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Title: Political History
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In 1828 the committee designated by the Legislature, except Mr. Wilsom, met and viewed the eligible sites for the loction of a county seat. The committee located the county seat at Warrenton. The dwelling house of Enoch Farmer at Warrenton served as the first Court House designated by the Legislature. Warrenton was located in Warren Township between the present intersection of the Independence Road and Highway 55 and the present residence of Orrie E. Milligan. On January 22, 1829, the General Assembly enacted the statute relocating the county seat on land donated by William Harrison and Thomas Gilbert, in what is now Williamsport. The first court house in Williamsport was a log house belonging to William Harrison. In 1834 the first permanent cour house was built at the cost of $2000. This building served as the cour house until 1872 when a new court house was built in what is now Old Town in Williamsport overlooking the Wabash Ricer at a cost of about $50,000. This second court house was torn down and moved to the site of the present court house where it was re-erected as the third court house. The third court house burned in 1907 and the present court house was erected.

The contents of the various county offices were saved in the 1907 fire except for some old records in the Auditor's office which included County Commissioners' records from the beginning of Warren County to the 1880's. When the new court house was completed by Jahr & coke, contractors of Urbana, Illinois, the county purchased two large brass cannons from the United States Government for $300 and placed them in the court house yard. This espcially pleased the surviving members of the Grand Army of the Republic.

It is interesting to note that in 1830 the General Assembly ordered that the southern tier of townships in Benton County, which had not yet been established, be attached to Warren County for civil and criminal jurisdiction.

On the 23rd of June, 1827, and election was held for various county offices, including County Clerk, Recorder, two Associate Judges, and five Justices of the Peace.

On the first Monday of March, 1828, the first session of the Circuit Court was convened in the house of Enoch Farmer. However, the presiding Judge, John R. Porter, was absent.Thus the Court was delayed from spring to autumn which required the calling of a new grand jury. This time there was not a quorum of a grand jury present. The first case filed in the Warren Circuit Court was State of Indiana vs. Elizabeth Conner, charged with breach of the peace, which case was later dismissed. The first civil case to be prosecuted in the Warren Circuit Court was Lewis Dequindre and Timothy Dequindre vs. Zachariah Cicott which was a damage case in which a judgment for $539.69 was entered against Cicott and later paid.

This was the era of Jacksonian democracy in the Midwest and lawyers could be admitted to practice in any of the circuit courts upon motion and were required to have no special training other than "good moral character". The first lawyers to be admitted to practice in the Warren Court were Moses Cox, Aaron Finch and Edward A. Hannegan. Edward Hannegan also served as the first prosecuting attorney in this court. It is necessary to point out that at that time the Warren Circuit Court was attached to Fountain County and shared a Judge and Prosecuting Attorney but the records fail to show that he actually prosecuted any cases in Warren County.

Thomas A. Clifton in "Past and Present Fountain and Warren Counties, Indians", published in 1913 states:

"With the passing of the decades there have been the usual civil and criminal cases tried in Warren County, by an average list of barristers, a number of whom have made a national reputation and many have become Judges in this and other states."

The first Prosecuting Attorney of Warren County, Hannegan, lived in Warren County, Indiana, for about two years while practicing law. In 1832 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served in four successive Congresses. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1843 and served one full term. Thereafter, President Polk appointed him as Minister to Prussia. The King of Prussia ordered his dismissal as Minister because of an alleged affair between Hannegan and the Queen of Prussia. He was considered as a possible Democratic moninee for President at the time of his death in 1860. While he was United States Senator his path crossed with another famous personage who was also serving as Prosecuting Attorney of Warren County from 1847 to 1853. That person was Lew Wallace, later to be known as General Lew Wallace and author of "Ben Hur", "The Fair God", and "The Prince of India". Lew Wallace frequently appeared in the Warren Circuit Court as prosecuting attorney and as a lawyer when he practiced in Covington, Indiana. During the last year of his term in the United States Senate Ned Hannegan, who was inclined to take a drink, was involved in a knife fight in which someone was killed. Lew Wallace called the grand jury which refused to indict Ned Hannegan. There was a body of thought that Lew Wallace "whitewashed" the Hannegan affair and thereafter Lew Wallace moved from Covington to Crawfordsville.

Lew Wallace was succeeded as Prosecuting Attorney of Warren County by Daniel W. Voorhees. Dan Voorhees was knonw as "The Tall Sycamore of the Wabsh" and was a firey and eloquent orator who served in the United States House of Representatives and In the United Senate almost continuously from 1865 until his death in 1897. Among the contributions he made was the introduction of the bill in the United States Senate which created the Library of Congress.

Lew Wallace had been preceded in the office of prosecutor by Joseph E. McDonald of Williamsport. His family owned the home now owned by Mr. and Mrs. John B. Folk on North Monroe Street in Williamsport, Indiana. McDonald later served as the first attorney general of the state of Indiana elected by the people, was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served in the United States Senate during the administrations of President Hayes, Garfield and Arthur. In 1884 he was a contestant for the Democratic nomination for President and lost the nomination to Grover Cleveland.

Warren County had two other distinguished lawyers who later became Attorney General of Indiana. They were James Bingham and Ele Stansbury.

A number of attorneys who regularly practiced before the Warren Circuit Court later achieved prominence of the judiciary. One of the most conspicuous was James McCabe who came to Warren County around the time of the Civil War. He was Judge of the Indiana Supreme Court in 1893 and 1899. Many of his opinions represent present precedence and have been reaffirmed by later decisions of the Supreme Court. His son, Edwin F. McCabe, was a colorful and well-remembered attorney who practiced law in Warren County for more than Fifty years. Many people remember "Old Ned" McCabe as a trial lawyer and personality in the tradition of Clarence Darrow. The grandson of Judge James McCabe, who is practicing attorney in Williamsport and is now the Prosecuting Attorney of Warren County.

Shortly after Judge James McCabe left the Supreme Court another prominent Warren County lawyer and judge was elected to the Indiana Appellate Court. Joseph M. Rabb had served as Prosecuting Attorney and for many years as Judge of the Warren Circuit Court. He served in the Indiana Appellate Court from 1907 to 1911. One of his dissenting opinions was recently adopted as the law of Indiana in a very famous landmark decision.

Harvey D. Billings, who is the father of Preston Billings who now resides south of West Lebanon, Indiana, who was a practicing attorney in Warren County for more than forty years, served from 1924 to 1930 as the Judge of the 21st Judicial Circuit which included Warren and Benton Counties at that time. After leaving the bench he established a partnership under the name of Billings & Gillespie with Walter B. Gillespie. When Gillespie succeeded John J. Hall as Judge in 1957 Allen Sharp commenced his practice in the offices formerly occupied by Billings & Gillespie.

Other attorneys who practiced in the Warren Circuit Court and lived in Warren County achieved distinction. Daniel Mace, who lived at Independence was elected to United States Congress in 1851 while he lived there. He served three full terms in the United States House of Representatives.

One of the most famous of our law practitioners was J. Frank Hanly, who was admitted to practice in 1890. He had grown up in Illinois near Champaign and had moved to Warren County as a common laborer and ditch digger. He caught the attention of Judge Joseph M. Rabb and this Lincolnesque character shot up the political ladder like lightning. He was a first class orator. Between 1809 and 1904, a period of 14 years, J. Frank Hanly served in the Indiana State Senate, served a term in the United States House of Representatives and came within two votes of being nominated to the United States Senate when Albert J. Beveridge was nominated in 1899. In 1904, Hanly was elected Governor of Indiana, was later Prohibition Party Candidate for President of the United states. He took an active part in the enactment of the prohibition amendment in the United Sates and was active in the national movement for prohibition and temperance. He is buied in the Williamsport Cemetery.

Another lawyer who achieved greatness outside of the strict confines of the legal profession was Major General George D. Wagner who served with great distinction as the organizer of the 15th in a number of extremely important battles in the Tennessee area of the Civil War. After the war he practiced law for many years in Warren County and it buried in the Armstrong Chapel Cemetery in Medina Township.

Warren County should also be proud to have been closely connected with another attorney whose achievements were in bot hthe executive and judicial branches of government. This person was Walter Q. Gresham. In 1875 Gresham purchased a large farm in Prairie Township where he spent a portion of his time until his death in 1895 and where his widow and sone made their home thereafter. Gresham had been a Brigadier General in the Civil War, having served with great distinction under Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg. He served for many years as United States District Judge for Indiana. Republic nomination for President in 1888. He was a "hard money" advocate who switched parties and supported Grover Cleveland for president. He served as Secretary of State in the Cleveland administration. As Secretary of State he laid much of the groundwork for the annexation of Hawaii. He was a close friend of Joseph E. McDonald and served as Postmater General in the Arthur administration. He is one of the few men in history to serve in the cabinet of a Republican president and to serve in the cabinet of Democrat president as a Democrat. In his biography, "Life of Walter Quinton Gresham", his widow, Matilda Gresham, indicates that his independent frame of mind was not always able to accomodate itself completely to the views of either political party.

Traditionally, the Warren Circuit Court and the practicing bar of it have been noted for the excellence of their legal ability. Over the years a number of extremely competent legal practitioners have contributed substantially to this tradition. All of them cannot be named here. A few of them are included.

Charles V. McAdams was a native of Warren County who achieved great success in the practice of law. He was attorney for William C. Smith who dies in 1911 and was the first millionaire to have been a resident of Warren County. McAdams had practiced law with Judge Joseph M. Rabb prior to the latter's elevation to the Circuit Court bench and in his later years was a leading member of the br in LaFayette.

