History of Marion County, Iowa by Wright and Young (1915)

Chapter XVII - The Bench and Bar

Purpose of the Courts - The Lawyer as a Citizen - First Courts in Iowa - First District Court in Marion County -
Judge Williams - Judge McFarland - Judge Stone - Changes in Judicial Districts - Judge Ayres -
The Circuit Court - The Bar - Brief Sketches of Early Lawyers - Present-Day Attorneys

In his cantata of “The Jolly Beggars,” Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, describes a gathering of a band of vagabond characters at the house of “Poosie Nansie” for a general good time. In the course of the evening’s entertainment a strolling tinker sings a song with the following refrain, in which the company join lustily:

A fig for those by law protected,
Liberty’s a glorious feast;
Courts for cowards were erected,
Churches built to please the priest.”

There may still be some “jolly beggars” who entertain similar views regarding the courts, but the fact remains that courts were not erected for cowards - were not intended to restrict the liberties of the people, but to protect them. Liberty without law, instead of being a glorious feast, would be unbridled license; a liberty that would not recognize the rights of others, and, if such a condition could be brought about, the chances are that the “jolly beggar” would be the first one to wish for some law to protect him.

Much of the history of every civilized country centers about its laws and the manner in which they are enforced. “To establish justice” was written into the preamble of the Federal Constitution by the founders of the American Republic as one of the primary and paramount purposes of government. The fore fathers also showed their wisdom when they divided the functions of government into three departments - the legislative, the executive and the judicial - the first to enact laws, the second to execute them, and the third to settle all disputes that might arise over their interpretation. States have copied this system, so that in every state of the American Union there are a Legislature to pass laws, courts to interpret them, and a governor as the chief executive officer to see that they are fairly and impartially enforced.

The law is a jealous profession. It demands of the judge on the bench and the attorney at the bar that they make every careful and conscientious effort to secure the administration of justice - “speedy and substantial, efficient, equitable and economical.” Within recent years there has been much adverse criticism of the courts for their delays, and a great deal has been said in the public press about “judicial reform.” Concerning this tendency to criticize our judicial system, one of the justices of the Ohio Supreme Court recently said:

“A reasonable amount of criticism is good for a public officer - even a judge. It keeps reminding him that, after all, he is only a public servant; that he must give account of his stewardship, as to his efficiency, the same as any other public servant; that the same tests applied to private servants in private business should be equally applied to public servant in public business, whether executives, legislators or judges - at least, that is the public view. Would it not be more wholesome if more public officers, especially judges, took the same view?”

No doubt some of the criticisms passed upon the courts, or rather on certain judges, have been founded upon reason, but should the whole judiciary system of the state or the nation be condemned as unworthy because some judge has failed to measure up to the proper standard of his high calling? Or should the legal profession be brought into general disrepute because some lawyer has adopted the tactics of the pettifogger? It should be borne in mind that some of the greatest men in our national history were lawyers. John Marshall, one of the early chief justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, was a man whose legal opinions are still quoted with reverence and respect by the profession, and his memory is revered by the American people at large. Even the courts of England have referred to his decisions as high examples of law and equity. Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Robert T Livingston, who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and gave to the United states a territory far greater than that of the original thirteen colonies, were all lawyers and stood high in their profession. Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Stephen A Douglas, Salmon P Chase, and a host of others who might be mentioned were men whose patriotism and sense of justice were unquestioned. And last, but not least, was Abraham Lincoln, self-educated and self-reliant, whose consummate tact and statesmanship, as well as his knowledge of the law, saved the Union from disruption.

