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Great-great-grandson of Le Frambois appalled at French Camp School campus building project
The roughly two-ton historical marker in front of French Camp School is temporarily moved and tied to a tree just a few feet from its original location while construction crews work on a multi-purpose building next to the quad on campus. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin
FRENCH CAMP – When Wayne Knauf visited French Camp School recently, he was appalled to see the historic marker at the entrance to the campus moved unceremoniously several feet away, wrapped up with cables and chains and then tied to a tree.

Knauf’s reaction was understandable. The Michel La Frambois etched on the brass marker cemented onto the humongous granite boulder was his great-great-grandfather. As the marker states, La Frambois was among the fur hunters who rendezvoused every year at this spot in French Camp “where they camped with their families.” The hallowed ground and surroundings where the marker stands “was the terminus of the Oregon-California Trail which was used by the French-Canadian trappers employed by the Hudson Bay Company from about 1832 to 1845,” the notice further reads.

What happened to the marker, though, is just one of the things that caused Knauf’s ire. The heavy monument was temporarily moved so as not to stand in the way of the construction crew that is working on the new multipurpose building next to the school’s quad. The work involved digging into the ground for the laying of the building’s foundation. And that’s what Knauf found terribly troubling after he found out, from talking to the school principal and ensuing research, that there has been no archaeological survey or study done prior to the start of construction.

“The area that was covered with asphalt was stripped of the asphalt, and they were digging footings and erecting conduits and doing construction in an area that has to be of archaeological significance because of the Indian and Jedediah connection – with no regard to that and no environmental impact survey made,” said Knauf who, from his genealogical research, discovered that he had two great-great-grandfathers who stayed at French Camp.

He said he accidently learned about what’s happening at the school when he and three others headed out to French Camp to check out the historical marker after a recent visit to the Haggin Museum in Stockton.

“We were visiting Haggin Museum looking at weapons that came out of the cache left there by the French Canadians at French Camp. Then we drove down to French Camp and, oh, my goodness! What are they doing? And without any archaeological survey?” Knauf said, recalling his first reaction when he saw the construction project going on at the school.

“The asphalt has been stripped away and some backhoe work done to make footings and other things. I would have liked to have gone out and sorted the dirt!” he added.

Knauf said he was able to talk with the school principal who informed him that the marker will eventually be put back to its previous location when the building project is done.

“I’m not against putting up a multi-use building, but I’m against covering (up) history,” said the retired California forester and a member and director of the Jedediah Smith Society at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

Multipurpose building
going on top of
pioneer cemetery

“They’re going to put the monument back, which is nice, but there’s never been an archaeological survey and a required EIR (environmental impact report on the project0,” added Knauf who is a licensed forester by the State of California who also carries an archaeological license from the state although “not a full blown one.”

Knauf was also informed by Manteca Historical Society and Museum director Evelyn Prouty that where the multipurpose building is being constructed is right on top of an old pioneer cemetery.

“And that’s a double no-no,” Knauf said emphatically.

Prouty confirmed the location of a pioneer cemetery at the school site.

In his effort to raise a collective community consciousness about the historical significance of the French Camp School site and its preservation for future generations, Knauf has contacted a number of influential and knowledgeable people in the state including “state archaeological people that I’ve done business with and getting them to help me, and a private archaeologist in Los Angeles who is a  personal friend” as well as the University of the Pacific and “the San Joaquin County environmental people.”

According to Manteca Unified School District officials in the facilities and planning department, an archaeological survey was not done on the building project because it was not required to have that done since it was just “a minor addition to the school.”

A school district official in the facilities and planning department said that “an exemption was filed with the county clerk because the project was categorical exemption section 15314.” The building, she said, will be used as a gym and cafeteria “and any other kind of large gathering.”