John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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advantage of any technicality, and therefore refused the commission offered
to him. Mr. Stickney was elected to the legislature in 1875-6 and served his
constituents well. He is about the only survivor of the old regime in this
part of the state, and forms the connecting link between the remote past and
the present. He is still living, at a ripe old age, in North Chicago in full pos-

* William H. Stickney died in Chicago, February 14, 1898, and at the time of his
death was the oldest lawyer in commission in the state.


session of his faculties. He is a man possessed of many sterling qualities, and,
although he may not have reached the highest rounds in the ladder of fame,
he is justly entitled to our profound respect.


The criminal law was, from the time that Illinois was admitted into the
Union as a state, most assiduously cultivated, and there is scarcely one of the
old pioneer lawyers but what had more or less to do with the trial of criminal
cases, and many of the foremost men at the bar obtained their start in life by
either acting in the capacity of public prosecutor or defending persons charged
with the commission of criminal offenses.

In our city this was emphatically the case, and as this class of business in-
creased a separate court was established, in 1852, called the recorder's court,
with Robert S. Wilson judge, who was engaged almost entirely in trying crim-
inal cases, and this continued up to 1870, when our new constitution went into
effect, and the then existing court ha'd its powers and jurisdiction enlarged so
as to embrace every kind of a criminal and quasi-criminal case throughout the
county. The first murder trial which ever took place in Cook county, accord-
ing to the late Judge Caton, occurred in 1834.

The next murder trial, which, in the ordinary course of affairs would have
taken place in Cook county, had not a change of venue been granted to Iroquois
county, took place September 28, 1835. The murder was committed in Cook
county in the month of May, 1835, when a man was found dead on the prairie
near the roadside between what was then known as Lawton's Ford, on the
Desplaines, and Elijah Wentworth's, near Buckhorn's tavern, seventeen or
eighteen miles southwest from Chicago, on the traveled trail to Ottawa. A
knife wound on the body showed that the man had been stabbed to death.

Stephen Forbes, the sheriff of Cook county, lived on the west side of the
Desplaines at Lawton's Ford, and between his house and Wentworth's, a dis-
tance of about six miles, there was no dwelling. James Grant, then in his
twenty-second year and just from North Carolina, had succeeded Ford as prose-
cuting attorney of the fifth judicial circuit, and Thomas Ford was elected judge
of the new circuit. Grant went to the scene of the murder, and he and Forbes
immediately commenced an investigation, and in a few days had ascertained
facts and circumstances sufficient to implicate a man calling himself Joseph F.
Morris, or Norris, and he was indicted by the grand jury of Cook county at
the June term of the circuit court. On his being arraigned, being without
counsel, Henry Moore, a very bright and promising young lawyer, was ap-
pointed to act for him, and upon his investigating the case he thought that the
prejudice of the people of the county was so great against him that he moved
for a change of venue, which was granted, and the case was sent to Iroquois.
He was tried, convicted and executed. James Grant on this occasion exhib-
ited great energy as a prosecutor, and Henry Moore literally astonished every-
body by the skillful and' brilliant defense which he interposed, but the facts were
against him.


The trial took place before Stephen T. Logan, who had exchanged, for the
time being, circuits with Ford, and, it is needless to say, was conducted in the
most decorous and dignified manner. The criminal is described as a large,
fine-looking man of great determination. He refused to disclose who he was
or what his history was. The sheriff was much in fear of him, and, as there
was no jail in which to confine him, he was ironed and confined in one of the
houses near by until the day of his execution. Morris was taken to the black-
smith's shop to have irons riveted on him, and while it was being done he
picked up some kind of a missile and threw it into the crowd at the door of the
shop, and it struck Mr. Edward Mulford, the jeweler, in the face. With the
utmost diligence he came near escaping. He managed to weaken his fetters
and would have escaped if the noise which he made had not attracted
attention. Among the accounts given of his execution it is said : "A large
crowd of people came from long distances to witness his execution. The day
was one of rain and storm. The place selected was a walnut tree just across the
bridge, north of Bunkum, and the rope was attached to a limb of the tree about
thirty or forty feet from the ground. The criminal walked part of the way
smoking his cigar with great fortitude. When mounted on the box in the
wagon which served for a scaffold he made a short speech in which he justified
his past life, saying that he had stolen from the rich and given to the poor,
etc., etc. When the sheriff adjusted the noose he said : "That rope would
hang a steamboat." When life was extinct the body was taken down and
buried at a point a little southeast of Bunkum, but was afterward taken up and
used for anatomical purposes.