When the Territory of Iowa was established in 1838, Charles Mason, of Burlington, was appointed chief justice; Thomas S Wilson, of Dubuque, and Joseph Williams, of Pennsylvania, associate justices of the Supreme and District courts of the territory, and these gentlemen continued to hold courts until Iowa was admitted as a state. Section 17 of the act of June 10, 1845, under which Marion County was organized, provided that the county should constitute a part of the Second Judicial District. Under this provision the first term of the District Court was held in Knoxville in March, 1846. As this was the beginning of Marion county’s legal history, it is deemed appropriate to give here the first entry upon the court record:


“As a District Court in and for the County of Marion, in the Territory of Iowa, begun and holden at Knoxville in said county, on the thirtieth day of March, A. D. 1846; present the Hon. Joseph Williams, judge of the Second Judicial District in and for the said territory, and Thomas Baker, for the United States, district attorney, and John B. Lash, for the United States, marshal of said territory, L. W. Babbitt, clerk of the District Court, and James M. Walters, sheriff in and for said county; whereupon said sheriff returned his venire for a grand jury on the part of the territory, and the marshal aforesaid returned into court his venire for a grand jury on the part of the United States, whereupon the following persons, to-wit, John B. Hamilton, Asa Koons, Wilson Stanley, Samuel Buffington, Edward Billaps, Joseph S. West, Samuel H. Robb, Ose Matthews, James Chestnut, Andrew Stortes, John P. Glenn, John H. Bras, John Conrey, Nelson Hill, Martin Neel, Stanford Doud, Alexander May, William Carlisle, Andrew C. Sharp, David Gushway, Thomas Gregory, Benajah Williams and Lawson G. Terry, all good and lawful men, being duly elected, impaneled, charged and sworn on the part of the United States and Territory of Iowa, retired in charge of Allen Lowe, who being duly sworn as constable in charge of said grand jury, to consider of such matters and things as may come to their knowledge and charge. And the sheriff aforesaid returned his venire for a petit jury, whereupon the following persons, to-wit, Robert Hamilton, Jacob C. Brown, Nathan Bass, Granville Hendricks, George Gillaspy, Claiborne Hall, Alfred Vertrice, John Williams, John Whitlatch, William Buffington, Matthew Ruple, Joseph Clark, Nathan Tolman, John Wise, John Miller, William Glenn, James Botkin, Moses Long, Elijah Wilcut, Reuben S. Lowrey, David Sweem, Jeremiah Hullion, Benjamin Spillman and Andrew Foster, all good and lawful men, appeared and answered to their names as petit jurors for said court.

Ordered that the court now adjourn until 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.

From this record it will be seen that the first day of the term was devoted to the work of qualifying the grand and petit jurors, who had been selected by the county commissioners on March 2, 1846, under the provisions of an act entitled “An act to authorize the Board of County Commissioners of Marion County to select grand and petit jurors,” approved January 17, 1846. Says Donnel: “As there were no jury rooms attached to the temporary building used as a courthouse, the jurors were compelled to make the best shift that circumstances allowed. The grand jury retired to the residence of Doctor Conrey, a small linn log cabin, that was also used as a boarding house; while the petit jury held their consultations in the open air, each jury being attended by a bailiff.”

The term lasted but three days, in which eight cases (all on the docket) were disposed of by the court. The most important of these cases was probably the one brought by Edward H. Thomas against the County of Mahaska for attorney’s fee. This case came to Marion on a change of venue, and the jury found a verdict in Mr. Thomas’ favor, awarding him the sum of #25.

Little is known of Judge William's history prior to his coming to Iowa to assume his judicial duties. When the Territory of Iowa was divided into judicial districts by the Legislature of 1839, Judge Williams was assigned to the Second District, then composed of the counties of Louisa, Muscatine, Cedar, Johnson and Slaughter, other counties being added to the district as they were organized. He was an ardent temperance advocate and organized a number of temperance societies in the county seats where he held court. Besides his legal attainments, he was a good singer, a fine performer on the violin, possessed of a fund of amusing anecdote, and a ventriloquist of considerable ability. During this first term of the District Court, Judge Williams and most of the lawyers in attendance upon the court stopped at the boarding house of Lysander W. Babbitt. The judge, with lawyers Wright, Knapp and Olney, were furnished with beds on the first floor, while the jurors and other court attendants slept upstairs, or “in the loft,” spreading blankets, coats, etc., upon the loose floor for their beds. Soon after all had retired two cats began spitting and meowing at each other as though about to engage in an encounter in the midst of those occupying the loft. All engaged in a search, but no cats were to be found and the guests returned to their improvised beds wondering what had become of the belligerent felines. Scarcely had they composed themselves to rest when two dogs commenced growling and snarling among the would-be-sleepers. The laughter of the judge and the lawyers downstairs called to the mind of someone that Judge Williams was probably exercising his ventriloquial powers and was responsible for the disturbance. In this incident he proved his ability as an entertainer and all had the good sense not to take offense at the joke.

