Sanders, Wilbur Fisk, 1834-1905

Alternative names
Birth 1834-05-02
Death 1905-07-07

Biographical notes:

Wilbur Fisk Sanders was born in Leon, New York on May 2, 1834. He began his career as a school teacher in New York and Ohio where, in 1856, he completed his training as an attorney. Sanders served as a first lieutenant in the Sixty-fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the early years of the Civil War and, in 1863, joined the rush to the gold fields of Bannack and Virginia City in what would later become Montana Territory. He was active during the vigilante activity of 1864, and afterwards practiced law in Virginia City and Helena. In addition to his interests in mining and stock raising, Sanders also embarked on a political career in the new territory and was defeated in four separate elections for the territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress. Sanders had better luck running for the territorial legislature where he served as a delegate from 1873 to1879. After Montana achieved statehood, Sanders was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate and served from January 1, 1890, to March 3, 1893, but was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection. He married Harriet P. Fenn on October 27, 1858 and the couple had at least three sons, James, Wilbur, and Louis. Louis P. Sanders (1870-1940) attended Harvard University, served with the First Montana Infantry Volunteers as an officer during the Spanish-American War and also became an attorney. Wilbur Fisk Sanders died in Helena on July 7, 1905.

From the guide to the Wilbur F. Sanders Papers, 1883-1907, (Montana State University-Bozeman Library, Merrill G Burlingame Special Collections)

Wilbur Fisk Sanders was born May 2, 1834, at Leon, New York, the son of a farmer. He received his basic education in local public schools, and in 1854, he moved to Akron, Ohio, to begin the pursuit of a legal career. He joined the law firm of his uncle, Sidney Edgerton, and studied there until his admittance to the Ohio Bar in 1856. Sanders practiced law in Ohio until the outbreak of the Civil War. He volunteered for military service, aided in the formation of Ohio volunteer units, and served as a staff officer until poor health forced his resignation in August 1862. Sanders accompanied his uncle to Bannack, Idaho Territory, where Edgerton was to serve as territorial chief justice. Sanders chose to remain in the gold mining region, practicing law. During the vigilante period, Sanders served as a prosecuting attorney for the trial that produced the first vigilante execution, and he supported the movement thereafter. Sanders was active as a Republican politician. He served four terms in the territorial house (1872-1879), and was four times the unsuccessful Republican candidate for territorial delegate (1864, 1867, 1880, 1886). He was chosen one of Montana's first senators in 1890, after a disputed election. He served the short term (1890-1893), but failed to be re-elected in 1892, after another legislative dispute. Sanders' law practice, begun in Bannack, was continued as he moved to Virginia City and Helena. Sanders served many years as regional counsel for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Wilbur Fisk Sanders died in Helena, July 7, 1905.

From the guide to the Wilbur Fisk Sanders Papers, 1856-1905, (Montana Historical Society Archives)


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  • Home and Family
  • Louisiana Purchase
  • Montana
  • Photographs
  • Vigilantes--Montana--Bannack
  • Vigilantes--Montana--Virginia City
  • Pioneers
  • Railroad travel
  • Frontier and pioneer life--Montana


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  • United States (as recorded)
  • Helena (Mont.) (as recorded)