John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

The bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) online

. (page 42 of 83)
Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 42 of 83)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

to Chicago, whither his father had shortly before preceded him. He began
the study of law under Butterfield & Collins, then prominent Illinois practi-
tioners. About a year later he entered the law school at Cambridge, Massachu-
setts, in 1841 was admitted to the Massachusetts bar; and 'returned to Illinois
and began practice at Elgin in August of that year. He was elevated to the
bench in 1851, holding through subsequent elections for about seventeen years.
In 1867 he removed to Chicago, remaining until 1871, when he lost his valuable
law library in the great fire. He finally returned to Kane county, locating at
Geneva, and became one of the judges of the twelfth judicial circuit. He died
in 1891, as has already been noted. The characteristics of Judge Wilson were
remarkable industry, strict integrity and opposition to needless litigation, and
the delays which are so vexatious in most courts. He was regarded as one
of the ablest lawyers in the country, and during his years upon the bench was
several times chosen to represent his district in the appellate court.

Hon. Silvanus Wilcox, who succeeded Judge Wilson in 1867, is a native


of Montgomery county, New York. He was a cadet at West Point for two
years, beginning in April, 1836, but was obliged to resign on account of ill
health, standing fifth in merit in a class of fifty. He spent five months in the
west, in 1840, finally locating in Elgin in 1844, where the next year he was
appointed postmaster by President Polk, holding this office during the latter's
administration. He was admitted to the bar in 1846, and in 1867 elected judge
of the twenty-eighth judicial circuit, comprising the counties of Kane, Du Page
and Kendall. He was re-elected in 1873, but resigned in 1874 because of poor
health, his resignation being received with regret by the judiciary of the state.

Judges Wilson and Wilcox are the only citizens furnished by Kane county
for the circuit bench of the district, but those from other counties who have
performed its duties have been men of marked ability and high standing in the
profession. Judge Hiram H. Cody, of Du Page, was no exception to the rule,
and Judges Charles Kellum and Clark W. Upton, the associates of Judge Wilson,
stood also in the front rank. Judges Kellum, Upton and Wilson retired from
the bench at the June election in 1890, and Henry B. Willis, George W. Brown,
and Charles A. Bishop comprise the bench of this circuit at the present time.

Although numerous murders have been committed in Kane county, and
some of them of the most diabolical character, but one man has been legally
executed for his crime within the limits of the county. At the February term
of the circuit court, in 1855, John Collins \vas convicted of murder, for having,
while intoxicated, killed his wife. He was sentenced to be hung, and the
penalty was inflicted upon him by Sheriff Spaulding.

There have been several noted murder cases in the county, among them
the following: April 3, 1868, Mjrs. Mary Widner, second wife of Adam Wiclner,
was found to have been murdered. The crime was laid to John Ferris and wife,
who rented part of the Widner house, and with whom there had been a dispute
and one or two lawsuits. The trial was held at Woodstock, McHenry county,
and ended early in April, 1869, with a verdict of acquittal for Mrs. Ferris and
a sentence of .fourteen years in the penitentiary for the husband, who was proved
to be undoubtedly guilty. Rev. Isaac B. Smith was tried in the fall of 1869
for the alleged drowning of his wife in a creek between Elgin and Turner Junc-
tion. The trial was long and excited great interest, but a verdict of not guilty
was reached in November. The Kimball case, tried in the circuit court in the
fore part of May, 1881, was for the fatal wounding of Billings Wright by
William Kimball, in the car shops at Aurora, October 22, 1886, while the latter
was intoxicated. Wright died of his wounds in November following. The jury
found Kimball not guilty, on the plea of emotional insanity. On Sunday, June
i, 1884, Otto John Hope, a German farmer, residing in Sugar Grove township,
was killed and his hired man, Ed. Steinburn, dangerously wounded during a dis-
pute over the feeding of some of Hope's cattle on the highway. Ozias W.
Fletcher and his son Merritt W. were the guilty parties, the shooting being done
with a revolver. The trial which ensued was intensely bitter, and resulted in
sending the senior Fletcher for three years to Joliet, and sentencing the young
man to death. Steinburn, the principal witness, recovered and went to Europe,


