The experience of O'Brien county in the amount or aggregate quantity of litigation, and of the changes that have resulted as the county has grown older in years, has been much the same as many other rural and farming counties in Iowa. Its probate work has increased as the years have moved on. All other litigations have decreased. There are many reasons for this. The county was first settled by young and middle aged men, mainly by men under forty years of age. It followed, therefore, that the death rate per thousand people has increased each year thus far. This necessarily increases the probate work and all that class of court proceedings relating to wills, executors, trustees, administrators and guardians, and actions for the partition and sale of real estate and divisions of property among heirs and children. This large class of court proceedings very seldom calls for a jury and belongs to that division of litigation passed upon by the court, upon short hearings in large part. The rapid advance in price of land from ten to one hundred and fifty and more dollars per acre, within the short space of thirty years, on the other hand in settlements of estates and partitions has had the tendency to leave the families satisfied with court results, and has usually brought about adjustments with but a nominal number of contests. Indeed so far in the county this advance from year to year has been so rapid that, no matter what the questions involved, the heirs as a rule have received more than he or she expected, and satisfactory adjustment has been the rule rather than the exception. This, however, means only in the general tendency. Also, while the values have gone up, the rates of interest have gone down, and as a consequence the amounts in which loans could be placed on a forty, eighty or quarter section of land have increased in this thirty years from three dollars per acre until now, if needed, loans can actually be made from sixty dollars per acre to even seventy-five per acre. In these partitions of property among the second generation or now third, and occasionally fourth, generations from the original homesteader, these lands and loans that can be made enable these children and heirs to buy each other out in shares and handle matters in that way. The tendencies of all these situations have been
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to smooth out frictions and to end what
might otherwise be litigations. The
great prosperities of these later years have paid off hundreds of these mortgages and lessened the number of foreclosures of mortgages. It seemed a
curious fact that the court records show far more foreclosures in the earlier
days, when only five hundred dollars could be borrowed and when the poorer
settler was paying ten per cent interest, than now when he could, if he
wished, borrow ten thousand at five
Another prominent item has tended to the later lessening of litigation. During the period from 1873 to l885 the numbers of sales of land for taxes were, as compared to the last ten years, as twenty to one. Tax sales in the county are now a rarity. Tax deeds then were as ten to one now. No matter how careful the tax purchaser, his tax deed was under the ban of a natural prejudice. The courts were called upon to establish his rights. Those tax title questions have now been practically all solved out. Those litigations are past, though it took a goodly number of years and many go to sale, much less to a deed. Even the refuse or back town lots in the smallest towns are too valuable to lose out in a tax deed.
Another big question in the earlier days which contributed to the extent of litigation were the contests between the early homesteaders and squatters and railroads and between each other. This was especially notable in the long years of litigation over the overlapping lands. This subject has been exhaustively gone into in the chapter on Homesteads, Free Lands and Squatters, and we need not here repeat its details. When men are contesting for possession of land, it arouses far more frictions and determinations to fight than when simply partitioning out lands of large value, where cash is ready for the heir. When excited men are contending for the nine points of law or present possession and actually putting in their crops on top of each other it caused many litigations. Farming with threatening revolvers or writs of ejection increased the number of suits.
The period in the early day when every tract practically had to have a loan on it to carry the land and other debts, called on the technical Eastern loan company to investigate the title to each tract. Much of the early business was necessarily done loosely, land being cheap, and owners did not look after the loopholes. These Eastern loans and the looking into the titles to warrant making them, kept straightening out those titles, together with the suits necessary to make the records right. All this kept decreasing the number of questions, calling for trouble, between neighbors, purchasers or loan companies. That class of litigation is now largely out of the way.
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The collection of the many hundreds of private debts contracted in the early days increased the litigations and numbers of suits. The payment of most of those old matters has made the people independent and more contented. Besides the very fact that people have more to do with, and handle themselves and their properties, and that they plan in larger figures, make them better satisfied and contented. Contentment and a happy frame of mind ends much litigation.
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taxation commenced depended on the deeper questions of congressional land grants and other questions by the courts, and the questions when title commenced, so that taxation could he had, were all gone into. In the meantime also the county, by its treasurers, had in some of the years sold some of these lands for these disputed taxes and sundry tax deeds had been issued on same. But even this series of tax suits largely lingered around the one great parent suit in the supreme court of the United States of 1895 referred to, and the attendant federal litigation. In the main, and as a final result, the homesteader and squatter paid his back taxes after he secured patent and during the subsequent years, and those who secured title by virtue of being holders of the railroad contracts were held to pay taxes for many years further back, as they stood in the shoes of the railroads. The payment and collection of these large amounts of back taxes in such large sums in these later years between 1900 and 1910 replenished the treasuries in the sundry funds and much aided the county in solving out some of these serious financial straits caused by the old debt. This suit or series of suits involved approximately one hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars, which as collected was distributed among the various funds, state, county, town and school.
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tions involving the various features of the break lasted for years, involving, it was claimed, from one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand dollars. Many forms of litigation followed, all resulting in a series amounting to one of the large litigations of O'Brien county.