Among the early public prosecutors in Cook county was Alonzo Hunting-
ton, who came to Chicago as early as 1835 from Vermont, became state's at-
torney in 1837, and served in that capacity until 1841. He prosecuted John
Stone for the murder of Lucretia Thompson, which was tried at the April term
of the circuit court of Cook county, 1840, before Hon. John Pearson, who pre-
sided. Stone was defended by Justin Butterfield and S. Lisle Smith, and from
beginning to end the trial was attended by many dramatic incidents. Stone
was convicted and finally executed. The case was, however, taken to the
supreme court, and is reported in full in the second volume of Scammon, com-
mencing on page 326. The opinion in the case was written by Theophilus W.
Smith, and is a leading case in this state upon several points, especially in regard
to bills of exceptions in criminal cases and the inherent powers of circuit judges
in discharging jurors who were not qualified to serve, on account of alienage,
after they had been accepted and sworn to try the case. This case is also very
important in treating of the common-law powers of all circuit judges, and shows
that they are commensurate with the performance of judicial duties, and in the
furtherance of public justice they should not only be recognized, but exercised.

In 1851-2 Daniel McElroy and Patrick BallingaU were the leading criminal
lawyers, and Mr. McElroy was at that time state's attorney and prosecuted
George W. Green for poisoning his wife with strychnine. He was succeeded
by Carlos Haven, who proved to be one of the most successful prosecutors


that we ever had. He was the very embodiment of honesty and integrity, and
never insisted upon a conviction when he became convinced that there ought
not to be one, but he was the terror of the wicked and they fled before him.
His sudden demise was universally regretted, as he was considered one of our
best citizens. He died from an attack of typhoid fever, May 3, 1862.

Patrick Ballingall was a man of unusual acumen and shrewdness, and, con-
sidering the great disadvantages that he labored under in his youth, it is quite
wonderful what success he had and what a reputation he established. He was
not a man of very much education, and commenced his career as a bartender.
He left that to engage in study and, as he declared, to become a lawyer, and he
succeeded. That he attained distinction is evidenced by the fact that he was
more than once elected to the office of state's attorney, and was one of the dele-
gates from this county to the constitutional convention in 1847. His death
was sudden, and the manner in which it was announced to the bar was dramatic.
Elisha W. Tracey, to whom we have already referred, was one of his bosom
friends, and on his being informed of the death of Ballingall proceeded to the
court-house in a somewhat maudlin condition.

Judge Manierre was holding court, and the bar in attendance was quite
numerous. Tracey entered the court-room, and, walking forward a little dis-
tance from the door, steadied himself by placing his hand upon the back of a
chair, and, without regard to what was going on, lifted up his voice and said :
"May it please the court, Patrick Ballingall is dead." Then, pausing a moment
and looking around, said : "Patrick Ballingall, who has been so long among us
and who is so well known by everybody, is dead. He was an officer of this
court and a member of this bar. In the midst 9f life we are in death. I move
that this court do now adjourn." All was silence for a moment, and not a
word was spoken. Judge Manierre looked at Tracey and then around to the
bar, and, rising from his seat, stood for a moment, and in slow but solemn tones
said : "This court is now adjourned until to-morrow morning at nine o'clock."
The manner in which all this was done and the circumstances attending it made
a scene long to be remembered.

Daniel McElroy was a native of Tyrone county, Ireland. He was highly
educated, and when he came to Boston kept school for two or three years, then
entered Cambridge University, and afterward studied law with Judge Story.
He came to Chicago in 1844, and was twice elected state's attorney. He died
August 25, 1862.

