It’s been more than a century and a half since President Millard Fillmore signed the bill creating Washington Territory back in 1853 and, according to some, Pacific County has been in the thick of election madness ever since,
However, no year was as heartbreaking, contentious and downright difficult as that first one. That’s the year that it took four separate elections to get one representative seated in the Territorial Legislature at Olympia. It all began with a proclamation from the governor:
I, Isaac I. Stevens, Governor of the Territory of Washington do appoint and direct that the first election for the member of the House of Representatives from the County of Pacific shall be held on Monday the 30th day of January, A.D. 1854, between the hours of 9 A.M. and 6 P.M.
With a total white population of 152, only 61 of whom were eligible voters, Pacific County had two designated polling places — Pacific City (at Cape Disappointment) and Chinook City (near present-day Station Camp). There were no political parties, no delegates, no superdelegates or caucuses and no vote for women. But things were not necessarily simple then.
According to a leading Pacific County historian, the late Sen. Robert C. Bailey, “At a meeting of the majority of the voters of the district, Joel L. Brown was nominated… This was considered tantamount to election…”
Brown had arrived in the area earlier in the year and was, apparently, a man of vision and ambition. He had taken out a donation land claim on the Palix River where he intended to build a store for trading purposes and, eventually, a town. Along with several others, he had cut a wagon road on the portage from the Columbia River to Shoalwater Bay and, at the time of his nomination, he was engaged in exploring for a wagon route from the bay to Olympia.
Unfortunately, Brown was forced to return home by stress of weather and scarcity of provisions. The exposure and hardships of the expedition resulted in his death on Jan. 4, 1854, just three and a half weeks before the scheduled election. He was buried near his small cabin on his claim, which is now a part of Bay Center.
Pacific County settlers wasted no time in nominating Jehu Scudder to fill the still open position. Scudder was one of the first movers and shakers of the County. Indeed, his name appears on the 1850 petition to the Oregon Territorial Legislature asking that a new county be carved out of Lewis County and named ‘Pacific.’ He seemed a natural to represent the populace in the newly created Washington Territory. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
A monument in the Lone Fir Cemetery, near Long Beach, bears this inscription: Jehu Scudder — the first legislator elected to represent Pacific County died on February 18, 1854, enroute to Olympia to attend the first session of the Territorial Legislature. His was the first grave in the cemetery, which was located on his Donation Land Claim.
The next man to make the rigorous and dangerous trip to Olympia was Henry Fiester, age 37. On Wednesday, March 29, 1854, the committee on elections reported it had examined the credentials of Mr. Fiester and considered him entitled to a seat in the House, whereupon the member elect came forward and took the oath of office. That evening Mr. Fiester joined a number of colleagues at a local saloon. Shortly after his arrival, he fell from his chair, dead.
The only business conducted by the House the next day, Thursday, March 30, 1854, was the drawing of resolutions concerning the man who had been seated only the day before:
RESOLVED, at the Legislative Assembly in the Territory of Washington that we have heard with deep regret of the death of Henry Fiester, Esq., late a member of the House of Representatives from the County of Pacific.
RESOLVED, that we deeply sympathize and console with the widow of the deceased, his numerous personal friends, and his constituents in Pacific County, who are thus deprived of a husband, friend and representative.
RESOLVED, that the members of the House attend the funeral in a body and as a further mark of respect, wear the usual badge of mourning for thirty days.
RESOLVED, that a committee of five be appointed to superintend the funeral ceremony of the deceased.
RESOLVED, that the clerk be instructed o forward a certified copy of these resolutions to the widow of the late Henry Fiester, Esq.
So very civilized sounding! All I can think is, what a far cry from some of what our televisions are spewing into our living rooms these days. Plus, our Pacific County forebears saw to it that the next nomination was made (and acted on) in a timely manner. That the end result was a little peculiar was apparently not a matter of much concern.
A special election was called for immediately and was held on April 9th. Twenty-four-year-old James Clark Strong was urged by his friends to run for the vacant office which he agreed to do, though with some reluctance considering the fates of his predecessors. Accordingly, as he later wrote to the Portland Oregonian:
I had been a resident of Cathlamet, which was in the District. I presented myself as a candidate for the position; was duly elected; and my certificate of election was signed by the proper officials. A storm delayed me so that I did not arrive at Olympia until April 14, when I was sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives from the District called Pacific County.
But… before Strong could serve out his term of office, the Pacific County District was divided into three parts — Wahkiakum, Cowlitz and Pacific! Again, a date was set for the election of a representative from Pacific County.
Strong was sent from Olympia with orders from the governor for the special election. He arrived first in Pacific City where Chester B. Macumber was nominated to run against him. Macumber was elected!
After the Pacific City polls closed and the votes were duly counted, Strong left that location for Chinook. He arrived there about 9:30 p.m. People had mostly retired. He roused a portion of the inhabitants, added names sufficient to overcome Macumber’s majority, and went on to Olympia to serve the balance of the term.
But even that was not the end of the story. According to Judge John Briscoe in his autobiography, published in the “Washington Historian” for September 1899: “There were two sessions this year. In July, 1854, I was elected representative to the Legislature, which met the first Monday in December.”
Perhaps historian Bailey expressed it best: “There are those who say that the inauspicious beginnings of Pacific County’s representation in Territorial politics cast a pall from which the County has never recovered.”