and, finally, after Merritt Fletcher had been confined in jail three years, he suc-
ceeded in having his sentence commuted to three years in the penitentiary,
making an incarceration of six years. A fiendish murder was committed at
Elgin March 3, 1883, when George Panton shot and killed his tenant, William
Smith, in consequence of a dispute over the occupation of a house belonging to
Panton. It was shown that the murder was deliberate and cold-blooded and
unprovoked. Panton was arrested and was tried, on a change of venue, in the
Boone circuit court, the jury finding him guilty of murder in the first degree,
and the judge sentencing him to be hanged. He was granted a new trial and a
second time sentenced, but Governor Oglesby commuted his sentence to impris-
onment for life in the penitentiary. He was accordingly sent to Joliet, where he
eventually became insane, and in the spring of 1887 he was removed to the
asylum at Elgin.

Few books upon legal matters existed in the early circuit, and Hon. B. C.
Cook describes the lawyers who "rode the circuit" as strong men, dependent
more upon their own intellectual strength than upon books." The bulk of busi-
ness in the early courts was transacted by lawyers outside of the county, among
whom were J. J. Brown, of Danville ; Leslie Smith and J. D. Butterfield, of Chi-
cago ; Jonathan K. Cooper, Onslow Peters and Lincoln B. Knowlton, of Peoria ;
Judge Dickey, of Ottawa, and others. B. C. Cook was also from Ottawa, al-
though he practiced to a great extent in the Kane county courts. When first
known in the profession here he was a young man just entering upon his public
career. From 1846 to 1852, as stated, he was prosecuting attorney of the dis-
trict, and it has been said of him that he was a terror to all criminals, who, in
their own language "would rather have the devil after them than that young,
pleasant, smiling, white-headed Cook." Mr. Cook was elected afterward to the
state senate, and later served several terms in congress. He was a delegate from
Illinois to the peace congress, to arrange a settlement with the southern states,
when they were about going out of the Union, and he took a bold and decided
stand in favor of upholding the constitution, and preserving the Union at all
hazards. He subsequently served many years as the chief attorney for the Chi-
cago & Northwestern Railway, with headquarters at Chicago.

Among the first lawyers to locate in Kane county were Caleb A. Bucking-
ham and H. N. Chapman, at Geneva, about 1837, and S. S. Jones, at St. Charles.
Buckingham was a young lawyer of fine promise, who acquired some promin-
ence in his profession and in other directions, but he was cut off by death about
1841, at Chicago. Chapman married and removed, it is thought, to Racine, Wis-
consin. Jones had visited the region in 1837, and in 1838 located with his
family at St. Charles, coming by way of Naperville. He had been admitted to
the bar at Montpelier, Vermont, about 1835, and opened an office upon his arrival
at St. Charles. He became a prominent attorney, but finally relinquished the
profession to engage in newspaper publishing, his death occurring some years
since in Chicago. He was the first lawyer to locate in St. Charles. A. R.
Dodge is said to have hung out his shingle at Aurora as early as 1837. He was
a good speaker and a man of considerable ability, and at a later date was sent to


the legislature from Kendall county. Orsamus D. Day settled at Aurora in 1839,
and in the following year published his professional card in the nearest news-
paper the Joliet Courier. He died in the fall of 1861, having been elected
mayor in 1860.

Among the early lawyers and well known residents of Geneva were William
B. Plato, who removed there from Aurora; Joel D. Harvey, who subsequently
became a prominent citizen of Chicago ; and Charles B. Wells, who won fame not
only as a lawyer but as a soldier.

Edward E. Harvey was an honored pioneer lawyer of Elgin, who volunteered
at the breaking out of the war with Mexico and gave his life for his country
during that struggle.

Paul R. Wright, a native of Oneida county, New York, moved to Illinois
in 1837, when eighteen years of age. He taught school five years and during
that time studied law. In 1844 he entered the office of E. E. Harvey, at Elgin,
was admitted to the bar a year later, and opened an office in that place. In 1856
he was chosen circuit clerk on the Fremont ticket, and removed to Geneva. At
the expiration of his term he resumed practice, but moved in 1862 to a farm in
Union county, and thence, in 1874, to Jonesboro, where he again entered practice.
Charles H. Morgan, the first judge of the Elgin court of common pleas, became
subsequently a United States judge in one of the territories, and was a very able
lawyer. His residence was also at Elgin. Edmund Gifford, one of the early
lawyers of Elgin, was well and favorably known for his legal ability, and became
in after years a judge at New Orleans, Louisiana.

