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Biography of Lionel Sheldon

Born in Worcester, Otsego County, New York on August 30, 1831, the son of Allen and Anna Maria (De Les Dernier) Sheldon. Of English and French ancestry, Sheldon married Mary Green Miles of Elyria, Ohio in December 1868.

Sheldon moved with his parents to Lagrange, Ohio, where he attended the district school. He was a student at Oberlin College from 1848 to 1850, and then read law at Elyria, Ohio. He was graduated from the Fowler Law College at Poughkeepsie, New York in 1853, passed the bar, and began practice at Elyria. From 1856 to 1857 Sheldon served as Probate Judge in Lorain County, Ohio. In 1858 he became a Brigadier General of the Ohio state militia. Sheldon left his law practice early in the Civil War to be commissioned in August 1861 as Captain of the Second Ohio Cavalry. His promotion to Major in September 1861 was followed in November by another promotion, this time to Lieutenant Colonel of the 42nd Ohio Infantry, of which James A. Garfield was a Colonel. In January 1862 Sheldon also became a Colonel, and a year later his brigade launched the attack on Arkansas Post. He was wounded at the Battle of Fort Gibson in May 1863. The next year Sheldon was brevetted Brigadier General of volunteers and mustered out of service in December 1864. He settled in New Orleans and practiced law from 1864 to 1879, with the exception of the period from 1869 to 1875, when he served as a Republican Representative in the United States Congress. In 1875 he acted as a lawyer in the Alabama claims case. Returning to Ohio in 1879, Sheldon played a role in the Presidential campaign of James Garfield, his old war‑time friend.

Garfield reciprocated on March 23, 1881 by nominating Sheldon for the post of Governor of New Mexico Territory. He was the last governor to be selected from outside the territory. Within a few weeks of his arrival on July 4, the new chief executive ingratiated himself with the ruling “Santa Fe Ring.” An affable individual with a good sense of humor, Sheldon had no desire to become embroiled in controversy in New Mexico. Consequently, he allowed William Breeden, his Attorney General and a mainstay of the Ring, to carry out most of the gubernatorial duties. Sheldon did have to deal with considerable unrest caused by the Apache and by the depredations of bands of rustlers and other outlaws. The governor authorized the use of the territorial militia and citizens’ posses against the disruptive forces. Near the end of his term, at the behest of the Ring, Sheldon reappointed all the territorial officials, so that they could not be removed for two years by his Democratic successor.

Upon leaving the governorship in 1885, Sheldon was named Receiver of the Texas and Pacific Railroad by the United States Circuit Court of New Orleans. After presiding over the sale of the railroad, he moved in 1887 to Pasadena, California and practiced law in Los Angeles. He served as a Delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1896.

Sheldon died on January 17, 1917 at Pasadena, and his remains were cremated at Mount View Cemetery.

Sources Used:

Donald Lines Jacobus, The Pardee Genealogy (New Haven, 1927).

Howard R. Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846‑1912:A Territorial History (New Haven, 1966).

Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Territorial Archives of New Mexico, 1846‑1912 (Santa Fe, 1974). A manuscript autobiography written by Sheldon is in the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley.