Born in Missouri in 1850, Turner left his one-room school house the same year he began attending. At age 11, after just three months of formal schooling, Turner began work in telegraphy. The next year, he went to the front in the Civil War to serve as a telegraph operator for the Union troops. When the war was over, he continued to work in telegraphy, but spent all of his free time studying law. By the age of 19, he was admitted to the bar.
In 1884, he was appointed to the Supreme Court of the Washington Territory. As an associate justice, Turner recalled, his circuit-judging covered "the region east of the Columbia and north of the Snake, and I traveled by railroad, skiff and buckboard to hold court at Yakima and Ellensburg."
Five years later, he was a member of the convention that drafted the constitution for the new state of Washington. He personally wrote some of its most important elements, including its bill of rights.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n 1893, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate but ran again in 1897 and won. Remarkably, neither Turner nor his opponent put up any cash for the election. Back in those days, you see, senators were elected by their state legislatures -- and it doesn't cost anything to lobby your fellow legislators.
As a newly elected populist senator, Turner spoke out against proposed restrictions on immigration: "For myself, I would as soon refuse food and drink to the hungry and thirsty as to push away from our shores the poor struggling unfortunate who seeks for himself and his children the boon of freedom and enlightenment at our hands." He ended his speech with a strong plea for an open door.
Turner was also opposed to the annexation of the Philippines, warning that it would mean "a permanent colonial system" and that "every drop of blood shed in the Revolutionary War was a protest against such a system." On the other hand, his views weren't entirely enlightened: He believed that American Indians did not "possess" the "instinct or capacity" for "orderly government." But he insisted that "the same thing cannot be said of Filipinos."
Turner also took issue with the railroad magnates of his day, saying that "The robber barons of the Middle Ages were not more ruthless in their forays upon the unwary traveler passing along the roads beneath their castles than the railroad barons of today are in their forays upon the general public."
Turner had a particular run-in with the railroads over some tidelands. Turner wanted the areas preserved; the railroads wanted to control them for their own uses. In the thick of the fight, railroad representative said, "Turner, you are tired out. You need a rest. I can get you a fee of $25,000."
Turner responded, "If I did not know you haven't any sense and don't realize what you are attempting, I would throw you out of my office. I do not need a vacation, and I am going to stay here and perform my duty to the people of this state." The tidelands were saved.
Following his term as a senator, Turner was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to represent the United States as a member of the Alaska Boundary Tribunal. There, he settled a dispute in favor of the United States over harbor access at Skagway and Dyea, Alaska, which were entryways to the Klondike gold fields.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n the course of his life, Turner travelled widely, always accompanied by his wife, the former Bertha C. Dreher, a Southern belle from Alabama who had many friends from all walks of life. She entertained in elegant fashion at the Seventh Avenue home, including at the teahouse that still stands in the gardens today. Her guests included Theodore Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan, as well as royalty and nobility. Though she tended to stay out of political discussions, she did support women's suffrage. And while the Turners had no children, they opened their home to young people among their extended families and friends.
George Turner did well with his investments. He turned substantial profits on sales of both the LeRoi Mine and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.
On the day Turner celebrated his 80th birthday (Feb. 25, 1930), he said, "When I go out on the mountains about Spokane, I am amazed by its growth and marvel at the energy which made it the city that it is."
He died in January 1932 in his home, one month before his 82nd birthday. Superior courts adjourned for his funeral and the state Legislature commemorated Turner -- just as he continues to be commemorated by the Spokane gardens that bear his name.
The Moore-Turner Heritage Gardens, located next to the Corbin Art Center, 507 W. Seventh Ave., are open in the summer Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 am-7 pm. This article is based primarily on material from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.