COLES BASHFORD was born near Cold Spring, New York. He attended Wesleyan University in Lima, New York and studied law for seven years, practicing law in Clyde, New York and serving as District Attorney of Wayne County from 1847 to 1850. In 1850 he moved to Algoma, Wisconsin, now part of Oshkosh, where he established a law practice. In 1851 he was elected State Senator as a Whig, a position that he held until 1855, when he resigned to run for governor on the Republican ticket. During the campaign, he and his opponent, incumbent Governor William Barstow, charged one another with fraud, bribery, and corrupt practices. Republicans challenged Barstow’s narrow victory before the state Supreme Court, which determined that two fictitious towns had reported unanimous votes for Barstow and that their tallies had been delivered on two halves of the same sheet of paper. Barstow resigned before the court’s decision was handed down, and his Lieutenant Governor, Arthur MacArthur, attempted to take office but withdrew in the face of a showdown with Republicans. At the same time, Bashford himself faced scandal during his term as governor, associated with his alleged acceptance of money from railroad interests seeking land grants from the state. As a result of the scandal, the Republican Party selected another nominee for governor in 1857. After leaving office, Bashford returned to his law practice in Oshkosh. In December 1863, President Lincoln appointed him the first Attorney General of the Arizona Territory, a post that he retained until 1866. From 1867 to 1869 he was a member of the 40th Congress as a Territorial Representative from Arizona, and he served as Secretary of State of Arizona from 1869 to 1876. He retired to Prescott, Arizona, where he died.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 12. New York: James T. White & Company.
Wisconsin Historical Society