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Early Settlers in Walla Walla

"E.B. Whitman: First Elected Mayor of Walla Walla"

by Shaun Reeser

On January 11, 1862, the city of Walla Walla was incorporated in the Territory of Washington.(1) This city, like all new municipalities, owed its recent designation to certain upstanding people (usually men in this period). For young Walla Walla, this group of men included E.B. Whitman. Whitman was an early fixture in the city and held many elected positions over the next few years. This man contributed much to the early development of what was then the largest city in the eastern section of Washington Territory.

According to the 1860 U.S. Census (the first after the creation of Washington Territory), E.B. Whitman was a thirty-nine year old merchant born in Massachusetts. He was married and the value of his personal estate was $5,000.(2) The 1870 census shows that Whitman aged only seven years in the ensuing decade and was now listed as a general trader. He resided with his wife, Maria, and their two sons. His children, E.S. (Edward), age 23, and S.G., age 21, are listed as a mule packer and a store clerk, respectively.(3)

On January 11, the legislature selected Whitman and others to serve in the interim city government until the spring elections. Whitman was appointed as one of the five councilmen of Walla Walla. After four hundred twenty-two ballots were cast on April 1, 1862, E.B. Whitman became Walla Walla’s first elected mayor.(4) Although the Washington Statesman cast aspersions on the number of voters who participated in the April election, Whitman received the most votes for the position of mayor and began managing the city’s affairs on April 10.(5) 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.(6)

The April 19 edition of the newspaper detailed the message that Mayor Whitman delivered to the city council on the 11th, his first full day as mayor of Walla Walla. In his address, Whitman calls for cooperation between the city and the county in building bridges, referred to the need of a city fire department, as well as that of a public school system.(7) The editorial board roundly applauded this message, but they soon turned their attention to the most pressing issue of the previous week, a riot at the town theater and the intrusion of soldiers into the city. For more information on the riot, please read the essay “Neighborly Dispute.”

It seems as though Whitman only served four years as mayor, but his early policies helped pave the way for his successors. Although no longer mayor, he continued to serve the city of Walla Walla in various capacities, including as a member of the school board. He passed away on August 6, 1899 and is buried in the Masonic section of the Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla.(8)

1. William Denison Lyman, History of Old Walla Walla County Embracing Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin Counties, Vol. 1 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1918), 116.
2. “E.B. Whitman – 1860 Walla Walla Federal Census,” Washington State Digital Archives. http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/ViewRecord.aspx?RID=BCBD607E41BBCD81D91FED07EE7F816A. Retrieved 23 October, 2008.
3. “E.B. Whitman – 1870 Walla Walla Federal Census,” Washington State Digital Archives. http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/ViewRecord.aspx?RID=62B5B27DB5A408A86A5C089E122DB72E. Retrieved 23 October, 2008.
4. Lyman, p. 116.
5. In the April 5, 1862 issue, the editors at the Washington Statesman (hereafter WS or Statesman) insinuated that the voting judges did not adequately perform their duties in making sure that only eligible voters cast ballots. The article cites that some individuals living miles away were allowed to vote. They allege that there should be no more than “three hundred bona fide voters … and yet nearly five hundred votes were polled….” (p. 2, col. 3)
6. Lyman, p. 112.
7. WS, April 19, 1862, p.2, col. 1.
8. “Whitman, E.B.,” Mountain View Internment records, http://www.internment.net/data/us/wa/ wallawalla/mtview/mtview_whwi.htm.