Meet Arizona’s Territorial Governors – Lewis Wolfley

Arizona Digital Newspaper Program (ADNP) – History at Your Fingertips

-Guest Post from Christopher Sloan of the ADNP



Lewis Wolfley
(b. October 8, 1839, d. February 12, 1910)

Newspapers and politics were nearly inseparable in Territorial Arizona.  If they weren’t out-and-out owned by a political actor, they were often owned by a close associate and had a clear, partisan bent.  They did not just endorse candidates for office; newspapers could be the key to making or breaking a politician’s career.  Despite their sometimes libelous content, they were the only sources for information on the workings of their government that Arizonans had. They carried news on legislation, speeches and proclamations, and the comings and goings of elected officials as they traveled the territory. 

The Arizona Digital Newspaper Program (ADNP) is endeavoring to bring these colorful and highly informative papers and their relationship to Territorial politics to an exhibit in the Arizona Capitol Museum. The exhibit will provide users with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the resources provided through the ADNP website and get a deeper look at the political lives of some of the Territorial Governors…

Lewis Wolfley was the eighth Territorial Governor of Arizona and the first to have actually lived in the territory prior to his election (Wolfley had lived in Arizona for six years).  Wolfley’s most enduring legacy was not in the legislative arena, but on the political battlefield created amongst Arizona’s largest newspapers at the end of the nineteenth century. Wolfley founded the Arizona Republican, a paper that started its life as a bitter, partisan organ for Wolfley and his faction, but became one of the cornerstones for a new era of professional journalism in the territory and the largest paper newspaper in Arizona.

Lewis Wolfley’s political career prior to the governorship included stints as a tax collector, lobbyist for “an improved ship canal between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico” as well as other “minor federal posts”. Finally, he moved to New Mexico territory in search of mineral wealth and then to Tucson to work as a surveyor.  When a relative of Wolfley’s, Benjamin Harrison, became President in 1888, Wolfley saw his opportunity to claim a political position. He threw his name in for the position of Arizona’s Territorial Governor and was awarded the job with a great deal of help from friends and relatives in the federal government. [1]

From the outset, Wolfley’s short term as governor was plagued with political squabbles inside and outside of his Republican Party.  It began when he spurned the Tucson Citizen as the de-facto Republican political organ and founded his own newspaper, the Republican, in May of 1890. The paper declared impartiality as part of its mission in the first issue, May 19, 1890:


The founding staff of the Republican consisted of many of the territorial officials, such as Clark Churchill, the Attorney General who drew a great deal of ire to Wolfley’s administration. These officials were already controversial, as they wrested their positions from C. Meyer Zulick’s Democratic appointees, many of whom refused to leave office even after being legally removed. Partisanship aside, however, “they made every effort to establish the Republican as the most modern and up-to-date paper in the territory, with a full Associated Press (AP) service, a stable of reporters, and the best mechanical equipment available”.[2]

Despite its modern orientation, the Republican found itself drawn into the war of words between different political camps, the worst of which took place inside the Republican Party.  Wolfley challenged the Federal Government’s policies in Arizona Territory, while at the same time trying to impose party discipline on the Republicans in Arizona.  Phoenix’s other Republican paper, the Herald, resentful of the Republican and Wolfley’s refusal to patronize the already existing party outlets, accused the Republican of being nothing more than a Wolfley “organ”. Just eight days after the publication of its first issue, the paper was on the defensive:


Just a few short months later, Lewis Wolfley was forced to resign the territorial governorship. He stayed involved in territorial politics and retained control over the Republican until 1895, when “[h]opelessly outgunned … Wolfley finally relinquished control … along with any hopes he might have still retained of controlling the Republican party in Arizona”.[3]  He passed the paper to Churchill, who died six months later.  A rapid series of events following Churchill’s death found the paper in control of Frank M. Murphy, who made Charles C. Randolph editor. Randolph was a New York Times correspondent who finally brought the prosperity and journalistic integrity envisioned at the newspaper’s founding to bear.[4]

According to William Lyon, “the partisan era of Arizona journalism was drawing to a close” ushered in by the fact that “newspapers had discovered fresh sources of support in the form of business advertisers; higher capitalization costs reduced the field of competitors; and editors themselves developed a strong sense of professionalism”.  On top of this, politics were changing and the “uneasy and confusing alliances” that characterized the relationship between newspaper editors and politicians were coming apart because people were sick of wading through the mess that they created. [5]

While the Republican began its ascent, unfortunately the same cannot be said for Lewis Wolfley. He moved to Prescott, returned to his original career as a surveyor, worked on a dam on the Gila River which was destroyed by a flood, made another bid for governor in 1897 (which was rejected by President McKinley), and moved to Los Angeles where he patented a device that would use ocean waves to generate electricity. WolfleyPowerPatent

In 1910, Wolfley was struck and killed by a streetcar in Los Angeles.  He is buried at the Independent Order of Oddfellows cemetery in Prescott.  His death barely made the front page of the now quite successful newspaper that he founded twenty years before. DeadWolfley1910-2-13

For more information about Arizona’s territorial governors and much, much more, please visit:      Arizona Digital Newspaper Program (ADNP)

[1] Wrighton, Scot, and Zarbin, Earl. “Lewis Wolfley, Territorial Politics, and the Founding of the Arizona Republican”.

The Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990) pp. 309-10

[2] Lyon, William H. Those Old Yellow Dog Days: Frontier Journalism in Arizona, 1859-1912. Arizona Historical Society: Tucson, Arizona 1994 p. 27

[3]Lyon. Ibid, p. 29

[4] Wrigton and Zarbin. Ibid, p. 324

[5] Lyon. Ibid, p. 29