The story of the Jones County Calf Case

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JUNE 24, 1920


Charles E. Wheeler



The Toastmaster, Mr. Emmet Tinley of Council Bluffs: I think one of the greatest pleasures of many members of the Iowa State Bar in coming to Cedar Rapids is the knowledge we would see and hear Charley Wheeler. On the program it is "Mr. Chas. E. Wheeler". But to his friends who love him, he is "Charley Wheeler",—one of the greatest lawyers Iowa ever produced, who has had as large a part in the building of history as any man in Iowa. I want him to tell you the story of "The Jones County Calf Case".


Mr. Toastmaster, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Members of the Iowa Bar: When I divided it up in that way I did not mean to be invidious. For nearly half a century I have been addressing audiences that were sworn to remain until I got through,—I am a little nervous about you gentlemen. There is the judge that must remain. Whatever sufferings he goes through, he must remain. Generally he is a large man with a protruding front, and a bald head, and speaks in a deep sepulchral voice. Then there is the bailiff, always a small man, and old, who is not supposed to know anything. Of course, the jury thinks that the judge knows more than the Creator of the Universe. The members of the bar know better. The bailiff is a silent man, ordinarily, with watery blue eyes, and he has for forty-five years gone to sleep promptly when I started to talk, and protected himself in that manner. The other twelve of my audience of fourteen is the jury,—God bless them! The long suffering men,—composed of all kinds. They have availed themselves of the opportunity of going to sleep, and particularly after the noon adjournment. I have taken a great deal of pleasure when I noticed a front row juryman asleep when I was addressing them, in going around and slapping him on the knees, and poking his ribs.

The judge ordinarily turns his back. He sits in a swivel chair and pretends to read a newspaper, but goes to sleep, and when he is suddenly and rudely awakened he pretends he has not been asleep at all.

Now, gentlemen, the Jones County Calf Case has probably attained more notoriety than any other case ever tried in this State, because of the small amount involved, and because of the long litigation, and the great amount of costs, and all that sort of thing. Of course, the supposed English case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce never did occur except in the mind of the great Charles Dickens, who made it immortal.

This story that I am about to tell you deals largely with a red-headed hero by the name of Bob Johnson. Bob, of course, was my client or he would not be a hero. It is always spoken of in the singular—the Jones County Calf Case, whereas, there were in truth and in fact three separate law suits growing out of the same facts.

The first one that occurred was what we call the Note Case. It was on a note for twenty-four dollars that Bob gave—I called him Bob—that Bob gave when he was made to believe that he had handled the stolen calves. That note was for twenty-four dollars, and it was litigated about every full of the moon for several years, the note bought by an innocent purchaser, a bank. You know, the innocent purchaser bank. Now, Bob had found out after giving the note that it was a mistake to have given it, that he had not handled the stolen calves at all, so Bob refused to pay the note, and litigated it and was finally beaten, and I think that the note cost Bob something like $1400.00.

The next case was upon an indictment in which Bob was charged with stealing the Foreman calves. That was begun in Jones County where all of the parties lived, and where the calves lived; and there was an indictment found against Bob charging him with stealing the Foreman calves, and he hired Colonel Preston, then a very distinguished advocate at this bar, and we went to the mat.

First we moved to quash the indictment because of an error in drawing and impaneling the grand jury. While that motion was pending, Bob's house was burned. Spontaneous combustion! And later, and during the pendency of the indictment, and the pendency of the motion, Bob went out one morning and found on his horse block a rope with a hangman's knot in it, and attached to the rope, which was in itself somewhat suggestive, he found a little note which read something like this: "You better withdraw your motion, and try this case here in Jones County, or take this." And this note was attached to the rope.

Now, by the way, along in here Bob had a barn burned. Another case of spontaneous combustion! And Bob concluded that he did not want to try his case in that particular county. I might say here that at that time there had been recently organized in that county an organization known as "The Iowa Branch of the North Missouri Anti-Horse Thief Association." And Bob was not a member. Now that organization wanted to try its machinery on something, and they fed Bob into it. They never used that machinery afterwards. It was ruined. Bob broke the cogs, and they never used it again.

