Doc Maynard, The Unlikely Founder of Seattle

Doc Maynard, The Unlikely Founder of Seattle

Our country tends to idealize the men who founded it. Who could forget that our first president, George Washington, never told a lie or that Lincoln’s nick name was “Honest Abe”? There was, however, no attempt at the glorification of Dr. David Swinson Maynard’s life. Evidently, that’s because he didn’t have much to work with and seemed to lack all of those socially expected attributes which were supposedly instilled in the rest of our country’s most famous founders. Dr. Maynard, more commonly known as “Doc Maynard” or “Doc,” was one of the first settlers and arguably the most powerful force in shaping the city of Seattle into what it is today.

The journey to Seattle

            There’s absolutely no attempt at disguising Doc Maynard’s rather disreputable beginnings in any of the texts which are written about him. “Maynard…was forty-two years old and in debt…He shook hands with his wife Lydia, whom in twenty years of marriage he had come to dislike, kissed his two children…and rode off to California, where he hoped to recoup his fortunes.” 1 Not only was Maynard running away from debt – and most likely jail as well – he was leaving behind a family. This may be shocking news to a school child expecting to hear about yet another man who ‘never lied’ but it’s nothing compared to the story of his true motivation behind moving to the area that would once become Seattle.

           While traveling along the Oregon Trail, the doctor met up with Catherine Broshears and her family. Catherine’s husband had died just a few hours before from Cholera and most of the rest of her family had gotten sick as well. Just before Catherine’s mother-in-law died, she asked the doctor to “give every assistance” to Catherine and her family. 2 After burying Catherine’s family, Maynard joined her in her wagon to continue the journey. It was not very long before “Mrs. Broshears found it convenient to leave everything to him.” 3  

           When Doc and Catherine finally reached Olympia, Catherine moved in with her brother and his wife, Michael and Elizabeth Simmons. Already stricken by feelings toward Catherine, Maynard decided not to go to California and instead settled just north of Catherine’s residence. Catherine was an attractive young widow whose choice in a mate could significantly help her brother’s business fortunes. With this in mind as well as the knowledge that Maynard was still married, the family was furious about the two’s romance. Catherine’s brothers “restrained her somewhat of her liberty, and prevented her going with him when they could. More than once they were on the verge of stopping by force the marriage. Mrs. Rider threatened to shoot Dr. Maynard.”

            Doc Maynard, being the determined man that he was, would not let Catherine’s family – or his marriage – stop him from marrying her, however. On December 24, 1852, he was granted a divorce by the Oregon legislature. Of course, Doc had led the legislature to believe that his wife Lydia was dead, and the divorce would later be a topic of heated contention. After settling down with Catherine, Maynard set up a small store with such cheap prices that all of the other merchants were determined to drive him out of town. At the behest of the other townspeople, Chief Sealth (which is pronounced see-alth or See-attle), spoke to Doc Maynard  about moving his store to the settlement called New York-Alki (meaning New York by and by). Maynard arrived at Alki Point on March 31, 1852. 5 later re-named the settlement Seattle after his friend Chief Sealth.

The future of Seattle according to Maynard 

            Contrary to what might be assumed from his past of lying and cheating, Doc was actually a very kind-hearted man and without his sacrifices Seattle would have never become the city that it is today. Maynard and Catherine opened Seattle’s first store, the Seattle Exchange. Nearly every person that has visited Seattle knows about Henry Yesler, the man who built the saw-mill that soon became Seattle’s livelihood. Not all that many, however, know that Maynard gave up very valuable land in order to convince Yesler to build his mill in Seattle rather than Olympia. Maynard knew that “the town that got Yesler’s steam mill would have a toehold on the future,” and so he was quite happy to make the sacrifice so that the town would grow. 6  This investment was wise; “After the first shipments of locally milled spars, pilings, shingles, sawed lumber, and cordwood left Yesler’s Warf for San Francisco in 1853, Seattle and King County ceased being secrets to the outside world” 7  

            Doc Maynard treated Seattle as if it were destined to be a big city; he donated land to any person that showed potential to make the town rich. “He gave one of the best lots…to Captain Felker for twenty dollars and a promise that Felker would build a big house on it. He donated two acres to the Methodist missionaries, asking only that they clear it as soon as possible…He wanted a blacksmith very much.” 7 When a traveler came along who knew the business of blacksmithing better than he did, Maynard sold him the shed, equipment, and title – everything that he would need to run the business – for ten dollars. It is obvious that these sacrifices that Doc made had a huge part to play in making Seattle; without the many businesses that Maynard talked into staying in the Seattle area, the town would have never grown the way that it did.

