Wyoming's state seal scandal

Wyoming's state seal was officially adopted just under 130 years ago, but two of the proposed seal designs that preceded it caused quite a scandal.

From 1869 to 1890 Wyoming was a U.S. territory, achieving statehood on July 10, 1890. During its territorial years - and for three years into statehood - it had a territorial seal that depicted agricultural and mining implements, an arm holding an upright saber, a scene with mountains and a train, the motto "Oedant Arma Toga," ("Let Arms Yield to the Toga") and the year 1868, when the Wyoming Organic Act was signed. (The territorial government would not be established until 1869.)

Wyoming's first state legislature convened on November 12, 1890. Early in that session, State Senator Fenimore Chatterton of Carbon County, and House Members Nat Baker (Converse County) and H.E. Buechner (Laramie County) formed a joint committee to consider designs for a state seal. Several were weighed, including one submitted by Buechner; that of a robed woman with broken chains on her wrists standing above a banner reading "Equal Rights" - in recognition of Wyoming's landmark adoption of women's suffrage - and pointing to a star bearing the number "44," commemorating the fact that Wyoming was the 44th state created. In the background was a composite scene depicting agriculture, mining, and oil drilling rigs. It was this design the committee decided to recommend.

Chatterton wrote and introduced a senate file calling for adoption of the design, which passed both the senate and the house. Writing in 1975, historian Tom Bohnsack described what happened next: Chatterton was chosen or volunteered to carry the enrolled act to Dr. Amos Barber, who was serving as acting governor, but while en route from the house chamber in January of 1891, he removed the Buechner design and replaced it with one of his own. It, too, featured a woman pointing to a star labeled "44," but this woman was nude.

Chatterton's design was quite crude, and a decision was made to have it redrawn. A Rawlins artist was chosen for the makeover, which was a definite improvement in terms of artistic quality, but the woman in the second version was just as naked.

Chatterton and the design were savagely mocked in the press, even at the national level. (The New York Sun editorialized about the seal that "...just who the offenders are has not been discovered, but they have been able to do more damage to the reputation of Wyoming in a few days than did all the seal makers of Albany to this state in thirty years.")

The uproar went on for months, and in response it was decided to replace the Chatterton design altogether. A Philadelphia artist named Edmund Stewardson was selected to design a new seal, which he submitted to Barber in February of 1892. Barber approved of his design and commissioned him to create a plaster model, which arrived in Cheyenne in March.

In 1893, Wyoming's second state legislature approved Stewardson's creation, which featured a thoroughly-robed woman, a stockman-farmer, a miner, an "Equal Rights" banner, and scrolls labeled "Cattle," "Mines," "Grain," and "Oil," four of Wyoming's top industries. (One additional alteration would be made. "Cattle" would be changed to "Livestock" in recognition of the sheep industry. It has remained Wyoming's state seal ever since.)

By the time the bill passed Wyoming had a new governor, Dr. John Osborne of Rawlins, who signed the new seal into law not long after taking office in 1893. (Osborne is famous - or infamous - for his footwear. After an outlaw named Big Nose George Parrott was lynched by a mob in Rawlins in 1881, Osborne and another physician named Thomas Maghee took charge of his body for medical study. Osborne skinned Parrott and had the skin incorporated into a pair of shoes, which he wore to his inaugural ball.)

The state seal affair was not the last controversy in Fenimore Chatterton's life. Elected Wyoming's Secretary of State in 1898, he was appointed to serve out the term of Governor DeForest Richards, who died in office in 1903. He was not nominated by the Republican party to run for the office in his own right in the 1904 election, and it's thought this was due to his refusal to commute the death sentence of Tom Horn, who was convicted in the 1901 murder of Willy Nickell. Horn was hanged in Cheyenne on November 20, 1903. Chatterton served as Secretary of State until 1907. He left public service and practiced law until 1932, when he retired. He died in 1958 at age 97.  

 

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