Biography of Hon. John Long Routt of Denver Colorado

Hon. John Long Routt. The last territorial and the first state governor of Colorado, also governor in 1891-93, enjoys the distinction of being the only one who has three times filled the gubernatorial chair of the state, and but two other governors have served more than a single term. Coming to Colorado prior to its admission as a state, he has from that time been closely identified with its history and has contributed to its progress. The development of the commonwealth has been ever near to his heart, its mining and stock-raising industries he has promoted in many important ways, while its commercial interests have been given an impetus through his executive ability and tireless energy.

Governor John Long Routt, 1876
Governor John Long Routt, 1876

In view of the close connection of Governor Routt with the business and political history of the state, considerable mention should be made of his life and public career. Whatever success he has achieved is the result of his unaided efforts, for he started out in the world with but a limited education. wholly destitute of money and also lacking influential friends. Money, friends and prominence have come to him, as the result of the honorable and efficient manner in which he has conducted business and his genial qualities as a man and friend.

The Routt family came from Wales to America. Daniel, a son of the founder of the family in this country, was born in Virginia and became a pioneer of Kentucky, settling in the woods three miles from Boonesville, where he died at the age of eighty-five years. John, son of Daniel and father of our subject, was born in Clark County, Ky., and engaged in farming in CaIdwell County, where he died at the age of thirty-four. During the war of 1812 he was a member of Captain Long’s company.

The marriage of John Routt united him with Martha Haggard, who was born in Clark County, of Welsh descent. Her father, David Haggard, was born in Virginia and at the age of seventeen enlisted in the American army, where he served until the close of the Revolution. Later he removed to Kentucky and became a very early settler of Clark County, where he located very soon after the arrival of Daniel Boone. In after years he cultivated a farm in Trigg County, Ky., from which place be removed to Illinois and spent his last days with relatives in Bloomington, dying there at the age of eighty years. About 1835 our subject’s mother, who had in the meantime married Henry Newton of Kentucky, took her family to Illinois and for two years resided in Hancock County, next removed to McDonough County, and later settled in McLean County, where she died at seventy-seven years. Mr. Newton died at the age of eighty-five years. Her family consisted of two sons and two daughters, of whom two survive: John L., and Mrs. Elizabeth Newton, of McLean County.

The life which this narrative sketches began in Caldwell County, Ky., April 25, 1826. Early orphaned by his father’s death, the boy was taken to Illinois by his mother and attended the public schools there. Although his educational advantages were meager, he supplemented them by reading night and morning and at all spare moments. At the age of fourteen he began to earn his own livelihood. He learned the trades of machinist, architect and builder in Bloomington, where he secured steady employment, and also held the position of alderman of Bloomington and sheriff of McLean County. The latter position he resigned in order to enter the army soon after the opening of the war. In 1862 he raised Company E, of the Ninety-fourth Illinois Infantry, which was mustered in at Bloomington with himself as captain. The regiment served in Missouri and Arkansas in 1862-63, under command of General Herron, and took part in several closely contested engagements. In the battle of Prairie Grove, Ark., he narrowly escaped death, for three times bullets passed through his clothing. In the spring of 1863 he became quartermaster of an expedition organized near Rolla, Mo., to march upon Little Rock. Soon afterward the regiment joined General Grant at Vicksburg, where they remained until the fall of that city. While at Vicksburg General Grant gave an order to the commanding general to have a large amount of ammunition removed the following day from Chickasaw Bayou, eighteen miles away, by noon. This was considered impossible, but was accomplished by Quartermaster Routt, which so pleased General Grant that he wrote John L. Routt’s name in his note book. Years afterwards General Grant met Mr. Routt in Chicago and, remembering the name, a friendship began that lasted through life. In the fall of 1880 General Grant spent four weeks in the company of Governor Routt in the mountains of Colorado, and these are the most memorable four weeks in the governor’s recollection. The next movement was to Port Hudson, Miss., thence to Brownsville, Tex., where Captain Routt was appointed to duty as chief quartermaster of the army of the frontier on the Rio Grande, with the rank of colonel. He was ordered to New Orleans after the defeat of General Banks in 1864 and was then stationed at Baton Rouge in charge of the outfitting depot until he was mustered out of service September 20, 1865. He was a personal friend of President Lincoln, whom he warmly admired for his depth of character and breadth of mind.

Returning to Bloomington, Colonel Routt unexpectedly found himself the Republican candidate for county treasurer. He was elected and served for two terms, but declined further renomination. During his administration an elegant courthouse was built and other improvements were made, in all of which his careful handling and wise disbursement of money was apparent. At the close of his second term, in November, 1869, he went to Washington as chief clerk to the second assistant postmaster-general under President Grant. During his services in that capacity a controversy arose in regard to the United States marshal for the southern district of Illinois, and he, without his knowledge, was appointed by President Grant to that position. In 1870 he took the census of his district, comprising seventy-two counties.

