The almost incredible diversity of Asa Mercer's experiences is striking. In adventures spanning the American continent, Asa was a surveyor, teacher, immigration promoter, collector of customs, ship salvager, manager of a shipping line, editor and publisher of books and newspapers, and finally a farmer and rancher. The list boggles the mind, and the unlikelihood of it all mounts up when one considers that these experiences were mostly financed by others' money. It is, withal, a remarkable story, and if written as fiction, would be termed unbelievable.
His tale of the Johnson County War, and the story of "Mercer's Belles" are his best-known legacies today, but his career in the West encompassed far more, and his life is for the first time given full consideration in this excellent new biography.
Seattle, 1861. After helping to survey Seattle, Mercer became the first instructor at the University of Washington (and, according to his memory, its first president), when it was a fledgling institution with one building and virtually no students. Through 1863 he directed the small school and recruited most of its students. He also was elected to and served one term in the territorial legislature.
Mercer's Belles: Appointed as Immigration Commissioner for Washington Territory in 1863, he undertook the heavy responsibility of trying to correct the 9 to 1 imbalance of men to women. The story of his recruitment of women and others to immigrate to the Northwest is treated in detail. Secretary of War Stanton, Gen. U. S. Grant and many others, including stage coach king Ben Holladay, play prominent roles in this bizarre scheme.
Promotional work: While in the Pacific Northwest, he authored The Washington Territory: The Great North-West, Her Material Resources and Claims to Emigration (1865). This was the first of many promotional tracts prepared throughout his career on various Western locations, all of which have become exceedingly scarce and extremely collectible.
Oregon: As customs collector in Astoria, Oregon, he was accused of and tried for smuggling. He then became involved in shipping concerns and real estate speculation around Astoria. It was in western Oregon that he began his journalism career.
Texas: In the early 1880s he founded and edited a number of newspapers in north Texas in the counties bordering the Red River and into the Panhandle, and became acquainted with range cattle industry.
Wyoming and the Johnson County War: As founder and editor of the Northwestern Live Stock Journal he became associated with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He served as their mouthpiece until the infamous 1892 invasion of Johnson County by cattle barons, whereupon he turned on his supporters and wrote the classic Banditti of the Plains.
Big Horn Basin: Mercer finished his long life on the western slopes of the Big Horn Mountains, and for him to finish a lifetime of adventure in such a quiet place was almost anticlimactic. He was still a booster and speculator, chasing oil claims and writing promotional tracts until his death in 1917.
The work includes notes, bibliography, and index. Printed on acid-free paper and bound in rich red linen cloth with foil stamped spine and front cover. Issued in a limited edition of 500 copies. Western Frontiersmen Series, XXXI.