Ungovernor, 1912 – George Franklin Stivers

George Franklin Stivers, the 1912 Prohibition Party candidate for Governor was no stranger to elections and political office. He had been a county commissioner in Texas, a county assessor in Missouri, and a city councilman in Garfield, Wash. He had run for the Washington State Senate as a Prohibitionist, and in 1904 as a presidential elector for that party. Stivers was part of a coterie of Disciples of Christ ministers from the Palouse Region who saw political election campaigns as an opportunity to spread the Word. In some ways they anticipated the modern evangelical Republicans. This network included Prohibition Party Ungovernor Dunlap (1896 and 1900) and Populist Neal Cheetham, who was elected Washington State Auditor in 1896.

George was born Aug. 18, 1851 in Washington County, Ill., the son of Elisha and Lydia (Church) Stivers. He was the oldest of 8 children. In 1865, presumably when the Civil War ended, the family moved to Missouri.
The first of his three marriages took place Dec. 23, 1869 when George married Clarissa J. Smith in Putnam County, Mo. For the next six years he was employed as a teacher in Putnam County.

From 1876-1881 he moved to Blanco County, Texas and continued to teach. It was during this time he served as county commissioner. Also at some point before 1881 ended, either in Missouri or Texas, his wife died leaving him with three children.

Stivers returned to Putnam County, still a teacher. On Dec. 18, 1881 he married Susan L. Trowbridge, the sister of his late wife. They had two children.

In 1883 the growing Stivers family moved back to Texas. During this second residence in the Lone Star State, George obeyed the calling and became a minister. In 1885 they moved to Arkansas where George was part farmer, part evangelist. In 1889 the church sent him to Washington Territory.

He arrived in Jan. 1889, during Washington's final year of territorial status. The Church sent him to the small farming community of Garfield, in Whitman County. The town had been named after the recently assassinated President, who by coincidence had also been a minister with the Disciples of Christ. The church members had to meet in makeshift places until a place of worship was constructed and finished in Oct. 1889. As the first minister, George helped oversee the new building. Garfield would remain his home for 15 years, which was highly unusual for the ever-shifting Disciples of Christ ministers of that era.

What sort of minister was George? Here's how his entry in N.W. Durham's History of the city of Spokane and Spokane country, Washington (1912) describes him: " … During that time he was also a pioneer minister, traveling over the country, as Garfield was only a mission at that time, the present church having been built by Mr. Stivers. He was an earnest, forceful speaker and his zeal in behalf of the church and his almost untiring labor for the upbuilding of the different church activities made him a very popular minister, holding revivals and establishing churches in different parts of the country. He conducted many funerals and marriages, not only for his own church people but for those of other denominations. He was district evangelist for four years and a member of the state church board for three years."

"Stivers was one of the sponsors of the Inland Empire Railway."

The Christian Standard made this report in Feb. 1894 after visiting Garfield: "Bro. Stivers has lived here and preached for this congregation for the past five years, and the large audiences and visible results speak volumes for the life and power of the man. We closed with a crowded house, 2 confessions and a deep interest … The congregation now numbers over 200 and considering the size of this town, only 800 inhabitants, and five denominations represented, we have done well…"

No wonder the Church didn't transfer him. Some of his outside Church activities included preaching in nearby St. John when Cheetham couldn't make it or when Dunlap couldn't cover. George worked with Cheetham in 1891-1892 to form a new church in Oakesdale. In 1895 Stivers and Dunlap teamed up to form a new congregation in the area of Grangeville, Idaho. In March, 1899, George formed the new church in Clarkston. Although he retired in 1901, he remained "on tap" until 1904.

Durham describes George's first years in the 20th century:

"In 1901, retiring from active ministry, he entered business life and, seeing the great future of this part of the country, he first bought a half section of land in Adams county. He continued buying and selling tracts of land, aggregating several sections. The success of his business being assured, he returned to Garfield and invested largely in land, since which time he has purchased valuable realty in Spokane and vicinity, in Pasco, Washington, and in Portland, Jefferson, Klamath Falls, and Eugene, Oregon. He purchased land adjoining Garfield and set out an orchard and later bought various orchards surrounding this town. He also has platted two additions to Garfield and has been instrumental in the attraction of new business to the town, notably the flour mill and the electric car line, of which he was one of the five locaters. Mr. Stivers gave the initial contribution of five hundred dollars toward the Bible University at Eugene, Oregon, and in various ways has contributed of his means for the furtherance of Christian work, reaching a wider circle than would have been possible had he remained in the pulpit … Mr. Stivers was an able man and successful in his calling and since, on turning his attention to business, he has maintained high ideals and has become a power for good in whatever relations he has formed. Essentially a self-made man, he has reason to feel an honest pride in his achievement and in his position as one of the highly honored citizens of Garfield.."

Somewhere in all this activity George once again found himself a widower. He wed for third time, July 2, 1907, in Roseburg, Oregon to Oriana Vernon. They moved to Spokane by 1910.

In 1912 Dunlap had moved to Arizona, leaving Stivers to run with the ball for the Prohibition Party gubernatorial race. With the enactment of prohibition in Washington State seeming inevitable (it became reality with the 1914 election) and an election with an exciting new Progressive Party, it was hard for Stivers to get any media ink. Women had won the right to vote in 1910, and the Prohibition Party did try to capitalize on this fact. Since alcoholism is a family disease the Prohibs thought they might have a chance with the new voting bloc.

A pamphlet from the Party in that year states:

"Out To Win"

Prohibitionists of the State of Washington can WIN in 1912

WE CAN ELECT a Prohibition Governor in 1912 and a Prohibition Legislature in 1914, if one-half the women voters will say so.

We Appeal to the women of Washington to HELP ELECT the first Prohibition Governor and Congressman in the United States.

The political wave is started that will sweep the liquor traffic OFF THE MAP. Will you work and pray for this?
The 1912 estimate they give on the pamphlet is as follows: Republican 68,000; Progressive 78,000; Democrat 78,000; Socialist 30,000; Prohibition 80,000. Interesting they omit the Socialist Labor Party. Also, that they have the Republicans running 4th. The actual results, rounded off: Republican 97,000; Progressive 78,000; Democrat 97,000; Socialist 37,000; Socialist Labor 1,000; Prohibition 8,000.

Actually, the Prohibs garnered 8,163 votes to be precise. Stivers generally placed 5th out of the six candidates, with the exception of Ferry and Jefferson counties where he was dead last. However, in Whitman County, where he was well known and loved, he placed a strong third, beating out the Progressive Party.

George and Oriana had a son a couple years after the election. They moved to Eugene around 1915, where their daughter was born. George died at age 68 in Eugene, Mar. 12, 1920. He lived just long enough to see the Volstead Act pass Congress.

-- By Steve Willis

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