History of Courts and Lawyers in Houston County, Minnesota
From: The History of Houston County, Minnesota
Edited by: Franklyn Curtis-Wedge.
H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co.
Winona, Minn. 1919


Alexander Ramsey, first territorial governor of Minnesota, arrived in St. Paul, May 27, 1849. June 1, of the same year, by proclamation, he declared the territory fully organized. June 11, he issued a second proclamation, dividing the territory into three temporary judicial districts.

The first Supreme Court of the territory, appointed by the president, consisted of Aaron Goodrich, chief justice, and David Cooper and Bradley M. Meeker, associate justices. Each of these Supreme Court judges was to sit as a district judge in one of the three judicial districts into which the territory had been divided.

Judge Cooper held the first court for the third district at Mendota, Aug. 27, 1849. Henry H. Sibley, afterward governor, was foreman of the grand jury. Judge Cooper, a gentleman of the old school, then but twenty eight years of age, delivered a most scholarly and finished charge, which for many years was quoted as an authority on the duties of jurors. He also delivered an address of a more personal nature to the lawyers assembled. No business was transacted by this court. It is said that of the members of the jury, only three could write their names, and that eleven could not even understand the English language. The court was held in a large stone warehouse belonging to the fur company.

Before further terms of the court were held, the first territorial legislature convened. On Oct. 27, 1849, the territory was divided into nine counties. Accordingly the judicial districts were arranged to conform to the new county divisions. Under the new arrangement the first district was made up of the counties of Washington, Wabasha and Itasca, these counties then embracing the eastern border of the territory. Judge Cooper was assigned to this district, and therefore continued as judge of the area now embracing Houston county.

Under this division, Judge Cooper held his second court at Stillwater, in February, 1850. At this court the first murder trial in the territory was held, a thirteen year old boy being sentenced to ninety days in the guardhouse at Ft. Snelling for shooting a companion, the charge being manslaughter.

March 5, 1853, Fillmore county was organized, including, generally speaking, practically the present counties of Winona, Olmsted, Fillmore and Houston. The newly created Fillmore county was assigned to Judge Cooper's district, but his term expired within a month of the time the county was created.

In the meantime, Aaron Goodrich had been succeeded as chief justice by Jerome Fuller, who served from November, 13, 1851, to December 16, 1852. Henry Z. Hayner, who served as chief justice from Dec. 16, 1852, to April 7, 1853, never presided at a term of the supreme court.

April 7, 1853, William H. Welch was appointed chief justice and Moses G. Sherburne and Andrew G. Chatfield, associate justice. Andrew G. Chatfield was assigned to the district south of the Minnesota and west of the Mississippi.

The judicial history of what is now Houston county has its beginning with May 28, 1853, when a list of grand and petit jurors for the June term of the District Court of Fillmore county (then including Houston county), was drawn at Winona in the presence of John lams, sheriff, and George M. Gere, a justice of the peace. These twenty four names were ordered entered for the grand jury: H. B. Stoll, James Toms, Myron Thorns, Nathan Brown, Willard B. Bunnell, H. Carroll, Henry C. Gere, George M. Gere, William T. Luard, George H. Sanborn, Harvey Hubbard, Isaac Hamilton, O. S. Holbrook, William B. Gere, S. A. Houck, S. A. Putnam, H. B. Waterman, E. B. Drew, O. M. Lord, T. K. Allen, Egbert Chapman, A. A. Gilbert, Robert Taylor and A. P. Hall.

Forty nine names, one more than required, were entered for the petit jury: Edwin B. Gere, John Evans, Erastus H. Murray, Edwin Hamilton, William H. Stevens, John C. Laird, Alex B. Smith, John Emerson, Erwin Johnson, John Burns, Frank Curtiss, George W. Clark, J. Scott Clark, Allen Gilmore, H. K. Thompson, Isaac W. Simonds, Jeremiah Tibbetts, Asa Pierce, Squire J. Bennett, H. J. Harrington, William F. Hewett, Henry Herrick,: Warren Rowell, James Kincaid, Esquire Isaac Day, A. T. Pentler, James Campbell, Edward Thompson, Peter Gorr, O. H. Houck, J. S. Denman, Charles Bannon, S. E. Cotton, Henry Stradling, William H. Cordell, Hiram Hull, John W. Bentley, D. Q. Burley, J. Nicklin, J. Wright, J. D. Follett, R. Thorp, Louis Krutzly, Henry W. Driver, C. R. Coryell, Alex. McClintock and the Messrs. Fortune, Fletcher and Webster, first names not given.

