Doc Maynard: Seattle Pioneer by Dorothea Nordstrand

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 1/20/2004
  • Essay 4273
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This account of the stubborn, original, and generous life of the important Seattle pioneer Doc Maynard (1808-1873) was written by Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011).

David Swinson Maynard

His name was David Maynard. He burst upon the scene of the tiny settlement on Puget Sound, later to be known as Seattle, with the impact of a skyrocket. Maynard was a man of many talents and enthusiasms, great charisma, and unlimited energy. When he arrived, the town had one focus, logging. He was full of new ideas to make the settlement grow.

Born in Castleton, Vermont, in 1808, he entered Castleton Medical School at the age of 17, and was apprenticed to Dr. Theodore Woodward, Professor of Obstetrics and Surgery. From him he received a sound schooling in medicine and earned the nickname “Doc.” He practiced his profession for the rest of his life, although it was only one of his many interests after he came west.

The small settlement on the Sound was only a few months old when he arrived in the spring of 1852. Doc had been operating a trading post in the town of Olympia on lower Puget Sound. When he was indulging his drinking habit (which was quite often) he would extend unlimited credit or even give away his merchandise; nice for his customers, but creating a real annoyance for other storekeepers. Finally, he was “invited” by the Town Fathers to leave Olympia. That town’s loss would eventually be Seattle’s gain. Doc Maynard was the most colorful of the early settlers, although certainly not the steadiest.

Doctor Maynard and his good friend, Noah Sealth [Seattle], Chief of the local Indian tribe, the Duwamish, came paddling up the Sound in Sealth’s canoe, already deep in a plan to go into business together, preserving salmon supplied by Sealth’s people and shipping it to the California market. It promised to be a sure-fire success. 1,000 wooden barrels were duly purchased and salmon were plentiful. The problem arose when, either through lack of experience or a lapse in Maynard’s sobriety, too little salt was used in the preserving process. The smell of 1,000 barrels of rotting salmon brought tears to the eyes of his new fellow villagers and almost got him run out of another town. That enterprise died, forthwith.

The doctor was a handsome man; six feet tall and broad shouldered, with curly black hair, a broad forehead, and intelligent blue eyes. He had a substantial nose, a wide mouth that smiled easily, and a stubborn, square chin. He was in his early forties when he arrived in the spring of 1852. Doc had come west running away from an unhappy marriage.

In the infant town, he found a place ripe for his talents and native enthusiasm. The Dennys and Borens, acknowledged founders of Seattle, welcomed his ideas and enterprise, even though they disapproved of his tippling. They helped him lay claim to land just south of the main settlement.

In quick succession, Doc opened the town’s first general store, laid out one of the first official plats of the town, and founded its first hospital. He was the first Real Estate agent, first Notary Public, first County Clerk, and first Justice of the Peace. He performed the first wedding ... that of David Denny and Louisa Boren, both members of the original group who founded the settlement in 1851.

When the town plats were laid out, Arthur Denny and Carson Boren made their streets run parallel to the shoreline. Doc Maynard made his run in accordance with the points of the compass. This made his platted streets run diagonally to those of Denny and Boren. He refused to change his plat to match theirs, thereby putting his mark forever on the city. There is a definite jog where the two plats meet at Yesler Way. Seattle owes that awkward jog to the stubborn, original non-conformist, Doc Maynard, or to the equally stubborn City Fathers, Arthur Denny and Carson Boren. Denny, in his memoirs, “opined” that the doctor ”must have been indulging," although, to be fair, both plats are equally legally correct.

Seeing the need for a blacksmith, Doc built a smithy, installed forge, anvil, and bellows and sat back and waited. Soon an itinerant blacksmith came to town. Doc sold him the waiting establishment for the sum of $10.00, and the town had its blacksmith.

Maynard was granted the town’s first divorce by the Territorial Legislature, leaving him free to marry Catherine Broshears, a pretty widow with whom he had fallen in love on his trek to the West. It was confusing, indeed, when the doctor’s first wife, Lydia, not knowing of the divorce, came to join him in Seattle. Doc must have been extremely eloquent. He convinced the two ladies to share the same house until the marital mess was sorted out. During that interval, fellow townsfolk were often treated to the sight of Doc walking around town with a wife on each arm.

Maynard had taken half of his original land claims in Lydia’s name. When it was decided that Catherine was his true wife, he had no legal right to half of his property and it reverted to the government. This left him almost a pauper, since he had, in his open-handed way, given away many of his own lots to people who “seemed to need them.”

In spite of his personal and financial problems, Catherine stayed loyally married to him for the remainder of his life. She worked beside him in his hospital. She planted medicinal plants and herbs in their garden for use in his practice. It is to Catherine’s helpfulness that Seattle owes the abundance of the pesky dandelion. She brought the seeds with her from the east. The plants were used in making dandelion tea, a widely used tonic of those days. This is one legacy for which it is hard to be grateful.

Maynard was a romantic with a sense of humor. One day, a young couple came to him, begging that he help them to get married. It was obvious that the young lady was very young indeed, finally admitting to being thirteen. It was also obvious that the two were very much in love. Sentimental Doc printed the number “18” on each of two pieces of paper and had the girl put one into each of her shoes. Then, he escorted the pair to the Reverend Daniel Bagley and swore to that doubting clergyman that she was “over 18.” His basic instincts were right, anyway. That couple stayed together for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps the most important thing for which Seattle must thank Doc is its name, suggested by him to honor his (and the town’s) friend, Chief Sealth [Seattle]. Up until then, the little town on Puget Sound was shown on maps as “Duwamps,” after the Indian tribe that lived along the Duwamish River. The Town Fathers gladly adopted the new name. The only person unhappy with the choice was Chief Sealth. He believed that after his death, his spirit would be disturbed whenever his name was spoken. He protested in vain. “Duwamps” became “Seattle.”

Sealth couldn’t stay mad at Doc and they were good friends until Sealth’s death in 1866. Chief Noah Sealth is buried in a small, quiet cemetery across Puget Sound near the town of Suquamish, where his tribe was eventually relocated. Hopefully, he is far enough away from the city that bears his name so that his spirit is not disturbed whenever the name “Seattle” is mentioned.

Doctor David Swinson Maynard, and his wife, Catherine Broshears Maynard, lie in Lake View Cemetery, burial ground for Seattle’s pioneers. There is a story that the caretakers there have to reset his stone marker now and again, as it has a habit of slipping into a tipsy position ... just like Doc, in his lifetime.


Dorothy Nordstrand contributed this account of Doc Maynard's colorful life. Note: Doc Maynard received a new headstone and it was rededicated on April 19, 2003.

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