EARLY MEMBERS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
When I first knew Bremer county the bar of the county was small in number and mediocre in ability. W. P. Harmon had been admitted to the practice of law before coming west. The profession was not according to his taste or liking, and he did not give much attention to the practice. In fact, I believe it to be a fact that he engaged in the law business only as it was incidental to.his own large and varied interests, and that part of his business was small, for he was a man who detested all sorts of disagreements between men, except in politics. Upon that line he was very positive and uncompromising, but always good-natured and liberal in granting to others what he claimed for himself. In his large and multitudinous business relations as town proprietor, mill owner and general adviser, my belief is that he never had a disagreement with anyone that required a lawsuit to settle it. He was a steam engine in force, a paragon in wisdom and advice, and tireless in his efforts to help make a town and county, as well as to promote his own interests and those of his neighbors. He was ostensibly a lawyer then, but the only real lawyer in Waverly in the spring of 1856 was B. F. Perkins, who with his young wife, had steered his course west from Massachusetts. Soon after Perkins had graduated from Harvard, he married, and with a spirit of adventure and courage they struck for the great west. How it happened they came to Waverly I never knew, but they arrived when the town was very new. He opened up a law office and waited for clients. He and his wife established housekeeping and in a way they managed to get along. I suppose no more sincere and imprictical couple ever tried to succeed in making a home or starting a business. Both were scholarly and studious, knew all about authors, literature and theories of business, as well as the etiquette of society. But about the real hardships and realities of a new country they lacked everything, even common industry. John J. Smith, who sort of looked after the poor, helpless pair, often said, "She don't know enough to know when a disk is dirty, and `Perk' can't even carry in the wood when it is cut and ready for use."
They stayed in town as long as the money they brought with them lasted, and then went back east.
At that time all the northeast corner of the state was in one judicial district, taking in Dubuque, Clayton, Allamakee, Winneshiek, Floyd, Howard, Mitchell, Chickasaw, Butler, Bremer, Hardin, Grundy, Blackhawk, Buchanan, and Delaware counties.
Judge Thos. A. Wilson was on the bench and he made the trip over his circuit about once a year, with a troop of lawyers accompanying him as large as a .small circus. Some who were afterwards among the ablest lawyers in the state traveled in this cavalcade of legal lights. A term of court was the biggest event of the year when it struck the county. So I think it is safe to say "Perk" never had a case in a higher court than Squire Ellsworth's justice court, and Squire very seldom held court, as the people were too busy and too poor to indulge in the luxury of lawing each other, and he advised peace.
About the same time another lawyer by the name of Phineas V. Swan located in Janesville, and as a side line he started add published the Janesville Banner, as I have mentioned in a former letter. Phineas was a Vermonter, a college man, and it was said by, those who seemed to know that he was a sound and able lawyer. But the west was too wild and woolly for him, and he left about the same time "Perk" did. Both of these men came west before the country was ready for them, and they had not the courage and sand to stick to the job and help make the county what it is today. With these two legal gentlemen absent, no lawyer was left in the county but Mr. Harmon.
On St. Patrick's day, March 17, 1857, G. C. Wright landed from the stage, and located and stuck to Waverly until along in the 80's. I recollect the date from hearing him often declare that St. Patrick's day was his mascot, etc. He came from Maryland, was a graduate of the Baltimore law school. He was a continual contradiction, like the Missourian's bacon—full of fat and lean streaks. In many ways he was a fairly good lawyer, but would rather win a case any time by a shrewd and sharp turn than by standing on the merits of his cause and the application of the principles of the law. He was a vigorous partisan upon all questions, for he never was neutral upon anything he had to do with. A good hater but a loyal friend. During the Civil War he made enemies that never forgave him by his course as the leader of the opponents of the war. He always had a fairly good clientage, but was liberal to a fault, and therefore was chronically hard up all the time. He, too, started a paper, "The News," and spent a good deal of money to keep it alive. In later life he went to Nebraska, and died there several years ago.
A few months after Wright landed in Waverly, Judge Ruddick came from New York and engaged in the practice of law, which he pursued until elevated to the district bench, where he spent the last years of his life, and made a record as an able, impartial and just judge, which will always live in the records of this court. Among the many men who have lived in Bremer county, none were superior, and few equal, to George W. Ruddick in all the qualities that go to make a well-rounded and symmetrical man and citizen. He was the soul of honor and the essence of sincerity. Firm in his convictions, but not to the degree of stubbornness. He was an able lawyer, and had it not been for his modesty and distaste for political manipulation, he would have adorned the supreme bench of the state. I was attached to Judge Ruddick as to but very few men in my lifetime.
