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RG0720.AM:  William Alford Richards, 1849-1912

Papers:  1869-1912

Douglas, Lincoln, Franklin, Buffalo, and Hayes Counties, Nebraska; Cheyenne, Wyoming:  Surveyor; Governor of Wyoming

Size:  0.3 cu.ft.; 1 box


William Alford Richards was born at Hazel Green, Grant County, Wisconsin, on March 9, 1849. His father, Truman Perry Richards, was a native of New York and his mother was Eleanor Swinnerton, originally from Ohio. Richards was determined to join the Union Army and although denied enlistment due to his age, fourteen, he did serve as an ambulance driver from 1863-1864. Upon leaving the army, Richards returned to Wisconsin and began teaching in rural schools. In 1865 he attended high school in Galena, Illinois, and the following year he taught in Grant County, Wisconsin. He continued teaching until 1869, when he migrated to Omaha, Nebraska, and became a member of a government survey party in Lincoln, Franklin and Buffalo Counties. In 1872 he was the leader of a survey party in Hayes County, an account of which is contained in the diary of William J. Harmon (RG3014.AM) in the History Nebraska archives. In 1873 and 1874 he helped survey the boundaries of Wyoming and was engaged in public surveys in Nebraska in 1875. On occasion during the period 1870 to 1874 he studied law in Omaha and supplemented his practical surveying work with study and became a surveyor and civil engineer.

In 1875 Richards left Nebraska for California and after residing in Oakland, settled at San Jose. In 1879 he was elected surveyor of Santa Clara County, but due to an illness, he was forced to seek the more favorable climate of Colorado. Two years later he had regained his health and elected County Surveyor of El Paso County and City Engineer of Colorado Springs. In 1884 Richards moved to Big Horn Basin, Wyoming, and converted a homestead and desert land entry into an irrigated stock ranch. In 1886 he was elected Commissioner of Johnson County, Wyoming, and in 1889 he received an appointment by President Harrison as United States Surveyor General for Wyoming. In 1894 he won the Republican nomination for Governor of Wyoming and was elected by a comfortable margin in the general election. Following his term as governor, Richards was appointed as Assistant Commissioner and later Commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington. On December 28, 1874, Richards married Harriett Alice Hunt of Oakland, California. They were to have three daughters, Eleanor Allice, Ruth Louise and Edna Maude. Mrs. Richards died in Washington on October 27, 1903. Shortly after his wife’s death, Richards resigned as Commissioner of the General Land Office and returned to his ranch in Wyoming. He lived there and in Cheyenne, Wyoming, until July 26, 1912, when he suffered a heart attack and died while on a trip to Australia.


This collection relates to the life of William A. Richards, his experiences as a surveyor in Nebraska and Wyoming, and the day-to-day events of his life on the plains. It is arranged in three series: 1) Diaries, 1869-1870; 2) Biographical materials; and 3) Newspaper Clippings, 1870s-1912.

Note: The original diary in Series 1 is restricted for preservation. Researchers must use the transcripts.


Series 1 – Diary, 1869-1870

Box 1


  1. Original diary, 1869-1870 [Restricted, oversize]

  2. Diary transcripts, 1869-1870, includes letter, 1870

Series 2 – Biographical materials

  1. Biographical materials

Series 3 – Newspaper clippings, 1903-1912

  1. Includes: articles dealing with incidents of Richards’ life on the plains, and relating to his surveying assignment.


Subject headings:

Richards, William Alford, 1849-1912

Surveying — Nebraska

Surveying — Wyoming


Revised TMM      04-17-2007