Glover, James Nettle (1838-1921)

  • By Paul Lindholdt
  • Posted 12/16/2022
  • Essay 22622
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James Nettle Glover is the acknowledged "Father of Spokane," though in light of recent research about his life, that honorific is troubling to some. Glover arrived at Spokane Falls from Oregon in 1873, procured 160 riverfront acres, built a trading post, made a small fortune from his mining and provisioning businesses, and then profited greatly from his real estate holdings when the transcontinental railroad reached Spokane in 1881. The tide turned with the Panic of 1893, causing Glover to lose most of his empire with the failure of his First National Bank, and he lived a far less glamourous life until his death in 1921. Regarded as a heroic figure in his lifetime, he is now regarded as exploitative, dismissive of the region's Indigenous people, and particularly cruel to his first wife, Susan, who was institutionalized for the final 22 years of her life and scrubbed from Glover's memoirs. 

An Outpost on the Spokane River

Arriving in 1873 at Spokane Falls from Salem, Oregon, James Glover (1838-1921) found only two bachelors and three small families scraping by within the frontier settlement. But he foresaw the promise of that site where the Spokane River drops through wild cataracts. From two homesteaders he bought 160 riverfront acres. He opened a trading post. He donated land to encourage development. He withstood financial panics, an Indian scare, a fire that leveled most of the town, and a scandal with a wife whom he divorced and saw admitted to the Eastern Washington Hospital for the Insane. Penning his reminiscences for the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1917, he made no mention of his first wife, Susan Tabitha Glover (1842-1921), who was institutionalized for the last 22 years of her life.

Like his contemporaries William James (1842-1910) and Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), Glover was a go-getter who seemed possessed of boundless energy. Like other entrepreneurs of the Industrial Age, his vision was always fixed on the main chance. That vision sharpened in the wake of railroad surveys intended to tie remote regions of the U.S. to the national market economy. Rumors and hopes of rail transport connections invigorated abundant speculation around Washington Territory (1853-1889). Glover’s role in the founding of Spokane Falls resembles the many contributions made by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) to the development of Philadelphia. Like Franklin, Glover spent far more time away from his wife in the fulfillment of his voluntary civic duties than he ever abided at her side.

In 1868, at age 31, Glover married Susan Crump (1843-1921), age 25. She remained in Salem when he pioneered Spokane five years later. He had already made a small fortune. The youngest of six brothers, he twice struck gold with one of them in Eastern Oregon. The two came away $15,000 richer -- the equivalent in purchasing power to roughly half a million in 2022. Glover capitalized on supplies for miners by operating a pack train and transporting fruit to a stand he established in the mining town of Yreka, California. He co-owned and operated the first steam ferry to cross the Willamette River in Oregon between Marion and Polk counties, a business he sold before he relocated to Spokane Falls. Glover apprenticed as a carpenter early in life, a skill he found useful in his 50s when he chose to scab in place of striking carpenters hired to construct Spokane's Great Exposition Hall.

First Sight

Glover came to Washington Territory from his home in Salem to search for business opportunities. His fellow traveler and business partner was Jasper Matheny (1834-1893?), a sheriff in Marion County where Glover had served as marshal. Having lived in frontier mining towns, Glover was accustomed to "roughing it," the title of an 1872 book by Mark Twain (1835-1910) published the year before Matheny and Glover arrived in Washington Territory. Approaching on horseback by way of Lewiston, Idaho, the men first laid eyes on the Spokane River near the present-day border with Idaho. There they met a homesteader who pointed them downstream some 18 miles to the river’s lofty falls, where they were fed and lodged by a family whose homestead they would buy. "I passed the first night I ever spent in Spokane," Glover wrote, "rolled up in my blankets on the dirt floors" of an unfinished shack (Glover, 18).

The next day Glover reclined on a basalt shelf above the water. The genius loci, or spirit of place, seized him. It was May 12, 1873, the river at full flood. He luxuriated in its spray. The several islands and three-tiered waterfalls filled him with "admiration and wonder" (Glover, 19). Other Victorian-era travelers, in the face of such natural marvels, expressed a combination of awe, fear, and respect known as the sublime. Certain period tourists responded so viscerally to the sight of the Swiss Alps that they could fall into swoons. Glover fell captive instead to a desire to obtain the place. "The whole situation aroused my desire of possession," he wrote (Glover, 21).

Soon, at the core of what is now Spokane, he gained possession of a quarter-section of the finest riverbank. James Downing and Seth Scranton, homesteaders who had first claimed it, wanted out. Scranton agreed to accept "$2,000 for his half of the quarter section" (Glover, 27). The entire transaction included six rustic buildings, a sawmill, and 160 acres of prime waterfront. Glover and Matheny were so certain of the deal that they hustled back to Salem, where they purchased goods to start a trading post, and hardware parts for a much-larger millworks to rough-cut the ponderosa pines and construct the shops and houses to pioneer a town. Glover also chose to haul an organ that Susan would later play to entertain guests at home and during civic events.

