The only time Laramie came close to supplying Wyoming with a governor was in the summer of 1890. It was a short but significant role for Laramie’s John W. Meldrum, who was acting governor of Wyoming Territory when Wyoming was admitted to the Union.
Intensive lobbying of Congress for Wyoming statehood began in 1885. In a final effort to make statehood a reality, Wyoming Governor F. E. Warren departed for Washington D.C. on June 27, 1890 to persuade both houses of Congress to admit Wyoming. His absence left Secretary of the Territory, Meldrum, as acting governor.
On July 10, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the act creating the state.
Like many early Wyomingites, John W. Meldum served in the Civil War—on the Union side. He came to Laramie in 1870 after working in Arkansas and Colorado. He had driven a herd of his cattle to Laramie from Colorado and immediately opened a butcher shop. That winter most of his herd died off and he began a short stint working in the Union Pacific Railroad shops in town.
Soon he was approached by Charles Hutton to manage Hutton’s large cattle operation on the Laramie Plains. While he was working for Hutton, he was chosen to be the Clerk of Court for the 2nd District of Wyoming Territory with his office in Laramie. He retained that post for nearly 10 years while also serving as County Clerk, Albany County Commissioner and as a member of the Territorial Legislative Assembly.
In 1882 he ran for the position of Wyoming Delegate to Congress, his only attempt at state-wide elective office. He lost, but was appointed to the position of Surveyor General of the territory in 1884. A staunch Republican, he resigned that position when Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected President in 1885.
He moved to California for less than two years, returning to Laramie in July, 1889. His return was prompted by his appointment to the second most important position in Wyoming government, Secretary of the Territory.
Two very important roles in the history of Wyoming were successfully completed by John W. Meldrum: the compilation of the journals of the debates which led to the creation of the Wyoming State Constitution and secondly, as stipulated by law, when the governor of the territory was absent, he was the acting governor.
Governor Warren was still absent when the telegram arrived in Cheyenne from Congressional Delegate Joseph Carey announcing the President’s decision. Meldrum, in his position as acting governor, announced the news to the citizens of the new state. On July 11, he signed the official statehood proclamation, the first official document of the state of Wyoming.
The proclamation read in part, “I, John W. Meldrum, acting governor of Wyoming, do hereby proclaim that the state of Wyoming has been duly admitted and declared to be a state of the United States of America on an equal footing with the original states in all respects.”
Thus a Laramie resident was the man who declared Wyoming’s statehood 125 years ago this very day. Meldrum returned from Cheyenne to his Laramie home at what is now 703 Ivinson Avenue; Gov. Warren had returned. Meldrum remained Secretary until his successor was sworn in on November 8, 1890. Warren continued as Governor until he resigned to run for the U.S. Senate on November 24, 1890.
Meldrum was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as Commissioner (Judge) of Yellowstone National Park, holding that post from 1894 until 1935, when he resigned at the age of 92. He died early the following year at a relative’s home in Denver.
By Kim Viner
Image of the telegram Meldrum received from Congressional Delegate Joseph Carey, telling him to proclaim that Wyoming had been admitted to the Union. Courtesy of the UW American Heritage Center, John W. Meldrum Collection.