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Selucius Garfield, Washington Territory's most colorful politician
— including an overview of early territorial elections and parties
Part 3: Garfield's terms as Delegate and his decline in final years

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

1865 Campaign — Garfield returns from British Columbia
      You might think that anyone who ducked the war over the border and then returned when the fighting was over, to a state that was turning Republican in sentiment and votes, would be a difficult act to pull off, and especially to retain legal business and campaign for the party. But Selucius was known for his terpsichorean moves.
      Robert Ficken found eyewitness accounts and documents that were widely distributed during the campaign, which described Garfield as a traitor who had skedaddled from his Port Townsend law office and established a practice in Victoria, where he sometimes posed as a consul from the U.S. David Denny, one of the founders of Seattle, had served nine terms in the Territorial Legislature and was Speaker of the Legislature, but his Republican backers realized he was "dry as a fish." He needed someone demonstrative and persuasive to speak for him so Garfield became his paid surrogate on the stump.
      The Democrats nominated James Tilton, then the state Treasurer and also a newspaperman. He publicly pledged full support to the Union before firing on Fort Sumter, so that base was covered, and in 1960 he bought an interest in the Press and Democrat in Olympia, so he had a built-in podium. His supporters raged at Garfield: "the man was so depraved that the flies blow him," Ficken notes. They went further to claim that he was a traitor who had rejoiced in Northern defeats and shed genuine tears only at Confederate defeats. They also reminded voters of the rumors of corruption in the federal land office at Olympia when Garfield was receiver. That year also marked the end of any activity by Garfield with the Masonic Lodge.
      Denny's opponents may have successfully excoriated Garfield, but he took a lot of flak for the more timid Denny and the candidate was not scarred by the criticism. As a result Denny won 17 of 20 counties. Garfield rebuilt his political capital and had someone new and powerful who owed him, at least for a while.

Garfield becomes Surveyor General
      On Jan. 29, 1866, President Andrew Johnson — the Democrat who had joined Lincoln on the 1864 National Union ticket as Vice President and then succeeded him following the assassination, was convinced to appoint Garfield to the patronage position of Surveyor General of Washington Territory. Garfield hired his old friend and fellow Mason, Thomas M. Reed, as chief clerk, and an unknown relative, W.C. Garfield, as clerk, as he set up office in Olympia. His annual salary was $2,500.
      He wasted no time in finding the most promising investment opportunities among the plans that crossed his desk. Within months in office, he had joined as one of the incorporators of the Lake Washington Coal Company because of his influence and prestige. Among the other investors were fellow early pioneers: McGilvra, Henry Yesler, Arthur Denny, George F. Whitworth and Daniel Bagley.
      Lang points out that despite the quality of field, observers predicted that the mine would fizzle because of lack of transportation. Hunt and Kaylor described in 1917 how tramways, chutes, inclines, tugboats, barges, coal cars and locomotives brought out the coal to deep water on the Sound, across Lakes Washington and Lake Union, on three pieces of railroad. The coal was loaded on ships at a dock at the end of a long trestle at the foot of Pike Street. The business never made the partners wealthy, but after the company was reorganized in 1870 and Clarence Bagley invested along with his father, it was profitable. [12]
      Over the next year Garfield made no headlines, but he did dazzle the new Seattle Library Association, when he presented a series of spellbinding lectures at their Lyceum. He carried on his successful law practice out of Olympia, along with his federal office.
      Curious about his legal skills, I consulted a number of early historical texts and found a good summary by Clinton A. Snowden in 1911. He noted that other attorneys on the circuit were amazed and puzzled sometimes at how little time Selucius spent on reading briefs and depositions and law books, and would often join parties before appearing for his client. How was he so informed on the issues, they wondered, how did he appear in court so well prepared for each case? They conceded that few were as successful in the long run on cases. He also benefitted from the early, brief partnership with James McNaught, who became the principal legal advisor to the Northern Pacific operations in the Territory and provided many cases to Garfield until NP dropped him years later. In Washington Territory, at least, his law practice seemed to be successful, when he had time to spend on it. [13]
      His domestic life with Sarah during that period was marked with the birth of a son, Charles, in February 1867 and the death in June of their daughter, Alice, who was born in Port Townsend in May 1862.
      When the time came in April 1867 for the county political conventions Garfield was not ready to run for Delegate but he was available for hire. The Democrats decided to run Frank Clark, who was considered to be an accomplished speaker. Votes lined up on the Republican side behind Alvin Flanders, who was dull as dishwater. To even up the score Republicans enlisted Garfield to accompany Flanders throughout the campaign from May through July. Flanders's only claim to fame was being an express agent at Wallula before election. Political wags described him as "a man of little education and less natural ability but he had Eastern Washington in his pocket," according to Hunt and Kaylor. He won and served only one term until President Grant appointed him Governor of Washington Territory on Apr. 5, 1869, before the delegate election.

