Colorado Governors: Jesse Fuller McDonald

We are continuing our series introducing Colorado’s governors with Jesse Fuller McDonald, Colorado’s 16th governor who served one two-year term from 1905-1907.  As part of the State Publications Library’s effort to digitize governors’ addresses, McDonald’s biennial address is available online.

A black and white photographic headshot of Governor Jesse F. McDonald
Governor Jesse F. McDonald. Photo from the Colorado State Archives.

Early Life

Jesse Fuller McDonald was born in Ashtabula, Ohio in 1858. He studied civil engineering and surveying before moving west to Leadville in 1879, arriving with “$2.00 left in his pocket” (Colorado State Archives). He held several positions in the mining companies around the area before eventually becoming the owner of several lucrative mines of his own, including the Penrose Mine in Lake County. McDonald married his first wife, Flora Collins, in Leadville in 1890.

McDonald’s political career began when he was elected mayor of Leadville in 1899. He was elected for three successive mayoral terms from 1899-1905 and represented Lake County in the State Senate in 1902.

Serving as Governor

Jesse McDonald didn’t actually run for governor in 1905 – he was originally nominated to serve as lieutenant governor for James Peabody’s second term. However, after the election was contested and Peabody stepped down after only a few hours as governor, McDonald stepped in to serve out the remainder of the term.

Following the contentious election, McDonald was known for his calm and business-like manner. He was passionate about protecting state-owned land and used his engineering background to ensure that lands with mining opportunities were bought and sold for a fair price. Colorado enjoyed a prosperous period during McDonald’s term, which he noted during his 1907 biennial address to the Colorado General Assembly. During this speech, he recommended that the legislature allocate their growing funds to several educational program throughout the state, including Colorado’s Traveling Library Commission.

McDonald ran for governor again in 1908 but was defeated by Democrat John F. Shafroth.

Life after politics

McDonald continued to participate in public service after his term as governor. He spent several years serving as the chairman for the Republican State Central Committee and headed Colorado’s delegation to the 1932 Republican National Convention. He also maintained his interested in mining, working with the Colorado Mining Association and the American Mining Congress.

After Flora’s death in 1918, McDonald married Madaline Harrington in 1924. McDonald died in Denver in 1942.