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Francis Warren of Wyoming was the US Senate’s last Civil War veteran

Francis E. Warren - WY
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Born on June 20, 1844, Francis Emroy Warren began life in Hinsdale, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Son of a farmer, he received his education from the local common schools. Though his father was considered to be well-to-do, by the time Francis was eight, the family farm started to falter so Francis quit school to help. When he was 15, Francis worked on the neighboring dairy farm for $13 per month. At the same time, he returned to school, studying at the Congregational Church’s Hinsdale Academy for two year.

Francis sought to enlist in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War, but his father insisted he wait until his 18th birthday. He later joined Company C of the 49th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, serving as a non-commissioned officer. He was 19 during the Siege of Port Hudson in Louisiana. He later received the Medal of Honor for gallantry on the battlefield due to the fact when his entire platoon was destroyed by Confederate bombardment, though suffering a serious scalp wound (and thought to be dead), Warren disabled the artillery. Thankfully, an alert doctor became aware of the fact Warren was still alive and had him pulled from a trench. Otherwise, he may have been buried in a mass grave. Instead, he was promoted to the rank of captain in the Massachusetts Militia. The citation for his Medal of Honor award is dated September 30, 1893 and was presented to him while serving in the US Senate.

Following the Civil War, Warren returned to Massachusetts and began a career in stock-raising and farming. In 1868, the call to “go west” laid heavy on his heart, so the young man packed up and traveled to Iowa. Here he worked construction for the railroad during a brief period. He later climbed aboard a Union Pacific train for the Dakota Territory, settling in the area which was part of the future state of Wyoming.

When Warren arrived in Cheyenne during May of 1868 and stepped from the train, he was greeted by two brass bands. Questions filled the young man’s mind regarding the unexpected serenade and he began to ask those nearby the reason for it. Warren was informed the bands were there to welcome newcomers on behalf of Cheyenne’s gambling casinos and inviting greenhorns to try their luck at the tables.

His first experience of Cheyenne was a makeshift city of tents, shanties, camps and covered wagons due to a migratory citizenry. At the time, the railroad had built out further west and it was thought Cheyenne’s spot on the territorial map would last another six months, max. Warren, however, chose not to subscribe to the gloomy prophecy.

At first, life in his new home town was rough-and-tumble, with definite risks and discomforts in the offering. His makeshift bed was a cot he improvised from a number of packing boxes. He later stated, “Every man slept with from one to a half-dozen revolvers under his pillow, for depredations of every character could be expected at any hour – day or night.”

The first job Warren found in Cheyenne was that of a clerk in a crockery and hardware store. The store’s owner, A. R. Converse, was a fellow native of Massachusetts. In time he became Converse’s partner and in 1877, bought the business. He later changed the store’s name to Warren Mercantile Company.

On January 26, 1871, Warren forsook his cloak of bachelorhood and replaced it with a robe of matrimony when he married Helen M. Smith from Middlefield, Massachusetts. A son and daughter were born to the couple prior to Helen’s death in 1902. Warren was 67 when he later married Clara LeNaron Morgan on June 28, 1911.

Francis’ political career began when he was 29; first in 1873 by serving in Cheyenne’s City Council (1873 – 1874). He was also active in Wyoming’s Territorial Senate (1873 – 1874, 1884 - 1885) as the presiding member. He then became Wyoming’s treasurer in 1876 and served on four different occasions (1876, 1879, 1882 and 1884).

By the time the growth of Cheyenne began to escalate in 1882, Warren was well-established and active in both city and Territorial politics. Though there is no way of knowing who Wyoming’s first millionaire was, if it were discovered to be Warren, the news would not surprise anyone. He was certainly among the first to amass a fortune in the territory.

In 1883, Francis established a large sheep and cattle operation he named The Warren Livestock Company. He continued to enlarge the company until it reached the size of 150,000 acres. In addition to his livestock endeavors, Warren was busy acquiring the Cheyenne & Northern Railroad, along with the Brush-Swan Electric Company which was the first to provide electric power to Cheyenne.