Both venires were issued to Sheriff Iams, June 11, 1853, and were returnable June 27, 1853.

The first session of the district court of Fillmore county (then including Houston county), assembled at the old Winona House, on Front street, in Winona, June 27, 1853, but as the judge was not present, an adjournment was taken until the next day, when a large party of men and women from St. Paul, including Judge Chatfield, and Attorneys L. A. Babcock and H. L. Moss, arrived by boat. June 28, the first court in Fillmore county (then including Houston county), was organized at Winona, with Andrew G. Chatfield on the bench. Andrew Cole was appointed district attorney. W. B. Gere was clerk. Little business was transacted.

Feb. 7, 1854, Fillmore county, of which Houston county was still a part, together with Goodhue, Washington, and Chicago, was constituted the first judicial district, and assigned to Chief Justice William H. Welch. Feb. 23, 1854, Houston county was created with its present boundaries. It remained in the first district until the organization of the state.

William H. Welch was born in Connecticut about 1812. He was graduated from Yale College, and later from the Yale Law School. In 1850, he settled in Minnesota, making his residence in St. Anthony. He was judge of probate in Ramsey county. He was chief justice of Minnesota from 1852 to 1858, and was thus judge of the district embracing Houston county until the state organization. Later he removed to Red Wing, where he died, Jan. 22, 1863. He held his first court in Houston county, Aug. 20, 1855, and his last, Sept. 18, 1857.

The first court in Houston county was held in Caledonia, Aug. 20, 1855. On the bench was William H. Welch, territorial chief justice, sitting as judge of the First Judicial District. The following grand jurors answered to the call: Thomas Conniff, Harvey Gillette, John Campbell, John Montgomery, Eliakim Laflin, Embreck Knudson, Edwin Stewart, Henry Burnett, Levi West, William F. Dunbar, Edwin Butterfield, James Merts, Burton Andrews, Ralph L. Young, Eli Baker and John J. Dunbar. This not being sufficient, there were called in addition, Samuel McPhail, Samuel Surface, Samuel Armstrong, Hugh Brown, Eugene Marshall and Henry Parmalee. Samuel McPhail was chosen foreman.

The petit jurors were: William James, Daniel Herring, Knud Knudson, Lawrence Lynch, Enoch C. Young, James Hiner, John S. Looney, John Trip, Anthony Huyck, Ole Amerson, Knud Johnson, Aaron S. Taylor, Gilbert Nelson, Thomas Dunbar, Peter Johnson, Jacob Webster; Charles W. Metcalf, David Lynn, John Brown, James J. Belden, S. R. Ball, Augustus Parmalee, M. B. Metcalf, William Oxford, Russell H. Thurber, William D. Gibbs, Charles Gsrnes, Nelson Olson, George Larson, and Hagan Narveson. Of these, Knud Knudson, Ole Amerson, Gilbert Nelson, George Larson, William James, John S. Looney, Knud Johnson, Nelson Oleson, Peter Johnson and Franklin Willard were excused. Bench warrants were issued in two cases of perjury for false statements made in entering lands, and in one case of selling liquor to Indians.

June 23, 1856, Michael Burke and Martin Rohan, both previously Irish subjects of the United Kingdom, were admitted to citizenship.

The session opening Sept. 14, 1857, with Judge Welch on the bench, was one of considerable importance. There was quite a large docket, a number of attorneys were present, and many aliens were admitted to citizenship. The attorneys present were: Morton S. Wilkinson, of St. Paul, William Dennison, of La Crosse, and Edwin Flint, also of La Crosse. On Sept. 15, John H. Smith, John J. Moreland and Wyman Trask were admitted as lawyers on motion of Morton S. Wilkinson; and Sept. 17, Samuel McPhail and W. H. Lapham were admitted as lawyers on motion of Morton S. Wilinson and Orville T. Gilman.

