Profiles of Washington Territorial Librarians – Elwood Evans 1877-1879
From the Desks of the Central Library Staff
It is difficult to get away from Elwood Evans while reading about the political history of Washington Territory. Born in Philadelphia Dec. 29, 1828, he was appointed a Deputy Collector of Customs under Simpson P. Moses and arrived in Olympia with the Moses brothers in 1851. Admitted to the bar shortly after setting up shop, he became one of the Territory’s earliest lawyers. His initial stay in Washington Territory was brief, in late 1852 he went to Washington, D.C. to campaign for the creation of a territory separate from Oregon. Evans served as an aide to Gov. Stevens during the overland expedition to Washington Territory in 1853, a party that included Bion Kendall. He served as the Chief Clerk of the House during the First Session (1854) and was later elected to fill an unexpired term of a House member. At the same time he filled the role of Thurston County School Superintendent.
An active member of the Whig Party, he led his colleagues into the newly formed Republican Party by the end of the 1850s. Although Evans and Kendall became political enemies, they were united in their hostility to Gov. Stevens and his declaration of martial law. In Jan. 1859 he was instrumental in the incorporation of Olympia and was elected the President (Mayor) 1859-1861. Although Evans lobbied hard for an appointment to the office of Governor, he was never successful. Yet he was frequently in a position to be Acting-Governor. He was made Territorial Secretary during the Lincoln Administration and assumed the right to select a public printer, and awarded the post to Olympian T.H. McElroy– who, according to Robert Ficken, was “the public face in a printing business partly owned by Evans.” He was no friend of Bion Kendall, and some historians have tried to implicate Evans as guilty by association in a murder conspiracy against his nemesis.
In 1868 he once again served as Chief Clerk in the House, and made valuable contributions in compiling the Code of 1869. He was elected to the House in the mid-1870s, rising to the office of Speaker. He apparently took over the office of Territorial Librarian simply to move the facility to the capitol campus. It was during this time he seriously started compiling his history of the region, as Norman Clark observed, “Among the most literate of the territorial barristers, his experiences left him with an intense interest in the drama of those early years, and he had already presented manuscripts to the most enterprising historian of the West, H.H. Bancroft of San Francisco.” After he completed his Librarian term, he moved to Tacoma. In 1881 he compiled, along with fellow past Librarian John Paul Judson, the Laws of Washington Territory. He was elected as a member of the First Session of the Washington State House. Evans died in The City of Destiny on Jan. 28, 1898.
[The Territorial Librarian profiles were compiled by Sean Lanksbury, Mary Schaff, Kim Smeenk, and Steve Willis]
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