History: Government of region has amended over time
By Ross Schneidmiller
Liberty Lake Historical Society
Congress passed the bill creating Washington Territory on March 2, 1853. The original boundaries of the territory included all of the present-day state of Washington, as well as northern Idaho and Montana west of the continental divide. The name for the territory was going to be Columbia; however, in the U.S. Congress it was argued that it might be confused with the District of Columbia. Ironically, they chose the name Washington in honor of the first president, which, as any Washingtonian knows, is often confused with Washington, D.C.
Spokane County was created by an act of the Territorial Assembly in 1858, the same year as the Indian wars in the Inland Empire. In 1864, Spokane County was absorbed into Stevens County with the county seat at Colville. The reason for retaining the name Stevens and not Spokane was due in part to the sentiment of honoring Isaac Stevens. Stevens, the first Territorial Governor of Washington, had volunteered his services to the Union cause in the Civil War, and was killed in action in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly.
Spokane County was reestablished in 1879 under the influence of the man known as the "Father of Spokane," James Glover, with Spokane Falls being named the temporary county seat. When Stephen Liberty, the lake's namesake, filed his naturalization papers for U.S. Citizenship in 1886, he did so at Cheney and not Spokane Falls. The reason for this was Cheney was the county seat-or so its residents contended. In 1880, an election was held to determine the permanent location of the county seat. Both Spokane and Cheney claimed to be victorious. Late one night when the majority of Spokane Falls was celebrating at a wedding dance, some of Cheney's prominent citizens snuck into town and took the county records, along with the county auditor who had been working late. Armed with six shooters, they stood guard over the records for six weeks until Cheney's claim was conceded. Later in 1886, after Steven Liberty had filed his papers, another election was held, and the county seat returned to Spokane Falls. This time there was no dispute as Spokane Falls had substantially outgrown Cheney.
The earliest settlers in the region had to fend for themselves because they had little in the way of law enforcement. This was demonstrated through encounters between Joseph Herring and Isaac Kellogg. Herring, along with Timothy Lee and Ned Jordan, built the first bridge across the Spokane River at what would become the town of Spokane Bridge. Timothy Lee, soon to be named postmaster of Spokane Bridge, stated the following in the Walla Walla Statesman in April of 1866:
"Kellogg came on the Spokane (River) with the intention of building a bridge one mile below ours. He built a house and commenced selling whiskey to the Indians with impunity. The Indians were drunk all the time and made it dangerous for quiet residents of the prairie. Herring, at the request of the Indian Chiefs, wrote to the (Indian) Agent at Colville about the matter. The Agent answered Herring's letter telling him to warn Kellogg, which he did."
Kellogg did not care and continued his practices. This was the beginning of bad blood between the two men, which culminated in Herring and one of his hired men killing Kellogg in a gun battle. Herring claimed self-defense, while Kellogg's men said it was murder. It would be several months before a deputy sheriff would travel nearly 200 miles on horseback from Walla Walla to Spokane Bridge to arrest Herring and his hired hand for the killing of Kellogg and take them back to Walla Walla's district court to stand trial.
When the Territory was created in 1853, a judicial system was also established. It consisted of the territorial Supreme Court, district court, probate court and justice court. There were three judicial districts, with Eastern Washington being one of them. Walla Walla was the only town of this district where district court cases were heard. Because of the hardship of traveling there, many defendants were absent from trial. This was a significant problem because this court had original jurisdiction in all cases arising under the U.S. Constitution and the laws of Washington Territory. This burden was lessened some by the justice courts. The justice court heard petty criminal and civil cases, where less than $100 in debt or damages was involved. Justices of the peace often heard the original complaint in a case and then referred the case to the district court due to lack of jurisdiction.
Some of the motivation for statehood was a need for a judicial system that was more convenient and representative. Statehood was achieved in 1889 and with it the benefit of court cases being held in Spokane Falls. Since the town had won back the county seat from Cheney three years before, the county sheriff, his deputies and the county jail moved back too.
The Liberty Lake area stayed under Spokane County control until 2001, when a portion of the community was incorporated into the city of Liberty Lake. The city is now protected by an entire police department - a big improvement from what our early settlers had!
Ross Schneidmiller is president of the Liberty Lake Historical Society and a lifelong resident of the community.
Did you know?
• The first Post Office established in present day Spokane County was at Spokane Bridge in 1867. The first Post Office established at Liberty Lake was in 1901 in Willis Kisinger's General Store. The store burned down a few days after it opened; Kisinger claimed he would rebuild at once, but it appears he never did. Rural delivery to settlers in our area began in 1902 and ran out of the Moab (near Newman Lake) Post Office. In 1909, the Liberty Lake Post Office was reestablished in the Liberty Lake Train Station. It moved to Liberty Lake Grocery on Melkapsi in 1912 and remained on that street housed in different buildings for more than 70 years.
• Liberty Lake precinct was formed in 1902 by Spokane County after residents of Spokane Bridge and Saltese precincts asked that part of each of these be taken to form a new voting district.
• Rasmus and Anna Madsen, homesteaders at Liberty Lake, sued the Spokane Valley Land & Water Co. after the extension of the lake they used to water their cattle was drained during the formation of the Corbin irrigation ditch that ran out of the northwest end of the lake. The case, which dealt with riparian (water) rights, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, reversing the decision of the court of origin and deciding in favor of the water company.
The Development of a Community
A series from the Liberty Lake Historical Society, appearing in the first Splash issue of each month in 2013.
January - Relocation of the Coeur d'Alenes
February - Formation of the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation
March - Transportation Overview
April - Railroads
May - Homesteaders
June - Homesteaders in the hills
July - Utilities
August - Church
September - School
October - Commerce
November - Government
December - Medical