The Case of the 1894 Indiana County Judicial Election: Judge John P. Blair v. Judge Harry White

It was in 1894 when the election for judge brought about Indiana County’s most bitter, vicious, and sordid election.  The contestants were Harry White and John P. Blair.  The election results gave White a narrow margin of 87 votes (White: 4036, Blair: 3949).  Blair contested the election.  Printed below based on newspaper article is the best rendition of how the case likely proceeded and the outcome given by the Court.

On December 5, 1894, D.B. Taylor, Esq. went to Harrisburg with a petition that was signed by nearly 150 voters, asking the Governor to appoint a court to investigate the 1894 election results between Judge White and Judge Blair.  The petition sought the Governor to appoint a court consisting of three Judges closest to Indiana to sit to hear and determine which candidate is entitled to the office.

The claim was that Judge White was declared the winner by reason of false returns, and those signing the petition did not believe White received more than 3,600 legal votes, but that Blair did receive 3,949 legal votes.  In the petition it was alleged that 118 votes were taken from disqualified voters whose names were not on the ballot check lists; 148 votes were taken from persons who were at least 22 and had not paid taxes within two years; 59 votes and upwards of people who gave, or promised to give, bribes; 109 votes of persons who received bribes; and two persons under 21 voted – the claim was that all these votes went to White. 

Attorney General Hensel approved the petition on December 6 and the petition was sent to Governor Pattison.

Judge White traveled to Harrisburg on December 7 for a hearing before the Governor in the afternoon.  Judge White was represented by Lyman D. Gilbert of Harrisburg.  At the hearing, the Governor directed Attorney Gilbert to submit briefs to the Attorney General that week.  The Governor also appointed Judge Barker, of Ebensburg; Judge Doty, of Greensburg; and Judge Reyburn, of Kittanning to serve on the panel.  It was reported that White’s attorney filed an objection against Judge Reyburn as he was the brother-in-law of D.B. Taylor, the plaintiff’s attorney, but Judge White denied the claim stating:

The people of this county know all about that election.  I was fairly elected in the face of an opposition such as a candidate never before saw in Indiana County.  The opposition say that can change my majority of 87 to 349 in favor of my opponent.  In answer to that I have positive proof of several hundred illegal votes cast for Judge Blair – illegal, because the voter had not paid his taxes.  I do not believe the people of the county are in sympathy with this talked-of contest.  Of course there may have been some illegal votes cast because of technicalities, but the people will not lay to my charge the failure of election officers to comply with formalities.

Judge Blair stated that he was not pushing for the contest and knew nothing of the plans or methods of those who were backing the contest.

Court was called into session on December 21, 1894 at 10 a.m.   The first order of business was to appoint a president of the panel, to which Judge Doty was selected.  After Prothonotary Peelor read the Governor’s commissions, Attorney Taylor (for the petitioners) and Attorney Banks (for Judge White) presented their opening statements.  The attorneys present on behalf of Judge White were: Cunningham, Banks, Scott, Watson, and Keener.

Judge White, with the court’s permission, presented a statement because of the absence of an attorney who had expected to be there.  He objected to the sitting of the Honorable Calvin Reyburn, President Judge of the 33rd District, because of the circumstances.  He said in his statement, “This request is made out of no disrespect for his Honor or from want of confidence in his judicial character and integrity, but because of the surroundings.”  As mentioned above, the objection was over Judge Reyburn being the brother-in-law of D.B. Taylor, attorney for Blair.

The Judges retired to conference and upon returning to the bench Judge Doty announced that it was Judge Reyburn’s personal desire to withdraw from the board, but because of the Governor’s commission and the evident intent of the law that the three Judges closest to the Courthouse of Indiana County preside over the matter; it was decided that Judge Reyburn would remain a member of the panel.  Mr. Banks objected vigorously to the decision, but he was overruled.

Mr. Banks then made an oral motion that the petition be quashed on the grounds that it was vague and indefinite, stating that the very vagueness of the petition looked like a scheme of the petitioners to get into the ballot boxes.

Mr. Taylor responded that many of the ballot boxes had already been opened and papers extracted, and that before too much time had passed, the people of the county would know who did it.  He quoted many authorities why it was not necessary to designate who case the illegal votes an in what districts the frauds were perpetrated.

