Notes for Adair Wilson

A Wilson Family Tree

Notes for Adair Wilson

He is the author of the Adair Wilson family record.

"Portrait and Biographical Record of Denver and Vicinity, Colorado", Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1898, pp. 321-325 (obtained from

HON. ADAIR WILSON, associate judge of the Colorado State Court of Appeals, was born in 1841 in what is now Cambridge, Saline County, Mo., and is of Scotch-Irish lineage. His paternal great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to the United States and after a short sojourn in Pennsylvania went to the Shenandoah Valley, of Virginia, where he was engaged as a planter until his death. He had a brother, James, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, also of the Constitution, by profession an attorney, and under appointment by President Washington chosen to fill the position of justice of the supreme court of the United States.

The grandfather of our subject, William Wilson, was born in Virginia, and took part in the Revolution when a young man. Many years later, in 1824, he removed to Missouri and settled upon a farm near Glasgow, Howard County, where he lived retired until his death. The youngest of his large family was William A., a native of Augusta County, Va., and in early life a merchant, but later a student of law with his brother, Gen. John Wilson, who had preceded the family to Missouri and had served in the war of 1812. William was admitted to the bar in Saline County and opened an office in Marshall, where he was a pioneer and prominent attorney. For years he was clerk of all the courts there. When the Civil war broke out he was somewhat advanced in years, but enlisted in the state militia and was made lieutenant-colonel of a regiment, serving until the close of the war, but the exposure of camp life caused his death soon afterwards. He was then about fifty-seven years of age. Fraternally he was a Mason.

Our subject's mother was Mary E. Reeves, a native of Todd County, Ky., and now living in Marshall, Mo. She is the descendant of English and Scotch-Irish ancestors, who early settled in Virginia. Her father, Col. Benjamin H. Reeves, was born in Augusta County, Va., but about the close of the eighteenth century, when in infancy, he removed to Kentucky with his parents. His father had served in the Revolution and he took part, as a captain, in the war of 1812, being of the greatest assistance to the cause in Indiana and Kentucky and relieving Zachary Taylor when the latter was besieged near Lafayette. During his residence in Kentucky he was for many years a member of the legislature. In 1818 he removed to Missouri, where he was a member of the constitutional convention, later state senator from his district, and afterward lieutenant-governor of the state for one term. He was one of the commissioners appointed by the president of the United States to locate the Santa Fe trail. Both while in Kentucky and Missouri he was active in the skirmishes with the Indians, and during the Iowa Indian war he was colonel of a regiment. He died in 1849, at the age of sixty-two years. Politically he had been an ardent supporter of Henry Clay and the Whig party.

The family of which our subject is a member consisted of seven children, he being third in order of birth. One brother, Benjamin H., was a captain in a Missouri regiment during the Civil war and is now a resident of Denver. Our subject was reared in Marshall and received his education in the Masonic College, from which he graduated with the degree of A. B., in 1858, when less than seventeen years of age, being the youngest member of his class. He studied law under an uncle, Judge Abiel Leonard, who was at one time judge of the supreme court of Missouri. In 1860 he was admitted to the bar at Marshall and in the spring of the following year came to Denver, making the trip overland with teams. After a few weeks he proceeded westward to California and located in San Francisco, where his uncle, Gen. John Wilson, was a prominent attorney. The uncle and nephew practiced together for two years, then the latter went to Virginia City, Nev., and embarked in the newspaper business as city editor of the Virginia City Union, at the same time that Mark Twain was city editor of the Enterprise. After one year he went to Austin, Nev., where he was the first editor of the Reese River Reveille, a paper that is still being published. Resigning his position a year later, he went back to San Francisco and resumed the practice of law. His father dying in 1867 [actually in 1865], he returned to Missouri to look after the estate, and opened an office in Marshall, where he practiced until 1872.

Coming again to Colorado in 1872, our subject located in Pueblo, where he practiced for a year. He was among the earliest settlers in the San Juan mining region and located at Del Norte, which became the county seat. In 1875 he was elected the first member of the territorial council from the San Juan country, comprising five or six counties, and served during the last session of the legislature of the territory, being chosen as president of the body. In 1876 he was a delegate to the national Democratic convention at St. Louis that nominated Samuel J. Tilden for president, and during the ensuing election was one of the Democratic candidates for presidential elector voted for by the legislature of Colorado. During the same year he was nominated for judge of the fourth judicial district, but declined the nomination. In 1880 he was tendered the Democratic nomination for governor, in the convention held at Leadville, but refused to accept. Six years later he was nominated on the Democratic ticket for state senator from the San Juan district and was the only one on the Democratic ticket elected, the district being Republican. His term of service covered the years 1887-90, during which time he introduced many bills of importance. In 1887 he opened an office in Durango, where he has since resided. At the convention in Chicago in 1896 he was elected a member of the Democratic national committee. In April, 1897, Governor Adams appointed him to the position he now holds, that of associate judge of the court of appeals. He is a member of the Pioneers' Association of San Juan, and fraternally is connected with the Masonic lodge of Del Norte. In Arrow Rock, Saline County, Mo., he married Miss Margaret E. Edwards, who was born in Pettis County, that state, being the daughter of Philip W. Edwards, who was born in Kentucky in 1800, removed to Missouri in an early day and engaged in business there until his death. This union was blessed with the following children: Katharine W., who married Austin H. Brown; Edwards Adair, Alva Adams and Margaretta.

