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Wilbur Fiske Sanders (May 2, 1834 – July 7, 1905) was a United States Senator from Montana, a skilled lawyer and played a prominent role in the state's development.


Sanders was born in Leon, New York, where he attended the common schools, and taught school in New York. He was a nephew of Sidney Edgarton (First Montana Governor). He moved to Ohio in 1854, where he continued teaching, and studied law in Akron, gaining admission to the bar in 1856.

During the Civil War, he recruited a company of infantry and a battery of artillery in the summer of 1861 and was commissioned a first lieutenant in the 64th Regiment, Ohio Infantry, of which he was made adjutant. He assisted, in 1862, in the construction of defenses along the railroads south of Nashville. When his term of enlistment expired, he resigned from the army.

He settled in that part of Idaho Territory that later became Montana, where he engaged in the practice of law and also became interested in mining and stock raising. He was a young lawyer when he moved to Montana in 1863. He was there before courts were organized and, being one of the first permanent settlers, took a prominent part in bringing law and order to Montana. He was a prosecutor for the Montana Vigilantes who took the law into their own hands after over one hundred men had been ambushed and murdered for their gold in Virginia City, Montana. Sanders' courageous prosecution of George Ives as a murderer led to the hanging of Ives and the rest of the "road agents" so that the reign of terror in Virginia City was brought to an end.

In 1873 Sanders became a member of the Territorial Legislature, and next was a United States Senator. Also he realized the importance of preserving early records and for thirty years, as the president of the Montana Historical Society, established in 1865, he accumulated newspapers and documents in his law office.

He became known as Colonel Sanders. He was a Republican candidate for election in 1864, 1867, 1880, and 1886 as a Delegate to Congress, and was a member of the Territorial house of representatives of Montana from 1873 to 1879.

Upon the admission of Montana as a State into the Union, he was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate and served from January 1, 1890, to March 3, 1893. While in the Senate, he was chairman of the Committee on Enrolled Bills (Fifty-second Congress.)

Wilbur F. Sanders died in Helena, Montana, aged 71, and was interred in Forestvale Cemetery there. Sanders County, Montana is named in his honor.

See also[]

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