Mr. Taylor requested that counsel for petitioners not be compelled to furnish the names of those who voted illegally, and gave the reason that it would interfere in the subpoenaing of their witnesses.  Judge Barker then asked for a little more definite explanation upon which Taylor stated, “Why, your honor…I can in a very few minutes bring you absolute proof that already attempts have been made to get people out of the county until after this contest is decided.”

Mr. Cunningham then took the floor speaking at length about the vagaries of the petition and the turmoil which could result if something more definite was not presented.  He told the court, “Unless this petition states who these illegal voters are and where they voted there is not a man in Indiana County who cannot be called upon to testify. Counsel for the petitioners have unlimited power in the matter unless your honors grant a ‘bill in particular,’ asking for more definite speculations.”

After a long discussion among the Judges, they came to a conclusion with Judge Doty announcing a unanimous opinion that the petition was vague, and it needed to state who the illegal voters were, and where they voted.  The Court granted the bill, and counsel for the petitioners would have until January 1, 1895 to file their answer.

Sheriff D.C. Mack was then appointed as commissioner to collect all the ballot boxes in the county and keep them in his custody until he was called upon to deliver them to the court.

The court then adjourned until January 15, when the Judges would again convene and hear the evidence in the case.

At 9:00 a.m. on January 15, 1895 the court panel convened with Judge Doty announcing, “Well, we are ready to proceed, Mr. Taylor.”

D.B. Taylor called William Fry and Lester Ruffner, and while the court was waiting for the witnesses to be brought in, Judge White came into the court room, shook hands with the Judges on the bench, and then seated himself at counsel table.

William Fry appeared and was sworn; stated he lived near Marion and voted in Rayne Township.

            Attorney Taylor: “State whether or not any person gave you money for your vote.”

            Attorney Banks: “Just a moment; that’s objected to.”

Attorney Banks argued that in the Bill of Particulars filed by Blair had made no specifications of any voters who had received bribes.  He further attacked the Bill saying it was not signed by any person.  He said the signatures should be there and that the paper should be sworn to.

Judge Barker replied that the object of the court when they ordered the filing of the Bill was to insure there was sufficient cause for the proceedings, and if there were no objections the contestants would be allowed to amend their specifications.

Mr. Cunningham wanted to know if the Bill was amended, if the other side would have the privilege to answer it.

Judge Barker announced that the court would allow the contestants to amend their Bill and Attorney Taylor who had his paper ready handed it to the Prothonotary.

Further examination of the witness was objected to and then there were long arguments from both sides.  The argument was made by White’s attorneys that witnesses could not be made to testify to having received or given bribes.  The Blair people contended that the law said that no testimony given in a case of the kind could be used against witnesses in any future proceeding which might be brought against him and that therefore they were safe as far as incrimination was concerned.

Attorneys Cunningham and Banks contended that after a voter has sworn to his eligibility to vote, the vote should be taken and counted and if he had perjured himself or taken a bribe, the remedy was to be found in another court.  The court recessed from 11:15 to 1:30 to consider the arguments.

The court reconvened, and Judge Doty announced that the objections were overruled, and the evidence would be admitted.

In answer to the Bill of Particulars, Judge White filed on the night of January 15, claiming that there were upwards of 1,023 illegal votes were cast for John P. Blair.  The allegations were as follows: Non-residents, 34; not registered, 199; taxes unpaid, 455; under age, 7; defective ballots, 4; marked by parties not asked to assist in marking, 4; marked contrary to orders, 6; marked by persons incompetent to assist, 4; voters not naturalized, 2; promised to give valuable consideration, 47; received or agreed to receive valuable consideration, 157.  He also averred that votes of several districts should be thrown out on account of irregularities.

The court then heard testimony of 1,372 witnesses, which took up 1,541 typewritten pages.  In summary, the testimony is summarized as consisting of allegations and denials of bribery with money and/or whiskey, violations of election laws, and sundry other improprieties and questionable electioneering tactics.

It was presented that John Guffey, a prominent Democratic politician of Pittsburgh, had written a letter charging that Bennet’s liquor house had furnished Judge White with 100 packages of whiskey during the election campaign.  The owners of the establishment denied the charges.

