Man is an imperfect being, and as such, requires that laws shall be enacted for his government. When the Almighty placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he gave laws for their observance, with penalties attached for their violation. The children of Israel, after leaving the Egyptian land, were given the ďten commandments," the principles underlying which, have been the basis of all laws from that time to the present. The existance of laws necessarily implies the existence of courts wherein all questions of law shall be determined. This fact being determined, the farmers of the state constitution instituted certain courts of justice with well defined powers. Changes have been made in the jurisdiction of the courts from time to time, but the rights of every citizen of high or low degree have ever been maintained.


The first trial of any kind in this county, as near as can be ascertained, was held in 1852, under what was commonly called the Court House Tree, which, was subsequently destroyed by lightning. It was a most novel case, and was tried in a still more novel form. It appears that J. H. Hollen, had come into the county, and after prospecting around finally located upon a tract of land which a man by the name of Carter claimed he had entered, but when Hollen investigated the matter, he found that this George Carter had been claiming lands in all parts of the county. As a party came and located he claimed it as his, and rather than give up their choice, he was generally paid his demands,and thus he realized more money than the farmer or emigrant could by cultivating the land for years. This was tried with Mr. Ho1len, who when he found out the scheme determined to resist it. Hence the trial. Mr. Hollen was summoned, and after due preliminaries the matter was referred to a committee with full power and authority, both men binding themselves to be governed by the decision. The referees chosen were John Guin of Benton county, and W. L. Brannan of Marengo, Iowa county; but these not agreeing, Mr. Dillon,of Marengo, was added to the committee, and after hearing the evidence on both sides, the defendant was discharged and his claim to the land endorsed.

The first case to be tried by a regularly organized court was the State of Iowa vs. Thos. Everett, on charge of larceny, before Jas. H. Hollen, Justice of the Peace, near the present site of Tama city. A shoe-maker, by the name of John Aldrich, made a pair of boots for Wm. Blodgett and fixed the time when he should call for them. Thos. Everett, an old gentleman, and a man who enjoyed a joke, found that Blodgett would not call for the boots within the time fixed and accordingly called at the shoemakers and told him that Blodgett had sent him for the boots. Blodgett's credit being good, Aldrich delivered the boots and Everett put them on and wore them with great satisfaction. Soon after Blodgett went for his boots, and much to his chagrin and mortification found that Everett was wearing his boots. The shoe maker and Blodgett became considerably exercised and filed information for stealing and had Everett arrested, who came into court wearing the boots with considerable gusto, and plead not guilty. alford Phillips appeard for the State, and Noah Myers, as counsel for the defendent. Aldrich was first sworn, when he testified, that the boots were worth $5, when the Prosecuting Attorney arose with great deliberation and demanded a jury on behalf of the State. The Justice said that he was going to give them all a "square deal, " and allowed a jury trial. Everett was bound over to the district court where the case was dismissed.

The next trial, or at least in the southern part of the county, was that of Dr. HIram Patty, who came to the county with a few bottles of medicine and some surgicaal instruments. He soon ingratiated himself into the graces of a few of the prominent men in the neighborhood, and eventually to such a degree that he borrowed of some of them money to go to Iowa City, and purchase drugs as he was going to staart a drug store. The money and a valuable horse, with true pioneer confidence was loaned him. Neither the money, horse or man were ever seen by the creditors. The few goods and books he left were afterward sold to partly pay the men who loaned the Doctor the funds. The Doctor afterwards located and remained for a shor time at West Irving.


