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JUDGE LEANDER STILLWELL, now retired from the active duties of his profession, living at Erie, was one of the two pioneer attorneys who composed the first bar of Erie, and located there in 1868, nearly half a century ago. Aside from the amount of work he has performed as a lawyer and citizen, the chief distinction of his life rests upon his record of service, continued through nearly twenty-four years, as a judge of the district court.
He is of English and Scotch ancestry. The first Stillwells on coming from England settled on Long Island, New York, in the seventeenth century. Later a branch of the family moved to Virginia, and from there drifted further south, and Judge Stillwell represents the Virginia and North Carolina lineage. His grandfather, Jeremiah Stillwell, was born in the year 1776, in North Carolina. His residence throughout his life was in that state, where he followed farming, but he died at the home of a married daughter whom he was visiting in the State of Iowa in 1852. He married Nancy Morrow.
Judge Stillwell’s parents were plain, honest people, never wealthy, and spent many years of their lives in the backwoods of western Illinois, in the rugged region along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in Jersey County. It was on a farm in Otter Creek Precinct of that county on September 16, 1843, that Leander Stillwell was born. His father, Jeremiah O. Stillwell, was born July 28, 1814, in Haywood County, North Carolina, was reared there, but in 1834 removed to Illinois. He was married in Greene County, Illinois, December 14, 1837, to Miss Ann Eliza White, who was born in Chatham County, North Carolina, October 1, 1821. Her ancestors were of Scotch descent. Jeremiah Stillwell was a farmer in that portion of Greene County, Illinois, which subsequently became Jersey County. In 1881 he removed to Kansas, buying a farm near Colony, but a few years before his death retired to Garnett and died there September 27, 1896. He became a republican upon the organization of that party, and not only voted the ticket himself but reared his family in the same political faith, and essentially and fundamentally Judge Stillwell has always been a republican. Jeremiah Stillwell held various township offices, both in Illinois and Kansas, and was quite active in civic affairs. He and his wife were members of the Baptist Church. His wife died at Colony, February 6, 1894. Both had lived much beyond the allotted time of human life. Their children were twelve in number, of whom only five are now living, namely: Virgil, now a retired farmer at Dodd City, Arkansas; Leander; Reuben Fenton, now practicing dentistry at Bartlesville, Oklahoma; Logan, a banker at Mesa, Arizona; and Ernest Quincy, an attorney practicing law at Kansas City, Kansas. Judge Leander Stillwell was not yet eighteen years of age when the Civil war broke out. His life up to that time had been spent on his father’s farm and his educational advantages away from home had been confined to the common schools. From January 7, 1862, the date of his enlistment, until September 8, 1865, when his regiment was mustered out, he was with the Union army in the field, and participated in the battle of Shiloh, the siege of Vicksburg, and several minor engagements. A brief statement of his “military and medical record” has been furnished by the adjutant general’s office of the war department under a recent date. That record is as follows:
“Leander Stillwell was enrolled January 7, 1862, at Carrollton, Illinois, and was mustered into service February 5, 1862, at Carrollton, Illinois, as a private of Company D, Sixty-first Regiment, Illinois Infantry Volunteers, to serve three years. He was appointed Corporal about February, 1862; Sergeant, August 20, 1862, and First Sergeant, September or October, 1863, and was mustered out as such at Little Rock, Arkansas, to date January 31, 1864, by reason of his re-enlistment as a veteran volunteer. He re-enlisted February 1, 1864, at Little Rock, Arkansas, to serve an additional term of three years, and was mustered into service to date February 1, 1864. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant, same company and regiment, and was mustered in as such July 18, 1865, and was mustered out of service of the company as Second Lieutenant September 8, 1865, at Nashville, Tennessee.
“Under the provisions of the act of Congress approved July 3, 1884, this officer has been recognized by the war department as First Lieutenant, Company D, Sixty-first Illinois Volunteers from August 21, 1865. During the entire period of his service this officer was accounted for on the bi-monthly muster rolls of his company as present for duty except that on October 31, 1863, it was stated that he was absent on furlough from October 16, 1863. The medical records show that he was treated from August 11, 1863, to a date not stated, for intermittent fever, and from September 2, 1863, to a date not stated, for remittent fever.”
He had not been out of the army long before he made up his mind definitely as to his future vocation. In the fall of 1866, he entered the Albany Law School at Albany, New York, and in December, 1867, was graduated and awarded the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He was admitted to the New York bar December 5th of that year, but soon returned to Illinois and began practice in Jersey County. A few months later, in May, 1868, he arrived at Erie, Neosho County, where, as already stated, he was one of the first two attorneys comprising the local bar. His home was at Erie until March, 1871, when he removed to Osage Mission, now Saint Paul, Kansas, and lived there until July, 1885, when he returned to Erie. For fifteen years Judge Stillwell handled a growing practice in both the civil and criminal branches of the law. In 1876 he was elected a member of the lower house of the Kansas Legislature, and served one term, having been chosen on the republican ticket.