Judge White testified on his own behalf, as a large crowd had gathered to hear his side of the story:

The contestants have produced testimony showing that I gave money during the recent campaign to a number of persons, in all about $21 [approximately $635 in today’s money].  I will explain these transactions.  I met Samuel Cooper a political friend of mine, at Gettysburg [Hillsdale] and we had some conversation about election matters.  I asked him to see a number of people for me, and to procure a driver to take me over the township.  We walked back an alley to a buggy shed, and I gave him $2.  The secrecy of the transaction was brought about by my thinking that if my opponents saw me give him the money they would put a false construction on it.  The money was for legitimate campaign expenses, and Cooper’s testimony was correct.  I have no apology to make concerning that transaction.

Clark Wilson testified that I gave him money before the election, he told the truth.  I gave him 50 cents or $1, as I have often done before, and that simple act of charity has nothing to do with the election, as Wilson also testified on the stand.

Robert McBreth came to my office to see me.  He said he had been doing some work for me, and thought there were others in his vicinity that he could get to support me.  He wanted expense money and I gave him $2.  William B. Lytle swore that I gave him $2, that is also correct.  I was down in Conemaugh Township, and he drove with me one day to see a number of people.  In the evening he got supper for me and fed my horses.  He did not want to take the money, but I said I did not wan to take his hospitality for nothing.  On a subsequent visit I gave his sister $1 for a like purpose.  He did not want to accept it, but I would not listen to a refusal.

I met William Trimble, of East Wheatfield, at a local bank.  I persuaded him to accompany me on an electioneering tour over the township.  He took care of my horse, and gave me my dinner, and for these services I gave him $5.  Austin Condron also received $5.  He was very active in my behalf, and was my friend before he received a cent from me.  It was not necessary for me to pay him anything.

David Campbell, of Heshbon, is a Democrat, but was one of my supporters all through the campaign.  He came to my office and made an arrangement whereby he was to keep me posted through correspondence.  I gave him $2 for postage and incidentals.  As the election drew near I lost his support, probably through failure of mine to answer some of his letters.

David Mardis received a dollar, but that was before the primary.  He is a very poor man, and I believed he needed it.

These instances I believe cover the amount of $21, which I am charged with having given for votes.

I never told John Nealor I would pay his back taxes if he would support me.  Three witnesses who have testified in rebuttal of that evidence heard the conversation.  I gave Alex. McCoy a dollar at Ambrose.  He was supporting me, and thought he could get some friends into line.  The dollar was given him for expenses, and not to influence his vote.

A young man, whom I have since learned was Samuel Hunter, came into my office and talked about the election.  He swore that I sent him to John H. Rochester for whiskey.  My best recollection is that I did nothing of the kind.  I did not even know that Rochester had whiskey or wine at his house, and I certainly had no claim on him other than friendship.  I never authorized Rochester to use liquor in my behalf – none whatever.

James Trindle called on me during the week of the county fair.  He knew I was an old friend of his father, and I gave him a dollar to get some dinner and may have given him some liquor.  Everybody knows that I am not a teetotaler, and I have no desire to be a hypocrite about the matter.  We had absolutely no conversation about the election.  I talked to Calvin Miller, and may have given him expenses for hauling voters to the polls.  Lewis Burnheimer is mistaken in his testimony that I promised to put him on the jury.  I never said that; I wouldn’t say it.  The same is true of the father of Miss Mary Conrad.  The young lady quoted me as saying I would put her father on the jury if he would support me.  All that I said was, ‘Tell your father to come and see me when in town;” John Lutes’s testimony was that I promised to put him on the jury if he would give me a ‘hist.’ I never made such a promise, nor did I promise to renew Porter Campbell’s note.

Myers testified that I sent him to Cashier Watt for money.  Now, I never knew Walter Myers until after the election, and the conversation he swore to positively never occurred.  Nicewonger, Myers’s companion, often called on me to borrow money, but I always told him I had none to loan.  He came to my house for money but I told him he would have to arrange matters of that kind at the bank.  Cashier Watt had no authority to pay out money for me.  Myers was in my office for money after the election.

I gave no person any money, nor made any offers or promises to influence votes.  I thought I knew what my privileges were under the law and certainly lived up to all just requirements.  There were, of course legitimate campaign expenses which were paid through the county chairman and many of the persons who came to me for money were referred to Mr. McGregor.

