A few weeks ago I came across a photograph of the gravestone of George Albert Craft, my husband’s second great-grandfather. He is buried in the Chico cemetery, in Chico, Butte County, California. As I studied the gravestone I realized that I really didn’t know much about him. What I discovered was a hardworking, family oriented man who sadly, died far too young.
George Albert Craft was one of 8 children born to James Craft and Susan (Hammond) Shortreid. When Susan married James Craft in 1847 she was a widow and brought with her 3 children from her previous marriage. George was born on 13 November 1852 in Illinois, James’ 4th son. When George was a young boy the family moved from Illinois to Franklin Township, Allamakee Co., Iowa where James was a cabinet maker and several of George’s older brothers began farming. Between 1870 and 1880 James Craft died and Susan was a widow once again. Many of the older children had married and moved away but George stayed with his mother, supporting her and his younger siblings, brother Winfield – designated as ‘idiotic’ (a highly objectionable word but one used on the 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes) and sister Mary Ann. George was 28, single and supported them by digging wells in Ida Grove, Iowa.
In 1882, having moved about 16 miles from Ida Grove, to the very small ‘city’ of Danbury (population of 69 in 1880) George met 20-year-old Amy Patty Gaylord. They married on April 8, 1882 in Ida Grove, Iowa.
George and Amy Craft settled in Iowa for the next few years. Between 1892 and 1896 they moved the family to Corning Township, Tehama Co., California where George worked as a farm laborer. George and Amy would go on to have a total of 12 children, with the last 6 born in California between 1896 and 1908. George himself had come from a large family of 11 children (including the 3 half siblings from his mother’s first marriage).
The bigger cities and more abundant job opportunities may have contributed to the family’s next move in 1905, from the small rural township of Corning, California to the bigger city of Chico, California. Newspapers of the time were full of articles about the Diamond Match Company coming to Chico and the availability of jobs and homes. Owning one’s home was part of the American Dream and it was perhaps in George Craft’s reach for the first time. It was also a chance for the Craft family to put down roots and stay in one place. George had moved 8 times since he was a child.
On Saturday, April 11, 1903 the San Francisco Chronicle published the following article:
Within the city of Chico was a working class residential neighborhood which had been settled to house the employees of the Diamond Match Company, the largest manufacturer of matches in the United States. By 1903 the Company had built its’ factories and sawmill close to this neighborhood.
According to Historian W. H. “Old Hutch” Hutchinson five events can be identified as the most seminal in Chico history. They were
- the arrival of John Bidwell in 1850
- the arrival of the California and Oregon Railroad in 1870
- the establishment of the Northern Branch of the State Normal School in 1887
- the purchase of the Sierra Lumber Company by the Diamond Match Company in 1900
- the development of the Army Air Base which is now the Chico Municipal Airport
(Wikipedia, History of Chico, California)
In 1905 George and Amy’s 11th child, a baby girl they named Eunice Aimee Craft was born in Chico, California. The 1910 census confirms that for the first time George and Amy owned their home at 1447 Ninth Street, Chico. This must have been an incredibly proud moment for them. A member of the Craft family would live in the home until at least 1935.
George and oldest son Harry, aged 23, had secured jobs with the Diamond Match Company and had begun work there in 1907. George and Harry were both mill hands in the sawmill. Over the next 10 years almost all of George’s children, including his daughters, would work for the Diamond Match Company.
Tragedy would strike on August 6, 1910 when a huge explosion ripped through the Diamond Match Company’s factory, killing 2 men instantly and seriously wounding 3 others.
George Craft was one of those seriously injured. On August 9, 1910 George died from the injuries he sustained in the explosion. He was only 57 years old. Amy Craft was left a widow with 9 children still living at home ranging in age from 26 to 3. Tragedy would strike again only 14 short months later, on October 21, 1911 when Amy Craft also died. Eldest daughter Hattie, aged 23 in 1911, would become the head of the family and by the 1920 census, had kept the 9 siblings together, living still in the home George Craft purchased at 1447 Ninth Street, Chico.
George and Amy Craft are buried next to each other in the Chico cemetery. Their gravestones are beautiful and my attention was drawn immediately to the symbols and the wording on them. On the top of both headstones rests an open book with fabric draped across it. Below are open gates with an anchor in the middle. Anchors typically represent hope and steadfastness and the gates represent the gates of heaven. It is the back of the stones which is of even more interest. George’s headstone contains a circular symbol with the words ‘Dum Tacet Clamat’ (‘Though Silent, He Speaks’). At the bottom of the stone are the words ‘Here Rests a Woodman of the World’. (see photo at the start of the post)
The back of Amy Craft’s stone also contains a circular symbol with the words Courage Hope Remembrance around it and ‘Erected by the Women of Woodcraft’ near the bottom of the stone.
Woodmen of the World or W.O.W. was founded in 1890 by Joseph Cullen Root as a fraternal benefit society which would “bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist.” He used the word ‘woodman’ after hearing a sermon that talked about ‘woodmen clearing the forest to provide for their families’. By 1898 there were more than 88,000 members throughout the country. At its most basic W.O.W was an insurance benefit company to which members paid their insurance dues, but it also encouraged charity, compassion and neighborliness. Although no women were admitted into the society, there was a woman’s auxiliary known as the ‘Women of Woodcraft’ created in 1897. This is the symbol on Amy Craft’s gravestone. By 1917 Women of Woodcraft changed its name to Neighbors of Woodcraft, reflecting that both men and women were a part of the group. The symbol with ‘Neighbors of Woodcraft’ can be seen on the gravestone of George and Amy’s oldest daughter, Hattie Craft, who married William H. McNelly in 1920. Her gravestone lies next to her parents in the Chico cemetery.
W.O.W was known also for providing distinctive gravestones to its members. This was part of the benefit of early membership in the society. Most typically the grave stones would be in the shape of logs or tree stumps or tree trunks. In the 1910s gravestones would more likely contain the W.O.W relics and symbols etched onto the stone as in George, Amy, and Hattie Craft’s case.
Obviously being a member of the Woodmen of the World was something George Craft was proud of. His gravestone and that of his wife and oldest daughter, reflect their good standing with the society at the time of their respective deaths.
Joseph Cullen Root hoped the society would have as its’ purpose “to minister to the afflicted to relieve distress; to cast a sheltering arm about the defenseless living ;… to encourage broad charitable views…” In 1910 with George Craft’s tragic death I’d like to believe that the society did cast a sheltering arm around the widowed Amy and her 9 children.
Every headstone has a story to tell. We just need to find it and tell it.