Journal-News, Wednesday, June 2, 2004
County prosecutor helped form California legal system
(This is the fifth in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
Oliver S. Witherby, who had interrupted his term as Butler County prosecutor to volunteer for army service in the Mexican War, utilized his leadership skills and legal experience to establish California's judicial system and contribute to the development of San Diego.
According to the 1882 county history, Witherby was born Feb. 19, 1815, in Cincinnati. His family moved to Oxford in 1830 and six years later he was graduated from Miami University. He studied law in Hamilton under John Woods and was admitted to the bar in 1840. He was twice elected county prosecutor (1843 and 1845), and had just started his second term when the Mexican War began.
In May 1846, Witherby was elected second lieutenant of the Butler County volunteers who organized at the courthouse as Company I of the Second Rifles. Later, when the unit was reassigned to the First Ohio Regiment at Camp Washington near Cincinnati, Witherby became a first lieutenant with quartermaster duties.
That summer, the regiment joined Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army advancing into Mexico. Witherby was disabled by an injury, resigned his commission and returned to Hamilton. In addition to practicing law and resuming his prosecutor’s duties, he became editor of the Hamilton Telegraph, which he owned in partnership with Michael C. Ryan. But Witherby didn’t stay long.
The war ended in 1848, but the bound between the U. S. And Mexico remained unsettled. Witherby was named quartermaster and commissary of the United States Boundary Commission. Heading the commission was another Hamilton lawyer, John B. Weller, who later became a California governor and senator.
In the treaty ending the war, Mexico relinquished its claim to Texas north of the Rio Grande and the U. S. Also annexed all of parts of the present states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
Witherby is reported to have arrived in San Diego in 1949, as Californians started legal steps toward statehood. A convention Sept. 1-Oct. 13, 1849, adopted s constitution that prohibited slavery. California wa admitted as the 31st state Sept. 9, 1850, with Witherby a member of the first state legislature, 1849-1850.
A legal historian calls Witherby "the Father of San Diego Jurisprudence." Leland Ghent Stanford said Witherby was the San Diego area's "first American lawyer, its first representative in the state assembly and, by the latter, chosen as first judge of the San Diego-Los Angeles judicial district," 1850-53.
Stanford described Witherby as "stable, popular, successful," a man who "devoted his life to civic leadership" and "the first local lawyer to have practiced over 50 years."
In its quick advance from annexation to statehood, California skipped the usual territorial status, leaving many legal details and precedents to be worked out by early lawmakers. Its land and legal systems had been based on Spanish laws and customs.
"The country had been acquired by conquest, and the discovery of gold soon after resulted in an influx of foreigner and adventurers from all portions of the globe," noted the 1882 county history. "There had been no preceding territorial condition in which the most necessary laws could have been passed, and the enactments which were to govern society were to he laid from the very foundation."
"Many of the enactments that he [Witherby] first helped to make as a legislator, to interpret as a judge and to expound as an advocate, continue to this days as effective California law," Stanford wrote in a 1968 book, Legal Lore & the Bar.
Witherby was U. S. collector of customs, 1853-57. In addition to numerous public offices, he also was a rancher, banker and railroad executive in the San Diego area. "Judge Witherby was one of the most important men in the community in his day," said William E. Smythe in his History of San Diego. He invested largely in real estate and showed his faith in the city's future at all times" and "was prominently connected . . . with most of the important enterprises of his day."
About 1857, Witherby purchased the Escondido Rancho outside San Diego. At first, he farmed and raised cattle. In 1860 he began mining gold on the land, establishing the Escondido Mining Company. He sold the property in 1868. In 1888 the tract formed the basis for the City of Escondido.
Oliver Spencer Witherby, a bachelor whose fortunes rose and fell with business booms and bank failures, died Dec. 18, 1896, in San Diego, whose non-Indian population had been about 600 when he arrived 47 years earlier.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 9, 2004
Panhandle Railroad, never here, still causes local confusion
By Jim Blount
The railroads serving Butler County since 1851 have had many names and numerous ownership changes entangled in a maze of incorporations, acquisitions, mergers, reorganizations, abandonments, foreclosures and bankruptcies. One name, never an official designation for a local railroad, continues to cause confusion long after its parent corporation ceased operation in 1968.