After Judge White’s statement, there was cross examination, which caused some wrangling on the part of the attorneys, and the Judge asked the court to protect him from insult.

The case closed on May 4, 1895 when the Court announced that there were 571 illegal votes which were thrown out, some because of election law violations, others for bribery.  In total 306 ballots for Blair were disqualified along with 265 votes for White.  The Court also stated that Judge White’s electioneering activities and expenditures were within the law.  This left White the declared winner with 3771 votes to 3643 for Blair.  The judicial opinion consisted of 35 pages of opinion, 28 pages covering points of law and 99 pages of findings of fact, this comes to a total of 162 pages.  To put this in perspective a typical United States Supreme Court case typically comes to approximately 11 pages.

So do you believe Judge White was fully within the confines of the law, or was he walking a thin hairline between lawful and unlawful?

Indiana County Judicial System Part IV

In 1894, Judge Harry White came up for reelection; he had been on the Bench since January 1885. White was reelected, but by a narrow margin, and despite numerous efforts to put himself in a favorable light, as discussed in a previous post, Judge White had a controversial career, and he tread a thin line between ethical and unethical actions. However, White was unable to erase the memories of 1894-95, because when the election of 1904 came around, he was defeated for a third term, and never held an elective public office again. He was succeed by Stephen J. Telford who served until January 1916, when Judge Jonathan N. Langham took over his seat.

judge telford
Judge Stephen J. Telford

During the late 1800s and early part of the 1900s, Indiana County was fortunate to have the honor of having two of its native sons on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Justice Silas M. Clark (who died November 20, 1891 in office and was eulogized during a moving funeral) and Justice John P. Elkin, who after serving as Attorney General of Pennsylvania from 1899-1903, was nominated in 1904 for the PA Supreme Court, was elected and took his place on the bench in January 1905 serving until his death on October 3, 1915.

The period from 1891-1916, saw an increase in crime, due in part to a “Wild West” climate in some of the new mining towns; there were numerous murders and other crimes and disturbances. This can been seen in 1898 in Glen Campbell and in Whiskey Run in 1911 which resulted in four deaths.

By 1920 the courthouse was showing its age at 50 years old. When it was constructed, electricity and modern toilet facilities were unheard of, therefore remodeling needed to be completed at various times. In 1917, there was a $3,370 contract for public “comfort stations” to be put in in the courthouse basement. Then in 1929 it was decided to complete the basement, it was previously divided into rooms but never finished because the space was not needed. A street-level entrance to the basement was provided, which eliminated the former steps on the Sixth Street side to the first floor. The toilets on the first floor were removed and two toilets were provided in the basement, along with eight office rooms.

Another addition was begun in December 1917 and completed in the spring of 1918: the “Bridge of Sighs” connected the courtroom with the jail.

By the time the Depression hit, the courthouse needed painting and maintenance, estimated at a cost of $600; the labor was to be provided by the Civil Works Administration. Officials and attorneys contributed $290 toward the cost. Another incident during the Depression Era, was the leaning of the courthouse tower which was noticed by June 1936; an option discussed was the removal of the clock tower, but this was met with protests from citizens. Other plans during this time included the removal of the stone wall and the iron fence surrounding the courthouse, cleaning and painting the exterior, raising the roof and constructing an additional story, remodeling the interior to provide much needed office space, and the installation of an elevator. The Grand Jury approved the project, with labor to be done as a W.P.A. project. By late July, the local WPA office approved the repainting of the courthouse and jail, and Washington also gave its approval on September 11; but the commissioners cancelled the project due to the impending cold weather and the cost of scaffolding. In December the Grand Jury were presented with reconstruction plans, but postponed the matter for further study.

It was in 1923, that women began serving on juries. The Indiana Evening Gazette reported on May 1, 1923 that 73 women accepted to serve on the grand petit and traverse jurors along with 131 men. To put this in perspective Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919 and being ratified on August 18, 1920, giving women the right to vote.

jury chairs
Jury Chairs 9 and 10

It was also during this period that an amusing incident occurred on January 5, 1924. The story begins when everyone in the courthouse began to cry, investigators found two rapidly emptying tear gas bombs in the corridor, and the mystery as to why everyone was crying was solved. It seems that outgoing Sheriff J.R. Richards had the bombs to use in a scattering a mob, and two practical jokers thought it would be fun to release them, that is until they were among the ones weeping. The windows and doors to the building were opened, and the gas weakened, but they had to be closed at the end of the day and the fumes began to collect again. On Sunday morning, the Lutherans, entered the building to worship in while their new church was being constructed; however, they were almost forced to leave due to the fumes.