The journey from Salem with their freight required the men to hire riverboats, trains, stagecoaches, wagons, ferries, and handlers to manage the equipment. Scranton was nowhere to be found when they got back, though, and they needed him to close the transaction. He had been accused of stealing horses and had gone into hiding. A posse from Colville was looking for him. To find him, Glover and Matheny needed to creep on their hands and knees through a thicket of spiny blackthorn to where Scranton lay on a bison robe, his weapons at the ready alongside him. Scranton and Downing were "in a wrangle and wanted to sell," as Glover put it (Glover, 14). They had already received $400 toward the sale from a buyer who could not to afford to pay them the rest. Glover bought out Matheny’s share of the property in time and made it all his own.

Free Enterprise

By the time Glover was 52, he was a millionaire. A million dollars in 1890 was equivalent in purchasing power to at least $32 million in 2022. He made his fortune by a variety of enterprises, including mining. But real estate was key from the beginning. To boost his personal worth, he gave away downtown lots and acreage to promising developers or sold them at a steep discount. Frederick Post bought 40 acres from Glover for $217, built a flour mill, and later sold those Spokane holdings for $87,300. Like Ben Franklin, Glover made himself indispensable through tireless civic service. He acted at various times as postmaster, justice of the peace, coroner, grand jury foreman, second mayor of Spokane, and president of a bank. In his reminiscences he prided himself on his vast capacities to multitask.

But the unswerving strategy of Glover’s early "way to wealth," to borrow the phrase Ben Franklin used as the title for his 1758 book, was provisioning. Glover provided the goods needed by Indians, colonists, railways, and regiments of military men. His enterprises in Oregon before his arrival at Spokane Falls entailed the transport of apples from Salem to San Francisco and the delivery of food and other essentials to miners. Once he opened shop in Spokane, he managed to outcompete the other trading posts in the region and grow his retail business into the foremost store. His sawmill likewise cornered the early lumber market by milling the abundant ponderosa pines into boards and planks needed to grow the settlement into a proper town.

When Gen. William T. Sherman (1820-1891) of Civil War fame came through, Glover billeted Sherman’s troops and provisioned them until they could build Fort Coeur d’Alene (later Fort Sherman). "I contracted to furnish the soldiers with their flour, grain and about everything else they used except their fuel" (Glover, 74). Later he secured a contract to continue to supply the fort. By providing those goods and services, he was building his fortune on government largesse.

Also helping him capitalize was the government largesse in vast tracts of land grants to the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP). Glover saw the train coming from the moment he set foot in the region. His timing proved to be prophetic. A mere eight years after he arrived, in 1881, the railroad made its way to Spokane Falls. On Sept. 8, 1883, President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) drove a golden spike at Gold Creek, Montana, to complete the NP’s grand ambition to reach the Pacific Northwest from Minnesota. Glover at that same time was swinging a hammer – deploying his carpentry skills – to help build the structures to house railway laborers. Three years later, news reports had prospectors flooding the area when gold was discovered in the nearby mountains. From that point forward, the frontier town of Spokane Falls began to boom. Glover also profited from the railroad as a forage agent, one who procures the forage for the mules and oxen needed to carve and lay the rail lines.

Glover hired architect Kirtland Cutter (1860-1939) to design a manor for him. Known today as the Glover Mansion, completed in 1888, it became a most conspicuous display by the city’s most high-profile pioneer. The 12,000-square-foot Tudoresque building – constructed with cut granite, leaded glass, and gables – replicates an English manse. The front door opens to an oak-paneled hall and staircase, to a private opera box, and to second-floor galleries. It housed Glover for only four years, however, before the failure of his First National Bank caused him to lose most of his fortune and dispose of the home. In that same period, Glover divorced Susan, and three days later married Esther Leslie (1859-1924). He was 55 and she was 33. "This is the finale of a very unsavory scandal," the Coeur d’Alene Press wrote, "in which he figures as the principal" (Cochran, 53). Local lore has it that Susan was forever lonely after being isolated in that massive mansion set a distance from downtown, on a hillside still frequented by Native Americans.

