The Leon Journal-Reporter
Leon, Decatur County, Iowa
Thursday, July 14, 1938, Page 5


By Idavee Crouse
Evolution of the courts provides an interesting page in Decatur county history.

The roster of the Decatur county bar through the last century is marked by brilliant members who have risen to high places in the state and nation.

"Court's in Session"

Back in the lively old days of the horse and buggy and the familiar hitching post, "Court's in session" was an expression which meant excitement and entertainment to the grizzled pioneers. A political campaign or a term of court during the stagecoach days were looked forward to with much eagerness and anticipation as a mixture of entertainment, love of justice and fun. Consequently, these were accorded first place in the calendar as sources of amusement.

Cabin of Logs

How and where the first court was held in Decatur county may be a matter of dispute among historians. But it was not long after the logs of the first home were erected that law came to Decatur county. Justice was administered to pioneers in pioneer fashion. The first courthouse was a cabin of logs. A crude bench faced those who sought justice.

The bar of those days was composed chiefly of bright young men from the farm or the lowly walks of life, who supplemented their native wit and their ambition with a little schooling followed by a rough and tumble experience in the civil war, and a year or two of reading law in an older lawyer's office. Usually the lawyer would assist the young man to pass the examinations then required for admission to the bar. Some of the would-be lawyers who were fortunate in saving a little money from their salary of $13 a month as a soldier, would attend the state university for a year of law.

The starvation period of ten years followed. Usually the new attorney would ask some girl to share this with him. And the pioneer girls of strong courage were brave enough to face this adventure with the man of her choice.

A True Case

An amusing court experience of yesteryear was recently related to me by an "old-timer." The landlord of a hotel next door to the courthouse sued a boarder for back pay. The landlord had several pretty daughters. The oldest was especially interested in the case. She watched and listened to the proceedings from a side veranda of the hotel, about thirty feet distant from the courthouse. She displayed to the jury her approval or dislike of the proceedings in a rather disturbing way to the defense counsel.

The opposing counsel was a young man who boarded at the hotel and was rather attentive to the young lady. He later became more attracted to the younger sister, whom he married.

As the trial proceeded the defense counsel became more and more apprehensive and less and less cautious as to use of weapons. The influence of the pretty girl on the veranda became overmastering to some of the men of the jury, who glanced out the window more often than at the lawyer pleading the case. Finally the lawyer, remembering the axiom that "When a case looks desperate the best remedy is to laugh it off stage," proceeded to apply it as follows, "Gentlemen of the jury. I am sorry for my opponent. He realizes he has no case but he knows he must win it, right or wrong for before he took it, the father of his fiancée said to him, 'Son, if you win you can have my youngest daughter, but if you lose you will have to marry my oldest girl'."

Audacious, outrageous, yes; but it raised a laugh that has reverberated down the years for three-quarters of a century and it won the case.

As the Years Pass

The fireproof brick courthouse (picture above) here stands as a living memorial in the first chapter of Decatur county court and the judicial system established. Pages of Decatur county history are filled with the progressive spirit of the pioneers who settled this county and courageously overcame hardships to clear a glorious path cut of a vast prairie for the development of this great country.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, April of 2015
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