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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The myth and mystery of Garfield Minkler's death

(Minkler Store)
      One view of the Minkler retail store where Garfield Minkler took his own life. Both photos date from the Teen Years and are from the collection of the late Dona Rousseau, Garfield's granddaughter. We regret that we do not yet have a photo of Garfield. We have requested one from family members and we hope to add one soon.

Research by Noel V. Bourasaw
(John E. Minkler)
Garfield Minkler in an unknown year. Photo courtesy of Minkler descendant Deena Mullins.

      During my childhood in the Utopia district on the north side of the Skagit River just this side of Lyman, the gang of kids I ran with in a pack loved to recount the murder mysteries hereabouts. Murders were few and far between, but each held a special charm because of their ghastly nature, which is always fascinating to curious children.
      Three upriver "murders" occupied us for years, especially on lazy summer afternoons in Art Reische's strawberry patch or the Metcalf patch, about two miles apart on the Hoehn road. Because the Loggerodeo was one of the biggest annual entertainment days of our lives, the Fred Elders murder of Henry Weaver during the Fourth of July parade in 1950 was very high on our list because Elders slit the man's throat as his victim sat at the wheel of his prize possession, a Model-T. Elders was eventually caught and his trial was a must-see event, starring attorneys who would later become partners and legal heavyweights in the county, Walter "Jack" Deierlein and the late Alfred McBee.
      Just a year before that, the serenity of the old Sedro section of Sedro-Woolley was shattered early one March morning by the sound of three gunshots. When the police arrived at Anna Ingersoll's home (torn down a year later for the site of Mary Purcell school) they found her dead as the phonograph played the song Red Roses for a Blue Lady over and over again. Joseph McLaughlin soon confessed to policemen Ted Jackson and Norm McLeod, who was then the chief of police. A pulp detective magazine featured the case on its cover, with the song title as the headline.

The Garfield Minkler mystery, a suicide but was it murder?
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      But the one that interested us the most was the most confusing to me both back then and 40 years later when I was deep into this history project. It had all the trappings of myth and legend. Fair-haired-boy and scion of a pioneer family who had grown up in an antebellum-style mansion had shot himself or alternatively was killed by one of his own brothers or maybe a Wobbly union member had shot him or maybe he committed suicide. Not only was the murderer mysterious but so was the place that Garfield Minkler, Birdsey's son in Lyman, had died on May 19, 1920. Different versions of the tale had him murdered and left to die in the fire that consumed his father's historic sawmill in the old town of Minkler on the lake of the same name, or in his own retail store on Main Street in Lyman. The stories got more sensational all the time in our country telegraph and by the time I left the area to join the Army the tales were so twisted that I decided I would never know the truth; the stories about it just did not seem to "jive," as we often said back then.
      Garfield Arthur Minkler was the third child of Birdsey and Hannah Minkler, born on Jan. 7, 1880, at the family's wooden homestead cabin on the south shore of the Skagit River near where Mill Creek empties into it across from the town of Birdsview. That was less than two years after his father established the first mill on the upper Skagit River, a water-powered affair that was the most important business in that section. After about 1908, his older brother, John Minkler, took over daily responsibilities for the Minkler Lake mill and Garfield managed the family store on Main Street near the present site of the Lyman Tavern, although both boys shared in management of the family mill businesses along with their younger brother, Elmer "Punch" Minkler.
      Garfield was the first Minkler child to attend a university, the University of Washington, and it seemed to be his happy playground away from home. He was handsome and appeared to be a "big man on campus" along with playing the guitar and violin quite well, according to his granddaughter Judy Shoup. In school yearbooks of the time that his grandson-in-law (and genealogist) Al Rousseau found, we learned that he played football for the university teams of 1899-1901, at the positions of center and halfback. But when he returned after that seemingly successful academic and social period in Seattle, living in the shadow of his successful older brother John was apparently hard for Garfield. He did gain in stature in 1912, a year after Birdsey's death, when he joined with others to charter the Lyman State Bank, but by all accounts, John was a much more successful businessman. Garfield was elected the fifth mayor of Lyman just four months before his death.
      Garfield suffered a scandalous end of his marriage to Lenore Carmody, who had their marriage annulled even after the couple had children. I learned of his background from Minkler family members after I returned to Sedro-Woolley in 1992. The details of his marriage revealed what must have weighed on his mind after they parted in 1916, five years after Birdsey's death. Mark Minkler, Punch's grandson, added another very important part of the puzzle about the motive, or lack thereof, for either a murder or suicide. Garfield married Anna Lenore Carmody on Oct. 16, 1907, in Victoria, British Columbia, a pairing that pleased his father versus an earlier affair that decidedly did not. Garfield had become enamored with the convent-educated daughter of a famous Seattle madam and when Birdsey learned of it, he shipped Garfield back to the original elder-Minkler's home in Omro Wisconsin, where family members introduced Garfield to Miss Carmody. To complicate his life further, Lenore remarried and she and the children and the new husband sometimes also lived in Lyman. Before Garfield's death, Lenore also annulled her marriage to husband number two.