Literary Legacy

More than a memoir, Glover’s Reminiscences contains bits of ethnography and natural history that make it a sign of its times. Published in 1985 by Glen Adams of Ye Galleon Press in Fairfield, Washington, the book gathers columns Glover wrote for the Spokane Daily Chronicle in 1917. Those columns appeared in the newspaper 25 years after he and Susan divorced. Only four years later, in 1921, both had died. The Reminiscences gathers 55 photos of eminent Anglo immigrants, Indians, and some buildings that Glover had a hand in establishing. Like Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Glover’s shorter memoir mixes equal parts moralizing and self-aggrandizing. Much like Franklin wheeling a needless wheelbarrow through the streets, to be "esteemed an industrious, thriving young man," Glover claimed he "rarely got to bed before 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, but I was up every day by daylight" (Glover, 74). Both men were energetic self-promoters who were early to bed, early to rise.

Glover’s book, like colonial promotion tracts, provides details about Native Americans, which might have lured tourists or encouraged immigration to the town. The Indigenous tribes traded mostly fur of the pine marten, an arboreal mustelid, but also "beaver, fisher, otter, and muskrats by the thousands, and quite a lot of black and brown bear robes," as well as
"quantities of coyote hides" (Glover, 37). Glover in turn traded face paints, beads, calico, nails, chewing tobacco, coffee, tea, and sugar. One Indian, to thank Glover for his kindness, "brought me two pipes his father had made and smoked for years, and a tobacco pouch with tobacco and kinnikinnick" as a gift (Glover, 41). Alcohol was a problem; Glover refused to sell it to the Native people. After taking a fatherly interest in one Indigenous boy, he later learned he was "found dead on the trail with a whisky bottle beside him" (Glover, 41). In his book, Glover badmouths fellow trading-post operators who sold whisky indiscriminately to Indians.

His views of Indigenous people reflected his views of history and business. The Coeur d’Alenes were named after the French phrase for "heart of an awl," to signify a piercing savvy in the ways they traded hides. Consistent with that naming, "The Coeur d’Alenes were regarded as prosperous, frugal and industrious people," Glover wrote, "while the Spokanes were an indolent, lazy sort of people who rarely seemed to rustle for anything" (Glover, 35). The rich abundance of salmon and steelhead in their rivers was perceived as encouragement to sloth. Moreover, he wrote, "The Coeur d’Alenes had never gone on the warpath, while the Spokanes had a time with Colonel Steptoe and with Colonel Wright" (Glover, 35). As a phrase, "had a time with" minimizes historical facts. Wright had hanged a dozen of them, killed more in battle, burned their food stores, and slaughtered some 800 of their horses just 15 years before Glover arrived.

In frontier tracts like Glover’s, Indigenous lore mingles inextricably with natural history. Salmon ran in such profusion "that the rocks would not be visible and the fish would have great sores on them from being thrown against the rock while they were trying to fight their way upstream" (Glover, 38). The "sores" are in fact explicable as the decay that sets in when salmon spawn and die. Indians also "would build high scaffolds of willow limbs and dry the fish without salt" (Glover, 38). In a detail recorded nowhere else in period accounts, Glover reported, "The Spokanes would place their fish inside bark strips they had peeled from the pine trees in the early spring, when the sap had just begun to run, and swing the dried fish high up among the pine trees, where the flies wouldn’t bother it. The Indians who came in from outside packed their fish and took it home" (Glover, 38). Glover there describes a kind of pine tree bazaar. In the same passage, he confirms other historical reports about the intertribal trade that made Spokane Falls a vital gathering place.

Historical Reckoning

Among writers aiming to amend Glover’s legacy, Tod Marshall first commended him for "enduring war with Native American tribes and a fire that destroyed much of Spokane’s downtown" in 1889 (Marshall, 15). A Washington State Poet Laureate and professor at Gonzaga University, Marshall elsewhere cancels Glover as symptomatic of the problems inherent in manifest destiny. The "sawmill on the river was wasting energy, cash, and possibilities, and so he bought the land and built a larger mill, which spawned larger mills and brought more people (and larger mills) and rail lines and miners and loggers and soldiers – and the rest is the beginning of Spokane’s history" (Marshall, 15). The 2018 book The Spokane River opens with Tod Marshall’s chapter.

Eastern Washington University professor of history J. William T. Youngs, also writing in The Spokane River, observed the ambivalence or "double-mindedness" inherent in Glover’s regard for the natural environment (Youngs, 78). No matter how much Glover appreciated the river’s beauty and power, the basalt that lay all around it confounded him. "I used to wonder what I was going to do with such heaps and mountains of basalt," Glover wrote in his newspaper reminiscences (Youngs, 78). Youngs hoped Glover would prove enlightened enough to admit basalt was valuable for its own sake. "But Glover’s response was typical of the Age of Industry," Youngs wrote. "He answered the riddle of the basalt this way: 'In after years I understood what the Almighty had put it there for. Almost all of it, except a cliff here and there, has been used in the construction of basements'" (Youngs, 79). Like the antique pseudoscience of signatures – which held that God had "signed" flora and fauna to demonstrate their usefulness for people – Glover’s basalt was made expressly for the benefit of humankind. His worldview was, in large part, instrumental or utilitarian.

