Bucoda was once called Seatco and was the site of the first penitentiary in Washington Territory. Forest Grove Cemetery is said to be the site of a mass grave of prisoners who died in custody.
Another unmarked area on the old Mutual Mill site in Bucoda is said to be the last resting place for a few more inmates who died there. Seatco Prison was a contract operation and legendary for the alleged inhumane treatment of the prisoners.
According to old newspaper accounts, “Seatco” (See-at-koe) is the native word for “ghost or devil” or “ghost or devil place.” The prison itself was known as “Hell on Earth” by George France, among the last to leave on May 10, 1887, when prisoners were loaded onto trains and sent to Walla Walla.
Arthur Dwelly, a writer, historian and newspaper editor associated with the Tenino area who died in 2000, reported on the history of the institution about how the prison was built of wood and ready for occupancy in 1878. Built of 3-inch-thick planks laid flat and spiked together at intervals of 4 to 6 inches, the structure required 5 tons of iron spikes, he noted.
“Thirty-six cells were designed to hold a maximum of three prisoners each,” Dwelly wrote. “The cell block was unheated, and there were no sanitary facilities other than a bucket for each cell. Each cell had a single iron-barred window 6 inches high and about a foot long. The second floor held the kitchen and dining area, a tailor and shoe shops and quarters for the guards and for an occasional female inmate. At one time an Indian woman who had killed her husband was housed with her three children in a shack in the prison compound.”
The prison was at capacity when it closed in 1887. In 1912, it burned in the Bucoda mill fire. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places even though the building is gone.