Another legal practitioner who contributed substantially to this tradition of excellence was Victor H. Ringer who was a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. His reputation as a tenacious and able lawyer and advocate have survived his death in 1948. His son, Alfred V. Ringer, who served as Prosecuting Attorney, is now engaged in the practice of law in Williamsport, Indiana, with Kenneth R. Watson under the firm name of Ringer and Watson.

Another person who will be remembered as an able lawyer, prosecutor, and for many years Judge of the Warren Circuit of Michigan Law School and a veteran of World War I. He served as judge from 1930 until his death in 1957. He is remembered as a very careful and studious lawyer and judge.

Carl A. Mehaffey is a native of Warren County and graduated from Indiana University School of Law in 1910. He served as prosecuting attorney for four years and was an officer in Worlk War I. Upon his return from the war he engaged in the practice of law with Cecil E. Haupt who is also a native of Warren County, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a combat veteran of World War I. This partnership has terminated after many years, since Mr. Mehaffey is no longer active in the practice. Mr. Haupt continues to have an active practice and has been a lawyer continuously in Warren County for more than 45 years.

At least on Warren County attorney has given up the practice for the academic world. Dale S. Stansbury, who was the son of Ele Stansbury, left Williamsport and became a member of the faculty and later Dean of the University of North Carolina Law School.

Certainly there have been many able, dedicated and colorful people who have served Warren County well in various public offices who were not lawyers. One of the most colorful of such officers served as Sheriff in the 1920's. Sam Cole was a veteran of World War I and was perhaps one of the first American Soldiers to bring home a German war bride. Sam Cole was one of the most decorated veterans of World War I and can rightfully be included as a hero along side of Sergeant Alvin York and others. He will also be remembered as an authority on Indiana artifacts and lore. He left a priceless collection of Indiana relics which his widow, Marie, had donated for educational purposes.

Another famous incident occurred in 1926 when Avis Dutcher, Sheriff of Warren County, was murdered by Claire Ratcliff. Ratcliff was wounded and escaped. An extended search for him was made. Some time later his dead body was found behind the Wabash Depot. O.L. Stewart was appointed as successor to Sheriff Dutcher.

County finances have undergone a vast change since 1827. In that year money was scarce and barter was usually used in many of the important transactions. Whiskey also bore a striking part in carrying forward the work of county development. When the county sold its real estate off, in order to establish the present county seat, it used whiskey freely. Whiskey was then low priced and it is shown that the county paid for ten gallons. It is related that the use of whiskey was to "loosen the tongue of the auctioneer, open the hearts and pockets of the bidders, assemble large crowds and oil the occasion with satisfactory success."

The county began business without capital and when it purchased anything it had to issue "county orders" which passed about and readily as paper money. These orders bore no interest and were transferable.

The total expense for county government for Warren County in the years 1827 and 1828 was $392.18.

The first jail for Warren County was built in 1820-1831 by Benjamin Crow at a cost of $560. In 1849 a new jail was built at the cost of $2700. The present jail, including the Sheriff's residence, was built at a cost of $20,000.

The first assistance furnished by the county of Warren to an indigent and poor person was in 1831 when Levi Murdock was paid $20 upon the order of commissioners for keeping John Campbell, a transient pauper, for five months. Each township had an Overseer of the Poor whose duty it was to see that the helpless of his township were provided with the necessities of life and given a Christian burial upon death. The bills for expenses, when properly authenticated, were paid by the county board. Occasionally township officers would order poor persons to "depart the township forthwith" that they might not become a township charge. This custom that they might not become a township charge. This custom was later replace by the custom of "farming out" the pauper to the lowest bidder.

In December 1853 Warren County purchased a hundred and twenty acre farm in Liberty Township from Mrs. Brown to be used as a county poor farm. This farm is presently located mear U. S. 41 on the Cecil E. Haupt and H. H. Madaus farms.

In 1869 a farm consisting of 440 acres in Liberty Township was purchased from Thomas J. Chenoweth. The original buildings situated on that farm which became the county poor farm cost $12,000 and for many years the county poor farm was a self-sustaining operation.

Writing in the Warren County Centennial publication in 1927 in an article called "Warren County, A Good Place In Which To Live", Cecil E. Haupt stated the following conclusions:

"In no other place will you find better schools, better churches, better roads or a finer type of citizenship. Her 100 years of growth represents a century of steady progress, and Warren County citizens may well be proud of its records of loyalty of the ideas of free government and to its development as a typical American community." In this 1966 Sesquicentennial Year for the State of Indiana this conclusion represents not only a fact but a challenge.

Author's note: The author of this article is an adopted some of Warren County and has relied heavily upon the above article by Mr. Haupt in his preparation.


[Picture captions: Court House, 1834-1872; Court House, 1872-1907; Williamsport School.From the book: A History of Warren County, Indiana]

Date: 1/1/1966
Origin: Warren County Historical Society
Author: Allen Sharp
Record ID: 00002519
Type: Book
Source Archive: Warren County Historical Society
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Collection: Court House
Entered By: Leslie J. Rice

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