Monday, February 20, 2012

The Silver Plated Elopement

Edmond S. Meany, the early University of Washington historian, got it all wrong about Miles Conway Moore, the last of the territorial governors.  In his history, “Governors of the State of Washington,” Meany said that there was sentimental value in Moore’s appointment a few months before statehood because the Territorial Governor who ceded federal authority to the state in 1889 would be well and fondly remembered. 
True, Washington came into the union as scheduled, but what we remember during that year is that fires destroyed three cities of the territory, first Seattle, in June, then Ellensburg, on July 4 and finally, in August, Spokane.  Well and fondly didn’t come up much that year. 
What finally happened after that flammable summer was that the state constitution was approved by residents on October 1 and sent to Washington.  At the same time, the state officers were elected, contingent upon approval by the federal government – not a done deal, by the way.  An earlier constitution was approved and sent off but was rejected in 1878, some in the eastern part of the state say because Walla Walla was angling for a home in Oregon, preferring that state to what people sometimes referred to as “the cesspool of Puget Sound.”

The Telegram.  Does it really say collect?
University of Washington
On November 11, Secretary of State James G.  Blaine sent along a telegram to the governor elect, Elisha Peyre Ferry, with the news that President Harrison had signed the bill opening the door of statehood to the two Dakotas, Montana and Washington.  Ferry took the oath of office in Olympia on November 15. 

He was the son of a Frenchman who left France in 1814 after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte under whom he had served as an infantry Colonel.  Ferry was an extraordinary young man, accepted to the Illinois bar at age twenty.  Practicing law was a natural political path and he soon became the first Mayor of Waukegan, Illinois after it incorporated.  He was an energetic member of the new Republican Party and was a presidential elector in both 1852 and 1856, though James Buchanan carried Illinois over John C.  Fremont and Elisha had to keep his anti-slave vote in his pocket. 
Elisha Ferry
Washington State Legislature
His activism put him in contact with Abraham Lincoln and, as the Civil War began, with a Colonel in the Illinois National Guard, Ulysses S.  Grant.  Ever the logician, he worked directly for the Governor of Illinois and was in charge of outfitting Illinois troops, becoming a Colonel by the end of the war.  He worked closely with Grant and they became friendly.  
So, it followed that Grant appointed Ferry to the position of Surveyor General of the Washington Territory after Grant became president.  It was a good thing, as the Northern Pacific Railroad was coming to the territory, to be the Surveyor General.  It was good for business and good for politics.  It is not known if Ferry was part of the network of public officials corruptly maintained by the Great Northern Railway but, like most Republican officials at the time, Ferry identified with the goals of the railroads and actively supported the company. 
Surveyors will tell you that Mount Rushmore depicts three surveyors and another guy.  Land was an extremely important part of government policy then as well as business.  The person who drew the lines and made the maps was an instrument of both. 
After three years, Grant appointed Ferry Territorial Governor in 1872, replacing Edward Selig Salomon, besmirched by another Grant Administration scandal.  That same year, the federal government gave territorial governors the ability to appoint three dozen or so statewide officials.  Their accountability to the governor gave him substantially more power than his predecessors.  
He’s generally credited with getting the territory’s financial house in order and taking financial pressure off cities and counties by building a penitentiary, allowing the closure of many small, local jails around the territory. The road to statehood is paved with acts like that, alleviating fears at the local level that they will not be paying for a lot of stuff hitherto paid for by the federal government. 
Ferry was competent, energetic, could get things done and never got caught up in the kind scandals that kept breaking over the Grant administration. His term over in 1880, he left Olympia for Seattle to practice real estate law, work at the Puget Sound National Bank and become truly rich.
Municipal Archives
As territorial governor, Ferry kept an active hand in local politics and was friendly with businessman John Leary whose business interests spanned pretty much what was going on in the territory -- coal, lumber, railroads, steamships and water supply.  Leary sat on the Seattle City Council and would be elected mayor, in 1884, as the first and only standard bearer of the Businessmen’s Party.  The rush was on for statehood and it would happen quickly.  In the middle of 1889, the state's second constitutional convention convened for six weeks and submitted a constitution in August.