The final era of the judicial system that we are going to look at is moving into the modern era, mostly after the 1950s through the 1980s. Starting in the 1950’s the grandeous courthouse was described as an “eye sore” and there was a proposed modernization of the building which was estimated to cost between $800,000 and $850,000, but these proposals got no further than the planning stage. Then on October 29, 1962, plans were announced to construct a new courthouse at the rear of the old courthouse, but the Gazette ran several editorials in November which disagreed with the choice of a site and urged that the Pennsylvania Railroad station site (on the corner of Eighth Street and Philadelphia) be chosen. Bids were advertised around January 1, 1965, but it wasn’t until December 7, 1966 that the Commissioners chose the PRR site.

The public got a preview of the new courthouse on June 3, 1967 when the Gazette published a picture and plans. By August the Indiana County Redevelopment Authority purchased the entire PRR property for $300,000 and transferred a portion of the property to the county for a courthouse. On December 6, the Commissioners approved a $2 million bond issue to finance the problem. Construction contracts were signed on January 3, 1968 and ground-breaking ceremonies were held on January 10. Construction continued through 1969 and by the beginning of 1970 contracts for new furnishings were awarded. The last session of court in the old courthouse was held on November 2, 1970; and on December 17 the last county office, the prothonotary, moved out and the doors were padlocked soon afterward.

The Commissioners announced on April 22, 1971 that the old courthouse would be sold in the near future. This set off a history of the old courthouse. There was an auction of the furnishing held in June. In May 1972 there was a survey related to the distribution of the courthouse with three choices: retain the buildings and the property, retain the land, sell to the highest bidder. A large majority desired to keep the old courthouse. By the end of the year the National Bank of the Commonwealth (NBOC) made a proposal to lease and restore the building for bank purposes.

Renovation work began during the summer of 1973, starting with the placement of the old courthouse on the state and national registers of historic places. An “Open House” was held on October 1974.

The new courthouse proved to be less than ideal. There were some people felt that the colonial design was inappropriate, because Indiana did not exist during that period. Moreover, the structure proved to be poorly insulated, heating cost exorbitant, and expensive corrective measures had to be taken. In 1987, at an estimated cost of $200,000, asbestos was removed.

Ground-breaking of a new jail took place on September 9, 1972 and the $1 million 3-story facility was dedicated on September 28, 1973 but not occupied until the end of October. The issue of jailbreaks did not end, and the first occurred on September 21, 1974, followed by three more on November 3. The jail was referred to as the “Ninth Street Hilton.” There were suggestions to put bars on the windows, on November 4 the Commissioners voted to proceed with the installation of bars immediately.

The justice-of-the-peace system was replaced by the District Justices, first elected in 1969 and taking office in January 1970. The first district justices were: James Lambert, Geraldine M. Wilkins, Louis J. Nocco, and Albert Cox. Mrs. Wilkins was the first Indiana County woman to hold the post of District Justice. Judy Monaco was sworn in on May 3, 1971 as the first female member of the Indiana County Bar Association and the first to be admitted to practice in the new courthouse.

Another big change during this period was the elimination of the indicting grand jury system, which was authorized by a 1973 constitutional amendment. The last Indiana County Grand Jury closed its work in December 1978.

The Indiana County Judiciary system is continually changing, with the election of new judges, new District Judges, and the admission of new attorneys to the Bar Association.

Indiana County Judicial System Part II

As time progress, so did the court system in Indiana County.  To recap from last week’s blog post, Indiana County was part of the newly created Tenth Judicial District, which included Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset, and Westmoreland County.  Jefferson County, which then included parts of present Elk and Forest Counties, was also attached to Indiana County for judicial purposes.  In 1818, Somerset County was transferred to the 14th District.

