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Washington Politics through Four Administrations
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Washington | No Comments
With the organization of the territory, the democratic party north of the Columbia had prepared to marshal its ranks and act with the democrats of Oregon wherever they could be mutually helpful in resisting what they denominated the “tyranny of the federal party.” It had not succeeded in effecting its object, when it suffered to be elected to congress Columbia Lancaster, whose politics were as nondescript as his abilities were inferior. In 1855 a more thorough party organization was perfected for the election of a delegate to succeed Lancaster. The choice of the convention fell upon J. Patton Anderson, the first United States marshal of the territory, who resigned his office in March with the design of running for delegate, his place being subsequently filled by the appointment of George W. Corliss.
Stevens, while having with him the ultra anti-Indian element, had become unpopular in other quarters. His martial-law measure, among others, was severely criticized. Stevens’ excuse for it was that only in that way certain white residents of Pierce County having Indian wives could be effectually secured from intercourse with the enemy. In March 1856 the governor caused them to be arrested upon a charge of treason, without the formality of a civil process, and sent to Fort Steilacoom with a request to Colonel Casey to keep them in close confinement. Two law practitioners, W. H. Wallace and Frank Clark of Pierce county, early in April, determining to vindicate the majesty of law, set out for Whidbey Island, where resided Judge Chenoweth, to procure a writ of habeas corpus, when Stevens, equally determined, thereupon proclaimed martial law in Pierce County.
Then followed a performance, which for stubborn persistency on both sides was not unlike the Leschi affair. Casey notified the governor that in the case of a writ of habeas corpus being served upon him, he should feel compelled to obey its mandates, whereupon Stevens removed the prisoners to Olympia, out of Chenoweth’s district. Chenoweth, being ill, requested Chief Justice Lander to hold court for him at Steilacoom, which Lander proceeded to do, but was arrested, and with his clerk, John M. Chapman, taken to Olympia and detained in custody three or four days. Indignation meetings were held, and congress appealed to, public opinion being divided. Lander opened the district court the 12th of May at Olympia, and next day the governor placed Thurston County under martial law. Thereupon the governor was cited to appear before the chief justice at chambers, and refused, while the governor caused the arrest of the chief justice for ignoring martial law. Lander, declining parole, was sent to Camp Montgomery.
Thus attempts and contempts, writs and restrictions, continued, which, however interesting and instructive at the time, it would be irksome for us to follow. The Pierce County men were tried by a military commission, and martial law abrogated. But the end was not yet; for over innumerable technicalities, in which lawyers, judges, citizens, officials, and military men had become involved, wrangling continued throughout the year, B. P. Kendall, bitterly opposed to Stevens, having been meanwhile appointed United States district attorney by Lander.
The matter having been brought to the attention of the president, Governor Stevens was reprimanded by the executive through the secretary of state, who assured him that, although his motives were not questioned, his conduct in proclaiming martial law did not meet with the approval of the president.
Soon it was rumored that Stevens would be removed, when his friends announced that they would send him as delegate to congress in 1857, and immediately set about marshalling their forces to this end. This being the year when the Republican Party was first organized in the territory, the election campaign was more hotly contested than usual, Stevens being a southern democrat like Lane, while the new party took direct issue with the south.
The candidate put forward by the republicans was A. S. Abernethy, a mild-mannered man, like his brother George Abernethy of Oregon, and having nothing either in his character or his history to hang praise or blame upon, could not contend for the people’s suffrages with Stevens. Stevens, who had a magnetic presence, a massive brain, great stores of knowledge, which he never paraded, although in private a brilliant talker, a memory like Napoleon, whose small stature he approached, and bristled all over with points to attract the electricity of a crowd. Besides these qualities, which might be relied upon to give him success in a campaign, he was regarded by the volunteers as their proper representative to procure the payment of the war debt, against which General Wool was using his powerful influence. Not an orator or debater, and with almost the whole argumentative talent of the territory arrayed against him, his election was a foregone conclusion from the first. Stevens’ majority over Abernethy was 463 out of 1,024 votes. He resigned his office of governor on the 11th of August, one month less two days after his election, the full returns not being made before the last week in July. Secretary Mason filled his place as acting governor until the arrival of his successor in September.
