Monday, July 14, 2014

52 Ancestors - #28 George LeRoy Usher – An Uncle Found

I grew up not knowing that George LeRoy Usher even existed. He is an uncle found because of genealogy and family history research. I had always wondered what had happened to my grandfather Alva Tucker’s mother Georgianna after she left Lewis County, Washington in 1897 when he was just five years old. My mother was just four when her father died, but her grandmother visited a few times when she was a child and then they lost touch.

My cousin Chris is the one who actually found George – well, she found George’s daughter Shirley. Shirley had posted something on a genealogy message board and Chris contacted her. Shirley had gathered a lot of information on her side of Georgianna’s family and we happily traded the information that we had gotten. George sounds like quite a guy and it is too bad that our mothers did not ever get to meet their Uncle George. I do know that my Grand Aunt Calla had an entry in her address book dated May 1978 for a Mr. and Mrs. Roy Usher, but when she died in 1980 I didn’t know how they fit in. It turns out that she also knew him as Roy and not George. I got in touch with her just a year before she died but there were so many missed opportunities and missed conversations because you don’t know what to ask! I had started looking into the family history in 1975 just before I was married in November and was busy with a new family, new career and then two children of my own.

Georgianna Katherine Ragan Tucker and Franklin Harrison Usher were married by a Justice of the Peace on October 30, 1897 at Crescent City, Del Norte, California where they were living at the time. In April 1910 they are living on their own farm in Columbia County, Oregon. Annie and Frank’s youngest out of six children and the second son was George LeRoy Usher who was born on August 4, 1910 at Houlton, on the Yankton Road, Columbia, Oregon. He was named for Annie’s father George W. Ragan. Annie was 39 years old and George was her tenth child; Frank was 47 years old and George was also his tenth child. They each also had four sons during their first marriages. By the fall of 1915 when George LeRoy was five years old and his sister Clara was seven, Annie and Frank separated. They were living in Houlton at the time. George thought it was because Annie joined a church that frowned on divorced couples marrying and they had a big battle over it. Clara said that wasn’t the reason.

When George was six they moved to Columbia, Oregon for a few months. George started school at Columbia but that same year they moved to Kalama, Washington and he attended the old Cloverdale School located three miles out of Kalama. The following year they went to school in Kalama. In early February 1917 Georgianna got a job keeping house for a widower in Kalama, Claud Myers. Annie and the kids slept upstairs which was all open. Clara and George wore a lot of shoes and clothes handed down to their mother.

In May of 1919 Clara thinks that Claud Myers sold his ranch, so Annie got the notion to go to Southern Oregon. Annie left Clara (age 11) with some people who lived up the Kalama River and took George, age 8, with her to Aunt Ellie’s and Uncle Alf’s home (Annie’s sister-in-law and brother.)  The summer of 1919 Georgianna took a job at the Western Hotel on 6th Street in Grants Pass, Oregon as a cook. The kids stayed with Uncle Alf and Aunt Ellie outside of Selma, Oregon at the old Anderson Ranch and visited their mother but there wasn’t anything for them to do other than sit on the porch or walk on the hotel grounds or along the street.  Annie worked there a short time and then worked at some other jobs before taking Clara with her to Klamath Falls, Oregon while George stayed with Alf and Ellie. Clara and George (or Roy as he was called there) stayed at their Uncle Alf and Aunt Ellie’s house a lot. Their father Frank came to visit in the ‘off’ season pretty regularly.  

Right after George came to stay with Uncle Alf and Aunt Ellie, he was told to weed Aunt Ellie’s carrot patch. When he was done, there was not a carrot left! George and Clara would collect large mud turtles and put them in a tub of water at Alf and Ellie’s house. Sometimes the turtles would crawl out and head back to the creek. George also liked to catch trout in the creek. George was also given some new traps and his Uncle Bill (who also stayed with Alf off and on and was quite the Mountain Man) kept teasing him about the new traps. George warned him to stop or he would spring all of Bill’s traps. Finally, George got up at 4 a.m. and followed Bill’s trap line and sprang his traps.  He was just ahead of his Uncle Bill all morning and could hear the coyotes howling. Uncle Bill was so mad and he wanted Alf to punish George, but Alf just thought it was funny. Uncle Alf liked to hunt and taught George to hunt. George used Alf’s 25-20 until he was given a Stevens 22 rifle that he used to get his first deer with.

After a year or so Alf and Ellie moved to the Christy place (Alf’s sister and brother-in-law’s) at Deer Creek (they moved a lot because Alf couldn’t make a go of ranching.) They carried water from the creek until they cleaned out the well which was 85 feet deep. They used a pulley and bucket to haul the water up out of the well since there was no crank. This was George’s job.

