The Courts and Legal Profession of Iowa

The following information is from "The Courts and Legal Profession of Iowa" beginning on page 572 of Vol I

Clinton County: Historical and Biographical.

The legal history of Clinton county begins with the act of congress approved Jun12, 1838, entitled "An Act to divide the Territory of Wisconsin and to establish the Territorial Government of Iowa." Prior to that date the territory now comprising Clinton county was included in that of the county known as Dubuque, in the territory of Wisconsin, the seat of government of which, and the place for holding court, being Dubuque. In November, 1837, however, the legislature of the territory of Wisconsin created the present county of Clinton, and the first territorial legislature of Iowa, which convened at Burlington in November, 1838, divided the state into three judicial districts, and placed Clinton county in the third. On the 12th day of October, A. D. 1840, the first term of court for this county was convened at Camanche, by Associate Justice Thomas S. Wilson, of Dubuque. The clerk of the court was Martin Dunning, and the sheriff of the county, James D. Bourne, both appointed March 23, 1840, by Justice Wilson. The civil proceedings of the court were conducted according to the forms of the common law. But four cases were tried at that term; all appeals from justice of the peace courts. The first involved the ownership of a yoke of oxen; the next two were suits for small claims resulting in judgments for the plaintiffs in the sums of $5.25 and $17.13 respectively; and the fourth, an action of forcible entry and detainer, was decided for defendant.

The only criminal business of the term was the finding by the grand jury of four indictments against the notorious Timothy Bigelow, Lorenzo Bigelow, and one Richard Cox, for forgery, counterfeiting, and having in possession certain apparatus for counterfeiting. This Timothy Begelow was the same Bigelow who occupied a claim in the woods upon the banks of the Mississippi river, a portion of which is now within the limits of the city of Clinton, one of the boundaries of which is now know as the "Bigelow claim line," so often alluded to in the descriptions of land in that vicinity. Upon this claim he maintained a spurious coin factory which furnished a good proportion of the money then in circulation. For years afterward couterfeit coins were occationally found upon this claim near the site of his house. J. A. Bradford was prosecuting attorney. Court remained in session at this term but two days.

The next term was held April 13th and 14th, 1841, Justice Wilson again presiding. Business, as at the first term, was light; the most important being the report by William Miller, of Cedar county, Andrew F. Russell, of Scott county, and Wm. A. Warren, of Jackson county, commissioners appointed by the Iowa legislature to locate the seat of justice of the territory for Clinton county, that they had "located the seat of justice of said county by setting a stake at or near the center of the north half (1/2) of Section Eighteen (18), Township Eighty-one (81) North, Range Four (4) East of the Fifth principal meridian, and by naming the said seat of justice, as the law prescribed, being in accordance with the will of the people as near as we could ascertain the same, Vanderburg." The county-seat was accordingly moved to this point, and later the first court-house for the county was erected there. This name was afterwards, in 1842, by act of legislature, changed to DeWitt, upon petition of the inhabitants, that name being considered more appropriate, as the county had been named after Governor DeWitt Clinton, of New York.

Justice Wilson continued to preside over this court until Iowa was admitted to the Union as a state in 1846. He was afterwards elected judge of the state district court in 1852, and served for about one year, when he returned to private practice in Dubuque. he died at his home in Dubuque, May 16, 1894, aged eighty years and seven months. His daughter, Eliza Hoge Wilson, is the wife of one of the oldest members of the Clinton county bar, Hon. Henry F. Bowers, having been married to him September 26, 1901.

Many interesting stories are told of the experiences of this pioneer judge in the datys before railroads or even stage-coaches in Iowa, as he traveled over his large district upon horseback. When he came from Ohio to Dubuque and was appointed by President Van Buren, he was only twenty-five years of age, and looked even younger. About the first term of court held by him was at Burlington. Just before the adjournment of court a steamboat arrival was announced, an event always of interest in those early days. Judge Wilson requested Gen. Gebon, marshal of the district, to secure a berth for him to his home in Dubuque, which he did, and returned with the number of the judge's stateroom. The judge, with his carpet bag, wended his way to the boat, and, knowing the number of his stateroom made a bee line for it, but was intercepted by the captain, who demanded what he was doing there. The judge, though unknown to the captain, knew him by sight and told him that it was his room. "No, sir," responded the man of authority, "it is not. That room has been engaged by Gen. Gebon for the judge who is going to honor me by his company to Dubuque, his home, as soon as he can adjourn court and I am to wait for him." "But," said the judge, "I know the judge well, am a friend of his, and always accompany him to and from court." "That may be," responded the captain, "but you can't take that room until the old judge comes and gives his consent." Just then Gen. Gebon entered the cabin and, seeing the judge, said: "Did you find your room, judge?" "Yes," was the response, "but the captain won't let me have it." The general took in the situation at once and introduced the judge and captain, when the latter remarked his astonishment and said: "In my country -- an older state -- they make judges of old men, not of boys."

