Judge Frank Dale

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Judge Frank Dale



Photo submitted by: Tammie Chada
Transcribed from Annual '89er Edition,
Guthrie Daily Leader, April, 1986:
Submitted & Transcribed by: Jan LaMotte
Judge Dale made lasting mark on Guthrie
By Helen F. Holmes

     Judge Frank Dale, during his lifetime, made a lasting mark in Guthrie and Oklahoma.
     He came to Guthrie on April 22, 1889 by train although he never, like some, claimed to have been on the first train. Except for vacation trips, he never left, and the city and state are the richer for his long devotion to his adopted residence.
     Dale, who was chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court from 1893 to 1898, was long regarded as "first citizen" of Guthrie and, living until 80, almost a legend in legal circles in the state.
     In 1889, he set up practice, immediately after arriving in Guthrie, with W.W. Thomas at 12� South Second Street. Another partner, McClain, in the law firm apparently never came to Guthrie.
     Dale soon dissolved his partnership with Thomas and practiced alone until his appointment to the territorial bench as associate justice May 26, 1893. He was named chief justice of the territorial supreme court in September that year, serving until March 1, 1898.
     It was while he was chief justice that one of his actions secured lasting fame in law enforcement circles. Sharing the general concern that "too many" lawmen were being killed in attempts to apprehend desperados of the time, he advised E.D. Nix, then U.S. Marshal for the territory, that dead outlaws were preferable to dead lawmen.
     According to Nix, writing in his autobiography, Dale was so aroused over the loss of lawmen in the battle at Ingalls with the Doolin gang that he called Nix into his office and gave an unusual order, "Marshal, this is serious," Dale was quoted as saying. "I have reached the conclusion that the only good outlaw is a dead one. I hope you will instruct your deputies to bring in dead outlaws in the future. This will simplify your problem and probably save some lives."
     The unusual order-perhaps the only one of its kind ever given by a federal judge-produced results. Within the next six weeks, bodies of nine of the outlaws were brought to Guthrie for identification and the rewards offered by the railways, express companies, and the banks. Judge Dale stressed this point in a letter he wrote in 1928 to Nix recalling the lawlessness of the period and Nix's successful efforts to curb the outlaws.
     Dale's period in the Territorial Supreme Court had been one of setting precedents from the beginning, since Oklahoma was such a new territory and the needs were pressing.
     It may be of interest here to recapitulate something of the legal system in Oklahoma Territory. Under provisions of the Organic Act of May 2, 1890. The civil and criminal codes of Nebraska were deemed applicable, and three district judges were appointed, each of whom was also a member of the territorial supreme court.
     Not quite a year later, the Nebraska codes were repealed and the Indiana civil code adopted for the territory, with some chapters of the Dakota statutes added. In another two years, these were repealed and the Kansas codes were declared the guidelines for Oklahoma. These codes, somewhat modified, are the basis for the state's codes today.
     In December 1893, Congress increased the number of judges for Oklahoma Territory (and its Supreme Court) to five, which number remained until statehood.
     Dale, therefore, sat as district judge as well as presiding judge of the Supreme Court. As such, he pronounced the first death sentence in the new territory. Nov. 10, 1893 he sentenced John Dossett to hanging, to be carried out Jan. 8, 1894. Dossett was found guilty by a jury of killing his rival for affections of an Osage maiden by offering the deceased a poisoned drink.
     The trial was a sensational one, and a petition was presented, just before Christmas of 1893, for a stay in the execution. The stay was granted. Not known what finally was the outcome.
     Dale's sentences were usually swift and severe. A. Maden and his wife, producers of counterfeit silver dollars so good they could hardly be distinguished from genuine ones, were apprehended by Nix's deputies. Pleading guilty in Dale's court, they were both sentenced to 10 years in the federal penitentiary.
     Chris Madsen, one of Nix's deputies, recalled in his memoirs the case of a loan shark who had been charging some railroad employees 20 percent interest monthly for small loans. Failing to collect, the loan shark filed suit in Dale's court for payment of the original amount.
     The judge, learning of the facts of the case, told the plaintiff's attorney that such interest was plain usuary and that he could not collect. The attorney promptly informed the judge that at the time there was no usuary law in Oklahoma, and that his client could legally collect all that the borrower had agreed to pay.