Around 1924 Uncle Alf moved to Draper Creek onto the old Herman Ranch northeast of Selma. George was now 14 and had finished the 8th grade and was done with school. He went to work in Lou Krouse’s mill. The first year he loaded lumber onto jacks in the yard so the trucks could get under them. He was paid $2 a day for a 10-hour day. The next year George was promoted to the saw mill running the slab car and was paid $3.50 a day for a 10.5 hour day.

In 1926 Uncle Alf gave up on ranching and decided to work for wages. He and George moved to Kirk outside of Klamath Falls where they worked for the Christy boys (George’s cousins) in a mill there. They lived in a box house which was framed only on four corners. The boards were nailed vertically side by side with a narrower board over the crack between the boards. It had a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms off to the side, no upstairs, and a wood shed attached. A tin heating stove was in the living room and a wood cook stove was in the kitchen. The water had to be carried 1/8 of a mile from a tank which supplied several houses. When they moved to Klamath Falls, George started smoking cigarettes in an effort to avoid the mosquitos. This habit proved too difficult to break after he reached retirement age.

George had asked his dad Frank if he could live with him. Frank told him he could when he turned 18. On March 22, 1928, George’s father Frank died due to endocarditis while crossing a street at the intersection of 82nd and Sunnyside Road in the Portland area. That August when George turned 18 he instead joined the National Guard and served for two years in Klamath Falls, Oregon. After he got out he worked for Lew Hammer, his sister Clara’s husband, driving truck for the Selma Store making deliveries of mail, groceries and freight to the local gold miners. Later George drove logging truck for the Herman’s mill at Deer Creek for a couple of years until the mill burnt down. George then went back to Klamath Falls where he drove a lumber truck for Shaw and Bertram Lumber Company.

George married Ruby Evelyn May Smith in October of 1931 but divorced in Klamath Falls after a few months and George would not speak of her.

George’s older brother, Sidney Usher, was in the Coast Guard and had been transferred to the USCG Pulaski to be part of the crew to bring the ship around from the East Coast to Coos Bay, Oregon. When Sidney was later stationed on the Pulaski at Coos Bay, he told George, “Why don’t you make something of yourself and join the Coast Guard.” George tried to join when he was about 23 years old but they didn’t have any openings.  He then went into the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, for about six months. The CCC was working with the Forest Service at Loon Lake, Oregon and George drove truck. The Forest Service wanted him to go into forestry, but George preferred the Coast Guard.
George enlisted in the Coast Guard at the Coos Head station on January 13, 1935 at the age of 24. When he enlisted he was told he would get his birthday off each year because it was the Coast Guard’s birthday also. It only happened once because he was always too busy. George got one of the only two openings that were available along the whole West Coast. They were in the Life Saving Division in Charleston, Oregon. George was not sent to a “boot” type training camp. He learned from the regulars and immediately stood watch at the Charleston lookout tower. They worked a rotating four-hour watch – noon to four the first day, then four to eight the second day, etc. They were on duty for nine days and then got a 24 hour liberty if they could spare you. When not on watch at the tower, they did maintenance work at the station and took turns doing the cooking.

George liked to play practical jokes and once when it was his turn to cook he took advantage of it. The table was always set early with the plates placed upside down to keep the dust off. The crew was cleaning out the septic tank that day. When the crew came in to eat, they turned over their plates they found them smeared with yellow stuff that looked like the septic mess. George had smeared the plates with mustard, but one of the guys had a weak stomach and couldn’t eat. In addition to pranks, George loved to tell stories. One day he and another guy were telling tall tales about cougars and the like up around the lookout tower to a new guy. When the new guy was on watch that night at the lookout tower they took a box and made slits in it, cover the slits with green paper and then put a flashlight inside the box.  They then tied a line to the box. As the new guy was coming off the lookout they started pulling that line right towards him. The new guy took off running and didn’t even stop at the station.

They drilled on 26 foot, ten man crew pulling boats in preparation for rescues. They also drilled on 36 foot motor boats which were designed to right themselves if it turned over. In addition, they drilled going through the surf and had capsize drills where the skipper would capsize the boat on the men so they would know how to handle any condition.

They had to haul their supplies including wood for the wood stove to the lookout tower. They could drive from the station to the swinging bridge and then carry the supplies across and then follow a boardwalk a quarter of a mile to the tower. About every two days they had to pack a recharged 100 pound battery which was three feet long and two feet wide and one and a half feet tall up to the tower and take the old one back for charging. This was a two man job. After a while George was tired of lugging the battery. One day the man on duty at the tower heard some noise and looked out and saw the brush was jumping around. Pretty soon George drove up in his 1926 Roadster Model T Ford. That night everyone was talking about it at the station and the next morning everyone grabbed axes, picks, grub hoes, brush cutters or any kind of tool they could get their hands on and headed up to where George had crashed his road through the brush. They cleared out the road by hand right where he had driven. The road was not graveled until much later. That is where the road remained until 1980 when they finally straightened out the curves where George was dodging trees, logs and any other obstacles he could not drive through. At one point the road even came quite close to the edge of the cliff.

