By Murray Smolens 

Richard Elihu Sloan is not exactly a household name today in Arizona, but he was well known and highly regarded a century ago.  As the last territorial governor, longest-serving member of the Arizona Supreme Court, and later a U.S. District Court Justice, he was a major player in shaping the legal system and the cause of Arizona statehood.  His 15-year residence in Prescott and his appointment of Sharlot Hall as territorial historian makes him of particular interest in the annals of local history as well.

Sloan was born on June 22, 1857 in Ohio.  He graduated from Monmouth (Illinois) College in 1877.  Young Richard suffered from asthma and hay fever to the degree that his family sent him west in hopes of improving his health.  He spent time working in Colorado before returning east to receive his law degree from Cincinnati Law School in 1882.

Recurring health problems led Richard to return to the west with his friend Louis Chalmers, first to San Francisco, then to Phoenix in late 1884.  They started a law partnership that lasted less than a year.  Sloan moved to Florence to establish his own practice in 1885.  He was appointed district attorney and quickly rose up the Republican political ladder with his election as keynote speaker at the party’s territorial convention in 1888.

He was elected to the Fifteenth Legislative Assembly Council from Pinal County in time to vote to move the territorial capital from Prescott to Phoenix.  In October, Sloan was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, First District, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in February 1890.  He then moved to Tucson, the seat of the district, remaining there until his term ran out in February 1894.

Tucson offered few opportunities for a private lawyer at the time, so Justice Sloan moved to Prescott to set up a practice.  He was nominated once again to the bench, this time Arizona’s Fourth Judicial District, by President William McKinley, and confirmed by the Senate in July 1897, then renewed twice by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 and 1906.

His fifteen years in Prescott saw his legal practice grow and prosper, to the point where he was able to build a stately Georgian Revival mansion at 128 North Mount Vernon St.  The Sloan house, now on the National Register of Historic Places, is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian Revival architecture in the area.

The issue of statehood for Arizona was a consistent theme from the beginning of Arizona’s history.  Once the main issue of joint versus separate admission for New Mexico and Arizona was settled by 1908, events started to move more quickly, and Richard Sloan was in the forefront of the movement.  He raised the issue to prominence at the 1908 Republican National Convention.  When Arizona Republicans split on re-nominating incumbent Governor Joseph Kibbey, President Taft called Justice Sloan to the White House to ask him to take the job.  Sloan reluctantly did, and actively campaigned for statehood.  After much political wrangling, the president finally signed the resolution admitting Arizona as the 48th state on February 14, 1912, and George W. P. Hunt was sworn in as first governor of the new state.

While Governor, Sloan appointed the first female to any salaried position in territorial Arizona history.  Her name: Sharlot Hall.  Two decades before opening her museum, Sharlot had already established an excellent reputation as a writer and historian.  According to her biographer, Margaret Maxwell, Governor Sloan admired Sharlot and trusted her abilities, so he appointed her territorial historian over furious opposition.  When Sharlot wrote her epic poem, Arizona, pleading for statehood separate from New Mexico, Governor Sloan was so impressed that he had a copy put on the desk of every representative and senator in the U.S. Congress.

President Taft nominated the former territorial governor as the first U.S. district court judge in the brand-new state, but opposition from the first two (Democratic) senators scuttled any possibility of confirmation.  Taft resorted to a recess appointment on September 5, but Judge Sloan’s service was short-lived.  Woodrow Wilson defeated Taft in November, and Judge Sloan’s term was allowed to expire on March 4, 1913, when a Democrat was appointed.

Judge Sloan returned to private practice in Phoenix, where he spent the rest of his life.  He succumbed to head injuries resulting from a fall on December 14, 1933, and was buried in Phoenix.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.