     "But Judge Dale was ready with a decision, probably not found in the law books, but as sound as any ever made," Madsen recalled. The judge declared: "There may not be any usuary law in Oklahoma, but this is a case of highway robbery and there is a law against that. And you can get no judgement in this court."
     Madsen wryly noted that shyster lawyers thereafter lost much practice from shyster loan sharks who took Dale's decision to heart.
     A further note about the free-wheeling nature of justice in early Oklahoma territory is worth mentioning. In later years, Zack Miller of 101 Ranch fame recalled the work of Dick Plunkett, officer crier (baliff) at the federal court in Guthrie. Plunkett, Miller recalled, used to open the proceedings by shouting "Hear ye! Hear ye! Now all you mully-grubs in the back of the courtroom keep your traps shut and give these swell guys up in front a chance to talk."
     A eulogistic portrait of Judge Dale was penned in McMaster's Oklahoma Magazine in 1895. The writer mentioned that the "square jaw of the learned Chief Justice is not for naught. Even his kind blue eyes and benign smile cannot break its force."
     The writer went on to describe him as loveable, gentle, sympathetic, kind," and also an "inflexible, adherent to what is right, and "somewhat dogged and obstinate..in the expression and execution of this belief," and has "normal, sunny, simple fabric of character that leaves no riddles to solve, no complexities to baffle."
     Further, the magazine writer said, the judge was of large frame, with a mind and spirit to match in size, and his role was not unfamiliar, for "he is to the ermine born. He is judicial in temperament...because partisanship is distasteful to him.
     "In his opinions from the bench he is both clear and profound. The workings of his mind are somewhat slow and ponderous, but they lead at last to conclusions that are almost invariably correct.
     "He is not exactly handsome, but looks the chief justice, he is dignified..the humblest citizen feels his warm hand-clasp and looks into his friendly eye, he knows at once there is no ice to break-no barrier between the Chief Justice and the plowman...
     "A just judge, a loveable and true friend, a patriotic citizen, an honest man, this is Chief Justice Frank Dale."
     So concluded the article published in 1895. The appreciation was virtually the same in 1930, when the venerable judge died and encomiums were pronounced at his funeral. By then, the verdict was general, as he had earned a reputation as a civic minded man as well as a lawyer, jurist, and businessman.
     Frank Dale was born Nov. 26, 1849 on a farm in DeKalb county, Illinois, son of Frank and Mariah (Webster) Dale, both natives of England. The elder Frank Dale was a sometime Methodist minister who had grown to manhood in Pennsylvania, then moved to Michigan for a time before moving to Illinois. In Illinois, he was a merchant of Freeland Corners and at Somonauk before moving to Leland where he was a merchant grain dealer, and farmer. There were eight children born to the Dales, of whom Frank Dale of Guthrie was next to the youngest.
     The elder Frank Dale helped establish the Republican party in his area and was an intimate of Abraham Lincoln, whom he naturally supported for the presidency. Dale was known for his leadership of the new Republican party in Illinois.
     The younger Frank Dale attended public schools in his area and several different high schools. At age 14, he enlisted in the Union Army at Springfield, Ill., but was soon discharged because his father enlisted the aid of then Governor Yates in taking the under-age youth out of the regiment.
     Young Frank taught school for a time, in addition to working on his father's farm, and in 1871 left Illinois for Wichita, Kans., where he studied law. Soon he was admitted to the bar and practiced law, becoming assistant county attorney there in 1881. By this time, he was joined in Wichita by his younger brother, David, who came in 1880 after having passed the bar admission requirements in Illinois in 1876.
     In 1885, Frank Dale was appointed as register (SIC) of the United States Land Office in Wichita. It was here, dealing with homestead claims of settlers in western Kansas, that he obtained invaluable experience for his successful practice of law before the Land Office in Guthrie after the famous Run.
     Also in 1885, Dale married on June 10, Martha Wood, daughter of Daniel and Idell Wood.
     Dale continued in the Land Office at Wichita(s) until April 22, 1889 when he came to Guthrie with others making the "Run" on the train and promptly set up his law office with W.W. Thomas. In the 1889 directory published in August, both noted "formerly of Wichita" after their names.


