Democrats in Territorial Legislature erase Skamania County on January 19, 1865.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 7/16/2006
  • Essay 7814
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On January 19, 1865, Democrats in the Territorial Legislature vote to eliminate Skamania County and to split its territory between Klickitat County and Clarke County (as it was spelled at the time). This places the economically important portage around the Cascades of the Columbia in Clarke County, which will reap the tax revenues. Two years later, the legislature will reverse itself after the Republican U.S. Congress disapproves the act.


Civil War Repercussions

In late 1864, Democrats held the majority in the Territorial Legislature. Although the Pacific Northwest was free of the combat of the Civil War, feelings between Democrats and Republicans ran strong over such issues as abolition of slavery, suffrage for African Americans, and the human costs of preserving the Union.

The Oregon Steam Navigation Company (OSN) of Portland owned all the steamboats and the portage railroads around the falls and rapids of the Columbia River, including the line around the Cascades in Skamania County. The firm set freight rates and schedules that angered citizens in Washington and Idaho. Territorial legislators granted franchises to the Washington Railroad Company and the Middle Cascades Railroad Company to build lines to compete with the ORN.

Pierce County's Land Grab

Meanwhile, Democrats from Pierce County shoved through a bill to change its boundary with King County thereby grabbing an area where silver quartz had just been discovered. The Walla Walla Statesman noted that "Pierce is Democratic and King is loyal." Territorial Governor William Pickering, a Republican appointee of the Lincoln Administration, vetoed the act, noting that he doubted that the residents of King County would approve of such a change.

A Walla Walla Democrat offered a bill to discourage the importation of Negroes and Mulattos into the territory and providing for penalties for violations.

Skamania finis

Clarke County legislators looked for their share of the political spoils. They got the Territorial agricultural college placed within its borders. The representatives presented a petition with 75 signatures allegedly from Skamania County asking to be included in Clarke County. The legislature cut the county in half, giving the east to Klickitat County and the west with the Cascades and its tax base to Clarke County. Skamania was ordered to divide its treasury and debts between Clarke and Klickitat, to ship its records to Clarke County, and for the officers to cease performing their duties on April 1, 1865. Portland's Daily Oregonian reported "Skamania is erased so that Clarke can redeem her credit."

Skamania County residents immediately protested. They organized a committee headed by W. L. Button and R. W. Post to issue a resolution claiming that the petition was submitted by nonresidents and with fraudulent signatures. They demanded a stop to the transfer of monies and the right to vote on division.

Skamania County Restored

The U.S. Congress, influenced by Oregon Steam Navigation lobbyists, disapproved the law and in 1867, the Territorial Legislature repealed it, restored Skamania to its original boundaries, and ratified the official actions of county officers over the past two years. The OSN was also able to get Congress to overturn eminent domain condemnation proceedings against its properties at the Cascades. OSN vice president and manager Simeon Reed declared, "... our friends in W.T. and hereafter the Legislature of that Territory will be reminded that there is a 'power above them'" (Johansen, 281).

The Oregon Steam Navigation Company and its successor, the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, retained a monopoly on river traffic until the 1910s.

Sources: Laws of Washington; A Publication of the Session Laws of Washington, (Seattle: Tribune Printing Co., 1895), Vol. I, 249, Vol. II, 801-802; "Letter from Olympia," The Daily Oregonian (Portland), January 19, 1865, p. 4; "Skamania Erased," Ibid., January 23, 1865, p. 3; "Protest from Skamania," Ibid., January 26, 1865, p. 3; "Letter from Olympia," Ibid., January 30, 1865, p. 3; Walla Walla Statesman, January 27, 1865, p. 2; Dorothy Johansen, Empire of the Columbia (New York: Harper & Row, 1957, 1967), 279-281.

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