(Minkler Mansion)
The Minkler Mansion, where the boys lived as children. Built in 1891, it was converted to use as the Lyman City Hall in 2009 in time for the centennial celebrations for the town.

      In addition, John was already successful as a businessman and would continue to be, even with his brother involved in the businesses, and Punch became a success on his own in the Seattle area after a decade of working in the woods. One descendant recounted that one of the brothers was suspected because he supposedly left town in a hurry afterwards. But when we checked, we found that John stayed in town and lived within two miles for the rest of his life. Punch did move sometime after the fire at the mill, but only to the Mount Vernon area because there were still active logging operations there and the burned mill took away his livelihood. I also had the opportunity to meet and visit with John Minkler, nearly 40 years after Garfield's death. As a schoolboy, I often rode my bicycle by his house at the Cokedale Junction, on the Minkler Highway. He and his wife, Sarah Thompson Minkler (also a descendant of a pioneer family of Birdsview, the famous Thompsons), were both warm and seemed like salt of the earth. Judy Shoup also noted that her grandmother and her twin sister, Garfield's daughters, were "allowed to remain in the house across the street until the twins graduated nursing school. The family obviously felt an obligation to care for Garfield's children."

(Minkler Mansion ca. 1920)
      Bud Meyers Jr. found this photo of the second Minkler home in his late parents' collection. It shows a birthday party for one or more of the Minkler children and their friends, circa 1905-10, before Maude Minkler Vanderford decided to add the pillars to the front of the home and it became known, sometimes wryly, as "The Minkler Mansion."

Debunking the myth
      In 2002 I finally obtained a copy of the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times front-page story of the death. That issue of May 20, 1920, was the first combined edition of the newspaper after publisher Frank Evans merged the old Skagit County Courier and Skagit County Times newspapers and the death was the biggest news of the day. The headline seemed to answer the question: "Garfield Minkler, Lyman mill man shoots himself; leaves explanation." He had committed suicide in his own store, according to the story, and as proof for the headline, the story cited the note that he left. Unfortunately whoever retained the note, after the coroner turned it over to the family, had apparently destroyed it. No one alive in the family now knows either the content or the disposition of the note. We also discovered that the attempted correlation of Garfield's death and the mill fire was incorrect because the fire occurred at the mill almost a week before that.
      But here is the rub: I only read the front page. There was no "jump page" indicated, so I concluded that was the complete report. About a year ago, however, I checked the full issue in microfilm form at the Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington and found "page two" as radio newsman Paul Harvey would have said, an longer unsigned article in the on page of the next week's Courier-Times that established the likelihood of suicide even more logically. Meanwhile, we share below both stories from the May 20, 1920, issue so that you can decide for yourself. The May 22, 1920, Mount Vernon Herald also reported that Garfield Minkler shot himself over financial worries. And Dan Royal of the Stump Ranch website found Garfield's burial card, which confirms that his death was due to suicide with a bullet through the heart.
      Although this story, like all of them on our site, is a draft and will be updated if we find any evidence that will materially change the narrative, we feel pretty confident that the news story is accurate. Sadly the family was struck again 33 years later when Garfield's daughter, Nonie, also committed suicide. Just to clear up some loose ends, we also rejected the claim of murder by one of the discontented Wobblies, first, because their influence had been on the wane for some time and second, because the alleged perpetrator did not seem to be in attendance that day and thus did not have opportunity, much less the motive. Finally, yes, we do plan to chronicle both of the other two murders we introduced at the beginning, in later issues this year that will herald a new Journal Portal, "True Crime."

(Minkler Store)
      Another view of the Minkler retail store, with a gas pump in front.

