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Selucius Garfield, Washington Territory's most colorful politician
— including an overview of early territorial elections and parties
Part 1: Through early Washington Territory and Governor Stevens

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By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2013

      Selucius Garfield now joins our pantheon of favorite pioneer names, along with Euphroneous Watkinson of Edison and a handful of others. Garfield was the first delegate that represented the northwestern corner of Washington Territory in Congress. He was first elected in the Territory in 1869, just as settlers were moving onto land along the Nooksack, Skagit and Snohomish rivers. When he moved to Washington territory in 1857, Garfield became one of the most colorful politicians on Puget Sound but he spent his final years in the other Washington, on the Potomac, as the owner of gambling halls. We present the most in-depth profile of Garfield yet published, showing his meteoric rise to fame and then his fall from grace, and the volatile territorial political battles that occurred during the first two decades after Washington split off from Oregon.
      In this article we spell his name as Garfield to avoid confusion, except when quoting public records or articles that alternatively spell the name Garfielde. A family descendant, Pam Brett, has been very helpful, filling in some gaps in his life and she points out that the ancestors in his family spelled their name without the "e" on the end. Selucius added the "e" as did some of his children — gilding the lily once again, as his detractors accused him. He was a distant relative of President James A. Garfield and both were descended from Edward Garfield (possibly Gearfield), who was born in 1575 in Kilsby, Northamptonshire, England, came to America in 1630 and settled in Watertown, Massachusetts, and was one of the founding fathers of that town.
      Selucius Garfield was born in Shoreham, Addison County, Vermont (near Rutland), Dec. 8, 1822, the youngest of five children of Caleb C. and Electa Garfield. When Selucius was ten the family moved to Gallipolis, Ohio, a town founded in the 1790s by French aristocrats escaping Bastille Day and the guillotine. This area as well as much of Ohio was still known as Wilderness when the Garfields lived there. Mortimer Cook, the founder of Sedro, grew up at the same time, 170 miles north in Ohio, and his family also cleared the wilderness. After the family moved to Portage County, Ohio, Selucius left home at age 13 and qualified to be a teacher age 15.
      He moved south across the border to Kentucky in 1840 to attend Augusta Methodist-Episcopal College in Bracken county, which was located on the southern bank of the Ohio river. The state legislature later repealed Augusta's charter for abolitionist teaching. After he graduated in 1842, he taught school in neighboring Mason and Fleming counties and read for the law. He was admitted to the bar in Flemingsburg and in 1844 became a member of the firm that was soon named Garfield and Fant, practicing in Fleming County. Nelson Fant had a daughter named Juliet, whom Selucius married on July 3 that year.
      Pam Brett discovered a hint at the genesis of Garfield's future oratorical skill when she found that in 1845 Selucius produced for the Fleming County Clerk credentials of ordination in the Christian Church, which authorized him to celebrate the rites of matrimony. A year later he was appointed a justice of the peace in Sherburne Mills, now a ghost town southwest of Flemingsburg on the Licking river.
      At Sherburne, Garfield was initiated in the Holloway Lodge, No. 153 Free and Accepted Masons, Sherburne, Ky. in the autumn of 1847. Thomas M. Reed assisted in conferring the degree and Garfield soon presided in the lodge when Reed was elevated. The connection with Reed and Masons proved very important for at least the next 15 years.
      Garfield bought a ferry across the river at Sherburne in 1846 and a year later was one of the incorporators of the town. In 1848 he purchased the carding factory and flouring mill at Sherburne and was on his way to becoming a town father. Sometime in the next year he moved 30 miles southwest to Paris, Kentucky, in Bourbon county, where he edited the weekly Kentucky State Flag and in October he was elected a member of the commission in Frankfort that wrote the new state constitution. Juliet maintained their home at Sherburne but on March 19 she died in childbirth along with their second child; the first also died as an infant.