Well, finally, we were granted a change of venue, and we went down to Cedar County to try the criminal case. The first indictment I should say had been quashed, but the court had ordered the case resubmitted to another grand jury, and there had been a second indictment returned against Bob. To make a long story short, because it is a long story, gentlemen, and the mists of forty years have obscured it largely from my memory, we tried Bob, Colonel Preston defending him with consummate ability, and Bob and I hustling the testimony and doing chore work only. We tried it down there, and the jury stood eleven to one for acquittal, and hung. We tried it again and Bob was acquitted.

Then Bob began the third case of the series; it is entitled Robert Johnson vs. E. V. Miller et al., in which Bob was the plaintiff and seven of his neighbors were defendants who had been most active in his prosecution. Bob sued them for damages. Now that is the case, that malicious prosecution damage case is the case you hear referred to ordinarily as the Jones County Calf Case. That case lasted, together with the other two cases, approximately a quarter of a century. It was tried wall over eastern Iowa pretty nearly. Changes of venue were taken, and this and that, and it was the real case of the three.

Before I go into the story proper of the loss of the veal, I want to say a word to you about the plaintiff, and the seven defendants. They all lived in the same neighborhood in southern Jones County, and were all farmers, well-to-do for prairie farmers, and all reputable men. All of the defendants but one lived there. One of the defendants, by the name of Potter, lived then in Greene County. He had lived in Jones County. They are all dead, gentlemen. I used to think, of course, that the defendants were the most wicked men that ever lived; that they were scoundrels and outlaws and that they ought to be hung. And I believed it so thoroughly, it was so soaked into me, that I believed it until after they were all dead. Looking backward, I know now that, with perhaps just one single exception, the defendants were all reputable men, and probably believed Bob Johnson had stolen the calves.

Now, going to the real case, the last one, the case for damages, the story in outline is something like this:

Bob Johnson and one of the defendants by the name of Potter had been raised together in the State of Ohio and were friends. They came west about the same time and settled in the same neighborhood. Later Potter moved out to Greene County. In 1874, (this month, in June, 1874) Potter came down from Greene County to buy some calves to take them west to his place in Greene County, and he stopped over night with his friend Bob Johnson. He told Bob what his mission was down there, and said, "Now, I am going on down to Big Rock (a little ways east of there) to pick up some calves; and, Bob, if you can find any calves up here that are all right, you buy them for me and when I come back on my way home, I will take the calves that you have bought for me." Potter went on down east, down towards Big Rock.

The next day Bob and his brother, Newt Johnson, went up to their little neighborhood town of Olin, in Jones County, to purchase some hardware. Bob was going to build a house. They went into the store kept by Coppes & Derr, merchants, and talked about hardware in there, and finally Bob said to Coppes & Derr that Potter had been down at his house the night before and wanted him (Bob) to buy some calves for him, and asked Coppes if he know of any one that had calves for sale, and Coppes said, no, he did not. Whereupon a stranger who was sitting in the store came forward and said to Bob, "I have got four calves down here on the commons, down on the river bottom, that I would be glad to sell you." And Bob said, "All right. I have got to go down to Stanwood and price hardware, anyway, and that is on the road and we will go down and see your calves." And he said, "By the way, what is your name?" and the stranger said, "My name is John Smith." He picked and unfortunate name. And he said, "I am Clem Lane's son-in-law." "All right," Bob said, and he and Newt went out and got on their horses, and Smith got on his horse there in front of Coppes & Derr's store, and they started down to see Smith's calves. They got down into the neighborhood on the river where the Smith calves were supposed to be running out on the common. In those days we all let our cows run out and even the lawyers wore boots. They hunted them up and they found three of the calves that Smith said were his, but they could not find the fourth one. There were a good many cattle on the river bottom, but Smith said that the fourth one was just as good as the other three. "Well," Bob said, "You find him and bring them and put them up in the Hines pasture, and then come over to my house and I will pay you." The Hines pasture was up towards Bob's house. "Well, now," Smith says, "I will tell you, Mr. Johnson; I would not sell you these calves as cheap as I have priced them to you if it was not for the fact that I have got to have some money tomorrow morning. I am sued." Bob said, "I haven't got money enough with me to pay you." His brother, Newt, however, said that he had, and so Bob borrowed some money from Newt and put it with his money and paid Smith, and Bob and Newt went on the Stanwood.

