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Murder at Greenleaf Farm: The Tragic Downfall of Theodore Cushing and His Ties to Francis H. Cook an

by Ty Brown

Theodore Cushing arrived on the west coast from Chicago and made his home in Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 1883. While a resident of Portland, he invested in real estate in Spokane Falls and made a small for- tune in the rise in values there. Cushing’s brother, William, was already well established in the area and operated a large mercantile store, Cushing and Bryan, in the town of Mead, just north of the city. Theodore moved to Spokane in 1888 and erected a flamboyant building which was known as the Cushing block on the northwest corner of Howard and Sprague. This building was the first commercial building designed by famed architect, Kirtland Cutter. Cushing was the director of the Washington National Bank and the Washington Savings Bank of Spokane Falls located in his new building.

The first commercial building designed by Kirtland Cutter was the Theodore Custing Building on the northwest corner of Sprague and Howard. Started before the Great Fire of 1889 ad completed afterward. This exotic onion domed structure was the home of the Washington National Bank, led by Cushing, and later demolished. (Spokane Falls Illustrated)

During the Panic of 1893, Cushing lost the block to foreclosure and it later become known as the Spokane and Eastern Trust Company. This space is currently occupied by the Bank of America tower, constructed in 1980. Following the financial downturn, Cushing took up residence at a farm owned by his father-in-law, Thomas Hampton, on the Little Spokane River (site of the present-day Pine River Park housing development). United States General Land Office Records indicate that Hampton acquired the 80 acres of land in 1894. The farm became known as Greenleaf and, like other properties in the area, it specialized in dairy farming. Cushing took a keen interest in the operations and lived in the large farmhouse with his wife, Blanche, and two small children, along with his mother- and father-in-law, the Hamptons. At one point, Cushing and his father-in-law owned 320 acres of land on both sides of the river.

This seemingly successful life would change forever with the events of May 14, 1895. According to the Spokane Chronicle, “yesterday it (the farm) was a place of happiness, today gloom hangs like a pall over the beautiful home of Theodore Cushing and all is mourning over the fatal tragedy that has at least temporarily robbed a home of a husband and father.”

Newspapers from around the region ran headlines telling of a farm owner and prominent businessman who killed his hired hand. According to trial testimony, Cushing and Thomas King, a man hired to do odd jobs on the property, got into an altercation over wages. King felt that Cushing owed him wages for work he had performed, but Cushing wanted to pay him later, after a trip to town to get the money.

A trail of blood was found leading from the front porch of the house to the rear where the dying man was found. According to the paper, an inspection of the wounds indicated that King had been shot from behind with both barrels of a shotgun and his body was riddled with over twenty buckshot wounds that passed clean through. In addition, there was a triangular wound an inch or two long that penetrated to the skull on the left side of his head. This appeared to have been inflicted with a blunt instrument, probably the shotgun, because the barrel was found to be bent. King bled to death in the yard of the farmhouse while Cushing went for help. Mrs. Cushing and her parents were at the home at the time, but did not witness the shooting. Cushing claimed he shot King in self-defense, because he feared for his life after being threatened by King. When interviewed by a reporter at the Spokane County Jail, Cushing went on to say “I am not a desperado. Those who know me ought to realize that I would not commit an act of this kind without ample justification. This man had worked for me for a few months. It was done solely in self-defense. I deemed that my life was in imminent peril.” 

After a long trial, it was determined that King did not charge at Cushing with a club or weapon of any sort and that Cushing shot King in cold blood. Cushing had been charged with first degree murder, but was convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary. Upon appeal, the charge was reduced to manslaughter and Cushing’s sentence was reduced to seven years.

The 1900 Census lists Cushing as a 52-year-old prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Thomas Hampton, his father-in-law, died shortly after the murder on March 30, 1896, at the farm, according to Washington State Death Records. All indications are that his wife, Blanche, left for Portland with the children when Cushing went to jail and after her father died. The 1905 Portland City Directory lists her residing in the Rose City at 386 Ross Street. She died in Portland in 1910 at the young age of 46.

Cushing served his sentence and moved back to Spokane. According to the 1903 Spokane City Directory, he lived at East 218 Nora and worked as the manager of the Spokane branch of the D.B. Scully Syrup Company, based in Chicago. He was trying to get back on his feet, after jail, when he unexpectedly died on a business trip to San Francisco at the age of 57. He is buried at Greenwood Memorial Terrace in Spokane.

During Cushing’s appeal, his lawyer, Blake and Post, called Francis H. Cook as a character witness for the defense. Cook was a close friend and neighbor of Cushing and believed that Cushing was an innocent man. Oral histories of the Cook children reveal that Cook was an eloquent speaker who helped Cushing get his sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter.

Francis H. Cook is known as a founding father of Spokane. He is credited with printing Spokane’s first newspaper, The Spokan Times (Cook intentionally left the e off the title) and establishing the first motorized train line in the city. This Spokane-Montrose Line ran south from downtown to the area now known as Manito Park. Cook farmed 640 acres of the South Hill and established what became Cook’s Addition and Manito Park. Like Cushing, Cook and his family moved to their property on the Little Spokane River, just south of Greenleaf Farm, after the financial collapse of 1893. Soon after Cushing’s conviction and Hampton’s death, the Cook family rented the Greenleaf farmhouse and lived there for approximately ten years while they developed their property, which would ultimately become Wandermere Golf Course.

Ralph Cook plowing, 1944. Ralph Cook was the youngest of the eleven Cook children and was born in the Greenleaf farmhouse. He would later go on to have his own farm north of Deer Park and raise his daughter, Doris Jean, with his wife Lillie. (Photo Courtest of Cook Family)

The tragic event at Greenleaf Farm changed the lives of many. For the Cooks it meant the opportunity to live in a larger house that met the needs of their growing family, which eventually included eleven children. The youngest child, Ralph Cook, was born in the farmhouse in 1900.

In 1917, the property was sold to James Hansen, whose daughter, Lillie, would marry Ralph Cook on December 9, 1918. Ralph and Lillie met while Cook was working as the ranch foreman for the former Francis H. Cook property, subsequently owned by John D. Porter and known as the Porter Ranch. Lillie Cook often told people that her husband was born in her bedroom.

Through the years, Greenleaf Farm was productive as a hay and dairy facility, but, by the 1950s, most of the farmland was sold to developers. It was platted as Greenleaf Addition and eventually became the housing development known as Pine River Park. The original farmhouse still stands on one and a quarter acres and the current owners, Chuck and Joni Titus along with Sadie, their dog, have enjoyed the property since 1984. Many additions have been made to the structure and most of the surrounding land is now swallowed up by suburban sprawl, but Greenleaf Farm has a storied history that lives on.

Greenleaf Farm has experienced many changes over the years and has been the center of several families lives. Since 1984, Chuck and Joni Titus have enjoyed this property just off the banks of the Little Spokane River. (Photo by Ty Brown)

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