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Fayette County, Iowa
Past and Present of Fayette County Iowa, 1910
Author: G. Blessin
B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana
Vol. I, Biographical Sketches
George Howard Phillips
Distinguished as a lawyer and public spirited citizen, the name of George Howard Phillips has long been closely interwoven with the history and development of Fayette county and it is with much satisfaction that the following brief outline of his career and modest tribute to his worth are accorded a place in this volume.
Mr. Phillips was born April 28, 1845, at Whitewater, Wisconsin, where his parents, George W. and Olive Lamyra (Jons) Phillips, natives respectively of Pennsylvania and Illinois, settled in an early day. The father, whose birth occurred in 1810 and who departed this life at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, October 2, 1888, was a blacksmith by trade and a most excellent and praiseworthy citizen; the mother, whose early life was spent in Lake county, Illinois, died at Lemo Center, Rock county, Wisconsin, in the year 1861. Through force of adverse circumstances, George H. Phillips was early thrown upon his own resources and from the tender age of nine years has made his own way in the world. For some time the procuring of life's barest necessities was a matter for serious concern to him and as a result his educational advantages were exceedingly limited. By making the most of his opportunities, however, he obtained a fair knowledge of the elementary branches, but, possessing a strong mind and an ardent desire for knowledge, he subsequently made up for the lack of school privileges and in due time became a widely and unusually well informed young man.
At the breaking out of the late Civil war, Mr. Phillips was a lad of sixteen, but, animated by patriotic devotion to his county, he was among the first in his county to tender his services to the Union. In April, 1861, he enlisted in a company intended for the first call for three-months service, but the quota of the state being already full it was not accepted, much to the regret and disappointment of the members. The following year Mr. Phillips again enlisted and was assigned to the Thirteenth Wisconsin Infantry, but, his father refusing his consent, the boy being under age, he was discharged.
In the fall of 1862 he engaged with a party to drive a block of sheep from White Water, Wisconsin, to southwestern Minnesota and on reaching the latter state narrowly escaped death at the hands of the hostile Crow and Sioux Indians, who were then on the warpath in that region. With his companions, he succeeded in reaching New Ulm, shortly after the massacre at that place, the terrible effects of which could still be seen in the mutilated victims of the bloodthirsty savages. At one time the little party found themselves within a few miles of an encampment of several hundred hostiles, but fortune appears to have favored them as they escaped without their whereabouts being discovered. The danger of proceeding farther became apparent, and the sheep were finally left to the care of local parties and the drovers, thankful to escape with their lives, returned to their homes in Wisconsin.
In 1864, Mr. Phillips made a third and successful attempt to enter the military service, joining, on June 2d of that year, Company C, Fortieth Wisconsin Infantry, with which he shared the fortunes and vicissitudes of war until the expiration of his period of enlistment. He was at Memphis when the Confederate General Forrest raided that city, and passed through many trying experiences while at the front and retired from the army with a record for brave and gallant conduct of which he feels deservedly proud.
On receiving his discharge Mr. Phillips located at Decorah, Iowa, where he learned the barber's trade, going thence in the fall of 1864 to West Union, where for several years he was similarly engaged. From the latter place he went to Belle Plain and in 1872 to Denver, Colorado, where he remained for some time, when he returned to Iowa, locating again at West Union, but removing thence after a short time to Strawberry Point. Disposing of his interests in that town, he afterwards lived for a while at Manchester and in May, 1874, took up his permanent residence at Oelwein, with the subsequent history of which he has since been actively and prominently identified.
For some years after locating at Oelwein Mr. Phillips operated a barber shop and in the meantime made a number of judicious investments in r5eal estate, which returned him handsome profits. Possessing fine business ability, he continued his operations in real estate and it was not long until he accumulated considerable property and became one of the leading men of the city. In early life he manifested an ardent desire to study law, but circumstances prevented him at that time from carrying out his intention. After coming to Oelwein he read such law books as he could procure and in due time took up the study in earnest under the direction of A.C. Parker, a young attorney of exceptional ability, whose instruction was of great value and whose deep interest in his progress proved an additional stimulus. After being well grounded in the principles of jurisprudence and more or less familiar with the usual methods practiced, Mr. Phillips began to devote considerable attention to the profession and in the course of a few months had all the business he could attend to in the justice courts. He continued this kind of practice with marked success from 1875 to 1880, when he was formally admitted to the bar in the district court at West Union and for some years was actively identified with the legal profession, having a large clientele, including many of the wealthy and substantial men of the county, and occupied a conspicuous place among the leading men of his calling in the city of his residence, but now devotes his time in looking after his extensive business interests.
