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A family's history remains vivid through love letters

Talent resident Diana Maddox Walker has historical evidence her paternal grandparents shared a love so rare.

Consider the letter Ernest Victor Maddox wrote in 1896 from the newly discovered goldfields of Alaska to Annie Carol Bonney, then a comely young schoolmarm on Vashon Island, Wash.

"You say that you love me with a pure, true and deep love," he wrote. "Now what more can a man wish for when he loves you with all his heart and would do anything in his power for you?

"I never knew what love was until I met you," he added. "To have had to part with you so soon grieves me so much."

Then in his mid-20s, he was one of five young men who had built a 40-foot sailing schooner on Vashon Island. Dubbed the Alice, the vessel set sail on May 18, 1895 for the Far North.

"He was pretty adventurous — he did a lot of things in his life," said Diana, 70, who has his diary and letters recording his northern journey which began 117 years ago on Friday.

Her family is steeped in local political history. Her maternal grandfather was August Singler, the legendary lawman killed in the spring of 1913 in Jackson County. Her brother-in-law Jack Walker is a former longtime county commissioner; her daughter Chris Walker is the current county clerk.

"He (grandfather Maddox) died before I was born but all the stories I heard about him were very interesting," said Diana, the youngest of eight siblings. "It's sad that the art of letter writing is gone now. His letters to my grandmother were well written and, yes, very romantic."

Indeed, the love letters written in his flowing hand speak volumes. Scarcely had the journey begun when his heart longed for the love of his life.

"I have now been from you 23 days and I heartily wish that I was now coming back to you instead of going farther from you," he wrote on June 8, 1895.

That's not to say everything went smoothly, as he acknowledged on May 19, the second day out.

"About three miles from shore, a greenhorn took the wheel and darn near killed a man," he wrote. "The main boom jibbed over and knocked Marshel (crew member) down, hurting him pretty bad.

"Which I was very sorry for as I was the greenhorn," he confessed.

Maddox left his hometown of Cardiff, Wales, at age 13 after his mother died, stowing away on a sailing vessel bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

He worked his way across Canada, eventually landing on Vashon Island, where he fell in love.

Before marrying, he was determined to build a bit of a nest egg.

"My grandfathers were both self-taught," said Diana, a 1960 graduate of St. Marys High School. "They did everything from the drive they had inside. They educated themselves by living."

Upon arriving at Turnagain Arm on the Cook Inlet in the summer of 1895, he and three others became self-taught miners after the fellow acting as the captain of the crew sailed away without them. The small ship is believed to have gone down in a storm in the Cook Inlet that night, incidentally.

Living on moose and other critters, Maddox and the others initially found enough color to survive in the last frontier.

"There was a party of prospectors went up 20 Mile Creek the other day," Maddox wrote to his beloved shortly after their arrival. "They went up to a glacier. One of the party fell into a crack (crevasse) in the ice. He fell down about 60 feet. The rest in the party did all in their power to help get the man out but he froze to death before they could help him."

He wrote a letter to the love of his life on Aug. 18, 1896 from somewhere in the Alaskan interior.

"I am very anxious to get down to you but we both know we can't live on love alone," he wrote.

He was optimistic about striking gold.

"I feel sure that I will make a good thing out of the claim before I get through with it," he wrote. "The claim above us is paying an ounce a day — $141/2. Some of the claims below us are also paying big so I feel sure that we will strike it. . . I am living in hopes of not having to put another winter in here without you."

His dreams were fulfilled. He returned to the states with $3,000 in gold that fall. The two were married on Nov. 11, 1896, according to the family Bible.

The lovebirds settled in Medford in 1911, starting a business dubbed Maddox & Bonney Florists.

You know they had red roses.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

A family's history remains vivid through love letters