Moving on, north, south and west, and second marriage
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      Over the next seven years Garfield traveled a great deal, married again and exhibited his political acumen in several areas. In the summer of 1850 he traveled north and sailed from New York aboard the propeller-steamboat Commodore Preble and proceeded over the next year to travel in the Caribbean and South America. Instead of returning to the East Coast, he landed in California in September 1851 and headed where the action was, in '49er Gold Country.
      Thomas M. Reed once again stepped in later that month when he found Garfield ill, destitute and alone on a bed of loose straw in a small tent in the outskirts of Sacramento, according to a Washington Masonic history[1]. Reed had migrated to gold country earlier in 1849 and he went on to become a Sacramento retailer in partnership with future U.S. Senator John Conness. Reed also read for the law with Garfield and subsequently held offices at Eldorado county level and served as Postmaster for a year. He stayed in California until 1857, while Garfield criss-crossed the nation.
      When Garfield recuperated he set up a law practice in Georgetown in El Dorado county and within a year he was nominated and elected as a Democrat to a seat in the State Assembly. Due to his experience in helping draft the new Kentucky constitution, he was chosen to codify the laws for the relatively new state of California. Once drafted he was dispatched with the law drafts to Boston to arrange high-grade reproduction at the Franklin Printing House in Boston. The trip East, whether via the Isthmus of Panama or around Cape Horn is unknown, was relatively uneventful compared to what the return would entail.
      He had two other goals while in Boston, both Masonic and matrimonial. While there he completed the Cryptic and Scottish Rite degrees, including the 32nd degree for the latter. As descendant Pam Brett explains, the couple's later divorce records indicated that Selucius married Sarah Electa Perry on Oct. 10, 1853, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, although no such record has been discovered and Reed later recalled that the couple was married in Boston. To make the union even more remarkable, his wife's middle name was not just coincidentally "Electa." Her father, Darwin C. Perry was a physician who died in Woodstock, Vermont in 1837, just nine months after Sarah was born there. Darwin was the first child of John Perry and Electa (Clark). After John's death, Electa Clark Prrry married Caleb Chase Garfield, the father of Selucius. So, besides being 15 years her senior, Selucius was also Sarah's half-uncle. We have no record of how they originally met.
      Six days after the wedding the honeymoon couple boarded the clipper ship Westward Ho from Boston bound for San Francisco via Cape Horn. The trip took 107 days but was presumably preferable to the young bride as opposed to the very crude passage afforded across the Isthmus in those early days. At least she had another woman to commune with: Thomas M. Reed and wife accompanied them. The clipper was competing in the Deep Sea Derby along with 94 other clipper ships and ten clipper barques that sailed the same route that year. The trip could have been much longer because, as Carl C. Cutler recounts in his book, Greyhounds of the Sea: the story of the American Clipper Ship, only 17 of them arrived in less than 110 days. The fastest was the Flying Fish, which entered the Golden Gate on Jan. 31, 1853, on its 93rd day out of Boston; the Fish departed Boston 15 days after its sister ship, the Westward Ho.
      The Westward Ho docked in San Francisco on Jan. 31, 1853, and Selucius embarked on a very busy year. While representing the 12th District, El Dorado county, in the State Assembly, he also edited the weekly Miner's Advocate through 1857. The Advocate originated in Coloma, west of Placerville and then moved to Diamond Springs, south of Placerville, in 1854.

