Early Bar of Washington County, Arkansas

The bar of Fayetteville has always been one of eminent ability, and has numbered among its members some of the most brilliant legal lights in the State. One of the first lawyers to locate here was Judge David Walker, who came to Arkansas in 1830, and, after standing an examination by Judges Cross and Johnson, was admitted to the bar, and located in Fayetteville. He was born in what is now Todd County, Ky., in 1806, and had but meager opportunities for securing an education. He, however, had an indomitable will, that enabled him to rise above adverse circumstances, and he soon became a leader in the profession which he chose. In September, 1833, he was elected prosecuting attorney, and at the expiration of his term was reelected. He was chosen a member of the convention which framed the first State constitution, and took an important part in the deliberations of that body. In 1836 he was a presidential elector for Hugh L. White, and in 1840 was elected to the State Senate. He was a strong supporter of the Whig party, and in 1844 made a canvass for Congress against Archibald Yell, who was doubtless the only man that could have defeated him. In 1848 he was elected by a Democratic Legislature to a seat in the Supreme Court, where he served until 1855, when he resigned. In the campaign of 1860 he supported the Bell and Everett ticket, and in 1861 was elected to the Constitutional Convention, of which body he was chosen president. During the war he served in the military court of Price’s army, and in 1866 was elected chief justice of the Supreme Court. He continued in that position until ousted by the reconstruction acts. In 1874 he was again elected to the Supreme Court, from which he resigned in 1878. He died in 1879. He was a man of uncompromising integrity, indomitable energy and strong native ability, and he has had few equals in Arkansas, either as an advocate or as a jurist.

Soon after Judge Walker’s arrival in Fayetteville, Archibald Yell located in the suburbs of the town on a place now owned by Col. T. J. Hunt, which he called “Waxhaws.” Gov. Yell was born in North Carolina in 1797 of poor parentage, and received a limited education in his youth. In 1812 he volunteered in a Tennessee regiment, having previously removed to that State, and by his gallant service attracted the attention of Gen. Jackson, by whom he was attached to the company that constituted his life-guards. When the war was over Yell returned to Middle Tennessee, and after studying law engaged in the practice of his profession at Fayetteville, in Lincoln County. About 1833 Gen. Jackson, then President, appointed him a judge in the Territory of Arkansas. Upon the admission of Arkansas into the Union, he wished to be the first Governor, but it was discovered that he was ineligible, and he was elected to Congress. He was re-elected in 1838, and in 1840 was elected Governor. He continued in that office until 1844, when, at the request of the Democratic party, he resigned and entered upon a canvass for Congress. He was elected, and in 1846 was re-elected, but soon after resigned his seat, returned to Arkansas, organized a regiment for service in the Mexican War, and was killed at the battle of Buena Vista. His remains were returned to Arkansas, and buried with Masonic and military honors at Fayetteville. In 1872 his remains were removed by Washington Lodge from their first resting place, and deposited in Evergreen Cemetery. While Gov. Yell was not the equal, perhaps, of some other Arkansans in either native intellect or education, he possessed, in a remarkable degree, that indefinable quality called personal magnetism, and as a politician, in the best sense of that term, he was without a peer. Among the other early attorneys in Fayetteville were Stephen G. Sneed, W. McK. Ball, W. S. Oldham, L. D. Evans, R. T. Wheeler, Isaac Murphy, Jonas M. Tibbetts, A. W. Arrington, John B. Costa, Mathew Leeper, W. D. Reagan and A. M. Wilson. Stephen G. Sneed came to Arkansas from Missouri sometime about 1830, and subsequently removed to Austin, Tex., where he died in 1883. In 1831 he was elected prosecuting attorney of his circuit, and was a candidate for re-election, but was defeated. In 1844 he was elected judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, and remained upon the bench for four years. He was not highly educated, and had but a limited acquaintance with the text books of his profession, yet he was a very successful advocate, and a powerful adversary before a jury. He was a man of fine physique, was thoroughly versed in human nature, and during his residence here was one of the most conspicuous figures before the bar in North west Arkansas. Williamson S. Oldham was a native of Tennessee, who came to Arkansas in 1835. He had previously been admitted to the bar, and in 1837 was made attorney for the Fayetteville Branch of the State Bank. In 1838 he was elected to the Legislature, and six years later was again elected. In 1845 he was elected to a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court, but the duties of that office were distasteful to him, and he soon resigned. In 1846 he was a candidate for Congress, but was defeated by Robert W. Johnson, and soon after removed to Texas, which State he represented in the Confederate States Senate. William McK. Ball was one of the most popular lawyer politicians of Washington County during the “thirties.” It was a popular saying at that time, referring to politics, “As goes McK. Ball, so goes Washington County, and as goes