Pioneer justice, judge, topic of presentation Sunday


WALLA WALLA — Territorial Justice William Langford will be the subject of the Living History portrayal at 2 p.m. Sunday at Fort Walla Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road.

Langford will be portrayed by Donald Schacht, retired Walla Walla County Superior Court judge.

Langford was the last Territorial Justice of the Washington Territorial Supreme Court to serve in Walla Walla County, the first judicial district of Washington Territory.

Langford was appointed as territorial justice by President Grover Cleveland on December 3, 1885, to replace his friend, the retiring Justice Samuel C. Wingard.

Born in Ohio in 1835, Langford crossed the Great Plain to Oregon and began his study of the law under J.S.D. Shattuck of Portland, considered an excellent attorney in his day. Langford continued his studies in the office of Judge P.A. Markham.

After serving in the Indian wars of the 1850s he began practicing law in Vancouver, Washington Territory, where he remained until 1862. The next year, he was appointed prosecuting attorney for the first judicial district and subsequently moved to Walla Walla, then only in its first year as an incorporated city.

In 1864, Langford served in the Territorial Legislative Council, but soon moved on to Washington, D.C., Mississippi and San Francisco, practicing law in each location. He returned briefly to Washington Territory before moving again to Lewiston, Idaho, and finally back to Walla Walla. He served as Walla Walla’s City Attorney until his appointment at age 50 the Federal bench.

Langford was a staunch Democrat and at the time of his appointment, enjoyed the full support of the Democratic Party and most of his fellow lawyers. The Territorial Judiciary was not a non-partisan position; appointments generally followed the party line of each successive presidential administration, with Justices serving at the pleasure of the President.

Langford was a highly respected lawyer in his day, with wide legal experience. He was able to practice law in Oregon, Washington Territory, California and elsewhere. He was seen by both his colleagues and the citizenry as honorable, capable, possessing a deep knowledge of the law, and was esteemed in bi-partisan support.

Langford served on the Territorial Supreme Court from December 1885 until Washington achieved statehood in 1889. At that time, he moved to Spokane and was elected to the Spokane County Superior Court bench, where he served until his death at age 58 in 1893.

As a Justice, Langford was a strict constructionist on interpretation of the law. He was considered to be an aggressive advocate for his clients and a formidable legal opponent. His cases were painstakingly prepared and he presented all relevant issues to the judge or jury. Langford believed the court should decide cases on the merits rather than procedural niceties or a desire to avoid controversy.

As an orator, Langford’s speeches tended toward the philosophical, yet he would address all issues presented. At times he seemed purposeful to the point of tedium in his lawyerly presentations and judicial deliberations. Above all, he was seen as good natured, with good humor and an incisive wit.

While disinclined to insult others, he remembered those aspersions directed toward him and, when necessary, was capable of strong, biting language. Even his critics noted him as a fair judge of the law, as well as a good lawyer familiar with the law.

Living History performances begin at 2 p.m. in the pioneer settlement at Fort Walla Walla Museum.

Visitors are encouraged to question the Living History re-enactors about their lives and times. The Museum is open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission is free for members to Fort Walla Walla Museum members and all children under 6; $3 for children ages 6-12; $6 for seniors age 62 and up and students and $7 for adults.


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