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William Horatio Lewis: Early Spokane Police Officer

William Horatio Lewis

November 24, 1855 – July 1, 1944

William H. “Will” Lewis was born in Manlius, New York. In the 1870s he moved west and became a stagecoach driver in Montana, Wyoming, and the Black Hills. In his memoirs Lewis wrote that while driving the stagecoach, he was the first civilian to arrive at Custer’s Battlefield. While there, he picked up a flute made from the barrel of a Springfield rifle.

Lewis was a police officer in Helena, Montana, from 1882 to 1887. He married Catherine “Kate” Linebarger on October 31, 1883. Their children, Alliette and Charles, were born in Helena.

The Lewis family moved to Spokane Falls in 1887, where he was immediately hired as a guard for prisoners at the town jail. Lewis was officially sworn in as a special officer for the Spokane Police Department on June 4, 1887. A month later, due to Lewis’s pride in his Helena Police Department uniform, Chief Joel Warren directed him to wear it while patrolling the town. The uniform made such a positive impression that Chief Warren required everyone on the police force to wear one. This was the beginning of uniformed officers in the city.

Lewis became a regular officer on the force in May 1888. By 1891, soon after an ordinance was passed creating the position, he was named as the first detective on the department. In 1893, he left the force to delve into mining in British Columbia and the Coeur d’Alenes.

Officer Lewis was credited with being the first person in Spokane to throw a bowling ball in 1889 during the dedication of the first bowling alley in the city, leading to a life-long passion for bowling.

In 1897, Lewis returned to the police force as a special officer. In 1898, when the first patrol wagon was commissioned, he was assigned as one of the first drivers for the department and was promoted to the position of regular officer.

In 1909, as the first police photographer, Lewis began taking photographs and keeping them in a file, thus beginning the identification unit for the department. Lewis’s Rogue’s Gallery was the biggest in the state and one of the most complete in the United States. Shortly thereafter he added thumbprints to the mug shots. He was a student of the Bertillon and the Henry identification systems. Fellow law enforcement officers traveled to Spokane from all over the country to view the Lewis collection and to learn from him.

The police department’s first automated police signal system was designed by Lewis and city electrician Albert F. Thielman. This call-box system was approved by the city council and installed on twenty-four street corners in the downtown area by March 1909.

The Spokane Police Beneficial Association was organized by Lewis in 1903 with the stated purpose to provide for officers and their families should they be injured or die while on duty. Lewis was referred to as the “father” of the organization. Later he was instrumental in creating a retirement system for the department.

Lewis was a strong family man and his handshake was indicative of the strength of his character. He was periodically called upon to act as chief of security at the Spokane Interstate Fair and was assigned to numerous dignitary details including presidential visits and security for the National Tour of the Liberty Bell in 1915. According to Lewis, the toughest time the Spokane Police Department ever had was during the rebuilding period after the Great Fire of 1889. In January 1910, Lewis became the first inspector on the department. He held this position until his retirement from the department on April 1, 1918, at the age of 62, with twenty-seven years of service to the community. In the 1930s, Lewis was made honorary chief of police for the day during Senior Citizenship Week.


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