In 1857, coal mine manager Edmund C. Fitzhugh killed a drunken trespasser in his garden. Though Fitzhugh was under indictment for murder and only marginally qualified for the position, U.S. president James Buchanan made the stunning decision to appoint him to Washington Territory's District and Supreme Courts.
The blue blood Virginian lawyer migrated to the California gold rush in 1849. After Fitzhugh's San Francisco law partner and others invested in a new Bellingham Bay coal mine, he moved north to open it. During the next ten years--including a few as Democratic Party chairman--he built and exploited his political network. In addition to serving on the federal bench and managing the militarily strategic mine, he was a county auditor, became Governor Isaac Stevens' Treaty War military aide and Indian agent, and helped Stevens run the 1860 Breckinridge for President national campaign. During the Civil War he returned home and was Confederate General Eppa Hunton's staff officer. After the war, he practiced law in a small Iowa town. Fitzhugh devastated the lives of four wives and six children, and eventually died alone in the fleabag remnant of a once-prestigious San Francisco hotel.
Author Candace Wellman spent more than two decades researching Fitzhugh's life and contributions--both good and bad--to Pacific Northwest history. Although the court system played a large part in the region's future, Man of Treacherous Charm is the first full biography of an early Washington Territory justice. The volume offers unique insights into the people, personalities, politics, and practices of the territory and the American West in the 19th century.