It would occupy too much space to follow in detail the public acts of Washington’s first governor. He labored as untiringly for the territory he represented in congress as he had at home, and was met by the same opposition, preventing during his first term the passage of any bill looking to the payment of the war debt. He urged the claims of the territory to this money, to roads, public buildings, coast defenses, a superintendent of Indian affairs, and additional Indian agents, the payment of Governor Douglas of Vancouver Island for assistance rendered acting governor Mason in 1855, more land districts and offices, and the survey of the upper Columbia. None of these measures were carried through in the session of 1858-9. But he was returned to congress in the latter year, running against W. H. Wallace, and beating him by about 600 votes out of less than 1,800. At the session of 1860-1, a land office was established in the southern part of the territory, called the Columbia River district; an appropriation of $100,000 was obtained to be expended on the Fort Benton and Walla Walla road begun by Lieutenant Mullan; $10,000 to improve the road between Cowlitz landing and Monticello; and appropriations for fulfilling the treaties with the Walla Walla, Cayuse, Umatilla, Nez Percé, Flathead, and confederated tribes, and the coast tribes of Washington; and an act was passed giving to the territory an Indian superintendent and a fuller corps of agents. At the close of this session, also, congress agreed upon a plan for paying the war debt, after reducing it one half.
In April 1861 Stevens returned to Olympia, looking grave and careworn, for he had taken deeply to heart the troubles between the north and south. Being a pro-slavery democrat, yet a determined supporter of the government, he had labored earnestly to prevent secession, but as he probably knew, with little effect. Almost simultaneously with his arrival came the news that Fort Sumter had been taken by the South Carolinans, and civil war begun.
There were in Washington, as in Oregon, many southern democrats; and there was in the Democratic Party itself a tradition that nothing should be permitted to sunder it; that to depart from its time-honored principles and practices was to be a traitor. Stevens met the crisis in his usual independent spirit. His first words to the people of Olympia, who congregated to welcome him home, were: “I conceive my duty to be to stop disunion.” He had returned with the intention of becoming a candidate for reelection, but when the convention met at Vancouver he withdrew his name, promising to sustain the choice of the delegates, this falling upon Salucius Garfielde, who had been for four years receiver in the land office. Again he urged the duty of the party to support the government, and procured the adoption of union resolutions by the convention; yet such was the hostility, which pursued him, that many newspapers represented him as uniting with Gwin and Lane to form a Pacific republic.
He remained but a few weeks on the Pacific coast, hastening back to Washington to offer his services to the president, and was appointed colonel of the 79th New York regiment, the famous Highlanders, on the death of their colonel, Cameron. Stevens’ service, beginning July 31, 1861, was first in the defenses of Washington. In September he was commissioned brigadier-general, and commanded a brigade in the Port Royal expeditionary corps from October to March 1862. From March to July he was in the department of the south. On the 4th of July he was commissioned a major-general of volunteers, but the senate refusing to confirm the appointment, he continued to serve as a general of brigade in the northern Virginia campaign, though in command of a division. At the battle of Chantilly, while leading his faltering command in a charge, himself carrying the flag which the color bearer, stricken clown by a shot, was about to let fall, he was struck in the head by a ball and died upon the field. But his courage and devotion had saved the city of Washington, for had Pope’s army been forced to capitulate, the nation’s capital would have been involved in the disaster.
When the intelligence of the death of Stevens reached Washington, the grief of all classes was sincere and profound. The war had readjusted party lines; personal jealousies had been forgotten; nothing could any one recall that was base or dishonorable, but much that was lofty and manly, in the dead hero. When the legislature met, resolutions were passed in his honor, and crape was ordered to be worn for ten days. So mutable is human regard! The legislature of Rhode Island also formally regretted his loss. The most touching, because the most sincere and unaffected, tribute to his character was contained in a eulogistic letter by Professor Bache of the coast survey, in whose office he spent four years. “He was not one who led by looking on, but by example. As we knew him in the coast-survey office, so he was in every position of life …This place he filled, and more than filled, for four years, with a devotion, an energy, a knowledge not to be surpassed, and which left its beneficent mark upon our organization…Generous and noble in impulses, he left our office with our enthusiastic admiration of his character, appreciation of his services, and hope for his success.
