Reminiscences of Its Earlier Days
The subject at the head of this article has material enough in it, if expanded into such details as might be of interest, to fill the present number of this paper. How to select from the facts within the personal recollection of the writer, and from reliable tradition, so as to bring this article within proper limits, is no easy task.
The bar of the county, down to about twenty years ago, embraced not only residents of the county, but also, nearly all the leading lawyers of more than a dozen of the northern counties. They "rode the circuit" in those days, some of them attending all the courts of the circuit, which was then very large territorially, and some of them attending all the courts of the circuit, which was then very large territorially, and some of them had occasional practice in other circuits.
Nearly all had political aspirations; were more than willing to be elected to congress, and these were therefore anxious to make extensive personal acquaintances with the people. Arguments before juries were often made quite as much for the ear of the spectator as for the jurors. Witnesses and parties had votes and influence, and I think they were treated with more courtesy and consideration than some times occurs in later times.
Indeed our courts and bar have not improved in dignity and propriety with the lapse of time. In the old days men could not become lawyers without the previous study of law, and mere pettifoggers were limited in their operations to the justice's courts of the out townships. Legitimate lawyers and judges gave them no countenance whatever. The "reform" of the state constitution of 1852, which makes a lawyer of any voter who can get an easy going court to endorse his moral character, has not resulted in any thing but harm. In many instances, indeed, the standard of "moral character" which has been adjudged satisfactory, would not have been sufficient upon which to base a successful application to retail whiskey under the "Baxter bill." This is not a very flattering criticism upon our jurisprudence, or rather upon its administration; but it has been often made, and in repeating it here, it is set down rather as an expression of the popular judgment than an original idea of the writer.
It has more than once occurred in our supreme court, that the chief justice has invited all who wished admission to the bar of that high court, to rise and be "sworn in," without even the endorsement of any body, and a score of men who, for aught the judges knew or seemed to care, might have been just out of the penitentiary, or escaped from it, became, at once, attorneys of that court! It is no pleasure to state this fact.
The earliest resident lawyer of this county was John B. Chapman, who was one of the very first white settlers within its borders. He was so well known personally, having died here but recently, that little can be said of him which would be of interest. He devoted too much attention to various speculations, to possess profound knowledge of law; but his energy and tirelessness in the service of his clients made him formidable before juries. His hot temper some times rendered him unpleasant at the bar, and as he was brave, it frequently led even to a contest of blows in open court, and very often to such a war of words as compelled the repressive interference of the court by the infliction of fines. A very amusing instance occurred between him and Emanuel Harmon, a young lawyer of good promise who resided here a short time after the year 1842. In the course of a trial where one Lash was a part in the probate court before Judge Jacob Baker, who was a Pennsylvania Dutchman, the attorneys, Chapman and Harmon, quarreled and came to blows. His honor vindicated the dignity of his court by imposing a fine of $100 on each of them. The circumstance awakened the muse of William C. Graves, who recorded it in a witty paraody, one vers of which ran thus
"Vas it mit crimes dot Lash tid done,
Dey rushed upon der preach,
Amazin bityclerk, puts town,
Von hunner totlar each."
Wm. C. Graves now cashier of the First National bank, was, it is believed, the first student who came to the bar in the county. He gave good promise of professional eminence, but the better emoluments of the clerk's office soon tempted him to quite the profession. He was clerk several terms, until he finally resigned, on account of failing health, to enter upon the business of a merchant. He returned to the law some years after, but he had lost his taste for it and soon abandoned it finally. It was the testimony of the distinguished judge of the supreme court, Isaac Blackford, to the writer, that Mr. Graves was the best clerk in Indiana. He has since been elected to each house of the legislature; has filled every position with fidelity and credit, and is yet an active business man in our midst.