William D. Barry, who had been admitted to the bar in Henry county,
Ohio, in 1836, located at St. Charles in the spring of 1840, and was long the
Nestor of the bar of Kane county. He continued in active practice until the
weight of years rendered it necessary for him to retire. He was long judge of
the Kane county court. During the early days of his residence here he con-
ducted many hard criminal trials, among them being the defense of Taylor
Driscoll, of Ogle county, for the alleged murder of one Campbell, during the
dark days of horse-stealing and kindred crimes. Driscoll was tried at Wood-
stock, McHenry county, on a change of venue, and through Judge Barry's
efforts was acquitted. Judge William D. Barry died at St. Charles, January 27,
1892, aged more than eighty years.

Joseph W. Churchill, a young resident of Batavia, was one of the first
lawyers in the county, coming to Batavia in 1835, and was elected to the state
senate the following year. In 1837 he was chosen to a position on the board of
county commissioners, and was otherwise prominent. About 1853 he removed
to Davenport, Iowa.

A good story of practice in the early days was related a number of years
since by Henry B. Pierce, now deceased. It seems that Churchill's estimate of
his own ability was very great. A. M. Herrington, whom everybody knew as
"Gus," was then a law student in the office of Ralph Haskins, Esq., at Geneva,
and had access to the latter's fine library. He had picked up many points in
law. and was especially familiar with the decisions and opinions in "Coleman on


Contracts." He had been engaged to try his first case before Squire McNair,
in Blackberry precinct, one in which suit had been brought for breach of con-
tract. He took along his book, but hid it under a fence before entering the
judicial presence. He had walked from Geneva, carrying his brogans over his
shoulder until he had nearly reached his destination, when he stopped and put
them on. The aforesaid Churchill was opposed to "Gus'' in the case. After
the. evidence was heard, Herrington claimed a verdict by virtue of the law,
which he quoted after bringing his authority into court. Churchill claimed the
case for the plaintiff, stating that the law as read by the defense was not applicable
to the case at all, and that the mere boy who had offered it had no educational
advantages, and could not be expected to know the law or its application.
Churchill sounded his own trumpet after the following manner : "May it please
the court, my father spent a thousand dollars to give me a collegiate education
and fit me for the bar. and of course I ought to and I do know the law in this
case." After Churchill had finished his plea and taken his seat, young Herring-
ton arose and said : "May it please the court, the counsel for the plaintiff has
stated to you that his father spent one thousand dollars to give him an education.
Now I submit to the court and the jury that in view of the facts proven in this
case and the bearing of the law thereon, it was a mighty poor investment, and
would have paid better put into wild land at one dollar and fifty cents an acre."
The jury rewarded the young counsel by deciding the case in favor of the defense,
and his first legal fee was paid him, two new five-franc pieces, which he
coolly placed in the pockets of his tow trousers and proceeded homeward.
When he was out of sight of his triumph he took out the coins, looked at them
with a smile, and clinked them together in true boyish satisfaction ; and it is
safe to say that he never afterward earned a fee which gave him so much genuine

Augustus Herrington, the hero of the foregoing incident, came to Kane
county with his father, James Herrington, in 1835, the family locating at Geneva.
He studied law during his leisure moments, and was admitted to the bar in 1844.
In 1856 he was an elector on the Democratic ticket, and in 1857 was appointed
United States district attorney, a position he held until removed by President
Buchanan, for being a friend to Stephen A. Douglas. In 1860 he was a delegate
to the national Democratic convention, and to similar bodies in 1864 and 1868.
For many years he was attorney for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Mr.
Herrington was a man of positive likes and dislikes, and while he would go to
almost any length to favor a friend his enemies knew they could expect nothing
from him. He was a fine lawyer and an impressive speaker, and was possessed
of purely original characteristics. He died August 14, 1883. Many stories are
related of the tilts between him and John F. Farnsworth. Herrington's cutting
remarks were often met by an exercise of physical force on the part of Farns-
worth, though never with any damaging result to either party.