Because of the size of the Judicial District, it was essential to have justice of the peace districts, which were in general, arranged according to townships.  Indiana County consisted of: Conemaugh (264 taxable inhabitants, had 2 justices of the peace), Blacklick (213 taxable inhabitants and 2 justices), Wheatfield (277 taxable inhabitants and 2 justices), Armstrong and Centre (including the South part of Indiana, 303 taxable inhabitants and 3 justices), Washington (including the north part of Indiana, 167 taxable inhabitants and 3 justices), and Mahoning (135 taxable inhabitants and 2 justices) Townships.  This gave Indiana County 6 districts and 14 justices in 1814; by 1827 there were 11 districts and 20 justices, this trend continued in later years as new townships were organized.

Since the Court’s jurisdiction included four, and later three counties, court was only held in Indiana four time a year; it began on the second Monday and later it was the fourth Monday of March, June, September, and December.  “Court weeks” were an important occasion in town, as many visitors came to Indiana.  Civil actions were heard in the Court of Common Pleas, and criminal chargers were heard in the Court of Quarter Sessions.

John Young was appointed as Indiana County’s first judge, along with him there were two associate judges, Charles Campbell and James Smith.  It is interesting to note that associate judges were not required to be learned in the Law.  Judge Young resigned at the end of the November Term 1836, after serving on the Bench for thirty years.  His successor was Thomas White, who was appointed in December 1836.

The following is a list of Associate Judges and the time period of their service: Charles Campbell (1806-1828), James Smith (1806-1818), Joshua Lewis (1818-April 25, 1828), John Taylor (1828-1836), Andrew Brown (1828 – September 29, 1830), Samuel Moorhead Jr. (1830-?), Dr. Robert Mitchell (1836-1842), Meek Kelly (1842-May 14, 1843), James McKennan (1842-?), John Cunningham was appointed in 1843 succeeding Kelly.  In the early days of the judicial system, all those in the judiciary – judges, associate judges and even justices of the peace – were appointed by the Governor, unlike being elected in later years.  Since they were appointed by the Governor, he could also remove appointees from office for cause.  This happened on February 28, 1828 when Governor Shulze revoked the commission of James Dunn as justice of Wheatfield Township because of a “misdemeanor in office” of which he was convicted in December 1826.

Occasionally judges were brought in from other districts, as occurred in 1842 when notice of a special court session was advertised to begin on August 1, 1842, presided over by Judge Robert C. Grier of Allegheny County, for the trial of cases in which Judge Thomas White had been concerned as counsel.  Later, Judge Grier was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President James K. Polk, and he served on the nation’s highest court from August 10, 1846 until January 31, 1870.

Prosecuting attorneys for criminal cases were appointed from outside the county, and usually represented the Commonwealth as deputy attorney general for several counties.  Prosecuting attorneys included William H. Brackenridge, Henry Shippen, Thomas White, a Mr. Canon, and W.R. Smith.  Ephraim Carpenter was appointed deputy attorney general on March 23, 1824; he lived in Indiana and served for 12 years until William Banks was appointed on March 1836.  August Drum was appointed on March 25, 1839 and was replaced in June 1842 by Thomas C. McDonald who only served a year when Thomas Sutton was appointed on June 26, 1843.  Sutton also only served a little over a year when he was replaced by Thomas C. McDowell on September 25, 1844.

At the time, the sheriff and his deputies, or the local constables, had a lot of power; they were entrusted with arresting criminals, executing judicial orders, subpoenas, etc.  Thomas McCartney was the first Indiana County Sheriff.  He was followed by Robert Robinson in 1809, James Elliott in 1812, Thomas Sutton in 1815, Clemence McGara in 1818, Thomas Sutton in 1821, Henry Kinter in 1824, James Gordon in 1827, James Taylor in 1830, Joseph Loughry in 1833, James Kier in 1836, William Evans in 1839, and David Ralston in 1842.  For a time the chief law enforcement officer was called the “High Sheriff,” later being shortened to just sheriff.

The first two jails in Indiana County were the hickory log jail and the stone jail of 1807.  The third county jail was built at the corner of North Sixth Street and Nixon Avenue, it was also made of stone.  This structure also had its faults as an editorial in the Indiana Republican in 1846 reported: “a pretty specimen confined in it, Sampson like, carried off the gates and made his escape!”  George W. Robinson was another jail-breaker, he was confined on a charge of bigamy, and escaped on May 17, 1841.

