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Samuel Murdoch


Posted By: Ken Wright (email)
Date: 2/28/2009 at 07:46:29

Clayton County Centennial Edition, July, 1936.

Samuel Murdoch

Samuel Murdock was hunter, pioneer, farmer, judge, lawyer and as a diversion devoured books, wrote poems for the press and sought the buried secrets of the Mound-builders. Soon after Iowa was admitted to the family of states, Samuel Murdock was made judge of the new judicial district. It is needless to say he came to his new duties with the emotions and measurements that a pioneer life inspires in a man of his temperament. There were no daily newspapers bringing news to furnish the evening topic, hence the blazing fire of a log tavern, a good story and court incidents closed the day. Baseball and football had not arrived, and their chief sport was horse-racing.

Judge Murdock’s mustang, that carried him over the district, having acquired some notoriety, the racing sports of Decorah had arranged to test the mustang’s speed without the knowledge of the judge. The race track being partially in view of the court house, called for some artful methods, and awaited a busy day in court proceedings. On this certain court day the attorneys noted a lack of attention in the deliberations of the court by the judge, but this period of short duration, for the silence was broken by an exclamation from the judge, “By God, the mustang’s ahead.” We had been given opportunity to see those disciples of Blackstone, but to witness a real court in action we incurred the punishment meted out to the pupil that plays hookey.

During the winter of 1860, Seth Martin was the teacher in what is now known as the Mecklenburg district. For some infraction of the rules, Martin inflicted severe punishment upon a pupil, Boston Parks. The arrest of Martin followed. Murdock and Crosby sued for the plaintiff; Noble and Martin defended Martin. There being so much more comedy than tragedy in the testimony, we did not carry away any delusions of the dignity of pioneer jurisprudence. Boston’s father, owning the log cabin used as a school house, and being the father of 22 children, gave him a proprietary oversight of the school and the preponderance of evidence in the trial of Martin.

Jane Spiegelmeier, a rosy lass of sixteen, just from Indiana, testified that the punishment was too cruel to be seen and she hid her eyes from the sight. Judge Murdock, in his plea, placed especial emphasis on her testimony, saying that “Her bosom was so filled with the milk of human kindness, she could look no longer.”

As often happens today the , the jury disagreed. Boston was the product of his environment that required sandpaper and time to get even a dull finish. Martin’s winter earnings were submerged in the court proceedings, and in one of the early battles of the Civil War, he was listed among the missing

We could say of Judge Murdock, as Edwin Markham did of Lincoln: “The color of the ground was in him, the red earth, the smack and tang of elemental things.” He could take up the trail of a criminal with the instincts of a bloodhound. He would meet his real or fancied enemy with the ferocity of a bulldog. He could write a tribute to the memory of a deceased friend as tender as the sympathies of a woman. He was just Samuel Murdoch during a long and strenuous lifetime.


Clayton Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen


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