Biography: The Wakeman’s

The Wakeman Family by Edith Wakeman Jones (1975)

Wakeman is an English name which has been traced back to the Norman Conquest in 1066. It was originally to words, “wake” and “man.” A wake man had the task of keeping watch over the clan and alerting them if danger was near.

The Wakeman name came to America in the 1630’s and settled in Connecticut. In 1805, our line moved to the Western Reserve in the northeastern part of Ohio where they traded their Revolutionary script for land.

James Frank Wakeman was born in Athens County, Ohio, on July 28, 1847. He lost two brothers in the Civil War. Seth was killed at the battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861. Jarus was killed at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, November 23, 1863. When Grandfather was seventeen, he enlisted in the Union Army in another man’s place for the one hundred dollars bounty. He served nine months and was mustered out on June 28, 1865. He married Mary Elizabeth Dolen on October 30, 1866. They moved to Wisconsin, east of LaCrosse and near Bloomington, where my father, Charles LeRoy Wakeman, was born on August 15, 1867.


In 1875 the family left Wisconsin and came to Oregon. They traveled by train to San Francisco, by boat to Tacoma, and then by train to Roseburg. Since is was impossible to make the trip through to the Rogue River that fall, they stayed through the winter in Camas Valley. In the spring they made the trip by horseback and pack train. Charles was nine years old. They first saw the Rogue River at the Bagnell Ferry in April, 1876, and stayed with the Gillespie family until they found a place of their own.

They settled on a farm opposite the Canfield place and east of Jim Hunt Creek, where they developed an extensive farm on the fertile river bottom land. Grandfather planted a large orchard and raised vegetables which he sold to the residents of Ellensburg.

Grandfather and Charles fished the river with drift and set nets. The top price for salmon at that time was twenty cents a piece. The Wakemans built the first pole boat on the river and helped build the Mary D. Hume.

In February, 1890, an early rainstorm melted the heavy snowfall and the resulting flood completely destroyed their farm. All the buildings were washed to sea and the fertile lands eroded away, leaving only the gravel bars as they are today. For many years there was a shallow riffle where the house had stood. It was known as Wakeman Riffle. The last few floods have changed the river and the channel has been bulldozed, so the riffle is not now as discernable.

After the flood, Grandfather sold the property to the Alaska Packers Association operated by Captain Schwartz. It was the only lower river frontage not owned by R. D. Hume.

The Wakemans bought the Phillips place and sawmill on euchre Creek. The mill was operated by water power, and Grandfather installed the first planer in the area. Father and son operated the mill for seven or eight years and some of the older homes in the community were built with Wakeman lumber. In the mill ledger we read that in 1897 wages were one dollar a day; wages for logging were a dollar and a half; that Sing, a Chinese man, paid his bill with gold dust; and that produce was taken in exchange for lumber or in payment of a bill.

Father and son also worked for the S. H. frank Tannery at Frankport which developed storing facilities and a dock north of Euchre Creek at the Three Sisters for shipping of tan oak bark to San Francisco.

In 1898, John R. Miller and Charles operated a general merchandise store in Port Orford. Charles served as postmaster for Port Orford for the year 1898. He married Nancy e. Burrow on November 21, 1898, and they raised a family of five children.

In 1900, James Wakeman sold his mill on euchre Creek to Eugene Fish and purchased the celebrated Hentley and Phelps place and mine which he improved rapidly. This patented mine was located just south of Geisel Park and is now known as the John C. Miller place.

Early in the same year, Charles bought the 450 acres now known as Nesika Beach. Charles mined the beach in the sinter. His inventive mind helped him solve the problem of recovering the gold in the tailings and reclaiming the platinum as well. The amalgamated lumps were sent to Selby Smelting and Lead Company in San Francisco. According to the receipts, in June, 1904, his total was $550.51; in 1905, $715.55; in 1908, the last year he mined, $404.46. He saved the platinum and kept it until there was a market for it in the 1930’s.

In the summer, Charles did carpentry and built many of the homes in the area. In 1902, he built the M. Doyle house at a cost of $1,200.00. The lumber was hauled from the Euchre Creek mill, then operated by Eugene Fish. Grandfather Wakeman died in October, 1902. An extensive transaction was carried on by the heirs with the U. S. Land Bureau in Roseburg to clear the title so the property could be sold. After the sale of the property, Charles built a house for his mother in Gold Beach in 1907. She lived there until her death in 1920.

Charles and his family moved to Wedderburn in 1909, and he worked at Burbett’s Mill. He rowed up the river, climber the hill and worked for ten hours for two dollars a day. Mother was postmistress and the post office was a partitioned-off room near the front door. The arrival of the mail stage was the big event of the day, full of surprises and unexpected visitors. Mother served as postmistress until 1914. Charles held the job until 1919 and Mother served as clerk.

