More Than A Handsome ‘Stache: Fenimore Chatterton

Fenimore Chatterton and his iconic mustaches.  (WSA No Neg, governors)

Fenimore Chatterton and his signature mustaches.
(WSA No Neg, governors)

Fenimore Chatterton was born July 21, 1860 in Oswego, New York.  His family moved to Washington D.C. when he was a young child.  There he took preparatory classes at Columbian University (Now George Washington University) and later graduated from Millersville State Normal School in Lancaster, PA.  Chatterton then studied law under an attorney in Washington, before lack of funds sent him job hunting.  After brief employment in Chicago, he moved to Grinnell, Iowa where he earned enough money to attend the State Teachers Institute and obtain a teaching certificate.

Western opportunity continued to beckon and in 1878 Chatterton found employment in a mercantile business at Fort Fred Steele in Carbon County, Wyoming.  He eventually acquired the business, becoming post trader.  The fort was abandoned in 1886, removing the main source of income for the young businessman.    He relocated to the town of Saratoga, an area he enjoyed visiting.  In 1888, the Republican Party sought him as a candidate for Carbon County’s treasurer and probate judge.  He sold his store and ran a successful campaign for the offices.   Two years later he was elected to the first state legislature as a senator representing Carbon and Natrona Counties and again served in that capacity in the second legislature.

Although he was admitted to the Wyoming Bar in 1891, Chatterton felt the need to further his education.  He left Wyoming for a year and graduated from the University of Michigan law department in 1892.  He returned to Rawlins and began a law practice which lasted until 1898.  He also served as Carbon County attorney for two terms beginning in 1894.

Chatterton's law office in Rawlins, 1894-1899. Rev. Bateman standing in the doorway. (WSA Sub Neg 1613)

Chatterton’s law office in Rawlins, 1894-1899. Rev. Bateman standing in the doorway.
(WSA Sub Neg 1613)

Chatterton was involved with several other Republicans in an effort to keep Francis E. Warren from regaining his U.S. Senate seat in 1893.  The two were not on friendly terms after that and Chatterton felt this resulted in obstacles being placed in his career path.  In spite of this, Chatterton won his party’s nomination for Secretary of State for the 1898 election.  During what must have been an exhausting campaign, Chatterton and Republican gubernatorial candidate DeForest Richards traveled 1,500 miles by buckboard, attending 45 rallies, each of which was followed by a dance.  The rally in Buffalo consisted of Chatterton, Richards, and the Republican county chairman.  The Johnson County War, blamed on Republicans, still rankled in that part of the state.

The campaign effort paid off as Richards and Chatterton were elected.  Both were re-elected in 1902.  However, the team was separated on April 28, 1903 when Richards died just a few months into his second term.  Chatterton served as acting governor until January 2, 1905.

One of Chatterton’s most difficult challenges during his time in the executive office was the Tom Horn case.  Horn, whose talents as a scout and gunman were employed in various legal and illegal pursuits, had been convicted of killing young Willie Nickell, the son of an Iron Mountain area sheep rancher.  When Horn was convicted of first degree murder, great pressure was put on Chatterton to commute the death sentence.  He studied the evidence and, in spite of political coercion and threats on his life, chose not to “reverse the judgment of the courts.”

One of many letters, this unnamed woman wrote Chatterton begging him to grant Tom Horn a reprieve saying,

One of many letters, this unnamed woman wrote Chatterton begging him to grant Tom Horn a reprieve saying, “I read your statement with verry mutch Greif, in regards to Horns Sentents. I wish oh! how I do wish, that you could grant the poor Forsaken his wish until some thing more comes to light & then you will have no thought of sorrow in the future that you had done such a great rong.
for if he still Lives, it would not be so bad. trusting that you could give him a Life sentence in stead of the ___ one he has.
I would beg your Pardon a thousand times over for writting this letter to you. My name I wont reveal at present.”
(WSA RG 0001.16, General Records, Tom Horn correspondence reprieve, spelling retained)

When Chatterton’s political career ended at the close of his second term as Secretary of State, he turned his attention to developing the agricultural potential of Fremont County.  From 1907 to 1914 he was employed as the attorney and general manager of the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company, which was granted the right by the state to build a canal system in lands ceded from the Wind River Reservation.  Later, he practiced law at Riverton from 1914 to 1927.  He moved to Cheyenne where he served on the State Board of Equalization and the Wyoming Public Service Commission. He also continued his law practice.

Chatterton on right. Possibly the Wyoming Board of Equalization in the Capitol Building, ca 1927. (WSA Meyers Neg 823)

The Wyoming Board of Equalization in the Capitol Building, ca 1927. Left to Right: C.H. McWhinnie, Claude L. Draper, and Fenimore Chatterton. 
(WSA Meyers Neg 823, photo by Joe Shimitz)

Chatterton had married Stella Wyland in 1900.  They had two daughters, Eleanor and Constance. The Chattertons left Wyoming in 1937, retiring to property near Arvada, Colorado.  Mrs. Chatterton died in 1954.  The Governor passed away four years later on May 9, 1958, two months short of his 98th birthday.

Chatterton with his wife and daughters. Turning water into the dam at Riverton, 1903. (WSA Sub Neg 20081)

Chatterton with his wife and daughters. Opening gate for water into the dam at Riverton, 1903.
(WSA Sub Neg 20081)

Surviving records from Governor Chatterton’s years as Acting Governor include 1904 election returns, reports on fish hatcheries, records concerning the work of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and Wyoming’s participation in the event, registers of visitors to the Exposition’s agriculture exhibits, general correspondence, 1903 report on the mine explosion at Hanna, appointment records, a proclamation issued upon the death of Governor DeForest Richards, petitions for pardons, requisitions and extraditions, records concerning the Lightning Creek Raid, a few records concerning the opening of the Wind River Reservation to settlement, and records related to the Tom Horn case.

In this letter to Secretary of the Interior E.A. Hitchcock, Chatterton attempts to set the record straight about rumors of mob threats against Native Americans jailed in Weston County for killing game and cattle in an incident known as the Lightening Creek Raid. He also states that Wyoming intends to prosecute them, citing the Race Horse case of 1895 in which the US Supreme Court ruled that state game laws applied to Native Americans.  (WSA RG 0001.16, letterpress book p.131-132)

In this letter to Secretary of the Interior E.A. Hitchcock, Chatterton attempts to set the record straight about rumors of mob threats against Native Americans jailed in Weston County for killing game and cattle in an incident known as the Lightening Creek Raid. He also states that Wyoming intends to prosecute them, citing the Race Horse case of 1895 in which the US Supreme Court ruled that state game laws applied to Native Americans.
(WSA RG 0001.16, letterpress book p.131-132)

— Curtis Greubel, State Imaging Center Supervisor

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Filed under This Day in Wyoming History..., WSA Collection Highlights, Wyoming Governors

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