The story of Cecil Britton is an extraordinary story that should not be lost to time. Cecil was four years old when he wandered away from his parents camp at Toll Gate in the Blue Mountains, Washington on the 15th July 1906.
The family were on holiday and were camping at Tollgate; His father was a photographer in Walla Walla, and they had decided to take a break in the mountain resort. A desperate search was carried out looking for the boy with over 100 men in the search party, the biggest search in the history of Oregon
The family had arrived at the camp late afternoon and to pacify young Cecil one of the drivers had stopped at the store to get sweets/candy with the child and then accompanied him back to the camp. He expected the child to return to his parents, but instead, he wandered off.
An extensive search was carried out in a very rugged and heavily wooded country, and no stone was left unturned searching for the small child. A set of small footprints were identified, and by daylight the next day the bloodhounds from the closest penitentiary joined the search. They took no time to pick up the scent and tracked him for a mile and a half in twenty minutes to a sheep farm where they lost the trail. At one point his footprints were found alongside a set of a man’s prints leading the searchers to believe that the child had been kidnapped
The Evening Statesmen 16th July 1906
As you can imagine suspicion was everywhere and accusation were flying from the Indians having taken him to gipsies and just about every man in the camp came under suspicion.
Mediums and clairvoyants had also joined in the search in August, and two had stated that the boy was still alive and being held captive. One psychic had gone into a trance-like state and drew a route to a hidden cabin where she believed the boy to be held.
Two men had followed the map and located the cabin in looking glass canyon (Now known as Langdon Lake) during the initial search period one of the searchers had dropped his gun and accidentally shot himself an inch under his heart which came out his back –luckily he survived. He was adamant that had he not shot himself he would have reached the cabin and got the boy.
He believed that two men had the child and one was holding the boy while his companion set a false trail for the dog. They were waiting before they could secure a reward and return the child. The dog handler believed the child would have perished before reaching this far) It was an old building that had been used by outlaws, but it didn’t appear to have been used for a long time.
It appears the dog handler was of the same opinion that the child had been kidnapped, he stated that he thought a false trail had been laid as he didn’t believe the child could have covered this much ground on his own. It also appears that they believed that a ransom would soon be made for the child and therefore the parents could get him back.
The Evening Statesmen (Walla Walla, Washington) 16th July 1906
For the next couple of years, the parents travelled near and far responding to sightings of their son. Mr Brittain even went to San Fransico after a report that his son was being held by gipsies. The camp had been under surveillance for two days, but by the time Mr Brittain had arrived, there was no sign of the boy. They followed every lead including to New Mexico
A convict in prison stated that he knew the location of the boy and if the police allowed him to leave he would locate the boy. Breen, the convict, went to Tollgate with the father, and they searched for a couple of days but returned empty-handed. No one believed that Breen knew, but they couldn’t take the risk as he had stated that two convicts had taken him thinking that the child had belonged to a wealthy Walla Walla businessman and was waiting out for the ransom.
Although many believed that the boy had been kidnapped, the fact that the reward for the safe return of Cecil was 1000 dollars (In fact, by 1906 it was raised to $2000) it would have been a good ransom yet no-one came forward and as the years passed the kidnapping looked less likely.
In 1908 two years after the disappearance, Mr and Mrs Brittain were called to Goldendale with a report of a child matching the description of Cecil being found in squalid conditions and when the rest of the family well catered and cared for.
A neighbour had reported the parents for the cruel treatment of the child. They searched the house and were about to leave when someone looked in the coal shed and found the child looking through a crack in the wood. There were scraps of material on the floor that the boy was sleeping on in freezing conditions. The child could not speak to begin with, and he was taken to hospital where he was eventually able to tell them (he spoke like a two-year-old) “Papa” would not let him talk and he would beat him when he cried. He had a large bald spot on his head where the mother in a fit of anger had pulled his hair out. His feet were frozen, and gangrene had set in.
There was a fresh cut on the boys back where he had been slashed with a butchers knife; the wound had not been dressed he had on a thin white shirt saturated in the blood which had frozen.
It is believed the child had been kidnapped and the Maguire’s were holding him. They had moved to the area two years prior and had the child with them when they arrived.
Mrs Brittain never believed the child was Cecil stating that even though he looked like Cecil with a scar of his lip, he was at least a couple of years older and initially they were just going to carry on their search, but on hearing the child's plight, they agreed to take him.
His name was Orville Mcguire, and it turns out he was hideously mistreated.
The Evening Statesmen Thursday March 24th 1910
The McGuires were described as being sullen and resented the interference. Darch McGuire in a swaggering manner said the lad got no more than he deserved. He was not allowed to play with the other children or eat dinner with the family. The fact that the rest of the family were well clad and well fed led authorities to believe that the boy did not belong to them. The good news is McGuire got a good beating from locals, in fact, one of them stabbed him, and the Dr had commented that it was a shame it was not a few inches lower.
Roll on seventeen years later. G R Stark, a friend of the family had a premonition two years after the boy had gone missing. So strong was this feeling that he studied investigation and even went attended a Detective correspondents course. He studied pictures of the boy so his face would become imprinted in his mind
Although he never became a detective, he always remembered the details and would scrutinise all males of the same age group as the missing toddler looking for a scar on their lip and a mark on the back of the neck.
In 1922 G R Stark started to work at a hotel as a vegetable sorter. While working there, he met a young man of the same age as Cecil who funnily enough was called Cecil, and when he studied him, he had the same scar on his lip, but his surname was Lenighen.
Lenighan stated that he could not remember how he had left his parents but that he had been passed from family to family throughout Oregon and the last family had been the lenighens in Portland who had sent him to school for a couple of years so he had taken their name. He had then gone on his way and had joined the army, lived in San Francisco, Sacramento and other cities in California before ending up in Spokane at the hotel.
Mrs Brittain was living in soap lake and came to see Cecil and on checking the back of his neck his lip and a crooked finger she was adamant that this was her son and they were finally reunited. It is only sad that his father never got to see his beloved son again as he had died only a short time before the identification.
The Leavenworth Echo Friday August 18th 1922
I would love to know what became of Orville and if there is any more to this story and whether it was passed down through the family.
Jo has been interested in the supernatural since long conversations with her invisible twin friends. Ghosts or imagination? who knows but her insatiable thirst for the paranormal was born in those long forgotten conversations