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Contributed by Arizona Capitol Museum

About the Collection

The Arizona Territory was created in 1863 and existed until 1912, when statehood was achieved. During that time 16 people served 17 terms as Territorial Governor. In 1913 the State of Arizona commissioned William Besser to paint portraits of each Territorial Governor. While residing in Phoenix, Besser painted the portraits of McCormick, Goodwin, Tritle, McCord and Brodie (all but the last being deceased) from photographs, and had sittings with Sloan and Kibbey. Besser moved to Prescott and painted portraits from photographs of Safford, Hoyt, Zulizk, Fremont, Murphy, and Franklin. The artist travelled to the Tucson home of Hughes for sittings. Besser was paid $100 for each portrait. Today these portraits hang in the Arizona Capitol Museum.

About the Artist

William Vincent Besser was born in Poland in September 1873. Little is known about Besser. He immigrated to the United States as a child, possibly in 1891. Besser lived and painted in Washington, D.C., Texas and Kentucky before moving to Arizona for health reasons. Governor George W. P. Hunt became a friend and in 1913 commissioned Besser to paint the portraits of the 16 Arizona Territorial Governors, the first 2 Speakers of the Arizona House of Representatives, and the first President of the Arizona Senate for $100 each. After completing the project, Besser travelled to South Africa. From there he attempted to travel back to Poland but was stopped due German control during World War One. He appealed to Governor Hunt for aid to return to Arizona due to his poor health. Besser died at the hospital in Florence, Arizona from consumption on April 15, 1915. He was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Phoenix on November 5, 1931.

An article in the Prescott Journal-Miner details Besser's Arizona commission and gives a brief biography: "Mr. Besser was born in Silesia, a part of Poland now ruled by Germany, but came to America at an early age. He has returned to Europe many times and has studied under some of the most famous masters of Munich and Paris. In St. Petersburg and other European capitals he pursued his vocation, but most of his work has been done in America. for several years he had a studio in the city of Washington, and he has gained renown as a portrait painter in a number of Eastern States." ("Noted Portrait Painter Now in Prescott: William Vincent Besser to Finish Work For State Here," Prescott Journal-Miner, 25 July 1913, p. 4)

Arizona Territorial Governors and their terms:

  • John Noble Goodwin, 1863-1866
  • Richard Cunningham McCormick, 1866-1869
  • Anson Peacely-Killen Safford, 1869-1877
  • John Philo Hoyt, 1877-1878
  • John Charles Fremont, 1878-1882
  • Frederick Augustus Tritle, 1882-1885
  • Conrad Meyer Zulick, 1885-1889
  • Lewis Wolfley, 1889-1891
  • John Nichol Irwin, 1891-1892
  • Nathan Oakes Murphy, 1892-1893
  • Louis Cameron Hughes, 1893-1896
  • Benjamin Joseph Franklin, 1896-1897
  • Myron Hawley McCord, 1897-1898
  • Nathan Oakes Murphy, 1898-1902
  • Alexander Oswald Brodie, 1902-1905
  • Joseph Henry Kibbey, 1905-1909
  • Richard Elihu Sloan, 1909-1912

Sources for Governor Biographies:

  • Jay Wagner, Territorial Governors, 1863-1912 (Phoenix, AZ: R. E. McCullar, 1963).
  • John S. Goff, Arizona Territorial Officials, vol. 2, The Governors, 1863-1912 (Cave Creek, AZ: Black Mountain Press, 1975).
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