George Washington France: Episode Two – the Effie Years


Portrait of a young George France

Effie Cammack in her youth - Courtesy of Patti Morris Craze

Effie Cammack in her youth – Courtesy of Patti Morris Craze

By 1870, George had decided that it was time to settle down.  He had found what he believed to be an excellent location to build a home, a farm, a family and, perhaps, a community.

I have read the description of his search for the piece of land on which he eventually settled.  In his book he says, “Following the Nez-Percé trails, (as did Lewis and Clarke [sic] the same in 1804), down across the Pataha gorge and creek, where it forks; then on a ridge, between the Pataha and breaks of the head of the Alpowa, for four miles, and here lay the spot I was looking for.”  He later notes that “In one of the gulches, where the trail crossed it, there flowed, for a quarter of a mile or more, the principal spring, or springs of water for several miles around and fertile prairie land lay more adjacent to this spring, than to any other…” He lay claim to the spring and noted that he had selected land with “water, wood and grass,” on which he could build a farm and home.

Section of county map showing the George France property - Courtesy of Patti Morris Craze

Section of county map showing the George France property – Courtesy of Patti Morris Craze

I have used Google Earth extensively to try to locate the France land and I think I have a fairly good idea where it is because Peola is at the very south-east corner.  I was hoping to find something–anything–that looked like it might have been part of the France settlement 140 years ago, but to no avail.  Perhaps, someday, I’ll get the chance to walk the area and look in earnest.

In 1870, George must have been in Walla Walla.  In his book he talks about horses being quite cheap there and that he had decided to take the opportunity to build a small herd for himself with a view toward renting, or selling them, to the railroad folks when they came into the area.  As fate would have it, Effie Cammack was also in Walla Walla, living with her mother, Albina, and stepfather, Walter Parks, who had married there in 1864.  Sixteen-year-old Effie was a student at the Whitman Seminary–later to become Whitman College.

Whitman Seminary was very much an on-again-off-again affair at that time. Founded by Cushing Ells in 1859, the Seminary was floundering by 1869 .  Cushing Ells was called upon to serve as principal, which he did until 1869.  After Ells’ resignation in 1869, the school struggled—and often failed—to attract students, pay teachers, and stay open for each term.  Family documents say that Effie, “ran away,” from the school in 1870 and it’s an easy stretch to belive that in light of the inconsistency of the school and having met George France, nine years her senior, Effie fell in love. Their marriage license is dated Sept. 13, 1871, and according to census records the marriage took place on Sept. 18.

Apparently Walter and Albina approved of the union; Walter signed the marriage license affirming the age of Effie as did H. W. Chase, County Auditor.

George and Effies marriage license - coutrtesy of Patti Morris Craze

George and Effies marriage license – coutrtesy of Patti Morris Craze

Grand Hotel Logo

Grand Hotel Logo

At first glance, it appears that all of this probably took place at the Grand Hotel in Walla Walla; “The place where the traveling man feels at home,” but as I read the hotel letterhead on which the license was hand written,  I noticed that under the hotel logo in the upper left is the note that there is, “local and Long Distance Phone in every room.”   This presents a paradox–Alexander Bell didn’t transmit his first call to Watson until 1876 and there certainly was no phone system in place in 1871. Hmmmm.  My cursory research into the Grand Hotel found only one in Walla Walla, converted from the Ransom building to the Grand Hotel in 1911.  Perhaps what we have is a photo of a hand written copy of the original?  At any rate, the wedding definitely did not take place at the Grand Hotel.  Perhaps the young lovers married at the home of Effies’ step-father and mother.

The France’s moved to George’s claim and into, “…a log cabin, neither spacious nor elegant, but being the best we had ever owned, it seemed to us to be both…” He noted that “the furniture would not have sold for $2.50 in a town.”

In October of 1871 George lay legal claim to the spring he had found and a quarter section of land around it.  He set about breaking and planting the land, cutting timber and splitting rails for fencing, knowing that “not one in fifty” were successful in such an endeavor.

At eighteen, Effie gave birth to Clarence Gordon France on Sept. 29th, 1872.  The situation into which he was born was not one of comfort and security.  His Dad was still working on the land and in the spring of 1873 he planted his first crop and lost most of it to a plague of black crickets which decimated everything but potatoes and peas.  The cricket plague was to continue for several years.  Fortunately, he had “a good start of expensive stock-hogs,” for whom the crickets provided a feast all summer long.   He had 8000 rails in fencing and started a 200 tree orchard.  He hung on while most of his neighbors moved on.

