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District Court

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa", Pages 408-410, published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1879.



Section 1 of an act entitled "An act fixing the terms of the Supreme and District Courts of the Territory of Iowa, and for other purposes," provided for holding two terms in each of the several organized counties in each year. "In Henry County, on the first Mondays of April and August."

Section 1 of an act entitled "An act to authorize the holding of the District Courts in the county of Jefferson," approved January 25, 1839, provided "that the time of holding the District Courts in the county of Jefferson, shall commence on the Thursdays preceeding the times of holding the District Courts in the county of Henry."

According to this act last quoted, the first term of the District Court for Jefferson County ought to have commenced on the last Thursday in March, 1839, and the County Commissioners made arrangements to that end by selecting grand and petit juries, etc.; but for some reason the Judge did not put in an appearance, and the Court was not held. The first term held commenced on Thursday the 2d day of August, 1839; Judge Joseph Williams* presided. John A. Pitzer, Clerk. The Court ordered that Willis C. Stone and Oliver Stone act as Constables, and that Alexander Kirk act as crier during the term.

*Judge Williams was a Pennsylvanian by birth and education, and came to Iowa under Presidential appointment soon after the Territory was organized, and settled at Bloomington near Muscatine. He subsequently removed to Kansas, and settled at Fort Scott, where he died a few years ago.

The first order of the District Court relating to this county, was "that the eagle side of a 10-cent piece of money of the American coin be the seal temporarily for the District Court of Jefferson County, Iowa Territory." This order bears date February 26, 1839 (sic). "At the same date, Frederick E. Lyon, Sheriff, appointed Samuel Moore, Under-Sheriff."

The following persons composed the first grand jury: Henry Shepherd, John Gillam, William Vincent, William Precise, John Ankrom, Joseph Higginbottom, William Hueston, David Cowan, Josiah Lee, John Parsons, David Peebler, John Miller, Jonathan Turner, James Coleman, James Lanman, Henry McCauley, Frederick Fisher, James Gilmer, Archer Grau, Aiden Nordyke, Rodham Bonafield, Jonathan Dyer and Enos Elmaker.

After being sworn, the grand jury retired to a strip of timber about half a mile north of the Fairfield of those days to deliberate.

The following persons were the first petit jurors: Wiley Jones, Abraham Louden, Isaac Blakely, Isaac Whitaker, Edward Busic, Isaac McCalla, John Vincent, George C. Parker, Charles Holloway, George W. Troy, John Eastepp, David Eller, John Reager, John W. Johnson, Michael Peebler, Benjamin Mount, Greenup Smith and Alfred Aikes.

The attorneys present at this first term of the District Court, so far as their names appear of record, were Van Allen, Buckland, Teas, Cyrus Olney and Samuel Shuffleton. Shuffleton was admitted to practice as an attorney on the presentation of a certificate to practice as an attorney in the State of New York. Olney was appointed to act as Prosecuting Attorney for the term.

The title of the first case called was "Hosea Hall vs. Isaac Bush," and seems to have been a suit for damages. The case was tried before a jury, and after being out all night, the jury returned a verdict of $5 for the plaintiff. The court ordered that the plaintiff recover that sum and costs. Three indictments for gambling and one for perjury were found at this term. At the next term in April, 1840, they were all disposed of, all the parties being discharged except in the case of the United States vs. John Payton, charged with gambling. He pleaded "guilty," and was fined $10 and costs of suit.

When Iowa Territory was organized, President Van Buren appointed Joseph Williams, Charles Mason and Thomas S. Wilson as Territorial Judges. Under an act of the Territorial Legislature, approved Jnauary 21, 1839, Charles Mason was assigned to the district composed of the counties of Henry (to which Jefferson was attached), Van Buren, Lee and Des Moines; Joseph Williams was assigned to the district composed of the counties of Louisa, Muscatine, Cedar, Johnson and Slaughter (now Washington), and Thomas S. Wilson was assigned to the district composed of the counties of Jackson, Dubuque, Scott and Clayton. When the time for holding the August (1839) term of the District Court of Jefferson County came on, Judge Mason could not be present to preside, and Judge Williams came in his place; and so it came that he presided at the first term of the District Court held in Jefferson County. Cyrus Olney was the first Judge elected in the district under State jurisdiction. Judge Olney has been succeeded by J. C. Knapp, William A. Seevers, Caleb Baldwin, H. B. Hendershott, William M. Stone, William Loughridge, E. S. Sampson and H. S. Winslow. Circuit Court -- L. C. Blanchard, J. C. Cook, of Jasper County, was chosen at the October election, 1878, to succeed Judge Winslow.

Of these, Joseph Williams, Caleb Baldwin and William H. Seevers have served on the Supreme Bench. Charles Mason has filled the office of Commissioner of Patents; W. M. Stone, the office of Governor of Iowa, and E. S. Sampson has represented his district in Congress.

John A. Pitzer was the first Clerk of the District Court, and has been succeeded by John W. Culbertson, Sawyer Robinson, David J. Evans, Robert F. Ratcliff, William Long, George H. Case and M. S. Crawford. A. W. Jaques was elected at the last election, October, 1878, to succeed Mr. Crawford.

Frederick Lyon filled the office of Sheriff by appointment until April, 1839, when James L. Scott was elected. He has been succeeded by James T. Hardin, John Shields, Samuel S. Walker, G. M. Chilcott, Jesse Long, George Shriner, James A. Galliher, J. F. Robb, James A. Cunningham, Jacob S. Gantz, James S. Beck and James M. Hughes. Hughes was elected at the October election, 1878.

Cyrus Olney, the first Prosecuting Attorney, has been succeeded by George Acheson, Ezra Drown, Caleb Baldwin, Samuel Clinton and Charles Negus, as County Prosecutors. George D. Woodin, H. S. Winslow, M. A. McCord, S. G. Smith and G. W. Lafferty have been District Prosecutors. Ed. W. Stone, of Washington County, succeeded Lafferty after January 1, 1879, by virtue of the election in October, 1878.

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