On Independence Day in 1861, the Steilacoom paper mentioned that the soon to be ex-acting governor of the territory would make his own person independence in Walla Walla.
Just a couple of months after shots were fired to open the Civil War on the opposite coast, in his capacity as acting governor, Henry McGill had called out the troops. McGill issued a proclamation bringing the Washington territorial militia back into existence.
McGill was just waiting out the time until he (the territorial secretary) and his Democratic Buchanan appointed territorial governor were replaced by Lincoln Republicans. Before coming west, Ireland born McGill has been Buchanan’s personal secretary. Buchanan president under whose presidency the nation began to fracture.
McGill visited the office of the Puget Sound Herald (reported on July 4, 1861) and gave an impression about his own search for freedom. Clearly looking past the time when Lincoln would appoint his replacement, McGill said that maybe Walla Walla (in the growing eastern portion of the territory) might be the place for him.
McGill was put in charge of the territory on an acting basis because his governor, Richard Gholson, made his way back to Kentucky, in an effort to get that state to join the Confederacy.
But, McGill mentioning Walla Walla in the summer of 1861 was an interesting dream. Secession had tossed McGill’s career. Walla Walla was the center of its own local secession movement that Olympia and the rest of Puget Sound played to their benefit in the era of national fracture.
McGill’s stay in Washington was only a few months old when the territorial assembly shot down the idea of letting eastern Washington and much of what is now Idaho seceded from the territory. In a 18-12 vote, the assembly voted down a memorial to Congress to create the massive inland and economically powerful territory.
Between the rising agricultural territory around Walla Walla and the mines upriver, Walla Walla was a community on the rise and it wanted to the center of its own territory. Puget Sound and Olympia obviously didn’t want this at all. They were able to hold off the 1861 memorial, but people were streaming into the east. Eventually, the population and the votes over the mountains would end up drawing a line unfriendly to Puget Sound.
The question remained, how do the Puget Sounders keep at least a portion the economically vital region in the fold? As miners flooded into the east in the fall of 1861 and into 1862, the solution became dividing the farms from the mines.
Thousands of gold-seekers rushed to the Salmon River mines as soon as travel became practical in the spring of 1862. At the height of the excitement, a new boundary suggestion came from Olympia. There, on April 5, 1862, the Washington Standard indicated that Washington territory should be divided, but not on the Cascades. In order to keep Washington as big as possible and yet get rid of the mining area with its controlling majority of Washington’s population, a new territory was advocated foe the miners only. After all, there was no need to cut off anything more: if just the mines were detached, the danger that political control of Washington would shift east across the Cascades would end suddenly. Walla Walla and the potential farming section of the Palouse, therefore, might stay in Washington without endangering Olympia’s future. A boundary much farther east than the Cascades would leave Olympia with a Washington territory of respectable size to preside over. To accomplish this, Washington’s eastern boundary might properly be made a northern extension of Oregon’s eastern boundary. Dr. A. G. Henry – surveyor general of Washington, and an exceedingly able and influential agent for Olympia – selected the exact line that would meet these new Olympia requirements. His choice was a meridian running due north from the new town of Lewiston, which had been established the season before at the mouth of the Clearwater. From that time on, that was the line that Olympia partisans worked for.
War and death raged in the east, but Olympia civic leaders and bureaucrats quickly and coolly dispatched with the secessionists on the Snake River.
I’m not sure if McGill ever made a stop in Walla Walla. He did some lawyer work around Puget Sound in the 1870s, by 1870 he was lawyering and getting elected to local office in San Francisco.
Fifty years after the last battle of the Civil War (the battle of Columbus, Georgia) McGill died in San Francisco.