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.

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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