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Fayette County, Iowa  

 History Directory

Past and Present of Fayette County Iowa, 1910

Author: G. Blessin


B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana


Vol. I, Biographical Sketches



~Page 1266~


James Cooney

The subject of this sketch holds worthy prestige at a bar long noted for a high order of legal talent and is one of the oldest practitioners in Fayette county, also occupying a prominent place among the leading members of his profession in the northeastern part of the state. James Cooney is a native of county Clare, Ireland, where his birth occurred December 28, 1851, being a son of Thomas and Mary (Cusic) Cooney, the mother dying in the old country, the father subsequently coming to the United States and spending the remainder of his life in Cincinnati, Ohio. Of the four children of these parents, three were older than the subject.

James Cooney spent the first nine years of his life in his native land and then, unaccompanied by relatives or friends, crossed the ocean to America and for some time thereafter made his home with an aunt, Margaret Ivory, who lived in Clayton county, Iowa. About two years after coming to this state his aunt died, following which he rejoined his two brothers at Albany, New York, going thence about one year later to Independence, Kentucky. He there attended until eighteen years of age a private school taught by Prof. William P. Jones, living in the meantime with James Y. Wayman, of the vicinity, where by working at intervals he secured sufficient means to defray his expenses and prosecute his studies.

When eighteen years old Mr. Cooney began teaching, but after devoting some years to the work discontinued it for the purpose of taking a business course in the Hollingsworth Commercial College at Covington, Kentucky.

Before finishing his studies in that institution he was hired to teach and ere resigning his position his salary was advanced to one hundred dollars per month, certainly a gratifying compliment to his ability as an instructor. Later he finished a course of bookkeeping at Parshall's Commercial School, Cincinnati, after which he went to Kansas, and from that state, in the fall of 1871, returned to Iowa to accept the position of teacher in the public schools of Elkader. In the meantime, 1870, Mr. Cooney began to read law with Judge Shaw, of Independence, Kentucky, and in 1872 entered the law department of the Iowa State University, where he prosecuted his studies until his admission to the bar at Elkader on September 16th of the year following. After practicing in that city as a member of the firm of King & Cooney until 1874, he located at Brush Creek, Fayette county, where, in due time, he built up a large and lucrative legal business and forged to the front among the rising attorneys of the county bar. He was admitted to practice in the federal courts of the United States and the supreme court of Iowa, before which high tribunals he has appeared from time to time in connection with important and far-reaching litigation. Desiring a large field for the exercise of his talents, Mr. Cooney, in 1902, removed to Oelwein, and, in 1906, while a resident of that city was elected county attorney, which office he filled with signal ability for one term, failing of re-election by reason of the overwhelming normal Republican majority. His success at the polls was achieved after he had been five times nominated by the Democratic party of which he is an ardent supporter, and in all of his six campaigns he carried his home township, Fairland, by good majorities, despite the fact that it has long been considered a Republican stronghold. The year in which he was elected he received in the above township forty-nine votes in excess of those cast for his competitor, while the congressman for this district, a Republican, carried it by a majority of sixty-one.

As already indicated, Mr. Cooney displayed marked ability as county attorney and during his incumbency had charge of many important state and county cases, in nearly all of which he was successful. Indefatigable and untiring in the discharge of his duties, his name became a terror to criminals and offenders, fourteen of whom he sent to the penitentiary, two for murder, one in the first degree, one for assault with intent to commit manslaughter and the others for various grave offenses which called down upon them the rigors of the law. Among the more noted cases with which he was connected was Culver vs. Fayette County, in which the sheriff sought to collect deputy fees known as deputy sheriff salary case. This was fought with great tenacity through the lower court and finally taken to the Supreme court, which, in an opinion handed down in 1908 made the county victor in the suit, at a saving of many thousand dollars. A case which won for the subject more than local repute as an able, judicious and far-seeing prosecutor, was that of the State vs. Mrs. Martha Gibbons (abortionist), in 1907, of Oelwein, in which both sides were represented by the best legal talent obtainable.

Mr. Cooney changed his residence in the fall of 1902 from Arlington to Oelwein, since which time he has been actively engaged in the practice of law in the latter city, advancing steadily to the front among the leading members of the bar and building up an extensive business which has been as successful financially as professionally. He keeps abreast of the times in all matters relating to his chosen calling, is always faithful to the interests of his clients, enjoys the confidence of his professional brethren, and stands high in the esteem of the public. He was appointed trustee for the Iowa College for the Blind at Vinton, when the state board of control was established, which bill he favored and it was during his incumbency that the laundry department of the institution, the best in Iowa, was built, the work having been carried through at his suggestion and under his direction. While a resident of Arlington, he served on the school board and town council and was mayor of the town when the present efficient waterworks system was constructed.

On the 25th of October, 1877, Mr. Cooney was united in the bonds of wedlock with Ellen Newton, who was born in Fayette county, April 27, 1859, being a daughter of Palmer F. and Harriet (Seeley) Newton, natives respectively of New York and Pennsylvania. These parents emigrated to Boone county, Illinois, shortly after their marriage and four years later became residents of Rock county, Wisconsin, removing thence, in November, 1847, to Fayette county, Iowa, of which they were early pioneers. Mr. Newton was a thrifty farmer and highly respected citizen. Of the nine children, five sons and four daughters, Mrs. Cooney is the sixth in order of birth. Mr. and Mrs. Cooney are the parents of the following children: Thomas, who died at the age of eighteen years; Earl; Bessie married, in the fall of 1909, W. L. Sullivan, who attends to the insurance and collecting business in office of Mr. Cooney; Maggie; James D., who graduated from the Oelwein high school in the summer of 1910; Martin, born in 19o2, and Paul, whose birth occurred in 1905.

Fraternally, Mr. Cooney belongs to the order of Modern Woodmen in the camp at Arlington, where he holds his membership. In all of his relations, professional, political and otherwise, he has ever been actuated by motives of honor and his influence has always been on the right as he sees and understands the right. Financially, his success has kept pace with his advancement in his chosen field of endeavor, and he is now one of the well-to-do men of the city in which he resides, owning three hundred and five acres of fine farming lands in Fairfield and Illyria townships, ten acres of out land near Oelwein and a handsome Oelwein residence and other houses in Oelwein and a brick business block in the town of Arlington. He is essentially a self-made man who from a modest beginning has, step by step, mounted upward to his present high position in worldly interests and ranks with the representative citizens of his adopted county and state.

~transcribed for the Fayette Co IAGenWeb Project by Cheryl Walker


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