Early Times in Kosciusko

Incidents and Anecdotes of Pioneer Days and the Early Settlement of this Region

by Reub Williams

Memories on which we dwell
Are they those that, well-defined
By their crystal clearness, quell
Saddest longings on the mind?
Or, which softly indistinct.
Full of shadows as in dreams,
By their mystic beauty link
Reality to that which seems.
---- Anonymous

In the early history of the town of Warsaw there was much interest centered in the sessions of courts, and term-time made a sort of a holiday for a great many people. To serve as one of the regular panel of jurors was considered an honor, and then as now, people delighted to be summoned by the sheriff for such a position. The circuit court was in early days just what it purported to be--a body that traveled from county to county throughout the circuit, much as did the itinerant Methodist preacher of that period. The judge went from county to county, and if I remember correctly the circuit court to which the late James S. Frazer was, as a young man, elected as prosecuting attorney composed six counties, or what is now an ordinary congressional district. It was quite customary for the leading members of the bar in the early days to travel the circuit along with the judge, and in this way the lawyers became quite a distinct body aided by their intimate acquaintance with one another, the method having the effect to bring them in close touch with one another--at any rate the lawyers of fifty and more years ago knew one another in adjoining counties to a more general personal extent than they do today. The lawyer of forty, fifty and sixty years ago, and more--like the physicians of those days--were considered learned men--well educated at least--for the great mass of the people were "shy" on education beyond the three R's--"readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic" --owing to the lack of educational facilities, such as books, means to pay the teacher, and time to go to school, even when a "60-day term" was provided.

Here in Warsaw there were several attorneys considered "well read" not only in law; but on general subjects as well. I recall off hand C. B. Simonson, who erected one among the first frame houses in the town that stood on the same lot on which the present handsome brick structure erected by the late W. H. Gibson now stands. What is more, it was the very first to have a brass "knocker" on the many paneled, but home-made front door, and was used to save the knuckles of a folded-fist, I presume, for the sound, while it may have been somewhat louder, was similar.

Then came the late James S. Frazer--a tall, slim, pleasant and agreeable and pliant, though angular young man, fresh from admittance to the bar at Richmond, this state, who remained with us--save for a brief interval of a few years that he resided in Waukegan, Ill. All through his later middle life he had the reputation--deservedly so, too--of being one of the brightest and best lawyers in the state, and his services on the Supreme Bench of the state for twelve years gave him a wide acquaintance in every county in the state.

Then there was Michael C. Dougherty--an Irishman as his name fully attests. He came to Warsaw from Goshen, and it should be remembered by the reader that there was a greater intimacy between Goshen and Warsaw people in early days than exists at present, partly owing to the reason that previous to its setting up in business on its own account Kosciusko county was attached to Elkhart for judicial purposes, and having no courts of its own, if a young fellow decided to marry his inamorsta it was necessary for him to go or send to Goshen for a license in the early days. Now, you can get the authority here at home--sometimes almost too easy! While on this subject, I might state right here that the writer knew of a young man--that is, I heard the story afterwards--who lived about four miles east of this city, who while going to see the girl he afterwards married, did his sparking in his shirt sleeves and always went to see his fair dulcinae barefooted! He was even then engaged in carving out a farm on which he lived until the day of his death, and after attaining his bride "lived happily with her ever after!"

But to return to lawyers. There was the late Billy Williams, probably the finest natural orator the state ever produced, and who during his life became known as a noted public speaker all over this broad land. He represented his district--"the Old Tenth"--for two terms, and then when the state was given an additional number owning to its increase in population, he was elected as congressman-at-large. Few men in any town possessed more energy and pluck than the late Billy Williams. As an instance that he would not be idle--or rather that he must be doing something--he obtained the contract for lathing the old court-house, and making the court-room, and all its smaller office-rooms, ready for the plasterer. It was said that at seventeen years of age he could speak, fluently, too, on any subject that might be called up, and few persons were more agreeable and gentlemanly, or had more warmhearted friends than Billy Williams.

He had no special taste for the law, and especially was he opposed to the plodding industry required to make a first-class lawyer; and he had a natural tact for trading, and in this he succeeded wonderfully. He had his "ups and downs" all through life. It is said that at times he was easily worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and then ran down, only to rise again, recoup his losses and again push ahead. He was one of the directors of the Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad, previous to its absorption by the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago and owned $30,000 worth of its stock. He opened a bank under the laws of Indiana, in the west end of what is now known as the Shane building. Indeed the room on the Buffalo street entrance, as first constructed, was built for the bank, and the Late Wm. C. Graves was its cashier. Few Warsaw men were more widely known than the late Billy Williams, and he retained the friendship of all who ever knew him until the sad end came.

George W. Frasier--no relation to the judge of the same but differently spelled name--was also a lawyer of acknowledged ability and acumen. He was exceedingly well read in the law, and was a powerful argumentative speaker. He was a member of the legislature from this county when the war broke out, and was a steady, active and vigilant supporter of Gov. Morton in the trying days of the period which followed. He labored under the disadvantages of the slow progress of that insidious disease known as consumption, that no doubt prevented him at the later period of his life from accumulating a fortune; for his reputation as a lawyer was becoming known to such an extent that he was frequently employed abroad, especially so in intricate cases.

