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Rush County, Indiana
Genealogy and History

a small part of the INGENWEB and USGENWEB Projects


History of Rush County, Indiana : from the earliest time to the present, with biographical sketches, notes, etc., together with a short history of the Northwest, the Indiana Territory, and the state of Indiana.
Authors: Thomas J Newkirk; J B Blount; John Arnold; John L Shauck
City of Publication: Chicago
Publisher: Brant & Fuller
Date: 1888
Page Count: 873

Transcribed for the INGenWeb project by Mark S. Mount


In the year 1822, Rush County was part of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Indiana. This circuit was bounded on the south by Jeferson County, on the north by the State of Michigan, on the east by the State of Ohio, and extended westward about seventy-five miles. The country was new and thinly settled, there were no roads, travel was almost entirely by horseback, following the traces and blazes made by the pioneers in their early struggles with nature. The judiciary system was not unlike the country. It too, was in its infancy. The bench consisted of a President Judge, elected by the Legislature, and two Associate Judges. The associate Judges were generally farmers, who did not pretend to know any law, but they could over-rule the President Judge even on the most important questions of law, and could hold court in his absence. The President Judge traveled over the district on hore-back, and was generally accompanied by most of the prominent lawyers, as their business was co-extensive with the circuit. They carried their papers and law books in their saddle bags, and were always ready to transact legal business. The opening of a term of court always brought the people into town for miles around to hear the lawyers plead.

The organization of Rush Circuit Court, took place on April 4, 1822, at the house of Stephen Sims, just south of the City of Rushville. William W. Wick, President Judge, and North Parker and Elias Poston, Associate Judges, presented their certificates of appointment and were all sworn into office. Robert Thompson, as Clerk, and John Hays, as Sheriff, also presented their certificates of appointment and took the legal oath. A rudely constructed device capable of making some unintelligible impression on paper was presented by the Clerk, and adopted by the court as its seal. Court then adjourned to meet at 2 o'clock P.M., at the house of Jehu Perkins, about five miles southeast of Rushville; no reason is known why the court left the county seat to meet five miles away, the late George Sexton, said it was because Perkins kept a distillery there. Court met at the appointed time, and Hiram M. Curry was admitted to the Bar, and sworn as Prosecuting Attorney. The Sheriff brought in a Grand Jury, consisting of William Junkins, Jesse Perkins, Nate Perkins, Christian Clymer, John Walker, Powell Priest, Garrett Durlin, John Lower, Jacob Reed, John Hall, Richard Hackleman, Benjamin Sailors, and Peter H. Patterson. The Grand Jury was sworn and charged and reported no indictments, and were paid 75 cents each for their services. The court then adjourned, to meet next term, at the house of John Lower. At this first term of Court no business was transacted, the Rush Circuit Court in embryo had organized and lasted a single day. Of the Judges, Court Officers, and Grand Jury, of that term, not one is living, sixty-five years after the adjournment.

The October Term, 1822, convened on the fourth of that month at the house of John Lower, about three miles south, and a little west, of Rushville. Lower kept a tavern, and his place was known far and near. Judge Wick, failed to put in an appearance, and the Associate Judges convened the court. John Hays, the Sheriff, did not appear. His mind had become impaired, and while wandering about Hancock County he was arrested and put in the county jail, which he set on fire and perished in the flames. Richard Hackleman, the Coroner, empanelled a Grand Jury, of which Edward J. Swanson, afterward conspicuous in the criminal annals of the county, was foreman. At this term Martin A. Ray, Charles H. Test, Joseph A. Hopkins, James Noble, James Raridan, and Charles H. Veeder were admitted to the Bar. The first case in court was that of Thomas Colbert vs. Rachael Colbert, alias Rachael James, "on libel for divorce." James Noble appeared for plaintiff. The defendant was defaulted, notice of the pendency of the action having been given by publication in the Brookville Enquirer. The court fixed the tavern license at $10.00, and license was granted Jehu Perkins, and Richard Thornburgh. The Grand Jury, at this term returned several indictments, among them one against John Ray for hog marking. The defendant was acquitted on the ground that the offense was committed before the organization of the county. The court then adjourned to meet next term at the house of Robert Thompson, in Rushville.

The April Term, 1823, met on the 24th of that month, at Robert Thompson's house in Rushville, only the Associate Judges being present. Nathaniel W. Marks, having been appointed Sheriff, entered upon the discharge of his duties. Hiram M. Curry resigned as Prosecuting Attorney, and Charles H. Test was appointed to fill the vacancy. At this term of court, Aaron Anderson, a native of Ireland, renounced his allegiance to George Fourth and became the first person naturalized in Rush County. Oliver H. Smith was admitted to the Bar. Daniel Lawman was convicted for selling liquor without license, and fined $2 in each of two cases. The judges allowed Charles H. Test $10 for his service and the Judges allowed themselves $6 each for services.

