of today, these dedicated men had no portable radios strapped to their belts, nor could they simply pick up a radio microphone and ask for assistance should they need it. The modern technology and great medical care we enjoy today were not as sophisticated in those days.

The incident about which I speak involved two Southern Maine Game Wardens — George Townsend of Limerick and Maynard Marsh from Gorham.

It was a warm, clear, fall night Aug. 6, 1946, when Maynard and George decided to spend the evening working beneath the stars, waiting for jackers to make their presence known in the small rural York County town of Hollis.

“Jackers” or night hunters as they are called today, had been running rampant throughout that section of Southern Maine. The great abundance of whitetails posed a temptation for poachers.

Game wardens had to provide their own vehicles and didn't have the luxury of radios, cell phones, or any other means of communicating for assistance. They were issued uniforms, a small, six-cell flashlight with a red cone on the end, several warm coats and a set of binoculars. The were basically on their own to deal with issues as best they could.

Jackers were being apprehended night after night in the area. At the time, the penalty was $50 or less. Violators were allowed to keep their firearms and equipment. Often, the same men were caught night hunting once again a few nights later. There was little deterrent to their illegal activities, other than that pesky game warden who occasionally got in the way.

Once an apprehension was made, offenders were taken directly to a magistrate's home. Even if it was in the middle of the night, the magistrate would crawl out of bed to hold court right in his house. The accused could plead guilty to the offense, pay the fine, and the case was quickly resolved. If they wanted a trial, it was scheduled for a later time.

It should be noted, however, that in 1946, $50 was a hefty amount of cash for most folks struggling to get by from day to day.

Aug. 6, 1946, Maynard and George found themselves confronting a couple of jackers along a desolate stretch of highway in a remote section of Hollis. The area was surrounded by large fields and plenty of deer. As the offending vehicle approached the two wardens, Maynard made his presence known by stepping to the edge of the roadway and waving his flashlight to attempt to stop the vehicle.

Unlike past apprehensions, this time the jackers resisted the efforts of the two lawmen. Instead of obeying the command to halt, the driver purposely accelerated the older coupe and ran over Maynard, who attempted to jump clear of the speeding missile. The vehicle's passenger-side fender struck the young warden in the legs.

Maynard catapulted high in the air and landed in the middle of the dirt roadway. The offending vehicle sped off into the dark of night. There was no doubt these men knew exactly what they'd done.

George immediately rushed to his partner's aid, providing what medical assistance he could. He feverishly loaded Maynard into the vehicle as he desperately searched for the keys stored in Maynard's pockets. Eventually George retrieved them and he anxiously headed for medical assistance — assistance that was far away from their present location.

One can only imagine the sheer terror Warden Townsend experienced as he drove his partner to the nearest medical facility, wondering if Maynard would survive the terrifying ordeal, or whether his partner would become yet another statistic.

Unable to call for aid while en route to the hospital, George skirted along the narrow country roads at breakneck speed, silently praying Maynard would survive.

Upon their arrival at the hospital, Maynard was patched up and stabilized as best as the medical staff could manage. His wounds were serious and his family gathered around his bedside, offering support while expressing grave concerns as to his future.

Doctors cleaned up the blood, sewed up the most severe wounds and tended to his badly injured legs. At one point, the medical experts considered amputating his leg. It appeared as if the broken bones and muscle damage were too severe to properly mend.

Fortunately, Maynard's close ties with then-Commissioner Stobie led them to the owner of the famous Boston Red Sox and a medical professional who was a close friend of the commissioner's. He adamantly insisted Maynard be brought to a Boston hospital where a noted team of technicians could evaluate the warden's wounds before the leg was amputated.

In one of the very first procedures of its kind performed in the public sector, the doctor inserted metal pins and a plate into the severely damaged leg of his patient. The pins and the metal plate placed on the knees and surrounding leg bones hopefully would hold them together as they slowly mended.

This doctor had performed similar surgeries on soldiers injured in battle during World War II, but such a procedure had not, until that time, been performed on a civilian.

Maynard gradually overcame his injuries. He was finally discharged from the hospital bed that had been holding him hostage for a long period of time. He was sent home for an even longer period of rest.

For the next year, Maynard could be seen hobbling around his Gorham home wearing a full-length leg cast, hoping the metal pins and plates attached to his bones would do the trick. And they did.

Maynard, with just a slight limp, eventually returned to duty as a district game warden. Over time, due to his dedication and skills, he was promoted to warden supervisor for Division A. Maynard climbed the department's ladder of success and in a few short years reached the very top.

In 1970, Maynard was chief warden for the agency and soon after assumed the role as Fish & Game commissioner for the agency — a title and position he certainly had earned. In the opinion of this writer, he was one of the very best.

As a follow-up to Maynard's near-death experience, a few days after the jackers had fled the scene, they were apprehended. The car was seized for evidence and photographed and they were both hauled into court on charges far more serious than the night-hunting offense. But as is typical of what we in law enforcement call a real injustice, the violators were given a mere 90-day jail sentence for their crimes.

The light sentence was a travesty to the livelihood of a young warden who almost made the ultimate sacrifice, as several others before him had.

Warden Townsend also moved along in the department. He became a warden pilot for the agency, stationed in the Rangeley area. As a youngster, I personally knew George Townsend and his wife, Louise, and their two sons, David and Steve.

We shared many an enjoyable moment together along the shores of Rangeley Lake and the surrounding area during our family summer vacations. During the winter months, George would anchor his plane behind our house when he was scheduled to fly the wardens in Southern Maine.

I still vividly recall the day when he placed my brother and I inside the small cockpit of the Piper Cub aircraft he piloted. At the time, we were about knee-high to a grasshopper. My brother and I were of an age when such an extraordinary experience would be forever cherished. That was one of those moments. After securing us in the back seat of the small plane, we shot up into the wild blue yonder on my very first airplane ride.

George was a real gentleman and a great warden. He was well liked by all who knew him.

Tragically, 10 years later, George and a department biologist both were killed in a float plane accident as they lifted off from Marannacook Lake in Winthrop. Instead of Maynard's name making the list of fallen officers, George beat him to the punch.

So it goes, game wardens in that era also never knew what to expect from one moment to the next. But through it all, they vigorously protected the natural resources of our state so future generations could enjoy them too.

These two men were legends in their own time. Maynard Marsh and George Townsend left their mark in the history books of Maine's finest law enforcement officers in an agency that was by far the very best to work for.

As I write my memories today, I can honestly say these two gentlemen, who I often saw as a young child while growing up in York County, were indirectly responsible for the great career that I was able to enjoy. I could only hope, that in some small way, I'd leave my own mark in the history books like many of those wardens from years ago. They were a special and highly dedicated breed of men.

I was indeed quite honored to have been a member of such an elite team of law enforcement officers.

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