GEORGE M. GILCHRIST. — It has been given Judge Gilchrist to confer honor and dignity on the bench and bar of Iowa, and he is now one of the venerable representatives of his profession in the city of Vinton, where he has long maintained his home. He is a member of one of the honored pioneer families of Benton county and in all the relations of life he has shown the same loyalty that prompted him to go forth in defense of the Union when its integrity was menaced by armed rebellion. His sterling integrity, uniformly recognized, is not a matter of conventionality but is a part of the very fiber of his character, so that he has never been denied the fullest measure of popular confidence and esteem both as a man and as an able member of the legal profession.
Judge George M. Gilchrist claims the fine old Hoosier state as the place of his nativity, as he was born in the village of Franklin, Johnson county, Indiana, on the 15th of April, 1839. He is a son of Robert and Elizabeth (King)) Gilchrist, both of whom were natives of Kentucky, whence the respective families removed to Johnson county, Indiana, in the pioneer epoch in the history of that commonwealth. In that county the marriage of the parents was solemnized. The King family was early founded in Virginia and was of English lineage. The name was prominent in the early annals of the Old Dominion state, whence representatives eventually removed into Kentucky as pioneers. Thus in various generations have members of this family, as well as of the Gilchrist family, been identified with development and constructive work in various parts of the United States. Robert Gilchrist was reared to the sturdy discipline of the pioneer farm, and he continued to be identified with agricultural pursuits during the earlier period of his independent career. Later he became a prosperous merchant in Franklin, Indiana, and there also he was finally made cashier of the first bank organized in Franklin. In 1856 he removed with his family to Benton county, Iowa, and here he continued to follow the vocation of a merchant during the residue of his active career. He was a man of impregnable integrity and honor, and his character was of such high order, that he was well fitted for leadership and action. He passed the closing years of his life in Vinton, where he lived virtually retired for a considerable period prior to his death, which occurred in January, 1874. His devoted wife survived him by many years and attained the venerable age of eighty-one years. Her death occurred on the 6th of January, 1890, and her memory is revered by all who came within the sphere of her gracious influence. Both she and her husband were devout members of the Presbyterian church. They became the parents of four children, of whom the subject of this review was the third in order of birth. The only other survivor is Mary E., who is the wife of Rev. John S. Dunning, of Portland, Oregon. Eleanor J., became the wife of M. P. Adams and was a resident of Vinton, Iowa, at the time of her death; Nancy died in infancy.
Judge Gilchrist gained his early educational training in the common schools of Johnson county, Indiana, and then entered Hanover College, at Hanover, that state. In this institution he had just completed the work of the junior year when there came the call for volunteers to go forth in defense of the Union. His youthful loyalty and patriotism were roused to responsive protest, and in June, 1861, he enlisted as a private in Company E, Third Indiana Volunteer Cavalry, with which gallant command and on detached duty he served three years and nine months, at the expiration of which, in February, 1865, he was mustered out, at Winchester, Virginia. He took part in many of the important engagements marking the progress of the great fratricidal conflict, having participated in both of the Fredericksburg campaigns and the Rappahannock campaigns. He was in action in the memorable engagements at Gettysburg, Petersburg, South Mountain, Antietam, and the Wilderness, besides which he took part in many skirmishes and other minor engagements. He was, at once upon enlistment, made a duty sergeant, the sergeant major of his regiment, then commissioned first lieutenant of his company. Almost as soon as his commission was received he was detailed as aide to Major General John Buford, and thereafter until mustered out served on his staff and that of Major Generals T. A. Torbet, Wesley Merritt and General George H. Chapman. While so serving he was made a captain.
After receiving his honorable discharge Judge Gilchrist returned to the parental home in Vinton, Iowa, and here he soon afterward began reading law in the office of the firm of Shane & McCartny. He made rapid progress in his absorption and assimilation of the science of jurisprudence and in December, 1867, he was admitted to the bar, to which he came with most excellent technical equipment and natural ability. He forthwith engaged in the active practice of his profession in Vinton, and save for the period of service in official capacity he continued here the successful work of his profession until 1903, since which time he has lived virtually retired, in the enjoyment of that gracious repose that properly crowns a life of well directed toil and endeavor. He early gained prestige as a specially versatile and able trial lawyer, and the records of the local courts bear full assurance of many fine forensic contests won by him. Well fortified in the minutiae of the law and in wisdom born of wide experience, Judge Gilchrist has not only been known as a safe and conservative counsellor but he was specially well equipped also for the duties of the judicial office to which he was called in 1888. In 1867 he was elected county judge for a term of two years. At the expiration of one year the office was abolished. He was then ex-officio county auditor and of this office he continued to be incumbent until January, 1870. Thereafter he served several terms as city attorney, and for twelve years he was a valued and zealous member of the board of education of Vinton. About the beginning of the year 1888 he was appointed district judge of the Seventeenth judicial district of Iowa to succeed Judge L. C. Kinne who resigned but afterwards stood for re-election and succeeded. Judge Gilchrist afterward resumed the practice of his profession, in which he continued with success until his final retirement. He has ever shown a deep appreciation of the dignity of his profession, has been a scrupulous observer of its unwritten code of ethics and has added distinction to the history of the bench and bar of the state in which he has so long maintained his home and in which his name has ever been a synonym of insuperable integrity and honor. In politics Judge Gilchrist has ever given an unqualified allegiance to the Republican party, and both he and his wife are zealous members of the Presbyterian congregation in their home city, where they are held in affectionate regard by all who know them.
On the 20th of October, 1864, was solemnized the marriage of Judge Gilchrist to Miss Mary S. Gilpin, who was born at Padys Run, Ohio, and who is a daughter of Samuel N. and Mary (Thomas) Gilpin, who removed from the old Buckeye state to Indiana, where her marriage was celebrated. Concerning the four children of Judge and Mrs. Gilchrist the following brief data are entered: Ethelwyn is the wife of Judge B. Elwin F. Brown of Vinton; Robert M., is a railroad conductor and resides in Cedar Rapids, this state; Mary, is the wife of Augustus A. Barnum, editor of the Mount Vernon Hawkeye, at Mount Vernon, Iowa; and Emma is the wife of Dr. John E. Luckey, of Vinton.
Picture of George M. Gilchrist