In June, 1847, Judge Williams was appointed one of the justices of the Iowa Supreme Court to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Charles Mason. Two years later he was nominated by the democrats for supreme fudge, was elected in the fall of 1849, and continued on the bench until 1855. Some years after retiring from the bench he removed to Kansas, where he died some time in the latter ‘70s.

The second term of the District Court was convened on September 21, 1846, but owing to the absence of judge Williams was adjourned to the following day, hwen he put in an appearance. The court officers were the same as at the first session, with the exception that George Gillaspy had succeeded James M. Walters as sheriff. Robert D. Russel, John H. Mikesell, and John Hill were all brought before the court charged with selling intoxicating liquors without the proper license, but all were acquitted.

Marion County continued in the Second Judicial District until 1847, when it was attached to the Third, and Cyrus Olney succeeded Judge Williams on the bench. Judge Olney held two terms of court at Knoxville in 1848 - one in May and one in November. The records of the May term contain the first mention of a divorce case in Marion County, Homer S. Matthews asking for a divorce from his wife, Melissa Matthews. Another early divorce case was that of Mrs. Ray Alfrey against her husband, in which a decree was obtained for the plaintiff through her attorney, John W. Alley.

William McKay followed Judge Olney on the bench, and held his first term of court in Knoxville, beginning on May 21, 1849. He continued on the bench until a change was made in the judicial districts by the Legislature of 1854, when Marion County was made a part of the Fifth Judicial District. P. M. Casady, of Des Moines, was elected judge, but resigned without holding a single term of court, and C. J. McFarland was appointed by Governor Grimes to fill the vacancy. He was elected judge at the next regular election and remained on the bench until 1857.

Judge McFarland was a man of striking personal appearance, with a long, flowing beard, and is said to have been one of the most eccentric men who ever occupied a judicial position in Iowa. In 1856 he was a delegate to the democratic national convention. A correspondent for a St. Louis paper, in one of his reports, referred to Judge McFarland’s whiskers and suggested that “their extravagant luxuriance exhausted such a large proportion of nutriment as to greatly impoverish the brain.” This comment aroused the ire of the judge, who swore vengeance upon the correspondent, but the latter could not be found. On one occasion, when the business of the court was interrupted by the noise of a thunder storm, the judge arose to his feet and announced at the top of his voice: “Court’s adjourned; the Almighty has invaded my district and there is no provision for concurrent jurisdiction. I withdraw.”

Unlike his predecessor, Judge Williams, McFarland was “fond of his toddy.” If a candidate for admission to the bar came before the judge with a well-filled flask he was almost certain to pass the examination. After retiring from the bench he passed the remainder of his life as a resident of Boonsboro, Iowa, indulging his dissolute habits until his death. He was succeeded on the district bench by William M. Stone, of Knoxville.

