Wyoming’s Engineer-Governor was born May 26, 1882 in Saginaw, MI. He earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Michigan. Emerson came to Wyoming in 1904, settling at Cora in Sublette County where he ran a store for a short time. The following year he accepted a job at the State Engineer’s office in Cheyenne, but worked there only a few months before accepting a position with the LaPrele Ditch and Reservoir Company of Douglas. He married Michigan native Zennia Jean Reynders in 1910. At that time he was employed as Chief Engineer by the Wyoming Land and Irrigation Company which was building the Shell Canal near Greybull. The family moved to Worland in 1914 after Emerson was hired as the superintendent of the Big Horn Canal Association. He served on the City Council there for one term.
According to an account by his wife, Emerson ran for a state senate seat to aid his efforts to deal with the problem of alkali seepage in the Big Horn Basin. He lost the election, but found another avenue for addressing his concerns. Newly elected Governor Robert Carey appointed Emerson as State Engineer and the family moved to Cheyenne in 1919. Emerson used the position to promote legislation supporting reclamation projects.
While serving as State Engineer, Emerson was also employed as superintendent of the Lower Hanover Canal Association, and as an engineer for the Worland Drainage District and Wyoming Sugar Company. He occupied the Engineer’s office from July 1, 1919 to January 3, 1927. In 1923, Democratic Governor William Ross attempted to remove Emerson, a Republican, from the office of State Engineer. However, Emerson won a court battle to retain the position.
Emerson had a leading role in drafting the Colorado River Compact involving the water interests of seven states. He was credited with guarding Wyoming’s rights in the Green and Little Snake Rivers, Colorado River tributaries. He served as a special advisor to the Secretary of the Interior regarding Colorado River issues. Emerson also helped maintain Wyoming rights to North Platte River waters in disputes with Nebraska and Colorado.
Emerson was nominated for Governor by his party for the 1926 election, offered as a candidate who could bring development to the state. He was also recognized as a sound businessman. He defeated Nellie Tayloe Ross, who had won election in 1924, filling the position previously occupied by her husband, who died in October that year. Governor Emerson generally worked well with the Republican legislature, emphasizing the need for efficiency, but was unable to advance proposals for the assessment of intangible property and a state income tax to generate revenue to meet needs in the state, such as an improved highway system and the burgeoning financial burden of caring for residents of the state’s institutions.
Emerson was elected for a second term in 1930, but died of pneumonia on February 18, 1931, a few weeks after taking office. A weakened constitution from overwork was given as a contributing factor.
The records of Governor Emerson maintained by the Wyoming State Archives provide information on Wyoming government programs and on significant issues affecting the state prior to the Great Depression as well as during the early years of that crisis.