One of the earliest and most famous of Judge Wilson's cases is In re Ralph (a colored man) on habeas corpus, celebrated as being the announcement by the Iowa court of a rule just the opposite of that afterward adopted in the famous Dred Scott decision. Ralph, a colored man, was permitted by his owner, one Montgomery, to come into the territory of Wisconsin to earn money with which to buy his freedom. Money in those early days, however, was scarce, the delay was long, Montgomery became impatient, Ralphy would not return, and a reward of $100 was offered for his capture. He was taken in the field by persons working for the reward, hand-cuffed, brought before a justice of the peace in Dubuque county and, upon order of the justice, delivered to his captors, who took him to Bellevue to await a steamer enroute to Missouri, to be there delivered to his owner. A neighboring farmer named Alexander Butterworth witnessed his capture, hastened to Dubuque and procured from Judge Wilson a writ of habeas corpus. Upon Ralph being produced before him, Judge Wilson decided that the question involved in the case was so important that it should be decided by the full bench. The matter was thereupon certified to the supreme court, which, in July, 1839, decided that he should be released, holding that "When a slave with his master's consent become a resident of a free territory or state, he could not be regarded, thereafter, as a fugitive slave, nor could the mast thereafter exercise any rights of ownership over him." These three judges were all democrats.

Judge Wilson's first successor, and the first judge to sit upon the state district bench for this district, was Judge James Grant, of Davenport. The new constitution of Iowa, had divided the state into four judicial districts, placing Clinton county in the second. He held his first term of court in this county in May, 1847, the term convening May 10th, and closing on the 12th. Judge Grant served in that capacity for five years, when he resumed his practice as an attorney, became one of the leaders of the Iowa bar, and is still remembered for his learning and ability. It is told of him that, being late at the opening of a term of court at DeWitt, owing to the condition of the Wapisipinicon river, which he was obliged to cross upon his way from Davenport, he had the clerk enter a find of fifty dollars against himself for contempt of court in not being on time and so delaying its business.

A long line of excellent judges has succeeded these two strong men and the bench of this district has always ranked as among the strongest in Iowa. A list of these judges, with the number of the district Clinton county was then in, is as follows:

1840 to 1847, Thomas S. Wilson, Dubuque, 3rd; 1847 to 1852, James Grant, Davenport, 2nd; 1852 to 1853, Thomas S. Wilson, Dubuque, 8th; 1853 to 1854, Wm. E. Leffingwell, Lyons, 8th; 1854 to 1854, I. B. Boothe, Bellevue, 8th; 1854 to 1857, Wm. H. Tuthill, Tipton, 8th; 1857 to 1858, A. H. Bennett, Tipton or Davenport, 14th; 1858 to 1863, John F. Dillon, Davenport, 7th; 1863 to 1874, J. Scott Richman, Muscatine, 7th; 1874 to 1875, William F. Brannan, Muscatine, 7th; 1875 to 1886, Walter I. Hayes, Clinton, 7th; *1887 to 1887, John N. Rogers, Davenport, 7th; 1887 to 1888, A. J. Leffingwell, Lyons, 7th; 1887 to 1903, W. F. Brannan, Muscatine, 7th; *1887 to 1898, C. M. Waterman, Davenport, 7th; 1888 to 1892, Andrew Howatt, Clinton, 7th; *1892 to 1904, P. B. Wolfe, Clinton, 7th; *1892, Allan J. House, Maquoketa, 7th; *1898, James W. Bollinger, Davenport, 7th; 1903, D. V. Jackson, Muscatine, 7th; *1904, Arthur P. Barker, Clinton, 7th.

*The Twenty-first general assembly, by an act taking effect January 1, 1887, abolished the circuit court and provided that the Seventh judicial district should have three judges. Judge Rogers, who was elected as one of these, died within the year, and Judge Waterman was appointed as his successor.

The Twenty-fourth general assembly provided for an additional judge for the Seventh district, and Judge House was appointed to that office. Judge Wolfe was appointed to succeed Judge Howatt who resigned, and Judge Bollinger to succeed Judge Waterman, who resigned to go upon the supreme bench. Judge Wolfe resigned to to into practice with his son, and Judge Barker was appointed his successor.

The Third judicial district was composed of Jackson, Scott, Dubuque, Clayton and Clinton. The Second of Muscatine, Scott, Cedar, Clinton, Jackson, Jones, Dubuque, Delaware and Clayton. The Eight of Muscatine, Scott, Cedar, Jones, Clinton and Jackson. The Fourteenth of Scott, Clinton, Jackson. The Seventh has always been the same as now, Jackson, Clinton, Scott and Muscatine.

When the Twelfth General Assembly in 1868 created the circuit court, Judge George B. Young was county judge. He was elected circuit judge, and held office until he resigned in 1872, to go into partnership with Walter I. Hayes. Under the act creating this court, Clinton county was placed in the Second circuit. Afterwards, in 1872, it was provided that there should be but one circuit judge in each judicial district, and still later, in 1878, this district was again subdivided into two circuits. The circuit judges who held court in Clinton county are as follows:

1869 to 1872, Geo. B. Young, Clinton; 1872 to 1881, Daniel W. Ellis, Lyons; 1881 to 1885, Charles W. Chase, Clinton; 1885 to 1887, A. J. Leffingwell, Lyons.

The county court was established in 1851. The first county judge for Clinton county was A. R. Cotton, who served from 1851 to 1853. He was succeeded by Edward Graham from 1853 to 1856; Daniel McNeil, 1856 to 1860; John C. Polley, 1860 to 1864; Pitkin C. Wright, 1864 to 1866, George B. Young, 1866 to 1868, when the court was abolished.


Source: Ebersole, E. Christian. (1907).The courts and legal profession of Iowa ..: Hon. Chester C. Cole, historian; Hon. E. C. Ebersole, editor ...Chicago, Ill.: H. C. Cooper, jr., & co..