In the general election of 1894, Republican Byron Leander Carr was elected Attorney General by a margin of 90,262 to 73,006 over his nearest rival, H. T. Sales. Service as Attorney General was the pinnacle of an illustrious career for Carr.
Byron L. Carr was born September 11, 1842 in North Haverhill, New Hampshire. Of English decent, Carr’s ancestor, George Carr, had been a carpenter on the Mayflower. Carr was raised on a farm and educated in Haverhill, New Hampshire and at the Newbury Academy in Newbury, Vermont. While a student at Newbury, he enlisted in the Union Army a week after the fall of Fort Sumter in April, 1861. He fought with the First New Hampshire Calvary at Cedar Mountain, the second battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Antietam, Cold Harbor, Richmond, and Petersburg. On June 17, 1863 he was captured by Jeb Stuart’s cavalry and imprisoned at Belle Island until October 1863, when he was involved in a prisoner exchange and returned to his regiment. In 1864 he was wounded four times and lost a thumb. On April 9, 1865, the day before Lee surrendered at Appomattox, he was seriously wounded and had his right arm amputated at the shoulder. Upon his discharge in June of 1865, he resumed his studies at the Newbury Academy.
In June, 1867 Carr went to Waukegan, Illinois and became principal of a high school. He married Mary L. Pease on October 3, 1867. They would have two children. In March of 1868 Carr became Superintendent of Schools for Lake County, Illinois. He also began the study of law with F. P. Perry, who would later become Governor of Washington state. Carr was admitted to the Illinois Bar in August of 1870.
Carr resigned his superintendent position in 1871 and came to Colorado with a group known as the Chicago Colony. He helped found the City of Longmont. He opened the first school in Longmont where he and his wife taught. He also founded the Longmont Ledger newspaper and edited it for over a year. He was admitted to the Colorado Bar on May 21, 1872, and was elected District Attorney for the Second Judicial District in the fall of 1872, serving a two-year term.
Byron Carr was chosen as a delegate to the constitutional convention that led to Colorado statehood in 1876. He capably served on several committees at the convention, including the Committee on Military Affairs. In his private law practice he became a recognized expert in mining and irrigation law. He also became involved in the Colorado National Guard and, in February 1884, was elected Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic for Colorado and Wyoming. Carr was also a member of the Masonic Lodge and Grand Commander of the Knights Templar in Colorado.
In 1888 Carr was nominated by the Republican Party for the Colorado Supreme Court, but lost the election. He fared better in the Attorney General’s race in 1894. Carr also became the first Attorney General in Colorado to successfully seek reelection. He was elected in the general election of 1896 on a fusion Silver Republican and Democrat ticket.
In his first year in office Carr had one Assistant Attorney General and one secretary. His Assistant was Gray Secor, who subsequently became a County Judge in Boulder County. Thereafter he had two Assistants and one secretary who was also a stenographer. In his first term Carr handled 77 cases in the appellate courts. He also had two unique assignments. He was sent to Walsenberg by Governor McIntire to assist the local District Attorney in a grand jury investigation of the “Italian Massacre,” in which two Italian immigrants were lynched by a mob. He was also sent to Washington, D.C. to request $100,000 from the federal government for reimbursement of expenses involved in returning Indians to their reservations in order to avoid another “Meeker Massacre.” One opinion written by Carr in his first term ruled a school district election invalid where the ballot box was open for less than three hours.
In his second term, Carr handled 65 cases in the State Supreme Court and eight in the Court of Appeals. He was aided by Assistant Attorneys General Calvin Reed and George Thorne. His son-in-law, L. P. McGuire, served as his secretary. In one case Carr argued for the constitutionality of the eight-hour workday law. In an opinion written for Governor Alva Adams he said the Governor had two options in regard to the $30,000 deficit facing the state penitentiary and the $20,000 deficit facing the state reformatory. He could enter an executive order declaring an emergency and authorize payment of the indebtedness, or he could “close the institutions, discharge the employees and turn out the inmates.” Not surprisingly, Adams chose the first alternative.
Many Coloradoans expected Byron Carr to run for Governor in 1898, but his “free silver” position made him unacceptable to the more numerous “gold bugs.” Late in 1898 he got caught in a rainstorm on his way to Longmont. He contracted “la grippe” that became pneumonia. He spent the last few weeks of his term confined to bed. Within three months of leaving office he suffered a stroke and died on April 21, 1899 in Mineral Springs, Texas, where he had gone to try to recuperate. He was 56. His body was returned to Longmont for burial. Newspapers reported that his estate was worth $40,000, a handsome sum for the time. Carr was eulogized in the proceedings of the Colorado Bar Association:
“He was one of the most prominent and successful members of the bar…He was skillful and resourceful in court, and an easy and fluent speaker, but his most enduring reputation as a lawyer will be that which he achieved in the line of his specialty of irrigation law.”