The Indians 

            Throughout his life, Doc Maynard was constantly advocating for Chief Sealth and the other Indians in the Seattle area. Unfortunately, this didn’t make much difference in the attitudes of the townspeople. The feelings of Seattle’s inhabitants ranged from mistrust to apathy, both of which are expressed in a letter by Reverend Mr. Blaine to his mother-in-law; “Once we could have hoped to do them good, but alas, they are…coarse, filthy, [and] debased natives…” 8 Doc’s view was obviously very different. Understanding completely the Indians’ tendency to lift the bottle a little too often, he was much less likely to judge them for their activities. “He learned their language, doctored their illnesses, drank their liquor, [and] paddled their canoes.” 9 Maynard knew the injustices that the settlers had forced upon the Indians and was very sorry for it.  

            The Salish Indian tribes were peaceful and never became involved in the many wars of the other tribes. When the settlers first came, the Indians were happy to have them. Being slow to anger, they did not fight back when the settlers took miles of their land and by the time they understood what was happening, it was much too late. In 1854 the white men decided that it was for the Indians own good that they be put on reservations which would be reduced in size each year. 10

             In 1853 Maynard was named Special Indian Agent for the Seattle. “Of all the tasks Maynard undertook on behalf of the community, this was to be the most successfully executed – and the most disastrous to himself.” 11 It was also the one thing which the citizens of Seattle appreciated the least. Doc Maynard was probably a successful diplomat to the Indians because of the very fact that he was a doctor. He was a definite “improvement over the medicine man…which tended to kill” rather than heal the people. 12 The Indians trusted Doc and he had no trouble arranging meetings between the Indians and settlers because of this.

             Unfortunately, the Indians knew that they had no choice but to accept the white man’s plans for their future. The settlers had laid out a plan which would call for a revolt by the Indians under nearly any circumstances. After taking in three children orphaned by the massacre of Potter’s Prairie, Maynard set about trying to keep peace. He rounded up all of the friendly neighboring tribes and moved them across the Sound in order to keep them safe from the angry settlers. The Indians however did not want to go because it was the wrong time of year to leave their homes. They only left with the promise by Maynard that the government would supply lumber to build homes in the new area. When the Indians said they couldn’t move in canoes, Doc Maynard hired a schooner, and when they claimed their food supply was short Doc Maynard promised not to let them starve. 13 

              Doc’s friendship and power with the Indians was exemplified in many instances, but none so much as the one that took place shortly after he moved them to safety. When Chief Sealth heard a rumor that a warrior was going to assassinate the Indian leader, he felt that it could not be ignored. Since Maynard was the Indian agent for the Seattle area, Chief Sealth thought that he was the natural target and “persuaded the Doctor to take off his dark suit and wrap himself in a blanket. Maynard even put aside his octagonal glasses to make it more difficult for an assassin to spot him, but after a day he put them back on with the comment that he’d rather be killed than stumble to death.” 14 The fact that Chief Sealth thought that it was Maynard’s life that was at stake and not his own means a lot. In the eyes of the very chief of the Indians, it was Maynard who was their leader.

Early King County Marriages

            Apparently Maynard did such a fantastic job convincing the Oregon Legislature to give him a divorce that they felt it fitting to appoint him justice of the peace as well as notary public for the newly created King County. Only eight days after his own wedding, Doc Maynard performed King County’s first marriage. “On January 23, 1853…Dr. David S. Maynard issues the new King County’s first marriage license and presides at the wedding of Seattle pioneers David T. Denny and Louisa Boren.” 15 

            David and Louisa Denny’s marriage may have been the first in King County, but it definitely wasn’t Doc’s most famous. The most notorious wedding ceremony that Maynard oversaw was one that involved his wife Catherine’s family. The son of Mike Simmons – the very Mike Simmons who tried so furiously to keep Doc Maynard and Catherine apart – came to the Maynard’s home one morning. His name was Christopher Columbus Simmons (named so because he was born on Columbia’s banks during his family’s trip west) and he had a young girl with him. The two wanted to get married, but the girl had to admit that she was only thirteen. Believing that anyone in love should get married, the doctor came up with a plan. Taking two pieces of paper, he wrote the number eighteen on both of them. At his behest, the young girl put one in each shoe. Together the three traveled to the home of Reverend Daniel Bagley and requested that the two be married. When the reverend objected saying that the girl was much too young, Maynard was able to say – honestly – that he was “positive that she [was] over eighteen, absolutely positive.” 16 Of course, Maynard’s brother in law and the parents of the young girl were irate. Once again Doc had disregarded his own well being and done just what he thought he should do.

