Governor Joseph Boyd Poindexter

1869 - 1951

Though his parents were from Virginia, Joseph Boyd Poindexter was born in 1869 in Grant County, Oregon. While not the first of the clan to come to that Territory, his family was among the most progressive. His uncle, Philip Poindexter, joined forces with one William Orr, to create a cattle empire known as the P&O Ranch of California and Montana, with private holdings also in Oregon. The P&O Ranch of Montana is today known as the Matador, one of the largest and most famous still-operating cattle ranches.

Meanwhile, Joseph's father Thomas Watson Poindexter pursued a more homely brand of public notice, working as a merchant and serving for a time as Grant County Clerk. Joseph, however, was bound for higher things. When the family moved to Montana, Joseph by one account sometimes rode for his Uncle Philip. Yet his studies led him to a law degree in 1893, and then to the bar, whence he became an accomplished lawyer. He was married in 1897, opened his own law practice, and later served as Montana State Attorney General, finding his political stance with the conservative Democrats.

In 1917, President Wilson appointed Joseph Poindexter U.S. District Judge for the Territory of Hawaii. From the cold cattle ranges of Montana to the Polynesian paradise, Poindexter doubtless had little trouble adapting to his new home. A brutal blow to his happiness must have been the death of his wife in 1918, yet he continued his work with steady purpose. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized his administrative acumen, and Joseph B. Poindexter was appointed the first Governor of Hawaii for two full terms, March 1934 through August 1942. He was among the first to advocate Hawaii's statehood, yet that happy endeavor was interrupted by tragedy.

It was his grim fate to be in the Governor's seat one sleepy Sunday morning in December of 1941, when a distant foe visited those tropical shores with fire and death. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.

Over the years, much has been written, investigations, hearings, accusations, denials, and in today's lexicon, "Who knew what and when did they know it" relative to the attack.

Governor Poindexter had concerns about the vulnerability of Hawaii to foreign aggression. He visited Secretary of Interior Ickes (Department of the Interior was the administrative arm of the U.S. government in Territorial matters) in the summer of 1941 to protest the transfer of some of the Pacific Fleet to the Atlantic. According to Governor Poindexter, Ickes idea was "that our concern out here was with sabotage, that we should guard against the possibility of sabotage." Then and ever after Poindexter felt "very keenly that this attitude was very largely responsible for conditions" in Hawaii. The governor also recalls that Ickes continued with, "Oh, you people need not be alarmed whatever. There is going to be no attack on Hawaii. It is too far away." Time blurred the governor's recollection of all of Ickes' exact words. But this sentence stuck sharply in his mind. "The battle is on the Atlantic."

The attack on Pearl Harbor is documented through words, pictures, and experiences related by those who bore the brunt of the attack.

His voice trembling, the seventy-two year old Governor of Hawaii went on the air from his office via a KGU microphone to read a proclamation of emergency. It was less than necessary, since getting the chaos under control required martial law, which would make General Short military governor (General Short was the top Army commander in Hawaii).

As he was closing, a telephone message was handed to the governor. Short wanted him off the air; another attack was expected, and the Army wanted to shut down Honolulu's radio station to prevent the Japanese from homing in on the broadcast.

Poindexter wept. "We are going off the air for the first time. We have been under attack and the sign of the Rising Sun has been plainly seen on the underside of the planes."

Blotting out Oahu's radio signal was a good idea, but eight hours too late. Still, the governor's aides, panicking that another raid was imminent, hustled him down the stairs as soon as he completed this peroration, pushed him into a car and drove him away.

Bewildered, Poindexter thought he had said something wrong on the air and was being rushed off to house arrest.

Hawaii survived the war with fine fortitude, as did Joseph Poindexter. From 1932 to 1943 he served as president of the American Bar Association, before settling into a quieter life in his island home. Joseph Boyd Poindexter died in Honolulu in 1951. His ashes were returned to the scenes of his youth, and interred at Dillon, Montana.

Time Magazine
Time Magazine
July 23, 1934
Gov. Poindexter and Gen. Emmons Air Raid Wardens at Stadium
Poppy Day
Gov. Poindexter signs "Poppy Day" Proclamation
Gov. Poindexter and Citizen's Council**
Gov. Poindexter and His Cabinet

* Leading the civilian registration, Governor Poindexter, shown being fingerprinted by Hung Dai CHing and Mayor Petrie. When the registration is completed every resident will be on record with civilian defense authorities.
January 1, 1942

**Citizen's Council. Members of the Board of Directors pictured at a conference in Iolani Palace with Guy J. Swope, Director of the division of territories and insular affairs of the Interior Department, with Governor Poindexter. Left to right: Chauncey B. Wightman, Attorney Roy A. Vitousek, Chairman; Edward E. Bodge, Frederick D. Lowrey, Mr. Swope, Philip E. Spalding, C.R. Hemenway, Lorrin P. Thurston, Gov. Poindexter, John E. Russell, Edward W. Carden, Louis W. Jongeneel, Charles M. Hite, Secretary of Hawaii; Walter F. Dillingham, Senator Joseph R. Farrington, Rep. Walter J. Macfarlane, behind Senator Farrington; Leslie A. Hicks, President of the Hon. Chamber of Commerce, and Senator William H. Heen. January 22, 1942

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Jean Poingdestre 1609-1691
George Poingdestre/Poindexter 1627-1690
Governor George Littleton Poindexter 1779-1853
Reverend James Preston Poindexter 1819- 1907
Wars Against England
Colonel John A. Poindexter 1825-1869
Captain James E. Poindexter 1839-1911
Congressman Meredith Poindexter Gentry 1809-1866
Ambassador/Senator Miles Poindexter 1868-1946
Admiral John Marlan Poindexter, USN, Retired
Astronaut Alan G. Poindexter, USN
Captain John B. Poindexter, USA,
President Obama and John B.Poindexter

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