During the early period which our historical reminiscences extend, such a thing as a “Judiciary” or any necessity for law, was unheard of and unknown in the county.
No county was ever settled by a better set of boys, and none submitted to the hardships . of a new country one hundred miles from civilization with better grace, and with less complaint than those who first opened up Meeker County, and redeemed her soil from savage rule.
No law was required, the intelligence of the settler:, their quietness and industry, and the necessity which every man was under, to attend to his own business, left their thoughts free from law or necessity for law.
Like our Pilgrim fathers, when landing at Plymouth—they regarded the “Decalogue” as both “law and gospel,” from the first discovery of the prairie till the spring of 1858.
The first thing the settlers were considered good for, was to be “taxed”-Law soon followed, and Blackstone & Kent could be found at any man’s door, who was willing to pay for it, and it was a little remarkable that among the first cases tried, was one of “woman’s right’s,” and which has been already sufficiently described in chapter ten of this book.
From the spring of 1858, we were blessed with three courts-one presided over by Smith & Evans, under the supervision of Thomas A. Hendricks, then commissioner of the General Land Office, one known as the District Court, presided over by Hon. E. O. Hamlin of St. Cloud, and thirdly, the one of all others, presided over by Judge Atkinson as J. P.
Early in the summer of 1859 Col. Allen now of the Merchants Hotel, St. Paul not having much to do at that time, bethought him to make ,a business strike and came all the way from St. Anthony to Forest City to preempt a quarter section of tamarack swamp somewhere in back of St. Anthony.
The Col. was able to furnish first class proofs of settlement and improvements, consisting of a “half acre broke”-a dwelling house 12 feet square, one story high made of logs, with double board floor (i. e. one board with a hole bored through it). a double pitch roof (i.e. one board on top of the house, with some tar rubbed on it) one door, (i. e. a place where you could crawl out or in) and one window with glass in it, (i. e. a hole between the logs and a broken junc-bottle placed therein.)
The proofs were excellent, but just here the witness seemed to be tender-toed about swearing to the (then) requisite 30 days residence prior to pre-emtion.
The Col. was fully equal to the emergency and promptly produced witness No. 2, consisting of about two-thirds of a demijohn of Medicine, vulgarly termed “brandy,” ” and as he was quite anxious to propitiate the judges, that the case might the more easily “slide through” and with the same patriotic motion that rail road men furnish free passes to cheap legislators, he made us a present of Demijohn and its unfinished contents.
It is needless to add that the proofs were deemed ample and complete, and the Col. returned to St. Anthony the owner of a “tamarack swamp,” and with a somewhat higher opinion of legal technicalities.
The Col. tells us that farm lately changed hands for thirty thousand dollars.
The testimony of witness No. 2, was carefully preserved and filed away in the store room, so as not to tempt “loungers to sudden attacks”-requiring the use of such remedies, and to be brought out only on “state occasions,” or when visited by governors, judges, rail road presidents &c.
Had Thomas A. Hendricks been here at the time, he would probably as in other cases have required ALL the proofs to be sent up.
The first Term of our District Court was to have been held in the fall of 1858-Hon. E. O. Hamlin Judge 4th Judicial District, but the roads were so bad, the judge could not come to time, and on the appointed day, the legal wisdom’ of the county met in judge Smith’s back office then used as a store room-to wit, Wm. Richards County Atty. (not then admitted to practice) T. C. Jewett Sheriff, and Smith & Willie then constituting the Bar Association.
Col. Allen’s demijohn stood in an old candle box under the table, when Esquire Richards peremptorilly directed the sheriff to open and adjourn the court, pursuant to law.
Jewett was inexperienced-never having done anything of the kind before asked Richards what he should say.
“Say after me, sir,” says Richards.
“Proceed sir,” says the Sheriff.
“‘Ere ye ‘ere ye ‘ere ye,” says Co. Atty.
“‘Ere ye ‘ere ye ‘ere ye,” says the sheriff, “The District Court for the County of Meeker is now open–all persons having any business in this court must appear and they shall be heard-God save the Queen,” says the county attorney.
“D—d if I’ll do it sir” says the sheriff, “this is a free country and you’ve got an old English form that won’t work here.
At this point in the ceremony Richards looked at Willie, who had discovered the demijohn under the table-had exploded the cork and elevated “the substance of things hoped for,” and obtained a goodly portion of “the evidence of things unseen,” and had lowered the same to half mast-and at once with offended dignity, which none but those who knew Richards could appreciate-enquired of Willie what he was about.
“Oh ! nothing,” says Willie, in his usual style, and stroking his moistened mustache,- “go on with your court, this is only the first informal call. of the calendar, and ceremony is entirely unnecessary”-again flourishing the demijohn, as a barber would cut a figure eight with his razor, and in its descent secu ring another liberal portion of the “evidence of things unseen.”
It is needless to add, to those who knew Richards, that he left, in disgust, forgetting to adjourn the court and it is not quite certain that that court has ever been adjourned.