Upon organization, Tama county became a part of the Fourth Judicial District, which under the constitution of 1846, was composed of the counties of Benton, Boone, Dallas, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Marshall, Polk, Poweshiek, Story and Tama. Several changes were made in the district, from 1850 until 1857, and when it was abolished in 1858, it comprised the counties of Tama, Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Linn and Washington. On the 16th day of August, 1854, Hon. William Smyth District Judge, for the Fourth Judicial District, issued an order for a term of court to be held at the house of John C. Vermilya. This house was a small log cabin located about one-half mile east of the present site of Tama City, on section 26, which was used as a free tavern, clerk's office and court house until the erection of a court house at the county seat. On Friday the 15th day of September, 1854, at 11 o'clock a. m., court was duly opened, with William Smyth on the bench. There were also in attendance. David D. Appelgate, Clerk; Alford Phillips, Prosecuting Attorney, and Miron Blodgett, Sheriff. At this term there were three civil cases on the docket, as follows: Rezin A. Redman vs. Noah Myer, School Fund Commissioner, and Robert Carter for writ of mandamus and injunction; Jacob W. Appelgate, vs. Mary A. Appelgate, petition for divorce, and Andrew D. Stephens, vs. Noah Myers, School Fund Commissioner. All of these cases were continued. The first grand jurors empaneled were as follows: C. B. Slade, H. Van Vliet, Giles Taylor, Joseph Jack, W. H. H. Hill, John Freemer, Henry Stokes, G. P. Yocum, James B. Hollen, William Blodgett, J. W. Appelgate, H. R. Rich, T. A. Graham, P. McRoberts and Jonas P. Wood.

The first petit jury,was as follows: G. Smith, J.D. Geddis, T Marshall, N. Bates, E. W. Daily, J. H. Vanhorn, J. H.Voorhees, L. Olney, John D. Spohr, J. A. Willey, M. Mitchell, and N. Fisher. J.L. Carter was sworn as bailiff.

The first jury trial was the case of Eli Innman Vs. William J. Booher to recover a note and book account. The jury consisted of George Smith, J. D. Gettis, Thomas Marshall, Nathan Fisher, Norton Bates, E. W. Daily, J. H. Van Horn, J. H. Vorhies, I. J. Olney, J. D. Spohr, J. A. Willey and M. Mitchell. The jury being duly sworn, after hearing the argument of counsel and charge of the court, retired in the custody, of A. S. Curtis, sworn as bailiff. The jury rendered itís verdict, finding for the defendant a judgment, and assessed the amount of his recovery at five dollars.

At this term the following members of the bar were present: Isaac M. Preston, George D. Woodin, James S. Childs, Joseph B. Young, Richard B. Groff, James D. Templin and Alford Phillips.

The second term of the court was held at the Court house in Toledo, commencing May 22, 1855. Tama county was still in the Fourth judicial district and William Smyth Judge. There were eight cases on the docket for this term.

On the opening day of the term Alford Phillips, Esq., moved that Timothy Brown be admitted to the practice of law by the court. Whereupon Messrs. Templin, Woodin and Phillips were appointed to examine the qualifications of Brown, and after so doing, and reporting favorably regarding the same, a certificate was ordered to be issued to Timothy Brown, as an attorney before the courts of Iowa.

The may term of 1856, was the third term of the district court, and convened at the court house in Toledo, on the 20th of the month named, with Hon. William Smyth, still on the bench. At this term on motion of C. J. L Foster, Eugene B. Bolens, T. Walter Jackson, and N. C. Wietung were admitted to the bar.

The grand jury, which had been enpanelled, reported two indictments to the court. The first was against John Burge, for malicious mischief in cutting and maiming an animal. The second against James Harris, for passing counterfeit money. They were both acquitted.

Hon. WILLIAM SMYTH, who had been judge up to this time, belonged in Linn county. He was appointed to the office on October 6, 1853, to succeed James P. Carleton, of Johnson county, and qualified on the 10th day of the same month. On April 3, 1854, he was elected by the people and served until January, 1857, when he resigned. Judge William Smyth was a native of the Emerald Isle, and emigrated to this country about 1838. A year or two later he settled in Linn county. He came to the State ignorant and poor; but educated himself and became wealthy and one of the ablest lawyers in Iowa. After resigning the bench he entered the service upon the breaking out of the war, as colonel of 31st Iowa infantry. In September, 1864, he resigned his commission. He was at one time a member of Congress. Col. Smyth was a large and rather portly man. In his deportment he was kind, candid and dignified. His merit as a soldier consisted in his kind care for his men, and in his great bravery. He was not an apt tactician. It is said he would sit quietly on his horse under a sharp fire of the enemy while determining upon the proper command to be given to his regiment for a designated movement. Not long after entering the service, he was ordered by his brigade commander, while drilling his battalion, to throw it into a certain position. Not remembering the proper command, he turned to his adjutant with, " Lieutenant, what shall I say ? "

