Armed Cheney citizens forcibly remove the county seat from Spokane Falls to Cheney on March 21, 1881.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 8/11/2007
  • Essay 8249
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On March 21, 1881, armed citizens from Cheney steal into Spokane Falls and make off with the entire Spokane County government. Cheney is located in Spokane County 17 miles southwest of Spokane Falls (later renamed Spokane).

Squabbling Towns

The fledgling towns of Cheney and Spokane Falls (later Spokane) had been squabbling since November of 1880, when an election was held to determine the county seat of the newly formed Spokane County. The first count showed Cheney winning by 14 votes. But Spokane Falls claimed a number of irregularities in the ballots. A more painstaking recount showed Spokane Falls winning by two or three votes. The Spokane Falls faction took possession of the county records and declared itself the county seat. Cheney took the issue to court, and a judge ordered another recount. But Spokane Falls was in no hurry to finish another recount.

By the night of March 20, 1881, the Cheney men took matters into their hands. They waited until most of the prominent people of Spokane Falls were roistering the night away at the wedding party of a certain Dick Wright and Miss Piper. Then, sometime after midnight, they snuck into the frame building that Spokane Falls grandly called a county courthouse and took custody of the county auditor, who was in the office working late. They also took custody of the county records, which included the recount ballots. They did their own quick recount and declared Cheney the winner.

They hustled the auditor and the records down through a gulch and to three waiting wagons. Spokane Falls' lone night watchman heard a commotion in the woods and fired off a few warning shots. But then he heard nothing else.

County Seat Missing

By dawn, the records and the auditor were ensconced in Cheney. The people of Spokane Falls woke groggily from their revelry and slowly realized that the entire county seat was missing. An emissary was sent to Cheney, who reported that the Cheney men were guarding the county books, guns in hand. The Cheney men stood guard for six more weeks until most of the county officials moved their offices to Cheney and a court upheld the Cheney recount.

Cheney held on to the county seat until 1886, when Spokane Falls managed to get the county seat question on the ballot again. By this time, Spokane Falls had far surpassed Cheney in population, and won in a landslide. The county seat has been in Spokane ever since.

Sources: E. E. Perry, " "How Cheney Captured the County Seat" in N. W. Durham, History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County (Spokane, Chicago, and Philadelphia: J. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912), 395-398.

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