John Luther Murray: Synopsis of My Life

  • By John Luther Murray
  • Posted 5/26/2016
  • Essay 11235
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John Luther Murray (1859-1949), a longtime resident of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Northwest Washington, served as auditor and treasurer of San Juan County, as a state legislator, and as mayor of Friday Harbor. Around 1930, when he was 71 and shortly after the death of his wife Emma McCann Murray (1865-1929), John Murray wrote this synopsis of his life for his four children: Otis Murray, Leon Murray, Homer Murray, and Juanita Murray Rippey. It describes his Missouri boyhood, working on railroad construction in the southeast, the move with his wife and first-born son to Washington Territory where they initially lived in Ellensburg, settling in Friday Harbor, the elected positions he held, and his other endeavors. It was transcribed from a notebook of John Luther Murray (exactly as written there) and contributed to HistoryLink by his great-granddaughter Janice (Murray) Anderson.

Synopsis of My Life

My father, Richard Murray, was born somewhere in the State of Tenisee. My mother, Elizabeth Ray Murray, was born in Puduca, Kentucky. I was born May 24th, 1859, in the Ozark Hills in southwest Missouri. I was reared on the farm, and my education was very meager, consisting of two or three months each year from the time I was eight years old until I was fourteen years of age. I read much and in this way became acquainted with the history and geography of the world. My boyhood days were the same as is that of all boys reared in a new and rough country. At the age of twenty-one, I became deputy postmaster at Seligman, Missouri. After a short time I resigned to take a clerkship in a general store. I continued in the store for two years. I then went to the Indian Nation for one year. I came back home and tried to go to school, but I was too restless for school. The postmaster resigning, I was appointed Postmaster by Walter Q. Gresham and served until Grover Cleveland was elected President, and was dismissed by him for being an offensive partisan, to which charge I plead guilty. After quitting the post office, I was a candidate for Sheriff loosing by 120 votes in a county that had a 600 Democrat majority. I then secured employment on a corps of railroad engineers and helped to locate the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railroad through the then Indian Territory from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Parris, Texas. My next employment was on construction work near Birmingham, Alabama. Completing this we moved into Louisany where the company had sixty-two miles of work -- which I completed and then went back to work for the company where the work was fully completed from Louisville, Arkansas, to Shreveport, Louisiana. I severed my connection with the company and went back to my old home in Missouri after two years of absence

I was married July the 4th 1884 to Miss Emma McCann. Having a longing for the far west and a desire to own some land, I decided to go to the then Territory of Washington to take up a Homestead. My wife gave her consent to try our fortune in the west, so she folded our baby (Otis) in her arms and on the 2nd of May 1888 after bidding her parents goodbye, we boarded the train and arrived in Ellensburg on May the 8th with our few belongings and $300.00 in bank drafts. My object being to secure a homestead, my first effort was to find one. There was plenty of vacant government land, but none that I could find that looked good to me, as I had to live and support my wife and babe. I soon secured work at a customs planeing mill as a bookkeeper and tally clerk or yard foreman. I continued this employment until the fire that destroyed Ellensburg and burned the mill. The small house that we had built escaped the fire. My wife being homesick, we sold our home and she returned to Seligman to see her father and mother. I would not go back. My next employment was as rodman on the survey of the Ellensburg and Eastern Railroad (now the Milwaukee). I stayed on this work for four months and as winter was on, I came to Puget Sound and first arrived in Friday Harbor December 9th, 1889. I filed a pre-emption on a small tract of land on Shaw Island, lived on it for six months, made proof, and received U.S. Patent. My wife and two babies (Otis and Leon) having come west to share my lot, we contined to remain on the land. I was nominated and elected to the office of county auditor in 1890 and re-elected for a second term. I was then elected the representative of the county for 1895-96 and have the honor of introducing the law requiring the American flag to be raised each day that public school is held, over the school house or grounds, at every school in the state -- Washington being the first state to make this requirement.

Two more children were born to us in Friday Harbor -- Homer and Juanita. In 1898, I joined the gold seekers and went to Alaska, but as I did not find gold, I returned home late in October to find that I had been nominated to the office of County Treasurer. I served one term, declining to be a candidate for re-election. I was appointed to the office of Assistant Land Commissioner at Olympia and served four years in that office under Judge Stephen A. Calvert. When his term of office had expired, I refused to serve longer and returned to my house in San Juan County. I was again elected county treasurer but declined to be a candidate for re-election. I also was elected the second mayor of Friday Harbor.

I went into business for myself and with my youngest son, Homer, conducting a shoe and men's furnishing goods store for seven years. This we closed in 1918. I was then elected county assessor for one term of two years after which time I was again elected county treasurer and again declining to be a candidate for re-election. Since that time, I have done nothing save to serve as postmaster for two legislative sessions and one term as postmaster of the State senate.

Had I worked as hard and faithfully for myself as I have for the public, I would now have more money and be farther from the poor house. I am yet hoping to find that homestead. I yet have my right to one. I am only 71 years past. I may get it yet.

I have lived my life in my own way. I have done what good I could for my fellow man, and just as little harm. May the good outweigh the bad is my hope. The God of the universe holds the scales.


I have thought much on the mysteries of this life. I have tried to learn what it is and its meaning. I have thought much on futurity. I have tried to see beyond. When I attempt to put aside the veil, and look into the deep abyss, my mind's eye sees caos, only -- yet -- Hope leads on through life -- on through the portals of death to the Gates of Heaven. With God be the rest. His will be done. Amen.

CHILDREN: Shed not one tear for me. The body that you see only obeyed the sternest Law of Nature, all the senses have gone, and it knows not anything. It is only a husk -- a chrysalis, and will soon moulder to dust. The mind, the spirit, the soul, which animated its being have flown to God who gave them, and will never more return. I want no flowers.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR MY BURIAL: When I am gone, have my remains clothed only in undergarments, wrap my corpse in a sheet or shroud, place this in a plain cedar casque void of outside covering or mettle ornaments, place a tiny silken flag by the body, close the coffin securely, and place it in a steel vault, and convey it to the place I have prepared for it. Let the masonic order (if they will) give it the rites of a masonic burial. My memorial slab, to be the same as is your Mother's. The Masonic Emblem may be enscribed on it. This to be embedded in re-inforced concrete, covered by broken granate.

This done, whatever I may have, divide equally among you. I want no dissension -- Then live your lives in a way that when you must pass on, that all may say, that you were an honor to Father and Mother.

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