1869 Delegate election
      With Flanders moving on and owing him favors, Garfield decided this was his time. He still kept his law practice in Olympia and for a brief time sometime in 1867-1869 he was a partner with James McNaught, who would become the chief legal aide for Northern Pacific. Garfield actually began campaigning for the Delegate seat in 1868 as he spoke on the stump for Grant's reelection that summer. He had lost one significant supporter from his camp, however; Elwood Evans, his former Masonic brother, began openly opposing him after a rift.
      Ficken recounts one brilliant strategic move by Garfield: he admitted his past indiscretions, or at least some. He pardoned himself by drawing parallels with Lincoln: born in poverty, educated by the light of a pine knot fire in a home too lowly even to afford candles, everything but the log cabin. No matter how much the Democrats railed at him with the same epithets as in the 1865 campaign, his allusions to the power of redemption had him in the driver's seat by the time that the Republicans nominated him in May.
      The Democrats nominated Marshall Moore, who had just finished a two-year appointment by Grant as Governor of Washington Territory. Both Denny and Flanders had run on a Union Party platform, which swept in many disaffected Democrats. Moore had angered Union men for having reverted to his old Democratic ways. On the plus side he was a wounded Civil War vet with a brilliant record in his service with Generals McClellan and Sherman, rising to the rank of major-general. Ironically, in 1867 Garfield joined with Moore to get Elwood Evans removed as Territorial Secretary. Moore was also hampered by his war wounds; in fact, he died in 1870 due to complications from those wounds.
      Garfield had one major challenge. Starting at the county conventions in April, a minority of Republicans "bolted" the Garfield camp, led by Arthur Denny and Marshall Blinn, who gained wealth from his sawmill and the lumber-carrying ships at his company town of Seabeck on the Olympic Peninsula. Blinn was also a teetotaler, so he gained votes from the small niche of Prohibitionists.
      One of the favorite issues emphasized by the bolters was Garfield and William M. Miller investments in what were known as the "Hog-em" homesteads at Nisqually. Hog-em was named for a half-forgotten reservation where Stevens had planned to move the Nisqually Indians. The bolters trumpeted this and other criticism of Garfield in the Olympia Transcript weekly newspaper, which E.T. Gunn launched in November 1867. Garfield and Miller were betting with their investment that the western Northern Pacific terminus would be at Olympia. The Transcript referred to the old reservation as "Leschi's Graveyard" and the "Hog 'emite terminus."
      The bolters left the May Republican convention and nominated Blinn as an independent. Even when the Washington Standard newspaper editorialized against Garfield as having "fled to British Columbia during the war . . . without principles of political honesty," he talked his way out of it. Blinn and Moore appeared to split the anti-Garfield vote in the July election, as Selucius carried all but four eastside counties. He barely squeaked through past Moore Territory-wide by a vote of 2,743 to Moore's 2,594.
      Garfield left for Washington City as soon as possible and there began a humorous story that followed him through the next election. George E. Blankenship [14] wrote in 1923 that after Garfield arrived in Washington, the impatient would-be office holders plied the Delegate with telegrams of urgency about the positions they felt they were promised. The harassed Delegate wired back: "Trunk and endorsements lost." That was an opportunity for a cartoonist, who drew a large trunk was pictured, with the lid thrown back, disclosing a life-like portrait of every Republican politician in Olympia.
      That story fit in with the other criticism that would be repeated against Garfield, that he had formed a "federal ring" of people who had benefitted from his patronage handouts in all his positions. Even though he had a family relationship with both James A. Garfield and Salmon Chase, there is no record from that time that either was in a position to substantially help him. Representative Garfield had very tense relations with Grant and he was gaining a reputation for clean government and rooting out federal corruption. Chase was a Supreme Court Justice, appointed by Lincoln in 1864. In addition, James A. Garfield wrote to an associate on Feb. 8, 1873: "I gave it to Garfielde, with the request that he furnish such information as he could on the point referred to. I enclose you his note received to-day. The final "e" with which he spells his name is an affectation of his own, and I am sorry he uses it."
      Not long after the congressional session began in December Selucius wowed the members and the galleries with his silver-tongued eloquence to such an extent that Garfield became known as "The Eloquent Member from the Pacific." Sarah and the children had moved back east with him. She was pregnant throughout the campaign and their son Benjamin was born in Washington City in December. He soon paid back one important political favor to Northern Pacific, as he went on their payroll as a lecturer, pamphlet author and lobbyist. During that period he also made substantial investments in property in the territory, about 500 acres in Grays Harbor county, adding onto the 200 acres he already owned there.
      The first bill that Garfield recommended led to the construction in 1871 of the Fort Steilacoom Asylum on the grounds of the old pioneer fort. Another bill was meant to please those who lived east of the Cascades, regarding creation of a new "Walla-Walla Land District." Robert Ficken writes that his other highest priorities were working patronage assignments and removing his enemies from any kind of power position.