Dale involved in many public events

     Although there were some 81 lawyers practicing in Guthrie in 1889, Dale quickly won respect and, more important, a substantial practice. His knowledge of the Land Office procedure stood him in good stead; the Land Office was the only "court" at all in the new territory.
     In this connection, a small note may be added. The fledging city of Guthrie, having no tax base, levied "fees" for practicing professions. Dale told the 89ers Association in 1926 that he had been jailed once in 1889 for failure to pay his fees. He soon got out and the incident was never held against him.
     One of Dale's more interesting and lucrative cases was his defense of W.J. Gault, Oklahoma City's first mayor, who was accused of "soonerism" in staking his claim near the center of that city.
     Gault, like Veeder B. Payne of Guthrie memory, had started from the eastern line of the Unassigned Lands, and had the benefit of relays of horses previously stationed in the lands for a quick ride to his previously-selected claim. Gault had been a cowman in the area before the opening and knew what he wanted.
     Dale was successful in upholding Gault's claim. As his fee, he received half of the 160 acres Gault claimed. Being so close to the town known as Oklahoma Station, Gault almost immediately platted his remaining half for town lots.
     Roy Hoffman, early political figure in Oklahoma and a business associate of Dale, wrote afterwards about the outcome of the law case. "I remember Dale saying to me after the decision," Hoffman wrote, "Roy, I get half of that land (of Gault's) as my fee, and I believe I should go down and look it over as it ought to be worth something, for Oklahoma (sic) might make a town someday."
     Eventually, Dale laid out his acreage into town lots also, platting it and filing soon after Gault platted and filed his in early 1898. Dale, in laying out his streets, kept about the same distance from the Santa Fe tracks as existed further south, near the populated older part of the city.
     The trouble was, as related by Roy Stewart in his "Born Grown" history of Oklahoma City, that Santa Fe tracks in Oklahoma City are not on an exact straight line.
     "Dale's projection of Broadway bent just a little to the west, just north of 10th street and up to northwest 13th street, which accounts for the jog, and also for another short street between Broadway and the tracks of the Santa Fe." This was a planning error, not an argument over townsites such as existed in the older portion of the city.
     Although those who owned land north of Dale's addition expected Broadway to continue due north, it expired at Northwest 24th Street because of this planning error until recent highway construction extended it.
     Although of strong Republican background and, apparently, of strong enough affiliation to be chosen for office in Kansas, somewhere and sometime Dale changed his party affiliation to Democrat. Certainly it was before 1893, when he was appointed by the Democrat president, Grover Cleveland, to a position on the Territorial Supreme court. Thereafter, Dale was a firm Democrat the remainder of his life.
     In 1893, Dale joined with Roy Hoffman and William V. Blindoe established the Guthrie Daily Leader with the admitted intention of making it the voice of the Democrat party in Oklahoma. Blindoe was a commissioner of the School Lands in the territorial government and Hoffman was, for a time, the private secretary of the newly appointed governor, William Renfrow.
     Dale was, of course, a silent partner in the newspaper, which soon hired Leslie Niblack as reporter and then editor of the paper. Dale, and Hoffman, apparently had sufficient influence with the party that when the Constitutional Convention met in 1906 with a predominantly Democratic membership, the Leader was designated as the official publication for that convention.
     Moreover, Dale was chairman of the inaugural committee when Charles Haskell was sworn in as governor of the new state on Nov. 16, 1907. Dale and Niblack, a National Guard reservist officer and notary public, were the other occupants of Haskell's carriage as he rode to the official ceremonies at the Carnegie Library. There, Dale was master of ceremonies.
     Dale had been the third president of Guthrie's Commercial Club, an organization anteceding the Chamber of Commerce. He and A.G.C. Bierer and Joseph McNeal founded the Guthrie Telephone Company in 1901, providing a local terminal for the Arkansas Valley Company's Perry-Razoo-Guthrie lines. McNeal was president of the Guthrie National Bank and Bierer was a prominent lawyer and partner of Judge Dale. They had both served on the Territorial Supreme Court and in 1898, after leaving the court, became law partners in an association that lasted 28 years.
     The firm of Dale and Bierer rapidly became the leading law firm in Guthrie and their practice was augmented considerably by work for the different railroad firms that were coming into Guthrie.