The real Panhandle Railway never entered Butler County -- confounding those seeking information on ancestors who said they had worked on the Panhandle, postcards identifying a Panhandle depot in Hamilton or photos at local sites labeled with the popular name.
There was a Panhandle Railway Co. and a Pan Handle Railroad Co., the latter spelled as two words. Both were part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. An Ohio professional football team also was called the Panhandles.
The Pennsylvania Railroad was a vast system in the last half of the 1800s and first half of the 1900s. In 1929, it had 10,512 miles of mainline track.
The original PRR -- incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1846 -- operated under many names and had numerous divisions for various financial and legal reasons. In addition to track it built, some routes were companies the PRR purchased, leased or acquired in foreclosure.
"The Pennsylvania Railroad System is made up of the lines of over 800 separate corporations," said a PRR publication in 1948. Sometimes an original name stuck after mergers or consolidations. That was the case with the short-lived Panhandle Railway.
The name goes back to the 1850s when several companies struggled to extend their rails to the west. In that era, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Chicago and St. Louis were major western industrial centers. PRR competitors for passengers and freight in western cities included what became the Baltimore & Ohio, the New York Central and the Erie railroads.
In 1849, the PRR aim was to build routes west from Pittsburgh -- also spelled Pittsburg, without the proper h, in some incorporations. The immediate goal was to link to the Steubenville & Indiana, connecting to Columbus.
An obstacle to reaching Ohio was the mountainous Virginia panhandle, extending north between Ohio and Pennsylvania. (In 1863, during the Civil War, that finger of land became part of the new state of West Virginia.)
A bridge across the Ohio River opened Oct. 9, 1865, at Steubenville, making Pittsburgh-Columbus rail travel possible on a combination of the Pittsburg & Steubenville, the Holliday's Cove Rail Road and the Steubenville & Indiana Railroad.
The three roads encountered financial problems. After being acquired by the PRR Jan. 15, 1868, they were combined as the Panhandle Railway. Legally, the Panhandle had a short life. Four months later, May 15, 1868, it was renamed the Pittsburg, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway Co.
That railroad was consolidated Sept. 30, 1890, with three others -- the Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh; the Cincinnati & Richmond; and the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis -- to create the Pittsburg, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway. Employees, shippers and passengers continued to call it the Panhandle. Some routes in Ohio were part of the Panhandle Division.
The unofficial Panhandle label came to Butler County with the Cincinnati & Richmond. Financed by the PRR, the C&R built a new line between Cincinnati and Hamilton. The first C&R passenger train entered Hamilton May 12, 1888.
Two years earlier, the C&R had purchased the tracks of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad from north of Hamilton through Seven Mile, Camden and Eaton to Richmond, Ind. Eventually, the C&R connected to Chicago and other points via PRR routes. In Cincinnati, the C&R used the Panhandle Depot, built in 1881 at Pearl Street on the riverfront.
Starting in 1904, the Columbus Panhandles played football games, mostly against other Ohio teams. The nickname reflected the employment of some players. They worked in PRR Panhandle Division shops and yards in Columbus.
Oct. 3, 1920, in Dayton, the Panhandles were shutout by the Dayton Triangles, 14-0, in the first professional game between Ohio members of the NFL. The American Professional Football Association, formed in Canton Sept. 17, 1920, was renamed the National Football League in 1922.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Hamilton lawyer tried to set border between U. S. and Mexico
(This is the sixth in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
John B. Weller volunteered to fight in a war to decide the border between the United States and Mexico, and after the Mexican War -- and a failed attempt to become Ohio’s governor -- returned to the Southwest to drawn the boundary line between the nations. Instead, political moves took the former Hamilton lawyer to California where he became the new state’s U. S. senator and governor.
