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Thomas & Elizabeth Tannatt: Pioneer & Civil War Officer

Thomas Redding Tannatt

September 27, 1833 - December 20, 1913

Elizabeth Forester Tappan

December 10, 1837 – February 22, 1920

Thomas Tannatt was born on September 27, 1833, at Verplanck Point, New York. After the death of his father in 1845, Thomas boarded with friends in Salem, Massachusetts, and served an apprenticeship in construction and studying engineering. He was self-disciplined, conscientious, studious, and deeply religious. In 1854, Thomas entered West Point. His record was exemplary and he graduated seventh in his class.

Elizabeth Forester Tappan was born on December 10, 1837, in one of the wealthier families in Manchester, Massachusetts. She attended the highly regarded Chapel School in Manchester and graduated from the Charlestown Female Seminary

In 1856, Thomas met Elizabeth Forester Tappan while he was at West Point. They were married on April 18, 1860, and soon moved to Fort Randall, Dakota Territory, after Thomas was promoted to 2nd lieutenant, 4th Artillery. At the beginning of the Civil War, Thomas and the 4th Artillery left Fort Randall on foot reaching St. Joseph, Missouri, in December 1861. Elizabeth was active in nursing soldiers during the war.

Thomas was promoted to colonel of the 16th Massachusetts Volunteers in July 1862 and in August, fought at the Battle of Malvern Hill near Richmond, Virginia. There he sustained a shoulder injury. His service culminated with the Petersburg Campaign. On June 16, 1864, they were engaged in a fierce battle where Col. Tannatt was struck in the forehead by a minie ball, rendering him unfit to return to active duty and causing cerebral problems for years to come. He resigned on July 18, 1864. Upon leaving the military, Thomas received an honorary promotion to the rank of brevet brigadier general.

Thomas returned to Manchester before moving to Colorado to secure mining interests. Ill health forced his resignation, and the Tannants eventually moved to Tennessee where he was involved with the Tennessee Immigration Association. In Tennessee, Tannatt’s GAR background was met with antagonism and, in 1876, they returned to Manchester where he became a general agent for the Oregon & California Railroad Company.

On April 1, 1880, Thomas resigned to accept a similar position in Portland, Oregon, where he entertained many distinguished guests including President [Rutherford B.] Hayes and Generals Sherman & McCook. Next, Thomas was assigned to Walla Walla, at that time the largest city in Washington Territory. Thomas’s political career began when he was elected mayor in 1883. Elizabeth transplanted the values and ideals of middle-class East Coast women to the Inland Empire. One of the most important of these was the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, who with the Woman's Relief Corps cooperated in providing food and shelter for people in need. Elizabeth served as president.

Relocating to Farmington presented Elizabeth and Thomas with new challenges and opportunities. Thomas had begun experimenting with orchards and packing plants. He established the Poplar Crest Orchards, specializing in apples and pears. Among the accolades he received were first prize at a National Apple Show in Spokane for a carload of non-irrigated commercial winter apples and a silver medal at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He also started a hardware business.

In April 1893, Thomas accepted a position as a member of the Board of Regents of Washington Agricultural College (present Washington State University) at Pullman, Washington. He served until October 6, 1899. Elizabeth had been busy with significant endeavors, and was a moving force in forming the Esther Reed Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, the first in Spokane, on June 14, 1900. She was the first chapter historian and the first state vice-regent.

Elizabeth and Thomas shared a mutual interest in preservation of local historic sites. With several members of the Esther Reed Chapter they embarked on a campaign to place a monument at the Steptoe Battlefield. They traveled to Rosalia and met with three survivors of the campaign who were able to identify the location of the battlefield. The formal dedication of the battleground occurred on June 15, 1908, with an address by General Tannatt. On June 15, 1914, the ceremony dedicating the completed monument was held, with an large crowd including Governor Ernest Lister, the three battle survivors, 400 uniformed soldiers from Fort George Wright and, members of the Esther Reed Chapter of the DAR.

In 1906, Elizabeth and Thomas moved to Spokane and sold the Poplar Crest Orchards. Thomas died on December 20, 1913. The headline in the Spokesman-Review read “Lincoln Adviser in War Dies Here.” Elizabeth passed away on February 22, 1920. Her obituary in the Spokesman-Review stressed her involvement in many philanthropic activities, including Red Cross work. The couple embraced the West, always seeking civic improvement and volunteerism in their new environment.


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