Return to Kentucky and building political capital in 1856

      In the early spring of 1854 Selucius and Sarah left California for good and they spent the next three years back in Sherburne, Kentucky. Several legal matters had come to a head, suits where he was either plaintiff or defendant, including two suits by or with his former father-in-law and business partner. Although tidy in appearance, Selucius seemed to leave messes and loose strings wherever he ventured. He also sold some of his real estate while there. On July 18 that year, their first son, William, was born in Sherburne.
      Almost a decade after his ordination, Garfield lectured at a meeting of an unknown group in Paris, Kentucky, on Jan. 21, 1855. Pam Brett found a diary note from the Rogers family of Old Cane Ridge that recorded that day, "Will attend meeting in Paris today. Bro. Garfielde is to lecture us. He is in my esteem an excellent preacher." We have no other record of his ministerial activity after his ordination in February 1845, except for a note about a marriage he performed during that time. Later in 1855 he and a partner named Williams founded the Farmer and Mechanic, a monthly quarto newspaper in Paris, Kentucky. The Ohio Cultivator journal wished them well, "It seems a hard business to make an agricultural paper live in Kentucky. This we are sure deserves a better fate than its predecessors."
      By the dawn of 1856, Garfield was back in the political saddle and he would ride there, in one way or another, most of the next three decades. The political roots he sewed in Kentucky would save his bacon at least once out West and would puff up his resume, in the modern sense, for at least the next decade. He hitched his horse to James Buchanan and his campaign for president. Buchanan was three decades Garfield's senior and a native of Pennsylvania. After long service in the U.S. House and Senate, Andrew Jackson had appointed Buchanan Minister to Russia, then he served as Secretary of State for James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce appointed him minister to the Court of St. James.
      He was living in London as the sectional politics of the early '50s raged and he managed to escape the crossfire of the battles while also fighting Stephen A. Douglas for control of the Democratic Party. Downgraded by many historians for his inability to address the slavery issue effectively, he was back then sometimes derided as "the doughface," by critics who claimed he was a northerner with southerner sympathy; his predecessor, Franklin Pierce, was derided the same way. Buchanan's stand on the issue confused people as he contended that secession was illegal but so was the Act of War by the Union if southern slave-owning states seceded. A year before his nomination he told Nathaniel Hawthorne, then the American consul in Liverpool, in January 1855 that he would retire the next fall upon returning to the U.S.
      In April 1855 Garfield warmed up for the coming campaign by addressing the Athenaeum Literary Society of Centre College at the Presbyterian College in Danville, Kentucky. After Buchanan defeated incumbent president Franklin Pierce, Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Sen. Lewis Cass of Illinois at the Democratic Party nominating convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 6, 1856, Garfield hit the campaign trail with vigor, traveling on a circuit in many of the Midwest states, piling up political chips. Regardless of what his own opinion may have been on the slavery issue, Garfield stumped on the Garfield/Democratic line that election of a president from the new Republican Party would lead to a civil war, citing Republican nominee John C. Fremont's opposition to Popular Sovereignty in the Kansas-Nebraska Act and any expansion of slavery in new territories. Buchanan's team hypothesized that Fremont would lose the slave-owning border states, such as Kentucky, so former Rep. John C. Breckenridge was nominated for vice president and stump orators such as Garfield were important to the team.
      The theory panned out and Buchanan won with a plurality of 45.3 percent. The American Party/Know Nothing Movement was a spoiler in third place with 21.6 percent. Millard Fillmore, the presidential candidate of the AP, ignored the slavery issue in favor of anti-immigration policies. Although Garfield served as a delegate to the convention, he was nevertheless defeated by the Know-Nothing candidate for elector-at-large from Kentucky to the Electoral College.

New home and stage in Washington Territory
      The Garfield family had grown with the birth of a daughter in September while the family lived in Paris, Kentucky. As 1856 came to a close, Garfield mulled his choices and set out on the political trail for the duration. The Centennial History of Oregon, 1811-1912 claimed in 1912 that,
      After the election of his candidate Mr. Garfield was offered several important presidential appointments, one of them being that of ambassador to the Court of St. James, but he preferred to remove to the west rather than enter upon diplomatic service, and following his arrival on the Pacific coast President Buchanan gave him the appointment of surveyor general of the northwest country.
      The ambassadorship has not been confirmed by any other source and the claim has an apocryphal ring to it. According to more than one source, Garfield moved the family out to Olympia in early 1857. We are not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg, the move or the job. But a grateful President Buchanan appointed him to the post of Receiver of Public Monies for the U.S. District Land Office of Washington Territory, "Salary 2,500; also allowed office rent, but no fees of any kind whatever allowed. Receivers allowed actual and necessary expenses in depositing."
      From Garfield's point of view, this could well have been a dream opportunity: a new state, with millions of acres desirable land and people who wanted to buy and sell land and would be grateful for favors and favorable laws. In addition, there was a new Masonic Lodge, in which Garfield could rub shoulders with the earliest pioneers and the movers and shakers. Again we do not know who arrived first, but his old Kentucky and California friend and ally, Thomas M. Reed, also arrived on Puget Sound in 1857, and also with a high-level Masonic background.
      On the debit side of the ledger, his detractors, and even Republican opponents initially, began to build a dossier on the "Federal Ring," which Garfield led. As we will see, that tag would never leave him, even when he deserted the Union Democrats and joined the Republicans, soon after the shelling of Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War.