Weller was born Feb. 22, 1812, in Montgomery in Hamilton County, attended Miami University, 1825-1829, and started studying law in Hamilton as an 18-year-old. His mentor was Jesse Corwin. After admission to the bar in 1832, Weller was elected Butler County prosecutor (1833-1836) and appointed a trustee of Miami University (1836-1846).
In 1838, as a Democrat, he was elected to the first of three terms in the U. S. House, representing Butler, Preble and Darke counties from March 4, 1939, through March 3, 1845. He didn’t seek a fourth term and resumed his law practice in Hamilton.
Fourteen months later, when the Mexican War started, Weller helped raise a Butler County company and attained the rank of colonel and commander of the Second Ohio Infantry Regiment. After combat in Mexico in 1846, the regiment returned to Butler County in June 1847.
Ohio’s governor during most of war was William Bebb, a native of Shandon who was a Hamilton lawyer when inaugurated Dec. 12, 1846. Bebb, a Whig, didn’t seek re-election in 1848. Candidates for the job were Democrat Weller and Seabury Ford, a Whig.
Bebb’s term was extended more than a month -- until Jan. 22, 1849 -- until the Weller-Ford contest was settled in the Ohio General Assembly. The legislators met Dec. 4, 1848, and struggled with the deadlock until Jan. 22, finally ruling that Ford had edged Weller by 311 votes, 148,756 to 148,445.
The Mexican War had ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed Feb. 2, 1848. Mexico agreed to cede part of its land to the U. S. in exchange for $15 million. The treaty was ratified July 4, 1848, without determining the exact boundary between the nations.
Lt. Amiel W. Whipple headed the first commission that set a line between upper and lower California. The remainder of the border -- from California east to the Rio Grande -- was assigned to a joint U. S.-Mexican commission. Ambrose Sevier, appointed U. S. commissioner, died before he was confirmed.
President James K. Polk appointed Weller, a fellow Democrat, to replace Sevier and direct that commission, but political intrigues abbreviated his term. Weller had already met with his Mexican counterpart, Gen. Pedro Garcia Conde, at least twice, July 6, 1849, and Feb. 15, 1850.
President Zachary Taylor, elected by the Whig party, appointed John Charles Fremont to replace Weller. But Fremont resigned before taking office because he had been elected U. S. senator from California. (In 1856, Fremont would be the first Republican candidate for president.) Weller remained commissioner until he was fired in 1850.
Two successors -- William H. Emory and John R. Barlett -- encountered several problems and failed to settle the boundary issues. Finally, President Franklin Pierce decided to buy a resolution. In March 1853, Pierce appointed James Gadsden as his emissary to Mexico. His efforts led to the Gadsden Purchase, signed Dec. 30, 1853.
Meanwhile, it took two more years to resolve the border problems that was complicated, among other things, by an 1850 flood that changed the course of the Rio Grande and the death of Gen. Conde. The Mexican-United States Boundary Commission finally completed its survey work Oct. 15, 1855.
After removal from the boundary post, Weller didn’t return to Ohio. Instead, he moved to California to practice law. He also returned to politics, first as a member of the new state’s constitutional convention before winning election to the U. S. Senate. He represented California in Washington from Jan. 30, 1852, until March 3, 1857. He didn’t win re-election to the Senate, but in 1858 voters placed him in the governor’s office for a two-year term, 1858-1860.
In 1860, President James Buchanan, a Democrat, appointed Weller minister to Mexico. When Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, moved into the White House in 1861, he recalled the former Hamiltonian.
Weller -- who had been suspected of southern sympathies during the Civil War -- moved to New Orleans in 1867 and practiced law there until his death Aug. 17, 1875.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Alexander Hamilton’s manufacturing plan prophesied city’s future economy
By Jim Blount
Alexander Hamilton had nothing to do with founding or developing the Ohio city named in his honor, but he would review its history with pride and approval. The community fit the patriot’s economic plan.