C. B Simonson, A. L. Fairbrother, W. G. T'Vault, Elijah Horton, G. W. Cornelis, M. C. Dougherty, Geo. W. Frasier and A. J. Power will all be remembered by the older citizens of the county as resident lawyers, who have passed over the "dark river." Of these George W. Frasier attained the highest professional eminence. He possessed extensive legal learning and large intelligence, and his forensic ability was of a high order. In the prime of life, and the maturity of his faculties, he passed away. He was a genial companion, and a large-hearted man as well as an able lawyer.
A. J. Power died too young to attain that professional rank, which surely would have been reached, had he lived longer. He was a wag, and as such will never be forgotten by those who knew him. He had a great, warm, generous heart, and was true to his convictions always. His impulses were quick and often hot. Once in a public meeting a fine speech of his was spoiled by his feelings of indignation overcoming him. This was the occasion: the Kansas Nebraska bill had passed and a public meeting was assembled in the courthouse to consider the situation. Power, who had always been a Democrat, was called for a speech. He was apparently calm and began; but as he spoke he rapidly became excited. He attempted to argue. Said he, "they call this infernal conspiracy popular sovereignty. The spread of the cause of slavery over territory consecrated to freedom by the fathers and by the Almighty is popular sovereignty is it! (in a voice of thunder) `Popular h__l!" It makes my blood hot as volcanic fires. I can not, I can not, command myself to talk about it. Let those who can argue it. My party had done this infernal thing." I wash my hands of the party forever; and I shall fight it fight it till I die!" and he sat down. If the courthouse had been then as dilapidated as it is now, it would hardly have withstood the thunderous approbation with which the packed audience greeted this spontaneous outburst of honest indignation
Andrew J. Bair is one of those rare cases, where a man of excellent capacity and qualifications, with regular and studious habits, nevertheless loses hope of attaining professional standing and quits. His legal education had been good, and his general intelligence was also unusually varied. He would, in consultation, give as clear expression to his legal opinions as any body; he could put his case on paper, in the pleadings, exceedingly well. He was in all respects a sensible man. But the moment he rose in court to speak, both words and ideas deserted him. He persevered for three or four years, hoping to wear off this timidity, but without success. Thus the bar lost a member whom they all respected very much. He is yet amongst us a successful merchant and a most excellent citizen.
Wm. Williams studied law late in life. The first duty performed by the writer after settling here in April, 1845 was with Thomas G. Harris, to examine "Billy" for admission to the bar. Upon a favorable report he was admitted, and at once began to practice. Special pleading troubled "Billy" always, but when he got his case to the jury he was formidable at the very beginning of his practice, by reason of his speeches. In a trial of wit he scarcely ever came out second best. A case before a justice of the peace may be given as an example. He had brought a suit in trespass for killing his client's dog, and filed his declaration in two counts, one for shooting a dog, the second for hanging a dog. The defendant's attorney filed the general issue. There was a jury trial and the whole township attended. The only real controversy was as to the value of the dog; but in argument, the defendant's attorney undertook to complain of the hardship of the case. "The defendant," he said, "was falsely charged with having killed two dogs. There was no proof of this. But he was compelled to litigate, whereas if the killing of only one dog had been alleged, according to the truth, the defendant might have let judgment go, and thus have saved costs." This was uttered with apparent seriousness, and, it could be seen, was likely to have some effect. "Billy" evinced annoyance for a moment. In his closing speech, however, he alluded to the matter, with well-simulated indignation. He called attention to the long "Presbyterian face" with which his opponent had intimated that if the complaint had been for one dog only, the killing of which was not disputed, the expense of the trial would have been avoided, and added, "Now don't be deceived by that long face, it looks honest and yet, as I shall prove to you, by his own hand-writing, he knew he was lying all the time. Here (holding up the general issue) is his own plea, in which he denies, that his client killed any dog at all, and for that reason we were suddenly compelled to prove what never ought to have been disputed." "Billy" won the case and the joke was on his opponent.