Susan Glover's Troubling Demise

Susan Glover was erased from local history until recently. In an article for the Spokane weekly newspaper Inlander, Lisa Waananen Jones, now a professor at Washington State University, discovered how "the First Lady of Spokane was treated" (Jones). In shades of King Henry VIII of England, James Glover complained that his wife was "wholly impotent, barren and incapable of reproduction" (Jones). Those, evidently, were adequate grounds for separation and later for divorce. A niece of Glover’s who lived with the couple for the better part of two years recalls returning from the train station early one morning with her "Uncle Jimmy" who, finding Aunt Susan still in bed, pulled down the covers and spanked her soundly to punish her for her sloth.

Married for 24 years, Glover remarried three days after their divorce. Susan returned to Salem. Glover agreed to provide maintenance including $100 a month, a cottage, and a carriage for the rest of her life. The historical record does not say why she returned to Spokane. That key question becomes the abiding mystery, however, of an incompatible frontier couple who earned and lost millions of dollars together. It is possible Susan returned to gain her rightful share of the couple’s finances. The first community-property law in Washington dates from 1869, when Washington was still a territory; the legislature borrowed language from a California law, and that law continued after Washington became a state. Back in Spokane, Susan wandered from one housing complex to another. Her condition was diagnosed as melancholia, nowadays depression.

She offered to buy a house for $1,500 in 1899 and hired men who moved her goods in, but the deal fell apart, allegedly because she never paid. She arrived to find her personal items, including a piano, moved out to the street. Miserable and alone, her apartment given up, she loitered on nearby private property until the owners of the property reported her. When police arrived, she had to be lifted into a patrol wagon, to be held in the county jail women’s unit. Witnesses, including Glover, testified against her. In that hearing she was judged incapable of caring for herself. Though physicians pronounced her condition as neither suicidal, homicidal, nor at risk of committing arson, she was nonetheless found insane and her behavior as "abusive."

Her home proved to be Eastern Washington Hospital for the Insane, now Eastern State Hospital. Its grounds overlook Medical Lake, so named because people believed its waters heal. Susan lived her last 22 years in that institution, relying on the kindness of others for necessities. On its grounds she was buried in a grave whose headstone bore no name, only the number 746. Someone later placed a gravestone, with her full name and life dates, at Greenwood Cemetery in Spokane. Barbara F. Cochran speculated that Glover’s businesses left Susan too often alone; that she had a family history of mental illness; or that she might have delivered a stillborn child. The only certainty is that Glover and his biographers studiously tried to erase her from history.

James and "Ettie" continued together until his death, but the financial panic of 1893 hit Glover hard. He had to give up the 12,000-foot mansion and lost some $1.5 million. The couple downsized and moved into one of Glover’s commercial buildings. In 1909 he rose from ruin and hired Cutter once again to design his last house, a more-modest 4,889 square feet above the river. In his lifetime as a civic founder, historians made heroes of scoundrels and justified all manner of misbehaviors as manifest destiny. When later historians tried to right the record, the pendulum swung. One doubts it will swing back again entirely toward James Glover.  

Sources: Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "First train arrives at Spokane Falls on June 25, 1881" (by David Wilma), "Cutter, Kirtland Kelsey (1860-1939)" (by Laura Arksey), and "Panic of 1893 and Its Aftermath" (by John Caldbick), (accessed October 27, 2022); N. W. Durham, Spokane and the Inland Empire (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1912); Tony and Suzanne Bamonte, Spokane: Our Early History (Spokane: Tornado Creek Publications, 2011); Barbara F. Cochran, Seven Frontier Women and the Founding of Spokane Falls (Spokane: Tornado Creek Publications, 2011); James N. Glover, Reminiscences of James N. Glover (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1985); "Susan Tabitha Crump Glover," Find a Grave (; The Spokane River. ed. Paul Lindholdt (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018), "Of Nudity and Violence, Waking and Water" (by Tod Marshall), pp. 15-25, and "The Timber v. Trout Debate" (by J. William T. Youngs), pp. 78-84; Don Rivara, "Jasper Matheny – Frontier Sheriff, Businessman, Mexican Planter, and a Founder of Spokane.” Genealogy Trails, 2004 (; Spokane Historical (, "Locked up for Life: An Early Spokane Celebrity’s Fall from Grace" (by Angel S. Rios), "Glover House" (by Clairessa Fredsti), and "Bank of Spokane Falls" (by Adrienne Sadlo); "Glover Mansion," Spokane Historic Preservation Office (; Lisa Waananen Jones, "Facing History," Inlander, August 6, 2014 (

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