Among those who figured conspicuously in criminal matters at an early
day was Robert S. Wilson, to whom we have already referred. He had been
bred to the bar in Michigan, and came to Chicago in 1850 and was of the law
firm of Wilson & Frink for a few years, when he was elected judge of the newly
created recorder's court in March, 1853. His eligibility to the office was ques-
tioned, he not having resided here five years before his election, and quo-war-
ranto proceedings were commenced against him, and on the relation of the late
William T. Burgess, a very keen and able lawyer, but the question was, after
quite a long contest, decided by the supreme court in his favor. He was a man


who was possessed of great energy and ability, but was not what might be
termed a well trained lawyer, but was at times very boisterous and imperious
in his manner. He lacked equipoise and was very capricious, and whenever he
took a like or dislike to any lawyer, or to anybody else, he carried his favors or
hatred to extremes. At times he was revengeful and acted like Scroggs or
Jeffreys, and again he was as mild and considerate as it was possible for the
most humane judge to be that ever sat on a bench. He was not a very high
type of a man, and it is but the truth of history to say that his example was
not one to be followed. He died in the month of February, 1883.

Carlos Haven was succeeded by Joseph Knox, Charles H. Reed (now
deceased), Luther Laflin Mills, Julius H. Grinnell, and Joel Longenecker as
public prosecutors.

George C. Ingham, who was the assistant prosecutor under Mills, was pos-
sessed of the most wonderful gifts, and his earnestness and directness always
attracted attention. He died February 26, 1891. Charles G. Neely, who is
at the present time on the bench and who was an assistant under Longenecker,
also achieved a wide reputation while acting on behalf of the state.

Joseph Knox was appointed state's attorney by Governor Yates to fill the
unexpired term of Carlos Haven, deceased, and acted from May, 1862, to De-
cember, 1864. He was born in Blanford, Massachusetts, in 1805, and was
admitted to the practice in 1828. He came west and settled at Rock Island
and entered into partnership with Hon. John Wilson Drury, and for years the
firm of Knox & Drury was one of the leading firms in western Illinois. Knox
was a natural-born lawyer and was one of the most effective jury lawyers that
ever practiced in the Rock river valley. He was very direct and at times very
dramatic in his presentation of a case, and was for years engaged in the trial
of more cases than any other lawyer of his time. He was great as a prosecutor,
and equally so when on the defense. He prosecuted and convicted the mur-
derers of Colonel Davenport, at Rock Island, in 1845. He died a number of
years ago.

My first introduction to Mr. Knox was under the following circumstances :
I came west a very short time after I was admitted to the bar, in 1851, and for
the time being took up my residence at Sterling, at that time the county-seat
of Whiteside county, where I had a brother residing who was a physician. I
arrived there somewhere about the middle of June, and the next day after my
arrival was called upon by an old man by the name of Cantrell, who had the
day before engaged in a fight with a young man by the name of Adams, the son
of a well known and influential citizen by the name of Van J. Adams, who was
afterward a member of the general assembly, and had whaled him with a hoop-
pole and had been arrested, and Adams had retained about all the lawyers in
town to prosecute him. He had expected to have Hugh Wallace, a lawyer of
considerable distinction in that community, to aid and assist him, but he was
not at home. He said he had no money to pay me, but would give me a
yearling steer if I would help him. I told him I could do nothing with the steer,
but would assist him all I could and he could pay me when he got ready. We


went before the magistrate and procured a continuance until Wallace returned,
which was, I think, the next day, when the examination came off. He was
prosecuted by Henry B. Stillman, the state's attorney, the son of General Still-
man (who is so well known in Illinois history in connection with Stillman's
Run), and Miles S. Henry, at that time one of the foremost lawyers in the
country. Cantrell was bound over to the grand jury, and as Adams threatened
to make it so costly to the old man as to make him lose his farm, he thought it
advisable to immediately retain Joe Knox of the firm of Knox & Drury, and did
so. The circuit court was held a few weeks after, and Judge Ira O. Wilkin-
son presided.

