The Los Angeles-based law firm of Wells, Van Dyke, and Lee existed as such from 1885 to 1889, and consisted of Guilford Wiley Wells, Walter Van Dyke, and Bradner Wells Lee. It was preceded by Brunson, Wells, and Lee (1883-1885) and succeeded by Wells, Guthrie, and Lee (1889-1890).
Guilford Wiley Wells was born in Conseus Center, New York, on February 14, 1840. He attended Genesee Wesleyan Seminary and College in Lima, New York, until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he volunteered for the First New York Dragoons. Wells was wounded in combat several times, most seriously in February 1865, as a result of which he was discharged from the army and left with a permanently disabled left arm. Following the war, Wells attended law school at Columbia College in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1867. In 1869 he began practicing law in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and President Grant appointed him United States District Attorney for northern Mississippi in 1870. While in Mississippi, Wells helped secure the first decision against the Ku Klux Klan rendered in the southern states and was elected United States Congressman for the Second Mississippi District in 1876. In 1877 Wells was appointed consul general to Shanghai, China, a post he resigned in 1878 (he also refused appointment as consul to Hong Kong). Wells and his wife, Katy C. Fox, had traveled through California on their way to Shanghai and decided to settle in Los Angeles permanently in 1879. In Los Angeles, Wells was a partner in a succession of successful law firms, including Brunson and Wells; Wells, Van Dyke, and Lee (1883-1885); Wells, Guthrie, and Lee (1889-1890); Wells, Monroe, and Lee (1890-1893); Wells and Lee (1893-1896); and Wells, Works, and Lee (1896). He also served as Special Attorney for Mission Indians. Wells retired from practicing law in 1896. He died in Santa Monica, California, on March 21, 1909.
Walter Van Dyke was born in Tyre, New York, on October 3, 1823. In 1846 he traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to study law, and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1848. In 1849 Van Dyke joined the California Gold Rush, arriving in San Francisco in 1850. He spent some time as a gold prospector before being elected District Attorney of Klamath County in 1851 and District Attorney of Humboldt County in 1854, the same year he married Rowena Cooper (their son, Edwin C. Van Dyke, became a noted entomologist). Van Dyke also served in the California State Senate from 1862-1863, and as a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln became known as the “Father of the Union Party in California.” He practiced law in San Francisco from 1863-1864, and in Los Angeles with the firm of Wells, Van Dyke, and Lee from 1885-1889. In 1874 he was elected United States Attorney for California (he was re-elected in 1894), and he served as Justice of the Supreme Court of California from 1898 until December 1903. Van Dyke died in 1905.
Bradner Wells Lee, a nephew of Guilford Wiley Wells, was born in East Groveland, New York, on May 4, 1850. He studied law at Wells’ law office in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and was admitted to the bar of the United States District Court for northern Mississippi in 1871. In the same year he was also made Assistant District Attorney for northern Mississippi, a post he held until 1879. Lee married Helena Farrar in Philadelphia in 1883, and then traveled to Los Angeles and joined his uncle’s law firm of Brunson, Wells, and Lee (1883-1885). He also worked with the firm’s various successors, including Wells, Van Dyke, and Lee (1885-1889); Wells, Guthrie, and Lee (1889-1890); Wells, Monroe, and Lee (1890-1893); Wells and Lee (1893-1896); Wells, Works, and Lee (1896); and Works and Lee (1896-1908). Lee served as attorney and executor for the estate of E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin and also as general counsel for the Murphy Oil Company. He declined an appointment as Superior Judge of Los Angeles County in 1905, and continued to practice law alone and later with two of his sons. Lee served as president of the California Bar Association from 1919-1920, and was also active in the California Republican Party. He died on April 28, 1925.
From the guide to the Wells, Van Dyke, and Lee Papers., 1884-1887, (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens Manuscripts Department)