History Day award winner -- Maynard, David Swinson (1808-1873): Father of Seattle by Alice Evered

  • By Alice Evered
  • Posted 9/29/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10225
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This essay about the life and times of Seattle pioneer David "Doc" Maynard was written by Alice Evered, a student at Northshore Junior High School in Bothell, and was awarded a prize in the Junior Division, Historical Paper Category, of the 2009 Washington State History Day competition. Alice vividly traces Maynard's journey from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest, where he took a new wife and started a new life in a muddy and primitive enclave with the name of Duwamps. Doc Maynard was to contribute greatly to the eventual success of the city that, at his insistence, came to be called Seattle. Although other pioneers are often credited as the city's founding fathers, this essay makes clear that without the unstinting efforts of Doc Maynard, Seattle would not be what it is today, and may not have been at all. 

An Uncommon Man

Some men strive for money, some for prestige. Others are content to hide in the shadow of more powerful people. There is still another, rarer sort of human being. This man is selfless, compassionate, and whole-hearted. One of these exceptional individuals in history was David Swinson Maynard, known to everyone as Doc.  

Doc Maynard was born 1808 near Castleton, Vermont, into a generation of Oregon Trail travelers, treasure-hungry 49’ers, and adventurous Northwest settlers. After raising a family in Ohio, he began a second fateful chapter of his life, one that started in a little settlement casually referred to as Duwamps and ended in a thriving city now sporting the respectable name of Seattle, Washington.

A Fortunate Detour

The doctor did not plan to settle on Puget Sound. He set out in 1850 for the California Gold Rush, mostly to get away from a disloyal wife, whom he would eventually divorce. On the trail, he doctored a sick young widow named Catherine Simmons Broshears (soon to become his second wife). He promised the widow’s dying mother to deliver Catherine safely to her brother in Olympia.

Once Doc Maynard laid eyes on the beautiful land and bays of the Puget Sound, “California’s gold was gone for him forever” (Nelson, 7). His arrival in Seattle on March 31, 1852, set the stage for his many acts that would change the course of the town's history. Although other pioneers, such as Arthur and David Denny, William Bell, Charles Terry, and Henry Yesler, have been called the “founding fathers” of Seattle, Doc Maynard was to be the most influential Seattle settler. Maynard's unselfish work at crucial jobs and his genuine devotion to the young city left a legacy in the form of the city of Seattle.

A Man of Many Talents

Doctor Maynard was a busy man. Between his arrival in the Seattle area in 1852 and his death in 1873, he spent only about 20 years in Seattle. The amount of change he created in such a short time is truly unbelievable. Much of this resulted from the many essential jobs and positions he held in Seattle.

Maynard's business running a store first brought him to Elliott Bay. He had been living in Smithter (now called Olympia) since arriving in the Oregon Territory, and had set up a store there. He bought damaged goods from wrecked ships and was able to sell them at half the price of goods purchased from other merchants. Although the settlers liked this, other merchants, such as Mike Simmons (Maynard’s future brother-in-law) thought he was “a bad influence on the customers” (Morgan, 20). Thomas Prosch’s biography of Maynard, says:

“In the end, [the dealers] got rid of him, with the help of the great chief of the middle Sound Indians -- Seattle” (Prosch, David S. Maynard and Catherine T. Maynard, 27).  

That chief -- sometimes (later and incorrectly) called Sealth -- convinced Maynard without much trouble to move up the sound to a deeper bay. When Maynard arrived, Arthur Denny, David Denny, and William Bell were already settled on the place that was to become Seattle, but they wanted the doctor to settle near them “for the benefit a good man brings” (Morgan, 26). When Arthur Denny and Bell moved the southern boundaries of their claims north to make room for him, Maynard ended up with much of the land that downtown Seattle is on today (Arthur Denny, 41). Doc Maynard set up his store on this land and continued to sell his goods.