At the May term of 1857, the Hon. Issac Cook began his term of office as judge, having been appointed by the Governor. Tama county was still in the Fourth judicial District. A good deal of business was on the docket for this term.

On the second day of the term the grand jury reported to the court an indictment for murder against Earnest Olleslaugher (or Olislaeger). On the 23rd of May the grand jury returned an indictment against Arthur T. Butler for murder. Both parties asked a change of venue to Johnson county, which was granted. This case is given in full in another place.

The May term of court was opened in 1858 by the clerk, but as Judge Cook did not appear, it was adjourned until the October term, when there were five indictments for selling intoxicating liquors, and three for larceny reported by the grand jury.

Judge Isaac Cook was appointed by the Governor January 28, 1857, and qualified March 20. In April following he was elected by the people and served until the district was abolished by law in 1858. He belonged in Marion and afterward removed to Cedar Rapids. He died a few years ago. He was a good lawyer, but slow to decide.

By the reconstruction of the districts in 1857, Tama county became a part of the Eighth Judicial District, which was composed of the counties, Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Tama. WILLIAM E. MILLER, of Johnson county, was elected judge, October 12, l858, and served until appointed Colonel of the Twenty-eighth Iowa Infantry Volunteers, August 10 1862. The first term for Tama county that he presided over was the February term, in 1859. Judge Miller, was a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1823. In his personal appearance he is prepossessing; is heavy set, with broad square shoulders, and is about five feet, eight inches in height. His hair and eyes are both dark, and the expression of his countenance is frank and manly. He has a heavy, firm voice, and exhibited much ability while on the bench. As a military man he was a good disciplinarian, and was regarded by his regiment as a good and brave officer. At the time of entering the service Col. Miller was afflicted with a troublesome disease which the exposures and hardships of the field so aggravated as to compel him to resign his commission. He left his regiment just before it marched on the Vicksburg campaign. He is now practicing law in Des Moines, has been on the supreme bench one term.

In September, 1862, Norman W. Isbell, of Linn, county, was appointed judge by the Governor to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Judge Miller. On November 14, 1862, he was elected, and served until August 31, 1864, when he resigned. He died soon after.

Honorable CHAS. H. CONKLIN, of Benton county, succeeded Judge Isbell, being appointed by the Governor August 19, 1864, and in November was elected. He resigned one year later. His first term in Tama county was the September term, in 1864. A. R. Scott. of Jones county, was I appointed district attorney, October 1, 1864. He was elected in November of the same year, and re-elected in October, 1866.

Judge Conklin was a native of New York, born in January, 1831. In his early days he studied law, and was admitted to the bar in Steuben county, New York, in February, 1855, where he soon afterward opened an office. In May, 1866, he abandoned all his brilliant prospects in New York, and removed to Benton county, Iowa, where he immediately entered into the active practice of law. As stated, in 1864 he was appointed to the bench of the district, and succeeded so well as a judge, that when in 1865, he resigned, there was a general feeling of regret throughout the district. As soon as he resigned he re-entered upon the practice of law at Vinton, which he continued until the time of his death, March 16, 1875. In 1867, mid the duties and labors of a full practice at the bar, He found time to write and publish " Conklin 's Treatise," a most valuable work on the duties of, and practices before, justices of the peace in Iowa. As a lawyer, Judge Conklin was bold, honorable, logical and candid, clear in statement, strong in argument, and always deferential and polite. He was almost invincible in the presentation of his fact, the application of the law to the testimony, and in the influence of his eloquence over the hearts and minds of the jurors. His bearing in the presence of the court and bar was always dignified and courteous, ,while his cases were always thoroughly digested and understood. In his death the bar lost a power for its elevation, and he was mourned by a wide circle of friends.

