Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Case of George -- Wanderlust or Health Tourism?

Even though San Francisco officials had trouble confirming it, George S. Fawkner did die in the city in 1897 (see 14 April 2016 post). His body was shipped to Ontario, California, where he was buried in Bellevue Memorial Park cemetery. You can see photos of two gravemarkers at (memorial no. 20,877,969). A second marker, possibly placed by the Grand Army of the Republic, identifies him as a veteran of Co. H of the 7th Indiana Infantry.

In a future post (next week?), I will explain why George is buried in Ontario, east of Los Angeles. This post takes up the question of why he was on the West Coast at all. As mentioned last week, George was in the grocery business in Portland, Oregon, for a year or two, before traveling south to California. His wife, Mary, was back in Minneapolis during this time.

George had traveled widely in the West as U.S. Inspector of Surveys. Mary must have been used to his travels. It is not known how she took George's death, but she certainly wanted her due from his Civil War pension. Her statements to the Pension Board give at least one version of George's travels.

In an affidavit given 3 October 1898, Herbert and Faribelle Braden (George's daughter) stated that George and Mary "were never divorced and except for soldier absence on business they lived together as husband and wife up to the date of George S Fawkner's death."

In a letter to her attorney in March 1899, Mary explained George's West Coast sojourn.

Previous to my husband's death we lived in Minneapolis for two years. previous to his death he was not able to stand the cold winters in that state and he was compelled to change climate and he had been in Oregon [lightly crossed-out] away from home for over eight months he found Oregon was not a benefit to him, so on April 20th 1897 or near that time he left that State for Cal. going to San Francisco by water, took a sever [sic] cold which settled through his whole body...

Mary Fawkner Inability Affidavit, 16 May 1899; G. S. Fawkner Civil War pension file

She added that George had found changing climates was better than medication, but admitted that he did take "Patent Medicines" [her quotation marks]. In May, Mary filed an inability affidavit in which she stated that, while in Portland, he made several trips to Vancouver, British Columbia. Why, she did not say.

A more detailed reading of the pension file leaves no doubt that George S. Fawkner was seriously injured in a battle at Strasbourg, Virginia, and that he probably did have trouble with physical labor. Yet, he worked in several jobs, made political connections, and traveled extensively while Inspector of Surveys. He no doubt did hope that Oregon would be good for his health, but he may have suffered from a bit of wanderlust, as well.

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