Washington County, so goes Arkansas.” His influence secured for him the position of cashier of the Branch Bank at Fayetteville, and the failure of that institution cost him his prestige. He was accused of having appropriated some of the funds to his own use. He soon after removed to Texas. L. D. Evans came to Arkansas from Tennessee, and, after several years residence in Fayetteville, removed to Texas, where he became a judge of the supreme court. He was not a good speaker, but was a close student, and was a fairly successful lawyer. Physically he was a large, fine looking man, and possessed a strong intellect. R. T. Wheeler came to Fayetteville from Kentucky, but did not remain long. He married a sister of Judge David Walker, and removed to Texas, where he was elected a judge of the supreme court. He was a highly educated and polished gentleman, and a lawyer of fine ability. Jonas M. Tibbetts was a native of New Hampshire. He came to Fayetteville in the “thirties,” and remained until the beginning of the Civil War, when he returned to the North. In 1844 he was elected prosecuting attorney, and in 1850 became a member of the Legislature. Subsequently, as attorney for the State Bank, he accumulated a goodly fortune. Mathew Leeper came to Fayetteville from Tennessee, under an appointment by President Jackson, as receiver of the land office, and was never actively engaged in the practice of his profession. He was an ardent Democrat and a man of some influence in political circles. Soon after his arrival in Fayetteville he was challenged to a duel by Judge Jesse Turner, who considered himself insulted by some remarks of Leeper. The latter accepted the challenge, and chose Judge S. G. Sneed as his second, while B. H. Martin acted as second for Turner. The parties met at some point across the line in the Cherokee Nation, but when all was in readiness for the principals to take their position, Mr. Leeper made an apology and the duel was declared off, much to the disgust of the many Indians that had gathered to witness the affair. Mr. Leeper subsequently removed to Texas, where he is still living. Judge J. M. Hoge was born in Tennessee in 1806. In early youth he attracted the attention of Felix Grundy, and became a sort of protege of that distinguished gentleman. After graduating in the Nashville University, he studied law with Judge Grundy, and in 1827 was admitted to the bar. Soon after he came to Washington County, and for the first two years lived in a cabin on the farm of Rev. Andrew Buchanan, where he engaged in teaching school. He then removed to Fayetteville, and opened a law office. In 1836 he was elected a judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, and in 1840 was re-elected. Near the close of his second term he removed to Bentonville, and just before the opening of the Civil War he went to California, where he acted as correspondent for various newspapers. He died in Colorado in 1874. He was an able jurist, and wielded a facile pen, but he was not a ready debater. Isaac Murphy was a Tennesseean who came to Fayetteville about 1840, and subsequently removed to Huntsville, in Madison County. In 1856 he was elected to represent Madison and Benton Counties in the State Senate, and in 1861 was chosen a member of the constitutional convention, which passed the ordinance of secession. He was a Union man and voted against the ordinance and when the Federal Army secured control of the State in 1864, he was made governor, serving in that capacity for four years. He was a quiet, unobtrusive man, somewhat visionary in his ideas, but always throughly honest. Alfred W. Arrington was one of the most unique characters ever at the bar in Northwestern Arkansas. He came to the State some time in the “thirties” from Missouri, and for a time was a school teacher and Methodist circuit rider. He finally turned his attention to the law, and soon became noted for the brilliancy of his imagination and the success which attended his practice in the courts. He was of a poetic temperament and possessed much dramatic power, and as a reporter of remarkable trials he became even more celebrated. Among his most famous reports is the imaginative account of a trial in Conway County, in which Rev. John Taylor and an Indian maiden were the chief characters. In a collection of similar sketches, which were published in a pamphlet entitled “The Regulators of the South and Southwest,” he gave an account of the hanging of the supposed murderers of the Wright family at Cane Hill, which gave great offense to those engaged in the affair, and their friends. In 1842 he was elected to the Legislature on the Whig ticket, and soon after the expiration of his term he went to Texas; subsequently he removed to Chicago, where, after attaining a high reputation as a lawyer and orator, he died early in the “seventies.” He was very erratic in his manner of living, and lacked mental balance. He frequently indulged in fits of dissipation, and did many things to destroy the confidence of the public in him. John B. Costa was an Italian by birth. He studied law under Judge Sneed, and became his son-in-law. He went to Texas with him, and died there a few years later. Of those pioneer lawyers of Washington County, but two, W. D. Reagan and A. M. Wilson, are now living. The former has now retired from practice, but both for nearly half a century have been among the most able and honored members of the Fayetteville bar. Mr. Wilson came to the county in 1837, and almost before he considered himself a lawyer he was appointed prosecuting