Nathaniel M. Hubbard, of Linn county, succeeded Conklin, being appointed by the Governor, November 15, 1865, and qualifying on the first of December. He is still living in Cedar Rapids, and is one of the attorneys of the C. & N. W. R. R.

The next Judge of the Eighth Judicial District was Hon. JAMES H. ROTHROCK, of Cedar county, who commenced his duties for Tama county at the February term of court in 1867. C. R. Scott was still district attorney. In 1870, the name of Wm. G. Thompson appears as district attorney.

Judge JAMES H. ROTHROCK was born in Pennsylvania in 1832, and at an early day came to Iowa and located in Cedar county. In 1861 he was elected to the general assembly and in August of the following year he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the Thirty-Fifth Iowa. In the latter part of 1863, he resigned and returned home, engaging in the practice of law in partnership with Wm. P. Wolf, M. C. In 1866 he was elected to the bench of the eighth Judicial District and was re-elected 1870 and 1874, the last time by the entire vote of both parties. In 1876, he was appointed by the Governor to the high office of Judge of the Supreme court, and resigned to accept the position. He is still a member of the supreme bench.

Colonel JOHN SHANE was the next Judge of this district, being elected in 1876. He held his first term in Tama county in September of that year. There were also present at this term of court, Milo P. Smith, District Attorney; Robert E. Austin, Sheriff, and C. .J. Stevens, Clerk of court.

John Shane was born in Jefferson county Ohio, on the 26th of May, 1822, and was, educated at the Jefferson college in Pennsylvania. After graduating, he taught school for a few years in Kentucky, and then, returning to Ohio, studied law in the office of E. M. Stanton, who has since been Secretary of War. Shane was admitted to The bar at Steubenville, in 1848, where he continued in the practice until 1855, when he removed to Vinton, his present home. When the rebellion broke out he enlisted as a private in Company "G," 13th Iowa Infantry; and on its organization was elected its captain. He was promoted Major, October 30, 1861, and soon afterward made Colonel of his Regiment. After the close of the war he returned to his home and resumed the practice of his profession, which he continued until his re-election to the bench of the Eighth District. .Judge Shane is a large man, his weight generally being about two hundred and ten pounds. He has sandy hair-perhaps red - a florid complexion and blue eyes, looking out through a large, round, good natured face. When in good health he was of an easy, jovial nature, relished a joke and fond of good living.

Toward the latter part of Judge Shane's term of office his health failed, and a stroke of paralysis for a time made him mentally incable (sic) of filling the position. In the fall of 1882, the Republicans met in convention and again nominated him for the judgeship; but this action was reconsidered and another convention was held by which James D. Griffin wad nominated in his stead and was duly elected. A Democrat was elected for district attorney in the person of J. H. Preston, of Cedar Rapids, at the same time.


By an act of the General Assembly, passed and approved April 3rd, 1868, Circuit Courts were established in this State, and each Judicial District was divided into two circuits, in each of which, at the general election in November, 1868, and every four years thereafter, a Circuit Judge should be elected. Four terms of court were provided per year in each county in the circuits. By this act the office of County Judge was abolished, and all business of a legal nature pertaining to that office was transferred to the Circuit Court, which was also to have concurrent jurisdiction with the District Court in all civil actions at law, and exclusive jurisdiction of all appeals and writs of error from justices' courts, Mayors' courts, and all other inferior tribunals, either in civil or criminal cases.