In 1875 Effie Mae was born; the same year the cricket scourge ended.  George had managed to hold on and, in fact, prosper a bit.  “Besides farming, in 1875, I worked with my four-horse team in hauling for others, including freight from Walla Walla to the Lewiston stores.”  Traveling that much left Effie, now 21, home alone with two children and a farm to watch over.

It was also in 1875 that George raised the $200 necessary to get his land patent and add it to the vacant section below what land he already had.  He now had 320 acres of land and had built a 16×22 log house, a corral, sheds, and hen-house “on the best building place, at the lower spring in the spring gulch”.  They moved to this hard-won spot in Sept. of 1875.  While he had to go six or seven miles to get timber for fence rails, by now “I had good teams…and a wagon, was practically free of debt, had means to employee help…and there being no more insect pest…we just loped right along and ahead of the country.”

Believed t be a photo taken in 1905 of the France homestead

Believed t be a photo taken in 1905 of the France homestead

In November, Columbia County was formed from Walla Walla County, taking the France settlement with it.


This is believed to be the same piece of land; photo taken in 1997

1876 was a bountiful year; George threshed 1,000 bushels of wheat and Effie gave birth to their third child, Clyde LeRoy France.  Beyond farming, George and Effie continued to improve their home, adding a cellar and stable, planted a garden and potato field and fenced in a pasture on the homestead claim, all of which was completed by the fall of 1878.  On June 16th of that year, Effie gave birth to the last of their four children, Inez M.  By now she was undoubtedly beginning to get some help from four-year-old Clarence as she went about her tasks and cared for the other three little ones.

The France’s now possessed fenced-in crops of wheat, “with plenty of grain, hay and straw to sell at good prices…barley and oats…eggs…butter…and having good herds of cattle, horses and hogs; virtually out of debt…I was ready to enlarge my home and business.”

As part of that enlargement, he broke sod on land adjoining his, which was set aside for the school.  He later leased this land from the government; an action he might not have taken if he could have seen the pain and despair it would cause him in the future.  The area was beginning to prosper and, since those with the grit and determination to do the hard work had done it, it became an attraction to those who wished to have what had been so hard-won without actually doing any of the difficult part themselves.

In his book, The Struggles for LIfe and Home in the Northwest, George notes that in the spring of 1878 a “Mr. E–…located a steam saw-mill a mile from my place, knowing there would be no accessible water…except be it at my place.” Somewhere in my research I came across the reference to the Ellis saw-mill and I believe it to be the mill George wrote about.

George thoroughly believed that the Masons and the Odd Fellows held the county, in fact, the whole Territory, in a strong grip and that, for the most part, the law and courts were controlled with a strong bias toward those who belonged to that organization.  He believed Ellis to be a member and that he built his mill despite the fact that he “…was fully informed as to this matter before he located the mill, but turned a deaf ear; evidently having conspired at the outset to intrigue, tramp or shoot me down, and jump my place”.

True to the warning he had been given, Ellis’s mill hit the dry season and there was no water to run the steam machinery.  According to George, Ellis never approached him about the use of his water, however, another man, a neighbor, requested to divert water from George’s spring and sell it to the mill.  George agreed–the man quit after a couple of months and George allowed a couple of others to try it but apparently with little success.

In May of 1878 Archie Haven approached George and asked of he could put up a cabin on a corner of the school-land-tract on a temporary basis.  George agreed, That was a mistake.  After he had built the cabin, Haven said he had been advised by a lawyer that the law which allowed George to lease the land was invalid, therefore, he had no need to leave it or acknowledge George’s claim to it.

The France’s had spent seven years together, survived hard times, done the backbreaking work necessary and built a successful home and business.  They loved, made love and created four healthy children and now trouble began that would, for all intents and purposes, put an end to all of that.  Clarence was now nearly six-years-old; old enough to remember at least some of the events happening around him.

According to George, when unable to obtain a reliable water source, Ellis and “his force of men and hell [came] and stealthily put up a big tank,” took down his fence and built a pipe to the tank effectively usurping all the water for the whole settlement and posted signs claiming it as his own and threatening anyone who meddled with it.  Concurrently, Haven, who frequented the Ellis mill, began again to claim the land George had allowed him to build on, claimed it to be. “an outrage for one man to own all the land in the country and the water too,” tore down fences, threatened to take the entire homestead and “settle me with an ounce of lead”. Apparently he was believed because a friend loaned George a gun with which to defend himself.

This “friend,” later told George that Ellis was a Masonic Worthy Grand Master and as such, he was bound by him to testify against George in his later trial.