Thus died, at forty-four years of age, a man whose talents were far above those whom the president too often appoints to the executive office in the territories. As a politician he would always have failed, despising the tricks by which they purchase success; but as an explorer, a scientist, or an army commander, he could have reached to almost any height. His services to Washington are commemorated by the county east of the northern branch of the Columbia bearing the name of Stevens.
The successor of Stevens was Fayette McMullin of Virginia, a politician, whose chief object in coining — to Washington seems to have been to get rid of one wife and marry another. He held the executive office only from September 1857 to July 1858, when he was removed. His administration, if such it can be called, embraced the period rendered memorable by the Fraser River gold mining excitement, of which I have given a full account in my History of British Columbia, to which the reader is referred for particulars.
The Hudson’s Bay Company had for three years been in the receipt of gold-dust purchased of the Indians in the region of Fraser River with lead, ounce for ounce, when in the winter of 1857-8 some of this gold found its way to Olympia, and caused the greatest excitement here as elsewhere all along the coast. Men rushed to the mines from every quarter, and the prices of labor, provisions, lumber, and real estate on the Sound advanced rapidly. There were many routes to the new mines, and divers outfitting posts; but a policy of exclusiveness on the part of the fur company authorities prevented Washington from receiving the advantages, which would otherwise have accrued to the territory.
While the great gold excitement of 1858 gave new life and impetus to certain branches of business in the Puget Sound country, it failed to build up trade and cities in that region, as some sanguine speculators had hoped. The good that it did came afterward, when many disappointed adventurers, chiefly young men, not having been able to reach the gold-fields, or returning thence poorer than they went, as some gold- seekers always do return, sought work, and finally homes on the government land, and remained to help subdue the wilderness and cultivate the soil. From this class Puget Sound nearly doubled its population in two years.
Another benefit to the country resulted from the impetus given to intelligent explorations, made both in quest of the precious metals and in the search for passes through the Cascade Mountains that might lead more directly to the mines on the upper Fraser. It made the country thoroughly known to its older inhabitants, and caused the laying-out of roads that opened to settlement many hitherto inappropriate valleys and isolated prairies, completing the unpremeditated explorations made during the Indian wars of 1855-6. Attempts were made this summer to open a pass at the head waters of the Skikomish branch of the Snohomish River by Cady and Parkinson, who were driven back by the Indians. An exploration was also made of the Skagit, with a view to constructing a road up that river to the mines, and W. H. Pearson led a large mining party through the Snoqualimich Pass, intending to proceed to Thompson River by the Similkameen route, but was prevented by the Yakimas and their allies. A large immigration to the British Columbia mines subsequently took place by the Columbia River route, and in 1861 Governor Douglas, as a means of depriving Americans of the benefit of free-trade, established a higher rate of duty on goods conveyed over the border, although the Hudson’s Bay Company were allowed to carry goods from Nisqually across the line without hindrance.
After the removal of McMullin, and until the arrival of his successor, Mason again became acting governor, soon after which he died. No man in Washington had a firmer hold upon the-esteem of the whole community than Mason, who for six years had held the office of secretary, and for nearly half that time of vice-governor. Efficient, prompt, incorruptible, and courteous, he deserved the encomiums lavished upon him in post-obit honors. Stevens pronounced his funeral oration, and he was buried from the capital with imposing ceremonials. The legislative assembly of 1864 changed the name of Sawamish County to Mason, in honor of his services to the territory.
The third governor of Washington was Richard D. Gholson, of Kentucky, and like his predecessors, a radical democrat. He arrived in July 1859, and officiated both as governor and secretary until Mason’s successor, Henry M. McGill, arrived in November. The following May Gholson returned to Kentucky on a six months’ leave, during which such changes took place in national politics as to cause him to remain away, and McGill officiated as governor until April 1861, when W. H. Wallace was appointed to the executive office by President Lincoln, L. J. S. Turney being secretary.
