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William A. Pile

Born: 2-11-1829 - Died: 7-7-1889

Governor William A. Pile,1869-1871


Born on February 11, 1829 near Indianapolis, Indiana. Pile was married and a member of the Methodist Church.
 
Pile’s family moved to Missouri when he was a young child, eventually settling in St. Louis. After he studied theology, he became a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, serving in the Missouri Conference. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pile became Chaplain of the First Regiment of Missouri Light Artillery in June 1861. Soon forsaking that role, he commanded a battery of artillery, becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in September 1862. He was promoted to Colonel in December of that year, and Brigadier General of Volunteers in December 1863. Pile served in the Missouri campaign and at Vicksburg. His most notable contribution to the war effort came in April 1865, when he led black troops in the assault on Fort Blakely, Alabama; he was brevetted Major General in recognition of this action.
 
After he was mustered out of the service in August 1865, Pile ran successfully for Congress from Missouri, serving from 1867 to 1869. In Congress he was a Radical Republican who was a member of the Committee on Union Prisoners and Chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Post Office Department.
 
Following Pile’s defeat for re‑election to Congress, President Ulysses Grant appointed him Governor of New Mexico Territory; he was inaugurated on August 16, 1869. Pile soon learned that the territory had a major fiscal problem. Fines and license fees were paid in depreciated territorial warrants, and no money had been deposited into the Treasury in two years. Under his leadership, the Legislature passed the first general property tax in the history of the territory between December 1869 and January 1870, and modified the existing license law. Following another suggestion from the governor, the Legislature funded all outstanding territorial warrants by authorizing a bond issue. The value of the warrants immediately rose. These measures significantly improved the financial health of the territorial government.
 
 Pile adopted a hard line on the Indian question. He instructed probate judges to form posses to pursue, and in some cases exterminate, Indians found to be marauding in areas off their reservations. The harsh and dangerous posse system was difficult to control, a problem which concerned Pile, yet posses did bring a measure of peace to the territory. The governor also took steps to halt illegal trade between whites and Indians, much of which involved stolen goods exchanged for whisky.
 
A major debacle occurring during Pile’s term concerned the territorial archives. Ira M. Bond, the territorial librarian who was an appointee and friend of the governor, sold and destroyed some of the archives of New Mexico. This action was apparently taken at Pile’s suggestion, who wanted for office use the space occupied by archival material in the Palace of the Governors. Pile was condemned at public meetings in Santa Fe and Albuquerque for this decision.
 
Like many of his counterparts among the territorial governors, Pile used the status and connections of his office to enrich himself. He became a Vice‑President of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company, which controlled the famous grant, claimed by the owners to consist of over two million acres. When trouble broke out between the company and settlers and miners on the land, Pile intervened on behalf of the company, ordering the settlers and miners not to carry arms. He was also involved during his administration, along with other New Mexico political leaders who were part of the fledgling “Santa Fe Ring,” in the railroad building enterprises of General William J. Palmer.
 
In May 1871 Pile received word that Grant had appointed him Minister to Venezuela. He left Santa Fe on June 21, 1871, and served in that country until 1874. After 1876 the former governor acted as a Representative of the Venezuelan government, based in Philadelphia. He later moved to Monrovia, California, where he died on July 7, 1889. Pile was buried in Live Oak Cemetery.
 
Bibliography:
William A. Keleher, Violence in Lincoln County, 1869‑1881 (Albuquerque, 1957);
Calvin Horn, New Mexico’s Troubled Years: The Story of the Early Territorial Governors (Albuquerque, 1963);
Ezra J. Walker, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Baton Rouge, 1964);
Victor Westphall, Thomas Benton Catron and His Era (Tucson, 1973);
Lawrence R. Murphy, Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, Napoleon of the Southwest (Norman, 1983).