By Emmett O’Connell
Across from one of Olympia’s newest and most interesting historical markers — the mural of Rebecca Howard — is the unmarked site of one of Olympia’s earliest and probably still most infamous murders. In the middle of the block between State and Olympia Avenue on the west side of Capitol Way was the building that housed the historic office of territorial Governor Isaac Stevens. It was also where Quiemuth was killed by a mysterious intruder after surrendering to Gov. Stevens.
Quiemuth was a Nisqually tribal member and the brother of Leschi, who was the tribe’s leader in the Puget Sound War. Territorial Gov. Stevens wanted both men captured for their role in the war. Quiemuth came to Olympia to surrender to Stevens in Olympia in November 1856.
The actual location of the murder has been murky. In fact, there are a few resources that firmly pin the location at the old Stevens house on the Capitol Campus, but I think those sources are mistaken.
In his book “Early History of Thurston County,” George Blankenship places Stevens’ offices in pioneer Olympia on the west side of Main (Capitol Way) between 2nd and 3rd (State) streets, the site of the current Olympia Center. Blankenship describes the buildings as two one story structures. The buildings lasted until 1915 when they were torn down, according to a newspaper article pointed out by Edward Echtle here. Echtle also points out that “The building had a colorful life- it later served as Big Bill McGowan’s Green Tree Saloon and as the final location of the Kwong Hong Yick Laundry. “
Further placing the crime in the downtown offices, newspaper clips of the time also refer to the murderer running down an alleyway, which existed in the more dense setting of the waterfront of Olympia.
The overlapping timelines of Quiemuth’s murder and the movement of the Stevens family overlap quickly during the late months of 1856 and early 1857. Quiemuth was killed at the time the Governor’s family still likely lived in the same building. After the murder on November 19, the family didn’t take long to move into the new house in December.
While the murder went officially unsolved at the time, it was largely assumed that Joseph Bunting was the murderer. Bunting was a cousin of James McCallister, who had been killed in the Puget Sound War. It was also assumed that Quiemuth’s murder was a revenge killing. Local courts couldn’t find enough evidence to indict Bunting.
In Thurston County at the time, there was a least a minority of people for whom killing Indians was not a considerable act. According to data from early court records, almost all of the murder victims in Thurston County between 1854 and 1857 where Indians killed by whites.
Bunting was later involved in the killing of another Indian, Too-a-pi-ti. Bunting and a few relatives sought to bring in Too-a-pi-ti to stand trial for his role in the Puget Sound War. There are different accounts, but even the most favorable says that Bunting’s party shot Too-a-pi-ti in the back while he was trying to escape.
The unsolved murder of an combatant that had already surrendered himself is a stain on Olympia’s history that is worth recognizing. Quiemuth’s murder was infamous at the time, though overshadowed by the subsequent trials of his brother. It’s worth recognizing now the location of the murder and hope for a more permanent marker of the crime.
Sources and additional reading
Olyblog: Olympia 1853
Olympia Time: Murders in Thurston County, 1854 to 1857
WSHS: Quiemuth Murdered
Puget Sound Herald: How to serve a writ
Puget Sound Herald: The shooting of Too-a-pi-ti
Kate Stevens Bates: Old Stevens Mansion