Why Doc Maynard lost faith in the government

            Having spent many years trying to ease relations with the Indians, Maynard became an outcast to the very city that was profiting because of his efforts. Having promised the Indians safety – at the United States’ government’s request – on the western side of the sound, Maynard understood the consequences of not following through with this promise. When the government informed Maynard that it would be months before any money was available, he used his own money. He bought loads of lumber for the Indian’s new homes, he rented a schooner, and he used food supplies from his own store. 17 The government, not surprisingly, never reimbursed Maynard for this crucial investment.  

            Not only was the doctor never paid back for the money he spent appeasing the community’s neighboring Indian population, the very fact that he was doing such a good job of being Seattle’s Special Indian Agent meant that he was ostracized from his town. “It was useless for him to point out that it was his duty to mingle with Indians, useless to say that his friendship with some of them had lessened the danger to the community. His friends understood, those who knew him less well he could not reach. He was an Indian lover.” 18 

            When his duties caused the Maynard family to move their home back into the center of Seattle, they opened up a hospital. Unfortunately, Doc’s kind heart demanded that he treat Indians as well as whites and he soon had to close the hospital because none of the settlers would venture there. Doc Maynard was once again trapped between what he felt was his duty to the town and what the other community members seemed to want. 

            Neither of these events was as disheartening for Doc Maynard as the one which involved his former wife, Lydia. When Maynard had first ventured to the Seattle area – prior to his divorce – he claimed a large amount of land in his wife Lydia’s name. After he married Catherine, the land was naturally claimed in her name instead of Lydia’s. When Lydia learned “probably from some busy patriot who did not care for…Maynard,”19 she started west immediately. Obviously, she had no care for Maynard’s affections, she was only interested in the large portion of downtown Seattle – which she never knew she owned in the first place – that had been taken away from her because of the divorce. Lydia attempted to claim the land as her own, but this was not allowed because she had never lived on it. Doc Maynard was overjoyed because he believed that Catherine would then be awarded the title. Unfortunately, the court ruled that Catherine had not settled on the land in time to claim it and insisted that her half of the Maynard property be returned to the government.

             Maynard had given so much of his land away that he no longer owned most of the land which was being disputed. “Hundreds were vitally interested in the decision because Maynard had disposed of most of his land; whichever way the ruling went, a considerable portion of Seattle’s property owners were going to find themselves without a valid title to their land.” 20    Being near his death, Maynard did not care about anything except the fact that Catherine had been deprived of her land. Once he died, Catherine would not even have a home to live in (in fact, Catherine eventually died after wandering around for days looking for a place to stay on the property that her husband had so generously donated many years before). 

           When he had held office, Maynard had done everything in his power to help his community. In his later days, however, he learned that he was the only one who held such a principle. “They had short-changed him for his services, they had deprived him of his land grant, they would not even repay the money he spent in line of duty as Indian agent.” 21 Having been one of the greatest members of the institution, Doc was now shunted by the very government that his inclusion had made great.

Why Doc Maynard isn’t remembered the way that he should be

            Unlike “Honest Abe” and George Washington, Doc Maynard did not act according to society’s expectations. Although he was arguably a much better man than these two, his relations with the Indians, his fondness for the bottle, and his difficulty with his first marriage kept him from ever having a chance to recieve the kind of admiration that he deserves. Perhaps much of Seattle forgot his contributions before he had even died, but Maynard was truly a shaping force behind the city. As one of his fellow citizens said at his funeral, “Without him, Seattle will not be the same. Without him, Seattle would not have been the same. Indeed, without him, Seattle might not be.” 22


1. Murray Morgan, Skid Road, an Informal Portrait of Seattle (Seattle-London: University of Washington Press, 1995), 11

2. “Seattle Heroine Ninety Years Old.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer (5 Aug. 1905), 7 

3. Thomas W. Prosch, David S. and Catherine T. Maynard. (Seattle: Lowman and Hanford Stationary and Printing Company, 1906), 66 

4. Prosch, 70-71

5. Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County (Chicago-Seattle: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929)

6. Junius Rochester, “King County, Founding of” [], November 10, 1998

7. Morgan, 20-21

8. Morgan, 37-38 

9. Morgan, 39           

10. Morgan, 41

11. Morgan, 42        

12. Morgan, 43

13. Morgan, 46

14. Morgan, 48

15. Walt Crowley, “Marriage Unites David Denny and Louisa Boren on January 23, 1853” []

16. Morgan, 53

17. Morgan, 47

18. Morgan, 52

19. Morgan, 55

20. Morgan, 55

21. Morgan, 56

22. Morgan, 57


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