John F. Farnsworth, a native of Eaton, Canada East, was born of New
England parentage and removed with the family to Livingston county, Michi-
gan, in 1834. There he assisted his father in surveying, studied law, and was


admitted to practice. He read in the office of Judge Josiah Turner, at Howell,
in 1842-3, and was admitted to practice in 1843. He pushed at once for a new
field in which to begin his professional labors, locating in the same year at St.
Charles, Kane county, Illinois. The stage upon which he was journeying from
Chicago stuck in a slough and he, being unable to wait, and being without
money, friends or library, took his trunk on his back, waded out and made his
way to his new home. Previous to 1846 Mr. Farnsworth was a Democrat in
politics, but in that year left the party and assisted in the nomination of Owen
Lovejoy for congress. In 1856 and 1858 he was elected to congress by large
majorities, on the Republican ticket, from what was then called the Chicago
district. His speeches were widely copied by the newspapers, and he swept all
opposition before him. In 1860, at the Chicago convention, he assisted in nom-
inating Abraham Lincoln for president. In October, 1861, he left St. Charles in
command of the Eighth Illinois Cavalry, a regiment one thousand two hundred
strong, which he had raised and which rendezvoused at St. Charles. It was one
of the finest regiments which entered the service during the war of the Rebellion.
In November, 1862, Colonel Farnsworth was promoted to the rank of brigadier-
general, and commanded the First Cavalry Brigade until after the battle of
Fredericksburg, in December following. By being almost constantly in the
saddle he had contracted a severe lameness, and was obliged to obtain leave of
absence for medical treatment. Having been again elected to congress in the
fall of 1862, he resigned his commission in the army March 4, 1863, and took his
seat once more in the national halls of legislation. In the fall of 1863 he was
authorized to raise the Seventeenth Illinois Cavalry, and carried out the plan.
By successive elections he was returned to congress, term after term, until 1872,
when he was defeated in the convention, after a large number of ballots, by
General Stephen A. Hurlbut, of Belviclere, who also had an enviable war record.
In congress, where he served for fourteen years, General Farnsworth was active
and prominent, and held numerous important committee chairmanships and
positions. After his defeat in the Republican district convention, in 1872, he
espoused the Greeley cause, and about 1879 removed from St. Charles to
Chicago. He was several times a candidate for office after 1872. In 1876 he
was defeated for congress in his old district by Hon. William Lathrop, and met
defeat subsequently at Chicago as a Democratic candidate for congressional hon-
ors. He removed to Washington, D. C, where he had a fine legal practice. He
had extensive real-estate interests in Kane county, Chicago and elsewhere. Gen-
eral Farnsworth died at Washington in the summer of 1897, and his remains were
brought to St. Charles and interred in the old burying ground.

Benjamin F. Fridley is really entitled to the honor of being the first lawyer
to locate within the present limits of Kane county. He had studied law in the
east. Coming west in the fall of 1834, he made his home near Oswego, for some
time. He. subsequently located a claim on the east side of the river in Aurora
township. Mr. Fridley came to Aurora in 1835. In 1836 he was 'elected sheriff
of Kane county, being the first to serve in that capacity. It is said of him that his
experience while sheriff assisted him greatly in obtaining a knowledge of legal


matters, which combined with his native wit and judgment, enabled him to
stand so high among the pioneers of the bar in this region. His term as sheriff
closed in 1839, and he immediately entered upon the practice of his profession.
From 1840 to 1846 he was prosecuting attorney of the district, which included
twelve counties, extending from Ogle to Peoria, in each of which two and in
some of which three terms of court had to be held annually, making the offices
very laborious. Mr. Fridley was located at Geneva during his official career,
and had an office with Mark W. Fletcher. In his travels over the circuit he used
his own conveyance, and was usually accompanied by the judge or some member
of the bar. He subsequently lived for a short time at Oswego, but returned to
Aurora in 1857. Besides the business which naturally came to him as a resident
lawyer, a large amount was placed in his hands by attorneys at Chicago, who did
not desire to travel the circuit and who were aware that their matters would be
faithfully attended to by him. He is now deceased.

Mark W. Fletcher, who previous to coming to this region had practiced law
in the east, never engaged in the practice here, because of being elected to office,
and continued therein for years. He was born in Orange county, Vermont,
and read law in Genesee, Livingston and Ontario counties, New York. He
located a claim in the township of St. Charles, in May, 1835, and has resided upon
it since about 1848, when his official duties at the county-seat were ended. He
was the first county surveyor, first clerk of the commissioners' court, and the sec-
ond clerk of Kane county. He was born in 1803.

