Biography of D. W. Small

D.W. SMALL. – The career of this gentleman and his brothers, who have been associated with him in most of his enterprises, well illustrates the fact that Western life peculiarly develops versatility and adaptability. The Western man must encounter sudden and unexpected obstacles. He must adapt himself to unusual conditions. Precedent is of little use to him. He has to make his own precedents. Hence the population of the Pacific slope is peculiarly noted for a variety of talents. The people learn to go across lots to conclusions. In the fierce struggle for existence which comes in a new country, the man who cannot shift for himself to meet almost anything that comes along is bund, in slang parlance, to “get left.” Our towns have been built up, our resources developed, our hidden wealth revealed, in its manifold phases, by the bold, keen-eyed pioneers, who wait for no favorable fortune to turn up, but simply go themselves and turn something up. One of the types of these restless, versatile spirits is Mr. Small. He was born in 1838 in New Brunswick, whence his father and family went to Maine seven years later.

The outbreak of the great war fund our subject prompt to array himself in the army of the Union. He enlisted in the First Maine Cavalry, where he spent a year, and was then discharged on account of sickness. During the interval of rest which ensued he was married, his wife being Martha F. Bradbury. The war still continuing and Mr. Small’s health being restored, he re-enlisted in October, 1863, in the Second Maine Cavalry Veteran Volunteers. The regiment saw service under General Banks on the Red river, and subsequently took part in the Selma and Mobile campaigns. Mr. Small was several times a non-commissioned officer, and was finally discharged in December, 1865.

The great conflict ended, he returned to his home, which was, however, soon sadly shattered by the death of his wife and infant child. Taking his two other children, Dora and Schuyler, with him, he now turned his face towards the setting sun, and in the fall of 1871 came to Montana, where his parents were living. In the following spring, with his brother, Ira, he came to Walla Walla, Washington Territory. His father died soon afterwards. This was just at the time that Doctor Baker was putting his energies to the construction of his narrow-guage railroad between Wallula and Walla Walla. The Doctor had just ended a third unsuccessful attempt to get ties, the first on the Grande Ronde, then on the Clearwater, then on the Yakima, having lost over $40,000 in experimenting. But Dr. Baker was a man who never gave up anything; and he went to work, undismayed by his losses, to try again. This time he found the men who could hang onto the job with a tenacity which never let go till it was done. He employed the Small brothers to superintend the arduous undertaking; and in due time, amid obstacles that would have discouraged many men, they pushed the work to a successful conclusion, having the Yakima as the route for their supply. Thus was built the first railroad in the Inland Empire, one whose results were of much moment to the Walla Walla country, and brought a vast fortune to its projector.

In the year 1874 a third brother, Albert joined the two already in Walla Walla. He brought with him the children of D.W., and the aged mother of the brothers, the latter dying within six weeks after her arrival. Together the three brothers went into the livery business. In 1876 they added to their already large interests by taking charge of the Stine House, which they so administered as to well please the traveling public of those days. At about the same time, as if not having enough to do, the began to take large contracts for transportation and supplies for the government. During three years they furnished one thousand horses to the government.

In 1879 Mr. Small was united in marriage to Miss Ella Dawson who still presides over his elegant home in Walla Walla.

We must not forget to say that in 1877-78, in addition to their other almost multifarious enterprises, the Small brothers put a steamer the Northwest, on the Snake river route. they found this very profitable.

In 1880 Mr. Small, at first with his brother Ira, and then with I.C. Ellis of Olympia, took an immense contract to furnish timber for the Northern Pacific Railroad. they furnished the timber and ties for two hundred and fifty miles of road, between Sprague and the second crossing of Clark’s Fork in Montana. In addition to the lumber contract, the firm cleared the right of way for a hundred miles. After finishing this contract, they supplied the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company with a large amount of material for the Palouse branch.

In 1884, as Mr. Small was looking forward to the enjoyment of the results of all this hard work, he met with a great series of disappointments and losses. Fire attacked his mills in the Coeur d’Alene, and in one swoop deprived him of $50,000. During the same year he built the opera house in Walla Walla; and before it was fairly completed a defect of construction caused the building to fall in. All above the first story had to be entirely rebuilt. This entailed a loss of ten thousand dollars more on the owner. In spite of this most inopportune misfortune, Mr. small pushed the opera house to completion. It is among the illustrations of this volume, and is one of the institutions of Walla Walla. It is without doubt the finest building of the kind in the Upper Columbia region.

The severe losses of 1884 did not cause Mr. Small to retire from railroad work. In 1886 he furnished timber for the Spokane & Palouse railroad. He is now just as active as ever, engaged in real estate, the livery business, and in executing government contracts. In the variety and magnitude of his undertakings, Mr. Small is one of the marked men of the Northwest. Few citizens of the “east of the Mountains” have been in situations to know more of our varied resources, and of few can the stranger obtain more reliable or cheerful information.


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

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