Citizenship was granted to the following: Sept. 14, 1857, Patrick Jennings and Robert McCormick of the United Kingdom; Theodore and Nicholas Fish of Holland, and Lewis Mohler of Hanover. Sept. 15, Philip Deemer, William Schwinden, and Mathias Schwinden of Prussia, and Michael Scanlon, Michael Ryan and Edward D. Kelly of the United Kingdom. Sept. 16, John Schwinden of Prussia, Peter Klels and John Waggoner of Holland, and Cornelius McLaughlin, Matthew McGinness, Michael Ginness and Patrick Ginness of the United Kingdom. Sept. 17, Ole Olson and Amund Asjbornsen of Norway and Sweden, and John Crotty, Jeremiah Cunningham, Simon Carroll, Daniel Sullivan, George Powlesland and William Powlesland of the United Kingdom. Sept. 18, James Kenney, Edward Caffrey and Daniel Hayes of the United Kingdom.

After the organization of the state, May 11, 1858, when Houston county was placed in the Third District, Thomas Wilson became judge of the district, taking office May 24, 1858, and serving until July 1, 1864. He held his first term of court in Houston county, Nov. 1, 1858, and his last May 17, 1864.

Thomas Wilson was born in Tyrone county, Ireland, May 16, 1827, and died at St. Paul, April 3, 1910. He came to the United States when twelve years old, and was graduated at Alleghany College in 1852. He was admitted to the bar at Meadville, Penn., in 1855. In the same year he came to Minnesota, settling in Winona. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1857, and, as previously mentioned, was judge of the Third Judicial District from 1858 to 1864. He was associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1864, and its chief justice from 1865 to 1869. In 1881, he was a representative in the legislature, a state senator from 1883 to 1885, and a representative in congress from 1887 to 1889. He removed to St. Paul in 1892, and until his death was general council of the C., St. P., M. & Omaha Railway Company.

He was succeeded as judge of the Third District by Lloyd Barber, who took office Sept. 12, 1864. Judge Barber held his first term of court in Houston county, Nov. 8, 1864, and his last Oct. 17, 1871.

Lloyd Barber was born at Bath, Steuben county, N. Y., Jan. 11, 1826. In 1846, he came west to Illinois, but soon returned to New York. In 1852, he visited St. Paul, Minn., but again returned to the East, where for six years he taught school and studied law. In 1857, he was admitted to the bar and practiced in Bath, N. Y. Coming west again in 1858, he located in Rochester, Minn. In 1862, he was appointed county attorney of Olmstead county, and on Sept. 12, 1864, he was appointed judge of the Third Judicial District, being elected to the same position in the fall. The district then consisted of Wabasha, Winona, Houston, Fillmore and Olmstead counties. Judge Barber retired from the bench Dec. 31, 1871. In 1874, he opened a law office in Winona, where he practiced for nearly 35 years. His death occurred May 8, 1915.

The next judge of the Third District was Chauncey N. Waterman, who took office Jan. 1, 1872, and served until Feb. 18, 1873.

Chauncey N. Waterman was born in Rome, N. Y., in 1823. He was graduated at Hamilton College, N. Y., in 1847. After taking a law course at Harvard University, he practiced with C. H. Berry at Corning, N. Y., and with him came to Winona, Minn., in 1855. The partnership continued until 1872, when. Mr. Waterman was elected judge of the Third Judicial District. Thirteen months later he died of pneumonia. Judge Waterman held his first term in Houston county, May 7, 1872, and his last Dec. 27, 1872.

On Jan. 1, 1873, Houston county was placed in the Tenth Judicial District. Sherman Page, who had been elected judge of the district at the fall election of 1872, held his first term in Caledonia, May 6, 1873.

