Meet Arizona’s Territorial Governors – Nathan Murphy

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

-Guest Post from Christopher Sloan of the ADNP


Nathan Oakes Murphy
(b. October 14, 1849, d. August 22, 1908)

Newspapers and politics were nearly inseparable in Territorial Arizona.  If newspapers 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…

Nathan Oakes Murphy was both the tenth and the fourteenth Territorial Governor of Arizona. Murphy served as the Territorial Secretary under Governor John Irwin, and successfully petitioned President Benjamin Harrison to appoint him Territorial Governor after Irwin left the office because of family business obligations in Iowa in 1892. Murphy served less than a year because incoming Democratic President Grover Cleveland replaced him with a Democrat, Louis C. Hughes. Murphy was appointed governor again by President William McKinley in 1898, and this time served until 1902. He resigned amid allegations of defrauding the Territory, to make way for his friend, Alexander O. Brodie.

Murphy’s accomplishments as governor included an unsuccessful bid for Arizona’s statehood to Congress at a time when Republicans in Washington were looking for any reason to deny entry to a majority Democratic state, and risk the possibility of tipping the scales.


In his 1893 address to the legislature, he spends much of his verbiage on increasing territorial revenue through the possibility of convict leasing for projects outside of the walls of the Territorial Prison at Yuma; and better and more complete taxation, with the exception of railroads, which should be exempt from taxation to encourage their development (Needless to say, Murphy had considerable investment in Arizona’s railroads).[1] Murphy also had the distinction of being the first governor in the new Capitol Building in Phoenix in 1901, a building which was supposed to represent Arizona’s readiness for statehood.


Murphy was a business man and a booster for Arizona. He was involved with his brother, Frank Murphy, in the Santa Fe, Prescott, and Phoenix Railroad, as well as having his hands in several mining operations. Frank Murphy also became the owner of the Arizona Republican after Clark Churchill passed away. While there is no doubt that this must have proved beneficial for Murphy, it also played a major role in his undoing as governor. The January 30, 1902 Bisbee Daily Review outlines the charges against Murphy.  The third charge they level is that Oakes Murphy has “caused to be paid during his term, many thousands of dollars to the ‘Arizona Republican’” which is “either actually or virtually owned by himself or brother, Frank M. Murphy…” This and the other two charges, according to the Daily Review of April 25, 1902, were “investigated by President Roosevelt” and Murphy was found “to be blameless.” Four days before this had been printed, Murphy had tendered his resignation.



Murphy spent the remainder of his life engaged in a variety of business ventures (as evidenced by a number of articles of incorporation printed in Arizona newspapers) and traveling with his second wife. Below is a legal advertisement for the articles of incorporation for a corporation which would “organize and maintain corporations under the laws of the Territory of Arizona”:




Murphy died suddenly in 1908 and his final resting place is the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C.

Special thanks to the Arizona Memory Project for use of material from the collection of Territorial Governor Portraits by William Besser ( For more information about Arizona’s territorial governors and much, much more, please visit: Arizona Digital Newspaper Program (ADNP)

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[1] Nathan O. Murphy “Biennial Message of N. O. Murphy, Governor of Arizona, to the Seventeenth Legislative Assembly, February 14th, 1893), Arizona Memory Project, (accessed 10 Feb. 2014).