William M. Stone was born in Jefferson County, New York, October 14, 1827. When he was about six years old his parents removed to Coshocton County, Ohio. His opportunities to acquire an education were extremely limited and during his boyhood he drove team for two seasons on the Ohio Canal. At the age of seventeen years he was apprenticed to a chair maker and while serving his apprenticeship took up the study of law. In August, 1851, he was admitted to the bar and practiced for three years at Coshocton as a partner of his old preceptor. In November, 1854, he settled at Knoxville, where he established the Knoxville Journal in October, 1855. He was the first editor in Iowa to suggest a state convention for the purpose of forming a republican party in the state. That convention was held on February 22, 1856, and in the fall of that year Mr. Stone was a presidential elector on the Fremont and Dayton ticket. In April, 1856, he was elected judge of the Eleventh Judicial District, to which Marion County was then attached, and after the new state constitution went into effect in 1858 he was elected judge of the Sixth. He was serving upon the bench when Fort Sumter was fired upon, and laid aside the scales of justice to take up the musket of a soldier. In May, 1861, he enlisted as a private, but upon the organization of Company B, Third Iowa Infantry, he was commissioned captain. On July 6, 1861, he was promoted major of his regiment, and in August, 1862, was appointed colonel of the Twenty-second Iowa Infantry by Governor Kirkwood. He was wounded in the action at Blue Mills, Missouri, in September, 1861, and again in the assault on the Confederate works at Vicksburg in 1863. He was then in command of a brigade until the latter part of August, 1863, when he resigned. In June, 1863, while at home on furlough, recovering from the wound received at Vicksburg, he attended the republican state convention at Des Moines. At a mass meeting the evening preceding the convention a number of speeches were made, some of them criticizing the Federal administration for its manner of conducting the war. Colonel Stone replied to these critics by saying it was no time to find fault with the action or even mistakes of individuals when the nation was in peril; that it was the duty of every loyal citizen to overlook these mistakes and stand by the administration. That speech nominated him for governor the next day, and at the ensuing election he carried the state by a sweeping majority. Two years later he was reelected. In 1864, while serving as governor, he was brevetted brigadier-general for his gallant military services. Some years later Governor Stone removed to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where his death occurred on July 17, 1893. His remains were brought to Knoxville and buried in the Graceland Cemetery.

The next judge of the District Court was William Loughridge, who held his first term of court in Knoxville in December, 1861. he was succeeded by E. S. Sampson, whose first term in Marion County began on March 12, 1867. After serving two full terms, Judge Sampson was succeeded in 1875 by H. S. Winslow, who opened his first term of court at Knoxville on January 13, 1879.

In 1886 the Legislature established the present Fifth Judicial District, composed of the counties of Marion, Warren, Madison, Adair, Guthrie and Dallas, with three judges. Judge O. B. Ayres, of Marion; J. H. Henderson, of Warren; and A. W. Wilkinson, of Madison, began their official duties as judges of the new district in 1887.

Orlando B. Ayres was born in Lake County, Ohio, July 26, 1836. Some years later his parents removed to Wisconsin, and in 1851 to Illinois, where he attended school and studied law in the office of Howe & North at Kewanee. In December, 1863, he was admitted to the bar, and the following year removed to Knoxville, Iowa, where for a number of years he was a partner of William M. Stone. Judge Ayres continued on the bench until 1890, and a little later went to San Diego, California, where his death occurred on March 28, 1900. His remains were brought to Knoxville for burial.

In 1891 Judge Ayres was succeeded on the bench by James H. Applegate, of Guthrie County, who is still serving in that capacity, having been reelected at each succeeding election. In 1896 James D. Gamble, of Knoxville, succeeded Judge Henderson and continued on the bench until 1910. Hi is living in Knoxville. Clarence Nichols, of Dallas County, succeeded Judge Wilkinson in 1903 and served as district judge until 1910. The judges of the District Court at the beginning of the year 1915 were: James H. Applegate, of Guthrie County; William H. Fahey, of Dallas, and Loren N. Hays, of Marion. As already stated, Judge Applegate has been on the bench since 1891. Judges Fahey and Hays began their judicial duties in 1911. All the present judges were re-elected in 1914.


At the legislative session of 1867-68 a law was passed establishing circuit courts in the state. Marion County was placed in the First Circuit. The first circuit judges were elected at the general election in November, 1868, and assumed the duties of the office on January 1, 1869. Lucien C. Blanchard, of Poweshiek County, was elected circuit judge for the Fifth district of the First Circuit and served until 1881, when he was succeeded by William R. Lewis, also of Poweshiek County. In 1885 George W. Crozier, of Knoxville, was elected circuit judge and was serving in that capacity when the court was abolished by the Legislature in 1886. The Circuit Court had no jurisdiction in criminal cases, and its work was confined chiefly to matters of probate character.


