County Government, Union County, Oregon
The history of Union County as a political entity dates from 1864 when on 14 October the Governor of Oregon signed the act of the legislature creating Union County out of Baker County and designating La Grande as a temporary county seat. The first Court House was set up in a building belonging to Green Arnold, early county records showing that rent was paid to him for such a purpose.
The first county officials appointed by Governor Gibbs were as follows Judge, D. W. Lichtenthaler; Commissioners, Daniel Payton and Samuel Hannah; Clerk, I. L. Thomas; Sheriff, Isaiah Geer; Treasurer, D. S. Kimsey; Assessor, J. A. J. Chapman: Superintendent of Schools, M. R. Ellison.
The first meeting of the county court was a special session which convened on 4 November 1864. The business centered around the appointment of judges for the election to be held in that same month Ten days later at another session the sheriff was directed to make the necessary arrangements for fitting up a building for a Court House, the clerk was authorized to assist the county clerk of Baker County in copying the assessment rolls belonging to Union County, and the appointment of J. P. Argersinger as justice of the peace for the precinct of Union was made.
At the first regular session of the county court no 7
December 1864, bills in the amount of $650 were ordered paid and the
superintendent of schools was authorized to sell a quantity of the
school lands at a price of not less than four dollars per acre. Tax
millage levies were also established at this meeting. It is
interesting to note that a poll tax of two dollars person was levied
for state and county purposes in addition to the regular property
tax of shout 30 mills
Those men liable for military service were levied an additional two dollars poll lax.
County Seat Unsettled
The location of a county seat was a problem which was to plague the citizens of Union County for nearly 40 years before it was finally settled after the turn of the 20th century. On 6 March 1865 there was held the first in a series of elections to determine the permanent seat of county government. This special election brought to the polls voters to the number of 1260, of whom 759 cast their votes in favor of La Grande and 501 for Union, known generally at that time as "Uniontown." This mandate of the people That La Grande should be the county seat led the court to buy from Green Arnold for $2000 the building in which the court had been meeting. Bids were also solicited for the building of a county jail and in November of 1865 a contract in the amount of $2050 was let for its construction.
The question of locating the county seat was brought before the voters of Union County for a second time in 1874 Citizens of Union had never been satisfied that the proper site for the county records was at the western end of the Grande Ronde Valley and far from the center of population of the county. La Grande was the larger town and it claimed to be the center of the commercial activity of the county. It was also on the main line of the stage coaches from Umatilla Landing to the Idaho mines, and it was probably for this reason that it was originally selected by the legislature in 1864 as the temporary county seat.
Union, however, grew rapidly being located in a rich agricultural section and close to the mining activity in the southeastern section of the county. The agitation for the relocation of the county seat commenced after the election of 1865 and in 1872 Senator James Hendersholt secured the passage of an act in the state legislature calling for a revote to the question. This enabling act provided that at the presidential election of that year a vote should be taken on the proposition and the five towns of the county, La Grande, Union, Cove, Island City and Summerville should be the candidates for the honor. If no one of these towns received a majority of the votes cast, then a later election should be held at which the communities having the two highest number of votes would be balloted upon.
This election in 1872 gave La Grande the greatest number of votes among the five, but it was less than the majority required. An interesting question arose to complicate things at this point, as there was a dispute as to whether Cave or Union should have the honor of competing with La Grande in the run off election. When settlement was first made in the Cove area the inhabitants had given it the name "Forest Cove." However there was a town in the Willamette Valley named Forest Grove and the Post Office Department found that. due to this similarity in names, mail intended for one locality was often misdirected and sent to the other. To remove this difficulty the Department changed the post office name from Forest Cove to Cove.
This change was not familiar to certain of the settlers in the Cove area and Forest Cove was generally used for some time after it had been officially changed to the shorter name. In the returns of the electron of 1872, six votes had been cast by the Wilkinson family, then residing in High Valley, for Forest Cove. The vote between Union and Cove was so close that to count these six votes for Cove would have given it second place and the right to the contest with La Grande.
A heated dispute arose immediately and Union insisted upon its rights according to a strict interpretation of the returns, which would have thrown out six of the votes in question. Citizens of Cove were at first inclined to contend for the six votes which were admittedly meant for Cove, but an advice of legal counsel they desisted from this course. Had the 1874 election been a contest between La Granite and Cove, La Grande undoubtedly would have won.
Samuel Hannah, a leading merchant of Union, was elected to the state senate m 1872. and while a member of that body he induced the Northwestern Stage Company, then operating through the Grande Ronde Valley by way of La Grande. In relocate its route to pass over the Blue Mountains by way of Summerville and the Thomas & Hackles road rather than by the Emigrant Road through La Grande. This would place Union and Summerville on the main line of stage operations and the route to La Grande would he merely a branch feeder. This movement allied the voters of the northern end of Grande Ronde valley in supporting Union as the location of the county seat. This support, coupled with that of Cove and the southeastern section of the county gave Union a majority of 163 votes over La Grande, the total vote being 342 votes for La Grande and 505 for Union.
La Grande Regains Seat
Citizens of La Grande, however, were not willing to give in easily to their rival town across the valley, and plans were laid to regain the county seta. In 1888 two meetings were held to consider the advisability of petitioning the legislature to pass an enabling act to permit calling another election. When news of this activity reached Union, a meeting was held there at which it was stated in formal resolutions that the La Grande proposals were premature and if successful, would saddle the county with great debt through the expertise of moving the county sent, and would add increased mileage expense for jurors and witnesses who would have to travel further to the court sessions. Further it was stated that if La Grande became the county seat undoubtedly a part or Union County would he cut off and added to Baker County This last prediction came trite in 1901.
In the election held in 1890, following the passage of the enabling act by the legislature. Union was successful in retaining the county seat. However after the "Panhandle' area, which included the towns of Sparta and Cornucopia, was detached from Union County as above noted.
November of 1865 a contract in the amount of $2050 was let for its construction. The question of locating the county sent was brought before the voters of Union County for a second time in 1874. Citizens of Union had never been satisfied that the proper site for the county records was at the western end of the Grande Ronde Valley and far from the center of population of the county. La Grande was the larger town and it claimed to be the center of the commercial activity of the county. It was also on the main line of the stage coaches from Umatilla Landing to the Idaho mines, and it was probably for this reason that it was originally selected by the legislature in 1864 as the temporary county seat.
Union lost much of the voting support which had enabled it to hold the county seat and at an election in 1904, La Grande was finally successful in retrying the seat of county government which it had lost in 1874.
The loss of the Court House in 1874 was a distinct blow to the town of La Grande. The only newspaper then operating in the county, the Mountain Sentinel, published by McComas and Stevens, was removed from La Grande to Union and one of the leading merchants. I. A. Boskowitz, moved his stock of goods to the new seat of government La Grande had but little left, although it did retain the United States Land Office which in its way was a considerable stimulus to local trade and business. The state land office which had been created to dispose of a large tract of land donated to the state by the federal government had been located in Union from its opening.