Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers...Iowa - 1915 - B

1915 Index

Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa
by Edward H. Stiles. Des Moines: Homestead Publishing Co., 1915.


Unless noted, biographies submitted by Dick Barton.

GEORGE W. BALL was for many years a prominent lawyer of Johnson County and the State.  As I am informed, he was a native of Iowa, born in Jefferson County about the time the State was admitted into the Union.  He was a graduate of the Wesleyan University at Mt. Pleasant and of the Iowa State University.  He was a contemporary of Milton Remley and Cyrus S. Ranck.  They were nearly of the same age and commenced practice about the same time.  Mr. Ball was a lawyer of ability. He also took a deep interest and was a leader in public affairs and a recipient of public favors and the public confidence.  For two terms he was County Attorney of Johnson County. In the fall of 1885 he was elected to the House and served in the 21st General Assembly.  In 1899 he was elected to the State Senate and served in the 28th and 29th General Assemblies.  I am informed by Mr. Remley that he maintained his practice until far advanced in years, but finally had to succumb to the insidious steps of an incurable disease. His son, Major George W. Ball, Jr., was associated with his father in the practice for a number of years, and they made a strong firm.  Of the son it is not within my province to speak, as he belongs to the active present.

PETER G. BALLINGALL was so much a part of Ottumwa, and it of him, that the name of one throughout the State naturally recalled the other, and by his will, they are in a manner perpetually linked, for by that will be devised his fine hotel to the City of Ottumwa, on the condition that it should be kept up by it and be perpetually known as the "Ballingall House." The City accepted the trust and has maintained and greatly improved the hotel according to the wish of its founder. I knew him well, was his legal counsel for years, and wrote the original draft of his will which constituted the basis of the last one, written by J. J. Smith, Esq., who succeeded me as Mr. Ballingall's legal adviser after my removal to Kansas City . Coming here in the city's infancy, his means limited, but with a spirit undaunted, he commenced laying the foundations of the hotel which bears his name, and which, from time to time, and so fast as means would permit, he improved and made so perfect under his fostering care, that it is the pride of the City, to whose advancement he, in various ways, gave the best energies of his life. None save the old citizens, thoroughly conversant with the history and course of that structure and the struggles of its builder, through a period of thirty years, can rightly appreciate how much of the life blood of plain Peter Ballingall its every layer represents. But, while this is the most visible monument of his worth and enterprise, it, by no means, constitutes the sum. Ballingall was a man of innate force, and if equipped with equipoise, might have been a genius. As it was, he was a man of such aspirations and achievements as to justly exalt him above the commonalty of mankind. He adopted as the chief enterprise of his life the rearing and perfection of a hotel which should be an honor to his name and city, because, to use a homely phrase, he had been brought up in that business. But his instincts were stronger than his training, and the generous aid he gave to every public enterprise displayed the natural broadness of his character, while his unceasing acts of private charity attested the nobleness of his soul.

In his make-up he was sui generis, an individual strongly marked, replete with idiosyncrasies, bustling, ostentatious, exuberant in speech, and, from lack of early discipline, ofttimes wanting in coherence and clearness of expression. But over all and at the end of all, there was wisdom.

No man of that time did more for the material growth of Ottumwa . With a will that was indomitable, an energy that was restless, he at all times and on all occasions strove for the prosperity of his city and its people. To the poor he was always generous, and to the destitute and forsaken he never turned a deaf ear. To feed them while living, and to see that they had a decent, Christian burial when dead, constituted a part of his life work. In his death, the laboring classes surely lost a dear and faithful friend.

In his business, in his wide travels, in the numerous positions to which his popularity, his efficiency, as well as his eminently good fellowship called him, he had met multitudes of distinguished men. From all he learned the graces of human action, and with all he made friends. As a member of the City and State Governments - for he frequently served on the Board of Aldermen, and was for four years a State Senator - he did his duty faithfully and well. No trail of the serpent crossed his pathway. It was he that introduced the bill providing for the erection of the national flag on the public school buildings. To his efforts were due much of the success of the coal palace, which many years ago widely advertised Ottumwa as a city of importance.

