#Lookback: Fenimore Chatterton and the Formation of Riverton

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

Fenimore Chatterton was born in Oswego, New York, on July 21, 1860. In 1865, Fenimore’s father, German Hamond Chatterton, graduated from Theological Seminary in Auburn, New York, and became a Presbyterian minister. After graduation, the family moved to Iowa, where his father began preaching. In 1869, Fenimore Chatterton moved back to the East Coast to attend school while living with his mother’s sister, Jennie Mazuzan. In 1878, due to financial circumstances, Fenimore Chatterton moved west to live in Chicago with some cousins. After his financial situation did not improve, Chatterton moved further west to Grinnell, Iowa, to live with an aunt on her farm in May of 1878. Later that year, in August, Fenimore obtained a Teacher’s Certificate when The Teacher’s State Institute met in Grinnell. One Month later, Chatterton received a letter from the governess for the children of Captain Charles King at Fort Fred Steele. The governess informed Chatterton that John W. Hugus, the Post Trader at Fort Steele, needed a bookkeeper at a salary of fifty dollars per hour. Later that month, Fenimore Chatterton made his way to Carbon County, Wyoming, via the train.

He arrived at Fort Fred Steele to serve as the bookkeeper for The J.W. Hugus and Company Store on September 12th, 1878. The J.W. Hugus and Company was the general retail and wholesale store that served north of the fort to Lander and south of the fort to Meeker, Colorado. The store sales were about $350,00.00 dollars per year. In April of 1883, J.W. Hugus decided to retire and move to California. He asked Fenimore Chatterton if he wanted to buy the store and J.W. Hugus’ house. J.W. Hugus’ brother agreed to become Chatterton’s business partner after the store was sold. So, Fenimore bought The J.W. Hugus and Company Store at Fort Fred Steele for a loan of 45,000 dollars. The next month, the firm of Hugus and Chatterton was opened. By 1886, the loan was fully paid. In August of 1886, Fort Steele was abandoned by the military, but Fenimore’s store remained in business. In February 1888, Chatterton helped lay out the town of Saratoga, Wyoming, on the west side of the North Platte River. When business gradually decreased at the former site of Fort Steele, he moved his store to Saratoga.

In August of 1888, the Republican Party asked Fenimore Chatterton to run as a candidate for Probate Judge and County Treasurer. While running for office, Chatterton road on horseback campaigning south of the Union Pacific Railroad. He was elected and moved to Rawlins, Wyoming. In his elected position, Fenimore collected delinquent taxes of over 160,000 dollars. In July of 1891, Chatterton was admitted into the Wyoming Bar on the motion of Clarence D. Clark. Later in September 1891, he entered the Law Department at the University of Michigan and graduated in the Class of 1892. After returning to Rawlins, he opened his law office and went into a partnership with David H. Craig.

On July 10, 1890, Wyoming Territory became a state. The election of officials was to be held in September of 1890. The leaders of the Republican Party asked Fenimore Chatterton to resign as Probate Judge and County Treasurer to run for State Senator for Natrona and Carbon County. Chatterton was elected after defeating Charles E. Blydenburgh. In 1894, at the Carbon County Republican Convention, Chatterton was nominated as the County and Prosecuting Attorney. He campaigned against Charles E. Blydenburgh for the position. He was elected in 1894 and re-elected in 1896.

At the Republican State Convention in 1898, Fennimore Chatterton was offered the nomination for Secretary of State by Charles W. Burdick. At the time, the Secretary of State also served as the Lieutenant Governor. After the convention, DeForest Richards and Fennimore Chatterton announced that they would run together for Governor and Secretary of State. Later, the pair set off on a campaign trip, which eventually took them to the Big Wind River in Fremont County. This trip had revealed the potential for agricultural development of the area north of the Big Wind River. After the trip, Fennimore Chatterton and DeForest Richards decided to devote their efforts as state officials to open a portion of the Shoshone Reservation for settlement. The pair were elected as Governor and Secretary of State in 1898 and again in 1902.

On September 12, 1900, Fenimore Chatterton married Stella Wyland. During the next four years, the couple had two daughters. On October 31, 1901, Eleanor Chatterton was born and on January 12, 1904, Constance Chatterton was born.

After Chatterton and Richards’ re-election in 1902, Governor Richards went to Chicago to have an operation. He was confined to bed after returning to Cheyenne after surgery. On April 28, 1903, Governor Richards passed away. As a result, Chatterton became the Interim Governor of Wyoming. In 1904, the government secured a treaty with the Shoshone for opening land on the Wind River Reservation for settlement prior to the end of Chatterton’s term as Interim Governor. Later in 1904, Fenimore Chatterton announced his candidacy for election as Governor. However, Chatterton lost in the primary to Bryant B. Brooks, who later became the seventh Governor of Wyoming, while Chatterton returned to his position as Secretary of State. The treaty with the Shoshone that was secured under Chatterton’s governorship was ratified by Congress on March 3, 1905.

In July of 1905, Fenimore Chatterton traveled to New York City to meet financiers on Wall Street to support a project for an irrigation system where Riverton is currently located. Later, Chatterton met with the Secretary of the Interior to propose a plan to dispose of the water rights to settlers. After a week, the Secretary of the Interior did not grant a permit based on Chatterton’s proposal. After returning to Cheyenne, Chatterton called the State Engineer, Clarence T. Johnson, with a plan for getting a permit for building irrigation canals near the future site of Riverton at a cost of 40,000 dollars. On February 20, 1906, the Interior Department granted the permit and gave permission for the state to get a contract for the construction of canals after the land was opened for settlement. On July 11, 1906, Fenimore helped organize the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company. Bids for construction were opened by August 7th and the contract for construction was awarded to the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company.

On August 14, 1906, that land was opened for settlement and the town of Riverton was created. On, September 24, 1906, Fenimore Chatterton let a contract for the construction of a fifteen-mile canal to irrigate the Riverton Flat. On October 10, 1906, construction began. On January 3, 1907, Chatterton’s term as a state official ended and he moved to Riverton. Construction on the canal was completed on April 1, 1907. Following the opening of the canal, Fenimore rented fifty-two acres of sagebrush land near Riverton and began cultivating seeds with the help of Donald H. Bark. Later, Chatterton bought 160 more acres to plant potatoes and oats. Chatterton lived in Riverton for the next twenty years helping to develop the area by helping establish an irrigation system in the area.

In February 1927, Governor Frank C. Emerson offered Fenimore Chatterton a position on the State Board of Equalization and on the Public Service Commission. As a result, Chatterton moved back to Cheyenne. After completing his six-year appointment by Governor Emerson, he resumed practicing law in Cheyenne. Later in November of 1937, Chatterton retired and moved to Arvada, Colorado, where he enjoyed his retirement until his death on May 9, 1958.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

(The following programs could be potentially rescheduled. We will address each program schedule about 1 week prior to the program with an update)

April 11th at the Riverton Museum 9-5 pm, “2nd Annual Easter Egg Hunt”

April 16th at the Riverton Museum 6:30 pm, “Family Documents, Book & Artifact Preservation”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

April 18th at the Pioneer Museum 1 pm, “Sheep Shearing Day”

Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.

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