Garfield Minkler, Lyman mill man
shoots himself; leaves explanation

Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, May 20, 1920, page 1
Had brooded over loss of his mill by fire;
Was prominent in Skagit Valley affairs;
Death is shock to entire county
Lyman man killed himself with automatic rifle

      Garfield A. Minkler, well known millman of Lyman, shot and killed himself in his store at Lyman, Wednesday morning of this week at 8 o'clock. Death was instantaneous. The tragedy occurred shortly after Mr. Minkler, with two brothers and his brother-in-law, Mr. Vanderford, had come to the store. The other men stepped outside and he went into the office. When Vanderford returned he found Mr. Minkler dead.
      Minkler was a prominent man in the upper valley, operating the mill near Lyman with his brothers John and Albert [actually Elmer], and also a general store and drug store at Lyman. He is said to have brooded over the loss of the mill which burned down recently. Coroner [Aaron] Light [Sr.], who investigated the case at once, found a long note left by the dead man, in which he stated his reasons for the act and directed the disposal of his personal property. In the note, Minkler indicated that worry over financial loss, due to the recent fire, was the cause of the suicide. [Endnote 1]
      Death was caused by a bullet through the heart, fired from a .401 calibre automatic carbine by Minkler, according to the report made by the coroner. The bullet passed through Minkler's body, struck the wall and dropped into a bucket of water, where it was found by the coroner.
      Minkler is survived by three children who are living at Sumas, with his divorced wife, Mrs. George Lindley, who is now divorced from Mr. Lindley. Minkler was an enthusiastic member of the Country Club and was well known as an athlete. He was born at Birdsview January 7, 1880, and had lived in the Skagit valley practically all his life. He was a graduate of the University of Washington. The news of his sudden death has shocked his many friends. Funeral services will probably be held the first of next week.

(Minkler store plate)
      Dan Royal, publisher of the Stump Ranch website, found this plate on Ebay. Click on the photo to see an enlarged version of Garfield's own stamp on the plate. thanks, Dan. We hope other readers will send us scans or copies of photos, documents or articles about Garfield Minkler, the family, Lyman or the upper Skagit River region that we can add to future articles.

Garfield Minkler leaves many who mourn his death
Page 10, same issue
[Byline is "contributed." We are still researching to find who was reporting to the Courier-Times from Lyman in those days]

      Lyman, Wash., May 6 [we suspect that this was a typo instead of May 26] — The sudden and unexpected death on May 19 of Garfield A. Minkler, one of Lyman's most honored citizens, was a shock to his relatives and numerous friends, from which they will not soon recover.
      Lyman has been the life scene of Mr. Minkler's activities. Born at Birdsview in this county, on Jan. 7, 1880, he removed to Lyman with his parents in 1886, where his father, the late Senator B.D. Minkler engaged in a lumbering and mercantile business. Here the promising son received his elementary education, which was later rounded out at the State University in 1904 [actually 1899-1902]. While a student at the University Garfield was made the recipient of many honors. Among others he was made captain of cadets, captain of the baseball team, treasurer of the athletic association and chairman of commencement committee. He was a member of Phi Delta Theta of Varsity Football Tyee staff.
      In September 1918 he received the appointment of captain of infantry in the U.S. service but before he was assigned to duty the armistice was signed.
      Mr. Minkler's business career dates from 1908 when he took over his father's mercantile business, which he greatly enlarged. In 1911 upon the latter's death, he became the guiding spirit in the Lyman Lumber and Shingle company, in the conduct of which he displayed remarkable aptitude.
      In 1907 Mr. Minkler married Miss Lenore Carmody of Seattle. Three children were born to this union, but the marriage proved to be exceedingly unfortunate and was legally annulled in 1915. Mrs. Minkler subsequently married Mr. George Lindley of Sumas, which union in turn has since been annulled.
      Besides being a man of superb personality and fine sensibilities, Garfield was an exemplary husband and model father. His spirit yearned for domestic felicity and to the circumstance that he was not to realize his ideals, his friends are prone ascribe his tragic death.
      Besides his three children, Robert A., 11; and Frances Louis and Augusta Lenore, twins; 9; Mr. Minkler leaves to mourn his untimely demise two brothers and four sisters, Mr. John E. Minkler and Elmer D. Minkler, both residing at Lyman; Mrs. B.S. Vanderford, also residing at Lyman, Mrs. T.M. Blain and Mrs. R. Hardcastle of Seattle and Mrs. H.J. Bratlie of Ridgefield.
      The funeral services which took place last Sunday afternoon, were conducted at the old Minkler home and were attended by a multitude of sorrowing friends, Rev. Cleveland officiating. The services were supplemented by the Knights of Pythias at the grave.

Note to historians and researchers
      First, we should note that several sources mistake the death as having occurred on May 20, which was actually the day of the newspaper issue.
      Second, we did not annotate this as much as we usually do, to provide citations to back up material. That is because much of our own observation was annotated in the original two-part Journal profile of Birdsey Minkler and his family. There you will also find an extensive bibliography of the sources we consulted. We also owe many thanks to the descendants of the family who provided scans of photographs and copies of documents that helped us understand this key upriver family.

1. The note
      I questioned the late Aaron Light Jr. about the note a few years before his death and he indicated that his father more than likely just returned the note to the family members to save them any more embarrassment.

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Story posted on Jan. 29, 2010. . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 52 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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