Throwback Thursday: Adams County
In 1965, there was an effort to create a written history of members of the bar in each county; we reviewed some of those accounts, mostly on yellowed paper, often carbon-copied from manual typewritten notes. The dry dates and memorials also serve to remind us how each of these who came before served our profession and their communities, and how they led the way to the bar we have in 2015.
A Look Back at Adams County
Named in honor of the second president of the United States, John Adams, Adams County is tucked in the lower right hand corner of the state; with a population hovering around 19,000, it ranks as the ninth smallest of Washington’s 39 counties.
But what Adams County lacks in population, it makes up for in french fries, rodeos, and orchards. The unassuming town of Othello produces about 10 percent of the french fries consumed in America and is also home to the Othello Rodeo, which began as a smalltime rodeo in the 1940s and has since grown to a bona fide “world championship rodeo” of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Adams County’s vast fields of apple and cherry trees, plus its acres of future french fries, employ roughly a quarter of the county’s workers – a noticeable contrast to the 3 percent of workers statewide who work in the farm sector – and also make the landscape a beautiful site in the spring and fall.
Ritzville was the county’s first real hub. This once-tiny whistle-stop grew in significance as it welcomed a colony of Volga German wheat farmers at the turn of the century and soon doubled in size, becoming the county seat. By 1900, freight trains from Ritzville were shipping more wheat than any other inland shipping port in the world.
Today the town square is on the National Register of Historic Places, with a Carnegie library and several other buildings from this time of prosperity still intact – despite being hit harder by the Mt. St. Helens eruption than any other spot in Eastern Washington, due to a strange fluke of wind patterns. On the day of the blast, Ritzville found itself enveloped in half a foot of ash while weekenders driving through from Spokane’s Lilac Festival and other excursions suddenly found themselves stranded, luckily for them in Ritzville’s welcoming hospitality. But all’s well that ends well – despite the initial inconvenience, the ash came with a silver lining and actually improved the soil for the area’s farms.Adams County and the Law
Adams County provided a summary of all of the lawyers and judges who were found in any documents or newspapers dating back to well before 1900. A prominent early jurist in Adams County was W.O. Miller, who came to Ritzville after law school in Indianapolis and time spent practicing law in Alabama, Indiana and Mississippi. Mr. Miller served as a state representative as well as a prosecuting attorney.
The summary notes that “the consensus of lawyers and laymen alike is that Edward A. Davis was one of the most skilled and outstanding lawyers of his time…he was adroit and resourceful, and through his skill turned many an expected defeat into victory for his client.”
Among the list of lawyers recounted in the 1965 summary is H.G. Munyon, of Lind. The document makes a short editorial comment: “Unusual as it may seem to the reader, he also preached at the Christian Church. Nothing is known of his legal attributes.”
Among all of the lawyers listed starting before 1900, the first female jurist is Blythe Caw, wife of Robert Caw. They practiced as a “husband and wife team” in Othello after both graduated from Washburn Municipal University in Topeka in 1950.
The Adams County Bar goes on to note that Judge O.R. Holcomb served on the Adams County Superior Court from 1909 to 1915, when he was elevated to the Washington Supreme Court. The writer notes that “he served on that bench for many years and during his tenure wrote many outstanding common sense decisions which remain the law of our State.” Adams County sent another justice to the Washington Supreme Court when Richard B. Ott was elected in 1955.
Judge John Truax was a judge of the Superior Court for Adams, Benton, and Franklin Counties starting in 1917 until his tragic death from drowning in 1930, when his car accidentally broke through the barrier of the Richland Ferry.
Finally, George Freese is noted for his work on the bench as a “large man, with silvery hair and a fatherly countenance” who “dispenses justice with dispatch.” The summary notes he is “known for his frugality and for obtaining a dollar’s work for a dollar’s pay.”