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Bashford, Coles 1816-1878 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Bashford, Coles (1816-1878)

Lawyer, Politician and Governor

Bashford, Coles 1816-1878 | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.
b. Cold Spring, N.Y., 1816
d. Prescott, Arizona Territory, April, 1878

Coles Bashford was a lawyer, politician and governor. He was admitted to the bar and held a public office in New York before he moved to Oshkosh in 1850.


Elected on the Whig ticket, he served in the state senate from 1853 to 1855. He helped organize the Republican party in 1854. In 1855, he was a candidate for governor. When the Democratic incumbent, William A. Barstow, won the election by only 157 votes, Bashford contested the results before the state supreme court. With the help of Barstow's enemies and evidence of fraudulent returns in two counties, he forced Barstow to resign in favor of Lieutenant Governor Arthur McArthur. Then, upon winning the court decision, Bashford took office himself.


During his administration from 1856 to 1857, the legislature distributed two huge grants of land awarded to Wisconsin by the U.S. government for building railroads. In 1858, an investigating committee uncovered a series of frauds in connection with the parceling out of the railroad lands. Members of the legislature of 1856 and other officials had received bribes proportionate to the importance of their positions. The prime beneficiary was Governor Bashford. From the La Crosse road alone he had received $50,000 in bonds, which he later converted into $15,000 cash. In 1863, after several years in obscurity, he moved to Arizona Territory, where he eventually rose to be secretary.

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Dict. Amer. Biog.; T. E. Farish, Hist. of Ariz. (8 vols., Phoenix, 1915-1918); J. B. Win-slow, Story of a Great Court (Chicago, 1912); WPA MS.