When the lack of water became critical, France, who had been unable to get any help from Government representatives of any kind, busted up the pipes which were illegally hauling away his water and rebuilt his fence.  When George approached a “peace officer,” (sheriff?, constable? marshal?), for assistance he received advice to ” be prepared to defend myself against him, and thus work the land.”  Threats continued; life for the France’s was getting less pleasant rapidly.

On August 22nd, 1878, just over two months since the birth of Inez, George and friends/hired hands, Vasco De Lay and Bartlett Brooks set about planting wheat, part of it being on the leased school property which was in front of Archie Haven’s house.  Around 11 am, Jay Lynch approached George to discuss the water for the mill issue, this discussion having the effect of slightly separating George from the other two men.  It was shortly after George had refused the request for water that Lynch exclaimed, “There comes [Haven] now with a gun!”

A carbine of the type Archie Haven might have used in the assault

A carbine of the type Archie Haven might have used in the assault

George noted that Haven was approaching rapidly with a carbine and commented to Lynch, “…let us go and see what he is going to do with it.”  Lynch replied, “I don’t give a damn what he does with it!” and hightailed it to a safe distance.

According to Roswell Fairman, who was at the Haven house at the time, Archie saw the group sowing wheat at about noon.  He said as they were eating dinner Archie got up and went out, then returned, got and loaded his gun and told his wife, “there is trouble,” then left the house.

Archie Haven knew both Vasco Lay and Bartlett Brooks.  He first approached Brooks and told him to take off while he could because there was going to be trouble.  Brooks declined the offer.  He then approached Lay and, during their conversation either pointed his rifle at him, or behind him toward George France. Lay grabbed the barrel and shoved it aside as Haven fired his first shot.  Was he planning to shoot Lay, or did Lay deflect a shot meant for France?  That debate was never resolved.  France was not hit, but Lay’s horse was mortally wounded.

France’s first shot coincided with Haven’s second;   France noted that “I emptied my pistol into him in about five seconds.”  He refers to his “four” bullets–Mrs. Haven’s later testimony referred to Mr. France’s “derringer” which could quite possibly have been a four shot revolver or four barrel derringer.

This incident having taken place near the Haven home, Archie’s wife, Julia, was a witness.  She ran out to help her husband and later testified that as she ran toward her husband, still struggling with Mr. Lay, she saw George shoot him as Lay held him, then saw France receiving fresh ammunition from Bartlett Brooks, who was still on horseback.  France argued with Mrs. Haven and at some point Brooks apparently got off of his horse and took control Haven’s rifle.  Haven had had enough, he left for home, apparently believing that he had shot France.  According to George’s account, “…[Haven] went to his house, boasted that ‘he had shot my companion as well as me.'”  In fact, the only person shot, if we don’t include the horse, was Archie Haven and from his actions in the field and on the way home it did not appear that he was seriously wounded.

In all of this we have no references to what Effie and the four children were doing. How far away was their house?  Did they hear the ruckus?  Was Effie protecting the children or trying to keep them from seeing the activity?  Clarence was a month shy of his sixth birthday, he must have understood some of what happened and certainly was old enough to remember some of it.  Effie Mae was three–old enough to know that something unusual was happening.

George returned home unaware that Archie was mortally wounded.  Jay Lynch, who went to Haven’s house, described the wound as one which appeared to have been made by a .32 caliber ball. Dr. T. C. Frary was called and found four wounds, one in the left side; “I found upon examination one gunshot wound in the left side about 3 or 4 inches above the crest of the ileum (hipbone) from the appearance of the external wound I concluded that the ball pursued a course in the direction of the fundus of the bladder.”  It was this wound, Dr. Frary concluded, that caused Haven’s death, which occurred about twenty minutes after midnight.  Dr. Frary had called for assistance from Dr. D. C. Davidson, who concurred.

Unaware that Haven was dying, George decided not to file charges against him. The following day he was surprised when an official of the law arrived at his home to arrest him; Jay Lynch had filed charges for murder against George France. France was taken into custody even as he was assured that he had done nothing wrong and was sure to be freed when tried.  As far as we know, this was the last time George Washington France saw Effie, Clarence, Effie Mae, Clyde and Inez.

I can only imagine the great apprehension George felt as he was parted from the woman with whom he had shared the last seven years of his life, yet, knowing he had acted in self-defense, feeling that they would soon be reunited.  Then imagine how that grief must have grown as he was held for ten months without trial and it eventually became apparent that he would not see her for many years, if at all. Effie, probably with help from her mother and step father,  was left to care for the four children, take care of the land and business and deal with her grief, discouragement and despair and, as it turned out, some very ill-health.

