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Judge Sullivan


Posted By: Deb Barker (email)
Date: 12/12/2006 at 17:33:46

Nebraska, The Land and the People, Vol. 3

Judge Sullivan was born May 1, 1856, in Davis County, Iowa, a son of David and Rebecca (Morris) Sullivan, who were natives of Morgan County, Ohio. His father was of Irish descent and the ancestors of his mother were English.
In his childhood and early youth he attended the country district schools where he lived with his parents. At that time these schools taught only the simpler branches of learning. At seventeen and eighteen years of age, by working in a saw-mill and stone quarry, situated near where he lived, he earned the money necessary to attend a private school, designated in that day as an academy. Later he became a school teacher, and while teaching and during vacations, studied law in the office of one of the leading law firms in Bloomfield, the county seat of his native county, and at the age of twenty-five was admitted to the bar. Prior to this he married Ella Turner, of Wapello County, Iowa, whom he met at the academy.
On being admitted to the bar he felt that though he had a large acquaintance in his home county, the prospects for early success there in competition with long established lawyers and law firms was not encouraging. There seems to have been in his temperament a tinge of romance, a spirit of adventure. In his boyhood he had dreamed of the West and had visions of the part he would take in converting its wild, and to him, unknown prairies into homes where he and other courageous and ambitious young men from the Middle West would build up a great and industrious community which in time would become a credit to and the pride of the Nation. Therefore, from the necessity of clients which he hoped to find in the West, but which he feared would come to him very slowly in his home county, and because of the urge the land of the setting sun had for him he and his wife severed their connections with the old home, packed their possessions into a covered wagon and with their two children west-ward travelled towards Central and Western Nebraska, which in the early eighties was attracting homeseekers to its splendid Government land. He homesteaded in Custer County, on land adjoining Broken Bow, its county seat, and this homestead formed the nucleus of his present splendid two thousand acre ranch. The first home was a sod one and in it the third child was born. The family experienced the inconvenience incident to pioneer life but were happy and had high hopes for a splendid future. Even at that early stage of the settlement of the country there was much litigation. Some of it was in the courts of the state. Much more, however, grew out of the struggle between settlers for the better tracts of Government land which they desired to secure under the homestead, pre-emption and timber culture acts of Congress. This litigation was begun before the local register and receiver of the Federal Land Office and was usually carried by appeal to the general land office at Washington, where these contests were finally disposed of. While in those days there was no end to litigation, the ability of litigants to pay attorney fees was very limited and the fees he earned in those early days were small when paid and many of them were never paid.
Shortly after arriving in Broken Bow Judge Sullivan caused the little community to be organized into a municipality under the laws of the state as a village and prepared its first ordinances. Later, when its population had sufficiently increased, he caused this organization to be converted into a city with a mayor and councilmen. As city attorney he was largely instrumental in securing for the city its present splendid water and lighting system owned by the city.
Custer County has a greater area than some of the eastern states, and for many years before the use of telephones and automobiles the question of dividing the county, sometimes into three counties and sometimes four, was constantly submitted to the voters at the annual elections. Sullivan worked constantly against this proposition. Year after year, shortly before elections, it was his custom to hold meetings in the schoolhouses in all parts of the county in opposition to division, and with the help of his friends always succeeded in defeating the divisionists, and the county remains as it was originally organized. All are now glad that the county was not divided.
He was first associated in his profession with A. R. Humphrey, also from Davis County, Iowa, under the firm name of Sullivan & Humphrey. Later C. L. Gutterson became his partner and the firm of Sullivan & Gutterson continued until the election of Judge Sullivan to the bench of the Twelfth Judicial District of the state, then comprising the counties of Custer, Buffalo, Sherman and Dawson. He continued as judge of this court for seven years, resigning to be succeeded by Judge Gutterson, his old partner, whom he loved as a brother. In 1927 the present firm of Sullivan & Wilson was formed, which is one of the strongest combinations of legal talent in this part of Nebraska and is connected with some of the most important litigation in the state.
In 1917, his first wife having heretofore died, he married Navy B. Pierson, of Lincoln, Nebraska. They continued to live in the old home on the ranch less than a mile distant from his office in the city. The ranch is now stocked with several hundred head of registered Hereford cattle, and the Judge takes great interest and pleasure in these cattle. The ranch furnishes employment for several men who, with their families, live thereon.
Those who are best acquainted with Judge Sullivan feel that a retrospect of his life after years of close association fails to reveal an act of his properly subject to criticism, judged by the highest standards of honor. Judge Sullivan stated to the writer that he had never turned away a client with a just cause because the client was without means, and that while his reputation as a lawyer and citizen has been [p.477] of some satisfaction to him, he experiences infinite pleasure in knowing that he is generally regarded as a friend of the poor man, always ready to assist him to the best of his ability. He has never been a member of any church but has infinite faith in that religion which has for its foundation the brotherhood of man. The outstanding characteristic of his nature is a sincere sympathy for the poor and unfortunate. His friends say of him that he can always find excuses in heredity, environment and want of opportunity for the mistakes and wrongs committed by others. His favorite quotation is “There is so much bad in the best of us, and so much good in the worst of us that it illy behooves any of us to condemn the rest of us.” It is this characteristic of his mind and nature, coupled with an emotional and dramatic temperament, that has made him one of the noted criminal lawyers of the state.


Davis Biographies maintained by Deborah Lynne Barker.
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