Colorado’s Governors: Oliver H. Shoup

Our series on Colorado’s governors continues with Oliver H. Shoup, Colorado’s 22nd governor. Governor Shoup served two terms from 1919-1923.

Early life

Governor Oliver H. Shoup. Photo courtesy of the Colorado State Archives.

Oliver Shoup was born in Champaign County, Illinois in 1869 and lived there until his family moved to Colorado Springs in 1882. Shoup enrolled in Colorado College but left after one year to pursue a career with the Colorado Springs Company, which managed the growth of the new city. In 1891, Shoup married Unetta Small. They had four children: Reba, Oliver Jr., Merrill, and Verner.

In the mid-1890s, Shoup shifted his career focus to the mining and oil industries. He made a fortune opening oil fields in Wyoming and served as the president for both the Midwest Oil Company and the Midwest Refining Company. By 1916, he had retired from the oil industry and turned his attention to developing Colorado’s agricultural resources.

Political career

Shoup was elected governor in 1918, after many years of involvement with Colorado’s Republican Party. He was re-elected to a second term in 1920.

Shoup’s most enduring legacy is the Moffat Tunnel, a six-mile railroad tunnel bored through the Continental Divide just northeast of Denver. Facing some resistance from the General Assembly, Shoup persisted in securing funding from the legislature for the tunnel, finally finding an opportunity through the Arkansas River flood in 1921. This flood devastated the city of Pueblo and other towns downriver, killing more than 100 people. In response to the flood, Shoup called a special legislative session to fund flood control measures in Pueblo and tacked funding for the Moffat Tunnel onto the end of the bill, ensuring funding for both projects. The Act providing funding for construction of the Moffat Tunnel can be viewed online.

Life after politics

After turning down the invitation to run for a third term, Shoup turned his attention back to his Colorado Springs ranch and served as the director for several local banks. His wife, Unetta, passed away in 1927; Shoup was remarried in 1930 to Mary Alice Hackett. They retired to Santa Monica, California, where Shoup died in 1940. He is buried in Colorado Springs’ Evergreen Cemetery.