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The city of Okanogan wrests the county seat of Okanogan County away from Conconully in a countywide election on November 3, 1914.

HistoryLink.org Essay 9599 : Printer-Friendly Format

On November 3, 1914, the city of Okanogan wrests the county seat away from Conconully in a countywide election. The vote is 3,152 votes in favor of moving the county seat, versus 1,602 votes against. Conconully had been the county seat since 1888. The county's records and administrators will arrive in Okanogan before 1914 is over. A striking new county courthouse will be constructed and occupied in Okanogan in 1915. This courthouse will continue to serve as the seat of Okanogan County government to the present day.

The Fight Is On

The catalyst for the county seat move was the arrival of the Great Northern railroad along the Okanogan River in 1914. Many residents thought it made sense for the county seat to be on the rail line. Omak and Okanogan were, but Conconully was not.

Omak fired off the first salvo in the county seat fight in 1913 when its Commercial Club announced that it would be a candidate for the county seat in the 1914 general election. Okanogan, more than twice as big as Omak, soon declared itself a candidate, too. This cheered Conconully's boosters, who were counting on Omak and Okanogan to split the "removal" vote. If neither city could muster 60 percent of the vote, the county seat would remain at Conconully.

There was little sisterly affection between the twin cities of Omak and Okanogan, only five miles apart. Omak tried to spread the idea that "Okanogan was made up of rough-necks and it was no place for decent people to live, too much booze and too little refinement" (Kerr, p. 83).

Omak had recently banned sales of alcohol. Yet its "dry" image may have backfired. The county’s residents realized that Omak would be unable to offer "refreshment or solace to weary and/or outraged courthouse visitors" (Wilson, p. 239).

Glittering Piles of Gold

Okanogan staged a vivid publicity stunt when it sent an armed car with $12,000 in gold to the county treasurer's office in Conconully, as a kind of down payment for building "a modern courthouse" in Okanogan (Wilson, p. 239).  Photographers snapped pictures of the glittering pile of gold on the treasurer's table. It was strictly for show, since, clearly, "a check would have sufficed" (Wilson, p. 239).

Meanwhile, Okanogan also came up with a strategy to overcome the split-vote problem. It convinced Omak to participate in an "elimination" election before the general election. Omak and Okanogan would go head to head against each other for the right to challenge Conconully. The loser would agree to drop out.

On September 8, 1914, Okanogan easily won the elimination election against Omak by a vote of 2,213 to 1,304. Then, in the general election on November 3, 1914, Okanogan ended Conconully's reign as Okanogan County seat.

Bruce A. Wilson, Late Frontier: A History of Okanogan County, Washington (Okanogan: Okanogan County Historical Society, 1990); Okanogan Centennial, a collection of historical articles by the Okanogan Centennial Planning Committee (Omak: Omak Chronicle, 2007), Omak Chronicle website accessed September 22, 2010 (http://www.omakchronicle.com/cent/okanoganhistory.shtml); Harry J. Kerr, A History of Okanogan (Okanogan: The First National Bank of Okanogan, 1931).

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Map, Okanogan County, 1909
Courtesy Washington Digital Map Archive

Entering Conconully, 1930s

Auto stage leaving for Brewster, Okanogan, ca. 1910
Photo by Frank Matsura, Courtesy WSU (Neg. No. 35-31-09)

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