To get a sense of how busy the court system was, take the following data for Indiana County from the decade of 1823-1833:

Number of prosecutions for homicide: 4

Cases in which Grand Juries returned bills: 3

Cases in which Grand Juries found no bill: 1

Acquittals of First-degree murder: 3

Acquittals of Second-degree murder: 2

Convictions of First-degree murder: 1

Convictions of Second-degree murder: 0

Convictions of manslaughter: 0

Acquittals of manslaughter: 0

In 1835, Robert Herrin was killed in a fight with Thomas Jones, both were African-American and from Blairsville.  At the trial before Judge John Young, a verdict of second-degree murder was brought against Jones, and he was sentenced to twelve years in Western Penitentiary.

Other early murders in the County were committed along the Pennsylvania Canal.  In 1830, the confession of Joseph Evans was published.  Evans came from to Blairsville from Maine in 1829 and started working on the construction of the canal.  He was under contract by Hugh McCrea as a cook most of the time.  During a drunken brawl he accidentally killed John Cissler.  There were others involved in the brawl including David Linsebigler, John Ball and a fellow called “Dublin.”  Evans confessed that he struck Linsebigler in the ear, kicked him in the pit of the stomach and jumped on him across his shoulders with both feet. He then struck Ball on the side of the head and caught “Dublin” by the hair and also kicked him in his stomach, let him fall and then kicked him twice more in the side.

Another canal murder was Commonwealth v. King Hewit, Mr. Hewit was tried February 20, 1844 at Greensburg.  He killed James Halferty, Captain of the boat Clipper at John Moonshower’s lock between 4-5 miles east of Blairsville in a 4am fight over who should enter the lock first.  The verdict was second degree murder.

Another type of crime that has since been replaced by car theft was horse stealing.  The Indiana County sheriff advertised in the Westmoreland Republican for two horse thieves, Amassa and Alpha Latimore, who were imprisoned December 5, 1819 and had broken out of jail.  There was a $100 reward for their capture, or $50 for either one.  There were also petty and unsolved larcenies.

The progression of time was causing the judicial system to grow, as the town grew so did the need for judicial system.  Not only with general business, but also with the increase in criminal activity.

The Beginning of the Indiana County Judicial System

During the early years of Indiana County, access to the Court system was very difficult.  On January 30, 1804, James McComb, a resident of Indiana County in the General Assembly, presented to the House of Representatives four petitions signed by citizens of the provisional county of Indiana which stated the inconvenience to have to attend court in Greensburg.  This difficulty was on account of the distance and the difficulty in crossing the Conemaugh River.  The purpose of the petition was for Indiana County to be organized for judicial purposes.  On March 5, 1804, Mr. Allshouse of Westmoreland County offered a resolution that Indiana be organized for judicial purposes.  The resolution was tabled and Mr. McComb again presented another petition on March 9, 1804, but it was to no avail.

It was not until February 6, 1805, that Mr. McComb presented another petition for judicial organization of Indiana County.  House Bill 73 “An Act to organize the provisional counties of Indiana and Cambria” was introduced on February 8, 1805.  The bill passed the House and went to the Senate on February 21, but the Senate voted to postpone the matter until the following session.

It was in December 1805 that the first sale of lots in Indiana had occurred and again the time came to finally complete the organization of the county and fully admit it to the membership of the Pennsylvania counties. This time, Senator Joseph Hart, Senator from Bucks County, introduced Senate Bill 127 “An Act to Organize the Provisional County of Indiana,” on January 24, 1806. The bill was considered and amended on February 20, and it was passed the next day and sent to the House which also passed the bill on March 3. The Governor signed the bill on March 10, making the measure law.

Just prior to the time upon the passage of the law, the General Assembly had created the new Tenth Judicial District by Act of February 24, 1806, with John Young being commissioned Judge on March 1, 1806. This new district included Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Somerset, and Westmoreland Counties.

