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George Floyd reversal? This officer was choked out by a criminal. The autopsy claimed he died of heart disease.

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Mathew Hamilton, a native of Ireland, had immigrated to Winona Minnesota and was serving as the Night Watch, a special policeman at the depot of the Winona and St. Peter Railroad just north of Lake Winona on East Mark Street.

It was December 2nd, 1874.  The beginning of the 4th coldest December Minnesotan’s had ever experienced.  The country was in the last few years of the Reconstruction Era following the American Civil War, and Republican President Ulysses S. Grant was fighting for the protection of African Americans in the South through the use of the Enforcement Act passed by Congress.

Christmas was just a few weeks away.  The depression had been going on for about a year, but the railroad business was strong, especially in Winona Minnesota.

Towns established along the tracks of the Winona and St. Peter Railroad provided a ready market for goods manufactured in Winona and channeled agricultural products into the city, spurring Winona’s growth as an industrial and shipping hub from 1870 to 1900.

Growth that made Winona, with a population of around 7000 people, the 3rd largest city in Minnesota for over three decades.

Hamilton had lived in Winona for 10 years. He had been hired by the city of Winona and the railroad to serve as their Night Watch, a Special Policeman at the depot of the Winona and St. Peter Railroad.

 At around 12:15AM while walking his beat, Officer Hamilton walked into the train depot waiting room and found a man sleeping in the seats.

Officer Hamilton approached the man and tried to wake him up, asking him to move so others could sit down.  Hamilton then called another Winona Officer, Officer Miller, who responded to assist removing the man from the seats and attempted to walk him outside.

The man sleeping in the seats was identified as Lorenz Bambuch.

He had come to Winona from Acadia Wisconsin with several friends and had been drinking throughout the night.  Friends say he had the reputation of being a quiet man, not one to cause problems.

Officer Miller asked Bambuch where he wanted to go.  Intoxicated and separated from his friends, Bambuch said he wanted to go to Trempealeau.

Officer Miller, trying calm down the intoxicated man, told him that if he would behave himself they might let him go back and sit down.  Bambuch again became abusive and started swearing and yelling at Officer Hamilton, who then instructed Officer Miller to take Bambuch away and lock him up.

When the two officers went hands on with Bambuch, he resisted and started to fight.  Herman Stiever, an employee of the depot, was in the baggage room when the fight started and was asked by the officers to help.  When they finally got Bambuch to the door, Bambuch grabbed Hamilton by the throat and started choking him.

In good health, Officer Hamilton was a strong, powerful man who could handle nearly anyone he came across.  Unfortunately, he had been ill the previous two weeks struggling with heart disease and this was Hamilton’s first night back on the job.

Stiever, who was behind the three men, pushed them out the door and they all fell onto the platform outside.

With Bambuch still choking Hamilton, he called out to Officer Miller to hit Bambuch to get him to let go.  Miller hesitated, but as Bambuch continued to hold onto Hamilton’s neck, Miller hit Bambuch and he finally let go.

At this point Hamilton got up of the floor and said, “I am gone Miller, I can’t do any more to help you”, and started walking away from the doorway.

Officer Miller was still dealing with Bambuch, with full intentions of arresting him and locking him up when another Winona man, John Stovall, ran up to Miller and said Officer Hamilton was dying and he was asking for him.

Officer Hamilton had walked away from the fight only to collapse a short distance away on the platform.  Miller left Bambuch and ran over to Hamilton.  The Yardmaster, Mr. Pierce, was with Hamilton, who took Miller by the hand and said, “Miller, don’t leave me; I’m dying.  Get me home if you can.”

Officer Miller asked others for help, and four citizens came to assist carrying Hamilton to an omnibus for transport.  An omnibus was typically a large, enclosed and sprung horse drawn vehicle, similar to what we think of today as a stage coach, with wooden benches along the sides of the passenger cabin and seating for several people facing each other.

While enroute to his home, Hamilton could barely speak, but at one point pulled Officer Miller down to him and told him he was going to die soon and asked Miller to send for his brother and sister.

The men carried Hamilton into his home, laid him on the floor, and placed pillows underneath him.  Officer Hamilton died a short time later.

An autopsy was conducted by local Drs. Staple and McGaughey.  They determined that Hamilton had heart disease that was sufficient enough to cause his death.

The doctor also indicated he was unable to find any damage to the larynx or other indications that his death had been caused by the choking.   They ruled the cause of death as heart disease, aggravated by overexertion from the fight with Bambuch.

Bambuch walked away from this incident with only a small fine for Disorderly Conduct.

Officer Hamilton was survived by his wife and two sons.

Officer Mathew Hamilton was the first recorded line of duty death in Minnesota and as of 2020, is the only officer down in the city of Winona.

He is one of nearly 300 fallen heroes remembered and honored every May during Police Week in Minnesota by the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association, and the first of over 40 fallen heroes honored each year by the Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation of SE Minnesota.


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