The men were not supposed to allow civilians up in the lookout tower, but everyone did. Fishermen liked to come up and watch the bar. Soon after the men had brushed out the road, Charlotte Eickworth came up to the lookout tower looking for a friend’s boyfriend. She looked through the window and saw him yawning and stretching so she tapped on the window. George jumped and turned around, and then Charlotte realized it was someone else so she turned and ran down the stairs.  George came out on the porch around the tower and called to her asking what she wanted and that she was not supposed to be there.  She explained who she was looking for and that her friend and her sister were supposed to be going home with her.  George called the station and found out that the boyfriend had gotten special permission to take the girls home. George then asked Charlotte her name and asked if he could call her. She said, “Yes, if you want to.” He did. Early. She asked him if he knew it was 6 a.m. in the morning. He did, “I was up so you need to be up.” (This would have probably ended the relationship for me!) Later she was at the beach with friends and went to see him and he asked her out on a date. One evening he called her and asked her to go out with him that night. She told him she already had a date, and his reply was that she was going out with him anyway and that he would pick her up at 7:30. She broke her date, and spent the rest of her life with George. While they were dating, Charlotte would usually go to the station to visit him because he didn’t get very much time off.

On one of their dates they went to the movies at the theater in North Bend. Charlotte fell in love with his laugh as he hee-hawed at the antics of Laurel and Hardy. Later after he came back from the war in the South Pacific, he never laughed out loud again. The most he did was chuckle a little softly, but usually he would just smile.

On June 26, 1937 George LeRoy Usher married Charlotte Elfrieda Eickworth who had been born on November 10, 1914 in Coos River, Oregon.  They had a double wedding with her oldest sister Blanche, and Blanche’s groom, Jack Whiteman, at the family home in Empire, Oregon. George and Charlotte honeymooned as they traveled to Astoria, Oregon which was George’s next duty station and where he was immediately shipping out on board the USCG Tinguard for a month. They hadn’t been on the road for long when George pulled over. He handed Charlotte his wallet and told her.  “You’re the bookkeeper (she had been bookkeeper and secretary at the Hub in Marshfield now Coos Bay), so you take care of this.”  He was wise to realize his shortcomings and her strengths. Through her careful managing, she soon had his debts paid off (his wedding suit and the rings) and made the money stretch to cover the necessities, some traveling, some luxuries and a comfortable retirement. She also made sure the money was always there for them to go deer hunting and later elk hunting every year until his death.

George also served aboard the USCG Onodaga in Astoria, Oregon. They traveled all over as he assumed new duties with the Coast Guard. They had three children, a daughter Charlotte who only lived five days, a daughter Shirley, and then a son Sidney. He then went to the Bay Area to serve on the USCG Pulaski where his elder brother Sidney Austin Usher was chief engineer. George then served on the Haida and the Namaha in Alaska and then aboard the Morris back in Coos Bay just as World War II started. He was then assigned to an Army ship in the South Pacific, and then spent some time at shipbuilding at the military base at San Pedro near Los Angeles. After the war he served in Bandon, Oregon and aboard the Bluebelle in Vancouver, Washington. Then in 1946 he served aboard the Citrus and then was assigned as a buoy tender in Alaska. This was followed by another tour of duty in Astoria aboard the Pawpaw and the Balsam at the end of his Coast Guard career. Most of his years of service were as an engineman chief which is what he retired as. After his retirement from the Coast Guard, he went to work for Sause Brothers Ocean Towing Company until he permanently retired in 1972.

In 1985, George and Charlotte went to their son Sid’s house outside of North Bend for Christmas. George LeRoy Usher died December 27, 1985 at age 75 at the Veterans Hospital in Roseburg, Oregon from the effects of 57 years of smoking which had destroyed the elasticity of his lungs. He was buried at Hawthorne Memorial Gardens in Grants Pass, Oregon on January 3, 1986. Charlotte died from complications due to Alzheimer’s on March 8, 1999. 

As I said earlier – missed opportunities and missed conversations – I wished that my mother and I had gotten a chance to know our Uncle George and Aunt Charlotte. I would like to give a special thank you to Cousin Shirley for all of her information and for giving me the chance to know her parents. Also, thank you Cousin Chris for making this possible.

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