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James W. Denver

James W. DenverPolitician. Democrat. Born: October 23, 1817, Winchester, Virginia. Died: August 9, 1892, Washington, D.C. Served as 5th Territorial Governor of Kansas: December 21, 1857, to May 12, 1858 (acting governor); May 12 to July 3, 1858 and July 30 to October 10, 1858.

The tumult surrounding Kansas Territorial politics created a frequent turnover in territorial governors. Ten different men served as governor or acting governor of Kansas Territory, some multiple times, and one sitting in office less than 20 days.

James William Denver was born October 23, 1817, in Winchester, Virginia. He was U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs in December 1857 when President James Buchanan appointed him secretary of Kansas Territory. He immediately took over as acting governor and took the oath of office as territorial governor on May 12, 1858.

On January 4, 1858, the same day Kansas voters rejected the proslavery Lecompton Constitution, Denver wrote to his wife with dreams of a quick
resolution of the Kansas troubles:


Letter from James W. Denver to his wife, January 4, 1858. CLICK TO READ.… I am greatly in hopes that the whole thing will be closed up in this month and let me off. If they will only let me turn over the government to some of them in four or five weeks I will give them a pledge never to put my foot inside of their Territory again. Confound the place it seems to have been cursed of God and man. Providence gave them no crops last year scarcely and now it requires all the powers conferred on me by the President to prevent them from cutting each others throats.

It would be nearly a year and a half before the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention adopted the document under which Kansas became a free state. During his administration, the present capital of Colorado (then Kansas Territory) was founded and named “Denver” for the chief executive of the territory. Denver resigned October 10, 1858.

Entry: Denver, James W.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2010

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.