The administration of Gholson and McGill was marked by events of importance to the territory, pertaining to the quarrel over the San Juan boundary, in which the territorial authorities were permitted to participate in an insignificant degree, owing to the military occupation of the island. The not unimportant troubles with the northern and local Indian tribes gave the governor frequent occasion for anxiety. Besides those murders and emeutes to which I have already referred, D. Hunt, deputy United States surveyor, was murdered on Whidbey Island in July 1858. Seven miners were also attacked and killed on their way to Fort Langley, and a white woman captured about the same time. If a party of two or three men set out to perform a canoe journey to the lower waters of the Sound, they ran the risk of meeting their executioners in another Indian canoe in one of the many lonely wastes on Admiralty Inlet.
At length, in February 1859, two schooners, the Ellen Maria and Blue Wing, mysteriously disappeared while en route from Steilacoom to Port Townsend. The latter was commanded by a young man named Showell, and carried several passengers, among whom was E. Schroeder, a well-known and respected Swiss merchant of Steilacoom, lately appointed sutler to Major Haller. Various rumors were afloat concerning the fate of the vessels, in which Indians were mentioned as accessory to their loss, but the crime, if any, could not be traced to any tribe or individuals, until in July 1860, when, at the trial of an Indian for another offence at Victoria, one of the Indian witnesses irrelevantly gave a clew to the matter. The guilty persons, it seems, were Haidahs, for whom requisitions were several times made on Governor Douglas, but refused upon one pretext or another, until the criminals had escaped, when it was granted.
Another matter, which occasioned some agitation during the administration of McGill, was the location of the public buildings of the territory. By the organic act the governor could convene the first legislature where he pleased; but that body was then, at its first session, or as soon as expedient, to establish the scat of government at such a place as it deemed eligible, which place was, however, subject to be changed by an act of the assembly at some future time. At the session of 1854-5 the legislature fixed the capital at Olympia, the university at Seattle, with a branch at Boisfort plains, and the penitentiary at Vaneouver. In January 1858 the university was relocated on Cowlitz prairie without a branch. ‘Work was begun on the state house, which, however, was suspended by the Indian war.
At the session of 1856-7 congress appropriated $30,000, in addition to the $5,000 granted in the organic act, which had been in part or in whole expended; and then commenced the advancement of competitive claims for the honor and profit of securing one or other of the public buildings.
A determined effort was made in 1859-60 by a faction to remove the capital from Olympia to Vancouver, but as strongly resisted by a majority of the assembly. The matter coming up again at the next session, the effort was renewed, and the matter having been previously arranged by trading, acts giving Vancouver the capital, Seattle the university, and Port Townsend the penitentiary were passed without discussion in the lower house, and being sent to the council, passed that body without argument also, the president’s vote constituting the majority. Such was the haste of the legislative traders, that the all- important enacting clause was omitted in the wording of the bill locating the capital, which thereby became inoperative. It was also illegal in another point, having located the capital permanently, which the legislature had no right to do, according to the organic act of the territory.
Another act was passed at the same session requiring the people to vote at the next election upon the seat-of-government question, which being done, Olympia received a large majority over all competitors. This result brought on a contest similar to that between Oregon City and Salem, a part of the legislature going to Vancouver and a part to Olympia, neither place having a quorum. Two weeks were spent in waiting for a decision of the supreme court upon the validity of the opposing laws, when it was decided that for the reasons above named Olympia still remained the capital; and that although the vote of the people carried with it no binding force in this case, yet the wish of the people, when so plainly expressed, was entitled to consideration by courts and legislatures. This settled the matter so far as the capital was concerned, the Vancouver seceders returning to Olympia, where the capital has since remained.
Previous to the removal of the seat of government to Vancouver, Governor McGill having become responsible for the proper outlay of the government appropriation, in which he was opposed by the same clique of politicians which effected the subsequent trade, had let contracts for clearing the land donated by Edmund Sylvester for the site of the capitol, and preparing the foundations of legislative halls and territorial offices. The removal of the capital by the next legislature was a part of the political program, which in the end failed in fact and intent. But the adverse proceedings delayed the erection of a statehouse until 1863, when there was completed a structure of wood at Olympia which has served the purposes of the territory for many years.