In the years about 1860 Judge Ruddick had his office in a building on the north side of Bremer Avenue, on the second lot west of East Water street. The building stood up a couple of feet above the ground, the back end under it was open. At the time I am speaking of the Rev. Wm. Smith was pastor of the Methodist church, and he had a boy whose name was Samuel, a very bright, keen and independent lad. He was noted for his ability in school to master his lessons in half time, and have plenty of time to "fish below the dam" about every afternoon in summer. He was well known by everybody in town because of his keenness in repartee and ability to hold his own with anyone who sought to tease him. In summer he would go along the street with a fishing rod over his shoulder, his panta400ns rolled up to his knees, any old straw hat on hit . ; head and one "gallus" over his shoulder. Such was the boy Sammy Smith. Now he is the Rev. Samuel W. Smith, with a half dozen degrees attached to his name, and the last I heard of him he was the pastor of the largest congregation in St. Paul, as an independent preacher, somewhat after the manner of Dr. Swing and Dr. Thomas in Chicago.
The day I have in mind was a hot afternoon. Judge and three or four of his friends were sitting in the shade in front of his office, when Sam was seen approaching with his rod on his shoulder, a string of small fish, as trophies of his luck, in his hand. Behind him followed a meek-looking dog. When the boy and the dog reached the group of mischievous men, they began to nag him about his small fish and last of all about his "blooded" dog. Judge asked the price and if he would sell the pip. Sam said 25 cents was the price, and he was for sale. judge handed him the quarter and told Sam to tie the dog to a post at the back end of the office, which was done and Sam passed along whistling and swinging his string of perch. In a half hour or so he straggled back to see how the dog was getting along. He and Judge—he was not Judge then—went back to see the dog and the bunch went along to have all the fun out of Sammy that was possible.
When they reached the back of the building they found the rope attached to the post, but the dog was gone. Sammy crouched down and declared the dog was under the building "clear up to the other end." Judge asked Sam to call him out, but he replied, "It's no use, Mr. Ruddick, he never comes on a call." "Well," said Judge, "crawl under and bring him out." "How much will you pay for him ?" said Sam. "Pay! ?" replied Judge, "Didn't I buy the dog from you ? Now deliver him." "Yes, sir," said Sam, "and I delivered him according to your instructions. He's your dog, not mine; if you want him, crawl under the building and get him."
The roar of laughter that greeted Judge was so loud it attracted the attention of the loafers on the street. Say what he would, the boy doggedly stuck to his rights, until Ruddick told him he was right according to law. When he yielded that point, Sam soon got the dog from under the house.
Years afterward, when Ruddick was on the bench and Sammy had become somewhat noted as a preacher, a delegation of Bremer county republicans were on a train going to a state convention, and Sam was in another car. On learning that a number of his old friends were on the train, he soon found us. All who knew him as a boy were delighted to meet him. Greetings were barely over before it was decided Judge and Sam should go over the dog story and the crowd would settle the amount, if anything, Judge owed Sammy. It was refreshing to listen to Sam's presentation of his side of the case. He showed the keen instincts of a lawyer, and held his own with the Judge.
The next addition to the Bremer county bar was John E. Burke. He located in Waverly in the last part of 1858, and soon showed he was an active and able lawyer. He was entirely different in his disposition and manner from Ruddick and Wright, and it was not long before he and the former were rivals for the first place in their profession. A case in court with Ruddick on one side and Burke on the other was certain to be a fighting case, and no stitches in its trial were ever dropped. Their rivalry in their profession and political preferment was such as to strain their social relations. Both of them at different dates served in the legislature. Burke was ambitious to go to congress and made two aggressive efforts to win a nomination but without success. Ruddick preferred promotion to the bench as a Judge, which he won and remained a district judge as long as his health permitted. As I have said in another place, he could have been elected to the supreme bench had he let his friends manage a campaign for him. But he had exalted opinions about the propriety of seeking such a dignified office by the usual methods of political conventions. The result was, he held his friends in leash while others were active for their candidates and they won out while we lost.
Contrary to his desires and requests I made a trip into the southwest part of the state and convinced the leaders in six counties that Judge Ruddick was pre-eminently the best man in the field for the high office. I lined up the delegations solid for him and felt somewhat' elated over the success. When I told him at the state convention how it happened he had a solid bunch of counties in the extreme southwestern corner of the state, he scolded me for being so politically active. It was characteristic of him to keep the ermine of justice absolutely free from a possible taint of bias from every point of view. George W. Ruddick was a just judge, a man of honor, and perpendicular uprightness. He was devoted to his friends in all the social amenities of life. I spent a half day with him after he was confined to his home with sickness, while I ,was on a visit from California. We went over many of the incidents of pioneer days in Bremer county and when I bade him farewell, it was with the mutual knowledge that it was our last meeting in this life. The visit was both pleasant and sorrowful.
