Stephen Wheeler Downey

Stephen Wheeler Downey (July 25, 1839 August 3, 1902) was a lawyer and politician in Wyoming. A Union Army veteran of the American Civil War, he was an early white settler of Wyoming, and served as its Treasurer, Auditor, and Delegate to Congress. After statehood, Downey continued to serve in local and state office, including Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives.

Stephen Wheeler Downey
Member of the Wyoming House of Representatives
In office
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wyoming Territory's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1879  March 3, 1881
Preceded byWilliam Wellington Corlett
Succeeded byMorton Everel Post
Wyoming Territory Auditor
In office
Wyoming Territory Treasurer
In office
Personal details
Born(1839-07-25)July 25, 1839
Westernport, Maryland
DiedAugust 3, 1902(1902-08-03) (aged 63)
Albany County, Wyoming
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Evangeline Victoria Owen (1853–1937)
Children10 (including Sheridan Downey and Dr. June Etta Downey
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1861-1863
Unit3rd Maryland Infantry, Potomac Home Brigade
Battles/warsCivil War

Downey was a founder of the University of Wyoming, and the longtime president of its board of trustees.

Early life

Downey was born in Westernport, Maryland on July 25, 1839. He was educated locally in preparation for a career as a lawyer, and then began to study law.

Civil War service

In 1861, Downey interrupted his studies and enlisted as a private in the 3rd Maryland Infantry, Potomac Home Brigade. He later received a commission and advanced through the ranks to lieutenant colonel as second in command of the regiment. He was discharged after the Battle of Harpers Ferry due to wounds he sustained in the fighting, and was promoted to colonel at his discharge.

After leaving the Army, Downey completed his law studies; he was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C. in 1863.

Move to Wyoming

In 1869, he moved to the Territory of Wyoming and established a law practice in Laramie. He served as the prosecuting attorney of Albany County, Wyoming in 1869 and 1870. He also opened a survey office in Laramie and was assigned to six government survey contracts between 1870 and 1873. He was elected as a member of the Wyoming Territorial Council in 1871, 1875, and 1877, as treasurer of the territory from 1872 to 1875, and as auditor of the territory from 1877 to 1879.

Congressional delegate

He was elected as a Republican delegate to the United States Congress from Wyoming Territory and served from 1879 to 1881.

Later career

He was elected as a member of the territorial house of representatives in 1886 and 1890, was a member of the state constitutional convention in 1889, and was a member of the state house of representatives in 1893 and 1895, serving as Speaker of the House in 1895.

In 1886, Downey sponsored the bill that created the University of Wyoming and became known as "The Father of the University of Wyoming". From 1891 to 1897 he was a board of trustees member, and he was the longtime president of the board.

From 1899 until his death he served as the prosecuting attorney for Albany County.[1]

Death and burial

Downey died in Denver, Colorado on August 14, 1902. He was buried in the Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie.


He married Evangeline Victoria Owen (1853–1937) in Laramie, Wyoming in 1872 and they had ten children. His son, Sheridan Downey (1884–1961) became a lawyer and United States Senator from California. His daughter, Dr. June Etta Downey (1875–1932) became a prominent psychologist, and a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of Wyoming.[2]

The Downey Family Papers (1866–1997) are located at the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center Archives.


  1. Ritter, Charles F. (1989). American Legislative Leaders, 1850-1910. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 189.
  2. Bazar, Jennifer (2010). "Profile: June Etta Downey". Psychology's Feminist Voices Multimedia Internet Archive. Retrieved 18 July 2011.

United States Congress. "DOWNEY, Stephen Wheeler (id: D000470)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. - From the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

Further reading

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Wellington Corlett
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wyoming Territory's at-large congressional district

March 4, 1879 March 3, 1881
Succeeded by
Morton Everel Post
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