The France trial was a long time coming, may have been rigged, witnesses may have been tampered with…but that is a story for another episode.

NOTE:  Much of this information was provided by Effie (France) Morris’ great granddaughter, Patricia Morris Craze and I will take this opportunity to thank her for her kind assistance which has allowed a more complete telling of this tale than could have been done without the insights she provided.



George Washington France: Episode One

Portrait of George France 2 for blog

A young George France

In 1865 a 19-year-old man, George France, made the decision that he needed to see the big, wide, world for himself.  Despite discouragement from his father, Elting J. France, and mother, Catherine (DuBois) France, he and a friend struck off on what would be new life for George.  It was the last time he would see his parents, or any of his siblings, Oliver, Henry and Jonathan.  Nor, apparently, would he ever meet his half-sister, Jannette Elizabeth France, who was born in 1871.

First Commercial Oil Well

Pennsylvania Oil Fields

Pennsylvania oil fields for blog

Oil was a dirty business

Their first destination?  The oil fields of Pennsylvania and on March 3rd, 1865, he and the friend arrived in oil town.  He never mentions his friend’s name, but the companionship lasted only a day or two after arriving in Pennsylvania, in the rain, where they jumped off the train into “the mud and oil a foot or two deep, and waded through it to the hotel in the dark.  First impressions were enough to convince his traveling companion that home sounded much better than adventure.

George worked in the mud and the muck for a year.  He learned from the legendary Coal Oil Johnny that,  as with gold rushes, very few make a lot, a few more made a little and the vast majority came away poorer, and dirtier, than they came in.

Johnny lived with his aunt, dirt poor, until oil was found under their farm. Apparently it was customary, in the oil regions, to keep a bucket of coal oil in the house for making fires.  In this case such a bucket was responsible for a bigger fire than wanted; it took the life of Johnny’s aunt and for the next year or so Johnny lived the life of a son of fortune; his pockets were stuffed with money which flew out as fast as it was stuffed in.  He ended up destitute.  Not so Mr. France.  He rolled barrels on a dock for 60₵ an hour, then got a job as a chain carrier for a surveyor at $3 per day.  Next he ran an engine pump for $4 a day. He became familiar with drilling techniques, bit sharpening and running a sand pump, used for pumping the drillings out of a well-being drilled.  The oil “boom” was dying. George, unlike so many others, could see it coming so on February 11th, 1868, he took the $1000 he had saved and moved on to a new adventure.

As a young man of 20, with $1000, he took some time to travel the county, experiencing trains, stages and boats, visiting relatives and friends who had moved out west and in general having a good time.

June of 1868 found him in Nebraska City in charge of a four mule team and wagon hauling “improved rifles” bound for Salt Lake City, having hooked up with a New York businessman who financed a supply and mercantile wagon train.  He drove his team for $20 per month.

four mule team blog

The type of team Mr. France might have driven.

George had never handled a four animal team before and he got hold of two of the best mules.  The wagon master matched those with two brand new, unbroken, mules.  He first tried the new mules in the back of the team but they kicked the end of the wagon to splinters.  To avoid that, he moved them to the front.  Apparently they liked the rear position; they broke the tongue off of the wagon trying to get back where they had been.  His plan was to take a place back in the train so he could follow the more experienced teamsters, “but, they started me out in the lead, just as if I knew something about leading a heavily loaded wagon train.”  Eventually, he mastered his mules and the wagon train, crossed the west to Utah.

Having reached Salt Lake, George continued to haul freight for a living.  He learned a great deal about the Mormons, their politics, the Mountain-Meadows massacre, their views on the US Government and their day-to-day lives.  While hauling freight, he managed to gather for himself a load of salt, “much of it so clear, one can read print through it some inches thick.”  He also met up with other wanderers, many of whom were headed for the mines in California.  He returned to St. George in January of 1869, sold his load of salt, then headed for Los Angeles.

lincoln county Nevada mine blog

Abandoned mine, Lincoln County, NV – Photo courtesy of QKC on Panaramio

In Los Angeles Mr. France made the acquaintance of a mining company agent who convinced him that he would do well by accompanying him to the “rich, extensive mines ‘at Pah Ranagat in South-Eastern Nevada,'”  offering him a job running the engine mill for $8 a day.  His group traveled adjacent to Death Valley, eventually finding camps in Lincoln County, Nevada.  He traveled, worked and learned.  He developed an extensive understanding of the geological activities that had deposited the quartz, gold, silver and lead in the mountains.  He witnessed the nature of man in an area where State and County law was forsaken for “the government of the plain.” He gives examples:

“An Indian having killed a white man, was, with others, captured, tried without lawbooks or lawyers, and hung; the others being acquitted.