The Capitol in 1889
Governor Moore set the election date as October first and the party conventions to nominate a Democrat in smoldering Ellensburg and a Republican in restive Walla Walla.   
Ferry’s most noteworthy accomplishment as governor rose out of his nomination.  Abandoned by his own King County party for another candidate, he let on that he could be counted on in Whitman County: 
“I’m positively inclined to have a university in Whitman County,” he said, and in 1890, Washington State Agricultural College and School of Science was founded in Pullman and, in 1892, 50 students enrolled in September.
Jonathan Baldwin Turner
University of Illinois
These Land Grant Colleges came primarily from the energy of two men, Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a Yale graduate and professor at Illinois College and Justin Smith Morrill, a legislator from Vermont who served in Congress over 44 years.  Both wanted to see greater access to higher education for the “industrial classes,” more experimentation in agriculture and a spreading of scientific learning across the country.
Illinois College is in Jacksonville, Illinois.  Indirectly, Turner taught Abraham Lincoln the basics of writing the English language.  William Green and his brother went to school at Illinois College and took classes from and admired their professor.  The term over, they returned home to help with the harvest and found a tall, rustic young man whose country speech betrayed his origins.  Their mother had hired him to help out.  The young man asked about the school and wanted to see the books the brothers used.  He asked to study one used by Turner in his class on writing.  When he had questions about the book, the Green boys would channel Turner. 

Justin Smith Morrill
Library of Congress
Morrill was a blacksmith’s son who had to leave school early to become a clerk in a general store.  He was so successful at making money that he retired at 38 and went to Congress.  He was the legislative arm of the Land Grant idea. 

Morrill has a bit of the Thomas Jefferson in him.  A highly competent amateur architect, he served as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Buildings while in the Senate.  He passed legislation -- and judgment -- on the designs of much of the US Capitol complex, including the finishing of the Washington Monument, the Executive Office Building next to the White House and the West Front Terrace of the Capitol where Ronald Reagan moved the inaugural ceremony from the parking lot on the east side to one of the most inspirational places in America.  It was also Morrill's idea to convert the old House chamber into a national statuary hall.  His last project was the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, America's cathedral of learning. 
President Jackson
James J.  Watkins
Senator Magnuson had a little office on the West Front of the Capitol and I once had a meeting in it.  The view down the Mall kept me tearing up the whole time I was meeting with this Corps of Engineer General who was laying out the Corps’ concern about how construction of the West Seattle Bridge could hurt migrating fish.  We sat on a couch above which was the magnificent picture of the almost dead Andrew Jackson, his face sad and almost falling off him.  It was all I could do to not excuse myself, call my Mom and tell her where I was. 

There was likely a lot of emotion when President Lincoln signed the Land Grant College Act of 1862 in the presence of Morrill and Turner -- one a grade school drop out with a Jeffersonian mind, another a Yale patrician who fought nearly his entire professional life for young people of no means to have access to excellent public education, and the third, a bumpkin who had somehow become the president at the start of the nation’s greatest catastrophe and whose words would articulate the catastrophe as no one else could.  Lincoln said to Turner: 
“My only instruction in the English language is from you.”
Ferry’s immediate challenges were the burned cities in his state, the muscling for land and dominance by the railroads, leadership at Washington State College – two presidents in less than two years -- and how to allocate the tide lands of Puget Sound and Grays Harbor, a grant from the federal government, among all the competing interests.  His health was bad.  For several weeks he gave up his office to his Lieutenant Governor while he recuperated in California.  When his term was up he returned to Seattle and died in 1895 on the deck of a steamship in Puget Sound.
Seattle Municipal Archives
Pierre Ferry Home
Of the five Ferry children, two became prominent.  In 1892, his daughter Eliza Peyre Ferry, married John Leary and created the town’s most prominent power couple.  They lived at the center of life in the city at 208 Madison, near today’s plaza of the Wells Fargo Center.  While they lived there, it was a place of great gaiety and entertainment, but as the bigger buildings began to crowd in, John and Eliza started building a house on 10th Avenue East, overlooking Lake Union.  John died just about the time his wife’s businessman brother, Pierre, was finishing his own lovely mansion nearby in 1905.  It was designed by John Graham, then a newcomer to town and an architect on the rise.  Pierre was running the family business now, the Ferry-Leary Land Company, while Eliza threw herself into community work, serving on the first board at the new Children’s Orthopedic Hospital.