Wearied with his labors, worn with the tension of the constant service of many years, he sought by travel in foreign lands, not only to recuperate his vital forces, but to satisfy his aspiration in gaining a larger knowledge. He may be said to have died at his post. The final message was, "Died at sea; buried at Hong Kong ." His remains were brought home and buried in the city cemetery. His death occurred in March, 1891.

JOHN R BARCROFT was born in Cadiz , Ohio , in 1824, where he was educated, studied law, and was admitted to the bar. At the age of twenty-three he commenced the practice at Millersburg , Ohio , and for a time was a law partner of Judge Josiah Given, who afterward removed to Iowa and became one of the Judges of its Supreme Court. When forty years of age, in 1864, Mr. Barcroft came to Iowa and in the following year settled at Des Moines , and entered upon the practice. For a time he was associated as a partner with J. S. Polk and F. M. Hubbell. I became acquainted with him soon after he came to Iowa . He was one of the most pleasing and amiable men at the bar. But the amenities of life were not his only accomplishments. He was a good thinker and a fine lawyer. He acquired an excellent practice, and on account of his agreeable manners, legal learning and general acquirements, had not only the respect but friendship of his associates. He died, sincerely mourned by a wide range of acquaintances, at Des Moines , in 1901.


and Thomas A. Bereman were brothers and both prominent lawyers during their time, in Mount Pleasant . The former I knew well. We were members of the House in the Tenth General Assembly. We lived in adjoining counties, and I cordially supported him as a candidate for Speaker of the House, but he eventually gave way to Jacob Butler, of Muscatine , who appointed him Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In that position he displayed fine legal acumen and ability. He was one of the ablest and most influential members of that legislative body, and left a decided impression upon the laws that were framed during it session. He occupied a high position in the profession. He subsequently removed to St. Louis and attained a corresponding one there. He died some years ago. He had been a soldier in the Civil War and was Colonel of the Forty-Fifth Iowa Infantry.


Alvah H. Bereman and Thomas A. Bereman were brothers and both prominent lawyers during their time, in Mount Pleasant .


With his brother, Thomas A. Bereman, I was not so well acquainted. He was younger by several years than Alvah, with whom he was associated in the practice. I know, however, that he held a first rank in his profession. In 1878 he was elected District Attorney of his District, serving four years in that office with great efficiency. He also was a soldier in the Civil War, attaining promotion on account of meritorious services, becoming successively Captain and Major in his regiment. Both he and his brother were men of unblemished honor.

Samuel J. Burr

The next Secretary of the Territory was Samuel J. Burr, who served from 1843 to 1845. Concerning him, I have been able to obtain but little personal information. He is described by Edmond Booth, of Anamosa, as being a man large in frame, agreeable in looks, pleasant in manners, and what is termed an all-around good fellow, which the following instance would seem to indicate. Mr. Booth relates that he and Mr. Burr started in a two-horse buggy to go from Iowa City to Burlington. there were not to exceed a half dozen log houses in the eighty miles travel. In one of these, where they stopped for the night, the occupants were a man, his wife and daughter, the lat about seventeen or eighteen. In the morning, the mother came down from the loft, before the daughter. It was in the days when ladies' dresses were fastened behind and evidently the mother had had no time to fasten the girl's. Burr took in the situation and in his lively, good-humored way remarked that he always fastened his wife's dress, and proceeded to fasten that of the girl. She stood quietly and with a most innocent air, while the Secretary of the Territory of Iowa went as deftly through the operation as though it were his daily business. * I have been unable to ascertain from any source what became of Mr. Burr, whether he remained in Iowa or left any descendants here. ------

* Note - Annals of Iowa, First Series, Vol. 4, 1870, p. 108.