The next day after that Bob got word from Potter that he was coming back with a little herd of calves. Potter had been down near Big Rock and picked up some calves, and was coming back, and he sent word to Bob that he would meet him on a certain hill on the highway, a hill called Porter's hill, and if he had any calves to bring them down. So Bob went down to the Hines pasture and he saw three of the Smith calves—there were other cattle in the Hines pasture, but Bob saw three of the Smith calves, and he found a fourth calf running with them that answered the description Smith had given him—and so he took the four calves and drove them down to Porter's hill and delivered them to Potter. When Bob got down to the Porter hill with the Smith calves—and remember, gentlemen, that the Smith calves were dark colored, all of them dark—(you know the identity of a calf makes more trouble than the question of whether the soul is immortal or not)—and so, when Bob got down there to the Porter hill where Potter was with his herd of calves, he found a man by the name of Pete Onstott there with Potter. He had lost some calves and was hunting them, and he came to Potter's herd before Bob got there with his calves, and Pete testified for a quarter of a century, more or less, that when he got to Potter's herd before Bob got there with his dark colored calves, that he noticed four light colored calves in Potter's herd, pretty good ones. Pete Onstott asked Potter where the got those four light calves, and Potter said that he got them from So-and-So (the name has now escaped me). Peter remained there talking with Potter until Bob came. Bob delivered his four Smith calves, dark colored calves, to Potter there in Pete's presence. Potter went on west to Greene County with his herd of calves.

About this same time a man by the name of John Foreman lost four light colored calves—light colored now mind you—and he looked the neighborhood over and he could not find them. And finally he heard that Potter had been down there and picked up a herd of calves, and so Mr. Foreman who had lost the four light colored calves went out to Greene County and found his four light colored calves in the Potter herd which Potter had brought back from Jones County. He asked Potter where he got those four light colored calves, and Potter said that he bought them of Bob Johnson.

Potter and Foreman came back from Greene County to see Bob Johnson, and Bob happened to be in Mechanicsville. I had then (in 1874) just exposed my professional sign to the weather in Mechanicsville, and there was standing room in my office. None of the neighbors seemed to know what great opportunities they were missing in not coming to my office. But Bob Johnson, and Potter and Foreman did break into my office through the crowd, and this was what happened: Bob said, "Charley, (nobody ever thought of calling me anything but Charley) John Foreman here lost four calves, and he has gone out to Greene County and found them in Potter's herd, and Potter says he got them of me. I got them of Clem Lane's son-in-law, named Smith. Now, what am I going to do about it?" "Well," I said, "Bob, (of course I thought awhile first, and looked wise) if you have handled the Foreman calves, why, you have got to pay for them, and then you go and jump on Clem Lane's son-in-law, Smith." "All right," Bob said, "but I ain't got the money. I tell you, Foreman and Potter, I bought these calves of a man who approached me to sell them to me up in Coppes & Derr's store in Olin, and you come and go over there with me and they will tell you all about it, just as I told you, that I got them of Smith, and then I will give you my note for the calves." They went over there with Bob and Coppes & Derr told them that Bob's story was true, but said that Smith was a stranger to them; they didn't know who he was, and Bob gave his note for twenty-four dollars, six dollars apiece for the four calves, and they went across the street and had a drink, the three men—(it makes me thirsty to think of it now). Then went across the street and had a drink and shook hands, and all parties went home except Bob.

