Sunday, April 26, 2020

Norman Willey

Norman Willey, 1895.
The State of Idaho originally began its life in the United States as part of Oregon Territory. When Oregon became a state, Idaho became part of the new Washington Territory until Washington became a state. The new Idaho Territory existed for 27 years and was almost legislated out of existence by splitting Idaho between Washington and Nevada. Idaho became a state on July 3, 1890. George L. Shoup was appointed Idaho Territorial governor by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889. When Idaho became a state the following year, he was elected the first governor. Shoup was then elected to the U.S. Senate by the Idaho State Legislature and he resigned in December 1890. Shoup would serve in the Senate until 1901, winning reelection in 1895. Shoup would retire and pass away in 1904. The man who succeeded Shoup in the governorship was Norman Bushnell Willey, who was the Lieutenant Governor. Willey would only accept the lieutenant governorship if he was guaranteed that Shoup would be elevated to U.S. Senator. It was agreed and within two and a half months, Willey was the second governor of the State of Idaho.

Norman Willey was born in Guilford, New York in 1838 to Hiram and Caroline Willey. At the age of 20, Norman moved to California to start mining. He continued as a miner when he moved to Idaho in 1864. He also became involved in politics serving on a board of commissioners and school board, along with being elected county treasurer and county school superintendent. He was later elected to the territory legislature, serving in that capacity until Idaho became a state. Willey helped oversee the government transition from territorial to state, helped choose the state seal and oversaw a mining dispute. He served as governor until 1893 and lost his party's nomination to William McConnell, who then became governor.

Willey then went back to mining in California but sadly his fortunes would be no more. Health failing and penniless, Willey came to Kansas to live with his sister, Phoebe Black, on her and her husband's farm near Dover. He arrived in 1918. Phoebe died in the summer of 1921 and Willey gave up on life. Blind, deaf, and nearly unable to speak, he went to the Shawnee County Poor Farm where he lived for about three months before passing away. Willey died on October 20, 1921 but it took nearly two weeks before anyone knew that this man was of some importance.
Headline from Topeka State Journal, Nov. 4, 1921.

William R. Black, Willey's brother-in-law, alerted people to his identity and the news of Willey's death was sent across the country instead of just being a local story. The State of Idaho did grant Willey a pension, of sorts, when they heard news he was so sick but it wasn't enough. Willey also numerous well-off relatives who also offered no help. Willey had no children and was a bachelor. He was buried in the Black family plot with his sister Phoebe, her husband William, who died in 1927, their father, Hiram (d. 1895), and Minnie Dillman, a girl adopted by the Blacks, in Auburn Cemetery in southwestern Shawnee County, Kansas.
photo from Find A Grave
Norman Willey, 1904 illustration
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