Though a number of the buildings Warren was responsible for constructing in Cheyenne have since been destroyed, others remain. Among them are the Lincoln Theater, the Majestic Building and the Plains Hotel, all of which have undergone some renovation. One of the destroyed structures was an opera house the city’s cattle barons constructed in 1882. 1,000 patrons could be seated within and were treated to world-famous performers. Unfortunately, the structure was destroyed by fire in 1902.

Elected as Mayor of Cheyenne in 1885, Warren’s tenure was short-lived. One week before his first term was scheduled to end, Republican President Chester A. Arthur (R) appointed him Territorial Governor to fulfill the unexpired term of William Hale, who had died in office.

On September 2, 1885, an event occurred which would strongly influence his political future. A riot broke out that day in Rock Springs as white workers killed 29 Chinese miners, injured 15 more and put to flight 100s of others. Afterwards, they set fire to the miners’ homes. The white rioters were angered over the fact they had lost their jobs to the Chinese in the Union Pacific coal mines due to the Chinese being willing to work for lower wages.

Warren arrived by train in the riot torn town the following morning, seeking to resolve the situation. Law enforcement officials approached him with requests for military troops. In an effort to prevent further violence, Warren sent President Cleveland a telegram, requesting he send federal troops to southwest Wyoming. Cleveland complied.

Following what was later referred to as the Chinese Massacre of 1885, an anti-Warren poster was published in Evanston which ridiculed Warren for protecting the Chinese with federal troops and attempting to convict white miners of murder. In his response, however, Warren pulled no punches as he told a reporter from a St. Louis newspaper, “the most damnable and brutal outrage that ever occurred in any country.” A grand jury later refused to indict any of the participants.

Officials from Union Pacific were thankful for Warren’s behavior towards the massacre. As a result, the officials petitioned President Cleveland to allow Warren to remain as the Territorial Governor. The officials told the president that by removing Warren from office, his actions would be considered a victory in the eyes of those who sided with the rioters. President Cleveland agreed and kept Warren in office until November 1886. During that time frame, Warren had the opportunity to help lead Wyoming to statehood. Many felt that had Warren not been in the territorial governor’s office during this timeframe while important decisions were being made with respect to public policies and various state institutions, the likelihood was strong Wyoming’s outcome would have been much different.

In November 1886, President Cleveland did remove Warren from office, but his departure would not be long. In March of 1889, Republican Benjamin Harrison was inaugurated and returned Warren to the office of Territorial Governor on April 9, where he continued to serve from 1889 – 1890.

On September 11, 1890, Warren became the first governor of the new state of Wyoming. He served as governor for only two months; resigning in November due to having been elected to the United States Senate. He served until March 4, 1893, then returned to his business pursuits in Cheyenne. Warren stayed occupied in this capacity for two years, then returned to the US Senate. He would serve here the rest of his life and chair a number of committees.

Senator Warren died in Washington, D.C. on November 24, 1929 at the age of 85, due to complications resulting from pneumonia. At the time of his death, his time in office (37 years) was longer than that of any other. Warren’s funeral service was conducted in the US Senate Chamber and then he was laid to rest in Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne.

Francis Warren’s legacy is a cornucopia of trivia.

  • He was the first senator on Capitol Hill to hire a female staffer.
  • During World War I, Warren served as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and actively funded the American efforts.
  • In 1905, Warren’s daughter was wed to Captain John J. Pershing. Pershing was promoted over 900 senior officers by President Theodore Roosevelt from captain to brigadier general.
  • In April 1910, Warren and his wife Clara purchased the Nagle Warren Mansion. After settling in, noted dinner party guests included Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Their home would later be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Mt. Warren, the highest peak in Wyoming’s Wind River mountain range is named for him.
  • Of the many young men who heeded the “go west” call at the same time of Francis Warren, few – if any – of them would equal Warren in political and financial success.
  • Though there were political rivals who endeavored to raise serious political charges against Warren, they never succeeded in denting the popularity he held with his constituents.

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In February 1928, Francis Warren gave an interview to International News Service. In his comments, he stunned a number of individuals as he discouraged young men about considering a career of politics. Though a successful politician himself, Warren stated, “It ought to be the last hope of any young man starting out in life, unless he has the unselfish motives of serving his country without reward. All governments are ungrateful.