Early Evanston attorney Payson Spaulding topic of museum’s Brown Bag Lunch

Daniel “Doc” Thissen speaks at the Aug. 1 Brown Bag Lunch. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Daniel “Doc” Thissen, a celebrated documentary photographer, was the keynote speaker at the Aug. 1, Uinta County Musuem’s Brown Bag Lunch history discussion. Thissen’s topic was the life and career of Payson Wilson Spaulding, a prominent attorney of early Evanston.

Thissen read the history he had gathered on Spaulding along with photos of Spaulding’s life and work. Thissen gave many examples of Spaulding’s influence in many local, state and national events. 

Spaulding was born in Bingham, Maine, on Aug. 9, 1876, to Joseph and Flora Wilson Spaulding. His father died when Payson was only a year old. His mother moved to Chicago and remarried. Spaulding attended the Chicago-Kent College of Law and completed his post-graduate work in 1901 at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He passed the Colorado Bar Association and moved to Evanston, where he began to practice law. (Wyoming didn’t have a Bar Association until 1915). 

One of Spaulding’s first corporate clients was the Union Pacific Railroad, a contract he maintained for 66 years beginning in 1905. 

In Evanston he met Nellie Johnson-Quinn who had been abandoned by her first husband, Arthur Quinn (son of a prominent rancher and banker in Uinta County) and had her marriage annulled. She and Payson Spaulding married on Feb. 2, 1914.

Spaulding was one of the first in Evanston to own an automobile, purchasing a Rambler in October of 1906. Spaulding formed a lifetime friendship with Jacob M. Murdock, a businessman who owned the Murdock Lumber Company of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Murdock asked Spaulding to join his automobile trek across the country from his winter home in California to New York. 

As a result of this journey, Spaulding and Murdock went on to jointly invest in different business opportunities over the next 25 years. Together they formed the Trans-Continental Oil Company (T-C Oil). This company conducted oil exploration throughout Uinta County beginning in 1909, and began drilling in Spring Valley in 1911. Eventually, the wells dried up and the company folded.

In 1913, Spaulding was asked to be the Wyoming state consul (president) for the Lincoln Highway Association and as a result, in 1915, he wrote the Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway. He and Nellie had made many trips across the state, driving his Chalmers 30 to inspect the road and to recruit locals to support the highway and their own communities.

The guidebook provided information on mileage from New York to San Francisco, places to get gas and oil, places to eat, and hotel accommodations. The guidebook also included geographical information and other items tourists might find interesting. Spaulding was later instrumental in assisting with the installation of the Lincoln Highway markers in Uinta County and he made sure the final route across the state was marked and verified.

Late in 1917, Spaulding and Murdock leased a defunct silver mine in Cherry Creek, Nevada, and formed the Penn-Star Mining Company. This business venture, like the oil company, eventually folded in 1927. 

During the 1930s, Spaulding assisted John D. Rockefeller in organizing the Snake River Land Company and helping Rockefeller to secure 33,000 acres which were ultimately donated to the U.S. Park Service. Spaulding was invited to the inaugural opening of the Jackson Lake Lodge in June of 1955 in recognition of the work he had done to help the Rockefellers obtain the land.

In 1952, Spaulding was chosen to be one of Wyoming’s three presidential Electoral College electors and in 1957, he and his wife Nellie were invited to the second inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

From the mid-1960s until January 1971, Payson Spaulding was the administrative law judge for the Third Judicial District of Wyoming. During that tenure, he handled many cases for the Wyoming State Hospital.

After a long and nationally recognized career as an attorney, writer and businessman, Evanston resident Payson W. Spaulding died on Jan. 4, 1972, at the age of 95.

At the end of his presentation, Thissen answered questions. One of those questions was regarding how Spaulding’s Grove, south of Evanston, got its name. Thissen responded that he wasn’t aware of the grove and he would research it and when he comes back with his completed documentary, he hopes to have an answer.


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