Born in Cynthiana, Kentucky, in 1844, West attended Millersburg Academy and served in the Confederate Army, incarcerated most of the time as a prisoner of war. He married Nancy Frazer. A lawyer and a municipal judge, he was selected by Grover Cleveland to replace Eli Murray in 1886. A moderate Democrat—the first Democratic governor since Alfred Cumming—he visited imprisoned polygamists, but his offer of conditional amnesty was refused. He encouraged the organization of groups such as the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce that would serve broad community interests and include all elements of society. His first term ended with the election of Benjamin Harrison in 1888, but he returned as governor in 1893 following the re-election of Cleveland. By then the Woodruff Manifesto of 1890 had ended church-sanctioned polygamy, and national political parties had replaced the old Peoples (Mormon) party and Liberal (non-Mormon) party. In January 1896 the governorship passed from West to Heber M. Wells, the first state governor. West was a special agent for the U.S. Treasury on the West Coast until 1901. He died in 1909.