“A white man, of considerable eminence in the states, murdered another for his money; he was likewise given a fair, open trial and hung.

“An employer undertakes to trick his men out of their money; knowing that he has it, one of them presents a pistol at his head, with the proposition to pay or die–he pays.

“A boisterous desperado undertakes to ‘run the town,’ runs against some quiet little man, who kills him in his disgust at the cowardice of the famed bullies and toughs of the camp.

“The people were not afraid of, or prejudiced against the professional gambler and sharp, but they had no use for the mysterious midnight trickster or confidence men.”

George worked in the area for about a year and a half.  He contracted with another man, sawing 300 feet per day,  “to furnish timber and joice [sic] for $100 per thousand feet in the woods”  He contracted with another man to haul the timber. He worked two or three months in the mines for $6 per day, as a night watchman at the mill for $7 per day and experienced the conditions as the promised riches melted away and the biggest money-making business was selling shares to the unsuspecting speculators back east, then “going bust” and keeping all the invested money.  The work of the tricksters and confidence men, most of whom he believed to be Masons, was what the people despised.

Companies were in debt., agents skipped out and George found himself being owed about a thousand dollars.  Despite attempts for several years, he never collected and in 1870 “…I concluded to now make an extensive, general prospecting tour through the wild mountain ranges to the north…[and] would terminate my travels at Puget Sound…”.

For the next seven months France’s travels took him to mining districts in Nevada, Idaho and Montana; to the Owyhee, Upper Snake and Salmon river regions, through mountains covered with snow and July heat in the valleys.  He hunted and fished the area around, “two great falls of Snake River, 175 and 260 feet fall [sic]…”, Shoshone Falls. Shoshone falls idaho blogOften meeting other adventurers, miners, travelers and the like, he heard that times were good in Washington Territory and “…horses were cheap in Walla Walla”.  He decided to go there, earn some money and buy as many horses as he could, and build up a herd to work with when construction of the Northern Pacific railroad began.

Leaving Fort Owens, in the Bitter-Root valley of Montana he and a companion struck out along the Lo Lo Indian trail for Lewiston, where he arrived in mid September, 1870, then crossed the river into Washington Territory, eventually building a home at the head of Alpowa Creek in Columbia County.  He was in Dayton WA, on the Tou Chet, (Too she), stream and near there he hired on with a farmer at $35 per month noting this to be the only good farming country he had seen since leaving Eastern Nebraska.  He worked a threshing machine for a couple of weeks, then filled the rest of his tenure hauling timber and rails from the mountain to the farm.

After his two months with the farmer, he found a demand for rails and clap boards, or shingles.  Although men already engaged in that endeavor told him there was little money to be made, he bought himself an outfit and went to work, trading his products for stock–mostly horses.  He spent the following ten months at this job. He notes, “…though not very rugged, and unable to do as much hard work as other men, I made 8000 rails and 55,000 clap boards, which was more than was done by any other man about me or whom I knew of”. making clap boards blogThis display of industry brought him to the end of his ten months owning $800 worth of horses and other property.  In addition to his work, he bought a land claim on the prairie fourteen miles away and built  a twelve by fourteen lumber cabin on it. This he sold for a hundred-dollar mule and $50.

Liberty Cabin blog

A cabin of the type France might have built.

In 1871 George learned that his father’s manufacturing business had burned down and his mother had died.  He decided he had reached a point in his life when he would settle down, “and finding here apparently as favorable an opportunity to settle down and prosper…I concluded to remain, get married, make as good a home as I was able…and grow up with the country”.

George Washington France married Effie Mariah Cammack Sept. 18, 1871 and set about doing just that.

I have yet to learn how he and Effie met.  If anyone reads this who has information to fill in the gaps I would ask you to please tell me what you can about the France’s. I know a little about Effie–her mother was married to John Cammack from March to August of 1853, Effie being born December 27, 1853, in Bloomfield, Davis, Iowa. Her mother married her step father, Walter Parks,on January 10th, 1864, in Walla Walla Washington.  Again, I would love to connect some dots here and would appreciate any help I can get.

Episode Two will deal with the establishment of the France homestead and settlement and the series of events which resulted in this hardworking, honest and industrious man spending seven years in Seatco Prison.  Stay with me.

