Canute Matson was born in Norway in 1843. He emigrated with his parents to America in 1848, and settled in Dane County, Wisconsin. Educated at Albion Academy he joined Company K, Thirteenth Wisconsin Infantry, on the outbreak of the Civil War. Promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1862 he was acting regimental quartermaster by the the time the war came to an end.
In 1868 Matson was elected clerk of the Police Court. This was followed by a series of official positions in Cook County including justice of the peace (1875), coroner (1879), deputy sheriff (1882) and in 1886 he was elected sheriff. Matson was responsible for investigating the Haymarket Bombing that resulted in the conviction of Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fisher, Louis Lingg, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Oscar Neebe and Samuel Fielden .