History of the Cowlitz County Peace Officer

Cowlitz County has had a colorful history. Through it all, the Peace Officer has always been there. From the first Sheriff who who had to perform a public hanging to the deputies who had to corral a maurading elephant. Join me as I gather the facts and true stories that describe the journey of the law enforcement officer in Cowlitz County from 1854 through today.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sheriff Benjamin Lechmore Holmes

As it turns out, my theory of how the hanging of Robert Day must have affected Former Cowlitz County Sheriff Ben Holmes appears to be right on. Shortly after the article about my historical journey appeared in The Daily News (thanks Leslie), I received a couple of very interesting phone calls. The first was from a gentleman named Mark Holmes (the second I will describe in another post). Mark is the great-grandson of Ben Holmes and was very interested in talking with me about his great-grandfather and provided me with some great information about how Ben Holmes was indeed, a good man.

Benjamin Lechmore Holmes was born in Doaktown, New Brunswick March 9th, 1837. Lewis, Ben’s father came from Sharon, Massachusetts and spent his adult life in Doaktown, in the lumber business. In 1862, Ben at the age of twenty-five, went to Sharon Massachusetts during the Civil War and joined the Union Army. He never returned to Doaktown. After the war, he left his relatives in Sharon and went to the logging center of Neceah, Wisconsin along the Lemonwier River and worked as a logger.

Susan Smith arrived in Neceah Wisconsin, from Ireland, in 1851 at four years old with her parents Patrick and Catharine Smith. Susan and Ben married in Mauston, Wisconsin on June 27th, 1870.

Jim Carter and Susan’s older sister, Mary Carter, were on the Kalama River Prairie in 1870 (the year Ben and Susan were married). Jim and Mary were doing well raising sheep and cattle as well as raising a family. The accounts of their success reached Ben and Susan in Wisconsin and they followed the Carters to Washington. Susan’s three brothers, Hugh Smith, Charlie Smith, and Jimmy Smith followed suit and came to Kalama.

In 1876, Ben and Susan packed up their children Annie Teresa and Lewis Charles and boarded the train for San Francisco. To get to Kalama from San Francisco, they went by steam ship to the Columbia River. After a month of travel, they arrived in Kalama aboard the T.J. Potter, a side wheeler.

Ben built his house on the Kalama River, “where the stream rushes out from the hills and deepens into many pools. He could see Salmon resting in them until they ascended into the rapids to spawn. He contemplated the swirling might of water emptying into the Columbia three miles to the west.” In 1885, the Washington Fisheries Commission built a fish hatchery consisting of one rearing pond and incorporated Ben’s house on his Kalama River homestead site. The home sat where the lower Kalama fish hatchery sits today.

Ben and Susan had two more children while living in Kalama. Francis Lechmore (1877) and John Warren (1879) bringing the brood to four. The Holmes children attended a one room school house that served the families of the early settlers. The pupils played games at recess and were accustomed to lend and borrow chewing gum from each other. In time, all walked the railroad tracks to Kalama to school.

A piano was a joyful addition to a home on the Kalama River Prairie. When one came to her home, Annie learned to play. A glorious day came to Annie and Charlie when they, many, many years later, entered the Dearborn Henry Ford Fiddlers Contest and competed at the Rivoli Theatre in Portland.

Little Francis and John were a bit more mischievous. The Holmes family had befriended an old Native American named Doc. Doc had lived his whole life in the developing territory of the Kalama River and would come daily for biscuits and baked beans. When he arrived, Doc would hold out his hat and Susan would fill it to the brim with beans and biscuits. One day, Doc came by not for food, but to retrieve his indispensable ax that Little Francis and John had stolen and hid. When confronted, the thieving rascals lied and claimed to know nothing of the ax. Charlie protested and said to old Doc, “Truff, truff” and led old Doc to where his ax was hidden. Susan was very proud of Charlie’s forthrightness in befriending and helping Doc.

Ben Holmes was born to logging. During seven years of homesteading in Kalama, he built and operated a saw mill. He had a yoke of oxen to handle the operation. It was natural for him to sign for a timber claim on the Coweeman River. Ben worked as a logger until 1889 when he was elected as the fourth Sheriff of Cowlitz County. He held the Sheriff’s Office for two terms leaving office in 1892. Ben Holmes was the first Sheriff charged with having to hang a man in the line of duty.

He was then appointed postmaster of Kalama of that same year. On April 1st, 1895, while walking down the sidewalk, Ben Holmes suffers the effects of a “paralytic shock”, causing him to fall on the sidewalk striking his head on the pavement. He was taken to his home where he later died.

Susan Holmes never remarried and her daughter, Annie, never married either. Annie spent a year in the galley of a river boat and for many years was a Milner in the ladies shop in Kalama. She and Susan moved to Portland in 1911.

Charles Lewis Holmes was a bridge carpenter and switchman for the OWRR and N system. He married Nadean Cook in 1905 and moved to Portland. Francis Holmes was a purser on the OWRR and N transfer boat between Kalama and Goble, Oregon. He moved to Portland in 1905. John Holmes was an accountant for the Union Pacific Company in Portland.

Mark Holmes is the grandson of John Holmes and said that the only information passed on through the years about Ben Holmes and the hanging of Robert Day was that it left a really bad taste in Ben’s mouth. “He had a problem with killing Robert Day and never got over it.” ~DcU~

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