Roscoe and Ethel Murrow

Roscoe and Ethel Murrow

BACK WHEN: Murrow family moves past devastating events

MANY PEOPLE GO through events in their lives that can be devastating. How many times have we seen families ruined because someone will not let go of the past?

Roscoe and Ethel Murrow did not let two devastating events ruin their family.

This story begins in North Carolina. A 9-year-old orphan girl is welcomed into the home of Joshua and Rowella Murrow and their son Roscoe. The Murrows were leading members of the local Quaker Church. The girl was given a home and religious instruction.

Shortly before her 14th birthday, the girl became pregnant, and life turned upside down after that. Without any proof, the girl implied to Joshua that Roscoe was the father of the child. She tried to extort $800 from Joshua to make the problem go away. Joshua refused, and the girl was evicted from their home.

While this was unfolding, Roscoe had met and married Ethel Lamb, a local woman. Despite this, the girl did not give up and went through the legal system. In 1901, Roscoe was indicted and convicted of having sexual relations with the girl before she had reached the age of consent. Throughout, Roscoe strongly expressed his innocence. A troubling aspect of this case was that the indictment was issued four years after the alleged event during a time when paternity tests did not yet exist.

During his sentincing, Roscoe was given a choice: seven years in prison or pay $1,500 for child support and $500 for the child’s schooling. Again, it felt like Roscoe was being extorted.

I think many of us would take the easy way out and pay the fine. His family could afford it and was willing to pay, but Roscoe had strong convictions and chose to endure prison rather than imply guilt.

Roscoe endured 13 months of prison during which his health declined significantly. A physician certified that continued imprisonment would kill Roscoe. In addition, about 3,000 residents petitioned the court on his behalf for a pardon, and Roscoe was pardoned in 1903.

Roscoe and Ethel could move on with their lives. The Murrows lived in Polecat Creek near Greensboro, N.C. Tragically, another devastating event struck their lives. Their first-born, Roscoe Jr., lived only a few hours.

They persevered, though. Their second child, Lacey Van Buren, was born June 30, 1904, followed by Dewey J. on June 8, 1906. Their fourth child, Egbert Roscoe, was born April 25, 1908.

In 1913, the Murrows moved to Skagit County. Roscoe worked for Samish Bay Logging until 1925, when he lost his job because he knocked down his abusive boss. That summer, Roscoe and Ethel moved to Beaver, living in Bloedel Donovan Lumber Mill’s company housing at Beaver Camp No. 1 behind the Lake Pleasant Grocery.

Roscoe could be cantankerous, yet he was admired as a driven worker. He started as a steam engine fireman and was soon promoted to locomotive engineer. This attitude spilled over to his sons. During the hard economic times, he still desired his sons to achieve a college education.

Ethel was diminutive and had a flair for the dramatic. She was a strong figure who helped hold the family together and taught her boys to be responsible, in control of their lives and to respect others. She required her boys to read a chapter of the Bible aloud every night. She also had a firm conviction that her sons get a college education.

Roscoe and Ethel had limited resources, and they taught their sons that college would require hard work.

Egbert joined his parents in Beaver to save money for college. Lacey and Dewey were already attending Washington State College, later renamed Washington State University. Egbert filled his summers working in the woods around Beaver and spent three summers as a chainman on the survey crew. He also worked as an axe man, clearing brush to make paths for the logging crew. All this helped shape him into the man he would become.

So, how did the Murrow boys turn out? Here is the rest of the story:

Dewey completed college and worked in heavy construction. In 1936, he moved to Spokane. He became a partner in F.R. Hewett Co., director of Triton Mining Co. and president of Big Iron Co. He also was appointed to the planning advisory council of the state Planning and Community Affairs Agency.

Lacey Van Buren Murrow also graduated from college, excelling in math and engineering. He began working for the state Department of Highways immediately out of college. Lacey showed skills and vision well beyond his years. In 1929, Lacey was appointed the highway department’s district engineer in Spokane. The state, concerned some would think he was too young for such a prestigious position, announced the appointment of 33-year-old Lacey Murrow, though he was actually 25 years old.

In 1932, Lacey’s friend Clarence D. Martin was elected governor, and he appointed Lacey as director of the highway department. Again, his young age was a concern, so the state announced that Lacey was 37 years old when he was only 28. He was the youngest person ever to lead that department.

During Lacey’s tenure, he oversaw significant changes in transportation. Under his leadership, the highway department built the world’s first floating bridge and the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge. When the floating bridge was opened, he dedicated it to his mother. The Interstate 90 floating bridge is named after him, the Lacey V. Murow Memorial Bridge. Lacey left the Department of Highways in 1940 and entered the Air Force, retiring as a brigadier general.

Egbert Roscoe Murrow was not too happy with his given name. Too many people teased him about it. In college, he changed his name to Edward. Most of the world knew him as the famed radio broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow. He is recognized as one of the world’s greatest reporters.

Roscoe and Ethel are not names we remember, but they helped shape their sons’ important legacies. They did not let devastating events diminish their lives or their heritage.


John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

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