Tama became a part of the First circuit of the Eighth district upon the law creating the circuit courts going in force. An order was issued by Judge James H. Rothrock, commanding that the circuit should convene at Toledo for the year 1869, as follows: On the third Monday in January; on the third Monday in April; on the first Monday in August; and on the third Monday in October.

Accordingly on January 18, 1869, the first term of circuit court convened at Toledo with Hon. William E. Miller on the bench. There were also present Knight Dexter, sheriff; and L. B. Blinn, clerk of court. Upon the calling of the venire the following jurors answered: John Ramsdell, George Reed, H. H. Williams, Robert Wilkinson, A1onzO Rines, William Clark, John Flathers, P. W. Dumbauld, Samuel Edwards, E. Granger and T. A. Hopkins.

The first case which came up was entitled Mary Manny vs. James W. Coburn and C. Sumner. It was settled.

As stated, Ron. William E. Miller was the first circuit judge. He was elected in the fall of 1868, and served until he was appointed to the supreme bench of the State in 1870. Judge Miller was a native of Pennsylvania, coming to Iowa in 1852 and settling in Iowa City. At an early day he was judge of the district COUrt of this district, and is noticed at length in that connection.

Succeeding him to the circuit bench Hon. George R. Struble, of Toledo, was appointed to fill the vacancy, and began his duties in 1870, continuing in that capacity until the fall of 1872, when, owing to a press of other business, he resigned and W. J. Haddock was appointed his successor-Judge Struble made an excellent judge, logical, clear, prompt and impartial, giving the same universal satisfaction that has characterized his administration in whatever position the people have placed him. He is at present Speaker of the House of Representativcs of Iowa, and is treated at length elsewhere in this volume.

Judge W. J. Haddock was succeeded by JOHN MCKEAN, of Anamosa, who assumed official duties in January, 1873. Four years later be was re-electcd and served until January, 1881. JUDGE MCKEAN was a native of Laawrencc county, Pennsylvania, born in July, 1835, being of Scotch Irish descent. The family came to Iowa in 1854 and located in Jones county. Young McKean returned to the east in 1856, and in 1850 graduated from the Jefferson College, Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania. Returning then to Iowa he commenced reading law and was admitted to the bar in 1861 at Anamosa, where he at once commenced practice and still remains. He was a democrat until tbe civil war burst upon the country, and shortly afterward from a war democrat became an out and out republican, to which party he owes hiS repeated political honors. Prior to his election as judge he represented his county several times in the General Assembly. Judge McKean is a tall, spare man, with dark hair, complexion and eyes. He was very well liked on the bench and was an exce11ent equity lawyer. One peculiarity - or rather misfortune - remembered of him is that he usually had a stiff neck, and when he wished to look to the right or left he must turn his whole body. In the fall of 1882 Christian Hedges was elected Circuit Judge, and is the present incumbent. His home is in Marengo, Iowa county, where he has been practicing law for a number of years. He is a good lawyer, and makes a dignified and satifactory judge. He is a large, portly man, weighing over two hundred pounds and is a genial and pleasant conversationalist.


In 1851, by an act of the General Assembly, county courts were established and the office of county judge created. By the same act the office of probate judge was abolished, as was also the offices of county commissioner, the duties of the county commissioners and probate judge devolving upon the county judge. The county of Tama not being organized till 1853, it had no probate judges or county commissioners. The first county judge to serve was John C. Vermilya, and the first regular term of court was held at his house in October, 1853. Upon Judge Vermilya devolved the duty of perfecting the organization of the county dividing into townships an such other work as was necessary to perfect a system of county government. Judge Vermilya was succeeded to the office by the following gentlemen, in the order given:' Leander Clark, John Allen, T. F. Bradford, R. A. Graham and Maj. T. S. Free. During the latter's term of office the judgeship was abolished, by law, and Mr. Free was made ex-officio county auditor. During the year 1861 the board of county supervisors was created, which took considerable business from the county judge. The proceedings of the county court will be found in connection with the chapter upon government, and sketches of the county judges in the chapter upon "representation."

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