The grand jury promptly found an indictment against Cantrell, and I ob-
tained a copy of it and proceeded to examine it in the most thorough manner
before Knox and Drury appeared on the scene of action. Knox was then in
his prime, and had a reputation of being the greatest trial lawyer and orator
in the Rock river valley. When Knox arrived I was introduced to him and his
partner, and was treated in the most courteous manner. He asked me where
I was from, and where I was educated, and how long I had been admitted to
the bar, etc., which I answered. He then asked me what I knew about the
Cantrell case and if I had examined the indictment against the old man. I
told him what I knew of the case and informed him' that I had examined the
indictment, and that in my judgment it was fatally defective.

The indictment was based upon the statute, and was for an assault with a
deadly weapon with intent to commit a bodily injury, and it utterly failed to
allege in it that the hooppole was a deadly weapon, and I produced a recent
decision of the supreme court which held that such an' averment was absolutely
essential. Knox & Drury examined the case and declared it was exactly in
point, and they decided to make a motion to quash the indictment, and gave
notice to the state's attorney that they would call it up the next morning. Knox
then turned to me and said : "Now, young man, as you have discovered this
point you shall have the credit of it, and you must argue the motion." I pro-
tested that I had never appeared in a court of record and that he must do it,
but he said: "No, for it will redound greatly to your credit." The next morn-
ing, on the opening of court, Mr. Knox arose and stated that they had made a
motion to quash the indictment in the Cantrell case; that they would rely upon
a single point, and as that point had been discovered by his young friend then
in court, who had just come among us to practice his profession, that he would
present it.

I read the indictment to the court, then the decision of the supreme court,
and submitted that in accordance with that case the indictment was fatally de-
fective. The court took the case, and after examining it asked the state's at-
torney if he had anything to say, and he said that the case knocked him out
and that all he could say was nolo contendere, and sat down. The court
quashed the indictment, and instead of the old man Cantrell losing his farm
he went out of court with flying colors, and I achieved considerable renown.
Mr. .Knox and his partner had to go to another circuit before the court


closed, and he entrusted to my care a number of cases, and I was soon on the
highway to a fair practice, when I resolved to go to Chicago. I always felt
deeply grateful to Mr. Knox for his kindness and never forgot it of him.

Charles H. Reed was born in Wyoming county, New York, October 27,
1834, came west and was admitted to the bar in 1859, and soon after became
a partner of Joseph Knox. He removed with Knox & Drury from Rock Island
to Chicago in 1860, and in 1864 was elected state's attorney, and was re-elected
two successive terms. In the winter of 1882 he was associated in the defense
of Charles Guiteau for the murder of Garfield.

He was a man of great natural abilities, and was considered a great Greek
scholar. He was a most efficient state's attorney, and had he possessed those
moral qualities which lift men above temptation he would have approached
greatness and could have filled almost any office of public trust, but unfor-
tunately he \vas subject to the law of human depravity, and committed many-
errors that brought him into disrepute and ruined his prospects.

The success of Julius H. Grinnell* in modern times as state's attorney is
something phenomenal. Durjng his term of office he was called upon tc prose-
cute a number of the most remarkable criminal cases that ever have occurred
in this country. He prosecuted with success the anarchist cases and what are
known as the boodle cases, which involved a number of the county commis-
sioners in Cook county in corrupt practices, and was triumphant in all of them.
He is a man of great shrewdness and foresight, and above all is a man of won-
derful judgment and common sense. On his retirement from the office of
state's attorney he was elected a judge of the circuit court of Cook county,
from which position he resigned to become the general counsel of the Chicago
City Railroad.

John Van Arnam, one of the most noted criminal lawyers of the country,
came to Chicago from Michigan in 1859, anc ^ practiced with distinction here for
many years. He died at San Diego, California, on the 6th of April, 1890, at the
age of seventy. He obtained great notoriety by his exposure of the celebrated
conspiracy against the Michigan Central Railroad to wreck its trains. He
was employed by the railroad company to ferret out the conspiracy, and in doing
so exhibited detective powers of the very highest order. In order to get at the
facts in the case he pretended to be against the railroad and joined the organiza-
tion which had been formed by the conspirators to destroy the railroad, shared
in its councils and plans, and in this way possessed himself of the secrets. Wil-
liam H. Seward acted as leading counsel for the defendants. He took part in
many of the most celebrated criminal trials in Chicago, but his health became
impaired, and he went to the Pacific coast, where he died as above stated.