James H. Carpenter, who had at first studied and practiced medicine at North Webster, in this county removed to Warsaw, having previous to his arrival devoted every moment of his spare time to the study of the law. He, too, became a prominent member of the Kosciusko county bar, and enjoyed while he lived in this city, a large and lucrative practice. He served during the war of the Rebellion as a major of the Seventh Cavalry, whose colonel was the late Thomas Brown--a well-known and prominent Republican politician of this state. Major Carpenter determined to accept the position of attorney for the B. & O. Railway, and the company required him to move to Garrett, DeKalb county, where he lived until his death, only a few years ago, an honored and respected gentleman in all the walks of life; his medical knowledge having been of immense advantage to him in the trial of many cases, where that special branch of jurisprudence was a feature in some cases.

Andrew J. Power was an early member of the Kosciusko county bar, having studied law in the office of Judge J. S. Frazer. Mr. Power was known all over the county for his genial disposition, and possesses in a remarkable degree a perchant for joviality and fun of all kinds. He was not always a good story-teller himself, but he was a good listener to other people's takes, and most thoroughly enjoyed the gathering of friends about him in a social way. He was a wag of the first water, and I often hear stories going the rounds even at this distant day, that originated among the assemblage of kindred spirits that during his all too brief life gathered at his office almost every evening. He, too, represented the people of this county at the State Legislature, and died, if I remember correctly, before the end of the civil war--a war in which every throb of his heart went out to the men who were fighting to save the Union

In quite early days there was a lawyer here by the name of George W. Cornelius, who although a fair lawyer and one who had studied hard to equip himself for the profession, was so hot-headed, and possessed such an ungovernable temper, that people were almost afraid to talk to him about their own cases. He was severely crippled in his feet. In fact his lower limbs were both wholly useless, and he could only get about on a pair of crutches, yet, with these, he had been known on several occasions to knock down on the streets those who offended him, and he would readily take offense where no one else would have thought of doing so. If I am not mistaken, it was Cornelius who was prosecuting a resident of Monoquet (names are suppressed for obvious reasons) who was charged with having broken into a store in Oswego and stolen some goods. Billy Williams had been employed for the defense, and the cause was before a justice of peace in one of the smaller rooms on the north side of the old court house, and the trial being at night, almost everybody in town, except the women and girls, had come out to hear it. The constable had a portion of the stolen goods with him found in the possession of the defendant, but an especial feature of the guilt of the prisoner lay in the fact that a piece of a knife-blade was found on the window-sill where the thief had entered the premises, and on searching the man on his arrest the constable had secured possession of a knife that contained the handle and stub-end of the blade to which the piece in his possession tallied precisely.

Of course Billy Williams resorted in every possible expedient, and every technicality of law in favor of his client, and made a very strong defense. The room was packed to its fullest capacity with an excited crowd that grew more and more so as the case progressed. It was plainly to be seen that the spectators believed that the man whom they conceived to be guilty, was about to escape, and as this did not tally with their views, they at once took measures to prevent his escape, should the justice decide in his favor on some legal technicality that Billy had worked up; so a few resolute fellows stationed themselves at the door, while other equally determined men--among whom was the late P. L. Runyan and the father of the writer, both stalwart, strong men--went around to the north window to prevent the criminal's escape in that way. The justice rendered his decision about this time, freeing the prisoner. Billy Williams, his attorney, knew that a new writ would be at once issued covering the ground on which he had just cleared his client, and after whispering to the prisoner he turned around and, very suddenly raised the window, telling his client to jump out and clear himself. He attempted to plunge through the window, but in doing so was caught on the outside, and also by those on the inside, and both parties tried to secure possession of his person, the one trying to pull him out and the other trying to prevent his going through the window, and in the melee the man was stripped of all his clothing, so that he was as naked as when he first made his debut on this mundane sphere. The outside party secured possession of him finally, and he was again brought around to the room and held there until Cornelius could begin a new case, free from the technicality on which the 'squire had released him. There were no women present when he was brought back save one, whom the prisoner had there as an a witness in his own behalf to prove that he was sparking her at Monoquet, and consequently could not have robbed a store at Oswego that night. For the audience, however the knife-blade, clearly fitting the piece found by the constable on the widow-sill of the store, where he had used it to raise the window, was sufficiently strong to establish his guilt, and the spectators determined that the prisoner should not escape on the evasions of what they considered the law. That was the way they tried a prisoner in the old days. He was re-arrested; put in jail that night, and the next day some of his friends went security for his appearance at court, and in a short time, he ran away and to my knowledge, has never reappeared in this county.

In this reference to the bar of Kosciusko county I have confined myself wholly to those who have passed from amongst us, and have not mentioned all the attorneys of the olden times, but have named only those who impressed themselves upon me as a boy of the time I am writing. It seems to me, however, that the old-time chivalry, the geniality, the storytelling proclivity of the lawyers of fifty years ago, the camraderie of the profession, has waned very sensibly, as I would not know where to go now to find a body of lawyers--any profession, in fact--met for the purpose of story-telling and a pleasant time.


Warsaw Daily Times February 8, 1902

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