     Dale had formed railroad connections earlier, however. When the Pottawatomie lands were opened along with the Iowa lands in 1891, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad built a line angeling (sic) southeastward from Oklahoma City through the newly opened area, to Shawnee and points further eastward.
     The town of Dale, named for Judge Dale, was established on this railroad in 1895. Originally, the town was a simple settlement around the post office 1� miles northeast of the present location. The post office was designated as Dale, Oct. 26, 1893, on a petition circulated by John Pring. Previously, the settlement had been known as King, named for John King, and (sic) Absentee-Shawnee Indian on whose land allotment the original settlement was located.
     When the town was moved to the railroad location (in)1895, Sarah M. (McKelvey) Kennedy, a widow, created a memorable situation. Because the railroad had failed to close negotiations for the right of way across her farm, she moved her cabin onto the right of way during the night, built a fence around it, and held the railroad construction crews at bay with her trusty shotgun until the "furriners" paid up.
     That was probably the most interesting incident in Dale's town history, however, as a book of Pottawatomie county history published in 1970 noted that the town had 80 years of existence without a single fatal accident or murder.      Not known if naming the town for Judge Dale meant he had connections with the railroad. It is suspected he did, however, as his older sister, Clara Dale Metcalf, was a resident of the town is (sic) Isabella, on the railroad, at the time of her death in 1917.
     Dale had a lively interest in the railroads as did, indeed, every civic minded person in Oklahoma territory. Without fanfare, he helped with each effort to bring a railroad to Guthrie. In most cases, he and fellow citizens of Guthrie were successful. In one important case, however, they were not. That was the wooing of the Frisco Railroad, which eventually went its direct line to Oklahoma City.
     C.G. "Gristmill" Jones, an early Oklahoma City mayor and the man who eventually portrayed Mr. Oklahoma in the symbolic wedding ceremony at Statehood, was a friendly rival of Dale's in courting railroad connections. Jones, with Henry Overholser, formed the St. Louis and Oklahoma City Railroad Company for the express purpose of extending the defunct Atlantic and Pacific Railroad line from Sapulpa to Oklahoma City, and the ultimate aim of takeover by the Frisco.
     Sometime in 1897, Dale wagered Jones that he would buy him an $80 suit of clothes when and if the first train ran over the line.
     On Nov. 15, 1898, Jones wrote Dale that he had, indeed, ordered the suit of clothes, explaining that he had at first not taken the offer seriously but had been reminded rather recently by Dale that he meant the offer.
     Jones then proceeded to mention that they were organizing an excursion from Oklahoma City to St. Louis on the 22nd of November with return on the 26th, and suggested that Judge and Mrs. Dale be guests on the trip, a gathering of businessmen intent on enjoyment and profitable business.
     After his return to private practice in partnership with A.G.C. Bierer, Dale pursued a program of quiet civic involvement and practice with emphasis on representation of railroad companies. He also along the way acquired stock in the Guthrie National Bank and indeed served as president of that bank, very briefly, in 1901-02. He also began acquiring substantial holdings in real estate through the city of Guthrie and Logan County.
     In 1902, he and Mrs. Dale built the imposing home on Guthrie's west hill, at 1404 West Cleveland, which was and is a landmark in Guthrie. J.H. Bennett, who designed the Carnegie Library built the same year, was architect of the elaborate home, which featured a ballroom on the third floor, among other amenities.
     When the Dale's first came to Guthrie, they lived at the corner of Oklahoma and 7th, East, in 1890, and the 1892 directory listed their residence at 810 East Oklahoma. In 1896, their residence was 624 East Springer, their last address before building on the west side in the newly promoted College Heights area.
     Mrs. Dale was active in women's club work in Guthrie and was instrumental in helping with establishing the Carnegie Library, among other cultural activities. Their home was often the scene of select entertainments during their active years.
     The same year he built his home, 1902, Dale built on the lot at 118 West Harrison a new business building. Earlier, he had been elected as president of the territorial Humane Society in April 1901. I.B. Levy was treasurer.
     Dale's next venture into the public forum came in 1909 when Oklahoma City partisans submitted a petition for an election to move the capitol and a petition to select from Oklahoma City, Guthrie and Shawnee.
     The petitions for an election were filed with Leo Meyer, assistant secretary of state on July 21, 1909, but no publicity at all was given the filing until six days later, a day after the five days allowed for legal filing of objections to such petitions.
