A Tombstone in Fortine

There’s a large, expensive tombstone in Fortine Cemetery, dating back to 1918.  The name, Waseles is one of the names the man lived under – but to his contemporaries in Trego and Eureka, he was Mike Smith. 

It tells part – a small part – of the story.  My grandfather bought Waseles’ homestead in 1918. He had met Waseles – but knew him as “Mike Smith.”  P.V. Klinke had the job of settling the estate – and here is the data he had to attempt to run down the next of kin.  On the east side of Fortine Creek Road, his root cellar is merging with the earth.  On the west side, his log cabin and barns are still visible and maintained.

This 1914 map of Russia pretty well demonstrates the impossibility of finding his next of kin, with only the word “Russia” to go by – Michal Waseles could have been a Finn, a Ukrainian, a Pole – he came to the US from a very different Russia than we recognize today.

You may note that there was an autopsy performed.  At the time Waleses (Smith) died, he was under indictment for torching a couple of logging camps and tossing tools in the pond behind the splash dam on Fortine Creek. (I still use an axehead that I took from the creek, removed the lime, and rehafted.  I had thought it was lost by one of the loggers – but more likely, it was tossed in by Mike Smith and I recovered it 50 years later.)   It had been a time of strife, with the logging strike of 1917 shutting down the woods across the nation.  Waleses had been bossing the crew that ran the logs from Trego to Eureka – but the assumed name of Smith, the legal charges, and the time suggest that he had moved from management to labor activist. 

With no way to find next of kin or heirs, it looks like P.V. (Peter Vigo) Klinke decided to spend all of the estate’s income he could on the finest tombstone for Michal Waseles (AKA Smith) he could, and minimize the share that went to Lincoln County.

1 thought on “A Tombstone in Fortine”

  1. I enjoyed your piece on Hacker. I’ve resolved to make a small donation to the Dems as I don’t like one-party systems either. Re: Mike Smith aka Waseles. I’m forwarding you a clip from the the July 1998 issue of The Trail. BTW: It was your mother who “told” the story. “It’s told that Mike Smith was plastered when his team ran away with him near the pond just south of Trego . . . and he was thrown out and killed. That could be the origin of the expression: He fell off the wagon and under the wheels.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s