Aside from the lawyers mentioned as having been in practice at Geneva,
we find that C. H. McCubbin located quite early at that point, probably about
1841, but after remaining a short time he removed to Kendall county. Joseph
W. Helm, of Yorkville, was likewise an early practitioner in the courts of Kane
county. Major J. H. Mayborne, who studied law in the state of New York,
located at Chicago in 1846, and in 1848 removed to Geneva, where he success-
fully engaged in the practice of law. During the war of the Rebellion he
occupied the position of paymaster from 1863 to 1866, with headquarters at St.
Louis, and served in the Illinois state senate, having been elected in 1876. He
also served a number of years as supervisor of Geneva township, and was prom-
inent in politics from the time of the formation of the Republican party.

William J. Brown, who first practiced in the western part of the county,
afterward located at Geneva. He was for some time master in chancery, and a
popular lawyer. He removed farther west a few years since, but about 1888 re-
turned to Geneva, where he is now in practice. A. P. West, the well known
Geneva justice of the peace, is also a member of the bar and is an able lawyer.
William Augustus Smith, a graduate of Wesleyan University, at Middletown,
Connecticut, opened a law office in Geneva about 1857, and practiced nearly
two years. He then abandoned the law and took up theology, becoming a noted
Methodist minister. He was for sixteen years secretary of the Rock River con-
ference, and 'died suddenly at his home in Rockford during a session of the con-
ference, September 30, 1887.

At St. Charles the number of lawyers who have been residents at various


periods is considerable. S. S. Jones, the first one, has already been mentioned,
as also Hon. W. D. Barry and Hon. J. F. Farnsworth. William J. Miller located
at the place in 1841, but removed subsequently to Carroll county, Illinois, and
later to Chicago. Ralph V. M. Croes, who was at first engaged in mercantile
business, afterward studied law and was admitted to practice ; he was an early
resident of the place. S. G. D. Howard practiced at St. Charles previous to 1846,
in which year he removed from the place. The late Van H. Higgins, of Chicago,
also was a resident attorney previous to 1845. An attorney named Van Wormer,
from Genesee county, New York, located at the same place with his family about
1846, and opened an office. His dealings were not looked upon with favor by
the people, he having stirred up enmity among them in about the same manner
a boy would disturb a hornets' nest. Finally Van Wormer was employed in a
suit which brought matters to a focus and resulted in his obtaining a not very
sleek coat of tar and feathers. The offenders in the case were brought before
the grand jury at its next session, but that body refused to consider the matter,
and Van W r ormer, recognizing at last that the prejudices of the community were
decidedly not in his favor, soon after left the place. He removed to Algonquin,
McHenry county, abandoned his family, and added still further to his record as
an unprincipled villain.

James P. Vance located at St. Charles about 1845 an d practiced law for sev-
eral years in Kane county. He afterward changed his profession for the clerical,
and removed from the place. H. F. Smith, from Wyoming county, New York,
opened a law office in St. Charles in 1846, but finding business dull, engaged for
a time in peddling maps and canvassing for a life of John Quincy Adams. In
the course of his journeyings he reached Elkhorn, the seat of justice for Wai-
worth county, Wisconsin, where he formed a partnership with a local attorney.
John H. Ferguson, one of the ablest of the many able members of the Kane
county bar, located at St. Charles about 1850, coming from the state of New
York. He was for a time in partnership with J. F. Farnsworth, and ' v it was
often remarked," says the editor of the St. Charles Valley Chronicle, in a brief
mention, "that the two constituted the strongest legal team in the county. Fer-
guson was perhaps the best informed in legal authorities of any practicing attor-
ney in the county, and his knowledge, reinforced by Farnsworth's oratorical
powers before a jury, constituted a combination of talent which was well nigh
irresistible." Mr. Ferguson opened an office in Chicago in 1855 or 1856, and
died in that city suddenly, of a malignant throat disease, December 3, 1857.

David L. Eastman, a native of Washington county, Vermont, settled at St.
Charles, in the fall of 1848. He formed a law partnership with S. S. Jones, and
later, in Chicago, with ex-Governor John L. Beveridge. He rose very rapidly

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 42 of 83)