William W. Miller and Gov. Isaac Stevens and the Leschi/Indians controversy
      Two of the shakers who were making names for themselves were: Isaac I. Stevens, the governor of the territory, and William Winlock Miller, namesake of the town of Winlock. Miller followed the Oregon Trail to the future Washington Territory in 1850. William L. Lang recounts in his 1996 book, A Confederacy of Ambition, that Miller, like many other emigrants,
      . . . arrived cash-poor and ambitious, but unlike most he fulfilled his grandest ambitions. By the time of his death in 1876, Miller had amassed one of the largest private fortunes in the territory and had used it creatively in developing the region's assets, leaving a significant mark on the territory's political and economic history. Appointed Surveyor of Customs at the newly created Port of Nisqually in 1851, Miller was the first federal official north of the Columbia River. Two years later he helped organize the new territory's Democratic Party and quickly became a political and financial confidant of governor Isaac Stevens. [2]
      A native of Massachusetts, Stevens was four years Garfield's senior. He graduated first in his class at West Point in 1839, was commissioned to the Corps of Engineers and was promoted after action in the Mexican-American War from Vera Cruz to Mexico City. After supporting Democrat Franklin Pierce's successful 1852 presidential election, Stevens was rewarded by a Pierce appointment to be the first governor of the Washington Territory, which was formed from the northern part of Oregon Territory on March 3, 1853. Charles H. Mason, a Maryland native, was appointed Secretary of State and he preceded Stevens in the territory to set up the office in September that year; he was acting governor on four occasions during the tumultuous times ahead.
      Besides being a patronage plum, this particular territorial job was ideal for Stevens because one important aspect was the proposed survey for a future transcontinental railroad. Controversy soon enveloped Stevens, especially when he intimidated Indian tribes into signing a series of treaties — a brief war broke out between Indians and settlers — and when he imposed martial law.
      Territorial Judge Edward Lander provoked the latter by issuing a writ of habeas corpus in the spring of 1856 to release a group of Puget Sound farmers. Stevens had imprisoned them on the charge that they were too friendly with Indians who may have been the attackers of settler villages. Lander deduced that Stevens really took the action because they were former employees of the Hudson's Bay Company, who were often Stevens's targets, and because some of them had taken Indian wives before Caucasian women emigrated here in any numbers.
      A wild series of escalating actions transpired beginning on May 7, 1856, when the governor assigned Col. Benjamin Shaw of the state militia to close down Lander's court on the order of Stevens, and Lander and his records were escorted to Olympia. Stevens then decreed martial law, but explained that it only applied in Tacoma and he released Lander. Lander opened his court five days later and then issued the writs again and cited the governor for contempt, to boot. While Lander sent the U.S. Marshal and a posse to arrest the governor, Stevens called up a company of militia from Tumwater, who proceeded to Lander's locked law office, booted in the door and arrested Lander. Lander refused to withdraw the writs so Stevens ordered him imprisoned with the farmers. After battling briefs flew back and forth, Chief Justice Francis Chenoweth eventually achieved release of all the prisoners and when Lander returned to the bench he fined the governor $50. The Territorial Legislature and the U.S. Senate both censured Stevens and the president expressed disapproval through his Secretary of State [3].
      The Landers-Stevens feud flared again over the arrest of Leschi, the chief of the Nisqually tribe in the Olympia region. In 1855 Stevens obtained approval of the Territorial Legislature to form a volunteer militia and the militia was ordered to report only to him. General John Wool, U.S. commander of the Pacific Division, sharply criticized their intended use, asserting their presence created greater tension and hostility between the Indians and settlers. After his experience with the Cherokee tribe, Wool concluded that the problems between Indians and whites were often the fault of the whites.
      Stevens ordered Chief Leschi and his half brother Quiemuth arrested and prosecuted as what seemed to many to be scapegoats for the Indian Wars of 1855-56. Quiemuth turned himself in under settler James Longmire's protection. On Nov. 18, 1856, Quiemuth was taken to Steven's office, where the door was left unlocked and the Indian was murdered by persons unknown; the only firm suspect was released for lack of evidence.
      After the militia had been formed in October 1855, Stevens assigned a unit called Eaton's Rangers to capture Leschi on the charge of having killed a militia man. He evaded them for months, through the time of the war, but he was finally captured on Nov. 13, 1855, on orders of Acting Gov. Mason, while Stevens was East of the Cascades, establishing treaties with tribes there. Leschi's nephew had acted as a Judas after coveting Leschi's younger wife. Leschi's first trial resulted in a hung jury, with two holdouts for acquittal, including Ezra Meeker, the colorful settler and influential hop farmer at Puyallup, the town he founded. They considered that Leschi may not be guilty of the charge of killing militia men because the charge seemed out of character for Leschi, since he had exhibited friendship with the whites since as far back as 1843.
      Meeker and Judge Lander appealed to Pierce to remove Stevens as governor, but Pierce dithered. Feeling confident that he had the support of the majority of settlers, Stevens merely ignored Meeker and he dealt with Lander in another way, as we saw above. At the second trial, Leschi was declared guilty and the sentence was a hanging, but even the executioner had doubts. After many twists and turns, the execution took place on Feb. 19, 1858, after Stevens had resigned as governor and took his seat as Delegate to the U.S. Congress. An Army lieutenant had provided evidence via a timeline after the second trial that raised convincing doubt about whether Leschi was even there when the militia man was murdered, but an appeals court rejected it. By the 1880s and '90s historians and experts recognized that a grave error had been committed and in 1894 the lovely neighborhood on Lake Washington was named for Leschi. In 2004 the State Legislature official exonerated him. [4]
      Would Stevens be punished politically by the wave of settler indignation following the execution or would farmers throughout the territory back him? Oh, yes, the plot thickened, just in time for a series of bitterly fought elections for delegate to Congress, in which Selucius Garfield starred, for reasons good and bad, over the following 16 years. Follow us to Part Two.