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different courts and covering so many years, though mainly tried in other jurisdictions, met with all sorts of results. They were on the court records of O'Brien county for more than ten years. This large number of suits held on our records for so many years were largely notorious as mere levers or clouds on titles to collect something, notorious in the negative and practically were never tried.
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unusually large and complex set of family connections, scattered everywhere, to such an extent as to become overwhelming. It was an action for partition and sale of lands. The heirs and children and brothers and sisters and grandchildren, in one hundred and twenty-two sets of families or divisions of people or groups to be dealt with, involving wills, and administrators, executors, guardians, minors and insane, scattered in a dozen states and in all manners of courts. To make things doubly sure, in addition to the immense court records, the parties finally sent a special agent to see all the parties and got quit claim deeds in each of these large list of families. It was a complete piece of work, however, and stood the test of scores of title examiners during the past twenty-five years.
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be seen that were the town to be confined in its landed
territory for taxation
purposes to that reasonable limit, only that the district could extend eastward
county, it could not secure enough funds to build and equip an
adequate school for such a prospective town. Happily the law of Iowa provided for
just such a contingency, as common sense would say it should.
The law seemed perfectly plain. But this did not appear to be plain to the Sioux county officials or people. They contested the right very energetically through all the courts, but the town of Sheldon finally won out and has ever since enjoyed sufficient territory on both sides of the line.
The county has had no feuds, no unconquerable plaintiffs or defendants, or at least very few, no clannish citizenship, or trouble causing uprisings that have lasted through the generations. The homestead and squatter litigations were the longest and most numerous, but even these litigations were normal and natural and grew out of real questions. The people of the county may be said to be satisfied with the local administrative justice, its courts and its litigation. Nineteen-twentieths of its people are engaged in some actual independent occupation, each individual acting for himself. The county has no bodies of people dependent on one factory or separate concern. The county never had a strike or its equivalent, for the reason that it never had any of the conditions for a strike. All this has kept its litigation healthy and natural.
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The claims for
damages against the county thus far have been minor in importance, and it has never had a judgment rendered against it as yet reaching
above a few hundred dollars. Indeed, in both damage and criminal suits its
expenses have been nominal, as compared with the fate of some other counties.
The people of the county have had considerable litigation in the federal courts, over the overlapping lands, as we have recited in that chapter. The fact that one or other of the parties in suits have been nonresidents of the state has transferred many cases from the district court at Primsrhar to the United States court at Sioux City. This has been especiallv true in many cases against the railroads, the roads showing that they were nonresidents, by reason of having been incorporated in another state, and that the amount involved entitled it to go there.
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pay into the court the sum of fifteen thousand dollars he was
adjudged to be holding back from the creditors, which item was appealed to
the United States court at Sioux
City and the ruling of the referee sustained.
Other items of like
import and size, and of various phases on the lines of
bankruptcy, have been before the court.
Referring again to general litigation in the county, the jury trials have run from three to five per term of court, or perhaps a dozen per year, occasionally fifteen to twenty, or about seven to eight hundred jury trials in the grand total of forty years.
So far in the history of the county during the forty years, and up to January 1, 1914, the suits and numbers of proceedings brought have numbered as follows: In the old circuit court, abolished in 1886. there were brought one thousand four hundred and fourteen cases, and transcripts to that court amounted to thirty-nine. In the district court to January 1, 1914, and which court has existed for the whole period of the county, there have been seven thousand nine hundred and sixty suits and proceedings, and one thousand nine hundred and eighty-six transcripts. In the probate branch of the district court during the whole period of the county there have been, up to January 1, 1914, one thousand one hundred and thirty-four estates, guardianships and kindred proceedings. In grand total of all proceedings there have been twelve thousand five hundred and thirty-three up to January 1, 1914.
Thus it can be seen that fully three-fourths of all actual material court work in the county is done by the judges. Of all that large number of suits and causes of action in the county only about seven to eight hundred have been tried by a jury. No single case in open court in the county has ever exceeded about nine days in actual trial. It may be truly said, therefore, that the county has never been seriously cursed with any Harry K. Thaw, Jarndice vs. Jarndice, or McNamara trials, as in other places.
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attempted details and perhaps have not recited all or even the most important
litigations. Among all these thousands of proceedings, as can be seen, it
would-be difficult to
give a brief review in the space allotted in this article; it
would need a book to enter into even a considerable number. We
have, however, given enough to show the general outline of the litigation in O'Brien
The justices' courts of the county are much the same as found in other counties in the state. This, however, is the people's court, with jurisdiction up to one hundred dollars, and by consent of parties up to three hundred dollars. It comes in touch in each neighborhood with the citizens in the several townships. As will be seen from figures above given, there have been in all two thousand and twenty-five transcripts filed in the district court. A large number, perhaps a full half, have been transcripts or appeals from the justices' courts of the county, the remaining transcripts being transcripts of judgments and proceedings from the courts of record in other counties. The above numbers, however, would only be a small part of the actual trials and judgments rendered in those courts, a large majority of whose trials and hearings become final.