"Known in the World's Markets," city leaders boasted in the early 1900s. "It is Hamilton's claim that no other community in America was so large or so widely-known for production in proportion to population," a city publication asserted. Basis for the pre-World War I claim included 140 manufacturing plants producing more than 250 products. The monthly average of 35,000 freight cars handled by local railroads equaled one car for every man, woman and child in Hamilton each month.
Pacing Hamilton’s economy, the booklet said, were world leading industries: The Champion mill, "the largest in the world devoted to the manufacture of coated paper." Mosler and Herring-Hall, producing "more than 80 percent of all the safes that are used throughout the world." The Niles Tool Works, "not only the largest, but the best known machine tool plant in the world." The Hooven Owen Rentschler Company, "the largest exclusive Corliss Engine plant in the country."
"Hamilton, Ohio, the Postmark of Distinctive Trademarks" was the city’s appropriate slogan in the late 1950s when its industrial prowess peaked.
In September 1791, when Fort Hamilton was named, Alexander Hamilton’s credentials included stellar military service during the American Revolution and, after independence, prominent leadership in forming a strong constitutional government. At that time, he was secretary of the treasury in President George Washington’s cabinet, striving to stabilize the new government's shaky finances and establish its credit.
Secretary Hamilton’s boldest proposal was his farsighted "Report on Manufactures," submitted to Congress Dec. 5, 1791. His controversial plan -- never totally adopted by Congress -- prophesied the future of the city that evolved from Fort Hamilton on the Ohio frontier. He proposed government assistance to non-existent American industries, including duties on foreign articles competing with domestic products.
Hamilton believed the federal government should encourage "an extension of the use of machinery;" expand employment; promote "emigration from foreign countries;" multiply "the objects of enterprise" through imagination; promote "new inventions and discoveries;" create new and secure "a more certain and steady demand for the surplus produce of the soil;" and facilitate the building of roads, canals and inland navigation that have "an important relation to manufactures."
Ron Chernow -- in an Alexander Hamilton biography published this year -- said "Hamilton’s preference for a diversified economy of manufacturing and agriculture" may have "originated in his youthful reflections on the avoidable poverty he had witnessed in the Caribbean," his birthplace.
Chernow also saw seeds of the proposal in Hamilton’s military experience. "Remembering the scarcity of everything from gunpowder to uniforms in the Continental Army -- a byproduct of Britain’s colonial monopoly on most manufacturing -- Hamilton knew that reliance on foreign manufacturers could cripple America in wartime."
His plan was "years ahead of his time," wrote Stephen F. Knott in his 2000 book, Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth. "Hamilton viewed manufacturing capability as a means of rendering the United States ‘independent [of] foreign nations,’ particularly ‘for military and other essential supplies,’ " Knott said.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were among founding fathers who opposed Hamilton’s blueprint. "In his advocacy of manufacturing," Chernow wrote, "Hamilton knew that he would encounter stout resistance from those who feared that factories might hurt agriculture and menace republican government. His opponents cited abundant land and deficient capital and labor as reasons that America should remain a rural democracy."
Later, the plan was faulted because it included utilizing children and women in the work force. "Hamilton didn’t see himself as inflicting grim retribution upon the indigent so much as giving them a chance to earn decent wages," Chernow said. "For Hamilton, a job could be an ennobling experience." He had started working in his early teens, and "did not equate child or female labor with exploitation."
"In the best of all possible worlds, Hamilton preferred free trade [and] open markets," Chernow said. In the 1790s, "Hamilton thought aggressive European trade policies obligated the United States to respond in kind. He therefore supported temporary mercantilist policies that would improve American self-sufficiency, leading to a favorable trade balance and more hard currency." He believed "the federal government had a right to stimulate business and also, when necessary, to restrain it."
"The American Cape, a Tribute to Alexander Hamilton" -- a sculpture scheduled to be installed on High Street in August -- will be a reminder of the vision of a system that led to the city being "Known in the World’s Markets."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Mexican War trained local Civil War officers
(This is the seventh in a series on Butler County connections to the Mexican War.)
