Biography of William C. Painter

WILLIAM C. PAINTER. – William C. Painter was born in St. Genevieve county, Missouri, April 18, 1830. His parents, Philip and Jean, lived on a farm; and the early years of William’s life were passed in that home. In 1850 his father started for Oregon with his family of wife and seven children, but died of cholera on the Little blue river. Two of his sons had been buried as they camped by that stream two days before; and only the mother, with her two daughters, Margaret A. and Sara J., and three sons, William C., Joseph C. and Robert M. were left to continue their sorrowful journey to the Pacific coast. Upon the family’s arrival in the Willamette valley, they took up several Donation claims in Washington county; and the one taken by William was retained by him until his removal to Washington Territory in 1862.

When the Indian war of 1855 broke out, he was one of those who enlisted for that campaign as a member of Company D, First Regiment, Oregon Mounted Volunteers, continuing to follow the fortunes of his company until it was mustered out of service late in 1856. It was the opportune arrival of this command upon the scene of action that caused the Indians at the battle of Walla Walla, in December, 1855, to give up the struggle and retreat into the Palouse country. He participated with credit to himself in all the battles and skirmishes of that war east of the Cascades, prior to the disbandment of his company.

Mr. Painter was chosen by his comrades as the bearer of a flag made by young ladies at the Forest Grove academy, and still retains the colors, after having borne them through the Indian wars of 1855-56 and 1878. Mr. Painter’s services in the latter war were important, and may be mentioned here. When the hostile Bannacks and Piute Indians were being pursued into Washington Territory by General O.O. Howard, a company of men enlisted in Walla Walla under W.C. Painter for active service; and their brief campaign on the Columbia river received the following mention by Captain John A. Kress, which was made a part of General Howard’s official report of that war.

“Small bands of Indians, with large numbers of horses passed to north side Columbia simultaneously, at daylight this morning, at point near North Willow creek, at Coyote Station at head of Long Island, and just above Umatilla. I caught one band in the act at Long Island, as reported this morning. Have attacked and dispersed these bands at different points during the day. Had two very lively skirmishes, landing after firing form steamer, and charging Indians successfully up steep hills; no casualties known except wounding one Indian, killing five horses in the attack on one of the bands. Captain Charles Painter and the forty-two volunteers from Walla Walla deserve praise for good conduct and bravery, not excepting my Vancouver regulars and Captain Gray with officers and crew of steamer Spokane, who stood firmly at the posts under fire.”

A week after the close of service on the river, he was made aid-de-camp on the staff of Governor E.P. Ferry, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and immediately took charge of fifty-two men, who crossed over to assist the people of Eastern Oregon in defending that region against the onslaught of the hostile savages, recently defeated by General Howard. He passed south of the retreating bands to Camas Prairie with his little force to intercept their retreat; but the hostiles, learning his position, avoided a collision by a circuitous route; and the Colonel returned to Walla Walla with captured horses as his only visible trophy of that campaign. These horses were sold at auction; and money enough was received by this means to pay the entire expense of his command. Although no battle was fought in this last expedition, it was considered so hazardous that ten dollars per day was offered for guides without its inducing anyone to undertake the duty.

But let us return to the more ordinary pursuits of his life, and pick up again the thread in Oregon. In 1861 and 1862 he left the farm in the Willamette valley and became a miner in the mountains east of Snake river, and in 1863 came to Wallula, and clerked for Flanders & Felton for four years. When the senior member of the firm was elected to Congress in 1867, Mr. Painter took charge of their business, and became postmaster and agent for Wells, Fargo & Co. at that place. While there, he was appointed deputy collector of Internal revenue for Eastern Washington Territory. On receiving this last appointment, he removed to Walla Walla City, and has lived in that place since. He resigned as deputy in November 1870; but the resignation was not accepted until the following May. He then made an unfortunate investment in some mill property that proved his financial Waterloo, and was forced to commence at the foot of the ladder for a business climb. He then went to work for wages, and continued this until 1876, when the wheel of fortune turned in his favor again; and he received the appointment of receiver in the United States land-office. This position was held by him until September, 1878; and he was elected auditor of Walla Walla county in November of that year, and re-elected in November, 1880.

In 1864, January 7, he was married to Carrie Mitchell, the daughter of Israel and Mary Mitchell, of Washington county, Oregon. Their children’s names are as follows: Philip M. (deceased), Joseph E., Mary Maud, B. Jean, Roy R., Carrie M., Chas. F.S., Harry M., Daisy M., Rex M., Bruce I.

Of Mr. Painter it may be said truthfully, that in his active life no private or public transaction of his has left a shadow or taint of dishonorable motive or dishonest act; and those who know him best esteem him most.


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

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