While Marion County has never produced a John Marshall or a Daniel Webster, her lawyers have as a rule, been able to hold their own with the attorneys of other parts of the state. The first resident lawyer in the county was John W. Alley, who came from Indiana in an early day and first settled on Lake Prairie, but afterward removed to Red Rock. Later he went to Afton, Union County, where he passed the remainder of his life. Donnel says of him: “His reputation as an attorney was so good that he was constantly employed, and scarcely a case came upon trial in the Des Moines Valley, within the bounds of the county, that the colonel was not employed to pettifog for one side or the other, and such was his popularity that it was supposed that whoever was lucky enough to secure his services was pretty sure of success in spite of justice. But, like many engaged in the profession, he was not scrupulous as to the means of winning a case, especially if the case happened to be a difficult one, which was very frequent. At such times he would flatter the justice by language like this: ‘Now, in addressing a gentleman of your discernment and intelligence, it is scarcely necessary to remind you,’ etc., and then proceed to quote the law of some other state, provided he could find none among our own statutes that could be construed favorably to his client.”

In the early days of the District Court it was the custom of lawyers to “ride the circuit,” traveling form one county seat to another with the judge and carrying their libraries in their saddle bags. No matter how fierce the contests of the day might be, these lawyers would gather in the hotels in the evenings and while away the time “swapping yarns,” relating their experiences, etc., and not infrequently joining in a social “drink.” Among these olden-time attorneys the names of Olney, Knapp, Trimble, Wright and Baker stand preeminent. The last named was the district attorney at the time the first session of the District Court was held at Knoxville. In 1846 A. B. Miller came to the county and began the practice of law. He was born at Petersburg, Pennsylvania, January 8, 1818, and in 1835 removed with his parents to Ohio. After two years in Oberlin College he began reading law with William D. Ewing, of New Lisbon, Ohio, and early in 1846 was admitted to the bar. He decided to try his fortunes in the West, and in April, 1846, settled on Lake Prairie. In 1848 he removed to Red Rock. He was elected clerk of the court in 1853 and again in 1854. During the Civil war he served as quartermaster of the Fortieth Iowa Infantry, after which he resumed the practice of his profession. His death occurred on February 24, 1896.

Joseph Brobst, the first county judge of Marion County, was born in Pennsylvania on December 16, 1793. He learned the milling business in early life and followed that occupation for a number of years. In 1848 he came to Marion County, and three years later was elected county judge, which office he held for four years. In 1869 he was elected county auditor. Few men in the county at that time had a more extended acquaintance than Judge Brobst. He was a public-spirited man and was always ready to take part in any movement for the general welfare. His death occurred on April 10, 1878.

F. M. Frush, who was county judge from 1855 to 1861, was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, April 2, 1822, and was reared on a farm in Ohio. In 1850 he came to Marion County, Iowa, and the next year was elected county surveyor. While serving as county judge he was regularly admitted to the bar, and upon retiring from office practiced for several years, when he turned his attention to mercantile pursuits. He died on August 11, 1900.

Jarius E. Neal was another early lawyer in Knoxville. He was active in every movement for the up building of the town and county and was chairman of the committee on resolutions at the railroad meeting held at Knoxville on January 27, 1853. At that meeting he was appointed one of a committee to solicit stock subscriptions to the railroad and agreed to take twenty shares himself. About the close of the Civil War he became associated with Larkin Wright in the brokerage and banking business, but a little later left Knoxville and went to New York.

In 1855 James Matthews, the father-in-law of William M. Stone, came to Knoxville and associated himself with his son-in law and former student in the practice of law. He was born in Trumbull County, Ohio, June 5, 1805; studied law with General Stokely, of Steubenville, Ohio, and was admitted to the bar in 1830. After representing the Count of Coshocton in the Ohio Legislature, he was elected to the State Senate, and in 1840 was elected on the democratic ticket to represent his district in Congress. After coming to Iowa he soon began to take an active part in political affairs, and in 1863 was appointed provost marshal of the district by President Lincoln. In 1867 he was appointed postmaster at Knoxville, but resigned in 1870 to become a professor of pomology in the State Agricultural College. His death occurred at Knoxville on March 20, 1887. He was the county attorney at the time of the treasury robbery in 1867, just before being appointed postmaster.

Absalom Black was another well-known attorney in early day though but little can be learned concerning his history. From 1854 to 1856 he was prosecuting attorney. Old settlers say that “he was not much of a lawyer, but was a good fellow and did the best he could."

