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1907 Past and Present Biographies

Gillum S. Toliver

Gillum S. Toliver
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Gillum S. Toliver, the oldest practitioner in years of continuous connection with the Greene county bar and one whose marked ability has long given him prestige as a representative of the profession, was born in Owen county, Indiana, February 11, 1840. He is a son of Isom Toliver, a farmer, who was born in Ashe county, North Carolina, July 29, 1814. The grandfather was John Toliver, a farmer of Ashe county, North Carolina, and the great-grand father was Jesse Toliver, a soldier from Virginia, who served for seven years in the Revolutionary war, five years as captain of the line. Nothing is known of the ancestors of Jesse Toliver savethat they came from England.

When a young man Isom Toliver emigrated to Owen county, Indiana, where he was married August 6, 1836, to Miss Matilda Reynolds, who was born in Randolph county, North Carolina, a daughter of James and Sally (Greene) Reynolds, the latter a relative of General Nathaniel Greene of Revolutionary war fame. Isom Toliver and his wife began their domestic life in the locality where they were married. That part of Indiana was then a timbered country, almost a wilderness, and after struggling on together for several years, deadening the timber and clearing up the land, planting and cultivating the small fields thus prepared, in which work the wife assisted her husband, and finding it hard in such a country to provide for their growing family, they determined to seek a home in the west. Accordingly in the spring of 1848, with five children and a single yoke of oxen hitched to a wagon, they bade adieu to their friends and neighbors and moved toward the setting sun into the prairies of the great west. They traveled through Illinois and Missouri and as far as Salem, Arkansas, before settling in Richland county, Illinois, where they resided until the fall of 1853, when they started for Greene county, Iowa. They reached Wapello county, where they spent the winter and on the 6th of April, 1854, they arrived in Greene county. Here Isom Toliver entered three hundred acres of government land. This was the tenth family to settle in the county and the fourth family west of the river in what is now Franklin township. With characteristic energy Mr. Toliver began the arduous task of developing a new farm, converting the raw prairie into richly cultivated fields, which he continued to improve until 1868. He then sold that property and purchased an improved farm in Bristol township, upon which he continued to make his home until his death, which occurred September 13, 1893. He had been a resident of the county for almost forty years and had contributed in large measure to its substantial upbuilding, aiding in laying broad and deep the foundation for its present progress and prosperity. He was a successful farmer, a man of good judgment and a citizen respected and esteemed by all who knew him. In Indiana he was a member of the United Brethren church, but never united with any church organization in Greene county. He was, however, an exemplary member of the Masonic fraternity, which has as its basic principles mutual helpfulness and brotherly kindness. In the early days his political allegiance was given to the whig party and upon its dissolution he joined the ranks of the new republican party.

His wife passed away January 14, 1893. They were the parents of eleven children, of whom four died in childhood. The following is the record of those who attained adult age: John H., born in Indiana, came to Greene county with the family and enlisted for service with the Thirty-ninth Iowa Volunteer Infantry during the Civil war, being fife major of the regiment Before the command proceeded to the south, however, he died at Davenport, leaving a wife, who bore the maiden name of Nancy King, who has since remarried and is still living. Gillum S. is the second of the family. J. M. Toliver, now a prominent attorney of Lake City, Iowa, where he has resided since 1871, was second lieutenant of Company E of the Thirty-ninth Iowa Infantry and for years was district attorney for the northwestern district of this state. He wedded Mary Stanford, a daughter of James Stanford, one of the early settlers of this county. J. C. Toliver, now engaged in the practice of law in Ainsworth, Nebraska, where he has made his home for twenty years, served as a private in the Union army for two years, belonging to Company H of the Tenth Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He has been prominent in community affairs, filling the office of recorder of Greene county for two terms, while since his removal to Nebraska he has served as judge of the county court. His wife was Ella McCoy, formerly of this county. D. R. Toliver, a member of the firm of Lower & Toliver, liverymen of Jefferson, wedded Margaret Mosteller, a daughter of Peter Mosteller, an early settler of Bristol township. Terry J. is the wife of A. H. McClurg, a resident of Brush, Colorado. Isom M., a farmer of Molalla, Oregon, married Mollie Forbes, formerly of Greene county.

Gillum S. Toliver was a youth of fourteen years when brought to Greene county. His early experiences were those of frontier life in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. Up to the time of his arrival here he had received but two months’ schooling in Indiana and two months in Wapello county, Iowa. There was not a schoolhouse in Greene county, but in the summer of 1856 he attended school for three months at Panora, Guthrie county. He also pursued his studies for three months in the winter of 1857-8, when Captain A. R. Mills taught in Brand schoolhouse in Washington township. That winter there were ninety pupils in the school, coming from an area covering five miles upon the prairie and up and down the river. Again Mr. Toliver attended the country schools in the winter of 1858-9 and of 1859-60, using every opportunity available for the advancement of his education. In September, 1860, he walked from Greene county to Ottumwa, Iowa, to take the examination that would permit him to teach a school in Wapello county, where he had an uncle living. He was four days in making the trip. All the money he had was a three dollar bill. Necessarily he stopped at different places for meals and lodging, but money was so scarce in the pioneer community that no one could change the bill until he made his last stop, when a settler changed it and took ten cents for the accommodation. At Ottumwa he spent five cents for cheese and crackers, making fifteen cents total expenditure for the journey. Four years later he made the same trip with a horse and buggy - the only buggy in Greene county. This was during the period of the Civil war when farmers had to have a license to keep travelers, this revenue going to help carry on the war. Every ten miles the licensed farmer was found and Mr. Toliver paid a dollar and a half for a night’s entertainment, his aunt being with him on that trip.

