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Chapters from a full biography of Richards will be posted as they are finished. His story emerged from contemporary sources such as newspaper articles, his diaries, and the hundreds of letters he saved from relatives and associates. 

Below is a list of topics whose 8.5" x 11" PDF files will be linked when ready. 

Chapters available now as PDF files

Homesteading in the Bighorn Basin 

Richards arrives in Wyoming in 1884, treks to the east side of the Bighorn Basin. Locates tract for the first big irrigation project on the Bighorn River and his own homestead, Red Bank Ranch. 

“It was two o’clock in the morning on October 4, 1884, when the train pulled in to Carbon, Wyoming Territory, a coal- and cow-town northwest of Laramie near the Medicine Bow Mountains. William A. Richards stepped down with his personal baggage and his surveying kit. As the caboose’s lights dimmed and disappeared, he may have looked around for a hotel. None in sight. No town, either. Under the full moon he would have seen only the coal office, coal cars, coal dust, and perhaps some sooty cattle chutes. But there was a depot, and the glow of an oil lamp told Will he was not alone in this carboniferous hellscape. 

Continue with the PDF file

Getting started in Wyoming politics

Richards elected the first Johnson County commissioner from the Bighorn Basin, 1886.

His daughter’s recollections of ranch life after the family finally joins him in 1887.

Sporadic mail service and the Red Bank Post Office.

Johnson County Commissioner Richards and the issues faced.

Go to the PDF file

Family and fate push Richards to high office

His appointment as U.S. surveyor general for Wyoming Territory  in 1889.

Cheyenne in aftermath of the cattle industry’s collapse following the winter of 1886-87.

Richards and Territorial Engineer Elwood Mead.

Problems faced as surveyor general.

Go to the PDF file

Richards and the battle for Big Horn County

As a homesteader Richards wanted a separate county for the Bighorn Basin, and this finally happened when he was governor.

Chapter covers the infamous battle for county seat in 1896 and then the political strife over the results of election of the county’s first state senator, which deposed the “Father of Big Horn County,” W. D. Pickett.

W. S. Collins’s successful campaign for Basin City. Willis Van Devanter’s trek to investigate the electoral returns for state senator. In 1911 State Senator George B. “Bear George” McClellan sponsors bill creating Washakie County.


Go to the PDF file

Richards and the pioneer newsmen of the Bighorn Basin

Richards’s purchase of The Rustler, the basin’s first newspaper, from its founder Joseph De Barthe, and his friendship with the new editor, another ace newsman from the East, Tom Daggett.

Chapter has their stories from primary sources such as letters, and extensive excerpts from their lively writing—masterpieces of Old West journalism—along with the stories and writing of Tom Gebhart, Joseph Magill, and Edward T. Payton.

Go to the PDF file


The Big Horn Ditch and politics

Richards’s Big Horn Ditch and Democrats’ use of it to paint him as land-grabber and keep him from being elected governor. Has engravings of the Ditch tract before it was developed into the prime agricultural land it is today.

Go to the pdf file

The Hanover Canal Company takes over Richards’s ditch tract—after misadventures in the Bonanza oil district

Tireless efforts of gifted promoter Charles F. Robertson. His fateful meeting with Charles H. “Dad” Worland. The creation of the Upper and Lower Hanover canals. The arrival of the Burlington Railroad.

Go to the PDF file

Chapters to be posted when ready

A new governor and new laws for a young state: Richards and the 1895 Wyoming legislature

Addressing all those needs with a tight budget and no tax revenue from coal or oil.

Promoting irrigation, saving the grasslands and forests. • Dealing with coal mine disasters and wolves. • New laws to conserve game and fish. • Free textbooks in schools •  A veterans home • The state historical society • A state general library • and the embryos of the state museum and Hot Springs State Park.

A new game law was passed to help conserve the dwindling numbers of game animals. Settlers nearly went to war with the Bannock tribe until Richards defused the crisis. This led to a Supreme Court decision over the question of treaty rights vs. state laws, still disputed today.

Other highlights of Richards's administration were the Spanish-American War, the pardon of Butch Cassidy and its aftermath, and expositions to publicize the wonders of Wyoming. 

Richards and Buffalo Bill 

The governor and the girl governor: Media flap over the fake news promotion of his secretary while he was away.

How W. A. Richards and DeForest Richards became governors of Wyoming and discovered their relationship.

Richards’s early days

Born into a Wisconsin pioneer family • Goes West to Omaha and gets into surveying • Marriage • Farming in Northern California, election as county surveyor • Tuberculosis forces him to start over in Colorado.

“Bear George” McClellan manages Red Bank ranch and eventually becomes Richards's partner.

Invasion and politics

The Johnson County invasion, Richards’s views of it, and its effect on the election of 1892.

The debacle of the Second State Legislature.

With new Democratic administration Richards loses his job. Successor’s juicy scandal.

Richards’s Big Horn Ditch project is taken over by the Hanover Canal Co. Its entertaining story includes its adventures in the oil boom town of Bonanza.

Richards to DC

His appointment as assistant commissioner of the General Land Office in 1899.

As assistant commissioner, Richards was in charge of the 1901 Oklahoma land opening. The unfair land rush system had been replaced with drawings by logs, and he ran it honestly. As acting commissioner he  helped President Roosevelt create Tongass national forest in Alaska. 

Richards’s appointment as commissioner of the Land Office and his contributions to Roosevelt’s conservation agenda, principally the Antiquities Act of 1906, which enabled presidents to create National Monuments.

Retirement from the Land Office and return to ranch

Appointment as Wyoming State Tax Commissioner

After the violent deaths of his daughter Edna and her husband, Thomas Jenkins, Richards leaves Wyoming for Australia at the invitation of Mead, who was in charge of water and irrigation development in Victoria province.

Death in 1912 in Melbourne. Mead was returning to the U.S., so he accompanied Richards's body back across the Pacific. After lying in state in the Wyoming state capitol and his funeral in Cheyenne, Richards was buried in Lakeview Cemetery after a military escort.

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