Thomas J. Anderson, who began practice in Knoxville in the fall of 1860, was born in Fulton County, Illinois, March 4, 1837, and came with his parents to Marion County in 1853. In 1858 he was elected county surveyor, and while holding this office he commenced the study of law under Jarius E. Neal, who at that time was one of the prominent attorneys of the county. In October, 1860, Mr. Anderson was admitted to the bar. In 1862 he enlisted in the Fortieth Iowa Infantry as first lieutenant of Company A, and served until the close of the war and being mustered out as captain of the company. Before going into the army he was engaged for awhile in editing the Democratic Standard at Knoxville. In 1887 he was the democratic candidate for governor of Iowa, but was defeated by William Larabee by a plurality of 16,360 votes. He died at the Soldiers' Home, Los Angeles, California, April 13, 1910, and his remains were buried in that city.

Martin V. B. Bennett, commonly known as "Van" Bennett, was a journalist as well as a lawyer. He was associated with Mr. Anderson in the publication of the Democratic Standard and when the Fortieth Iowa Infantry was organized entered the service as captain of Company A. After the war he was one of the founders of the paper called the Copperhead, which was published for a short time at Pella, and afterward was a member of the law firm of Bennett & Atherton.

P. H. Bousquet was admitted to the bar at Knoxville in 1862 and soon afterward established himself in practice at Pella. Mr. Bousquet was born in the Netherlands on December 23, 1835, and came with his parents to America in 1849. He had the reputation of being a good office lawyer, but rarely appeared in court. He was one of the founders of the Pella Savings Institution, which later became the Pella National Bank. Mr. Bousquet died at Pella, February 14, 1908.

John B. Elliott, who in 1914 was president of the Knoxville National Bank, was admitted to the bar in 1876. He came to Knoxville in 1869 and studied under Anderson & Collins. Upon being admitted he practiced for a time and in 1877 was elected to the Legislature. Two years later he was re-elected. Not long after that he turned his attention to the banking business and gave up the practice of his profession.

C. H. Robinson was born in Guernsey County, Ohio, February 3, 1843, and in the Civil war was a member of the Eighty-sixth and One Hundred and Twenty-ninth Ohio Infantry, being discharged from the latter regiment to become a lieutenant in the One Hundred and Thirty-sixth Illinois. After the war he taught school for a few terms in Ohio and then came to Marion County, Iowa. In 1875 he was elected county auditor and was twice re-elected. While holding the office of auditor he read law with Stone & Ayres and in 1879 was admitted.

E. R. Hays, a brother of the present district judge, was born in Wood County, Ohio, May 26, 1848. After serving in the First Ohio Battery during the Civil war, he attended Heidelberg College, and then read law with Noble & Noble, of Tiffin, Ohio. In 1872 he was admitted to practice and the same year located at Knoxville, Iowa, where he soon acquired a high standing as an attorney. He served part of the term in the Fifty-first Congress, having been elected to the vacancy caused by the resignation of Edwin H. Conger. He died at Knoxville on February 26, 1896.

James D. Gamble and George W. Crozier, two of the oldest living lawyers in the county, are still residents of Knoxville. The former began practice in 1860, in Decatur County, Iowa, but later removed to Knoxville, where he is now living practically retired. He served fourteen years as district judge. Judge Crozier was on the bench of the Circuit Court for two years and in 1914 was elected to represent Marion County in the State Legislature. He is the senior member of the law firm of Crozier & Welch.

The following list of present-day attorneys is taken from the county auditor's report for the year 1913: Gray Anderson, Crozier & Welch, George G. Gaass, James D. Gamble, I. H. Garretson, Hart & Hart, S. C. Johnston, Teunis H. Klein, L. B. Leonard, W. H. Lyon, Roche S. Mentzer, N. D. Shinn, L. D. Teter, George J. Thomassen, W. G. van der Ploeg and W. H. van der Ploeg. Of these lawyers, Gaass, Klein, Thomassen and W. H. van der Ploeg have offices in Pella and the others are located at Knoxville.

Transcribed by Mary E. Boyer, February 2007, reformatted by Al Hibbard 10 Oct 2013