We think that John Van Arnam was one of the most ingenious and effective
men to unravel and explain the intricacies of a complicated criminal case that we
ever knew. He did not ordinarily undertake to play upon the passions of a
jury, but appealed directly to their reason and common sense, and his presenta-

June 8, I

* Julius H. Grinnell was admitted to the bar December 21, 1870, and died suddenly

8 TSnS '


tion of the case was so plausible that it did not seem possible that there could be
any other side to it. He won his cases not alone by eloquence, but his powers
of reasoning. Emery A N Storrs was a great criminal lawyer, but he did not
make it a specialty.

William O'Brien was another great criminal lawyer. He was a man of
great natural abilities and brain power, but was at times very aggressive and
overbearing, and was almost always in a row with the court or counsel. His
great effort seemed to be to have the jury believe that he had arrayed against
him the prosecuting officer, the court, and the whole power of the state, and
that he was fighting for his rights. At times these tactics succeeded, while at
others they did not. In every encounter he dealt smashing blows, and at times
his oratory rose to sublime heights. He was undoubtedly a great criminal
lawyer, but he was not the equal of Van Arnam, although wonderfully success-

E. G. Asay, for a considerable period antedating the fire, did a large crim-
inal business, and was very successful. He had received a very fine education
in his youth, and was a polished speaker and fine trial lawyer. His tastes were
highly cultivated, and he at one time collected one of the very finest private
libraries in the west. He has been for a number of years retired from the prac-
tice, and is now living on a farm bordering upon Rock river, in Ogle county.
Augustus H. Van Buren, his father, Evert Van Buren, A. S. Trude, and Charles
M. Hardy have all attained celebrity in the management of criminal cases, but
there is one man of the very highest type who in some respects was a model
criminal lawyer, and that man was Leonard Swett. He was a man who pur-
sued a lofty ideal and was above trickery and chicanery. He was in appearance
almost the counterpart of Abraham Lincoln, and was his intimate friend and
practiced with him on the circuit long before his removal to Chicago. Mr.
Swett lived for many years at Bloomington, in this state, and acquired a great
reputation as a criminal lawyer.

In addition to the above there are now on the stage of action William S.
Forrest, Russell M. Wing, Daniel Donahue, William J. Hynes, Kickham Scan-
Ian, Daniel Munn, and William S. Elliott, who have all attained distinction in
the practice of the criminal law. Mr. Forrest has made criminal jurisprudence
a specialty, and has studied the subject scientifically, and the same may be said
of Mr. Wing and several others who are referred to.

There is no branch of law so much neglected and so illy understood as that
of the criminal law. In cities like Chicago the office of state's attorney has
risen to the importance of the home department in England and should be
filled by not only a learned and experienced lawyer, but one of the greatest in-
tegrity and well versed in public affairs.

The administration of the criminal law during the pioneer period was at-
tended with far more certainty than at the present time, and there was far less
nonsense and trifling indulged in than characterizes the trial of cases of this
character in our courts at the present time. If we are to judge of the manner
in which criminal cases are disposed of by an examination of the reports of this


state, it would appear that all criminal cases are determined by an equation of
errors instead of on their merits, and that we have made no progress at all since
Judge Lockwood made his celebrated decision in the case of McKinney versus
People (2 Gil., 248) in 1845. The criminal law at the present time is the least
studied and the least understood of any branch of the law, and our courts seem
to have but one idea about it, and that is to be guided solely by the technical rules
of the seventeenth century, to rule everything against the state and to not only
give the defendant the benefit of every doubt, both reasonable and unreasonable,
but also every possibility of a doubt. In the pioneer period penitentiaries were
not regarded as summer resorts which were to be run on the European plan,
but a place of penance, and persons when convicted were sent there to do some-

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 6 of 83)