A. J. Splawn — People from Yakima’s past

April 22, 2010

Yakima Valley pioneer A.J. Splawn is shown in this undated photograph.

Though he was engaged with the business for 35 years, Andrew Jackson (A.J.) Splawn did more than herd cattle. He helped transform the political and industrial scenes of Central Washington.

He and his brothers were among the earliest settlers in the Valley. Born in 1845 in Holt County, Mo., Splawn spent much of his childhood in Linn County, Ore., where the family moved after the death of his father in 1848. At age 15, he followed his brother Charles to the Klickitat Valley and eventually ended up in Yakima.

In 1861, Splawn began working in the cattle business and nine years later opened a trading post in Kittitas Valley called “Robbers Roost.” He drove cattle and horses over hundreds of miles, from the Okanogan to Boise, Idaho, to Montana to Cariboo in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Establishing a herd of purebred Hereford cattle in 1887, he served as president of the Washington Live Stock Association, the Pacific Northwest Live Stock Association and the Cascade International Live Stock Association.

His Stetson hat and gold-headed walking cane were his constant companions, and he was rarely seen without them.

He was a loyal friend to Indians and was not easily intimidated. A three-day running encounter with the Indian military chief and horsemen while moving supplies by pack train from The Dallas to Canyon City, Ore., during the Paiute War proved such a claim.

In 1902, Splawn went from simply being active in the livestock industry to being active in politics. He was elected to the Washington Legislature as state senator and ran unsuccessfully for governor as a Democrat in 1908. He also became the first mayor of North Yakima under the commission form of government, serving from 1911 to 1914.

In the early 1900s, he became active in the Tieton Water Users’ Association and served as its first president.
He also worked with local businessmen to finance construction of Yakima’s trolley system.

As if he didn’t have enough accomplishments, Splawn was an author, too. He wrote “Ka-Mi-Akan, the Last Hero of the Yakimas,” which chronicles much of Yakima Valley’s early history.

Splawn died in 1917 at age 72 from a disease he caught from a parrot in a pet store, but his legacy remains within the history of this Valley.

— Colleen Fontana

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