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.
“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.”
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.