Murder in the Streets of Eatonville

Mashell Ave ca 1900. Outside the store on the far left is where the shooting took place.
Mashell Ave ca 1900. Outside the store on the far left is where the shooting took place.

It reads like a scene out of Deadwood. On September 3, 1901, the Tacoma Daily Ledger reported that Charles F. Franklin, a peaceable and inoffensive farmer, had been gunned downed by Eatonville blacksmith Alexander Vance.

Vance was known as a bully and the only man in the community who carried firearms. Besides being a blacksmith, he had recently been commissioned as a special deputy sheriff, making him a bully with a badge and for months, Vance had been on the warpath.

On September 2, Vance had closed his shop and was parading the street with two large, holstered pistols and a dirk knife. Two hours before gunning down Franklin witnesses heard him say someone would die by his hand that day.

S. H. Potter, a Tacoma mail carrier, visiting his family in Eatonville gives this eyewitness account. “Charles H. Williams and myself were sitting on the porch of Van Eaton’s grocery store about 2 o’clock, when Vance went by, going toward the hotel. He said “Hello boys” in a pleasant manner, and we returned the greeting.  He came out five or 10 minutes later and came onto the porch of the grocery.

Vance's mugshot and prison information
Vance's mugshot and prison information

“In the meantime, Franklin, who has come to town for his mail, had sent his boy to Vance’s house to see if he could get a horse shod. The boy returned with the message that Vance was sick. Shortly after Vance came upon the porch, Franklin arrived and said, “Hello, Vance. I thought you were sick. I wanted to have a horse shod.”

Vance cursed, drew his guns from his holster and put them on the table, then came at Franklin saying, “The man who says I am sick is a liar.”  Franklin pushed him back but Vance came back and punched Franklin in the face. Franklin pushed him away again and this time Vance picked up his guns.

“Franklin was unarmed. Vance fired two shots from the revolver in his right hand, one of which went close to my feet,” says Potter. “The [44-caliber] in his left hand he held against Franklin’s right side and discharged it. The old man threw his arms around Vance the two men fell off the porch together, Franklin underneath.”

Eatonville's Livery stable on Mashell, when the town was still all horses.
Eatonville's Livery stable on Mashell, when the town was still all horses.

Both Potter and Williams ran to pull off Vance who was already trying to turn around and shoot Potter and Williams. “I threw myself upon [Vance] just as he was endeavoring to pull the trigger and wrenched the gun from his left hand,” says Potter.  Williams did the same on the other side.

T.C. Van Eaton came from across the street and helped subdue Vance. He was eventually tied, and taken to the post office where he kicked the window out.

Potter adds, “A crowd had gathered and the excitement was intense. Several threats to lynch him were made. It required all the efforts of Mr. Van Eaton and myself to keep the people from laying violent hands upon him.”

There was no lynching and Vance was later convicted of murder in the first degree. He served 15 years before being paroled, and went on to live out his life in Eastern Washington without incident.

The decedents of the Williams, Van Eatons and the Franklins are still part of the community.

Thank you historian Loraine Graeber and Ed “Mooch” Smith — the great great grandson of Franklin — for supplying the information. Photos courtesy of Pat Van Eaton and Loraine Graeber.

Click on images to enlarge.




8 responses to “Murder in the Streets of Eatonville”

  1. Great story! The Civil War may have been a factor Vance was from North Carolinia & Franklin to my knowledge was a Union supporter.


    • Actually, some the research that Loraine did shows Vance had his real issues with the mill owner. Franklin was just a guy who ticked him off at the wrong time. Loraine has like 450 pages of research on this. It’s incredible!


  2. I hope she writes a paper on her research. It would help me understand the circumstanes & answer some questions i.e. who was the mill owner, was there a mill in Eatonville before the railroad came in 1904, was he building the mill in anticipation of the RR reaching Eatonville.


    • Bob and Dixie have the entire research packet. I’d ask to borrow it from them. She donated it to the Historical Society.


    • Just found out – my 2nd great grampa was FRANKLIN. Also as a kid 1970s I knew Franklins in Puyallup. I kinda grew up in Eatonville (3rd grade werehuaser elementary across from Fogels store). I was Russell High then (Kim Kay Linda Wes Roger) a divorce split us up me and Ma left.


      • 1977 BUT it was not from Eatonville HS. Lived on Mountain Highway. ‘Jones” across the road, Severson’s a mile away, Werehauser Elementary was 500yds away. Had a crush on Erin Doohan in 3rd grade lol Fogels was across from elementary school. I was in Eatonville age 10-12 (early 1970s)


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