Larry LaRue

Eatonville town marshal, killed in 1925, may get medal of honor

Eatonville Town Marshal Dolar LaPlant’s career in law enforcement was painfully short.

The first three days were uneventful. The fourth day killed him.

Town marshals in 1925 rarely carried weapons, and LaPlant was unarmed when he confronted an armed suspect who already had fired 10 shots in a drunken walk down Center Street, narrowly missing children playing outdoors.

LaPlant encountered Charles Wright in the doorway of the home where Wright was living. He asked Wright if he was the man who’d been shooting up the town.

Wright said one word — “Yes!” — and fired his .32-caliber Bull Dog pistol from a coat pocket. The bullet passed through LaPlant’s liver and punctured a lung.

LaPlant, a 53-year-old veteran of the Spanish-American War, wrestled with Wright, 26 years his junior. LaPlant managed to bend Wright’s forearm upward, toward the man’s head, and pulled the gun’s trigger once.

The shot struck Wright just below the right ear.

With the suspect unconscious, LaPlant calmly walked next door and asked a family to call a doctor for him. Thirteen hours later, he died.

Today, nearly 90 years later, LaPlant’s great-granddaughter, Ronda Snowden, is pursuing the Washington Medal of Honor for a man killed in the line of duty. Eatonville police chief Jim Heishman formally nominated LaPlant last month.

“There’s no question he’s deserving, and I think we’ll hear in March that he’ll get that medal,” Heishman said. “The medal ceremonies will be in Olympia on May 8.”

Snowden, who lives in Spanaway, is following up on the campaign of the late Rosa Hibbard, LaPlant’s daughter. Hibbard, who was 6 when her father was killed, pressed successfully in 1999 to have his name placed on the National Law Enforcement Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

LaPlant’s name is also engraved on the Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial in Olympia.

Snowden wanted more.

“My grandfather’s headstone now has only his name, date of birth and death,” she said. “I’m trying to raise money to buy a new headstone, one that reflects his sacrifice as a police officer.”

Two of LaPlant’s granddaughters — Marya Severson-Urich and Charla Toulouse — still live in Eatonville. They remember their mother telling stories of LaPlant.

“I know one thing she always said was that he spoiled her,” Severson-Urich said.

In a 1999 interview with the News Tribune, the then 79-year-old Hibbard talked about the day her father was shot.

“I remember my mother coming to get me. They had taken him to the hospital, and he wanted to see me,” she said.

From his Tacoma hospital bed with his wife, Flora, and young daughter nearby, LaPlant told investigators about his fourth day as a marshal and his encounter with a man he had never seen before.

Born in Kansas in 1872, LaPlant was raised on a farm. He enlisted in 1898 and went to war. Upon his return, he moved to Puyallup, where much of his family had relocated, and ran a livery stable. About the time he turned 50, he began buying and selling livestock in Eatonville.

In August 1925, the Eatonville town marshal resigned. On Sept. 1, LaPlant succeeded him.

About 3:30 p.m on Sept. 4, two boys ran to LaPlant’s home and told him about a man randomly firing shots. In the account of the Eatonville Dispatch, one of those shots narrowly missed “one of the Coleman children.” Another, fired over Wright’s shoulder, struck the apple tree of Clinton Smith.

Wright had been drinking for two days after losing his job paving roads. On Sept. 3, he purchased a small handgun from a secondhand shop in town.

Like LaPlant, Wright had enlisted in the Army twice. Both times, he deserted — first from Virginia, where he was born, then from Spokane, where he enlisted under another name.

What kind of man was Wright? Awakened en route to the hospital, he was told he’d shot the town marshal. His response? “He shouldn’t have come fussing at me.”

At 5 a.m. on Sept. 5, LaPlant died. He was buried in Woodbine Cemetery in Puyallup.

A few months later, Wright stood trial and was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sent to the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.

The bullet that LaPlant had managed to fire into Wright’s head had caused partial blindness by then.

Fragments of the bullet were embedded in Wright’s brain, and his health deteriorated. In July 1926, prison surgeons operated to remove those fragments.

Ten months after he killed Marshal Dolar LaPlant, Charles Wright died of shock.