After a time, the settlers in the young community on Elliot Bay began to feel the need to fill some vital positions, such as judge. David Maynard was appointed justice of the peace by the Legislature in Oregon in July 1852.  He performed the very first wedding in Seattle at Arthur Denny’s cabin, with Henry Yesler as the witness. The couple was David T. Denny and Louisa Boren. Maynard wed many additional couples and performed occasional other legal business, such as trials. He was also appointed King County's notary public by the Legislature. Without any legal training, Maynard took on these jobs for the good of the town, even sacrificing a honeymoon with his new wife to return to Seattle and marry other eager couples.

The Doctor and the Indians

Yet another position that the doctor filled was as Indian agent. Mike Simmons, Maynard's new brother-in-law, was Indian agent for the Washington area, and in 1885 he appointed Maynard to be in charge of the central Puget Sound Indians. In Skid Road, Murray Morgan writes:

“The doctor’s reputation as a healer rose steadily among the tribesmen, and the good will he acquired as a physician helped him as a diplomat” (Morgan, 43).  

Maynard was soon told to move the Duwamish tribe to Bainbridge Island because of the hostile activity of some Natives. He managed to persuade 354 of the roughly 700 Indians to move, and stayed with them for more than six months. In a letter to his son, he writes:

“Although I have occupied the most dangerous post of any in the field, I have succeeded in quelling the spirit of war and established a friendly feeling with the determination to remain so” (Brewster, 110).

Of course, Arthur and David Denny also made an effort to protect their settlement from Indians by serving in the Indian War, David as a member of Company C and Arthur as the Company A lieutenant (Bagley, 71). However, Maynard went on to say in his letter to his son, the hostility of very many more Indians than the number he had appeased could have wiped out the white settlers completely. This demonstrates his importance as a peacemaker for early Seattle.

Maynard’s relationship with the Indians also resulted in the city’s name, “Seattle." When a local clerk referred to the township as Duwamps, after the Duwamish River, the need for a more distinguished and official name became clear. Maynard suggested the name of the Indian chief of six local tribes, with whom he had a special bond (Meeker, 180). Chief Seattle (sometimes incorrectly pronounced "Sealth") once said, “My heart is very good toward Dr. Maynard.” He also highly esteemed Maynard as a doctor for both him and his tribespeople (Rochester,  1).  As a result of their relationship, another long-lasting legacy of Doc Maynard’s is the enduring name of his city, Seattle.

One Trade Too Many

Further confirmation that he sincerely wanted the town to succeed is the fact that Doc Maynard even became Seattle’s first blacksmith, despite having no training and apparently little skill. According to Murray Morgan, author of Skid Road:

 “He wanted a blacksmith very much … and when none answered an advertisement he put in the Olympia Columbian he set up a blacksmith shop of his own” (Morgan, 30).

Maynard had never had any blacksmith experience or education, and blacksmithing is difficult work. However, he was not fazed by this and, “with his usual enterprise, he bought and installed a forge and tools” (Watt, 139). Luckily, one day in September  1853, a man by the name of Lewis Wyckoff commented from the doorway of the blacksmith shop on Maynard’s obvious inexperience (Watt, 139). When Maynard snapped, “Well, perhaps you think you can do better yourself!” Lewis replied, “Yes, I can for that’s my trade” (Watt,  139). By that night, Maynard had sold the land and tools to the low-on-cash Lewis Wyckoff for only $10!

Maynard frequently tried to recruit skilled and hard-working men in this way in order to strengthen the town. As Murray Morgan writes in Skid Road, Maynard  planned the town “with the conviction that it would grow to be a great city” (Morgan,  26).  He believed that a great city stems from great citizens of all different trades, and he tirelessly worked to fill the gaps.

