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William A. Richards

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William A. Richards

William Alford Richards
4th Governor of Wyoming
In office
January 7, 1895 – January 2, 1899
Preceded by John Eugene Osborne
Succeeded by DeForest Richards
Personal details
Born March 9, 1849
Hazel Green, Wisconsin
Died July 25, 1912 (aged 63)
Political party Republican

William Alford Richards (March 9, 1849 – July 25, 1912) was an American surveyor, rancher and politician. He was the fourth Governor of Wyoming from January 7, 1895 until January 2, 1899.


  • Biography 1
  • Career 2
  • Death 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Richards was born in Hazel Green, in Grant County, Wisconsin, and educated there and in Galena, Illinois. During the Civil War he served as an ambulance driver for the Army of the Potomac.[1]


As a young man Richards worked on surveying missions in Nebraska, and first came to Wyoming in 1873 when his brother Alonzo V. Richards hired him as his general assistant while surveying the southern boundary of Wyoming Territory.

The next year they returned for the survey of the western boundary of Wyoming. Alonzo left the expedition after 99 miles, leaving William in charge of completing the survey. William moved to California, to marry Harriet Alice Hunt in 1874. The couple had three daughters, Eleanor Alice, Ruth Louise, and Edna Maude.[2] In 1885 he returned to Wyoming, homesteading a ranch in Big Horn County. In 1886 he was elected county commissioner of Johnson County, and in 1889 President Harrison appointed him Surveyor General for Wyoming.

In 1894, Richards ran for Governor on the Republican ticket. He defeated William H. Holliday and Lewis C. Tidball, becoming the state's third elected governor. He served as Governor from 1895 to 1899.[3] Though he helped defuse the Jackson Hole Indian Crisis of 1895, Richards is most famous for pardoning Butch Cassidy. Then a small-time rustler, Cassidy was serving a two-year term in the State Penitentiary for possession of a stolen horse worth only $5. Citizens of Fremont County, fearing Cassidy's return, asked the governor for a pardon in hopes it "would have much to do in causing him to become a law abiding citizen," Richards wrote to a concerned rancher, Jay Torrey. Richards had interviewed Butch at the Penitentiary and pardoned him after hearing reassuring words from the prisoner. Cassidy "told me that he had [had] enough of Penitentiary life," Richards told Torrey, "and intended to conduct himself in such a way as to not again lay himself liable to arrest." What he may have meant was, he intended to not again get caught.[4]

At the conclusion of his term he was replaced by DeForest Richards (a very distant cousin), also a Republican, and was appointed assistant commissioner of the General Land Office. William A. Richards opened the Apache, Comanche, and Wichita Indian Reservations in Oklahoma to settlement.[5]

Richards was appointed Commissioner of the General Land Office in 1903, serving until 1907. During his tenure he helped save Indian ruins and other important monuments from damage and destruction by asking Edgar L. Hewett of New Mexico for a list of sites that should be protected. Hewett sent back a Memorandum that listed Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and many others, and Richards had it published as a Circular. The memorandum was a step toward the passage of the Antiquites Act of 1906, which has been used by American presidents to set aside innumerable National Monuments.[6]

In 1909 Richards became the first Commissioner for Taxation for the state of Wyoming, holding the post until a change in administration a year later. In 1912, he traveled to Melbourne, Australia, to start a new life after the violent deaths of his daughter Edna and her husband, Thomas Jenkins.


Richards died of a heart attack soon after his arrival. He had attended an honorary banquet for his old friend Elwood Mead, former State Engineer of Wyoming, who was then in charge of developing irrigation in Australia. Mead accompanied Richards's body home across the ocean.[7] Richards is interred at Lakeview Cemetery, in Cheyenne, Laramie County, Wyoming.[8]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Wyoming State Archives. Letters from Judge Jesse Knight to Richards, Cassidy Pardon file. Pardon itself, WAR to Jay Torrey, outgoing correspondence, March 16th, 1896.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Contemporary newspaper accounts
  8. ^

External links

  • Wyoming Cadastral Survey Richards bio – Bureau of Land Management Wyoming
  • State biography – Wyoming State Archives

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