The university was suffered to remain at Seattle on condition that ten acres of land should be donated for a building site where the commissioners should select it. This condition was complied with by A. A. Denny giving eight acres, and Edward Lander and C. C. Terry the remainder. The corner-stone was laid in May 1861, but the university for many years failed to rank above a preparatory school, partly through mismanagement of its funds, and also by the loans to be secured by mortgage on real estate of twice its value. The interest thus accruing was to be set apart for the support of the university, and to be under the control of the regents, the principal to remain an irreducible fund. The laws required annual reports from both boards and the treasurer. Id., 60.
The administration of McGill, although an accidental one, was energetic and creditable. He combined, like Mason, executive ability with that savoir faire which left those who would have possibly been his enemies no ground for hostility. His attitude during the San Juan and extradition difficulties was dignified and correct, leaving a record alike honorable to himself and the territory.
The appointment of Governor Wallace in 1861 was followed immediately by his nomination to the delegateship of the territory. In Washington as in Oregon, the Democratic Party, as such, had been forced to abandon its ancient rule, and it was now the party of the union, which held the reins of government. Wallace had been a Whig; he was now a Republican. That was the secret of his sudden success. Running against Garfielde, democrat, and Judge Lander, independent, he beat the former by over 300 votes, and the latter by 1,000. Yet the legislature of 1861-2 voted down a series of resolutions presented by republican members sustaining the course of the general government and discountenancing the project of a Pacific confederacy.
The democracy were not yet willing to resort to arms to save the union from overthrow by their political brethren of the south, and the legislature was democratic still. But the following session of 1862-3, very soon after convening, the joint assembly passed very strong resolutions of support to the government in suppressing the rebellion, partly the result of increasing republican sentiment, and partly also, no doubt, from a feeling of sorrow and regret for the loss of the territory’s one war hero, I. I. Stevens, and not a little from a fear of losing the patronage of a republican administration.
The resignation of Wallace on his election as delegate was followed by a brief interregnum, during which the secretary, L. J. S. Turney, acted as governor. The next appointee was William Pickering of Illinois, at who arrived at Olympia in June 1862. In December Secretary Turney was removed and Elwood Evans appointed in his place. Evans’ commission having been sent to him without a bond, Turney refused to vacate the office. Both claiming the exclusive right to act, the financial affairs of the officials and legislators were for some time in an embarrassed condition. Pickering proved to be acceptable as an executive, and Evans was well qualified for the secretaryship; so that peace reigned in the executive office for a longer term than usual, and the legislature memorialized congress against the removal of Pickering in 1866-7, but a commission having already issued, he was forced to give way. During 1865 Evans was acting governor, filling the office to the satisfaction of the territory as well as the Republican Party.
Since the days when the first collector of customs, Moses, had worried the Hudson’s Bay Company, and other British men, ship-captains, and owners, and since Ebey had established a deputy on the disputed island of San Juan, matters had proceeded quietly in the customs department. Ebey was succeeded by Morris H. Frost of Steilacoom, who held the office for four years, and C. C. Phillips of Whidbey Island followed for a short term of nine months, when, in August 1861, the new administration sent out from Ohio an incumbent named Victor Smith, who was not only clothed with the powers of a collector of United States revenue, but commissioned to inquire into the manner in which the government moneys were disbursed in other departments a treasury spy, in short, who enjoyed the confidence of the authorities at the national capital, but who, as it turned out, did not possess the requisite discretion for so dangerous an office, the consequence of which was that others, through jealousy perhaps, were spying upon him.
The first offence of which Victor Smith was plainly shown to be guilty was that of plotting to remove the custom-house from Port Townsend to Port Angeles, upon the pretence that the former place was not a good harbor in all weathers, but really, as it was averred, that he might speculate in town lots, he being shown to be the owner of a fifth interest in the Port Angeles Company’s town site. A legislative memorial was forwarded to congress in December 1861 in favor of Port Townsend, and asking for an appropriation to erect a suitable custom house at that place.