By Jim Blount
For some Butler County men, the Mexican War was risky training for military leadership roles in the Civil War. Examples were three soldiers who served in Mexico in Company I of the First Ohio Infantry Regiment -- Captains James George and Ferdinand Van Derveer and Sgt. George Webster. A fourth was George W. Rue, a Kentucky native and later a Hamilton resident. During the Civil War, their separate paths merged in the Battle of Perryville, Ky. Oct. 8, 1862.
Company I in the 1846-48 war was known as the Butler Boys, all volunteers. They gathered in Hamilton in May 1846, shortly after the war had started. The new soldiers completed their training in Cincinnati and departed for Mexico July 2, 1846. After serving as part of Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army, they returned to Hamilton in July 1847.
Captain James George, a Hamilton native, was wounded during the Battle of Monterey, Mexico, Sept. 19-21, and was sent back to Hamilton to recuperate.
He was replaced by Ferdinand Van Derveer, a 23-year-old Middletown native, who had recently completed his legal training in Hamilton. Van Derveer had studied law under John B. Weller, who had raised Company I and led it to Mexico. In October 1846, Van Derveer succeeded Weller as commander of the company.
Van Derveer resumed his law practice in Hamilton in 1847 and was elected Butler County sheriff in 1848. When he didn’t win another term, Van Derveer tried his luck in the California gold fields. He returned to Hamilton in 1852 with his pockets empty.
In May 1861, a month after the Civil War started, Van Derveer was elected to the Hamilton Board of Education. But that responsibility and his law practice were put aside. Instead, his law office became a recruiting office as he raised and prepared to organize and train Butler County volunteers who made up most of the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Colonel Van Derveer led the regiment into Kentucky in September 1861. Later, Van Derveer rose to the rank of brigadier general.
Through much of the war, the 35th OVI was in the same brigade with the Second Minnesota. That regiment was commanded by Colonel James George, who had moved from Hamilton to Minnesota after the Mexican War. The regiments supported each other at Perryville, in campaigns around Chattanooga in 1863 and during the advance on Atlanta in 1864.
George Penny Webster, a Middletown native, came to Hamilton as a 16-year-old to study law under Thomas Millikin. He also served as a deputy county clerk of courts before admission to the bar in 1846.
Webster -- who put his legal career on hold to volunteer for the Butler County unit -- was wounded during the storming of Monterey, Mexico. After the war, Webster married a woman from Jefferson County and moved to Steubenville, the county seat, to practice law.
In June 1861, Webster was commissioned a major in the 25th OVI that served in Virginia's western counties and in the Shenandoah Valley. In July 1862 Webster accepted command of the newly-formed 98th OVI that had been raised in the Steubenville area. The regiment was sent into Kentucky late in August.
The inexperienced 98th OVI faced its first test Oct. 8, 1862, at Perryville as both armies searched the Kentucky countryside for water. As the confrontation began, Webster also commanded the 24th brigade in Brigadier-General James S. Jackson's 10th division in the First Army Corps headed by Major-General Alexander McCook.
In his report on the battle, McCook said the right flank of his corps was "turned by a large force of the enemy. I then ordered Colonel Webster of the 98th Ohio to move his troops to the right and repel the attack, if possible. It was in obeying this order," McCook said, "that this gallant officer received a mortal wound."
George W. Rue, a native of Harrodsburg, Ky., was wounded in Mexico while a member of the Second Kentucky Infantry. Rue moved to Hamilton in the 1850s.
After the Civil War started, he joined the Ninth Kentucky Cavalry, a Union regiment. Rue also participated in the Battle of Perryville, but won singular honors in the summer of 1863.
Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s 25-day cavalry raid through Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio ended July 26, 1863, near Salineville and Lisbon in Columbiana County, close to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, when the Confederate leader surrendered his decimated force to Major George W. Rue, a Hamilton resident until his death in 1911.