A Doctor, First and Last

Through it all, Doc Maynard never abandoned his black medical bag. He was a trained medical doctor, having worked under the esteemed Dr. Woodward in Cleveland, and he constantly made use of his education. On the Oregon Trail, he had doctored the sick, mostly the many cases of cholera. In Washington, he continually treated the Indians, a major reason why they respected him so greatly.  A passage in Skid Road states:

 “Maynard moved among the Salish tribesmen, listening to complaints, passing out medicine, delivering babies.  Indians came from miles around to be doctored by him” (Morgan, 42).

In Seattle, his medical skills were sorely needed. In 1863, Doc Maynard opened Seattle’s first hospital. He worked as the superintendent, surgeon, and physician, and Catherine, his wife, was his nurse. They treated injured loggers and millworkers from as far away as Kitsap County. Maynard, in the old-fashioned way, didn’t rely heavily on surgery and “depended largely on the most simple means ... ” such as fresh air, sanitation, a pleasant and cheerful atmosphere, and alleviation of pain (Speidel, 7). Maybe it stemmed from his compassionate way with people, but all through his life, despite whatever else he turned his hand to, Doc Maynard was first and foremost a doctor.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Other settlers such as Arthur Denny, David Denny, Henry Yesler, and even Charles Terry and William Bell are often named as the founders of Seattle because they were the first to own large businesses and settled claims of land in the area. But did any of them contribute as much time and effort to the community as David Maynard? Most of these young pioneers, at an average of 26 years of age, worked at one or two jobs, such as Charles Terry, who was a storekeeper and landowner. But it was the middle-aged Maynard, at about 42, who volunteered to do the undesirable jobs, such as moving and appeasing the Indians in the midst of the Indian Wars, or opening the first blacksmith shop.

Arthur Denny is frequently named as the sole founder of Seattle because of the land he owned and the valuable governmental work he did. But Denny’s term as a delegate in the territorial congress kept him in Olympia for a good seven of Seattle’s early years. According to Clarence Bagley, author of Pioneer Seattle and its Founders:

 “When he went away Seattle was a little village of little more than a score of families, but on his return he found it a thriving, bustling town, and that his lands had already made him immensely wealthy” (Bagley,  72).

This shows that, despite the accomplishments he was making in Olympia, Denny missed a crucial time in Seattle’s establishment during which Maynard was instrumental. 

Why Maynard Mattered Most

The broad list of jobs that he undertook out of pure devotion to the city make David Maynard, more than any other early settler, the true founding father of Seattle. He opened the first store. He founded the first hospital. He was the first man of the law and the first blacksmith. These accomplishments show just how eager Doc Maynard was to set the town of Seattle moving on the path to success. In the words of Gerald B. Nelson, the author of Seattle: The Life and Times of an American City, “Most importantly, he was Seattle’s first, most personable, and least selfish public booster” (Nelson, 7).

Indian agent, justice of the peace, physician, druggist, blacksmith, notary public, and merchant. Dr. David Maynard’s ultimate contribution to Seattle was his willingness to help the young city succeed, whatever it took. His actions at a multitude of jobs left a lasting impact on what Seattle is today. At his funeral, a townsperson accurately summed up David Maynard’s legacy:

“Without him, Seattle will not be the same. Without him, Seattle would not have been the same. Indeed, without him, Seattle might not be” (Rochester, 1).


What follows is Alice Evered's annotated bibliography of "Works Cited."

Primary Sources

"Aged Mrs. Maynard." The Seattle Times, July 4, 1896, p. 8.
This newspaper article is primarily in the words of Mrs. Catherine Troutman Maynard, David’s second wife. It is valuable because Catherine was involved in and talks about her experiences in the Indian War. This source is important because it is the only newspaper or interview I was able find so far that had such a first-person account. It was written to clear up myths about an Indian woman named Angeline, who was Chief Seattle's daughter, and to tell of Catherine’s other experiences with the Indians.

