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Warren Olney (March 11, 1841–1921) was an American lawyer, environmentalist, and politician. He was a founding member of the Sierra Club, and served as Mayor of Oakland, California from 1903 to 1905.

Early life[]

Olney was born near the Fox River in frontier Iowa. Raised in abject poverty and with little formal schooling, he learned his lessons well enough to become a teacher, superintendent of schools, and a college freshman, oddly enough, in that order. During that time, one of the students in his school was a young future western hero, Wyatt Earp.

Olney enlisted in the Union Army and served in the American Civil War. He served in Missouri, then fought at the battle of Shiloh/Pittsburg's Landing where a spent bullet knocked him unconscious and got him mistakenly reported killed. He then became a headquarters clerk and in 1864 got a commission as captain commanding a company in the United States Colored[sic]Infantry. He served with this organization without seeing more combat through the remainder of the war, and taking his discharge in August 1865.

He married his college sweetheart and went to the University of Michigan there earning a degree in law. In 1868, he and his bride sailed from New York for San Francisco, California.


Olney founded a law firm in San Francisco. He quickly developed a keen interest in the outdoors, and was involved in the creation of the Sierra Club, an organization dedicated to conservation in the Sierra Mountains. They held their early meetings in his law office, he wrote its first charter and was its vice president and close personal friend of naturalist John Muir.[1] He was Mayor of Oakland from 1903 to 1905. A difficult choice over damming the Tuolumne River (in Yosemite National Park) for public water forced a break between him and Muir and a parting of the ways from the Sierra Club in 1909. He died at 80 years of age in 1921.


Olney's son and grandson, who shared his name, were also lawyers. His son, Warren Olney II, served on the Supreme Court of California from 1919 to 1921. His grandson, Warren Olney III was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an Assistant Attorney General to oversee the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice. Although Warren Olney III was Chief Justice Earl Warren's choice to be chief counsel for the Warren Commission, J. Lee Rankin was chosen instead.[2]

His great-grandson, Warren Olney IV is noted radio journalist.


  1. Cohen, Michael P. (1988). The History of the Sierra Club: 1892 - 1970. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. pp. pages 8–9. ISBN 0-87156-732-6. 
  2. Gerald McKnight, Breach of Trust, pp. 41–55; Donald Gibson, The Kennedy Assassination Cover-Up (2000), pp. 91–96.

External links[]

Template:Start box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Anson Barstow |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mayor of Oakland, California
1903–1905 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Frank K. Mott |- Sierra Club