Wilbur F. Sanders

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Wilbur Fisk Sanders
Wilbur Fisk Sanders.jpg
Wilbur Fisk Sanders, Senator of Montana. He was the prosectuting lawyer for the Vigilantes against the "Road Agents" in Virginia City, Montana.
United States Senator
from Montana
In office
January 1, 1890 – March 3, 1893
Preceded byNone
Succeeded byLee Mantle
Personal details
Wilbur Fisk Sanders

(1834-05-02)May 2, 1834
Leon, New York
DiedJuly 7, 1905(1905-07-07) (aged 71)
Helena, Montana
Resting placeForestvale Cemetery, Helena, Montana
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Harriet P. Fenn
ChildrenJames, Wilbur E., and Louis
OccupationLawyer, politician
Military service
Years of service1861-1862
RankFirst Lieutenant
Unit64th Ohio Infantry
Battles/warsBattle of Shiloh

Wilbur Fisk Sanders (May 2, 1834 – July 7, 1905) was a United States Senator from Montana. A leading pioneer and a skilled lawyer, Sanders played a prominent role in the development of Montana Territory and the state's early political history.

Early life[edit]

Sanders was born in Leon, Cattaraugus County, New York to Ira and Freedom (Edgerton) Sanders. His father was a farmer originally from Rhode Island and his mother a native of Connecticut.[1] Being a devout Methodist, Ira Sanders named his first-born son after a hero of his faith, the founding president of Wesleyan University, Willbur Fisk (the name was often misspelled by his contemporaries using one "l" instead of two). Family stories tell of a precocious child displaying a keen intellect and studious character. Wilbur attended the common schools in New York, and afterward taught school himself.[2]

Following his mother's wishes, Sanders moved to Akron, Ohio in 1854, where he continued teaching and studied law under his uncle, Sidney Edgerton. Sanders' Uncle Sidney, 13 years his elder, exercised a profound impact on his life.[2] Also born in western New York, Edgerton had moved to Akron, Ohio ten years earlier rising to prominence under the tutelage of veteran Ohio politician and lawyer, Rufus P. Spalding.[3] Edgerton likewise took Sanders under his wing. Sanders gained admission to the bar in 1856, and he and Edgerton soon entered a law partnership.[4] Edgerton had become involved with the Free Soil Party in the 1840s, and, by the mid 1850s, about the time Sanders joined him in Akron, his political activities shifted to the fledgling Republican Party.[3] Sanders followed his uncle's political development.

On October 27, 1858, Sanders married Harriet P. Fenn, a native of Ohio. They had five children, but only three survived into adulthood: James, Wilbur E., and Louis.[5]

Civil war[edit]

During the Civil War, he recruited a company of infantry and a battery of artillery in the summer of 1861 and was commissioned a first lieutenant in the 64th Regiment, Ohio Infantry, of which he was made adjutant. Sanders served in the Battle of Shiloh and later in 1862, he assisted in the construction of defenses along the railroads south of Nashville. His family reports that he resigned from the army in August 1862 following an illness aggravated by a wound.[2] He returned to his family in Akron, Ohio.

Montana territory[edit]

He settled in that part of Idaho Territory, which later became Montana, where he engaged in the practice of law and also became interested in mining and stock raising. He was a young lawyer when he moved to Montana (Bannack[6]) in 1863. He was there before courts were organized and, being one of the first permanent settlers, took a prominent part in bringing law and order to Montana. He was a prosecutor for the infamous Montana Vigilantes who took the law into their own hands after over one hundred men had been ambushed and murdered for their gold in Virginia City, Montana. In December 1863, Sanders' led the prosecution of George Ives as the murderer of Nicolas Tiebolt in Nevada City, Montana. Ives was convicted and hanged on December 21, 1863.[7] The George Ives trial initiated a period of vigilantism that eventually brought an end to thefts and murders by "road agents" in the Virginia City region. Sanders was one of the original five organizers of the Alder Gulch Vigilance Committee which was formed on December 23, 1863 in Virginia City, Montana.[8]

In 1873 Sanders became a member of the Territorial Legislature, and next was a United States Senator. Also he realized the importance of preserving early records and for thirty years, as the president of the Montana Historical Society, established in 1865, he accumulated newspapers and documents in his law office. Sanders was a founding member of the Society of Montana Pioneers and served as its secretary (1884) and president (1888). [9]

He became known as Colonel Sanders. He was a Republican candidate for election in 1864, 1867, 1880, and 1886 as a Delegate to Congress, and was a member of the Territorial house of representatives of Montana from 1873 to 1879.

Upon the admission of Montana as a State into the Union, he was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate and served from January 1, 1890, to March 3, 1893. While in the Senate, he was chairman of the Committee on Enrolled Bills (Fifty-second Congress.)

In the 1890s, Sanders represented the Chinese community in Butte, Montana against labor unions boycotting Chinese businesses.[10]

Sanders died in Helena, Montana, aged 71, and was interred in Forestvale Cemetery there. Sanders County, Montana is named in his honor.


  1. ^ Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald (1913). A History of Montana (Vol. 2 ed.). Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Company. p. 851. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Sanders II, W. F.; Taylor, Robert T., eds. (1983). Biscuits and Badmen: The Sanders' Story in Their Own Words. Butte, Montana: Editorial Review Press. p. 3.
  3. ^ a b Thane Jr., James L. (Oct 1976). "An Ohio Abolitionist in the Far West: Sidney Edgerton and the Opening of Montana, 1863-1866". Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 67 (4): 151. JSTOR 40489499.
  4. ^ Burlingame, Merrill G. (1998). "Sanders, Wilbur Fisk". In Lamar, Howard. The New Encyclopedia of the American West. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. p. 1007.
  5. ^ A.W. Bowen & Co. Progressive Men of the State of Montana. Chicago: A.W. Bowen & Co. pp. 35–36. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  6. ^ Montana's State Capitol: The People's House - Kirby Lambert, Patricia Mullan Burnham, Susan R. Near p.82? (archive)
  7. ^ Dillon, Mark C. (2013). "The Murder of Nicolas Tiebolt and the Trial and Execution of George Ives". Montana Vigilantes 1863-1870 Gold, Guns and Gallows. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. pp. 89–118. ISBN 9780874219197.
  8. ^ Dillon, Mark C. (2013). "Formation of the Vigilance Committee". Montana Vigilantes 1863-1870 Gold, Guns and Gallows. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press. pp. 119–134. ISBN 9780874219197.
  9. ^ Sanders, James U., ed. (1899). "State Society Officers". Society of Montana Pioneers-Constitution, Members, Officers with Portraits and Maps... (PDF). Montana Society of Pioneers. pp. xxi–xxvi.
  10. ^ Brian Shovers. "Butte, Montana" Encyclopedia of Immigration and Migration in the American West. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2006. Credo Reference. Web. 3 September 2014

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Montana
Served alongside: Thomas C. Power
Succeeded by
Lee Mantle