The great fire of 1889 decimated the city of Spokane. Starting in a small lodging house and restaurant, the fire spread, fueled by shifting wind and wooden buildings. It moved toward the city's business district, then south to the freight depot. Explosions boomed across the city, as the mayor had ordered buildings in the fire's way to be demolished. By the time the fire mercifully died out, more than 30 square blocks had been burned, including the entire downtown area.
But one group of people used the fire as an opportunity: the Spokane City Council.
News of the fire spread across the entire nation, and Spokane was overwhelmed with relief packages. There was too much food for the city to handle.
So city officials and councilmen accepted the burden. As servants of the charred city of Spokane, they took the excess food and goods home by the wagonload.
Councilmembers had stored the food — including, presumably, pig products — in the cellars of their homes. Someone decided to dub them the "Ham Council." The name was too good not to stick.
Members of the Ham Council were indicted, but there was never a trial. A year later, councilmembers accused each other of bribery and dishonesty over unrelated matters. When Ham member F.A. Bettis accused a former Ham member, Stephen Bailey, of dishonesty for paying $325 for a horse worth no more than $25, there was chaos. Bailey doused Bettis with a glass of water, according to the History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Country, and was arrested.