James Glover arrives at Spokane Falls on May 11, 1873.

  • By Paul Lindholdt
  • Posted 12/16/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22623
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On May 11, 1873, James Nettle Glover first encounters the wild cataracts of Spokane Falls. Already a man of considerable wealth at age 36, he is touring the Palouse region of Washington Territory in search of investment opportunities. Spray from the Spokane River douses him, and he resolves to gain possession of 160 acres of prime waterfront. Those acres lie at the core of the city of Spokane Falls. Glover becomes not only "the father of Spokane," by popular acclaim, but he volunteers himself for virtually every leadership position that comes available in the growing town. From mayor to bank president, jury foreman to postmaster, justice of the peace, and even coroner, he offers the community his services. In his 48-year tenure as the foremost citizen of Spokane, he will gain, lose, and gain back many millions of dollars.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

James Glover (1838-1921) was an entrepreneur early in life. Before he immigrated to Washington Territory, he transported apples from Salem, Oregon, to San Francisco. He provisioned miners and swung a pick as a miner. He opened a fruit stand in a mining town and provided for the miners’ needs. Twice striking gold in partnership with a brother, the two came away with $15,000, the equivalent of half a million dollars in purchasing power in 2022. He held half-ownership in the first ferry to cross the Willamette River between Marion and Polk counties in Oregon. To elevate his visibility and maintain a steady income, he served in Salem first as an alderman and later as a marshal. In the rustic settlement of Spokane Falls, the "virgin glory" (Glover, 9) – as he described the 162-foot series of waterfalls – provided him fresh outlet for his capitalist ambitions.

The twin tricks by which he made his greatest fortune were real estate development and provisioning. To insulate himself from financial straits, he often brought in business partners. For $2,000 he purchased half-interest in 160 acres of waterfront along the Spokane River. Those acres later became the core of the booming town. When partner Jasper Matheny took his leave of that still-speculative venture, Glover found the funds to buy out Matheny’s share and consolidate his own holdings. Glover sold acreage at a deep discount and gave away lots to developers who would help him grow the town and amplify the boom he knew was coming. He cornered the lumber market by razing the sawmill that came with the acreage, then built a mill with a much-larger output. He capitalized on federal largess by provisioning soldiers at Fort Sherman.

Perhaps the brightest key in James Glover’s pocket was to foresee the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) that was destined to come through Spokane Falls in 1881. He guessed and hoped his real-estate holdings would fall within the open-market portion of the alternating checkerboard sections that the federal government had given the railroad to open remote portions of the United States to the national market economy. Glover scored big when he learned his 160 acres would be free and clear of NP’s claims. Once the railroad was building, Glover received a contract to become a forage agent for the railroad – one who provided hay and grain for its horses, mules, and oxen. After the NP line arrived in Spokane, the city grew swiftly. A virtual stampede of visitors followed in 1884 when gold was discovered outside Coeur d’Alene. Before all the immigrants, miners, investors, and speculators arrived, Glover had seized the catbird seat.

Reminiscing for Posterity

In newspaper columns written in 1917 for the Spokane Daily Chronicle, Glover recalled his first sight of Spokane Falls and his resolution to buy it. "It was a desire to get a foothold in a new country that decided me, nearly half a century ago, to leave my home at Salem, Oregon and strike out into what were then the wilds of the interior" (Glover, 9). A desire to "strike out," a likely code phrase for "strike it rich," lay at the heart of much western settlement and migration.

The characters created by Mark Twain (1835-1910) shared that desire. Both Glover and Twain were born in Missouri. The year before Glover first laid eyes on Spokane Falls and slept on that dirt floor, Twain published his semi-autobiographical novel Roughing It about traveling by coach from the Missouri to Nevada. In 1884 Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where Huck says, "I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it." Glover’s "strike out" and Twain’s "light out" express kindred desires to escape from civilization. Such primal desires continue today to drive much of the in-migration to Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

When he first saw Spokane Falls, Glover arrived on horseback, and the wonders of that natural panorama mesmerized him. "I went to sleep that night with the roar of the falls in my ears, and I had a comfortable and restful night’s slumber" (Glover, 18). The next morning, he wrote, "I gave myself completely over to admiration and wonder at the beautiful, clear stream that was pouring into the kettle over the falls" (Glover, 19). In language like a baptism, he wrote, "I arose to leave, and discovered I was dripping wet with spray that had been cast up by the waterfall" (Glover, 20). Only nominal mention of religious beliefs appears elsewhere, as when he "understood what the Almighty had put [the basalt] there for. Almost all of it, except a cliff here and there, had been used in the construction of basements" (Glover, 17). His utilitarian or instrumentalist view of the falls was consistent with his social class. "I was enchanted – overwhelmed – with the beauty and grandeur of everything I saw. It lay just as nature had made it, with nothing to mar its virgin glory. I determined I would possess it" (Glover, 20). Possession, he certainly knew, is nine-tenths of the law.

