Judge Robert Wilbur Steele, Justice of the Supreme Court of Colorado, and resident of Denver, was born at Lebanon, Ohio, November 14, 1857, the only son of Dr. Henry K. and Mary Frances (Dunlavy) Steele. He is descended from a race of eminent professional men, prominent in the early history of Ohio.
Judge Steele received his early education in the common schools of Dayton, Ohio. Coming to Colorado with his parents in 1870, he entered the Denver public schools, graduating from the high school in 1877, a member of the first class to graduate in the State. During 1878 and 1879 he attended the Law Department of the Columbian University, but did not graduate. He was admitted to the bar in 1881. From 1880 to 1884 he served as clerk of the Arapahoe County Court, resigning that position to engage in the practice of his chosen profession. In 1891 he was elected district attorney, and at the expiration of his term in 1895, accepted the County Judgeship, which had been vacated by Judge 0. E. Le Fevre, who took his seat at that time on the District Bench. He was reelected to the same position in 1895-1898 and in the fall of 1900 was elected to the highest judicial office in the State, taking his seat on the Supreme Bench in January, 1901. Politically he is a Silver Republican; he belongs to several fraternal organizations, and is a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Judge Steele was married in Denver, February 28, 1884, to Miss Anna B. Truax, daughter of P. B. Truax of Toledo, Ohio. They have two children, Jane G. and Robert W., Jr.
He loved nature, animals, and the outdoor life; he was a friend to children, a defender of civil liberties, a great orator, a rancher, and a "just judge;" he was an adventurous traveler, a dedicated husband and father, and if it were not for Robert Wilbur Steele, our children would be attending a school called Lake View.
Robert was born in Ohio in 1857. His family moved to Denver in 1870, primarily for Robert's health. They lived at Sixteenth and Stout, at the time the heart of Denver's residence district. His father, Dr. Robert K. Steele, was a Civil War surgeon, organized the Colorado Medical Society, was the dean of the medical department and a professor of surgery at the University of Denver, and health commissioner for the City of Denver. Upon his death, in 1893, Steele Memorial Hospital was named for him.
In 1877, Robert and seven Arapaho High School classmates composed Colorado's first graduating class. He then played semi-pro ball, as left fielder, in Denver's only uniformed club, the Brown Stockings, before attending law school in Washington, D.C.
Admitted to the Colorado bar in 1881, Robert was a county clerk, Denver district attorney, county court judge, and Colorado Supreme Court judge. His firm, Steele and Malone, had offices in the Tabor Opera House, known as the finest business block in the West.
When Robert and his wife, Anna, built their house at Eleventh and Washington Streets, they were well outside the city limits, and cowboys herded cattle nearby. By 1886, however, city water and gas service were available. They raised five children there, two of whom lived to adulthood.
Robert had spent childhood summers at a cousin's ranch in the San Luis Valley, nurturing a love of working the land. It's no surprise, then, that in 1888, Robert homesteaded a 160 acre ranch located between Exposition and Mississippi Avenues, and from Fairmount Cemetery westward.
His influence in the courts can be seen today. In Judge Steele's day, children were treated no differently than adults in court. Judge Steele's concern for children moved him to establish a Juvenile Field Day in court. He wanted "not to punish, but to help" children, and his successor, Judge Ben R. Lindsey, known as the father of the juvenile court system, cited Steele as an influence and inspiration.
Concern for civil liberties and upholding the Constitution brought Robert nationwide acclaim when his was the only dissenting opinion in the Moyer case, involving suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
Upon Robert's death of a heart attack on October 12, 1910, Governor John Shafroth ordered flags flown at half-mast for four weeks, and Colorado government offices closed while his body lay in state at the capitol. It was decided that Lake View, a school in the planning stages, should be named Steele, and his widow, Anna, donated a plaque, his portrait, a flag, and 600 books in his honor to the school named in his honor.
Robert W. Steele's memorial window hangs in the Supreme Court Room of the Colorado State Capitol
Robert Wilbur Steele, Defender of Liberty, written in 1913 by Walter Lawson Wilder. This rare book was generously donated to Steele's library in 1990 by Sara and Jerry McCarthy. "
Anna Truax Steele
1863–1932 (m. 1884)
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