Sherman Page, who was judge of the Tenth Judicial District from 1873 to 1880, was a native of Vermont. After coming west he lived for awhile in Lancaster, Wisconsin, but came to Mower county, Minnesota, from Decorah, Iowa, and took up his residence in Austin. He was a man of imposing presence, a shrewd, forcible and pleasant speaker, and a sarcastic and vigorous writer. He was also possessed of a remarkably well trained mind, but unfortunately was of an arrogant and self sufficient disposition, which could not fail to arouse antagonism, and create bitterness and turmoil. His career in Mower county from 1867 to 1881 is still referred to as "The Page Era," and was a period in which the county was divided into two hostile camps, that of his friends and that of his enemies, the latter forming the larger faction. His character as a private citizen was reflected in his conduct on the bench His enemies complained that he decided cases to suit his prejudice rather than on the principles of law and justice. In the fall of 1878, the lower house of the legislature prepared articles of impeachment against him, and he was put upon his trial in May, 1878, before the senate sitting as a court of impeachment. The charges consisted largely of "wrongful, malicious and oppressive conduct while judge." The prosecution lacked the requisite number of votes to convict him, and he was acquitted. After his impeachment he was again a candidate for election, but was defeated by Hon. John Q. Farmer. But the fight was not ended. Sometime thereafter he was shot at while reading in his home. Again the courts were occupied with Page matters. But the alleged assailant was acquitted and the Page influence waned. In 1882, Judge Page removed to California.

After Judge Page's impeachment, J. S. Pillsbury, on March 14, 1878, appointed temporarily to the bench of the Tenth District, Hascal R. Brill, of St. Paul, a judge of the Second District. Judge Brill was born in the Province of Quebec, Canada, Aug. 10, 1846, and came to Minnesota in 1859. He studied at Hamline University and at the University of Michigan. He settled at St. Paul and was admitted to the bar in 1869. In 1875, he was appointed judge of the court of Common Pleas. He was a judge of the Second District from 1876 to 1901. He held his first term in Houston county, May 7, 1878.

Judge Page, after his acquittal, resumed his seat on the bench and held court in Houston county, Oct. 15, 1878. He held his last term in October, 1879. His successors on the bench of the Tenth District were: John Q. Farmer, Jan. 10, 1880, to January, 1893; John Whytock, January, 1893, to Nov. 26, 1898; Nathan Kingsley, Nov. 26, 1898, to June 2, 1916; and Samuel D. Catherwood, June 12, 1916, to the present time.

John Quincy Farmer, who held his first term in Houston county, May 4, 1880, was born in Burke, Vt., Aug. 5, 1823. He was admitted to the bar in Ohio in 1851. In 1864, he came to Minnesota, settling in Spring valley. In 1866-68, he was representative in the legislature, being speaker of the house during the last two years. He was state senator in 1871-72, and judge of the Tenth Judicial District from 1880 to 1893. He died on a railway train in August, 1904. Judge Farmer was an admirable man, loved and admired by everybody. It has been said that he was not a student. He was. He was a student of human nature; he possessed good common sense; he had a good grasp of the law; he was well equipped by experience, precept and example to perform the work imposed upon him, and his decisions were generally sustained by the appellate courts.

John Whytock was born in New York in 1835. He studied law in his native state and was admitted to the bar in 1860. In the same, year he moved to La Crosse, Wis. In 1861, he enlisted in the army, and served three years and eight months, until the surrender of Lee, when he resigned with the rank of major. He thereafter moved to Little Rock, Ark., where he resided for ten years, during which time he held successively the offices of state attorney, United States attorney, and circuit judge. In 1876, he settled at Albert Lea, Minn., where he engaged in the practice of law. He held the office of county attorney of Freeborn county for two terms. In 1892, he was elected judge of the Tenth District. In November, 1898, while holding court at Preston, Fillmore county, he was taken ill and a few weeks later died at his home in Albert Lea. Judge Whytock was in every sense a fair minded judge, and well equipped for the position in a legal and intellectual sense, but owing to his imperfect hearing he always seemed to work at a disadvantage.