Arthur Armstrong Denny, Pioneer Days on Puget Sound (Fairfield, Washington: Ye  Galleon Press, 1979) 12-85. This source is an autobiography of Arthur Denny. It provides a valuable point of view, that of another settler and founder present at the time that Maynard was in Seattle. Its purpose is to inform generations to come, firsthand, about what happened in his and his family’s lives. This is an extremely important source because a person who personally knew Doc Maynard wrote it, and it provides valuable counter-arguments because Denny did not agree with Maynard the majority of the time.

Emily Inez Denny, Blazing the Way (Seattle: Rainier Printing Company, Inc. 1909). This source has a lot of the same content as Arthur Denny’s Pioneer Days on Puget Sound, but with more information and a bit more in a third-person style. It was chiefly created through the compilation of different memoirs and newspaper clippings as a record of events, but does contain some primary information about Emily’s childhood memories.  The author was in Seattle at the time of Doc Maynard, as she was born in 1853, the first white girl born in Seattle.  The book covers a lot of events and includes many poems and songs and a few pictures. I used this book for information on the first wedding in Seattle, the Indian War, and the Battle of Seattle, although it mentioned Doc Maynard very rarely.

James McNaught, "Maynard Donation Claim," Washington Territory. 1887-?. This is a legal document, written by David and Catherine T. Maynard’s attorney during Maynard’s life. It provides the most specific information possible about David’s first wife’s challenge to the validity of Catherine and David’s marriage, and her request for part of David’s land. The purpose of this source at the time it was written was to persuade the judges that Lydia was not entitled to any land, and that Catherine was legally married and Lydia was legally divorced from David. This source is important because it is from a unique point of view and it is a primary source. Also, it provides in-depth information about the later part of David’s life that is rarely mentioned elsewhere.

Ezra Meeker, Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound (Seattle: Lowman and Hanford Stationery and Printing Co., 1905) 64-69. Meeker, another Northwest pioneer and an early settler of Puyallup, wrote this book. He witnessed the early settlement of Seattle from a dugout canoe on the sound while sailing past, and he observed Yesler’s Mill and Doc Maynard’s claim. Also, his wagon party encountered cholera epidemics along the Oregon Trail, much as Doc’s had, and Meeker described the experience well. The audience for this book is those who seek to preserve northwest history with first-hand accounts. The vivid descriptions and quotes of the same experiences Maynard went through make this source very fascinating and of great value.

Secondary Sources 

Clarence Bagley, Pioneer Seattle and its Founders (Seattle: ? 1925). This book gave a brief overview of David Maynard’s life and impact in Seattle. It had many dates and specific numbers.  The purpose of this source is to briefly inform a University of Washington student of the founders of the city they are living in.  This source was important to gather a general understanding of the chronology of the events in Maynard’s life.  Also, it was invaluable regarding the actions of other early settlers. I founded my arguments on the information gathered from this book.

HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History,  “Maynard, Dr. David Swinson (1801-1873)” (by Junius Rochester) http://www.historylink.org. (accessed December 12, 2008). Broad information on Maynard was aquired from this website. It was useful to get a sense of who he was when I was choosing a person, and it had good quotes from his funeral and from Chief Seattle. It backed up my point that Maynard was influential in the creation of Seattle. This source was written as surface information on Doc Maynard to get an idea of the events in his life.

Edward L. King, “What Masons Believe,” Mason website accessed October 27, 2008 and December 11, 2008 (http://www.masonicinfo.com/whatbelieve.htm). To gain a general understanding of what it means to be a Mason, this website was very helpful. It was written for those who don’t know much about Masons and need a summary of the organization. I learned that Masonry is not a religion, but that it teaches certain values. This source was written by a Mason with the purpose to clear up misunderstandings about Masonry.  Since Dr. Maynard was a Mason, this source helped me to understand more about his beliefs and personality.

Edward L. King, “Freemasonry Primer,” Mason website accessed October 27 and December 11, 2008 (http://www.masonicinfo.com/primer.htm). This source was used like the website above to learn about Masons and is connected to the same home page, though it is more informative than argumentative. It provided me with a lot of good quotes and more quality notes than the other website.  This was written for the same clueless audience, but without the purpose to disprove myths. I used this source to back up my case that Maynard’s personality made him unique and important to Seattle, because it said that Masons are very philanthropic and brotherly.

