Pioneer Governors: Robert Waterman 1887-1891

Robert Waterman

Future California governor Robert Whitney Waterman was one of the lucky gold miners in 1850, netting $500 a day near the Feather and Yuba Rivers. Returning to his home in Illinois the following year, he became a prosperous storekeeper and newspaper editor whose enthusiasm for politics led him to join the young Republican Party of Illinois. Waterman was a delegate to the 1854 Illinois state Republican convention and later played a key role in the 1860 election of President Abraham Lincoln. Married in 1847 to Jane Gardner, Robert and his family of six children returned to California in 1873 where he established a ranch near San Bernardino and undertook various business enterprises. His continuing involvement in politics led to his nomination as lieutenant governor in 1886, succeeding to the governor’s chair on September 12, 1887 as California’s 17th governor after the untimely death of Washington Bartlett. Waterman vowed to run the state like a business and did not tolerate dishonesty or excessive spending, haranguing the legislature for having 228 clerks at a time when they were only entitled to 35.  One major issue during his term was whether the state of California should be divided. He left office January 8, 1891, retired from public service, and returned to his various business interests. In poor health towards the end of his term, he died five months later on April 12, 1891, aged 71, in San Diego.


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