Nathan Kingsley was born at Sharon, Conn., Sept. 10, 1850. In 1858, his father moved west, settling on a farm in La Salle county, Illinois. In March, 1869, Mr. Kingsley came to Minnesota and worked on a farm until the following year, when he learned the miller's trade. He was admitted to the bar at Preston, Fillmore county, in November, 1876, and in February, 1877, began the practice of law at Rushford, that county. In December, 1878, he moved to Chatfield, Fillmore county, and opened an office there. At the November election, in 1880, he was elected county attorney of Fillmore county, and held the office four years. In April, 1887, he moved to Austin, in the same county. He was appointed judge of the Tenth District by Governor Clough to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Whytock, and assumed the duties of the office, Nov. 26, 1898. In 1900, he was elected district judge, and served until his resignation in 1916. He died soon afterward. Judge Kingsley was possessed of a keen and discriminating mind, a judicial temperament, and that degree of impartiality essential to the position and the making of an ideal judge. He served to the entire satisfaction of the bar and the people of the district, and was commended for his dilligence and prompt disposition of all cases and matters presented to him or coming before him for judicial action.

Samuel D. Catherwood was born in Freeborn county, Minn., Nov. 12, 1859. He was admitted to the bar in 1888, and immediately began the practice of law at Austin. He was county attorney of Mower county for three terms. He is an active member of the State and American Bar associations. On June 12, 1916, Judge Catherwood was appointed to succeed Judge Nathan Kingsley, who had resigned. He was elected judge of the Tenth District at the November election of 1916.

The attorneys practicing before the district court of Houston county from the organization of the court up to the close of the Civil War, were: Morton S. Wilkinson, Hokah; William Dennison, La Crosse; John J. Moreland, Brownsville; Edwin Flint, La Crosse; Wyman flask, Caledonia; John H. Smith, Brownsville; Orville T. Gilman, La Crescent; W. H. Lapham, La Crescent; Samuel McPhail, Caledonia; W. H. Tucker, La Crosse; Samuel Cole, Chatfield; John O. McNulty, Brownsville; M. G. Thompson, Browns. ville; S. S. Burton, La Crosse; E. Fox Cook, La Crosse; John J. Cole, La Crosse; Daniel S. Norton, Winona; George W. Padelford, Hokah; Frederick L. Seely, Brownsville; Hugh Cameron, La Crosse; Albert W. Bishop, La Crosse; Joseph W. Losey, La Crosse; G. W. Hill, Caledonia; A. S. Lindsey, Caledonia; Capt. E. H. Kennedy, Houston; George F. Potter, La Crescent; David L. Buell, Caledonia; Thomas H. Conniff, Caledonia; B. F. Montgomery, La Crosse; James S. Lyndes, La Crosse; W. S. Burroughs, La Crosse.

From the close of the Civil War until Centennial Year, the new names which appear among the lawyers practicing before the Houston county district court are those of: William H. Stogdill, La Crosse; M. Wheeler Sargeant, Winona; Gilbert I. Wetenhall, Brownsville; Richard A. Murray, Hokah and Rushford; Capt. W. H. Harries, Hokah and Caledonia; J. E. Atwater, Rushford; C. D. Ramsdell, Houston; George R. Willett, Decorah; William H. Yale, Winona; James O'Brien, Caledonia; George Gale, Jr., Galesville; William Mitchell, Winona; Angus Cameron, La Crosse; Richard Lester, Caledonia; P. J. Smalley, Caledonia; M. P. Wing, La Crosse; John R. Jones, Chatfield; Richard A. Jones, Rochester; Angus Cameron, La Crosse; William Gale, Winona; Thomas Wilson, Winona; T. J. Widvey, La Crosse; Guilbrand J. Lomen, Caledonia; E. N. Donaldson, Oliver Wheaton, Caledonia; C. S. Trask, Caledonia,

In the succeeding, years, the lawyers living in the county have been fewer in number, and have for the most part been located in Caledonia. Lawyers from neighboring counties have continued to practice here. Among the local lawyers of the past thirty years may be mentioned: W. R. Duxbury, Caledonia; W. G. Drowley, Caledonia; George E. Dyer, Caledonia; Aaron Brayton, La Crosse; Bert. Van Luven, Caledonia; Capt. S. B. McIntire, Houston.

The present bar of Houston county consists of F. A. Duxbury, L. L. Duxbury, O. K. Dahle, W. A. Deters, William E. Flynn, Charles A. Dorival and C. S. Trask, of Caledonia; J. C. Raymond, of La Crescent; and Dwight A. Buell, of Caledonia.

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