Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. V: Literature of the Republic, Part II., 18211834
The First Western Courts
By Lewis Cass (17821866)
[Born in Exeter, N. H., 1782. Died in Detroit, Mich., 1866. France, its King, Court, and Government. 1840.]
YOUR Solons and Justinians now upon the stage must look back with forbearance upon some traits of levity of their predecessors in jurisprudence who cut the first legal bush in the West. A solemn demeanor and official gravity may become the profession in these comfortable days of its existence; but in those by-gone times, when the Judge and the lawyer mounted their horses, and rode one and two hundred miles to a Court, and then to another and another yet, and through woods, following merely a bridal-path, crossing the swollen streams upon their horses while swimming, and thrown together at night into a small cabin, the school of Democritus had far more disciples among them than that of Heraclitus. I have certainly been in much greater peril since, but with respect to a real nonplush(my Western friends will understand me)the crowning incident of my life was upon the bank of the Scioto Salt Creek, suddenly raised by a heavy rain, in which I had been unhorsed by the breaking of the saddle-girths. My steed was a bad swimmer, who, instead of advancing after losing his footing, amused himself by sinking to the bottom, and then leaping with his utmost force; and this new equestrian feat he continued, till rider, saddle, saddle-bags, and blankets were thrown into the water, and the recusant animal emerged upon one side of the creek, and the luckless traveller crawled out upon the other, as he best couldwhile the luggage commenced its journey for New Orleans. It appears to me now, that a more dripping spectacle of despair was never exhibited, than I presented, while surveying, many miles from a house, this shipwreck of my travelling fortunes.
These, however, were the troubles of the day; but oh, they were recompensed by the comforts of the evening, when the hospitable cabin and the warm fire greeted the traveller!when a glorious supper was spread before himturkey, venison, bears meat, fresh butter, hot cornbread, sweet potatoes, apple sauce, and pumpkin butter! The sturdy English moralist may talk of a Scotch supper as he pleases, but he who never sat down to that meal in the West forty years ago, has never seen the perfection of gastronomy. And then the animated conversation succeeded by a floor and a blanket, and a refreshing sleep!
The primitive court-house built of logs, and neither chinked nor daubed, but with respectable interstices big enough to allow the passage of a man, is another permanent object in this group of recollections. And in this sanctuary, as well as in the public houses, the Court and Bar, and suitors and witnesses, were mingled in indescribable confusion.
Strange scenes sometimes occurred under these circumstances; and a characteristic anecdote is told of General Jackson, in a situation where he displayed his usual firmness, by compelling the submission of a noisy braggadocio who had interrupted the Court, and successfully resisted the efforts of the officers to apprehend him.
I recollect a similar incident which took place in a small village upon the banks of the Ohio. The Court was in session, and the presiding officer was a Colonel P., a man of great resolution, and of a herculean frame. A person entered the Court Cabin, and by his noise put a stop to the proceedings. He was ordered out, and the Sheriff attempted to remove him; but he put himself upon his reserved rights, and made such a vigorous resistance, that the officer retired from the contest. Colonel P. thereupon descended from the bench, coolly took off his coat, gave the brawler a severe beating, and after putting him out of the house, resumed his garment and his seat, and continued his judicial functions.
As I may never have so favorable an opportunity of relating another anecdote characteristic of these times, and which I have long preserved in my memory, I will inflict it upon you now. The principal actor in the scene was my early, and has been my constant, friend, and is yet pursuing his profession in the northern part of Ohio, respected by all who know him. Should these sketches meet his eye, while they recall one of the laughable scenes of his youth, they will recall, I hope, the memory of the writer.
This gentleman was engaged in a cause which came on for trial, but in which I have always suspected he was not prepared. He rose from his seat, and gravely observed, that his client was ready, but that really the members of the Court were too much intoxicated(he used a worse word than that)to perform their duties, and he therefore moved their Honors to adjourn. For my own part, I did not believe the chargeat any rate to the extent thus boldly made; and I thought the object of my free spoken friend was, by the aid of a little confusion, to retire from the field with his cause untried and his honor untouched. The matter passed off as a good jokethe Court actually adjourningand the story is perhaps yet preserved among the judicial traditions of Wood County in Western Virginia.