By Nancy Covert, Special to the Idaho Statesman
William Wallace, military man, attorney, mayor, territorial governor, friend of Abraham Lincoln.
On a cool, misty November morning in 1951 a solemn group of members from the Fraternal Order of Masons from Steilacoom Lodge No. 2 and Washington State Governor Lister, gathered at the gravesite of the fraternal organization’s first Master to dedicate a special plaque to the man who made his mark on his adopted homeland.
Early on misty August morning in 2013, approximately 62 years later, a small group of Steilacoom residents, Western State Hospital personnel, and personnel from Premier Memorial of Tacoma gathered at that same site to restore it.
Wallace, who’d served as defense attorney in the controversial Chief Leschi trial in 1858, who’d served as territorial governor and congressional delegate from Washington Territory before being appointed as Idaho’s Territorial Governor and congressional delegate from the Gem State, had expected to be appointed permanent governor of Idaho. That all changed when his close friend Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
Wallace was one of the late president’s pall bearers, and after concluding his funereal duties, he and his wife, Lucena, returned to Steilacoom (in the native language, the name means “Pink Flowers”).Washington’s first incorporated town.
A few years after Wallace spoke to his fellow citizens in July 1865, the townspeople voted to make Wallace their first mayor. (Until then the County had governed the town). He served the waterfront community in that capacity from 1871-79. When he died, he was buried at the pioneer gravesite on the grounds of what had become Washington State Hospital.
The contemporary “historic” occasion occurred as a follow-up to a return of “William Wallace” in the persona of Idaho’s foremost Wallace scholar, Attorney David LeRoy, former Idaho Lt. Governor and Attorney General.
Restoration and interest in the Wallace Gravesite was promoted this past spring after Steilacoom’s current mayor, Ron Lucas, met and spoke with “Mayor” Wallace during Historic Ft. Steilacoom’s Living History Day on April 20, 2013.
When informed by Steilacoom Historical Museum Association about the upcoming tombstone repair, “Governor” Wallace sent, via electronic mail, his gratitude for Washington Citizens’ efforts on behalf of the graveyard repair.
Most recently interest in Wallace’s grave was resurrected in 2004 after Nisqually Historian Cecilia Carpenter succeeded in convincing the State that Chief Leschi had been dishonored when he was hung for the alleged murder of a white man during the Indian Wars of 1854-55. At the conclusion of the 2004 trial, held at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Leschi’s honor was restored. Wallace and his wife’s tombs are among a group of about 50 graves remaining at the fort’s original burial site.
Below is a recap of Wallace’s story. It was published in Idaho Magazine in 2008.
Idaho’s First Territorial Governor Wore Many Hats
By Marylyn Cork and Nancy Covert
How many Idahoans even know the name of the man who served as the Gem State’s first territorial governor, let alone anything about him?
That may change a bit, however, as the state’s commemoration of the 200th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln nears next year. Since Territorial Gov. William Henson Wallace was a close personal friend of the late president, some mention of Wallace is bound to creep in, and already has, in fact, in a newspaper story circulated in North Idaho a year ago in regard to the planned Lincoln birthday party.
“Lincoln figures very prominently in the early history of Idaho,” state historian emeritus Arthur Hart said for the story, written by Betsy Z. Russell and published in the Spokesman-Review. Added David Leroy, chairman of the Idaho Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and the state’s former lieutenant governor and attorney general, “He was literally the father of the territory and the state. He created Idaho Territory with a stroke of the pen.”
Appointed territorial governor by Lincoln, Wallace assumed office in Lewiston on July 10, 1863, and served until he was elected to Congress as a delegate from Idaho Territory in late autumn of that same year. At the end of the term, he was again appointed governor in 1865, in place of the man who had succeeded him, Caleb Lyon. However, the appointment was sidetracked by Lyon’s friends (Lincoln was dead by then), and Lyon was the man who returned to Idaho as governor.
What kind of governor was Wallace? An improvement over Lyon, apparently. The man Lincoln appointed to be Idaho’s second territorial governor was a New Yorker who is said to have absconded in the spring of 1866 with all of Idaho’s federal Indian funds—well over $40,000. (But that’s another story.)
Modern-day biographers describe William Wallace as having been a jovial person who was well liked by his contemporaries. Thomas Donaldson, in his book, Idaho of Yesterday, wrote that Wallace was “a man of lovable disposition and of splendid executive abilities. He won recognition for his personal integrity as well as for his marked ability… His eyes, as black as night, had a merry twinkle hovering in them, indicating a kindly heart and happy disposition. He was a yarn spinner, and because of his charming manners was at his best when surrounded by company. He was best known throughout the West as a polished and eloquent public speaker.”
