1917 the family mystery... January 12th 2016 I solved it … almost 99 years…solved the mystery.
The story came from my Grandmother’s family, she was one of 8 children, all born in San Francisco from 1898-1914. When I grew up I was fortunate to know most of them. One of my uncles, Lee, wrote down the family birth and wedding dates…and the death date of their brother Robert H. Edwards. He was born June 1, 1900, and family record says he died September 16, 1917.
I asked my mother if she knew the story, she told me a couple of times, “he drowned in the river while fishing or he ran off to join the army,” well turns out the truth of it is right there. . . we just have to look.
Over my years of genealogy research I’d looked from time to time for a “military” record for someone of that name or age, as well as a death record. No luck. Genealogy records come online digitally all the time, new, updated records.
Just over 3 years ago, January 2016, I looked again, quick search of “Robert Edwards” death age 17 in about 1917. Up popped a “new” record match I’d never seen, it was from Butte County, and stated:
Butte County death records hadn’t been online when I’d looked some years ago, and here it was, Robert Edwards, age about 17, the date of death matched what I had, but the mystery, the date the death record was signed off by the coroner.
Local Registrar No. 38
RR Dist. #45 2
Town of Cresta
Rural Oroville, Station on W.P.R.R.
Full Name – Robert Edwards Male White Single Age about 17
Date of Death September 16th 1917
Probably cause of death drowning in Feather River.
Accepted on order No. 35, July 13 State Registrar
Signed Wm. Johnson (Coroner) May 11th 1918, Butte County Embalmer #102
I was floored, could this be? Not a lot of information. I searched some newspaper archives but couldn’t located anything. Thus I’d take a little road trip to Oroville. Time to find the public library, check some newspapers and visit the local funeral home. Turns out the funeral home had been in business well over 100 years. Off I went to Oroville. I took the print out of the death record and hit the library first. I found on microfilm, exactly what I was looking for. . . the first article summed it up…
BRINGS DETAILS OF ROCK CREEK ACCIDENT
Belief in Canyon Is That Two Western Pacific Employees Were Drowned
That all evidenced pointed to the fact that John Casey and Robert Edwards, employees of the Western Pacific, had lost their lives in the water of the Feather River near Rock Creek, was the report brought from that place yesterday by Mrs. Maynard, at whose resort the young men were staying. The first particulars of the accident were brought to Oroville yesterday by Mrs. Maynard.
Mrs. Maynard states that the young men who had never attempted to cross the river in a boat alone, Mr. Maynard always ferrying them across. On the day of the accident, however, they started to cross alone. No one saw them after they left on the fishing trip. The boat badly battered was found some distance down the stream.
I took this printout and the death certificate copy to the local funeral home. She checked their records and said they didn’t have anything for his name nor time frame. She said if a “body” wasn’t found they wouldn’t have had the record, the coroner would issue a death certificate and that was the only record.
Fast forward 3 years to January 2019, I once again logged in to a newspaper repository, to which I have a membership. I searched generically for Robert Edwards 1917-1918 and hit pay dirt. I found the local newspapers from Plumas County, for the towns of Plumas & Quincy. This county is adjacent to Butte County. I found the same newspaper account of the “missing” boys and then found “the rest of the story.”
1917-09-27 Feather River Bulletin Quincy Plumas CA & 1917-09-26 ALSO San Francisco Examiner transcribed herein:
Abandon Hope of Finding Two Men
Western Pacific Officials Believe John J. Casey and Robert Edwards Were Drowned in North Fork
San Francisco, September 26 – All efforts on the part of Western Pacific officials to find some trace of John J. Casey, private secretary of C.M. Levey, and Robert Edwards, clerk of the passenger department, who have been missing since last week ago last Sunday, proved fruitless. Both youths are believed to have lost their lives in the Feather River near Belden, while fishing.
Casey who was about twenty years of age, lived with his mother and brother at 1424 Sanchez Street. Edwards, who was about 18, was a son of Mr. and Mrs. H.T. Edwards and lived at 3766 Twenty-Second Street.
Casey was on his vacation and Edwards, and expert fisherman, went to Rock Creek to be over Sunday to join him in a fishing trip along the river.
After leaving the station the boys went to the river and took a boat, intending to scull across the stream.
The single ore (sic) was found broken about 200 yards below where they were supposed to have been lost. The boat was found later, three miles down the river, closely wedge among the rocks out from shore.
At the direction of President Levey and of Bodie K. Smith of the Passenger department, section men employed by the company have made a thorough search of both banks of the river as far as the intake of the Great Western Power Company, fifteen miles downstream. Not the slightest trace of either boy could be discovered, nor could the straw hat which Casey wore when last seen be located. Several pools were dynamited to no purpose.
The woods in the vicinity have ben (sic) thoroughly searched, with equally fruitless results. President Levey said last night that the company proposed to continue the search.
Casey’s relatives last night denied a report from Los Angeles friends that the missing boy had been seen in San Francisco at the Ferry building last Monday. President Levey added his belief that Casey had no reason to absent himself. While not saying directly, it is apparent the boys will next be heard from when the river gives up the bodies.
