Thursday, April 14, 2016

George Fawkner dies alone in California

George Fawkner, born two months after his father's death in Hendricks County, Indiana, served in Kentucky and Indiana regiments in the Civil War, opened a harness-making business after the war, had a couple of deputy sheriff gigs in Douglas County, Illinois, and back in Indianapolis, before landing in St. Paul and Minneapolis, where he tried out a variety of jobs, including an appointment as U.S. Inspector of Surveys.

He disappeared from St. Paul and Minneapolis censuses and directories after 1895. Where did he go? And why? First, a brief notice in the San Francisco Call noted the death of George S. Fawkner in the city. The news traveled back to Indiana where a short obituary described him as "a native of this county, well known in this community." George was on his way to visit his daughter, but had taken ill in San Francisco and died after surgery for appendicitis. The obituary added: "His wife was in the east preparing to start to join him." (Danville Republican, 2 September 1897, p. 8).

Where was the daughter? Which daughter? That part of the story must wait for next week's blog. The immediate question was: Why was George in the west without his wife? He was indeed in the west. George had taken up a new trade in Portland, Oregon, where city directories for 1896 and 1897 listed his as a grocer at 21 Park St. N.

Why Portland? Why by himself? The rest of the story comes from his Civil War pension file, which includes his wife's application for a widow's pension. The file includes the 19 June 1897 Western Union telegram, received at Minneapolis announcing George's death: "Your husband died at StLukes hospital last night. Remains by his request shipped to H C Baden Ontario California."

Set aside for now the question of why (and how) George directed his remains to H C Baden in Ontario (east of Los Angelese) -- that is part of next week's story. Note that it took some six weeks for the news to reach the Danville Republican. It's not clear how soon she arrived in San Francisco, but when there, Mary Fawkner telephoned St. Luke's hospital for more details. She was told no such person as George Fawkner had died there.

This, of course, was a problem for a widow claiming a widow's pension. The attorney assisting with her application pressed for legal proof of death. On June 1898 -- a year after the death -- Mary, now living in Los Angeles, received a letter from the San Francisco Board of Health stating that "Geo S. Fawkner died of strangulation of the intestines, and a certified copy of death will cost you $1.80." In a note to Mary, her attorney said, "This shows Ed Godchaux, the Board of Health Secretary, was derelict of his official duty."

Oddly enough, a 23 July 1898 letter from the County Recorder declared that his office was unable to find a death record for George Fawkner, and the the hospital still claimed no one of that name had died there. It remains unclear why the Board of Health could document the death in June, but the County Recorder could not in July.  Both the Board of Health and County Recorders letters were stamped received by the Pension Office 4 August 1898.

In any event, Mary received her pension. Other documents tell more about why George S. Fawkner was on the West Coast -- next week.

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