attorney of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, then embracing ten counties. He served in that capacity for four years, and subsequently he was appointed attorney to wind up the business of the Branch State Bank of Fayetteville. In 1848 he was elected to the Legislature, and in 1852 was appointed by President Pierce United States District Attorney for the western district of Arkansas. He was re-appointed in 1856, and completed a second term. He espoused the cause of the Southern Confederacy, after the efforts to secure a peaceable settlement of the difficulties had failed, and during the war his property was nearly all swept away. He has since held no official position except that of State Senator, but he has exercised a very considerable influence in the Democratic party of Arkansas, and was an important factor in delivering the State from the rule of the “carpet-baggers.” Wilbur D. Reagan came from Tennessee in 1830, and located in what is now Carroll County. He followed school teaching for two or three years, and then began the study of law under Judge S. G. Sneed. In 1835 he was admitted to the bar, and the next year was elected to the Legislature. In 1838 he removed to Fayetteville, and with the exception of some eight or ten years in Texas, has been a resident of that town. As a practitioner he was industrious and energetic, and highly successful. He was excessively aggressive, and was wont to rely for success upon sarcasm and invective, and his ability to browbeat witnesses and overawe juries, rather than upon a knowledge of the law and a skillful presentation of his case. Among the lawyers that began practice at Fayetteville, at a little later date than those mentioned above, were Gen. H. F. Thomason, Col. James P. Neal, P. V. Van Hoose, Hiram Davis, Senator J. D. Walker, Lafayette Gregg and J. R. Pettigrew. Out of this number only two, Senator Walker and Judge Gregg, are now members of the Fayetteville bar. Gen. Thomason came to Washington County with his father in 1829, and in 1846 began the study of law with W. D. Reagan. He was admitted to the bar in 1847, and in 1851 was elected prosecuting attorney, which office he filled for two terms. In 1856 he was a candidate for Congress upon the Know-nothing ticket, and in 1860 was a presidential elector on the Bell and Everett ticket. In 1857 he removed to Van Buren, and has since been identified with the interests of Crawford County. James P. Neal also came to Washington County in 1829. He was a stepson of Andrew Buchanan, and remained with him until 1840, when he removed to Fayetteville, and entered the clerk’s office. A year or two later he entered the office of W. D. Reagan, and began to prepare himself for the practice of law. In 1844 he was admitted to the bar, and remained at Fayetteville until 1854, with the exception of one year spent in fighting the Mexicans. In 1854 he removed to Texas, where he was engaged in the practice of his profession until about 1870. He has since resided upon the farm settled by his stepfather, where he founded the pleasant village of Prairie Grove. J. R. Pettigrew was a native Arkansan, having been born in Hempstead County in 1829. He was educated at Ozark Institute and Arkansas College, and about 1850 entered upon the study of law with Maj. Reagan. Two years later he was admitted to the bar and soon after formed a partnership with his preceptor, whose son-in-law he became. During the war he served in the Confederate Army, and in 1866 he was elected to the Legislature. In 1879 he was elected journal clerk of the United States Senate, and in 1882 President Arthur appointed him the Democratic member of the Utah commission, which position he held at his death in 1886. Col. Pettigrew possessed a good degree of natural ability, and in manner was modest and retiring, but pleasant and companionable. His connection with journalism is mentioned elsewhere. Hiram Davis was a native of Missouri. He came to Washin gton County in 1832 or 1833, and shortly afterward married and rem oved to Carroll County. Upon the election of B. H. Pierson to the office of clerk of Washington County, he returned and assisted him in the office. At the end of the term he became a law student under Judge David Walker, and subsequently was a partner with him. He was a thorough lawyer and a good counselor, but was not a fluent speaker. In 1874 he was elected county judge, and filled the office from that time until his death in 1879. P. P. Van Hoose, a brother of Mayor J. H. Van Hoose, was educated at Ozark Institute, in which he subsequently became a professor. He was a thorough scholar, and lawyer of high ability, but was cut off by death in the prime of life. The present bar of Fayetteville is composed of the following members: A. M. Wilson, J. D. Walker, Lafayette Gregg, T. M. Hunter, B. R. Davidson, J. W. Walker, J. V. Walker, C. W. Walker, William L. Gregg, R. J. Wilson, C. R. Buckner, S. H. West, I. M. Partridge, S. E. Marrs, E. B. Wall, George W. M. Reed, Jr., J. W. L. Stuckey, D. M. West and R. W. Carter. The present bar of Fayetteville is composed of the following members: A. M. Wilson, Lafayette Gregg, J. D. Walker, T. M. Gunter, B. R. Davidson, J. W. Walker, E. B. Wall, G. W. M. Reed, Jr., C. W. Walker, J. V. Walker, William L. Gregg, R. J. Wilson, J. W. L. Stuckey, S. H. West, C. R. Buckner, S. H. West, D. M. West, S. E. Marrs, I. M. Partridge and R. W. Carter.

Back to: Washington County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.


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