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Robert E. Winbourn

Robert E. Winbourn

Robert E. Winbourn

23rd Colorado Attorney General
Term: 1929-1930

               In the general election of 1928 the Democrats retained the Governorship of Colorado with the reelection of William Adams, but the Republicans held on to the Attorney General’s Office, electing Robert E. Winbourn. Winbourn was a Colorado native, having been born in Weld County on July 2, 1882. His grandfather incorporated Fort Lupton and his father, Thomas Winbourn, was the town’s first mayor. One of Robert’s boyhood friends was Fred Farrar, who preceded him as Colorado Attorney General.

               Winbourn attended Greeley High School and then went east to college, graduating from George Washington University with a bachelor of law degree in 1907, after having spent a brief time at the University of Denver Law School. Winbourn passed the bar and spent a year prosecuting frauds on public lands. He began a law practice in Greeley in 1920 and four years later became County Attorney for Weld County. In 1915 he was selected to fill a vacancy in the Colorado State Senate. He was 33 years old. He served one term. Winbourn continued to own a ranch in Weld County and became an expert on irrigation law and water rights.[1] He married Catherine Kehl in November of 1913. He was a member of the Knights of Pytheus, the Elks and the Masons.

               When Winbourn was elected Attorney General in 1928, the “legal department” of the state had grown to 30 people, including nine Assistant Attorneys General. Charles Roach continued his lengthy tenure as Deputy Attorney General. The office continued to prioritize interstate water fights. It was actively defending Colorado interests in regard to water flowing “into Kansas in the Arkansas River, into Wyoming in the Laramie River, into New Mexico in the La Plata River, and into Utah in the Colorado River.”

               Colorado’s victory over New Mexico in the border dispute continued to be upheld by the appellate courts. About a quarter of the cases the office handled before the Colorado Supreme Court involved violation of liquor laws, as did several Attorney General opinions. One such opinion supported the denial of an application of the “Liberal Church” to use “sacramental liquor.” The application said that the church members were “seeking the truth” and that consuming intoxicating liquors would “assist us in the right direction.” Consuming alcohol caused them to “have inspiration” and “think more clearly.” An application of the Jewish Consumptives Relief Society to manufacture sacramental wine was also denied.[2]

               The Attorney General also helped the State Board of Dental Examiners crack down on a person practicing without a license. He did business under the name “Painless Parker.” The case was prosecuted by Charles Haines, the grandfather of current First Assistant Attorney General Fred Haines. Two other opinions related to matters which would be relevant many years later. The Attorney General opined that when defendants were sentenced to the penitentiary but remained in the custody of a county jail for one reason or another, the State Board of Corrections would suffer the expenses, including medical care. In another opinion, Winbourn sanctioned oil shale development and encouraged speedy development of this “vast resource” on the western slope. Such development was anything but speedy and is still being contemplated 80 years later.

               In October of 1929 the stock market crashed and the Attorney General’s Office indicated they were dealing with numerous “economic problems.”

               In April of 1930 Robert Winbourn announced his intention to seek reelection. But he underwent an operation for an intestinal obstruction. It did not go well and he had a second operation in August. He died August 7, 1930 while still in office. His death was shocking to Coloradoans because he was the fourth statewide elected official, including Attorney General Russel Fleming, to die in office in the previous seven years. Winbourn was eulogized as “an exemplary citizen, an able lawyer, a faithful public servant who rose to every occasion, fulfilled every responsibility, and discharged every duty with wholehearted zeal and scrupulous fidelity.”[3]


[1] Rocky Mountain News, August 8, 1930.

[2] Biennial Report of the Attorney General for 1929-1930, Colorado State Archives.

[3] Ibid.