     Guthrie citizens reacted violently and Judge Dale prepared for the citizenry a mandamus action for hearing, alleging that the "secret" filing was to prevent objections from being filed. W.A. Ledbetter, an Ardmore attorney who was a close personal friend of Governor Haskell, asked the State Supreme Court for a writ of prohibitions against Dale, and asked that Dale be held in contempt. Nothing came of it however. The end result was that the secretary of state held the signature sufficient on the petitions, and accordingly Haskell called an election for June 11, 1910.
     Dale's partner, A.G.C. Bierer led arguments against the measures, but they were of no avail, despite heated campaigning on both sides. The result, as is known, was that Haskell declared a majority of votes for Oklahoma City by midnight, and the next morning proclaimed Oklahoma City the new capitol.
     Dale and Bierer were the attorneys for the case of Coyle vs. Smith, the lawsuit brought by William H. Coyle, Guthrie entrepreneur, against Wm. Smith, secretary of state, challenging the removal of the capitol from Guthrie. The case was ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the state had the right to designate a capitol regardless of the provisions of the Enabling Act.
     Immediately after leaving the bench, Judge Dale became a member of the Oklahoma Bar Commission, serving continuously until 1922. In the meantime, he interested himself in the good roads movement, talking to farmers in 1910 about helping build better roads, and again in 1912 he was reported in the local press as active in the good roads movement.
     In 1926, Bierer's son A.G.C. Bierer Jr. had qualified as a lawyer, and the firm of Bierer and Bierer was established after the firm of Dale and Bierer was dissolved. Dale took Robert Hoyland into his office and later Harry Brown joined the firm. Bierer and Dale informally divided between them many of their long-term clients, with Dale writing a letter Oct. 14, 1926 advising the Rock Island Railroad of the dissolution of the partnership and requesting that he be named local representative for that railroad. He stated that Bierer would probably be representing the Frisco line.
     Just one year earlier, Dale had added to his business interests by receiving a charter for the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Guthrie on Jan. 10, 1925. He was president of the bank and principal stockholder. Others named as stockholders were John Rinehart, G.H. Wescott, and L.H. McMinimy. Roy Hoffman, his old friend from territorial days, later became a director as did O.G. Chesnut, a vice president. The bank was capitalized at $50,000 and was in operation under Dale's egis until his death. In an advertisement in the Oklahoma State Register for Nov. 12, 1925, there was stated that the responsibility of the stockholders of the bank exceeded One Million Dollars. (Capitalization in the advertisement.) The bank grew and listed assets in 1928 of $434.808.08, of which $276,164.08 were deposits.
     Never in the headlines for his work, Dale worked behind the scenes in the 1920s for what he considered the most important achievement of his life, according to statements he made to Raymond Fields, editor of the Guthrie Daily Leader and quoted in the obituary writings at the time of Dale's death.
     This was the work Dale did in connection with settlement of the Texas-Oklahoma boundary dispute, in which the location of the Red River bed was at issue.
     When the Organic Act created Oklahoma Territory in 1890, the western and southern borders of Indian Territory that was scheduled to be included in Oklahoma Territory was defined simply as "the boundary line of the state of Texas."
     In 1919, Oklahoma filed a suit in the U.S. Supreme Court to have the boundary surveyed and determined, and the matter dragged on. Dale was one of the chief lobbyists in the U.S. Congress for the law, introduced by Senator Elmer Thomas, eventually enacted in 1923 which gave permission for Texas and Oklahoma to work out the problem between them. This eventually resulted in cleared titles for the lands under dispute, with former Oklahoma-given titles reaffirmed by Texas and vice-versa.
     As this time permitted land owners to lease their holding for oil exploration, and oil companies to exploit the fields in the area, the matter was of some considerable moment to those involved, including the state governments which benefited from taxes on oil production.
     Dale considered his work on this boundary settlement probably the most important work of his career, even though few persons ever knew of his involvement in the matter.
     As he grew older, Dale became less active. Always a sportsman from the time he shot buffalo as a youth in Kansas, he gradually restricted his interests to billiards, a room for which was in his home. He often displayed his old Springfield buffalo hunting rifle, however.