In 1913, Pierre and his wife, Lorena, adopted a three year old girl from the Children’s Home of Washington, then well established as the place where young children could be protected when things fell apart around them.
The big house on Tenth Avenue East was a long way from Mud Creek Canyon in Entiat, Washington, where her Mom, Emma Goldie Bisping, operated a boarding house after her husband, Julius Bisping, ran off.  It came to a head when an Italian worker for the railroad and now Emma’s lover, got into a shoving match that resulted in her filing an assault charge against him.
The details of the Mud Creek boarding house life led the judge to place the two older sisters into the care of Julius Bisping’s brother and the youngest daughter, Gertrude Bisping, then two, into the Childrens’ Home. 
After the adoption, the Ferrys renamed her Barbara Peyre Ferry and she was a big deal in the family.  Of Elisha’s five children, Barbara was the only grandchild.  She was frequently on the society pages of the Seattle Times, throwing a fancy dress party, skating on a birthday. 
So, it was a very big society page event – in fact it was a front page of the Seattle Times event – when she eloped with David Keith Eskridge, whom she had met when invited to join other friends on David’s family’s 62’ yacht the previous summer for a cruise along the Alaska coast.  At some point, there was the romantic spark that led, in secrecy, to a Wednesday morning in March, 1927 at a Chehalis Episcopal Church. 
You need to know that David’s middle name, ‘Keith’ refers to David Keith, a founder of the Silver Creek Mine at Park City, Utah and David’s grandfather.
The other is ‘Eskridge.’  David’s father is Richard Stevens Eskridge, grandson of the first territorial governor of Washington State, Isaac Stevens, who negotiated the treaties with the tribes in the territory and took the job that Abraham Lincoln turned down.  I’m not sure if Chehalis ever had a bigger wedding. 
The newspapers scoped out a bunch of details that kept the story going for several days.  Barbara was supposed to be staying with her grandmother while her Mother was at an all girl getaway, described a bit more tightly by the Tacoma Times as “Entertaining at the Tacoma Country Club cottage of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Leary and some friends from Seattle.”   However, David’s mother, Etta Keith Eskridge Gjossen, was listed as a witness at the wedding as was her new husband, Ted Gjossen. 
This last tidbit – one family knew and the other didn’t! – was a juicy mystery that took three editions of the Seattle Times to sort out.  The final edition had it that the Gjossens were there because they had “stumbled on the truth and were won over to the enterprise.”  Barbara was 16, David 22.
Pierre and Lulu, Lorena Ferry’s nickname, finally got into the action over the weekend when they hurried to organize a reception held at the Tacoma Country Club cottage along American Lake.  There, they got another surprise when the newlyweds announced that they planned on living south of Tacoma and were going to start a chicken farm.
The allure of poultry farming along Puget Sound and buckets of money could not hold the new union together, though their love lasted ten years and produced a son, David Keith Eskridge Jr., who went on to a career in music as a conductor and composer. 
It was not easy for Barbara to be happy in a relationship.  Every ten years, she divorced and remarried.  But her first one, to young Eskridge was, to me, very special.  It is a physical unification--Governor Ferry’s granddaughter, via Mud Creek Canyon, to Territorial Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens’ great grandson, via Park City silver. 
After three other marriages, Barbara Peyre Ferry died in 1969 and is buried next to her adopted parents as Barbara P. Moe in the Ferry plot at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle. 

1 comment:

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