William F. Wheeler, July 4th, 1890 (ref: 945-577)


Photograph courtesy of Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives




WILLIAM FLETCHER WHEELER, Third U.S. Marshal of Montana Territory




        The grandson of the Sheriff of Orange County, New York and the son of a Methodist minister; William Fletcher Wheeler was born at Warwick, New York on July 6,1824. Moving frequently as ministers often did, the Wheeler family moved from Orange to Onondagua County in 1826. In 1831 they relocated to Pen Yan, Yates County; and in 1836 the Wheelers moved to Randolph, Cattaraugus County.


        From the age of nine until twelve, Wheeler attended the Yates County Academy. At the age of sixteen he attended the Fredonia Academy at Chautauqua County, while paying his own way through the school for two years. In 1843 Wheeler entered himself into apprenticeship at the Ohio Statesman as a printer and reporter under Samuel Medary. He remained in that position for three years, studying law in his spare time, and in 1848 was admitted to practice in front of the bar.


        Wheeler moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1856, and in 1857 he accepted an appointment as Territorial Librarian and private secretary to Samuel Medary, who by then was Territorial Governor of Minnesota. Wheeler was continued in this position under Governor Sibley, the first state governor. Sibley commissioned Wheeler as a Lieutenant Colonel of the First Minnesota Voluntary Infantry in 1858. In the Spring of 1860, Wheeler projected and located the first telegraph line in Minnesota and incorporated a rail line from Duluth to St. Paul.


        At the outbreak of the Civil War, Wheeler assisted in raising a company of volunteers which became part of the Fourth Minnesota Regiment, stationed at Fort Snelling. As the war progressed, he saw action at Cornith, Iuka, and Vicksburg. On the drive towards Chattanooga, Wheeler became severely ill and was discharged in the Spring of 1864.


        After President Grant's inauguration, Wheeler was appointed as United States Marshal of Montana Territory on May 15, 1869, succeeding Neil Howie. In 1870, as Marshal, Wheeler wrote an extensive account of the Piegan War and coordinated the taking of the Census of the United States in Montana. Marshal Wheeler was also assigned as Superintendent of the United States Penitentiary at Deer lodge in 1871. This duty consumed a great deal of time, as the prison had to be constructed from the ground up. Marshal Wheeler was reappointed in December of 1873, and then again by President Hayes, retaining the office until 1878, when Alexander C. Botkin replaced him.


         Through the efforts of Wheeler and other early Montana settlers, the Montana Historical Society was formed; and in 1884 he was appointed it's librarian when the society became a state institution. Wheeler was the librarian until his death. He devoted much of his time collecting the reminiscences of old pioneers and writing their biographies. Wheeler was also the Crier of the United States District Court at Helena.


        William Wheeler died at his home on Howie street in Helena on June 24, 1894 due to heart and lung trouble which developed from pneumonia.




1. Helena Weekly Herald, June 28,1894

2. Montana Historical Society Archives Main Collection 65

3. Montana Historical Society Library, Biography by Cornelius Hedges

4. National Archives, Records Group 60, Attorney General's Papers