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Some men are born with ability so comprehensive that they succeed in anything they undertake. They have a clear discernment, a wise discrimination and a well balanced judgment not possessed by ordinary individuals. They inspire confidence in others and when they need assistance in any undertaking it is forthcoming. They do not seem to be hampered by difficulties to which others bow and they appear to be the natural leaders in their respective communities. To this class belonged Jacob Stitzel, of Colville, now deceased, who was for twenty years United States court commissioner and served in many important public and private positions of honor and trust. He was a native of Pennsylvania, born at Gettysburg, in 1831, a son of John and Sarah (Smith) Stitzel.
In 1837 he removed with his parents to Carlisle, Ohio, and at the age of ten years secured employment in a store, where he continued for three years. Later he occupied similar positions at Addison and Troy, Ohio. He possessed very limited advantages of education at the public schools but he was a man of fine powers of observation, which in a large measure compensated for his early lack of educational training. At the age of eighteen, desirous of seeing the world and yielding to the gold excitement, he started for the Pacific coast and it was on this journey that he undertook his first great responsibility. A thousand people about to leave the Missouri river found themselves without a leader and a vote resulted in the selection of Jacob Stitzel as commander of the expedition. Although he had not yet arrived at the age of manhood, he accepted the position and discharged his duties during the long and toilsome journey over the plains and across the mountains in a way that indicated these hardy pioneers had made no mistake in selecting a beardless youth as their leader. He arrived at Sacramento in September, 1849, and for fourteen months engaged in mining on the American river with fair success. In October, 1850, he attended the first meeting of California pioneers at San Francisco, and during the same month came north to Astoria and made the trip from that place to Portland in a rowboat. Soon afterward he associated in business with Judge Platt of Oregon City and also took up a donation claim of three hundred and twenty acres in Clackamas county. After spending six years farming he removed to Portland and engaged in mercantile pursuits, being identified from 1861 to 1866 in the lumber business. In 1864 he was elected sheriff of Multnomah county and was reelected two years later, serving four years. After retiring from this office he engaged in the real-estate business and was instrumental in introducing the first foreign capital to Oregon. In 1872 he went to Washington, D. C., on a special political mission to secure public appropriation for Oregon and was successful even against the influence of congressional representatives, Oregon being then a democratic state. In 1874 he was appointed deputy collector of customs for eastern Washington and northern Idaho, with headquarters at Fort Colville, a position which he held until 1880, when he was appointed clerk of the United States circuit court of Colville. While serving as clerk he filed upon a tract of land near Colville, which he disposed of a few years ago at a very handsome figure, thus rounding out his declining years in comfort. In 1883 Mr. Stitzel was elected to the territorial legislature and served four years in the senate. At the conclusion of his legislative term he was again commissioned as clerk of the United States court and remained in that position until the admission of Washington as a state in 1889, when he was elected clerk of the superior court, serving one term. Owing to his great efficiency in handling government business he was appointed United States court commissioner in 1892, a position which he filled for nearly twenty years, performing his duties in a manner that secured the very best results for the public service.
Mr. Stitzel was married in Clackamas county, Oregon, to Miss Mary W. Halprunner. Of their children four survive. Martha A., the widow of the late General Evan Miles, of San Francisco; Mary E., who is the wife of A. H. Moor, of Tacoma; Kathrine S., who married Gilbert S. Ide, of Colville, a record of whom appears elsewhere in this work; and James H., of Colville.
Mr. Stitzel died January 22, 1911, having arrived at the age of four score years. In politics he adhered to the republican party, and was one of the most prominent workers in its behalf in Stevens county. He was chairman of the state republican convention in 1883 and presided over many important political gatherings. He was offered the post of minister to China by President Grant but declined it. For three years in the early '70s he was chief of the mounted police in Washington, D. C. Fraternally be was identified with the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, being a member of the former fifty-three years, and of the latter for fifty-two years. His only request in his last days was that he should be buried by those organizations. He assisted in organizing the Stevens County Pioneer Association and was its first president. He was for many years an active member of the Congregational church and was a man of pronounced tendencies though not given to intruding his opinions upon others.
The funeral services of this good man and citizen drew the largest attendance known in Colville. Rev. G. H. Wilbur, who had been pastor of the church of which Mr. Stitzel was a member, had charge of the exercises and in the course of his remarks he said:
"Thus passes from our midst a man beloved by all, whose life was worth while and whose memory must be preserved. His home, his heart, his very life was wrapped up in this section. He believed in Stevens county and spread the doctrine. His innate kindliness won the hearts of newcomers. His counsel won the respect of residents. His life was a tribute to the principles of honesty, truthfulness and helpfulness. It avails nothing to mourn his death. The fact that he has ceased to be is not nearly so important as that he has been—that he has lived to a purpose —that he has worked and his work has been found good. This country was a wilderness when he first viewed it, but before his death he saw the portals of time swing open and disclose a country born of freedom and teeming with healthful life and industry—partly the result of his own efforts. This country—his country—bears the impress of his activities. Let his name be carried down to succeeding generations as one to be revered. Let him be remembered as a master builder."
The following resolution adopted by the bar association of Stevens county eloquently expresses the sentiments of the legal fraternity as to the work and character of Mr. Stitzel:
"Inasmuch as one of the oldest and most honorable citizens of Colville has passed from our midst and gone to join the other pioneers of the west, who have journeyed on to that great unexplored country, from whose bourne no traveler re, turns;
"And inasmuch as this citizen, whose loss to the community can hardly be estimated at this time, has lived among us, honored and respected for so many years, it seems right and proper that this court, the bar of Stevens county, and the officers of the court should take cognizance of the passing of one of our foremost citizens:
"Resolved, That we as members of the bar of Stevens county, together with the judge and officers of this court should and do seize upon this opportunity to honor the character and memory of our departed friend, and in token of our appreciation of the life and character of Jacob Stitzel, in token of the respect with which we have ever regarded him, in token of the sympathy which we feel for the bereaved family who mourn his loss and in consideration of his services as one of the earliest officers of this court, that the members of the bar of this county and the officers of this court stand while his honor adjourns the labors of the court for a season to enable all to pay their respects to the memory of the departed."
History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County Washington 1912