Murray Morgan, Skid Road (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982) 11-67. This was a great, thorough, source.  Although it encompasses a wide range of Seattle history, it included specifics that I needed. Murray Morgan has the same view as I do on the importance of David Maynard in Seattle, so I was able to take quotes that fit perfectly into my theme. It was written as an interesting, informative guide to Seattle history. The audience is, mostly, fascinated Seattleites.

 Gerald B. Nelson, Seattle: The Life and Times of an American City (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977) 7-30. This was a book that provided a new perspective by explaining more about Maynard’s personality than most other sources. I used it to help prove that Maynard was more important to the city of Seattle than other pioneers like Arthur Denny. I also took a good number of quotes from this book. It wasn’t as valuable as other sources because it only contained one brief section on Maynard and the founding of Seattle. It’s for an audience that wants to learn about a broader history of Seattle than only its founding.

Thomas W Prosch,  David S. Maynard and Catherine T. Maynard: Biographies of Two of the Oregon Immigrants of 1850 (Seattle: Lowman and Hanford Stationery and Printing Co., 1906). This was a very unique source, because it contains the whole of Doctor Maynards’ diary. I used the diary, although it was skeletal, to prove Maynard’s physical strength, sympathy, and dedication. It’s important because it’s one of the few sources I have that was written in his own words. Also, the rest of the book gives many good dates and factual information. It also includes a back section about Doc Maynard’s second wife that was written within her lifetime and stemmed from an interview with her. The book was written as a thorough biography of David Maynard’s life.

Thomas W. Prosch, "Dr. D.S. Maynard, the Pioneer Physician of Seattle," Northwest Medicine, Vol. 2 No. 4 (1904). This source contained much of the same information as other sources, like Prosch’s other book, above, with a little more about Maynard’s medical training. It is a lot of repetition, but still valuable because of its exact dates and facts. It was written to be read before the King County Medical Society in Seattle, Washington, March 7, 1904.

Washingtonians: A Biographical Portrait of the State ed. by David Brewster and David M. Buerge (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1988) 110-111. This source contains a letter written by Maynard to his son about a “war” with the Indians and his part as Indian agent. This is important because it helped me to see how Maynard associated with the Indians. In the newspaper article that I found, Maynard’s wife, Catherine, describes the same events, which verifies that this source is reliable. This is the only letter I’ve found written by him, which makes it very valuable. The letter is a primary source, although the biographical book that I found it in is not.

Bill Speidel, Doc Maynard: The Man who Invented Seattle (Seattle: Creek Publishing Company, 1978) 1-264. This book was good for learning the general pattern of Maynard’s life, but it contained too much opinion and commentary to be a factual, valuable source. It was written as a biographical read to entertain people while educating them, for an audience of average adults. It contains some crude language that I did not appreciate! However, the author, Bill Speidel, was influential in creating “Underground Seattle,” and could be called an expert on Seattle founders.

James F. Warren, King County and its Queen City: Seattle (Woodland Hills, California: Windsor Publications Inc., 1981) 36-42. I took many notes out of this source. It had hardly any information on David Maynard, but contained material on many people not mentioned much in other sources. It also had many interesting facts about the government at that time and the development of Seattle into a recognized city. The book contains many pictures, even one of Maynard’s medical bag, and was written as an informational non-fiction book, probably for students.
Roberta Frye Watt, Four Wagons West (Portland, Oregon: Binfords and Mort Publishers, 1931). Four Wagons West was written by Arthur Denny’s granddaughter who writes that, “pioneer stories had been my nursery rhymes,” so it is almost as good as a primary source. It is very specific, with many good quotes and mentions of David Maynard, mostly all of his “firsts”.  It was written to preserve the memories of her mother and grandfather, which makes it a very good record of events.

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