Another offence of the imported customhouse official was that he was an abolitionist, a word of hatred and contempt to the democracy. To be au intermeddler between master and slave, and to attempt to alter the settled order of things in the district of Puget Sound, where an appointee from the east was likely to be regarded as an interloper, were serious counts against the new collector. It was not long, therefore, before an apparent defalcation was discovered, and an outcry raised which made it necessary for him to repair to Washington.
In the interim, and before he reached the capital, Secretary Chase, whose confidence Smith seems to have enjoyed to a singular degree, recommended to congress the removal of the custom-house from Port Townsend to Port Angeles, and a bill was passed removing it in June 1862. This redoubled the animosity with which the Port Townsend faction regarded the Port Angeles faction. Nor was the feeling lessened by the action of the government in first applying to Port Angeles the operation of a “bill for increasing revenue by reservation and sale of town sites.” Under this act, the land which the original town company had claimed and surveyed for the city of Cherburg was reserved by the government, which resurveyed it and sold the lots at auction to the highest bidder, the company not neglecting their opportunity to secure a perfect title.
When Smith departed to Washington to explain to the proper authorities the condition of his accounts, and showed that the alleged defalcation was simply a transfer of $15,000 from one fund to another, in which action he was borne out by authority vested in him by the treasury department, he appointed J. J. H. Van Bokelin deputy inspector and collector for the period of his absence. Hardly was his back turned upon Port Townsend when Captain J. S. S. Chaddock of the revenue-cutter Joe Lane, acting upon information received, proceeded to take possession of the customhouse, where he left installed as collector Lieutenant J. H. Merryman of the revenue service. This was in June 1862. In August Victor Smith returned to Puget Sound in the steam revenue-cutter Shubriek, commanded by Lieutenant Wilson, and demanded of Merryman the surrender of the keys of the customhouse; but this Merryman refused unless he were shown Smith’s commission from the department at Washington, or his special authority for making the demand, neither of which were produced. Instead, Smith returned to the cutter, had her brought into the harbor, her men armed, her guns shotted and brought to bear upon the town. Two officers with a party of marines then landed and demanded of Merryman to deliver up to them the custom-house keys, but were refused. Upon this Wilson himself went ashore and made a formal requisition for the possession of the custom-house papers and moneys, when the government property was surrendered, and to avoid further trouble, taken on board the Shubrick, where the business of the office was transacted until it was removed to Port Angeles in September.
The people of Washington Territory had never yet been granted a satisfactory mail communication, but by an arrangement of the postal agent with the Eliza Anderson, a passenger steamer running between Puget Sound ports and Victoria, had for some time enjoyed a somber satisfaction in being able to get word to and from Victoria in a week. But on the arrival of the Shubrick, Smith, who was authorized to introduce retrenchment into the public service wherever it could be done, assumed charge of the mail service, and made the Shubrick carrier, which having a regular route away from the mail route, was anything but a proper mail carrier. This disturbance of their already too limited means of communication roused a tornado of invective about the ears of the self-constituted postal agent.
Immediately after the belligerent performances of the Shubrick, Governor Pickering, attended by United States Marshal Huntington, Ex-governor McGill, Major Patten of the regular service, and a number of citizens of Olympia, repaired to Port Townsend on the Eliza Anderson, to inquire into the conduct of Collector Smith in threatening to bombard that town. But the witty and audacious revenue gatherer exhibited his correspondence with the secretary of the treasury, and smiling benignly, assured his visitors that whatever they might think of his methods, lie was undoubtedly a favorite of the power which made them, as well as him, of which he was able to furnish abundant evidence. Although this could not be gainsaid, there still remained the suspicion that the confidence of the government might be misplaced, and a few days later, when the Shubrick stopped at Port Townsend to leave and take the mail, Marshal Huntington attempted to board her with a warrant, but was not permitted to do so. On the 13th the Shubrick sailed for San Francisco, to which place she conveyed the collector, leaving the Eliza Anderson to carry the mails as heretofore, to the great joy of the business community.
