April 30, 2021

SURPRISING CONNECTION TO LOGGERS IN THE BLACK HILLS

Unearthing family mysteries was fascinating!  In doing the required genealogical research to settle my cousin Juanita’s estate, we needed to survey her father’s large family.  I knew very little about Uncle Richard Underwood’s siblings but almost miraculously old photos and letters surfaced in all the years of clutter and dust throughout their Atlanta home.

There were six large black and white photos mounted on cardboard and embossed by a photography studio in Olympia Washington.  They all were associated with the Pacific Northwest logging industry. In an envelope with the photographs was a letter dated June 17, 1927, to Uncle Richard from Jesse T. Mills, a funeral director in Olympia, Washington. Jack Underwood, a brother, had died there ten days earlier and Uncle Richard had written the funeral director to get more details.

Mr. Mills said the Ray Wallace Log Company on Mud Bay had closed the logging camp where Jack lived and worked for repairs. Jack had walked to another camp down the beach to visit some men he knew.  He stayed for supper with them and left to walk back to his camp.  The next morning his coworkers found he’d not returned and began a search.  They traced his path to the other camp and found his body lying face down on the beach.  There had been a severe thunderstorm the night before and at first they thought he’d been struck by lightning. This wasn’t substantiated and there was no sign of violence.  It was concluded he’d died of heart failure.

Jack was 53 years old and had gone west some years earlier.  He’d been working as a timber faller or lumberjack in the Black Hills near Olympia, Washington. The work was physically very demanding and also very hazardous. Workers often had to deal with heavy snowfall or forest fires.  Many were young, single immigrants.

His boss at the logging company told the funeral director Jack had about $250 in wages coming to him but it couldn’t be paid until the logs were sold. The other loggers made arrangements for Jack’s funeral on Sunday, June 12, and a Methodist minister officiated. He was buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Some of his friends from the logging camps attended the service and served as pallbearers.

Such a hard life—so far away from his family. The funeral director’s final paragraph is heartbreaking:

“We found no personal effects. His suit was not good so we got him another for burial. All he had was his pocket knife and a cheap Ingersoll (dollar) watch. If you wish these articles we will be glad to send them if you will advise.” I wonder if he sent for the pocket knife and watch. All he had in the world.

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