Such effulgence does not mean that Wallace had no enemies during his political career or never suffered a political setback — politics being no different then than now. As Governor of Idaho Territory, Wallace also served as its ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs. He was criticized for employing his son and for accepting travel expenses – common practices then as now. Annie Laurie Bird, writing for Idaho Yesterdays, the quarterly journal of the Idaho Historical Society (Portrait of a Frontier Politician, Spring Issue, 1959) came to Wallace’s defense:
“No scandals, no misappropriations, no unauthorized expenditures are to be found during his term, a situation nearly unique in Idaho politics during the Civil War period. His seemed an honest attempt to be fair to the Indian, the white settlers, the employees; to get value received from all money appropriated; and to collect detailed, accurate information upon which to build a future policy.”
In another article, Idaho’s First Territorial Governor, written for the Summer Issue of the quarterly in 1966, Bird rebutted the main criticisms, nine in number, that were leveled at Wallace as governor.
Criticisms one and two are simple to explain, as follows:
a. Opposition to Wallace’s choice of Lewiston as capital. It was the logical choice at the time, Bird said, “to all students of conditions at that particular time. Lewiston was the gateway to the rich gold fields of the Clearwater and even, to some extent, those of the Salmon River,” while those of the Boise Basin, where the protests were loud and shrill, had not been discovered until late the previous year, in 1862. Among other factors, land and water transportation systems in the Lewiston area had been established and were operating, and the town was booming.
b. Wallace was slow in establishing territorial government – according to Bird, he was merely painstaking.
c. Criticisms three through seven are complicated and difficult to explain concisely. Briefly, they all deal directly or indirectly with the election of Wallace as Delegate to Congress in 1863. Bird demolished each one, not excepting the matter of some fraudulent election returns for which Wallace was not responsible, she said, nor was considered so by responsible people at the time.
d. The last two criticisms seem petty today, centering around the appointment of an “imported” judge, and the charge that Wallace left the work of his office to the Territorial Secretary, William B. Daniels, even before Wallace resigned to go to Washington as Delegate to Congress. Bird gave neither assertion any credence.
She summed up Wallace’s time in Idaho with these words: “While Wallace was not a great man, he had executive ability, was friendly, likable, honest and patriotic. Idaho needed, but did not get his services.”
Washington State, however, did—for a second time. After serving as one of Lincoln’s pallbearers, Wallace went home to Steilacoom and resumed his legal practice in the town that had been managed by Pierce County for about two decades. Steilacoom officially became a city in 1871 and Wallace was elected its first mayor. He also served as county probate judge and was first Lodge Master of Steilacoom Masonic Lodge No. 2.
The Website politicalgraveyard.com gives a bare bones account of further public service that William Henson Wallace rendered to his country, in a total of four states.
* Wallace studied law; was admitted to the bar and practiced in Indiana.
a. He was appointed receiver of public money in Fairfield, Iowa.
b. He was a member of the (Washington) Territorial Council in 1855-56, and served as president of the council;
c. He was appointed Governor of the Territory of Washington in 1861, but did not qualify, having been elected as a Republican Delegate from the territory to the Thirty-seventh Congress. He served from March 4, 1861 to March 3, 1863.
Nowhere in the bio is there even a mention that Wallace was speaker of Iowa’s first Territorial House of Representatives and that he also served several terms in the Iowa legislature.
Nor are some of the more interesting personal tidbits about Wallace enumerated. According to the Idaho Historical Society leaflet, Educational Series No. 5, William Henson Wallace, Wallace’s father was a close personal friend of President William Henry Harrison and his mother a relative of John Paul Jones of Revolutionary War fame. Also, his brother David was the Governor of Indiana and his nephew Lew, a famous Civil War General, wrote Ben Hur.
This remarkable, multi-talented man, who wore so many political hats in his lifetime, died at Steilacoom on Feb. 7, 1879. He and his wife, Luzena (also spelled “Lucena”), are buried in the small pioneer graveyard on the grounds of present-day Western State Hospital, originally Fort Steilacoom.
In late 2004, due to efforts by Nisqually tribal members, notably its historian Ceclia Svinth Carpenter, the state of Washington hosted a “retrial” to exonerate Wallace’s most famous client, Nisqually Chief Leschi, who was hanged for murder.
Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg served as the defense lawyer for the retrial. Evidence that was not available at the time of Leschi’s 1858 trial was introduced. At the trial’s conclusion, after 140 years, the Chief’s honor was restored.
As an aside, it can be said that Luzena also claimed to have played a role in the history of Idaho. In reminiscences published in the Tacoma Daily Ledger in 1892, Mrs. Wallace said she suggested that the new territory should be named after a favorite niece of hers whose name was “Idaho”. The name has never been credited to Luzena in the Gem State (perhaps because it hasn’t surfaced in the state until recently). Historians in the Steilacoom-Tacoma area, however, accept Mrs. Wallace’s story as fact.
Contacted recently for comment, Idaho’s Dr. Hart responded: “In my opinion Lucena Wallace may very well have chosen the name Idaho from several possibilities that had been previously suggested. I don’t think she was the inventor of the name (she didn’t claim to be), since it had been around since at least 1860, and possibly longer. Nobody among my historian colleagues in Idaho have ever heard her credited with choosing the name, but I’ll continue to investigate…”
That, too, is another story.