But years afterwards another case left the joke on Billy. Two responsible and spunky farmers got into controversy about the ownership of a lamb worth $1.50 which culminated in a replevin suit before a justice of the peace and an appeal to the common pleas. In that court, "Billy" was for the plaintiff and his adversary of the dog case had the other side. Each party had a half dozen honest witnesses to prove most positively his title to the sheep. The defendant's attorney knew that under such circumstances the result was uncertain unless "Billy" should forget to prove some mere technical point; and, accordingly, he resolved, if possible, to keep "Billy" so absorbed with the main question that he would forget to prove any things else. The plan was successful.
"Billy's" first witness testified solely to the ownership of the sheep, and on cross-examination he was finally attacked and worried so that his testimony was somewhat shaken, and Billy rendered very uneasy. The same policy was pursued with each of the plaintiff's witnesses, and Billy forgot to prove that the defendant had taken or detained the animal. Then the defendant produced his witnesses to the question of ownership and Billy cross-examined them savagely. The case was argued solely on the question of ownership and after the court had instructed the jury on all other questions, the defense quietly asked an instruction to the effect that without proof that the defendant had wrongfully taken or unlawfully detained the lamb, the verdict must be for the defendant. This knocked the breath out of Billy, he lost his case and his client paid $50 costs.
James H. Carpenter also came to the bar late in life. He had first studied medicine and practiced it with success. He then studied law. Nothing short of the greatest perseverance will, under such circumstances, win success in the legal profession, so difficult is it to withdraw the mind from early channels of thought. His success is an exception to the general result. Soon after he came to the bar, he gave some attention to real estate speculations with a view to making money. He was somewhat successful at one time, and in the midst of it he had the defense of a bastardy case, which was prosecuted by the late Judge Mather. In argument he warned the jury that if such complaints were sustained upon doubtful evidence the influence would tend to demoralize females of a certain class by tempting them to institute groundless charges of that sort for the purpose of "making money." Mather admitted the wisdom of the suggestion, though he denied its pertinency to the pending case. "But," said he, "I know well with what a strong grasp the passion for speculation and money making, when unduly indulged, seizes upon the souls of both men and women; and as my brother Carpenter seems to see an opportunity for speculation in the making of complaints for bastardy, I shall not be surprised to see him shortly engaging in the business!" Of course the gravity of the court was disturbed, and nobody enjoyed the joke better than Carpenter.
A little later came Edgar Haymond, W. S. Marshall, E. V. Long, H. S. Biggs, and R. B. Encell, now prominent members of our bar, and recently a number of young men, who have had advantages of education beyond their seniors, which will, doubtless, in the end, furnish an abler corps of resident lawyers than those who have preceded them.
The non-resident members of our bar of the olden time, were Gustavus A. Everts, Samuel C. Samples, John B. Niles, E. M. Chamberlain, A. L. Osburn, J. L. Worden, Jno. U. Pettit, E. A. M'Mahon, John B. Howe, D. D. Pratt, H. P. Biddle, J. L. Jernagan, J. A.Liston, John D. Defrees, James Bradley, Thomas G. Harris, J. H. Mather, John Morris and L. M. Ninde. For many years these gentlemen attended all our courts, and were as well known, in the county as if they had resided in it. Sample, Chamberlian, Pratt, Harris and Mather are dead. They were able lawyers and esteemed and honored citizens, and all were the early and valued personal friends, of the writer of these reminiscences.
Amongst the members of our county bar, resident and non-resident, who have been called to high places of trust, I enumerate: one senator of the United States; four judges of the supreme court of Indiana; nine circuit judges; four common pleas judges; six members of congress; one government printer and one commissioner of internal revenue. It is believed that none of these has brought any discredit on the public service, and it may be asserted that many of them have filled their high places with marked distinction.
The original plan of this article contemplated a brief biographical sketch of each of the lawyers of the olden time, who has died or achieved unusual distinction, together with such personal incidents and anecdotes as might be deemed worth recording. But the space already occupied and the other imperative demands upon the time of the writer combined to forbid it.
Believed to have been written by James Frazer
Northern Indianian Mammoth Holiday Sheet Saturday, December 28, 1878
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