1870 Delegate election
      In the early spring of 1870 federal legislation passed that provided for territories to elect delegates on the same cycle as the state elections, with elections staged in November, so Garfield really only had one year in his first term and then had to scurry back to the Territory to campaign again in April that year.
      Democrats were coalescing around J.D. Mix, a Walla Walla lawyer who was famous for occasional courtroom fisticuffs. In the call for delegates, these principles were advertised by the Democratic Party in various newspapers.

      All who are opposed to the so-called "Reconstruction measures" of Congress, including the universal extension of the right of suffrage to negroes, Chinamen and other mongrel and inferior races, and in favor of an economical administration of the Federal, State and Territorial governments by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity, are cordially invited to participate in the primary meetings for the election of Delegates to said election.
      As soon as the state Republican convention nominated him, Garfield boarded the steamer Favorite accompanied by a brass band, singers and others, for a tour of the Sound cities. While his opposition continued assassinating Garfield's character, he hammered Mix on issues, including: opposition to the Democratic "Ohio Idea" for repaying war debts in greenbacks at only 70 percent of the gold dollar or less; and accusing Mix of supporting separation of eastern Washington and attaching it to Idaho. Garfield also gained an important backer, as former Governor Fayette McMullen decided that Selucius could accomplish more for the Territory because he had the ear of Grant and his administration. Even with the Democrats united and the Republican bolters still campaigning for Marshall Blinn against him, Garfield won the June election with a majority of more than 600 votes, winning all but four counties east of the Cascades. The bolters would not return to the party fold until 1872. As we will see, the 1971 election could well have been the peak of Garfield's career. He faced tough sledding for the next dozen years.

1872 election
      By 1872 Garfield had managed to lose much of his support in the district. After all that William W. Miller had done for him, when Miller inquired why his favored legislation was not proceeding, Garfield dismissed the bills as "buncombe," the kind Congress did not take seriously. In August 1871 Garfield had a health scare when he suffered from a severe attack of hemorrhage of the lungs, and was confined to his room on 13th Street for several weeks, and his oratory fame made his illness a story across the country. But the turning point was when Northern Pacific dropped him after they decided to aggressively halt what they called theft by Garfield's sawmill backers from NP's land-grant forest holdings.
      His wife had apparently returned to Port Townsend and he told his brother Moses in an 1870 letter that their two oldest boys, aged 16 and 11, were boarding at school in Pennsylvania. A girl, six, and boys, three and one, were with their mother. In this very open letter, he wrote that he had no contact with his relatives for many years. He continued,