Family important in life of Judge Dale

Mrs. Dale

Mrs. Martha Wood Dale

Photo supplied by: Oklahoma Territorial Museum
Submitted by: Jan LaMotte

     Throughout his life, his family was important to Judge Dale. He was happy to be at a family reunion of his brothers and sisters in Wichita in June 1892. They had not been together at one time for 25 years before they gathered at the home of David Dale, by then a judge for the county.
     Thereafter Judge Frank Dale continued to keep in close touch with his siblings. Buying interests of other family members, he acquired the old family farms near Leland, and took an active interest in their management throughout his life.
     A letter he wrote in 1922 mentioned that he had spent something like $100,000 improving those farms, but that he was pleased with the crops grown there, especially in view of the crops on farmlands he held in Oklahoma, then afflicted with lack of rainfall.
     In the joint Will Dale and Mrs. Dale wrote in August 1929 shortly before his death, Dale advised his executors that they might well hold the farmlands at Leland for some time, as farmlands were constantly increasing in value, especially in that area.
     In 1922, Dale made considerable effort in tracing the Dale family tree, sharing what he had learned with other members of his family. His surviving nieces and nephews recall that he and Mrs. Dale made frequent trips to Wichita to visit the family, paying special attention to the young people growing up.
     Indeed, family meant a great deal to both the Dales, perhaps because they were childless. In their later years, two nephews came to Guthrie to make their home with the Dales and attended Guthrie schools.
     A further sidelight on the character of Judge Dale is to be gained from a memoir of the late Audra Wilbanks, former circulation and advertising manager of the Guthrie Daily Leader. Wilbanks recalled that as a youth he had been a paper boy, with a route that included the Dale home. On his route he was always accompanied by his dog, which he had trained to carry a folded newspaper from the sidewalk up to the porch or front door to deliver it.
     Wilbanks said that Judge Dale always anticipated the afternoon paper delivery and watched from the foyer of his home the dog's progress, then came to the door to take the paper from the dog's mouth. Each month, when paying his bill, he always added a "extra" for the dog's performance, with gravity belying his amusement at the act.
     Dale died at his home Feb. 10, 1930 after an extended illness and was buried at Summit View Cemetery after funeral services at the First Presbyterian Church.
     In his honor, a proclamation was issued by Mayor W.R. Welch asking all business houses in Guthrie to close from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m. on Feb. 13, the hour of the funeral.
     Dale was followed in death by Mrs. Dale, who died June 25, 1930. Her funeral was held in the Presbyterian Church June 28, and she was laid to rest beside her husband in Summit View. The Leader editorialized her death, citing her "effect on this community, wholesome and sincere, will last beyond any printed word that could be written."
     The Dale's Will, when probated, left their very extensive property holdings to be divided among their surviving relatives. The First National Bank Trust Department and Harry F. Brown a law partner of the Judge, were joint executors of the joint Will.
     On behalf of the heirs of the estate, Brown caused an impressive stone to be erected at the Dales' graves in Summit View and, in 1940, he presented an oil portrait of the Judge painted from a photograph, to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Accompanying the portrait, now in the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in Guthrie, was a biography of the judge. Unfortunately, the biography has been lost; but the memory of Judge Dale, a stern but humane man, "born to be a judge," has remained in Guthrie and much of Oklahoma.


Dale home one of the finest

     Photo captions: JUDGE FRANK DALE was a major figure in the early life of Guthrie. Unfortunately there were not many surviving photographs of Dale. One look at the man is through a portrait in the Oklahoma Territorial Museum that was done by Favon Der Luncken. His home (right and below) was a famous landmark and still stands today.


Webmistress note: A picture of Judge Dale's home can be found at: here;
a picture of Judge Frank Dale is also located on this web site here;

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