In good time Smith returned, having caused the arrest of Merryman for carrying away certain moneys, and the custom-house was established at Port Angeles, where two hundred people had gathered in anticipation of soon building up a commercial city, Port Townsend being thrown into alternate paroxysms of rage and despair at being bereft of its prospects of greatness. At the meeting of the grand jury at Olympia in October, four indictments were found against Smith; namely, for resistance to a duly authorized officer of the law, for embezzlement of the public funds, for procuring false vouchers, and for assault on the people of Port Townsend. Smith eluded arrest for a time, but finally surrendered voluntarily, and gave bail for his appearance at court, where no case appears to have been made against him which the courts were competent to try. The government which appointed him saw fit to remove him little more than a year afterward, and appoint L. C. Gunn in his place.
With regard to the claim of Port Angeles to be considered the better point for a custom-house, McClellan, when surveying the shores of Puget Sound, reported favorably upon it, as the “first attempt of nature on this coast to form a good harbor.” It was well protected from the north winds by the sand spit of Ediz Hook, three miles in length, running out eastward, and from the south-east gales by the mainland, and had a good depth of water, besides lying more directly in the path of commerce than its rival. The town site was also called superior to Port Townsend, although it had the same high bluff back of the narrow strip of land bordering the harbor. Three small streams ran down from the highlands back of it and furnished abundance of water, the custom-house, a fine large structure, being built at the mouth of the canon through which one of these rivulets ran, Smith’s residence adjoining it, and the other buildings being near these central ones.
In the winter of 1863 a catastrophe occurred. For several days the stream just mentioned was dried up, the unknown cause being a landslide, which had fallen into the narrow gorge about five miles from Port Angeles, and by damming up the water formed a lake. On the afternoon of the 16th of December, it being almost dark, a terrible roaring and tearing sound was heard in the canon, and in a few moments a frightful calamity was upon the until now prosperous new town. The earth which formed the dam had at length given way, freeing a body of water fifteen feet in height, which rushed in a straight volume, carrying everything before it, and entirely changing the face of the ground swept by it. Crushed like an eggshell, the customhouse fell and was carried out into the harbor. Deputy Collector J. M. Anderson, formerly of Ohio, and Inspector William B. Goodell, lately master of the tug General Harney, stood at the front entrance of the building as the water and debris it carried struck the rear side. Their bodies were found two hundred feet away, covered four feet deep with earth and fragments of buildings and furniture.
Neither Smith, the late, nor Gunn, the newly appointed, collector, were in Port Angeles. Mrs Smith, with four young children, and Mrs Randolph were in the dwelling adjoining the customhouse, which, being partially protected from the first shock by a solid mass of piled-up lumber, fell, but was not carried away. Groping about in the darkness, stooping under the wreck, with the water up to her waist, Mrs Smith found and saved not only all her children, but another woman, who was lying under the water, held down with fragments of the walls. In a short time the flood had passed, and men in boats with lanterns were hurrying to the rescue of those in the direct course of the watery avalanche. No lives were lost except those of the two custom-house officers, but the town was in ruins, and although an effort was made to resuscitate it by removing what remained to a better site higher up the coast, it never recovered from the calamity, and gradually diminished in population, until it was reduced to the condition of a small farming community.
The customhouse safe being found with the office papers and books, the government sustained only the loss of the furniture of the building. The most serious damage fell upon Smith, who owned and had leased tho customhouse for a term of four years. This, with his residence, furniture, books, and a considerable sum of money, was snatched away in a moment, while he was in Washington endeavoring to adjust his affairs with the government. In 1865 the custom-house was returned to Port Townsend, and in that year, also, the principal figure in the short and singular history of Port Angeles disappeared from the world’s stage as suddenly as his town had done, eighteen months previous, when the steamship Brother Jonathan, Captain De Wolf, struck an unknown rock near Crescent City, and went down with 300 passengers on board, among whom was the talented but eccentric Victor Smith.
By the catastrophe at Port Angeles all the papers relating to the statistics of commerce were destroyed, leaving a blank in this chapter of early history which can never be satisfactorily filled.
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