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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


An attorney and a judge of the United States Court for the Indian Territory, William Ridgway Lawrence was born on January 14, 1840, to John and Eliza Lawrence in Bloomington, Indiana, but the family moved in their son's early years to Illinois. Lawrence was educated at White Seminary in Danville, Illinois. He fought for the Union in the Civil War, serving as a lieutenant in the Seventy-Third Illinois Infantry. Captured after being wounded at Chickamauga, he was imprisoned at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia.

With the war's end he returned to Bloomington, Indiana, and read law. In 1867 he married Josephine Frazier of Danville. Admitted to the bar, he practiced for a time in Indiana and then returned to Illinois. Lawrence became active in Republican politics, his clients including the Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, Joseph G. "Uncle Joe" Cannon, of Illinois.

In 1904 Congress added four judgeships to the United States Court for the Indian Territory. This legislation gave the court an eight-judge bench. Each of the existing four districts received one of the new positions. The appointment for the Northern District went to William Ridgway Lawrence. The judgeships established in 1904 did not carry the power to appoint court personnel, or serve on the appellate bench. In 1905, when the term of Charles W. Raymond as judge of the Indian Territory's Western District expired, Lawrence was appointed to that position. He was the sole judge of the 1904 group to be appointed to one of the full judgeships, and he served until 1907 statehood.

With statehood, Lawrence opened a law practice in Muskogee, Tulsa, and Okmulgee with his son John. The former judge suffered declining health for a number of years after being hit by a car. He died on July 31, 1923, at his son's home in Okmulgee. William Ridgway Lawrence is buried in the Officers' Circle of the National Cemetery at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.

Von Russell Creel


Von Russell Creel, "Fifteen Men in Ermine: Judges of the United States Court for the Indian Territory, 1889–1907," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 86 (Summer 2008).

"William Ridgway Lawrence," Vertical File, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

"Necrology: William Ridgway Lawrence," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 11 (March 1933).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Von Russell Creel, “Lawrence, William Ridgway,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=LA039.

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