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Fayette McMullin appointed governor by President James Buchanan
Fayette McMullin was appointed governor by President Buchanan in 1857 after J. Patton Anderson, first United States Marshall of the territory, failed to qualify on his appointment as governor. Charles Mason, Secretary of Washington Territory under Isaac I. Stevens served as acting governor until McMullin arrived.
McMullin had previously served in Congress representing the State of Virginia. He spent little time in Washington Territory and delivered only one message to the Territorial legislature, that being in 1857 when he called attention to the need for military roads and the construction of a railroad through Washington Territory to the Pacific.
Two important events occurred during McMullin's term in office: the discovery of gold in the Fraser River Valley of British Columbia and the defeat of Colonel Steptoe by the Spokane Indians in the eastern part of the territory. The gold rush caused a great deal of excitement. Although it was short-lived, the rush swelled the population in eastern Washington, making Walla Walla the largest settlement in Washington Territory for a time.
The incursion of prospectors on Indian lands resulted in the battle where Steptoe was defeated. The incident resulted in a swift punitive attack by Colonel Wright who routed the Indians and forced them to surrender on September 9, 1858 after he killed over 800 of their horses. This was the last major battle of Washington’s Indian wars.
During McMullin's administration the dispute over the San Juan Islands between Great Britain and the United States began to emerge. Captain George Pickett, who was later to gain fame in "Pickett's Charge" during the Battle of Gettysburg, took troops to the islands to defend the American settlers, but further action was over-ruled by President James Buchanan who did not want war with Britain.
An interesting footnote to McMullin's term was the emergence of the issue of “legislative divorce." At the time Washington's laws permitted the Territorial Legislature to grant divorces without the aid of the courts. According to Washington historian Edmond Meany, the main reason that McMullin acccepted the governorship of Washington Territory was to obtain a divorce. Soon after he obtained it he married Miss Mary Wood of Olympia and almost immediately returned to Virginia in July 1858. After McMullin's departure Secretary of the Territory Charles Mason again served as acting governor.
McMullin was a noted advocate of state's rights and when the Civil War broke out he was elected to the Congress of the Confederate States of America. He died in Virginia in 1880.