In the fall of 1871 Colonel Routt received a telegram from President Grant, offering him the appointment of second assistant postmaster-general. He accepted the position, resigning as marshal, and the following day started for Washington. In this office he had charge of the conveyance of the whole United States mail, making contracts with railway, steamboat and stage lines, to the amount of about $20,000,000 per annum. While holding the position, a vacancy occurred in the governor’s chair in the territory of Colorado by the resignation of Edward M. McCook, and in February, 1875, General Grant appointed him governor. When he came to Colorado, Denver was a city of less than five thousand inhabitants and the entire territory was thinly populated. Early in March he entered upon his duties, which were of a most responsible nature, owing to the fact that the Republican party was divided by dissension. The constitutional convention framed the constitution which was adopted July 4, 1876. The first state election was held in October of the same year. While he was not a candidate, he was unanimously nominated by his party and was elected for a term of two years, the first governor of the new state.

The inauguration of plans connected with the adoption of a state government necessarily involved many difficulties. The national government withdrew its protection and the state had to adopt plans for meeting its bills and maintaining its credit. The state warrants started off at seventy-five per cent and increased during his term until they commanded a premium of one per cent. As president of the state land board, the governor did much to secure for the state some of the best lands under grant of congress, and also organized the work of the board.

On his retirement from the position of chief executive, Governor Routt engaged in the cattle business and in mining at Leadville, meantime making his home in Denver. The succeeding years passed by, unmarked by special events, until his nomination, in 1890, for the office he had so efficiently filled in former years. He took the chair in January, 1891, and served until 1893. At the time of his inauguration the lower house was in a state of confusion, owing to the two speakers being elected by the two factions between whom there seemed little hope of producing amity. About the same time a United States senator was to be elected, a subject that always brought contention. In spite of these adverse circumstances, the governor succeeded in bringing order out of chaos and his administration proved as successful as those during the early days of Colorado’s history.

Home of Governor John Long Routt, 1891-1893

When the bill providing for the erection of a new capitol was passed, Governor Routt was made a member of the board of managers and served until the spring of 1897, when he resigned. The building, in the erection of which he was so deeply interested, is an architectural triumph and may well be a source of pride and satisfaction to the five trustees forming the board of managers. It is constructed of granite, quarried in Gunnison County, this state. The framework is of steel, which makes the structure most substantial. The location is also unexceptionable, Capitol Hill commanding a fine view of the surrounding country.

In 1894 Governor Routt was elected mayor of Denver and served for one term. He was a delegate to the Republican national convention at Cincinnati, when Rutherford B. Hayes was nominated for president; also the convention of 1880 in Chicago, when he was one of three hundred and six men comprising the Grant delegation; the convention of 1884, when Blaine was nominated; and that of 1888, when General Harrison was made the Republican nominee. In 1884 he was chairman of the state central committee and at one tune served as a member of the national committee. He came within four votes of being chosen United States senator from Colorado. Fraternally he is connected with the Loyal Legion and the Knight Templar Masons, and he is a member of Lincoln Post, G. A. R. He owns a commodious and beautiful home in Denver and a fine ranch of two thousand acres near Fort Collins, Colo.

While in Bloomington Mr. Routt was married to Miss Esther A. Woodson, who was born in Springfield and died in Washington. The children born of this union are: Minnie, Mrs. Charles Hartzell, who died in Denver; Mrs. Birdie M. Bryan, of Denver; Frank, who is engaged in mining at Cripple Creek; John H., of Denver; and Mrs. Emma Butler, also of this city. The second marriage of Governor Routt united him with Miss Eliza Pickrell, of Springfield, Ill., and they are the parents of a daughter, Lila Elkin Routt.

In the public career of Governor Routt, perhaps one of his most striking characteristics is his devotion to the interests of the state. Even those who were his political opponents never denied his patriotic interest in the commonwealth. Every trust reposed in him was faithfully discharged, and it was always his endeavor to conserve the welfare of the state. He has striven to preserve the public lands transmitted to the state by congress in the enabling act, so that schools and public improvements may be benefited thereby. Himself a miner and stock-raiser, he is in thorough sympathy with the men who follow these occupations.

Personally he is a man of sound common sense and force of will, in physique strongly built and showing powers of endurance. He is a man of sympathetic heart, benevolent nature, large intellect, executive force, and with the tact so essential to the success of a public man.


Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.


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