All Over The Map: How were Lincoln, Mason and Okanogan counties named?

Aug 26, 2022, 9:10 AM | Updated: Jan 19, 2023, 8:59 am

Episode number eight of “County Countdown” – a multi-year, thirteen-part All Over The Map series about the place-name origins of Washington counties and county seats – is the #LMAO edition. In this case, “LMAO,” of course, stands for Lincoln, Mason, and Okanogan counties.

Lincoln County

Lincoln County is in Eastern Washington, northwest of Spokane along US Highway 2. It was created November 24, 1883, from part of Spokane County, and it was named, not surprisingly, after Abraham Lincoln. There was talk at the time of sycophantically naming it “Sprague County” after Northern Pacific Railway president John W. Sprague – who is also a Tacoma co-founder as well as that city’s first mayor.

The county seat is Davenport, which is on Highway 2 west of Reardan, and was named for merchant J.C. Davenport. Rumors are that many people living in the area in 2022 are much more partial to the town’s earlier name: the evocative and poetic “Cottonwood Springs.”

Part of the story gets complicated, as is often the case with local history. The Lincoln County town of Sprague – a railroad town which was more successful in naming itself for John Sprague – stole the county seat away from Davenport in a dubious election in 1884.

Somehow, the 600 or 700 residents living in Sprague in 1884 cast more than 1,000 votes in favor of moving the county seat there. An old history book from the early 20th-century quotes sources who say those extra votes came from children and from railroad passengers who happened to be traveling through Sprague on election day. After the contested ballot, an armed mob from Sprague – who had been deputized by city officials – descended on Davenport and captured the county records. Davenport won everything back in a process regarded as much fairer in 1896.

Because Davenport is still the county seat, it’s home this year – through Saturday, Aug. 27 – to the 84th edition of the Lincoln County Fair, replete with rides, animals, food, and everything required for a summertime agricultural and cultural celebration.

Also taking place in Davenport – though only Saturday, Aug. 27 – is an all-day event called “Vintage Harvest,” offering free rides on vintage farm equipment dating to more than a hundred years ago. Participants will climb aboard and ride along while skilled farmers harvest “dryland” wheat – that is, not artificially irrigated – which that part of the Evergreen State is famous for.

The organizer of the event is a lifelong Davenport resident: 84-year-old Irene Wilkie. She’s a volunteer for Lincoln County Museums, the official producer of Vintage Harvest.

“It’s starting about 8 o’clock,” Wilkie told KIRO Newsradio. “And then they’ll start harvesting and you can get rides on the combines and on the tractors. There’s going to be old trucks and old cars, old tractors. A lot of old things that you can see. Plus, you can buy books, shirts, buttons, and all of this money goes toward the museum.”

Vintage Harvest originated in the 1990s and is making its first appearance since 2019 after being canceled for the past two years because of the pandemic.

Mason County

Mason County, west of Olympia, was carved from Thurston County on March 13, 1854. It was originally called Sawamish County, after Indigenous people who lived in that area for millennia. The county was renamed in 1864 for Charles H. Mason, first secretary of Washington Territory and acting governor during the treaty war, who had passed away in 1859.

The county seat is Shelton, named for David Shelton, homesteader of 1853, member of the territorial legislature, and organizer of the effort to create Sawamish County. Later, Shelton sponsored the bill renaming the county for Charles H. Mason. The first county seat was at Oakland, a community on Oakland Bay.

And, for the record, there’s no more county fair in Mason County – the last one was held in Shelton in 2014 – but there are several other events that have, according to the chamber of commerce, taken up much of the slack.

Okanogan County

Okanogan County is in North Central Washington. It’s the biggest county in the state, and was created from a portion of Stevens County on February 2, 1888. Several old books say that the name of the county – and the county seat, the city of Okanogan – comes from an Indigenous word meaning “rendezvous,” relating to an age-old meeting place where the Okanogan River begins at Osoyoos Lake in British Columbia.

The original county seat was at Ruby, and it was then moved to Conconully – which had previously been known as Salmon City. Okanogan wrested the county seat away from Conconully in the election of November 1914 – with, apparently, no Sprague-like electoral shenanigans.

Rest assured that this timeline – or any remaining bad blood over the location of the county seat – are unlikely to be discussed at the Okanogan County Fair, which kicks off in Okanogan Thursday, Sept. 8.

Check out earlier episodes of KIRO Radio’s All Over The Map: County Countdown!

County Countdown Episode One

County Countdown Episode Two

County Countdown Episode Three

County Countdown Episode Four

County Countdown Episode Five

County Countdown Episode Six

County Countdown Episode Seven

In the next episode, we’ll be minding our historic Ps in Pacific, Pend Oreille and Pierce counties.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or questions, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: How were Lincoln, Mason and Okanogan counties named?