So these two boys had been seen taking the boat from the local resort where they’d been staying and their employers sent out the search parties. The family story said “drowned while fishing” … so did the newspapers. Wow, I was just so blown away by the information and detail, putting the story together, it all fits.
I looked a bit more and then found the rest of the story, as the late newspaper man, Paul Harvey used to say…
The Oroville Daily Register: Saturday May 11th 1918 Evidence of Drowning Found
The first conclusive evidence that two employees of the Western Pacific of San Francisco lost their lives by drowning in the Feather River near Cresta has been obtained. The men disappeared last summer, but in spite of the fact the river was searched and nothing was found of their bodies, nor of the boat in which they started across the river. Word was brought to Oroville yesterday that a human foot encased in a canvas shoe, and a portion of a green painted boat had been found by an Indian boy. The foot and a piece of board were found about five miles downstream from the place where the two men were last seen.
FATE OF ROBT. EDWARDS IS AT LAST VERIFIED
1918-05-16 Feather River Bulletin Quincy Plumas CA
Mysterious Disappearance of Robert Edwards and John Casey is Accounted for After Seven Months.
Western Pacific section men last Sunday found near Cresta, in the waters of the North Fork of Feather River, the right leg of a man, and on the bank nearby was the backbone of a human being, possibly belonging to the same. Investigation proves conclusively that this was the remains of Robert Edwards, who disappeared with a companion, John J. Casey the 16th of last September, while out fishing near Belden, in a boat.
The last seen of the two men was when they took a boat intending to scull across the stream. The single oar they were using was found after their disappearance about 200 yards below where they were have supposed to have been lost. The splintered boat was found later, three miles down the river, closely wedged among the rocks out from short.
At the direction of President Levey, President of the Western Pacific and Bodie K. Smith of the passenger department, section men employed by the company made a thorough search of the river as far as the intake of the Great Western Power Company, fifteen miles down the stream; not the slightest trace of either boy could be discovered. Several pools were dynamited to no purpose. A report was current sometime after the catastrophe that Casey had been seen in San Francisco wearing a soldier’s uniform, but this was denied, and President Levey said Casey (who was his private secretary) had no reason to absent himself, and that the boys would next be heard from when the river would give up the bodies.
So far no trace of Casey has been discovered. The identification of the dismembered leg was accomplished noting the shoe was like that worn by Edwards, a canvas one with red rubber heel. Robert Edwards was the son of Mrs. H.T. Edwards of San Francisco, and was a clerk of the passenger department of Western Pacific. He was about 18 years of age.
There we have it, the story was correct. As a historian I love the details, the search and the treasures I find…as a mother it’s agonizing to think of losing your son, not knowing for sure for 7 months, and then they found “him,” or rather pieces of him. I called back the woman at the mortuary, she remembered I’d been there a few years earlier, told her what I’d read and she said the coroner’s office would’ve most likely disposed of the remains, once they’d identified the victim.
I do have to share one more tidbit about this family, 4 of the 8 children are born in March. My grandmother and her brother Al, “Uncle Buckie” had their days mixed up for years, not sure which even brought them to the correct dates but they untangled things…. But when I look at the note Uncle Lee wrote out with names and dates, and then I looked at the 1900 census, he has Robert as being born in 1900 and Harry in 1901. However the 1900 census shows the two parents & the children listed as George & Harry. So looks like Uncle Lee’s note isn’t correct. Our great-grandmother had 8 children four of them in March and 3 of the 4 were 26, 27 &29th of March, easy to understand all of their confusion!
1 – Dorothy Alice Edwards Graham 1925 2 – Ruth Elinor Edwards Jurgens abt 1929 3 – Left to right, Janice Koch Peloquin, Eddie & Al Koch, Mary Eloise Edwards Koch, Virginia & Lee Edwards abt 1954 4 – Edwards Family about 1924 Standing L to R George Cyril Edwards & Ellen Hult Edwards, Harry Francis Edwards, Dorothy Alice Edwards, guest, Henry “Harry” Thomas Edwards, seated L to R Guest, guest, Rose Regina Meany Edwards, Guest - I believe but not verified some of the guests are Meany relatives and possibly Grahams. I’ve another photograph to compare and sort this out. 5 – Ruth Edwards, Eddie Graham, Rose Edwards & Mary Edwards about 1927 6 – Mary Edwards Koch about 1948 7 – Harry Edwards about 1922 8 – Alan Edwards about 1941 “Uncle Buckie” 9 – Dorothy Edward Graham, Ruth Edwards Jurgens, Mary Edwards Koch about 1955 10 – Mary Edwards & Ruth Edwards about 1927 11 – Wedding party of Dorothy Edwards & Edward Graham June 29th 1925 I’ll name those I can herein, left to right, unknown female, Ellen Hult Edwards, unknown female, Tom Graham (Ed’s brother) unknown female, Dorothy the bride, Edward the groom, Ruth Edwards, Mary Edwards, unknown Female, standing in the back, George Edwards Sr. Leo Edwards, unknown female can’t see her face, unknown man with the hat.