Bob went across the street to a justice of the peace and filed an information against John Smith and got a warrant and got a constable and started out to arrest Smith. They went down into Clem Lane's neighborhood and tackled Clem Lane, and told him that Smith said he was his son-in-law, and Clem Lane said, "I never had a son-in-law named Smith," and from that day to this Smith has never been found. Although Bob Johnson tracked him, or tracked all the Smiths by the name of John, and they were all named John, he tracked him high and low over this State and other states, he never could find the John that was Clem Lane's son-in-law, or the man from whom he bought the four dark colored calves.

Now, this Iowa Branch of the North Missouri United Horse Thief Association saw a chance to put something into their machine that was brand new. They had never tried it. All Bob's neighbors substantially were members of this anti-horse thief association. Bob was not. So they went to Foreman (the man that lost the calves and found them in Greene County) and they suggested to Foreman that he must join their North Missouri Anti-Horse Thief Association, the Iowa branch of it, and help prosecute his neighbor, Bob Johnson; and Foreman joined.

Then they wrote to Potter (the man that had the four light colored calves)—Foreman's were light colored, all of them—they wrote to Potter and they told him that he better had come back to Jones County and become a member of that select organization, and Potter was awfully slow in coming back. Finally, they wrote to him that if he didn't come back they would prosecute him (Potter) for stealing Foreman's calves, and under the encouraging suction of that threat, Potter came back, joined the organization, and they went before the grand jury and had Bob indicted.

Up to this time Bob had believed that he had handled the Foreman calves and had given his note, as I have told you, for them. After he was indicted he heard that the Foreman calves that Foreman found in Greene County in Potter's herd were light colored calves. So Bob and his brother, Newt, who was with him when he bought the dark colored calves of Smith, took the train and went out the Greene County and into Potter's herd, and Bob said, "Potter, where are those four Foreman calves?" And Potter pointed them out—four light colored calves. Bob said, "Why, Potter, I never sold you any light colored calves." "Well," Potter says, "you did." And then Bob used language that,—well, it was more forcible than elegant—and jumped off his horse to whip Potter, and Newt stopped the fight, and they came back. Then it was that Bob found out that he had not handled the Foreman calves at all, the light colored calves, and then it was that he refused to pay his twenty-four dollar note. And I have told you what became of that case. The innocent purchaser business worked and Bob was beaten, and, as I have said, it cost him about fourteen hundred dollars; and fourteen hundred dollars, gentlemen, in those days was an enormous amount of money.

The criminal cases, I have told you what became of those. They were tried in Cedar County, and Bob was acquitted.

During these proceedings everybody had got so "hot up" in that county that they carried guns for one another. The malicious prosecution case at one time, I remember, had one hundred and thirty witnesses. I have forgotten where we tried that case the first time. I tried to get Bob to quit. I told him that he had been acquitted in the criminal case, but he always insisted, as he said, "I want my character back!" And I always said, "You got it back when you were acquitted." And Bob said, "No. They claim that they had reasonable and probable cause for having me indicted, and," he says, "I will try it with them until I will convince everybody in this country that they had no cause whatever." And so we kept on in the malicious prosecution case.

We tried that malicious prosecution case, or at least other lawyers tried it for Bob, and he and I hustled the testimony as long as Bob was anything but a bankrupt. He became a bankrupt, I might say, very early in the game, and after he got to where he could not hire distinguished counsel, why, then, and then only, I helped Bob try it, and we went on trying it for about eighteen or twenty years after that. It went to the supreme court, as you see, gentlemen, four times. The case, as I have said, was entitled Robert Johnson vs. E. V. Miller, et al., and is, I think, one of the leading cases on the subject of malicious prosecution. These four cases are reported in 63 Iowa 529, 69 Iowa 562, 82 Iowa 693 and 93 Iowa 165.