Burke never reached the goal of his ambition to hold a seat in congress, much to his chagrin and belief that his ability was not appreciated. He never was a good mixer, and could not hold the esteem and confidence of his associates and friends. He was suspicious and touchy, and thus repelled rather than attracted men to him. He planted a garden one spring soon after locating in Waverly, and among other things a row or two of beans. When they came up he was perturbed because the bean was shoved thru the ground and was on top of the stem. While cogitating over this, to him, mystery, George R. Dean happened to be passing, and Burke called to him and asked, "What is the matter with my beans ?" G. R. looked wise and replied, "Why, man, you planted them upside down; they need turning over," and he passed on. Soon afterward, as he returned home, he observed the lawyer busy turning his beans upside down. And then it dawned upon Dean that Burke's inquiry was made in real earnest, and that he accepted the advice in good faith, but he said nothing and passed by. The joke was too good to keep, and accordingly he told it, and soon all the wags about town who dared to. approach Burke were asking about his beans and how they were progressing. The inquiries were so many and so earnest that Burke grew suspicious, and when he learned the reason for so much interest in his bean patch and the source from whence the joke originated he was furious, and he never forgave George. When the latter ran for superintendent of schools some years later, Burke denounced him as totally unfit and incompetent for the office and did his best to defeat him.
Years after the bean episode, in a hotly contested trial in court, in which G. C. Wright and Burke were opposing counsel, Wright declared in the discussion of the law in the case, "The counsel on the other side don't know beans." So infuriated was Burke that it was all that Judge Fairchild could do to restrain Burke from assaulting Wright. Then and there he served notice that such an insult would not be tolerated by him in the future.
Keenly as the joke was relished by such waggish fellows as Dr. Oscar Burbank and others, none of them ventured to spring it on the fiery Irishman ever after the court scene. The little story illustrates the characteristics of Burke. He was an able lawyer and a most zealous advocate of any case he had in court.
Another member of the bar was James W. Woods, more familiarly known as "Old Timber." He was an old man when he came to Bremer county, and a pioneer of the state, reaching back to territorial days. He practiced law with such illustrious contemporaries as Judge McFarlane, McCreary, Crocker, Trimble, Grimes, Love, and many others of those days, when giants were being grown from the men who migrated to the territory which later became Iowa. "Timber" had much native ability and much more assurance. His law knowledge was gained more by absorption from his associates than from books or study. He was not a student, but was the prince of "hail fellows well met." He was a bourbon democrat and all his business and social relations were gauged by politics. He was genial and social and always strictly impecunious twelve months in each year. No man in the state, in. his latter days, had such a fund of reminiscences as he had, and no one could relate them better. He would discontinue a lawsuit any time to tell a string of stories, mostly relating to the bar of pioneer days. He often told one to illustrate the pioneer days of the courts. At a term of court in Boone county Judge McFarlane was presiding, and, as usual for him, he was steamed up as high as was prudent for a judge. Among the cases to be tried was one involving the ownership of a horse. It was a replevin case with several crooks and turns in it, and the burden of proof rested upon the plaintiff, who was represented by M. M. Crocker, who in the Civil War was colonel of the 13th Iowa Infantry, and later became a brigadier general and commanded the brigade known as "Crocker's Brigade."
"Timber" was the attorney for the defendant and filed an answer, which was met with a demurrer by. Crocker. When the case was called Crocker argued his demurrer and McFarlane overruled it. Crocker next filed a motion for change of venue, which was denied; then he asked for leave to amend his complaint; that, too, was denied, and last of all he asked for a continuance, which was denied. At the end of all his efforts to gain time and delay the case, he asked for three hours' time, which the court denied, and ordered that the trial should proceed.
At this point Crocker, who was a chum of McFarlane in convivial bouts, rose and addressed the court in about these words: "I have asked for rulings of this court which, if granted, would enable my client to secure justice. I have met refusal by the honorable court until I have exhausted all the remedies I know of and am forced to enter upon the trial, which must of necessity result in the defeat of justice to my client. I confess I do not know what to do."
McFarlane straightened up, and with a smile, said: "It is unfortunate your client has not a lawyer that knows how to get his case properly into court." Crocker, piqued at the court's remark, retorted by saying: "Perhaps the honorable court knows; I do not." The old judge, not to be bluffed, answered, "I appoint you judge pro tempore of this court, and I'll take your case."
Crocker gladly consented and they changed places instantly. McFarlane asked for three hours to prepare the case, which was granted. At the end of the time asked for, Mac appeared at the bar and Judge Crocker called the case. McFarlane offered a demurrer, which was quickly overruled; he tried two or three other methods of getting his case in shape for trial, each of which Crocker overruled, and finally dismissed the case on a point of law raised by "Timber," much to McFarlane's disgust and against his protest, ending the proceeding by saying, "It is a d....n sight easier to handle a case as judge than as attorney, eh, Crocker ?" "Timber" said Crocker adjourned court and the whole caboodle went across the street and assuaged a mighty thirst, at McFarlane's expense.
Woods had a fund of reminiscences of the early bar of the state, and the lawyers of those days, that he was fond of reciting, and when in the mood he could entertain a party a whole evening. He was a genial man, always expecting to be very busy, and chronically hard up; always willing to pay a bill, but never ready before "next week."
Last updated 4/9/16
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