In November, 1883, Judge Stillwell was elected judge of the Seventh Judicial District, which then consisted of the counties of Allen, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson. From that time forward for nearly twenty-four years he was continuously on the bench. He was re-elected judge of the same district in 1887, 1891, 1895 and ~899. In 1901 the Legislature passed a law requiring district judges to be elected in the even numbered years, and as Judge Stillwell’s term would expire the second Monday in January, 1904, and the next regular election would not be held until the fall of that year, the Governor of Kansas, Willis J. Bailey, appointed Judge Stillwell as judge for this interval. His appointment was made October 27, 1903. In the general election of 1904 Judge Stillwell was again a candidate for the full term of four years, and his election made the sixth successive time he was chosen by the people for the office. While he had opponents in the elections of 1883, 1891 and 1899, he was practically the unanimous choice of all parties in the elections of 1887, 1895, and 1904, and there was no opposition when Governor Bailey appointed him for the interregnum of one year.
On September 1, 1907, more than a year before the expiration of his last term, Judge Stillwell resigned on account of the protracted and dangerous illness of his wife. He felt that his duty was to his invalid wife, and accordingly sent his resignation to Governor Hoch on August 10, 1907, to take effect September 1, 1907.
As bearing on his judicial career, it is deemed permissible to state the following circumstance: A short time before his resignation a case was tried before him and was taken by the defeated party on petition in error to the Supreme Court. That court, some months after Judge Stillwell’s resignation had gone into effect, affirmed the judgment, and at the close of the opinion the court, speaking by Mr. Justice Graves, said: “For more than twenty years this court has been reviewing the decisions of the eminent judge before whom this case was tried, and it has noted with satisfaction the vigilant care and patient industry given by him to the official discharge of his duties. His thorough knowledge of legal principles and clear perception of natural justice made him peculiarly fitted for judicial service, and contributed in a large measure to the success which gave him prominence as a jurist, and caused him to be recognized as an able and impartial judge. In view of his recent voluntary retirement from the bench by resignation, thereby severing his long continued relations with this court, we deem it proper to make this reference thereto.” (Fairbanks, Morse & Co. v. Walker, 76 Kans., on p. 909.) On leaving the bench Judge Stillwell resumed the practice of law, but since the summer of 1913 has virtually retired, though he maintains his office and his library and occasionally furnishes counsel.
On November 26, 1909, Judge Stillwell was appointed by President Taft first deputy commissioner of pensions. This service required his presence at Washington, and he remained in that city in discharge of his duties for about three years and eight months, until relieved by a democratic successor on July 16, 1913. He then returned to his home at Erie.
As to his politics enough has already been said to indicate that he has been a stanch republican since early manhood, and still is, but he did not approve the proceedings of the National Republican convention at Chicago in 1912. From his standpoint he believed that Mr. Taft did not fairly and honestly obtain at that convention the nomination for president. In the following campaign, therefore, Judge Stillwell supported and voted for Theodore Roosevelt for president.
In many ways he has been closely identified with the growth and development of the city of Erie since pioneer times. He was one of the early clerks of the school district, and was a member of the first board of aldermen. He is a member of the State Bar Association, and by virtue of his military service belongs to the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. He is a past master of Erie Lodge, No. 76, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, belongs to the Ancient Order of United Workmen of Erie, and is a member of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee.
On May 9, 1872, at Erie, Kansas, Judge Stillwell married Miss Anna L. Stauber, and their married life, which extended over a period of nearly thirty-seven years, was a remarkably happy one. As already mentioned, it was the serious illness of his wife that caused Judge Stillwell to leave the bench. But the unremitting care he gave her and the best of medical attention were of no avail, and she died April 9, 1909. Her parents were Dr. Charles F. and Catherine (Frymire) Stauber, both of whom are also deceased. Her father was a physician and surgeon both in Iowa and Kansas, and was one of the pioneers of his profession in Allen County, Kansas, where he located in 1866. Dr. Stauber’s father was a Revolutionary soldier. Dr. Stauber and his wife were both natives of Pennsylvania, but were of German descent.
Five children were born to Judge and Mrs. Stillwell. Rena, born May 1, 1873, at Osage Mission, now Saint Paul, is unmarried and is living in Chicago, where she is cashier of the Chicago Beach Hotel. Nora, who was born at Osage Mission June 3, 1873, is a trained nurse and resides with her father. Hubert, born at Osage Mission, June 22, 1879, has taken an active part in Kansas military affairs, was a member of Company A of the Twenty-second Kansas Infantry during the Spanish-American war, and at this writing is in Company D of the First Iowa Infantry stationed at Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexican border. Charles Rodney, the fourth child, was born at Osage Mission, August 15, 1882, and died at Erie, March 3, 1894. Jeremiah, the youngest child, was born at Erie, November 16, 1887, is a graduate of the University of Kansas, is a mechanical engineer, and lives at Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where he is now pursuing his vocation.
A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed October, 1997.
From Marty Crull.