Parts of the Garfield series
Part 1
Garfield youth . . . legal, religious and political training in Kentucky . . . first marriage . . . a foray into California gold country . . . second marriage, return to Kentucky . . . move to the new Washington territory to head up Federal Lands office, and meeting and campaigning for Gov. Stevens
Part 2
Garfield aids Stevens in 1857 Delegate to Congress election . . . Networking with the Freemasons . . . 1859 Delegate reelection . . . Garfield's unsuccessful 1861 Delegate campaign . . . the "lost years" in British Columbia
Part 3
1865 Delegate campaign, Garfield aids Denny . . . Becomes Surveyor-General . . . Successful 1869 Delegate election . . . Successful 1870 reelection . . . Defeated 1872 election . . . Permanent return to Washington city and death in 1883
Garfield documents and stories shared in full


1. Thomas Reed and Masons
      Seattle Masons History, [Return]

2. William W. Miller
      William L. Lang, William Winlock Miller and the Making of Washington Territory. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996. [Return]

3. Stevens martial law and Judge Lander's arrest
      Kent D. Richards, Isaac I. Stevens, Young Man in a Hurry, Pullman: WSU Press, 1993 [Return]

4. Chief Leschi hanging
      Coll Thrush, Native Seattle, Seattle: UW Press, 2007. [Return]

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