WALTER MARCUS PIERCE was born near Morris, Illinois. In his early twenties he traveled west, living first in Colorado and then settling near Milton in northeastern Oregon. He was a teacher and then Superintendent of Schools for Umatilla County from 1886 to 1890. He went on to serve as County Clerk for four years, prospering from fees paid for land transactions, after which he returned to Illinois to study law, earning a Bachelor of Laws degree from Northwestern University at Evanston. He then returned to Oregon, where he practiced law in Pendleton, owned and operated the Grande Ronde Electric Company, and bred Hereford cattle on a 13,000-acre ranch. In 1902 Pierce won a four-year term in the Oregon state Senate. Defeated for reelection, he went on to help organize the Oregon Farmers’ Union, became President of the State Taxpayers’ League, organized the Public Power League, and served on the Board of Regents of Oregon Agricultural College. He lost the Democratic nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1912 but won election once more to the state Senate in 1916. He lost his first bid for the governorship to his Republican opponent—James Withycombe—in 1918, but succeeded in his campaign in 1922 on a platform of support for the Ku Klux Klan and their effort to secure anti-Catholic compulsory school education. Although his initiatives were in large part blocked by a Republican-dominated state legislature, Pierce pushed for adoption of the state’s first income tax, sought prison reform, and promoted state-owned and operated hydro-electric projects. Pierce sought a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives twice, succeeding in his second attempt during the Democratic landslide of 1932. He went on to serve for five terms until his defeat for reelection at the age of eighty-one.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. D. New York: James T. White & Company.