The Search for the Story of George France

You know how you sometimes start a project and with each step you take you discover three more steps you need to take?  Such is the description of my quest for the story of George Washington France.  My search for information about Seatco prison has turned into a search for the story of Mr. France, his life, his family, his accomplishments and his survival, creating a mushroom cloud of needed information.

Bucoda for blog

I was able to obtain copies of the documents of his trial with the assistance of Colombia County Deputy Clerk, Jessica Attwood.  These added names to the verbal picture Mr. France created in his book and gave insight into the actual homicide for which he was tried, and ultimately convicted.  The year was 1879–everything was hand written–leaving me at the mercy of official penmanship.  One thing I noticed about the documents; all the witness statements were written in the same hand, so obviously dictated.  I found it perhaps telling that the statements of the witnesses for the prosecution seemed to be much more legible than those of the witness for the defence,

France Document1 for blog

Statement of main prosecution witness, Jay Lynch

and especially Mr. France’s.  Was the clerk just tired from taking all those statements, or was he just not particularly interested in what Mr. France had to say?

France Document 2 for blog

George France’s statement

I am now working with the Garfield County Historical Society.  I want to know where the France “settlement” was, who lived there, besides Archie Haven, (the man France killed), and the witnesses in the case.  I know George was Married to Effie Mariah Cammack in 1871 and that they had four children, Clarence, Eva, Clyde and Ines, but I don’t know what became of them.  I know that Effie divorced George,  but I don’t know why and the date on the court documents is unreadable.  How long did she stand by him?  Was she able to keep the  property?  Where did the kids go?

I’ve learned that France leased property belonging to the Peola school from the government under a program that seems to have been on-again off-again and that this land led, in part, to his conflict with Archie Haven.  Also that George’s land had the only water supply in the area and that someone named Ellis built a sawmill nearby, even though there was no water to run it.  Comments made by George in a letter to Territorial Governor Eugene Semple seem to indicate that the owner of the mill and his henchmen purloined that water source, but the details are still out of my reach.

Another puzzle to be solved; the case started out with George France, Vasco De Lay and Bartlett Brooks as defendants but a short way into the court documents Mr. Brooks vanishes from that list, leaving only France and De Lay.  None of the documents indicate what action was taken with Mr. Brooks or why he became reus non grata–the unwanted defendant.

This started out as a search for information about conditions in Seatco Prison in Bucoda.  Despite his lengthy incarceration there, Mr. France is rather less prone to describing the day to day problems than I had hoped; yet there is enough there to tell a story.

So, no, I am  not neglecting my blog, I’ve just been slowed down by the amount of information I need and the time it takes to get it and build the story.  There is more to come on Bucoda and Seatco, on George ane Effie France and hopefully their children.  And when I’m through with the France’s, there is the story of inmate Sarah Seibert, convicted of adultery and bigamy.  So don’t go away, there’s some interesting stuff coming down the pike.

And don’t forget, you can see more of my photography at my Flickr acct.

George W. France and Seatco Prison at Bucoda: Preface

George W. FranceMr. France, who lived from 1865 to 1889, left us a record of his life in his book, The Struggles for Life and Home in the North-West: By a Pioneer Homebuilder.  Unfortunately, for him, he was compelled to spend numerous years of his life in “Hell on Earth” – the Seatco Prison.  His misfortune was to some degree our good fortune because it gives us a detailed view of what life was like in that institution.

Mr. France was arrested for murder.  He contended all his life that the arrest was part of a conspiracy by members of the secret Masonic society, which either included or controlled the government and judicial officials for their personal profit.  If his version of the story is true he was undoubtedly convicted unjustly and incarcerated for years.

On Nov. 25th, 1889, Congressman Thomas H., Brents wrote, “To Whom It May Concern:–”  a personal recommendation of Mr. France stating that he had been convicted of second degree murder but, “it is now generally believed that he committed the homicide in necessary self-defence and, is innocent of any crime whatever.”

An interesting aside here is that prison records list Mr. France as prisoner 53, convicted in Dayton, WA, and incarcerated in 1879 for the crime of Grand Larceny.

Born in New York, George left home during the last winter of the Civil War; 1984-65, and headed west.  I assume that he was too young to have fought in that war; he makes no mention of any military service.  He was bored, and wanted to, “…see and know more of the living, bustling, wild and wide world.”  He clarified that it was, “…not exactly to hunt buffalo and kill Indians on the plains, for killing was never sport to me…”.  His travels took him to the oil fields of Pennsylvania, across the country to Utah and California.  He drilled for oil, drove wagons, hauled freight, cut timber, farmed, and worked in mines.  In 1870 he arrived in the Washington Territory making his way through Lewiston, the Walla Walla area and finally to Dayton, where he spent some time working and building up a nest egg with which he bought a piece of property and built a cabin on it.  He sold the improved land and with his savings was finally able to obtain land for himself and his new wife somewhere between the Pataha and Alowa creeks in what is now Garfield County.

