Oswald West, Governor

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Oswald West

Birthdate: (87)
Death: 1960 (87)
Immediate Family:

Son of John Gullivar West and Sarah B. MacGregor
Husband of Mabel Hutton
Brother of Albert Edward West

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Oswald West, Governor


Oswald West (May 20, 1873 – August 22, 1960) was an American politician, a Democrat, who served most notably as the 14th Governor of Oregon.

He was called "Os West" by Oregon writer Stewart Holbrook, who described him as "by all odds the most brilliant governor Oregon ever had."


West was born in Ontario, Canada but moved to Salem, Oregon with his family at the age of four where he attended school and eventually went into banking. After several years as a banker in Salem and Astoria, and a six month stint searching for gold in Alaska, West gained an appointment as the State Land Agent. He proved effective in his position, recovering almost 1 million acres (4,000 km²) of fraudulently held state land.

In 1907, West left his position as Land Agent and was appointed to the Oregon Railroad Commission, where he again found a great deal of success.

Governor of Oregon

In 1910, he gained the Democratic nomination for Governor and went on to defeat his opponent, Jay Bowerman, and take office in 1911. While in office, West defended what he called the Oregon System which included initiative and referendum systems still in use in many western American states today. Through these processes women's suffrage, various workers rights laws and most infamously prohibition all came into effect during West's administration.

West established Oregon's beach highway law, proclaiming the entire Pacific coastline — today's Highway 101 — to be a public highway, thereby preserving scenery for future generations. The law protecting public access to the high-water line remains in effect on Oregon beaches, which were formally protected by Governor Tom McCall in 1967.

West is also credited with establishing Oregon's highway system, when in 1913 the Oregon HIghway Commission was created by the Oregon Legislative Assembly, levying a tax upon all property to fund the establishment of a state roadway system. The tax raised $700,000 during its first year, money which was targeted to the development of three major road routes — the Coast Highway (Highway 101), the Pacific Highway from Portland through the Willamette Valley, and the Columbia River Highway connecting Portland with Eastern Oregon.

He addressed a national convention of governors in New Jersey in 1911, on the topic of prison labor.[5]

Prohibition advocate

See also: Alcohol in Oregon

West was a fervent prohibitionist. He believed so strongly in the idea that he once declared martial law on New Year's Eve 1913 in order to shut down liquor-selling establishments in the town of Copperfield, Oregon.[6] He then dispatched National Guard troops, chaperoned by his own personal secretary Fern Hobbs on January 2, 1914 to enforce the order and shut down the saloons. The move made headlines across the country. When his "invasion" of the small town in Baker County failed to garner local support he sought, (but failed) to void the town's incorporation citing that it was "in the hands of a lawless element." He also once declared that he wanted to "shoot a bartender."

Reputation and legacy

Bend Mayor George Palmer Putnam criticized West in a New York Times interview shortly after the Copperfield affair. Putnam asserted that the Governor's theatrical methods, and his inordinate attention to the affairs of local communities, detracted from the governance and national image of the state as a whole.

West's time as governor is still felt in Oregon today because of his work to protect the state's natural resources. It was under his administration the beaches bordering the Pacific Ocean were protected for public use; the office of State Forester and the Bureau of Forestry were established; and the Fish Commission and Game Commission were created.

West served only one term, opting not to run for re-election in 1914. Instead, he moved his family to Portland where he practiced law. He was the Democratic party's nominee for the United States Senate in 1918,[9] but lost to Charles L. McNary. After the run he largely limited his involvement in politics to spirited letters to the editor[10] but was an influential adviser to Governor Charles H. Martin in the 1930s. He retired from his law practice after suffering a heart attack in 1945.

West died in Portland on August 22, 1960, and is buried in the Mount Crest Abbey Mausoleum in Salem, Oregon.

Oswald West State Park on the Oregon Coast is named in his honor.

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Oswald West, Governor's Timeline

Age 87