1878 Courts

Although the early settlers were peaceable, neighborly and law-abiding, yet sessions of the Circuit Court were necessary to be held. At the first and second sessions, however, the grand jury found no violation of law coming under their province. Of course the usual preliminary business was attended to. For a more minute sketch of the first sessions of court held in the county we refer our readers again to Chapter II. The following incident illustrates the habits of the people and the hardships of the legal gentlemen during those times:
Judge Richard M. Young and State’s Attorney Thomas Ford traveled together throughout their judicial circuit, which included all the northern portion of the State. On a trip (which was about the first) from Galena to Knoxville, they wandered from the main trail, and soon became lost. On they traveled, yet they failed to reach their destination. Night came on, finding them in a wild country without food or shelter. They concluded they might as well become resigned to their situation, and accordingly lay down upon the grass-carpeted earth in the wild forest and passed the night. On the following morning, they pursued their journey, yet again failed to come to the little log court-house in the newly laid out town of Knoxville. They kept on and finally brought up at Mrs. Elizabeth Owen’s cabin in Haw Creek township. From there they were directed to the right road for Knoxville. But let us go with the two gentlemen still farther. Although both possessed giant minds, yet the difference of their stature was very great, and when seen together approached almost the ludicrous. Judge Young was an extraordinarily tall and slimly built man, while Governor Ford was uncommonly small. While holding court at Knoxville, they put up with Landlord Newman, who kept a store and hotel in his two-roomed log house that stood on the west side of the square of that city. Besides the room (to the rear of the store-room) in which the family lived and which was dining-room, kitchen, sleeping-room, parlor, etc., there was a small loft above, the ceiling of which was very low, and the sides extending but two logs above the ceiling of the main story. There were no pretensions of this loft being furnished, save a pallet made on rough-hewed boards. This apartment was reached by a ladder which stood in one corner of the store-room. The two statesmen were assigned the loft as their sleeping-room. At night they ascended the ladder, and groping around finally deposited their forms on their rude couch for a night’s rest. Yes, these great men, one of whom afterward served with distinction in the United States Senate, and the other filled the Gubernatorial chair of a great State, once had no better accommodation than those described above, which are not at all overdrawn.
A landlord from the East, who came to keep the hotel in Knoxville, being accustomed to see judges robed in their judicial gowns, with attendants and considerable pomp manifested, made great preparations on the arrival of Judge Ralston to hold court. He had not seen the Judge, and of course did not know him. Noon arrived, and the landlord had dinner spread and waiting for the arrival of his distinguished guest. He patiently watched and waited for him, supposing he would come attended by the sheriff and bailiff. So engaged was he in watching that he did not notice a common, every-day sort of a man pass in by him and take his seat at the table without even so much as removing his hat. This individual was none other than the eminent Judge. After much delay the landlord made some inquiries of the gentlemen seated at the table, respecting the arrival of the Judge, and great was his amazement when the same gentleman informed him that he was the Judge himself. Even though such great and extra preparations had been made for the reception of the honored Judge, he had about finished the sumptuous dinner spread for him before the landlord knew who he was; and he was not long in learning afterward that Western jurists make no unnecessary display in matters of dress and manners, but indeed were as other men.
To convey to Springfield the money collected for State taxes, was one of the most risky and dangerous duties the earliest treasurers of the county had to perform. There was one treasurer especially troubled over taking this annual trip to the State capital. He greatly feared being robbed on the way, and therefore contrived an ingenious plan to secrete the money. He had a large, heavy pair of boots made. They were much larger than he usually wore, and in the soles of these he secreted the money, where he thought the unsuspecting highwayman would never think of looking. He took the stage-coach in company with a prominent official and proceeded to Springfield. During this journey and during all of this time the Knox county Treasurer never once rested his feet by pulling off his boots. In fording a swollen stream he was greatly frightened, as the water came high up into the coach. To prevent his boots from getting wet, and consequently the money, he held his feet above his head, and even in this position he felt sure the water was running up his boots, to the great amusement of his fellow passengers, who could see more fun than danger in the dampening of his cow-hide. The money however was in no wise damaged, as the water, like “snakes in boots,” was merely imaginary, and he arrived safely in Springfield with his treasure, after so perilous a journey by water and by land.

Contributed by Pat White and Charlotte Babicki, extracted from the 1878 History of Knox County, Illinois, published by Charles C. Chapman & Co., Chicago, pages 125-127.

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