It was this land, which France worked and built upon until 1879, that led to his incarceration at Seatco.  He became the target of a claim jumper who he had allowed to build a cabin on a small part of his land.  The guest soon began a campaign to wrest France’s land from him.  In 1878 the situation escalated until the claim jumper came after France with a rifle, threatened to kill him and, in fact, shot at him.  A gun battle ensued during which France managed to place four chunks of lead in his assailant.  Wounds not withstanding, it took two men to wrestle the man’s rifle away from him, after which, “[Mr.] Jumper,” (not his name, merely referring to him as a claim jumper), “went to his house, boasted that ‘he had shot my companion as well as me,’ and in 12 hours died….”

In fact, although he had fired several shots, neither France or his friend were hit.

The GunfightMr. France dedicates much of his book to his belief that the courts, the government, and the judicial system were controlled by the secret brotherhood of the Masons. Unfortunately for him, his claim jumping neighbor was either one of the brotherhood or was used as a convenient tool in a protracted attempt to gain possession of the land he had put so much sweat into.

Now, while this appears to be a clear-cut case of self-defence, Mr. France was subsequently arrested, witnesses for his defense intimidated and a conviction for murder rendered. Thus began his years in Seatco prison, during which he was often told that his case would be reviewed and that he would undoubtedly be found innocent, but it would help of he would just sign over his land to the right people.

According to Mr. France, his trial was a mockery, he was prevented from subpoenaing witnesses–two of which were thrown in jail and threatened until they refused to testify–was denied knowledge or review of the jurors and “defended” by lawyers aligned with the corrupt judicial system.  Despite preparing his own motion for a new trial, his counsel advised the court that, “it would not be in their client’s interest to have a new trial.”

Convicted he was, and convicted he stayed, and the next years of his life were spent in Seatco Prison — Hell on Earth.

Lunch at Joe’s in Bucoda WA

As promised, I spent Wednesday taking a trip back to Bucoda, just so I could say I ate at Joe’s Place.   Well, that wasn’t the only reason, but I did have a top notch patty melt at that establishment.

Joe’s is unique, it has been owned and operated by the Wall family for the last 115 years.  Currently it is owned by Robert Sr., who drops in daily to make sure things are copacetic, and managed by his daughter-in-law, Judy.

Joe’s Bar
Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

The dining room is in front, with one table and several seats at the counter by the grill.   The remaining area is the bar and it resembles many, time-worn, small town bars throughout the west.

Wanna play pool?
Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

When I walked in at about 12:30, there were two or three guys at the bar who appeared to be regulars.  Of course, in a town this size most anyone there would be a regular.  One in particular appeared to be stationed there for the day; newspaper, bag of candy…even brought his own fly swatter.  A while later a man and what I believe were his sons sat up front and ordered Jumbo Joe Burgers.  Judging from the conversation I heard, these burgers have everything you can think of on them…twice.  A tall, shapely, blond woman with pigtails came in and sat at the counter, but she wasn’t there for the long haul and we were joined by a gentleman who, like myself, had been in town once before some time ago.

After the long drive on a hot day a beer was a must and Joe’s still carries Oly on tap.  Some of you may have been around when Olympia Beer was actually made here, in Olympia…well Tumwater to be absolutely accurate.  Joe’s has perhaps the oldest continuous acct. with the company having maintained their account with Olympia since 1898, even after Pabst took over and moved it away in 1984.

Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

Jean was running the place while I was there, “Mean Jean,” to kids who come in and shoplift.  She ran a mean grill, and, was helpful with some historical insight – she knows a little about the place, she’s been working there for 25 years.   She told me that she’s 80, but I’m not buying it.

The original building that housed the restaurant burned down in 1930, but the original bar was saved. This would be the same bar Joe Wall died behind as he worked.

As per regulations that followed, the current building is concrete.  The pool table shows the wear of many a game, the many fans around the room tell the story of hot days with no air conditioning and the pictures on the wall tell the story of the Joe’s and a bit about Bucoda.

If you’re looking for a spotless new tavern with sparkly everything, don’t bother stopping in, but if you’re passing by with a dry throat or a belly full of hungry, and you want the feel of history around you while you take care of all that, stop in and have a bite and a brew.  I’d recommend the Oly…and leave Jean a good tip.

