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Early Settlers in Walla Walla

By Shaun Reeser

The Washington Territorial Legislature incorporated the city of Walla Walla on January 11, 1862. Before incorporation, of course, there was the town of Walla Walla. Some of the earliest settlers arrived in the 1850s. Many of these men and women shaped the future of the city and it is worth examining some of them to gain a better understanding of the nature of the early inhabitants. They not only defined Walla Walla, but also the frontier spirit. An examination of E.B. Whitman – Walla Walla’s first elected mayor – is discussed, a brief introduction to businessman Samuel M. Baldwin, and also a representative of the seedier side of the city – Thomas H. Currie – is touched upon.
Whitman was an early civic leader and one of Walla Walla’s earliest settlers. The first city election elicited cries of fraud by the Washington Statesman newspaper, a topic discussed below. Even with allegations of misconduct at the polls, no one doubted Whitman’s place at the head of government. His first days in office were difficult as tensions between the townspeople and the soldiers of neighboring Ft. Walla Walla climaxed the day he formally took office, which is also examined.
Whitman, the events described, the two individuals explored, and others helped shape both the City and County of Walla Walla; a region that at one time included all of present day Washington east of the Cascade Mountains, Idaho, and western Montana.


-- People –

“E.B. Whitman: Walla Walla’s First Elected Mayor” – On April 1, 1862, the incorporated city of Walla Walla held its first election in Washington Territory. The townspeople chose E.B. Whitman, a prominent citizen, to serve as their first elected mayor. This was certainly a great honor for Whitman, who settled in Walla Walla prior to 1860, but he would soon learn some of the difficulties that come with taking an elected office in Frontier Washington Territory.

“Samuel M. Baldwin: Businessman” – Baldwin was an early leading figure in Walla Walla. He was a business owner and sat on the boards of both fire and rail companies. As with any early entrepreneur in the western frontier, however, Baldwin was not free of legal troubles.

“Thomas H. Currie: Saloonkeeper, Fornicator, and Gambling Den Keeper” – The Frontier Justice Records are clearly not limited to upstanding citizens. One such individual was Thomas H. Currie, a saloonkeeper. Currie, whose profession does not necessarily imply a lowly character, is listed in the Walla Walla Frontier Justice Records four times in 1867. Although a businessperson was likely to appear before a judge for a collection of some type, Currie was charged with Keeping a House of Gambling, Maintaining a Gambling Table, Sale of Liquor to Indians, and Fornication.

-- Events of April 1861 --

“Fraud! Walla Walla’s First Election” – The first election in the city of Walla Walla was an occasion of democracy at work and, according to the editors of the Washington Statesman, stuffed ballot boxes. The results are questioned, but certified, and soon the city has a working elected government.

“Neighborly Dispute: Soldiers and Citizens at Odds” – A riot at the city theater on April 10, 1862 led to the death of both soldiers from Ft. Walla Walla and townspeople and tensions remained high over the next couple of days. The morning of April 13th a large group of armed soldiers marched into the city and arrested the sheriff. This caused great alarm amongst the citizenry and prompted a heated exchange of letters between Mayor Whitman and post commander, Lt. Col. Lee.


Overview: The Washington Statesman newspaper was a prime source of news for people in Walla Walla and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The following documents detail many aspects of life in the city during the 1860s. (The Walla Walla Statesman began publishing in September 1864 as the successor to the Washington Statesman.) Included below are legal notices, local stories, and published correspondence. The newspaper did carry national and international news picked up from travelers and other newspapers, but these are not included here.

-- Whitman --

“The Mayor’s Message,” Washington Statesman April 19, 1862, page 2, column 1 – The editors cheerfully describe Mayor Whitman’s inaugural message to the City Council. The mayor calls for a fire department, permanent bridges, and strong education. Whitman clearly sees the early years of administration as important for the future of the city.

-- Baldwin --

“Sheriff Sale,” Washington Statesman, Vol. I, No. 3, December 13, 1861, page 3 – A notice of an upcoming Sheriff’s sale to raise the money that James Craiggei (or Craig in the Frontier Justice Records) owes to Samuel Baldwin.

“Sheriff Sale,” Washington Statesman, Vol. I, No. 4, December 20, 1861, page 3, column 1 – Another notice of a Sheriff’s sale in support of Baldwin, but against C. Langley. This notice also ran in Vol. I, No. 5, December 27, 1861, page 3, column 1.

“Legal Notice,” Washington Statesman, Vol. I, No. 30, July 12, 1862, page 2 – Legal announcement posted by the legal firm George and Sparks calling for Samuel Baldwin and his business partner, L.W. Greenwell, to appear in court. This is an attempt to collect a promissory note.

-- Currie --

“A Free Fight,” Walla Walla Statesman, October 11, 1867, page 3, column 1 – Brief report on the trial of Currie in an assault and beating case.

-- Fraud! --

“Council Proceedings,” Washington Statesman, April 12, 1862, page 2 – A summary of the council meeting of April 4. The primary topic is the certification and results of the first city election held Tuesday, April 1. The results are included and notices were sent to those elected.

“Council Proceedings,” Washington Statesman, April 12, 1862, page 2 – A summary of the April 10 City Council meeting. Here the new council was qualified before the previous council and adjourned until the next day.

“Election Results,” Washington Statesman, April 5, 1862, page 2 – An article by the editors decrying the recent election results as fraudulent. They call attention to the fact that more men voted in the election than allowed and imply that at least one race may have been altered by this illegal ballot casting.

-- Neighborly Dispute --

“The Riot at the Theater,” Washington Statesman April 19, 1862, page 2, columns 2-3 – The editors describe the events of both the riot on April 10 and the exchange of letters with commentary from April 13. Lt. Col. Lee seems to blame the townspeople for all of the events and almost dismisses the negligent conduct of the soldiers. Mayor Whitman offers clear, concise, and biting replies. The matter remained unsettled with this issue of the newspaper.

“Correspondence Between Mayor Whitman and Col. Lee,” Washington Statesman April 19, 1862, page 2, columns 3-4 – The heated exchange of letters between Mayor Whitman and Lt. Col. Lee regarding the events of April 13.