Finding Family Connections in Capitol Forest

Bob Bordeaux’s father, Bruce, wasn’t the reminiscing type.

Growing up, Bob was fairly naive to his father’s family history. He knew his dad came from a respected logging family, but beyond that, his vision of his dad’s childhood was blank.

“My dad’s life, to me, existed once he got married,” Bob said. “He never talked about anything before that.”

Bruce’s grandfather, Bob’s great-grandfather, was Joe Bordeaux, one of the original brothers Bordeaux, the trio that built a small mill town near Capitol Forest. In the early 1900s, the town of Bordeaux was bustling with activity, with more than 400 workers employed at the brothers’ company, Mason County Logging.

Bruce lived in this town as a small child, one of the last of the Bordeaux line to live in the area before it became a ghost town. Bob said his father rarely, if ever, spoke about this part of their family history. In the years since his father’s passing, Bob has found himself aching to learn more about his family.

“The older I get, the more I kind of wonder, ‘Well, what was dad like?’”

So he set out to find a literal connection to his family’s roots.

He reached out to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to get a piece of a tree from the Bordeaux forest, an area the agency now manages as part of the Capitol State Forest. He wants to use the wood to make commemorative keepsakes for his family, “so everyone can have a piece of Bordeaux.”

A PART OF HISTORY

Brandon Mohler, DNR’s Black Hills district manager, said this was the first time he’d ever gotten a request like this, but was happy to help Bob find something for his project.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Mohler said. “Especially with a family connection like this, there’s so much history. And it’s a part of DNR history, too.”

Mohler and Bob met up to walk through an area where timber harvest activities had recently been completed by DNR. This project is especially important to Bob because he doesn’t have many objects to remember his father’s side of the family by—he wasn’t a collector, he said.  Bob cherishes the items he does have, like an antique table he inherited.

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Brandon Mohler, DNR’s Black Hills district manager, walks Bob Bordeaux through an area of Capitol State Forest to find a piece of wood for his family project.

“I’m happy every day that it is there,” he said. “It’s nothing fancy, scratched up after years of service, but it is pretty cool.”

As the two sifted through pieces of wood in the forested area, Bob reminisced about the time he spent in the area as a child. Despite his family’s history there, he can count the times he’s visited Bordeaux on one hand.

The small logging town experienced a sharp decline after a succession of forest fires gave the Black Hills their name. By 1941, it had become a ghost town.

Bob grew up in Yakima, but remembers swinging by to pick blackberries in the area when he was in grade school and thinking to himself, “No, there wasn’t a town here.” It was so overgrown and desolate, it was inconceivable to think his family once lived there, along with many others.

Indeed, it is tough to imagine the town was occupied by anything other than deer and Douglas-fir. Besides the shadows of a few forgotten structures, there’s no sign of the booming logging industry that once was.

Although his father was quiet about his time in Bordeaux, his grandmother, “was even more tight-lipped than my dad,” he said.

But as an adult, he’s having more conversations about his family’s colorful history with his mother and siblings.

“Now that I’m in my 50s, my dad has passed, I’m the youngest of the kids, you don’t need to protect a lot as far as the family stories,” Bordeaux said.

Once Mohler and Bob had pulled a couple of suitable tree scraps for the project, Bob pulled a small vintage suitcase from his truck, inscribed with the initials, “BB.”

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Bob Bordeaux shows off old photos passed down from family members which give an idea what Bordeaux was like in the past.

“My dad’s,” he said with a small smile. It’s one of the few personal items he has to remember his father by. Bob pulled publications and photographs from the case that he’s collected over the years, all of which documented what life was like in Bordeaux in its prime.

“It fascinates me what life must’ve been like,” he said. He pulled out a photo of a group of loggers dated around the 1920s. “You can almost smell them just from the photo,” he said with a chuckle.

Bob wants to surprise his family members with the keepsakes he’ll make from the wood he got from Bordeaux. He’ll pass them along to his wife, daughter, mother, and two siblings, hoping to surprise them with a real-life connection to their family’s logging history.