Now, during the time that the last indictment was pending, and that was during the lifetime of Colonel Preston, it was the same day, I think, that the court set aside the first indictment and ordered it resubmitted and it was resubmitted and a second indictment was found, Colonel Preston, who, as it seemed to me, used to have some misgivings as to whether Bob was guilty or innocent, said to me, in substance: "How big is Bob's bond?" And I told him it was fifteen hundred dollars. He said, "Who is on it?" And I told him old George Fall, Bob's father-in-law. "Well," he says, "now, Charley, of course Bob is innocent, but I guess you better tell him that he better jump his bond and leave the country." It was a terrible shock to me. I was filled with vinegar in place of knowledge, and I believed just as religiously then as I believe now that Bob was innocent, and for a great lawyer like Colonel Preston to tell me I better tell Bob to jump his bond, was somewhat of a shock to me. But I was under orders, and so that night I took Bob out for a walk. It was in Anamosa, and we walked down into the woods where the penitentiary now stands. It was not there then. And after going around by Robin Hood's barn, I finally told Bob that the Colonel and I, (and I put the emphasis on "we"), that we thought that he had better under all of the circumstances, (while he was perfectly innocent, you understand, perfectly innocent) that under all the circumstances, he better jump his bond and leave the country.

I shall never forget it, gentlemen, as long as my head is hot, what old Bob said and did, and how he looked when I told him. We were walking side by side. Bob stopped, and I stopped. He took me by the shoulder, and turned me facing him. He looked to me as high as the second joint of a liberty pole. He looked like an infuriated lion, and he says, "Boy, I never stole the John Foreman calves, and, by God, I will go to the penitentiary off my door step before I will ever jump my bond!" And from that day, during all the years that followed, and up to this day, I have never doubted that he told me the truth.

We would try this malicious prosecution case, and we would always get a verdict from the jury, but the trial courts would—you know what. Bob was a bankrupt, and had been then for many years. He would go home and work like a nigger to get ready to try his Jones County Calf Case again. He would raise a little money, and we would be on hand when the bell rang and try it over again, and then the enemy would take it to the supreme court, and the supreme court would pick it to pieces, and reverse it; but not so but what there was enough left of the case to try again. There were always a few little remnants around somewhere, and Bob and myself could piece them together and have a new suit of clothes when the next term of court came.

Finally, after the lapse of a quarter of a century from the time that John Foreman lost his calves, we got a verdict up here at Waterloo, (I have forgotten how much it was) but we tried it three times up at Waterloo, and we got another verdict and they appealed it to the supreme court, and it was affirmed.

Bob was an old man. He was a middle aged man before John Foreman lost his four calves—light colored calves—and when we were through the weight of a quarter of a century had bowed him. He was so many times bankrupt that I lost count. By the time we got through his indebtedness was barred by the statute of limitations. He came home to Jones County, where he was first indicted, where his enemies—the defendants—lived, and went to work and paid every dollar that he owed. He would go to a man that he owed, and say, "I came to pay you." No, he would not say "came", he would say "come". "I come to pay you." "Why," the man would say, perhaps, "why, I don't remember, Mr. Johnson, that you owe me anything." "Yes," Bob would say, "I owe you two dollars. I borrowed it when I was trying my Jones County Calf Case, and I have never paid it, and I want to pay it and I want to pay the interest on it." Well, the man would say, "Why, it is outlawed." "Yes, that is the reason that I am particularly anxious to pay it." And the man would not charge him any interest, and old Bob would pay.

