Probably the oddest Wyoming territorial official was Samuel D. Shannon, secretary of territory from 1887 to 1889. It is not odd that he was a secretary of the territory. What is odd is that he was appointed.
Many of the territorial administrators worked their ways into political prominence, were successful businessmen or lawyers, or had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Not so for Shannon. Shannon’s background was anything but admirable, and he had served with the Confederate Army.
Samuel Davis Shannon was born in May 3, 1833 in Camden, South Carolina. During the Civil War he was a staff member to General Richard Anderson. A handsome man with a magnetic personality, he had many friends and was a well-known womanizer. During the war, he married Elizabeth Peton Giles of Richmond, Virginia. The marriage was short-lived. She divorced him on the grounds of non-support.
At this point, Shannon’s history is unclear. One account, and probably the most entertaining, paints a picture of a freeloader. After the war, Shannon reportedly roamed the South and stayed for long periods of time with friends. His outgoing and polite manners offset the fact that he was moocher. He “had a sublime contempt for toil.”
Another account states that he applied himself in respectable work and eventually became a journalist in Charleston. Declining health forced him to move west. Shannon settled in Denver and then moved to Cheyenne, where he quickly became well known and had a large circle of friends.
Both accounts warrant closer historical scrutiny.
What is known is that opportunity brought Shannon to Wyoming.
On February 28, 1887, E.S.N. Morgan resigned as territorial secretary of state for Wyoming. Governor Thomas Moonlight, who had been appointed territorial governor in late January, relied heavily upon Morgan for guidance and support. Despite their political differences, the two men had a good working relationship. With Morgan gone, who would the President appoint in his place?
In March, Moonlight learned that Shannon was on the list of possible replacements. Shannon was reportedly in Washington DC, though what he was doing there is not entirely clear. Writing to Shannon, Moonlight stated that he would not endorse anyone nor did he feel a need to do so at the time. In other words, Moonlight was not going to have any input or say as to Morgan’s successor. The decision would rest entirely with the President.
On April 9, 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Shannon as territorial secretary of State. Shannon left Washington, D.C. and no sooner had Morgan vacated his office, than Shannon took his place.
Shannon proved to be a good choice. He was competent and diligent. In addition to his statuatory duties, he served as territorial immigration agent, promoted Wyoming’s resources, and favored statehood.
Shannon left office on July 1, 1889, and returned to his old southern stomping grounds, where he once again relied upon the generosity of his friends to see to his welfare. Due to poor health, he was eventually placed in the Soldier’s Home at Pikesville, near Baltimore, where he died on September 13, 1896. He was buried in his home of Camden, South Carolina.
— Carl V. Hallberg, Reference Archivist