Prior to this time Mr. Toliver taught school in Washington township and the money which he thus earned he gave his father to assist him in building a house on their farm in Franklin township. Money was indeed very scarce, a teacher being about the only one who had any. In Wapello county Mr. Toliver worked on Saturdays in order to pay for his board. That winter he spent nine dollars for clothes and then walked back home in the spring with a hundred and forty-one dollars as the proceeds of his winter’s labor, his money being in coins worth six and a quarter, twelve and a half, twenty-five and fifty cents respectively. Desirous of promoting his own education, he entered Western College and was here when the boys from Greene county who had enlisted were rendezvoused at Iowa City before going to the front and, becoming imbued with the spirit of patriotism, Mr. Toliver offered his services to the government in defense of the Union on the 28th of September, 1861, joining Company H of the Tenth Iowa Volunteer Infantry. He was with the regiment until discharged on account of rheumatism in May, 1862. After the war he entered the State University at Iowa City, pursuing a literary course. He also studied law a short time in the State University at Ann Arbor, Michigan. While away at school he was appointed county surveyor to fill a vacancy, serving out the unexpired term of one year, after which he was elected at the succeeding election and served for two years. In 1868-9 he served as county treasurer, discharging his duties with a promptness and fidelity that won him uniform commendation.

Mr, Toliver was admitted to the bar in 1865 and entered upon the practice of law at that time. In 1870 he formed a partnership with J. J. Russell, this connection continuing until the death of Mr. Russell in 1901. For thirty-one years the firm of Russell & Toliver was considered the most prominent in Greene county. Mr. Toliver is today the oldest member of the Greene county bar engaged actively in practice, and has long been accorded a foremost position among the able lawyers of this part of the state. He has argued many cases and lost but few. No one better knows the necessity for thorough preparation and no one more industriously prepares his cases than he. His course in the courtroom is characterized by a calmness and dignity that indicate reserve strength. He is always courteous and deferential toward the court, kind and forbearing toward his adversaries. He examines a witness carefully and thoroughly, but treats him with a respect which makes the witness grateful for his kindness and forbearance. His handling of his case is always full, comprehensive and accurate; his analysis of the facts is clear and exhaustive; he sees without effort the relation and dependence of the facts, and so groups them as to enable him to throw their combined force upon the point they tend to prove. He has always been regarded as an able speaker, possessing marked oratorical power and excelled by none in Greene county in extemporaneous speaking. His eulogy before the Greene county bar on the death of his partner is considered one of the ablest public utterances and appears in the Greene county history by E. B. Stillman. He has done more legal business in this county than any other lawyer who ever practiced at the Greene county bar. In politics he has always been a stalwart republican and has ever displayed a knowledge of political questions and issues superior to that usually found in the laity. He was a member of the thirteenth general assembly of Iowa and for thirty-six years was president of the commission for the insane for Greene county. His ambition has never been in the line of ofliceholding, but rather in the path of his profession, wherein merit and ability have enabled him to rise to prominence, passing many whose equipment at the outset of their careers was far superior to his. He has always been possessed of the laudable ambition to attain excellence. Never content with mediocrity, he has made steady progress. In his school days he was an apt student and led his classes in all studies and is yet recognized among the best grammarians in Greene county.

On the 26th of February, 1873, Mr. Toliver was married to Miss Belle Blake, who was born in Pennsylvania, June 24, 1856, a daughter of Charles T. and Sarah A. (Taylor) Blake, both of whom are now deceased. The mother was a relative of General Zachary Taylor. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Toliver were born two children: Iris, the wife of F. D. Milligan, of Jefferson; and Portia, at home. The Toliver residence is one of the finest homes in Jefferson and its gracious and warm hearted hospitality is one of its most attractive features. Mr. Toliver belongs to the Masonic fraternity and in his life has exemplified the beneficent spirit of this craft. He is a man of equable temperament, his life work characterized by continuity of purpose and thoroughness. He still enjoys fairly good health, a fact undoubtedly attributable in considerable measure to the fact that he has ever been an abstainer from intoxicants and tobacco in any form. Nature is kindly to those who abuse not her laws and Mr. Toliver has lived in conformity to her rules throughout his whole life. Whatsoever his hand finds to do, whether in his profession or in his official duties or in any other sphere, he does with his might and with a deep sense of conscientious obligation.

Transcribed from "Past and Present of Greene County, Iowa Together With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Prominent and Leading Citizens and Illustrious Dead,"
by E. B. Stillman assisted by an Advisory Board consisting of Paul E. Stillman, Gillum S. Toliver, Benjamin F. Osborn, Mahlon Head, P. A. Smith and Lee B. Kinsey,
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1907.

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