It’s late fall in 1856. The Puget Sound War between American settlers and the region’s Native American tribes was wrapping up. Chief Leschi of the Nisqually had been captured by territorial officials and taken to Olympia. A mob had formed outside the building where he was being kept and he was quickly moved to Steilacoom to await trial.
To avoid capture, Leschi’s brother, Quiemuth, decided to turn himself in. James Longmire and Van Ogle accompanied Quiemuth to Olympia from Yelm. The group arrived in Olympia well after dark. Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, who gave them a place to sleep in his office, met them.
In the early morning, Quiemuth was murdered. According to Ogle, the crime that was committed was this: Quiemuth was first shot, and when he tried to chase the attempted murderer through the door, someone stabbed him to death.
Longmire took chase as well, and was faced with almost 20 people milling in the early morning outside the office. Who in that crowd killed Quiemuth?
History’s Suspect: Joe Bunting
The only suspect directly named by history was Joseph Bunting, a 23-year-old farmer who had likely come to Puget Sound from New England. He was a very new father, his first child being born only days before Quiemuth’s murder.
His wife was the daughter of James McAllister, a farmer who had been killed during the Puget Sound War. That death of the family patriarch gave Bunting motive to murder Quiemuth.
But, the only court to ever look into this murder didn’t think Bunting did it. Again, history paints a story of the community closing ranks around Bunting – that even though he really did kill Quiemuth, no one was brave enough to implicate him.
But, it is likely that Bunting just ended up being history’s suspect, because there are at least two other men who were just as likely to have been there that night. And, their personal histories make them much more likely killers.
The Ringleader: George McAllister
James McAllister’s own son was only 19 when Quiemuth was shot and stabbed. Who else other than his own son would have more reason to seek vengeance?
Contemporary newspapers reported that in the years following the Puget Sound War and Quiemuth’s murder, McAllister had a hand in killing at least two more Indians. He would blame both for being involved in his father’s death.
The most well documented murder of an Indian that McAllister publicly took credit for was that of Too-a-pi-ti. While stories vary, even McAllister’s own version includes him and a group (including Bunting, another man Jim Riley and at least one other man) gunning down Too-a-pi-ti as he ran. In another version, the group shot Too-a-pi-ti as he led them back to his camp.
Either way, George McAllister’s acts years after the end of the Puget Sound War and the murder of Quiemuth, and the more direct motive of vengeance, make him at least as likely a culprit as Bunting.
Olympia’s first big time criminal: Jim Riley
At every step of the way, one addition names pops up continually: Jim Riley. In the early years, Riley seems to be just another member of the McAllister gang. He was mentioned often and possibly the one who put a bullet in Too-a-pi-ti’s back, but rarely stood out.
As the years wore on and the history of the Puget Sound War faded, the vengeance business slowed down. Riley distinguished himself as a classic criminal. While others in the McAllister family orbit probably have at least vengeance on their mind, Riley was simply a common criminal.
By 1861, his list of crimes included “brutal” assault, rape, larceny, drunkenness and disorderly conduct. And, by now, the county sheriff was after him and Riley was set to leave down and disappear in the mines east of the mountains.
But, before that, he prepared for one last violent spree, which ended up including the murder of an Indian and yet another “brutal” assault. He smashed a man’s head in with a rock and somehow the man survived.
Eventually, the law caught up with Riley. Captured and sustaining a gunshot wound in his leg for trying to run from the sheriff, Riley did not give up. He hobbled around on crutches apparently longer than he needed to. And, then, when his guards were distracted (and he was not otherwise secured) he left his crutches and disappeared for good into the woods and possibly off to the mines.
There is a record of a Jim Riley committing a murder in King County a few years later, but Riley as a historic figure, disappeared through the trees in 1861.
We’ll never actually know who killed Quiemuth. While that murder may be Olympia’s first notorious killing, it wasn’t in fact the first documented killing in Olympia as an American city. In fact, that goes (almost fittingly) to another man, Robert Brainard, who strangled an Indian in 1854.
There was a lot of violence in these early years. While it seems easy to pin the blame on history’s culprit, there were certainly plenty of violent men nearby that could have equally played a hand.