The figure of a virgin land, so common among explorers and settlers of the West, became the title of a landmark scholarly book in 1950 by Henry Nash Smith. The virgin land, according to the thinking of certain men, desired to please and to be possessed. "I had said to Mr. Matheny that I was enthused with the lay of the land and desired to get it," Glover wrote in his reminiscences, "and asked him if he wanted to join me" (Glover, 22). Such possessorship included room enough for two. Glover also uses the phrase "lay of the land" several times in his reminiscences, a phrase that became the title of a book by Annette Kolodny in 1975. She studied the psychohistory of the pastoral impulse in male American literature, with special attention to first documents of exploration like Glover’s. "The whole situation aroused my desire of possession," Glover admitted, the day after he arrived and looked over the river and the banks of basalt (Glover, 21).

Matrimonial Entanglements

James Glover’s first wife, Susan Tabitha Crump Glover (1842-1921), stayed in Salem when Glover was exploring Washington Territory. Unlike Glover, Susan might not have been so happy in a bedroll on the dirt floor of a shack within earshot of the Spokane River’s cataracts. When she joined him three months later, she imported a bit of civilization in the form of an organ hauled by horse-drawn wagon from Salem. In Spokane she stood by Glover for 18 years.

In 1891, though, Glover would file articles of separation from Susan and divorce papers a year later. Within three days of divorcing Susan, he would marry Esther Leslie (1859-1924). "Ettie" was 23 years his junior, which is not an observation of judgment upon him; many men of power do the same. A year after marrying Esther, in 1893, Glover would lose an estimated $1.5 million in the financial panic, a sum equivalent to $48 million in purchasing power in 2022. Big changes hit the families and the town. The worst changes came to Susan Glover when she chose to return to Spokane after going back in Salem to live where she was born.

The couple had gotten married five years before Glover first sighted Spokane Falls and bought his quarter-section of real estate along the Spokane River. Once the two divorced, she was granted a cottage to live in, a carriage, and $100 monthly for the rest of her life. For reasons unclear to historians and biographers, she chose to come back where she was not wanted. By then Spokane had turned against her in the wake of the divorce. She bore Glover no children, which he cited in his legal claims. Her decision to return was ill-advised, as it resulted in her institutionalization for the last 22 years of her life in Medical Lake at the Eastern Washington Hospital for the Insane, which was later renamed Eastern Washington Hospital. Glover’s second wife Ettie bore him no children either. 

James Glover’s name is being erased from the history of Spokane bit by bit, just as he erased Susan Glover from his reminiscences published in the city’s newspaper. In 2014, a stone was ordered that would name a riverside plaza below City Hall Glover Plaza. But the city council received such a load of email grief from constituents that it opted instead for "Spokane Tribal Gathering Place" to honor the Indigenous people who gathered there to fish before the downstream dams went in. Likewise, Glover Field in Spokane’s Peaceful Valley was changed in 2018 to Redband Park, after a species of rainbow trout, at the request of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Spokane Indians baseball team. Such a measured reckoning is the work of historians delivering new views of a city founder whose reputation has fallen out of favor.


HistoryLink.org 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 Caldrick), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 27, 2022); James N. Glover, Reminiscences of James N. Glover (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1985), 17-22; 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); Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1950); Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1975); "Susan Tabitha Crump Glover," Find a Grave (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/134101579/susan-glover); Pradeep Hatcher, "The Plaza is Now the Spokane Tribal Gathering Place," Spokane City (https://my.spokanecity.org/news/stories/2014/11/18/the-plaza-is-now-the-spokane-tribal-gathering-place/); Kip Hill, "Glover Field, Which Honored Spokane’s Third Mayor, Renamed Redband Park," Spokesman-Review June 15, 2018 (www.spokesman.com); Heidi Groover, "What’s In a Name?" Inlander, April 22, 2014 (https://www.inlander.com/spokane/a-fun-thing/Content?oid=2294311).

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