The Act of March 10, 1806, provided for the first election of county officials to be held on the second Tuesday of October to choose “two fit persons” for Sheriff, two for Coroner, and three commissioners.  Further, the first Monday of November, Indiana County was to enjoy the same rights and privileges as other counties, and all Court actions that were still pending in the Westmoreland County Courts were to be transferred to Indiana County.  This meant that the Prothonotary of Westmoreland County was directed to prepare a Docket of all pending Court actions and transfer them to Indiana County.  The newly elected Commissioners of Indiana County were authorized to erect a Court House, prison, and other public buildings and they had the power to obtain a house in or near the town of Indiana, where the courts could be held until a court house could be erected, and if they were not able to obtain a building they could erect temporary buildings for that purpose.  The Courts, Commissioners, and other officials of Indiana County were also given authority over Jefferson County’s 1,203 square mile area, which included parts of Forest and Elk Counties, extending to present places of Ridgway, Johnsonburg, St. Mary’s, Marienville, Cook’s Forest, Clear Creek State Park, and a large part of Allegheny National Forest.

Thomas McCartney was elected as the first “High Sheriff” with Samuel Young as the first Coroner. The first Commissioners were: William Clark, James Johnston, and Alexander McLain. James McLain was appointed by Governor McKean to serve as Prothonotary, Clerk of Courts, and Register & Recorder on October 2, 1806.

The first Court convened on December 8, 1806 on the second floor of Peter Sutton’s hotel and tavern near the corner of Carpenter Avenue and Philadelphia Street. Judge John Young presided and being assisted by Associate Judge Charles Campbell. The jurors chosen were each paid $2 for their services.  The first ten cases heard in Quarter Sessions (criminal) Court, nine of them were for assault and battery. Number 7, Commonwealth v. Margaret Walker, was for an indictment for fornication and bastardy, this case has heard along with Commonwealth v. John Campbell for bigamy. There were only three civil case to come before the court during that first term. Also during this first term came petitions for roads, one from Newport to Indiana and another from David Fulton’s to Brady’s Mill, but there was no action taken. The attorneys at bar were: George Armstrong, John B. Alexander, Samuel S. Harrison, James M. Riddle, Samuel Massey, and Samuel Gutherie; but none of them resided in Indiana County.

The second term, in March 1807, Judge Young was not present, and the reason was unknown, but Associate Judges Charles Campbell and James Smith president; this being the first time Smith appeared on the Bench. The case load was growing: 37 civil and 11 criminal cases. This was the first time that Attorney Daniel Stanard appeared; Stanard being the first resident attorney.  All the criminal cases except one were assault and battery or surety of the peace charges. William Evans, the defendant in Commonwealth v. William Evans, was required to post $200 bond on a fornication and bastardy charge pending the appearance of Sarah Evans at the next term. There were recommendations to the Governor for tavern licenses from Henry Shryock, William Bond, and James Moorhead. Other types of business included applications for naturalization and petitions for roads. There was also a report and draft to divide Armstrong and Conemaugh Townships, which was approved by the court.

The following terms were held on the second Mondays of June, September and December, with similar cases being heard. On October 19, 1807, on the motion of James M. Riddle, Daniel Stanard was admitted to the Bar before Associate Judges Campbell and Smith.

The first public building to be erected was a crude jail measuring twenty feet square which was built by the first Sheriff, Thomas McCartney and was assisted by Conrad Rice. It was constructed from shell-bark hickory logs with a clapboard roof. The first prisoner incarcerated was Patrick Short, an Irishman, but he escaped by digging underneath the jail never to be found.

In 1806, construction was begun on a stone jail and completed in 1807. The contractor was Rev. John Jamieson. The building was 36×30 feet, with the lower story being nine feet high and the upper floor eight feet high; it stood at the corner of Sixth Street and “Clymer Alley” (now Nixon Avenue). James Mahan was the stone mason, Thomas Sutton was the carpenter and the first Jailer was Samuel Douglass.

The first Courthouse was begun in 1807 and not completed until late 1809, with John Huey as the contractor. It is unknown what the total cost of the first Courthouse and jail, but it was reported that the proceeds from the auction of town lots from the 250-acre tract donated by George Clymer were more than sufficient to meet the cost.

Once construction of the Courthouse was begun, a row of one-story brick offices for the county officials was erected along Philadelphia Street and next to the Courthouse.  The early years of the Indiana County judicial system were primitive, but an important start to laying the foundation of law and order in Indiana County.