A post office is established at Pinkney City (forerunner of Colville) on December 7, 1859.

  • By Laura Arksey
  • Posted 8/18/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9117
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On December 7, 1859, a post office is established at Pinkney City (or Pinkneyville), a raw frontier town that has sprung up across Mill Creek from military Fort Colville in what was then Spokane County (now Stevens County). It takes 30 days to get mail from Washington, D.C., and 10 days from Portland. It is named for the first commander of the fort, Captain (later Major) Pinkney Lugenbeel (1819-1886), sometimes spelled Lougenbeel. Pinkney City will soon become the county seat of the then-huge Spokane County. The town is the forerunner of present Colville, county seat of Stevens County, slightly over three miles southwest. Pinkney City will exist until 1883, a year after the fort is disbanded, with many of its buildings then moved to the new town of Colville. Despite its small size and short duration, Pinkney City is important to Eastern Washington territorial history.

First Territorial County Seat 

The historic marker at the junction of Aladdin Road and Douglas Falls Road reads:

“Site of Pinkney City, first territorial county seat of Inland Empire 1859-1883. Here commenced American government and justice. Directly south of Mill Creek stood United States Fort Colville quarters for 4 companies of infantry and Boundary Commission 1859-1883.”

The Territorial Legislature had created the sprawling Spokane County on January 29, 1858. At the time, Washington Territory extended to the Continental Divide in present Montana, and Spokane County occupied most of the eastern portion, a vast area 200 miles wide and 380 miles long. The minutes of the county commissioners of Spokane-Stevens County begin on May 7, 1859, showing “Pinkney City, Spokane County, Washington Territory. On May 2, 1864, the caption becomes “Pinkney City, County of Stevens.” The last entry for the minutes is on May 25, 1887 (Graham, Colville Collection, Book One, 58).

Justice and Injustice

In the spring of 1861, W. H. Watson, the territorial representative, was killed on his way back from Olympia, allegedly by a Spokane Indian. The assumed murderer was soon captured and brought back to Pinkney City for trial. Justice moved too slowly for the local citizens, who seized him from the sheriff and lynched him.

The Spokane County District Court met for the first time at Pinkney City in January 1862. The same year, the town established Spokane County’s first public school, which met in the courthouse. Confusingly, in 1868, the Territorial Legislature officially renamed Pinkney City Fort Colville, making the name of the fort and the town identical. Although the town no longer exists, the name by which it is remembered today is Pinkney City.

Serving Fort Colville

In addition to mail service, Pinkney City provided the businesses and amenities that customarily serve a fort and its personnel. A drawing by Oliver Cavens shows the town sometime after 1865. Buildings along Main Street include two saloons, the Marcus Oppenheimer (1834-1901) store, the James Monaghan store, Dr. Isaac L. Tobey’s hotel, the Stevens County Courthouse, the county jail, and Wrights jewelry store. Scattered behind them are residences, all of log construction. By that time, the post office is shown on the fort side of Mill Creek, sharing space with the store of Charles H. Montgomery (1832-1908), post trader for the fort.   

Pinkney City served as the supply and distribution point for the fort, Colville valley settlers, miners, Indians, and the American Boundary Commission, which was headquartered there during its survey to cooperate with the British in locating and marking the 49th parallel, which had been agreed upon in 1846 as the border with Canada.

The town soon became the most important trading center in Northeast Washington Territory. Most supplies arrived over the Colville Military Road from Fort Walla Walla, some  200 miles south on the Columbia River.  

The chief clerk of the territorial Surveyor General reported in 1862 that the Colville valley “now contains a population of more than 1,000” (Peltier, 63). However, the town itself remained small: as late as the 1880 census, it had an adult population of 29 white males, eight white females, two Chinese males, and one Indian female. Of these, 17 were foreign born. There were 31 children in the village. 

From Pinkney City to Colville

During the Civil War, many of the regular troops at Fort Colville were sent to join the Union Army and temporarily replaced by the 2nd California Voluntary Infantry, said to be “largely criminals from the streets of San Francisco” (Peltier, 64).  Because of their lawlessness, Lugenbeel’s successor, Major James F. Curtis, closed the distillery and destroyed all the whiskey in town. But the next commander soon rescinded the order, and liquor flowed freely again. The log-cabin jail housed both civilian and military offenders. 

In September 1882, military Fort Colville was disbanded, replaced by Fort Spokane, located near the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia rivers. Pinkney City soon declined in favor of Colville, platted in 1883. Some residents removed their entire homes and businesses to the new town. Others dismantled them and reused the wood for new buildings. Many former fort military personnel, who had become residents of Pinkney City, became leaders in the new town, including John U. Hofstetter (1829-1906), called the father of Colville.

No remnants of Pinkney City are visible today.

Sources: Tony Bamonte and Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte, Spokane and the Inland Northwest: Historical Images (Spokane: Tornado Creek Publications, 1999), 25, 55, 56; Fred C. Bohm and Craig E. Holstine, The People’s History of Stevens County (Colville: Stevens County Historical Society, 1983), 17-19; Colville Collection: A Collection of Historical Articles and Stories about Colville and Northeastern Washington, Books 1 and 2 compiled by Patrick J. Graham (Colville: n.p., 2006); Jerome A. Peltier, “Pinkney City, Washington Territory,” Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Fall 1963), 61-64.

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