JUSTICE WILLIS VAN DEVANTER.
One of those who have reflected honor upon the state of Wyoming is Willis Van Devanter, justice of the supreme court of the United States. He was born at Marion, Indiana, on the 17th of April, 1859, and is a son of Hon. Isaac and Violetto Maria (Spencer) Van Devanter. His father was for many years a distinguished and successful lawyer in Indiana.
Justice Van Devanter received his education in the public schools of his native town and in Asbury (now De Pauw) University and in the law school of Cincinnati College, graduating from the latter with the class of 1881. He received the degree of LL. D. from his alma mater (De Pauw University) in 1911.
Justice Van Devanter practiced his profession at Marion, Indiana, from 1881 until 1884, associated with his father and Hon. John W. Lacey, afterward chief justice of the supreme court of Wyoming. Attracted by the opportunities of the west, he came to Cheyenne in July, 1884, and at once entered upon active practice and has ever since made his home in the state save as his official duties have temporarily taken him elsewhere. It was he who, in 1886, drafted the bill under which the capitol building in Cheyenne was erected, the University at Laramie started and other state institutions established. His practice in Wyoming was very extensive, taking him into every county. At that time many of the county seats were remote from railroads, so that he was often required to make long journeys by stage coach. He was associated in practice from 1887 until 1889 with Hon. Charles N. Potter, now chief justice of the supreme court of Wyoming, and from 1891 until 1897 with Hon. John W. Lacey.
It was but natural that a man of his capacity, learning, ability and public spirit should be called upon for public service. In 1886 Justice Van Devanter was appointed by the governor of the state as a member of "the commission which prepared and published the Revised Statutes of 1887. In the latter year he was made city attorney of Cheyenne and in 1888 was elected a member of the territorial house of representatives, acting as chairman of the judiciary committee. In August, 1889, President Harrison appointed him chief justice of the supreme court of Wyoming, in which office he served until statehood. While chief justice of the territory he was the trial judge of the first judicial district, embracing the counties of Laramie, Crook, Converse and Weston as they then existed. He presided at the first term of court ever held in Weston county and at that term presided at the trial of a man who was convicted for shooting Hon. Frank W. Mondell, then mayor of Newcastle and now representative in congress. At the first state election he became chief justice of the supreme court of the state but soon afterward resigned to resume the active practice of the law.
Justice Van Devanter has always been a keen and intelligent observer of the things taking place in the world. His outlook has always been broad. He has appreciated and understood the tendencies of his time. He took an active interest in political affairs. He served as chairman of the republican state committee from 1892 until 1895, was a delegate to the national republican convention and a member of the republican national committee in 1896. He became assistant attorney general of the United States and was assigned to the interior department, thus serving from 1897 until 1903. In the latter year he became United States circuit judge for the eighth circuit and remained upon that bench for seven years. In December, 1910, he was appointed associate justice of the supreme court of the United States by President Taft and took his seat in that court on the 3d of January.
On the 10th of October, 1883, Justice Van Devanter was united in marriage to Miss Dollie Burhans, a daughter of Winslow Paige and Rachel Ann (Dorman) Burhans, of Ionia, Michigan. They have two sons, Isaac and Winslow. who are now serving as officers in the war with Germany. Justice Van Devanter is a man of marked personal characteristics who has the faculty of placing anyone in his presence at ease. The simplicity and beauty of his daily life, as seen in his home and family relations, constitute an even balance to his splendid judicial ability and characteristics.