Biography of Hon. William R. Downey

HON. WILLIAM R. DOWNEY. – There are few men who are more familiarly and favorably known to the old pioneers of Puget Sound than the gentleman whose name heads this sketch. His father was a Revolutionary hero, having followed General Washington in the battles waged by the colonists for freedom from the oppression of Great Britain.

Mr. Downey was born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, March 6, 1808. At the age of three years he accompanied his parents to Hopkins county, and while living there received his education.

On February 12, 1829, he was united in marriage to Miss Emily S. Wetzel. Twelve children were born to them, four of whom now survive. In 1850 he, with his family, removed to Dade county, Missouri. In the spring of 1853 they started to the far-off West, and arrived on Puget Sound October 15th of that year, locating a home on the Nisqually Plains.

On the breaking out of the Indian war of 1855-56, he was obliged with other settlers to abandon his home and seek protection for his family in the fort erected at Steilacoom, where they remained until the cessation of hostilities. In common with his neighbors, he shouldered his gun and enlisted for the campaign, serving in all the engagements until 1857, when the Indians were subjugated and peace restored. On the return of the settlers to their homes, school districts were organized; and Mr. Downey was chosen as one of the directors of the district in which he resided. He has also been county commissioner of Pierce county, and in 1864 was elected by her citizens as their representative to the legislature. He served as mayor of Steilacoom in 1887, and was re-elected to that position in1888.

Quite a notable and pleasant event took place on February 12, 1887, such being the occasion of the golden wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Downey. Few there are that such an occurrence comes to, and especially with recollections les clouded with the shadows begotten by adversity. hardly had these festivities been forgotten when the affectionate wife and mother closed her eyes in death; for on August 28, 1882, she entered upon the well-deserved reward of a life that was without reproach.

Mr. Downey has uniformly acquitted himself with honor in the discharge of the duties incident to the positions of trust which he has held, and by his courteous bearing and strict integrity has earned the plaudits of many who speak of him in such a tenor, that in following his example the rising young man could not build more wisely. He is still hale and hearty, and bids fair to do yeoman’s work for a number of years to come; nor will his name become extinct, for some of his immediate family survive, and he has also thirteen grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren.


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

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