He was then selling real estate up at Anamosa. That is a business that the impecunious can indulge in. It doesn't take any cash capital to begin with. Bob was doing well. Finally, after his assets were depleted, he came down to see me. In the meantime, and during the Calf Case, he would borrow forty cents of me, or one dollar, or five dollars; maybe twenty-five when we were away trying his Calf Case, and of course I was just as much interested as Bob was, and so it had run along until Bob said he owed me about fifteen hundred dollars for borrowed money, and he had been earning money and paying his other creditors, and we sat down on the floor as all thieves do to divide the loaves and fishes, and Bob didn't have any loaves and fishes except a spavined stallion—a cheap horse, and spavined—and one hundred and thirty dollars. So he handed them over to me and said that he would pay me the balance as he got it. And I said, "Bob, I have been a thousand times repaid. I didn't have any clients; I didn't have anything to do when you came to me twenty-five years ago, and I have made an acquaintanceship, and that has done me good, and you don't owe me another dollar." And so we shook hands and looked the other way, and Bob went back to Anamosa.

After Bob got through house cleaning and paying up his debts, he was elected mayor of Anamosa, the town where he had been indicted forty years before for grand larceny, in the county where it was claimed that he had stolen the Foreman calves. He became mayor and, I believe, served two or three terms with credit. He worked hard; he saved his money; and when he died, sitting quietly in his chair an old, old man in his own little home, with his wife and son present, he had paid for his home and had some property besides that, I don't know how much.

Now, there were a number of incidents that happened during that long litigation that were illustrative of Bob. He was a queer man. He gave up all that he had, including twenty-five years of the best part of his life to, as he always said, "Get my character back." He always called country "kintry", and he always said, I did so and so "in my weakness".

Gentlemen, it is said that the minds of old people dwell in the past. Mine does. And after forty-six years I want to describe Bob Johnson to you as he looked to me when I first saw him. He was as tall and straight as a lance. He had long tawny hair. (People wore their hair long in those days.) He had a full tawny beard. He had smiling grey eyes. His hair and his beard made Bob look like a lion, and that is what he was. He was one of those rare men whose courage mounts and grows, and mounts with adversity, and during all those years that the trial judges were setting aside our verdicts, and the supreme court was setting aside our judgments, during all of those years old bob was just the same. He never weakened, never gave up. As I have said, he would say, "That's all right, Charley; that's all right, I am going to have my character back," and he got it. And now, after nearly half a century, when I look backward and see a lot of shadowy forms that were once my clients, towering head and shoulders above the shadowy forms stands one. His name is Bob Johnson. Bob Johnson, whose own lawyers could not make him jump his bond and run away. I see him now as I saw him when I was a boy. He was one of my very first clients. I believe in him now as I believed in him then.

You are all lawyers. There is some mystery connected with the Jones County Calf Case. Let me ask you some questions, and you chew it over when you are at leisure. Who was the man, Smith? The other side always claimed there wasn't any Smith; that he was a mythical Smith, and that Bob lied when he said he bought the four dark colored calves of Smith. They claimed that Lane never had any such son-in-law, and that it was a put-up job by Bob after he got into trouble to claim that he got the calves of Smith, and they always referred to him as "the shadowy Smith". And before I leave that question I want to say to you that the evidence disclosed, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was a Smith; that he was unquestionably present in Coppes & Derr's store that day that he sold these calves to Bob Johnson. Bob searched the earth for him, but he could not find him, and so our enemies always referred to him as "the mythical Smith".

Another question, gentlemen: It is sure John Foreman's calves, light colored calves, were stolen. That is sure. We admitted that. Who stole them? Not Bob Johnson. Not Smith. Because Foreman's calves were light colored that he lost and found out in Greene County. The Smith calves were dark colored. Who stole John Foreman's light calves?

Now, gentlemen, I am not near so rank in my opinions as I used to be. I am not nearly so sure that I am right. There does not seem to me to be as many liars and perjurers in the country as I used to think there were. Who stole the Foreman calves? Not Bob. Not Smith. Who? Was it Potter? Potter, the man that came down from Greene County; Potter, the man that bought the Smith calves of Johnson, who had the four light colored calves, the Foreman calves, in his herd before Johnson came with his calves? Was it Potter? Bob always claimed it was. I make no claim. He is dead.