After working as postmaster, Charles went to work for the Macleay Estate Company as a millwright, building and operating a sawmill just above the Mail Boat Docks on the left side of the road. Only a few pilings in the old millpond remain. He worked for Macleay as a construction foreman, machinist, blacksmith and carpenter.

In 1914 the post office needed a more central location and we moved to the house known as the old Radium Building, next to the Wedderburn Store. We attended school in the dance hall where a room had been partitioned off fore that purpose, as the school house Hume had built was not longer considered safe. About this time, Charles bought the first Evinrude motor on the Rogue.

Our first car, a Model T Ford, was purchased in 1917 and cost about $500.00. It came in on the coastal steamer Rustler and was unloaded at the Wedderburn Store dock. The roads were just two ruts made by wagon wheels. There was one stretch of good gravel road from Geisel Monument to Nesika Beach, and it still took a day to drive to Bandon or Crescent City.

In the fall of 1920, Mother took the four younger children, Theodore, Rosamond, Veva and myself, to Corvallis for schooling. Alice, who was a teacher, stayed with Charles and taught the Wedderburn School. She married J. F. Lacey the next summer and they moved to Corvallis. After that we lived with them in Corvallis until we finished school.

Macleay built the new house on the hill behind the Hume house for the Wakemans in 1923. Veva died in December 1930. Charles sold his property at Nesika Beach in the 1930’s, and later took up wood-turning and developed the Myrtlewood Shop in Wedderburn. Orin Hess joined him in the business in 1934.

Mother died in 1937 after a lengthy illness and in 1938 Charles bought the old Strahan property, remodeled it, and lived there with the Hesses until his death in 1949. He was eighty-two years old and was still working part of a day at the shop, which had been moved to Gold Beach in 1948.

Both Charles and his father were quiet, energetic men, who made a practical success in the many endeavors which they undertook in the early days of living in Curry County.

Alice Wakeman Bowman by Jill Wentzel (1975)

Alice lived with her grandmother in Gold Beach during the time she went to school. The house, built by her father, still stands and is the oldest house in Gold Beach. Alice’s seventh grade teacher, Raymond Hewitt, prompted her to take the eighth grade state test, which she passed. She and Ada Marsters were the first graduating class to have attended four years at Gold Beach High School.

When Alice was fourteen and in the tenth grade, the lower grade teacher, Florence Hill, (now Morrison) became ill and paid Alice three silver dollars to substitute for her for three days. As a sixteen-year-old senior, Alice took part in a teacher’s training program at the high school and taught in the lower grades every day.

She graduated at sixteen, too young to get a teaching certificate, so she attended Oregon Normal School at Monmouth and received her teaching certificate at age eighteen.

Her first position was at Langlois. School began in September, 1918, but was closed within three months because of the flu epidemic. In January, 1919, she taught a spring school at Sixes school and then taught at Elk River in the winter months and stayed with the Pontings. She returned to Gold Beach in April, 1920, which Grandmother Wakeman passed away, but returned to Sixes for another term of school.

Alice returned to teach in Wedderburn in 1920 and married Francis Lacey in 1921. They moved to Corvallis where Alice taught in rural schools in Benton County. Their daughter, Laura Ann, was born in 1927, Charles in 1928. Alice and Francis were divorced and Alice returned to Wedderburn with the children in 1934 and resumed teaching there.

Alice and Otis Bowman were married in May, 1935 and lived in the Hume house which the Macleay Estate refurbished according to Alice’s wishes. She taught at the Wedderburn School until 1945 when the district consolidated with Gold Beach and Alice became the principal of the Gold Beach School while teaching seventh and eighth grades.

In 1939, she and Otis bought property at Jerry’s Flat and moved to the spot where she still lives. A daughter, Alice, was born in Gold Beach in 1942. On the advise of Dr. Cartwright, Alice resigned her position in 1951, but it was a short retirement. In 1953 she began teaching again. When the Gold Beach schools wanted to start a program in special education, mainly remedial reading, Alice was chosen to pioneer the project. Her love of reading, her experience in one-room schools where the child was treated as an individual as he progress through the grades, her twenty years of leadership in 4-H work, her help with the community affairs and her own home life enabled her to set up this new work and manage successfully. Alice retired in 1965, fifty years after her first teaching experience.

Otis passed away in 1962, but Alice enjoys the company of her daughter Alice and her husband Sandy Saunders and their sons David and Dan, who live in Gold Beach and visit often. Her son Charles and four children live in California.

As historian for the Innominata Garden Club for the past two years, she has been involved in making the club’s annual historian’s book and her entries in the spring garden show have netted the Horticulture Sweepstakes many times. Her own gardening and bird watching, as well as quilting and writing poetry, occupy a part of her time. She is presently working on a history of local schools and her memoirs. when asked to comment on her many years as a school teacher, she says, “I don’t know how many children I’ve taught, but the important thing was for each student to learn on his own level and to make progress.”