      I suppose most of the people who once knew me have forgotten me. I have had a long struggle in a new and far off country. Indeed I can give you no adequate idea of where I have been, what I have seen, what I have gone through and what efforts I have made during the last fifteen years. But all these things are past. Let them go. You must also have had your struggles, trials and vexations-and so must Hannah also . . . [15]
      Northern Pacific decided to switch their support to Democrat O.P. McFadden, a surviving Stevens follower and vocal wartime unionist who succeeded Lander as Territorial District Judge. He was covered for loyalty to the Union and was also a skilled orator. Meanwhile, Garfield delivered a speech "Climates of the Northwest" in Philadelphia, which was well received and published widely. But that did not help him back home, where both Democrats and Republican bolters again campaigned against him for being the product of a "federal ring," for his desertion, perfidy or take your pick. His allegiance to Grant worked both ways as he served on the committee to nominate Grant for reelection at the June Republican national convention. In addition, Miller continued to oppose Garfield, especially after Miller married McFadden's daughter. The election was switched from summer to November that year, so that was the first modern style campaign when candidates stumped on the campaign trail for several months. McFadden was nominated at the Democratic convention and ran on the Peoples' coalition or Fusion ticket.
      Lang emphasizes that Garfield burned many people around the Sound, and for the 1972 campaign his strength was in Republican eastern Washington. McFadden was right of center in the party but Democrats considered him preferable to the conservative version of Garfield. Even Garfield's Republican friends in Walla Walla turned lukewarm. The Washington Standard newspaper opposed him as did the Vancouver Register, which supported him in 1870-71. As Ficken notes, the conclusion by many in the Territory was that the only memorable act of Garfield's delegate career was to cheat the Indians east of the Cascades. After Grant's Executive Order established the Colville Agency Garfield ignored that six of eight tribes already lived on that reservation land. Favoring outraged whites, Garfield claimed Indians said the land was unsuited to their needs and advised Grant to move the reservation from the left bank of the Columbia to land on the inhospitable right bank; Indians mainly stayed put and friction resulted.
      Judge McFadden was the most popular government man in the politics of Washington Territory. That was especially true in Thurston County, where he had long made his home. As Fusionists saw it, McFadden must defeat the eloquent Garfield and break the power of a ring, which had long dominated the affairs in the Territory. As the campaign drew to a close, McFadden gained strength and the result was that McFadden won with 55 percent of the vote as nine counties shift back to the Democrats as part of his Fusion ticket coalition.
      It is easy to conclude at that point in his life that Selucius was merely a scoundrel. Pam Brett and I had an argument over just that point. Sure, he burned a lot of people and severely bent a lot of rules on his rise upwards, but he was not merely a scoundrel and mountebank like his contemporary Jay Cooke, who would cause a massive nationwide financial depression in 1873. However long his list of sins was, the man had presence.
      He was also fun to be around. Even people who wouldn't normally consort with him because of judgments of character were often wowed at his campaign stump speeches. Most of the dozens of crowds were thoroughly amused and often changed their mind by that spellbinder who spoke down at the sternwheeler dock. You get the impression from reading contemporary documents about him that he was jocular and applauded in the taverns and inns, even by those who opposed him; witness the McGilvra notes of 1862. And, as Ficken recounts, he did what so many politicians shy away from doing: he admitted many of his transgressions, then used analogies with Lincoln and old-fashioned redemption to sway just enough to his side. Hunt and Kaylor wrote that in the 1869 campaign Garfield was considered a "trimmer," one who turns enemies into henchmen.
      The more I thought about him symbolically, he reminded me of Coyote in the Indian rituals of southwestern tribes. Both a hero and a trickster in myth, Coyote might be a close analogy to Selucius. In reading the material that Brett shared about his early life, pre-Washington, and other materials, I also kept looking for any reference to whether he had boxed as a youth. He reminds me in ways of Jake LaMotta, who would not go down. If his life had taken another turn after 1873— perhaps if he stayed in Washington instead of permanently decamping to Washington City — he might have wound up as a successful lawyer and might have wiped away bad political memories with his demonstrated ability to use all his skills at court. But by the mid-'70s his life took a turn that led to a sad end for one of the most entertaining and skillful politicians of Washington Territory history.

Permanent return to Washington city and death in 1883
      Ficken reports that to the surprise of nearly everyone, after the 1872 election Garfield chose not to take vengeance on the broad lot of people who campaigned against him. As a reward for Garfield's 1872 campaign work President Grant appointed him collector of customs for the Puget Sound district with headquarters at Port Townsend, starting in March 1873. He maintained his legal practice in Seattle, however, and within a year he had tired of his day job on the Peninsula. Grant replaced him as customs collector in June 1874.
      Garfield bought 80 acres of land in Whatcom county in 1872 and 40 acres in Thurston county in 1873 and he was a principal in a suit over property at Irondale on the Olympic Peninsula in 1875. He made two forays into the lucrative mail contracts on the coast. Ficken records that in 1873 Garfield purchased a steamer for the San Francisco run, only to have the vessel and his investment sink on the initial voyage. In 1874 he employed attorney Eban Ingersoll to obtain a mail contract between Port Townsend and Sitka, Alaska, but they did not read the fine print in the provisional contract and it was withdrawn by the Postmaster General. Although he appealed the case, the postmaster had the law on his side and Garfield was compensated for only one month while the contract was awarded to another bidder.
      He and Sarah had their last child together in December 1874 when their son, Ralph, was born. Garfield may not have been in the territory at the time because the bar record shows that he entered into a law practice with A.H. Jackson, 606 F Street, Washington City, in October 1874. In May 1875 he filed and recorded a land deed for their home property to his wife Sarah; he had purchased the lots at the corner of Eighth and Jefferson in Olympia in 1866. He stated that he was living "temporarily" in the City of Washington and late of Port Townsend, Washington Territory."
      Ficken marks Garfield's downslide in 1875 when he took on a complex, length and ultimately losing case in Washington City, all but bankrupting himself in the process. From that point on his law practice consisted largely of case handouts from his old colleagues in the Northwest. Pam Brett discovered that in 1877 he was listed in the city directory as an attorney in the capital and about this time he became associated with Mrs. Kate "Nellie" Homer, who lived a few blocks away.
      In 1878 Garfield was arrested for running a poker room in Washington DC; room on the north side of G Street. Brett discovered that a year later he "established a little place at 1208 Pennsylvania Avenue, which was a quiet resort for a large number of poker players." He also established a gambling room over Evans' dining room on F Street.
      The Garfield couple's parting appears to have been bitter and a divorce was granted to Sarah on June 16, 1879. When Sarah remarried, The Walla Walla Union Bulletin posted this marriage announcement on April 3, 1880:

      In Olympia, March 24th, 1880 by Rev. Daniel Bagley, Daniel Varner and Mrs. Sarah E Garfielde. The bride was once the wife of a man who was an honored Delegate to Congress from this Territory, but who has of late years been the keeper of a low gambling hall in Washington. We trust that Mrs. Varner may prove a happier woman than ever Mrs. Garfielde was.
      Therefore it was surprising to discover from Pam Brett that the surname Sarah's tombstone in Masonic Memorial Park in Tumwater reads Garfield, not her remarried surname, even though her widower was alive at the time of her death in 1889. Brett counters, however, that she is not surprised that the adult Garfield surviving children would have chosen the Garfield surname.
      By June 1880 Garfield was living as a boarder with William B. Griffith, a veterinary surgeon, at 13th Street NW. Nellie was boarding with him. Then on Jan. 3, 1881, he married her in what was then known as the Fifth Baptist Church. In those years since he had departed Washington Territory, he seemed to be forgotten back home. At least he left no record as he did in his days of power. The only political notice about him in that era was speculation in the British Colonist, of Victoria, on April 20, 1881: "The Post [then a Seattle weekly newspaper] says a rumor is floating about to the effect that Selucius Garfield is now on his way to the territory with a fat government position in his pocket." He died quietly at home on Apr. 13, 1883, essentially alone save for Kate. Pam Brett discovered that he was living on 10th St. NW in the same lot as Kate Garfield and Madeleine Lewis aged one. None of his Washington Lodge brothers attended the funeral or acted as pall bearers.
      The obituaries ranged from noting his sad end to recounting his various offenses as well as his early successes. Washington Post: "A Checkered Life Ends. Death of Selucius Garfielde, a Former Delegate. A Man Who Reached the Summit of his Career in the House of Representatives and then Became Proprietor of Gambling Resorts." According to obituaries in the Territory that Ficken found, Garfield was "catering to the habits of Congressmen." The Daily Globe St Paul, Minnesota, was more explicit:

      The death of Selucius Garfield, which occurred Friday night, deserves more than passing mention, Garfield was a delegate from Washington Territory and a native of Vermont. To the end of the Forty-first congress his career had been constantly upwards, but during his congressional life he developed a mania for gambling, and remained here, at first ostensibly as a claim agent. Later he openly kept a gambling house. For years his house attracted some noted gamblers, and was frequented by the few congressmen who ventured to play n such place, but for several years his house had lost caste. He had been arrested several times and finally died alone and unbefriended, save by a woman of a lower sort, whom he not long since married.
      See the appendix chapter for the major obituary and other documents about Garfield. Henry Garfield, Selucius and Sarah's eldest son (Olympia, 1860) moved to Pendleton, Oregon, where he operated a successful furniture store, and in 1890 he became a homeopathic physician, famous for his practice there until his death in 1925.

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


12. Washington Coal Co.
      Herbert Hunt and ?Floyd C. Kaylor, Washington West of the Cascades, Vol. 3, 1917 [Return]

13. Snowden
      Clinton A. Snowden, History of Washington: The Rise and Progress of an American State, Volume 4. New York: Century History Company, 1911. [Return]

14. Trunk full of endorsements
      George E. Blankenship, History of Olympia Lodge. Olympia, Washington, 1923.[Return]

15. Garfield letter
      Pam Brett, family descendant, correspondence. Selucius was her great-great-grandfather through his son, Henry. [Return]

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