Biography of Hon. James B. Reavis

Last Updated on April 1, 2013 by

Much interest attaches to the life and work of an attorney such as Mr. Reavis, whose chief endeavor both privately and professionally has been to realize a high degree of public justice. He is a man whom the people feel safe in having by; for they can trust his sagacity and integrity, knowing that he is thoroughly incorruptible by any influence, corporate or otherwise. He is one of the men of whom both unscrupulous politicians and monopolies have a wholesome fear.

Glancing at his ancestry, we observe that he came honestly by these rugged qualities, being in lineal descent from among those who have subdued and civilized America. He was born in Boone county, Missouri, in 1848. His parents were Kentuckians, his grandparents Virginians, and on the maternal side were descended from the colonial Lee family of Revolutionary fame.

Mr. Reavis received his education at Lexington, Kentucky, and studying law was admitted to practice at Hannibal, Missouri, in 1872. He also began to exert a wide influence in that state as the editor of the Appeal, at Monroe; but his prospects in journalism were voluntarily relinquished in view of his removal to California in 1874. In that state he engaged in the practice of his profession, making his home at Chico. His characteristic and hereditary restlessness, however, led him to seek a new field, and in 1880 he came to Washington Territory, making his first home at Goldendale, where he formed a partnership with Hon. R.O. Dunbar. This was a strong combination; and for two years a very active business was conducted. In 1882 he removed to Yakima, and has made that his permanent residence. He has been a close student and active practitioner at the bar all this time, and has been counsel in some of the most important litigation in Washington Territory.

Among other cases was that of a suit for damages against a mob of some forty prominent and wealthy citizens of an adjoining county for forcibly ejecting a family from its borders. That case was illustrative of certain phases of frontier society, as well as of the character of the lawyer. A girl of fifteen years had been betrayed by a wealthy and popular young man. Her parents were poor; and her father was indisposed to resent the injury. But the mother was spirited; and upon her complaint the man was arrested and brought for examination before the magistrate. But his friends were numerous and defiant, and assembled in full force in the courtroom; and at a signal the mother and daughter and other members of the family were violently taken from the room and under armed escort driven from the county, with threats of death if they attempted to return. The injured woman and her daughter sought to office of Mr. Reavis, who, immediately after examining the facts, brought suit for heavy damages against the mob. In the trial of the case, Hon. J.B. Allen and Edward Whitson were with him. The result was a judgment for heavy damages, and the return of the family to their former home. There was great energy, courage and devotion to the cause of the weak displayed in this case by the counsel for the stricken family; and the community was taught a useful lesson, that law is superior to “influence” and mob violence.

Another case of general interest was the mandamus suit against the Northern Pacific Railroad Company to build a railroad station at Yakima City. Mr. Reavis was senior counsel in that case, and successfully carried it through the district and supreme courts against a numerous array of able lawyers retained by the railroad company.

In 1884 he was elected a member of the territorial council, and served with distinction in that body in 1885-86. He took a prominent position in favor of the repeal of the “Gross-earnings” tax law for railway property, and was an able and persistent advocate of the forfeiture of the Northern Pacific Railroad land grant, and was the author of a memorial to Congress for that object. He was the author of the bill establishing the institute for defective youth at Vancouver.

In 1888 he was elected a member of the board of regents for the State University at Seattle, and in this capacity has already made himself influential. He is, at present, actively connected with the development of Yakima, and is president of the Board of Trade. He has acted with the Democratic party, although he is recognized in the political field as a lawyer rather than as a politician.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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