After lunch, I spent some time driving around town, and it really doesn’t take that much time to drive around town.  Most obvious are the improvements that have been made to the Odd Fellows Hall—now the community center—since I was there four years ago.  Nice to see.

Now the Bucoda Community Center Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

community center side for blog

Looking good!
Copyright – Optical Reflex/ray Elliott

Following Jeans directions, I found the site of the infamous Seatco Prison, now commemorated only by a stone monument and bronze plaque.  I’ve also discovered that I’ve been pronouncing it wrong; it’s not “seat-ko,” it’s “se-AT-ko.”

The mills, the manufacturing, logging, mining—all gone; but the town goes on.

1940 GMC Flatbed at rest
Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

I leave you with a photo of an old-timer from town; I believe this is a 1940 GMC flatbed.  One that’s done some working.

For more of my photography, check out my photostream at Flickr.

Bucoda nee Seatco Intro. WA

I’m not nearly finished with Orting, but I felt the need to take a break and decided to do it with Bucoda.  When I first found the name I pondered over whether it was pronounced, Byou-ko-da, or Boo-ko-da. then someone sent me a note saying it was Buh-ko-da. Recently I found this at the Bucoda website, “During the Regular Town Council Meeting on September 10th The Town Council Adopted a Proclamation for the name BOO-CODA for the month of October.  Wherever possible, within and promotional item, BOO-CODA shall be the Town Name in order to create a branded identification for Bucoda, Washington.” So ends the cogitation on this subject.

Located between Centralia and Tenino on Hwy 507, along the Skookumchuck River in Thurston County, WA, it was named using the first two letters of the names of three of the founders of the city, James. M. Buckley, Samuel Coulter and John D. David.  Not the most imaginative method, but it worked.

Aaron Webster Arrived in 1854 and was the first settler at the site.  He established a small saw mill, Apparently also had a farm which he sold to Oliver Shead. The original name of the town was Seatco, and I’ve found two explanations of how it came to have that name. First, that the Indians gave it the Chinook name which meant, “ghost,” or “devil,” when they saw  Mr. Webster’s saw mill eating up the trees.

According to Indian legend, Seatco is the evil one; demon of the dark forest.  In the form of a large Indian, he robs traps, breaks canoes, steals food and goods and when bodies are found dead without explanation, their deaths are attributed to him.  In short, he is responsible for all unexplained bad things.  I think this explains how they felt about Mr. Webster’s saw mill.

The second. according to Neal Corcoran, one time mayor of the town, is that Oliver Shead chose that name and that it was probably a reflection of Shead’s personality.  More on Mr. Shead and why the name might apply later.

Probably the most documented piece of history relating to this little town is that it was the home of the first Washington Territorial prison.  Seatco prison deserves a whole post, or maybe two, all to itself.  For the moment I will merely say that it was called, ” Hell on earth,” and Mr. Shead figured prominently in its reputation.

Poured concrete Odd Fellows Hall, 2009
copyright-Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

Bucoda Odd Fellows Hall 2009
Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

I visited Bucoda in 2009 on a whim.  The main building, and the one that caught my eye, was what turned out to be the Odd Fellows Hall; unique in that it is a two-story, poured concrete building. Recently I read that there has been some renovation done to this building, one more thing to check out.

Officially incorporated as Bucoda on June 7th, 1910, this little town has a rich history in the coal, timber and railroad industries and as I further research and photograph it I will post more information about this.

According to an undated newspaper clipping, from an unidentified newspaper languishing in a file at the Tacoma Library, “In its heyday, Bucoda was a town of 400; saw mills, two coal mines, box factory, shingle mill, brickyard, door factory. Town consisted of 2 churches, 3 general stores, drug store, 2 barber shops, 2 pool halls, 5 saloons. Fir Tree Saloon, still standing in ’65, had been converted into a church. Had railroad passenger and freight station. Blacksmith shop. Seatco prison, 60×120 feet, two stories but had been converted to town hall and civic center. Became a liability in 1936 and was torn down.”

The other prominent structure on Main street is Joe’s Place, which advertises good food. Joe’s, it is said, has been in operation since the aforementioned heyday.  I didn’t get the chance to try the food, but I will be making the trip back soon.

Joe’s Place, Main St., Bucoda, WA
Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott

As I noted in my first post, not every photo will be on subject, and this one is a favorite of mine that I took a few miles up the road on this trip.  More on Bucoda at some future date.  Meanwhile, if you’d like to see more of my photography, visit my photostream at Flickr.

1948 Dodge Club Coupe at rest
Copyright – Optical Reflex/Ray Elliott