I'm afraid that some of the earlier information in this biographical sketch is not correct. Adair’s paternal great-grandfather was Robert Wilson, and Page Smith's biography of James Wilson does not list a brother named Robert. Possibly Robert was some sort of cousin to James, but I don't think he was a brother (the Foster/Reid Family Tree says a half-brother, which might be possible). Also, the biography says that the unnamed brother of James came from Ireland, but James was from Scotland.

The bio above says that Adair moved to Colorado in 1872 and it mentions elected positions in 1875 and 1876. Interesting, then, that Edwards and Alva were both born in Marshall, MO, in 1874 and 1879 (and this is according to Adair's own bible and family record). Was Bettie going home to Marshall each time for the births?

From one of his obituaries: "Adair Wilson, former judge of the Colorado court of appeals, is dead. In Berkeley, Cal., at the home of his daughter [presumably Kate Wilson Brown], where he went three years ago on account of illness, he passed away at noon Sunday and there he will be buried on Tuesday. Mr. Wilson had not abandoned Colorado as his home and only recently talked of returning to Denver this spring. He suffered a paralytic stroke soon after going to California and since that time has been an invalid."

The obituary also says, about his time as editor of the Virginia City Union: "At that time Mark Twain was editing the Virginia City Enterprise, and while the two were business rivals they were fast personal friends. This friendship endured until Mr. Twain’s death two years ago."

A copy of a 1907 letter from Adair to Mark Twain was sent to me by Todd Adair Wilson, a great-great grandson of Adair. The original letter is believed to be in the Mark Twain Papers at the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley. Adair’s letter was typed, but a handwritten note on the letter, presumably by Mark Twain, says that Adair Wilson "was a man who justified Horace Greeley’s remark go west, young man, go west. He was a reporter & then student of law with a shyster lawyer & then practiced & finally became a judge." I wonder if the "shyster lawyer" comment refers to John Wilson?

In the bio of William Adair Wilson in "History of Saline County, Missouri", Adair is mentioned as "W. A." I wonder if he was really William Adair Wilson Jr.?

There is a cute anecdote in "Pioneers of the San Juan Country" by Sarah Platt Decker Chapter, N.S.D.A.R., Durango, Colorado (Durango Printing Co., Durango, CO, 1952, Vol. III, pp. 168–169):

... In 1873 their residence was established in Del Norte, then southwestern Colorado’s most thriving town. In December of that year Mr. Wilson became the first editor of the Del Norte Prospector. The first issue of the new paper made its appearance in December of that year. In this capacity his marked political sagacity first manifested itself.

Apparently some of his time must have been devoted to his law practice, because one of his favorite stories centered around a certain term of district court held in Del Norte, which was attended by all the legal lights of the San Juan country.

One evening all participated in a party where some refreshments were served but more were poured. When court convened next morning not an attorney had completely recovered from the liquid intake. Together they decided it would add to the merriment to march into the court room in a body singing songs that had been a part of the previous evening’s entertainment.

One by one the legal culprits were called before the presiding judge and fined $10.00. Sternly “His Honor” stated, “Gentlemen, I am not fining you because you entered the court room singing, BUT because you can’t sing!”

"Pioneers of the San Juan Country" also says this:

After the family moved to California he spent much of the time during his declining years writing a history of his experiences in Southwestern Colorado; only to have the manuscript burned in the fire that followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Repeated attempts on the part of his friends in the San Juan to get him to re-write the history were without success. He felt he was too far advanced in life to repeat his efforts.

There is quite a bit about Adair in the Hotchkiss manuscript (James Hotchkiss Jr. was Adair's grandson).

1850 census
Listed as Adair Wilson, age 9, born in Missouri. Attended school within the year. Living with his parents.

1860 census
Listed as Adair Wilson, age 17, born in Missouri. Occupation, law student. Living with his parents.

1870 census
Image 3 on (Marshall Twp., Saline Co., MO)
Listed as Adair Wilson, age 28, born in Missouri. Occupation, attorney at law. Value of real estate listed as $3000, value of personal estate listed as $500. Household consisted of Adair, Margaret E., and Mary E. Wilson; and Mariah and Harriet Allen (domestic servant and her baby).

1880 census
Image 5 on (District 98, Del Norte Twp., Rio Grande Co., CO)
Listed as Adair Wilson, age 38, born in Missouri. Household consisted of Adair, Bettie, Katie T, Eddie A., and Alva Wilson; Kate Letcher, listed as a niece; and Maria and Fannie Allen (servant and her baby).

Note: Some of the information in these pages is uncertain. Please let me know of errors or omissions using the email link above.    ...Mike Wilson

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