William M. Tipton was born in Dayton, Ohio on February 20th, 1857. William Tipton briefly taught in the Brownsville, Nebraska public schools before accepting a position in the office of the Surveyor General of the Territory of New Mexico in Santa Fe. In order to read old governmental documents from New Mexico from its time under the governance of Spain and Mexico, Tipton learned Spanish and began to develop skilled understanding of land grants and how to handle Spanish language documents specifically. Because of this self-taught expertise, he worked as a land surveyor and protected the U.S. government from fraudulent land claims in the New Mexico Territory.
On August 15, 1892, Tipton was appointed a Special Agent and Spanish Expert to the United States Attorney for the Court of Private Land Claims. The court was organized to address and settle land claims in New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona in the aftermath of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. In 1901, Tipton was sent by the United States government to the Philippines at the beginning of the U.S. occupation following the 1898 Treaty of Paris. He established the Bureau of Public Lands and became of the first head of the Bureau. After a few years working in Manila, Tipton returned to the United States and worked in different federal and New Mexican state government positions before his retirement in 1921.
He then moved to Santa Clara County with his second wife, Alice J. Tipton, and lived on a ranch there until his death in 1922 at the age of 65.
Throughout his life, Tipton complied lists of Spanish terms with the hope of adding them to a Spanish-English dictionary. These lists make up the majority of his personal papers.