Stone, Judge Wilbur Fisk

Judge Wilbur Fisk Stone
Litchfield, CT
Evansville, IN
Omaha, NE

Pages 676, 678

The life history of Judge Wilbur Fisk Stone is one of unusual interest.  A descendant of an old English family, representatives of which were members of the Guilford, Conn., colony, he was born at Litchfield, Conn., in 1833.  In 1839 his father removed to the west and after brief successive residences in western New York, Michigan, and Indiana, located in 1844 upon a large tract of farming land near Oskaloosa, in the then territory of Iowa.

Our subject lived and worked with his father on the Iowa farm until he was eighteen years old, when he went to Indiana to build upon the educational foundation that had been laid in country schools previously accessible to him.  After two years in the Rushville, Ind., Academy, in which during part of that time he was an assistant teacher, he entered Asbury University at Greencastle, Ind., where he remained until the close of his junior year, having earned his tuition by writing prize essays, and having provided for his personal needs by teaching country schools during vacations, in the good old fashion.  Concluding another round as a country school teacher, he joined the senior class of the Indiana State University at Bloomington, and after having been graduated with it, began the study of law while serving as a tutor in the classical department of the University; a position to which he had been appointed soon after his graduation as a Senior.  He subsequently entered the law department of the University and as graduated therein in 1858.  During those years at Bloomington young Stone’s natural ability as a reasoner and a writer had been given some expression in various contributions to the Bloomington and other Indiana newspapers.

Upon completion of his course in the law department of the Indiana State University, Mr. Stone located at Evansville in that State to engage, in practice, but was soon called to the editorial chair of the Evansville "Daily Enquirer," and which he occupied upward of a year, though in the meantime devoting part of his energies to legal work.  In the autumn of 1859 he went to Omaha, Neb., on legal business, and was detained there by it through the following winter.  Partly to relieve the tedium and partly to provide means of support, he became assistant editor of the Omaha "Nebraskian," of which the present "World-Herald" is the successor.  Having acquired the art and mystery of short-hand writing, then a rare accomplishment, Mr. Stone reported verbatim on the proceedings of the Nebraska Territorial Legislature in session at Omaha during that winter.  None of the legislators had ever seen that kind of writing, and most of them refused to believe that it could be translated into anything of meaning; though they were mystified by the exactness of the reports as they appeared in the Nebraskian, a daily issue of which was published during that session, and which was the first daily newspaper ever printed in Nebraska, and the first between the Missouri river and San Francisco.

Mr. Stone remained at Omaha until the spring of 1860, when, having been exposed to the Pike’s Peak contagion, he crossed the plains to Denver. In the summer of that year he joined the mining community at Tarryall in the South park, where he became a prospector, miner, and a practicing lawyer; and with that general section of the Territory he was identified during the ensuing five years. Soon after Canon City was founded he went there as a settler, and with the late George A. Hinsdale formulated a code of laws for the first "People’s Court" of that district. upon the organization of Colorado Territory he was elected a Representative from park county in the first Territorial Legislature, and in 1864 was again elected to that position; and in 1862-65 served as Assistant United States District Attorney under general Samuel E. Browne.

After his marriage at Bloomington, Ind., in the winter of 1865-66 to Miss Sarah Sadler of that city, Mr. Stone located in Pueblo and resumed practice of law.  In 1868 he was appointed District Attorney of the Third Judicial District and was subsequently elected to that position for a full term.  In 1868, also, when the Pueblo "Chieftain" newspaper began publication, Mr. Stone became its editor, having George A. Hinsdale as his associate; and continued editor of that paper until 1873.  He was instrumental in organizing in 1869 the first board of Trade in Pueblo, and became its treasurer and Corresponding Secretary.  One of the active promoters of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad, and a member of the company, he served as its General Attorney until his election to the Supreme Bench of the State in 1877.  In 1874 at Boston he arranged with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Company details of plans and agreements for extensions of its lines through southern Colorado.  A member from Pueblo county, of the convention that framed the constitution of the State in 1876, he served as chairman of the Committee on Judiciary, as a member of several other important committees, and had been the choice of his party for president of the convention.  The constitution having been ratified, Mr. Stone was unanimously nominated by the Democratic party as its candidate for Associate Justice of the new State’s supreme Court but, in common with the rest of the ticket, failed of election, by a narrow margin.

In 1877, Judge E. T. Wells, who had been elected a Supreme Judge for the long term of nine years, at that first State election, resigned.  To nominate a candidate to succeed him, a convention of the lawyers of the State, representing both political parties, was held at Colorado Springs, and by which Mr. Stone was unanimously chosen for the high position.  His election followed in the autumn of that year without opposition.  Such recognition of popularity and professional ability was unprecedented, and of these proceedings that placed Judge Stone on the Supreme Bench of the State there has been no repetition.

Judge Stone’s term expired in 1886, and in 1887 he was appointed by Governor Adams Judge of the Arapahoe county Criminal Court, in which position he served until the spring of 1889, when the Court was abolished by legislative enactment.  He then engaged in the practice of law in Denver which he continued until the summer of 1891.  Congress, by an act approved March 3rd of that year established the "Court of Private Land Claims," for the purpose of adjudicating Spanish and Mexican land-grant titles in accordance with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, its jurisdiction extending over Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico; the Court to consist of five Judges appointed from different States by the President.  On June 10, 1891, President Harrison in response to requests from Colorado men of both political parties, and in recognition of his ability and fitness, appointed Judge Stone one of the Judges of that Court, which judicial position he yet fills.  His intimate knowledge of the western and southwestern country, of the Spanish language, and of the Mexican people to whom much of the business of the Court extends has made him one of its most efficient members.  He was selected by the Court to visit Spain to investigate the archives at Madrid for information bearing on old Spanish grants in what is now Colorado and New Mexico territory; and on this duty, upon one of his several visits to Europe, he spent the winter of 1894-95 in the Spanish capital and at Sevilla.

Scholarly, versed in French and German as well as in Spanish and his mother tongue, Judge Stone is, aside from his learning and ability as a lawyer and a jurist, a man of high attainments, and a writer who clothes his subjects with many charms of expression.  In the earlier days he was a frequent and always welcome contributor to Colorado newspapers.  He has written freely upon the history of southern Colorado and New Mexico, and the historical review of Pueblo for the National Centennial Records of the United States Government was prepared by him.  His description of Mount Lincoln and its surrounding scenic magnificence, written and published in 1864, will stands without equal as a word-picture of the majestic grandeur and beauty of Nature’s work in the Colorado mountains.