Saturday, April 5, 2008

Joseph Boyd Poindexter

Joseph Boyd Poindexter


Joseph Boyd Poindexter was born on April 14, 1869 in Canyon City, Oregon, the son of Thomas W. Poindexter and Margaret Pitken. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio and graduated with an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1892. He was admitted to the Montana Bar Association in 1892 and practiced law in Dillon, MT from 1892 to 1897.

He married Margaret Daisy Conger, the daughter of Judge Everton J. Conger and Emma Kate Boren on April 22, 1897. Two children were born to this union, E.G. (George) in 1899 and Helen in 1902.

Joseph served as County Attorney for Beaverhead County, MT from 1897 to 1903 and then returned to private law practice in Dillon from 1903 to 1909. He was then appointed District Federal Judge for the 5th Judicial District and served on the bench from 1909 to 1915. He was then elected Montana Attorney General in 1915 and served until appointed U.S. Federal Judge for the District of Hawaii by President Woodrow Wilson on March 16, 1917. He served in this post until he retired to accept the appointment as Territorial Governor of Hawaii by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 30, 1934. This posting became effective in March 1934 for a period of four years. Poindexter was appointed to a second four year term as Territorial Governor in March 1938 and it was the latter part of this term that cause him the most mental and physical anguish.

Seventy-two year old Governor Joseph B. Poindexter was at his official residence, Washington Place, in Honolulu when the first Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. His residence and his nearby office at the Iolani Palace were rocked by explosions on the ground. However, these explosions were not Japanese bombs, but rather U.S. Navy antiaircraft shells that were mis-fired in haste and fell to the ground and exploded on impact.

At mid-day on December 7th, Lt. General Walter Short, Commanding General, U.S. Army in Hawaii, came to see Governor Poindexter and said the Territory of Hawaii should be placed under martial law. Poindexter then called President Roosevelt by phone to verify this and Roosevelt supported martial law. Nothing like this had been known on American soil since the Civil War and then only in rebellious or captured Confederate states. Governor Poindexter said later that he, "never hated doing anything so much" as imposing martial law on the people of Hawaii.

Governor Poindexter's second four-year term expired in March 1942 but he was not replaced until the inauguration on August 24, 1942 of Ingram M. Stainback.

Ex-Governor Poindexter remained in Honolulu for the rest of his life and died on December 3, 1951 at the age of 82. His body was returned to Dillon, MT for final burial.

Joseph B. Poindexter was a life-long Democrat, Episcopalian, 32nd degree Mason, Shriner, and a member of the Bar Association of Hawaii and the American Bar Association.

(Written by Robert Guilinger, 11 Nov 1998)

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