Not long after beginning the practice of his profession Mr. Phillips was elected city attorney of Oelwein and as such served for a period of nine years, during which time he was untiring in behalf of the interests of the municipality and made every other consideration subordinate to his official duties.
Since retiring from the above position he has given his entire time and attention to his legal business and other interests, all of which are extensive and far-reaching, making him not only a very busy man but a very successful one also.
A well balanced mind, sound, practical intelligence and mature judgment are among Mr. Phillips' more prominent characteristics, to which may also be added the ability to foresee with remarkable clearness the future outcome of present plans and the tact to create opportunities where they do not already exist. His career, which presents a series of continuous advancements, has been successful far above the ordinary and he is now without doubt one of the wealthiest men in Fayette county, as he has been for a number of years the heaviest taxpayer. He has contributed much if not more than any other to the material growth and prosperity of Oelwein and not a little of his capital has been invested with these ends in view. In addition to a number of other buildings, he erected some years ago a very creditable opera house which, after considerable service, was converted into a residence; he then purchased a valuable church property near the Rock Island depot, where he built a much larger and better planned opera house, which is modern and fully up-to-date and more in keeping with the city's dignity and growth. Mr. Phillips' wealth is nearly all within the city of Oelwein, consisting of business blocks, public buildings, private dwellings and town lots, from which he receives no inconsiderable part of the income which he is constantly adding to his already large and ample fortune.
From what has already been said concerning Mr. Phillips' professional career it is easily seen that he stands high among the leading members of the Fayette county bar, a remarkable fact, considering his having commenced life poor and friendless and advanced to his present proud position from the humble though honorable vocation of a barber. He has practiced his profession from time to time with a number of leading lawyers, with whom he was associated as a partner, including A.C. Parker, now of Des Moines, with whom he was associated for two years, Capt. H.W. Holman and others. Among those who studied under his direction and owe their success to him the most prominent perhaps is Hon. Lewis Baker, now an eminent member of the Colorado bar, but formerly of Edgewood, Delaware county.
In politics Mr. Phillips is a Republican, but on account of the prohibition movement and the proposed amendments to the constitution, he voted for Hon. Horace Boies when that distinguished gentleman ran for governor. He is an active and influential member of the Masonic fraternity, belonging to Lodge No. 374, at Oelwein, and is also identified with Griffin Post No. 134, Grand Army of the Republic, of this city. He took a leading part in the organizing of the first lodge of the order of Modern Woodmen in Fayette county and was a charter member of the same and one of the first officers; his name also appears on the records of the Benevolent and Protective order of Elks at Oelwein, in which, as in the other fraternal societies with which connected, he wields a potent influence and from time to time has been honored with important official positions.
Mr. Phillips' domestic life dates from January 7, 1874, at which time he was united in marriage at Strawberry Point with Ellen Johnson, daughter of Alexander Johnson, of Fayette county. The union has been blessed with two children, a daughter, Lena Blanche, and a son who answers to the name of Ray B. Phillips. In closing this brief sketch of one of Fayette county's eminent lawyers and distinguished citizens, the following from the pen of another appears peculiarly appropriate:
"It is Mr. Phillips' nature to do nothing by halves;
he is and always has been intensely earnest in all he undertakes.
Possessed of superior business ability, energy and perseverance, he has
been successful in his various enterprises and acquired a large and
valuable property. His success in life is more to his credit for the
reason that it has been won by his own unaided efforts. He has a natural
aptitude for business and displays more than usual sagacity in his
investments and enterprises. As a lawyer he is conservative in his
advice, sound in his conclusions, prompt in the discharge of
professional duty and always reliable. As a collector, he succeeds in
seemingly hopeless cases. His integrity, energy and promptness have won
for him the confidence and respect of a wide circle of acquaintances and
it goes without the saying the prominent place he occupies in the esteem
of the public has been faithfully and honorably earned.
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