The August Term, 1823, convened on the 14th day of that month with Miles C. Eggleston, President Judge, Parker, and Poston, Associates, and the same Clerk and Sheriff. The case of Israel Cox vs. James Greer, slander came on for trial. The slander consisted of Greer's having charged Cox with stealing his hogs. Charles H. Test appeared for plaintiff, and Oliver H. Smith for defendant. The trial took place in a log court house, and in the course of his argument, Smith said that the speaking of the words had not been shown by the evidence; at this, Greer, who was outside, run his head through the window and yelled out, "Don't lie Smith, I did say he stole my hogs, and I stick to it." Smith then told the court Greer had been drunk ever since the trial commenced, and asked that he be sent to jail until the trial was over. This was done and Smith gained the case.

The April Term, 1824, was uneventful; a number of State cases against Joseph Looney were disposed of; Joseph being worsted in all of them. James Greer came into court drunk, and was fined for contempt. Clerk Thompson and Sheriff Marks were each allowed $30 for one year's service.

The September Term, 1824, was held at the house of Robert Thompson, in Rushville. At this term of court the following order was made: "Ordered by the Court, now here, that the prison bounds for the County of Rush shall be the limits of the town play of Rushville, as recorded in the Recorder's office of the County of Rush." This prison limit was made for the prisoner for debt.

The April Term, 1825, was held at the house of Christian Clymer. Hon. Bethuel F. Morris entered upon his duties as President Judge. Rue Pugh was appointed Master in Chancery. Isaac Arnold, a native of "Isle of Wright, Old England." Made his application and was naturalized.

At the September Term, 1825, John Gregg succeeded North Parker, as one of the Associate Judges. Calvin Fletcher, Esq. Presented his commission and was sworn in as Prosecuting Attorney. Calvin Fletcher, Esquire present his commission and was sworn in as Prosecuting attorney.

At the April Term, 1826, William S. Bussell entered upon the discharge of the duties of his office as Sheriff, and Calvin Fletcher as Prosecuting Attorney. At this term James Divers was tried and convicted of larceny, and given one year in the penitentiary. The business of this term was about all criminals, the defendants being in most cases charges with assault and battery and betting, and were generally found guilty.

The October Term, 1826, was held in the courthouse, in Rushville. James Mitchell presented his commission and was sworn in as Prosecuting Attorney. Sampson Cassady was one of the Grand Jurors. He is now (November 1887) the only man living who served on a Grand Jury at so early a date. William Klumm, and Charles H. Veeder, were indicted, tried and found guilty of an affray. They appealed the case to the Supreme Court where it was reversed. (1st Black. 377). This was the first case appealed to the Supreme Court from Rush County.

At the April Term, 1827, James Whitcomb presented his commission and was sworn in as Prosecuting Attorney. The business of this term as heretofore was mostly criminal. The slander suit of Frances Clark vs. George Taylor was tried and verdict rendered for $50 against defendant.

The Young Murder Trial. The October Term, 1827, convened with Judge Bethuel F. Morris as President Judge, and John Gregg and Elias Poston, Associates. It was at this term that the first murder trial in Rush County took place. Alexander Young had been indicted for the murder of John Points A jury consisting of Robert Groves, Benjamin Heady, Nicholas Barton, Asa Beck, John W. Barbour, Richard Thornbury, Landy Hurst, William Kitchen, George Conrad, John Iler, John Ferris, and Josiah Lee, was empanelled, and the trial prosecuted. The prosecution was conducted by Hon. Oliver H. Smith, and James Whitcomb. The defense was by Charles H. Test, James Raridan, and James T. Brown. The facts in the case were very unfortunate. Young was a thrifty, well to do farmer, and had a beautiful daughter about seventeen years old. Points was a young man of respectability, the son of a neighboring farmer. He was much attracted to Miss Young, but her father would not consent to their marriage, and elopement followed. Young pursued the fleeing couple and by running across the corner of the woods got ahead of them. He concealed himself behind a tree, and when the couple, who were both riding the same horse, came up, Young fired upon them with his rifle. The ball grazed the head of Miss Young, and entered that of Points who died two hours later. From the time the fatal shot was fired Young was completely overcome with sorrow, and expressed such evidence of grief that he enlisted public sympathy in his favor. His defense was so ably conducted that he was only found guilty of manslaughter and received the minimum sentence of the law, one year in the penitentiary. Thus justice had been tempered by mercy. The Governor soon pardoned Young. He returned to his home broken and ruined in fortune and hopes, and it is said he never smiled after he fired the shot. The daughter afterward married, but the strain of her awful experience preyed upon her until her mind became wrecked. For thirty years before her death she was a raving maniac, oblivious to all things, but the memory of June 4, 1827.

