In the community

Ontario historian to share story of a forgotten traveling family act

ONTARIO – Gary Fugate is familiar with wrinkles in time.

When the local amateur historian finds one of those passageways into the past, he follows, eager to learn more.

That’s how Fugate developed the idea to research an acting family that toured the West and Malheur County when the stagecoach was the preferred mode of travel and miners toiled on the remote high desert to find gold.

On Thursday, March 14, Fugate will be at the Vale Senior Citizens Center at 11:30 a.m. to talk about his unfinished work, “The Waldron Dynasty or 100 Years of Entertainment”

Fugate said he discovered the Waldron acting family while doing research for his first book, “El Dorado, an eastern Oregon Mining Camp.”

“I ran into an article in the Bedrock Democrat out of Baker City that told of these actors that were coming down from Portland to give plays. I thought that was interesting so I started to gather data,” said Fugate.

A photo of Isabelle Waldron when she was about 18, before she met George Waldron. Together the couple traveled the West performing plays in big cities and small mining towns like El Dorado, northwest of Brogan. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

The Bedrock Democrat was Baker City’s first newspaper, established in 1870 by L.L. McArthur, a former Confederate army officer, and M.H. Abbott.

“They were three generations, about 100 years, and every single family member – daughters, sons, mother and father and their wives and their children – acted,” said Fugate.

“I didn’t know anything about theater until I read the newspaper article. I didn’t realize how important theater was to the miners in all the communities. They didn’t have television or anything in the form of entertainment,” said Fugate.

Isabelle Waldron in her later years. She and her husband, George, made a life of the theater across America and in the United Kingdom. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

That meant when a troupe of actors arrived, the excitement level climbed in a mining town such as El Dorado. El Dorado was about 15 miles northwest of Brogan and boomed for a short period before it was abandoned in 1875.

“I think what surprised me was the traveling around. You’d think they’d be local but George Waldron and his wife Isabelle, traveled into small mining towns or New York City,” he said.

Fugate said the Waldron worked hard in difficult conditions to deliver Shakespeare other plays to remote places.

“There seemed to be no wall to their energy and desire to entertain. Traveling on stages, it was amazing what they’d do to put on a play,” said Fugate.

Gary Fugate sits in is writing laboratory in Ontario. Fugate will give a lecture on his unfinished book “The Waldron Dynasty or 100 Years of Entertainment,” at the Vale Senior Center March 14. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Fugate said the patriarch of the Waldron family lived an exciting life before he became an actor.

“George, who was born in New York, was a cabin boy and he traveled the world on the USS Mississippi. He traveled to Europe, Africa and China,” said Fugate.

George Waldron eventually found his way to acting and performed in several notable stock companies.

He and Isabelle were “well-known players” throughout the West, according to a 1932 article in The Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle.

“George Waldron starred in the West with the famous California Stock company in San Francisco, with a company in Portland, Ore., and with the noted Salt Lake Theater company, which the Mormon Church established in that city,” the newspaper reported.
Fugate said Waldron also managed the Orofino Theater in Portland and directed a theater in The Dalles.

Fugate said the Waldrons first came to El Dorado to perform in 1873. George and Isabella raised two children, including Charles Waldron Jr., who continued the family acting legacy into the 1940s and Georgia Isabel, often called Bell.

Gary Fugate, a local historian and author, believes a look into the past is a good way to prepare for the future. Fugate is scheduled to give a lecture on his unfinished book, “The Waldron Dynasty or 100 Years of Entertainment,” at the Vale Senior Center March 14.

“They were this little dynasty that existed and acted. They performed with famous actors of the old West like Laura Keen,” said Fugate.

Keen, a British stage actress, was the lead in the play “Our American Cousin,” in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1865. During her performance in Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln. She cradled the dying president’s head in her lap.

The last surviving Waldron family actor was John Emery, who died in 1964. Emery’s career spanned 40 years and included theater, movies and television.

Gary Fugate shows an actors biography on a playbill that featured the Waldron family troupe of actors and Laura Keen, a British stage actress who cradled President Abraham Lincoln’s head just moments after he was assassinated in 1865. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“How many people will be interested? I don’t know. I don’t expect it (the book) to be a money-maker. But I want it to be very interesting for people,” said Fugate.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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