The April and october Terms, 1828, were of no importance in any way of business transaction.

The Swanson Case. - At the April Term 1829, Edward J. Swanson was indicted and tried for the murder of Elishi Clark. The prosecution was conducted by William W. Wick, and James Whitcomb, and the defense by Charles H. Test. The indictment embodied the essentials of the common law. It was drawn by James Whitcomb, and from it the crushing prosecution escape was hopeless. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, which stands alone in the severity of punishment in the judicial history of the county. The defendants filed a motion for a new trial, assigning as one of the reasons that the Judge had charged the jury "that they were the judges of the facts and the court of the judge of the law." The Judge, Hon. B. F. Morris, over ruled all the motions and sentenced Swanson to be hanged on the following May 11, one month after the trial. Swanson disheartened, yielded to the inevitable and refused to appeal his case to the Supreme Court where there is scarcely any doubt that it would have been reversed. The execution occurred at the time fixed, and Swanson was the only man who ever paid the extreme penalty of the law in Rush County by an ignominious death upon scaffold.

At the October Term, 1829, Hugh Monroe was tried for murder. James Whitcomb, Prosecutor; Charles H. Test and James Raridan, James T. Brown and Oliver H. Smith defended. Monroe and deceased had been on bad terms for some time, and while at a shooting match, deceased while fixing a target was shot and instantly killed by Monroe, who was found guilty and sent to the penitentiary for sixteen years, but was afterward pardoned by the Governor. It was at this term of court that John Gregg, and Montgomery McCall took their seats as Associate Judges.

At the March Term, 1830, Charles H. Test came upon the bench as President Judge. James Perry was prosecutor. Business was very dull at this term. James Tyler was fined for contempt for coming into court intoxicated and talking loud.

September Term, 1830, Alfred Posey having been elected Sheriff, assumes control of the affairs of that office. At this term Judge Test made an examination of the records and gave the Clerk a sound lecturing on account of erasures and interlineations.

March and September Terms, 1831, were entirely taken upwith little State cases. March Term, 1832, William J. Brown. Prosecutor. The following order was entered at this term. "James Raridan, Esq, fined $1 for standing up before the fire, in contempt of court" The fine was remitted next day. The courthouse took fire March 22, and created a commotion in court. John F. Irvin and Avanant T. Lewis ventured on the roof and extinguished the flames, receiving therefore the thanks of the court for this brave act. The Grand Jury examined the jail and reported, "It was in a sad state of decay, for several of the logs are much rotted and the door has no lock."

This concludes a brief history of the Rush Circuit Court for the first ten years of its existence; all the proceedings of that period are recorded on 239 pages of Order Book, while for the last ten years, 5,277 pages of the same kind of record have been required. This indicates the marvelous growth of the business transaction.

The most important civil case ever-tried in Rush Circuit Court was that to contest the will of John Megee. The plaintiffs were represented by Daniel W. Voorhees, Benjamin F. Claypool and William A. Cullen, the defendants by Thomas A. Hendricks, Leonidas Sexton, Oscar B. Hord, and Abram W. Hendricks. The charges of Judge Jeremiah M. Wilson were excepted to and appealed from. The judgment of the Supreme Court include the entire charges of Judge Wilson, and complimented that distinguished jurist in the following language. "We have given these instructions, repeated, and careful and thorough examination, and we fully indorse them, in all respects fully applicable and warranted by the evidence in and circumstances of the case. They show great learning, research and care;" these charges are quoted in the courts of ever State int he Union. Judge W(i)lson is now a distinguished lawyer in Washington City.

The Common Pleas Court was established in 1853. It had jurisdiction of probate matters, and of all offenses less than felonies, except what Justices of the Peace had exclusive jurisdiction of. It had concurrent jurisdiction with the Circuit Court in most matters, and at first appeals could be taken from it, to the Circuit Court. This was afterward abolished and appeals were taken direct to the Supreme Court. The Common Pleas Court was abolished in 1872, and wound up its business in January, 1873. In Rush County a large amount of the business was transacted in this court. the Clerk and Sheriff of the Circuit Court were the officers of the Common Pleas Court.