Now those questions have never been answered in a satisfactory way to unprejudiced people, although forty-six years have passed. The parties are all dead. The lawyers pretty nearly all dead. And, in thinking the matter over the other day, gentlemen, I want to call attention to some of the lawyers who took part in the Jones County Calf Case for one side or the other. Some of you older gentlemen will remember them. There are a number, I should say, who took part in the different counties where we tried the last case, eminent gentlemen, whose names I have forgotten. There was the Honorable W. A. Foster, of Chicago, formerly of Davenport, a very distinguished advocate of those days; there was Colonel Preston. You gentlemen of the old school will remember that Colonel I. M. Preston was the kind we referred to when we talked about advocates—a real cracker-jack. Ex-Governor Boies tried the case for the defendants in season and out of season for many years. I had a letter from him the other day, ninety-three years old, back from California visiting his son, the Judge, up in Waterloo. And I want to say to you gentlemen who never heard ex-Governor Boies try a law suit to twelve jurymen, that in my judgment he was the greatest of advocates. I never have seen his like to a jury. Honorable N. M. Hubbard—you all know, and have heard your fathers speak of Judge Hubbard, who died my partner. I thought in those years, and I still think, that Judge Hubbard was the greatest combination of lawyer and advocate that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Colonel Charles A. Clark, Judge Hubbard's partner at one time, a most eminent lawyer, a sure enough lawyer. He had been vaccinated for a lawyer, and so had all his brothers, five of them, and every time the vaccination worked. They were, every man-chick of them, lawyers. Some of them were freaks, too, but not Colonel Charles A., a most eminent and agreeable lawyer. A. R. McCoy, of the Clinton bar, a real lawyer. Louis Boies, ex-Governor Boies' son, who died a number of years ago. There are gentlemen here who knew Louis Boies and heard him try law suits, and those of you who never heard your Louis Boies try a law suit,—your lives lack one stave of being round. That old man Boies bred true, especially when he got both of those boys, Louis, now dead, and the Judge now upon the bench. They were most agreeable men. Honorable M. P. Smith. We call him on account of his initials, Member of Parliament Smith—M. P. I saw him the night before last. He is either eighty-five years old, or a hundred and eighty-five, I don't know which it is, but I am here to tell you, gentlemen, that when that old critter gets onto the bench and pulls that lock of hair down so that he looks like an infuriated buffalo, he can do a great deal of hooking. O. C. Miller, of the Waterloo bar, once a leading lawyer up there. Judge Crouch, of the Waterloo bar, once a leading lawyer up there also.

Another little story I want to tell you—because this is nothing but a story—and that is what Bob said when the defendants began to die. Bob was the last one of the parties, of the eight parties, to die. I met him on the street here in Cedar Rapids one day, and I said "Bob, I understand So-and-So (one of the defendants) is dead." "Yes," Bob said. Just to have fun with Bob I said, "Where do you suppose he has gone to?" "Oh," Bob says, "I think he is in hell." "Well," I said, "Bob, that is too bad." "But," he says, "I think he's there." After awhile another one died, and I had the same conversation with Bob and he expressed the same opinion as to where he had gone to. But after all of the defendants were dead I met the old lion on the street, then a humped over old man. "Well," he said, "Boy,"—he used to call me boy; I was a boy when he and I began sleeping together. He says, "Well, Boy, the last one of them is dead." I said, "Yes, I heard so. Where do you think he has gone, Bob?" "Well," he says, "I will tell you; I have changed my mind about that." I said, "How is that?" "Well," he says, "I don't think any of them is in hell." "Well," I said, "I am glad of that, Bob. What has changed your mind?" "Well," he says, "There wasn't no necessity for sending them to hell. Look what I done to them!"

And so Bob "got his character back". At the last trial up in Waterloo, the Honorable Horace Boies was just closing, and I was just about to begin. Old Horace had made an argument that made me cold. He just chilled me with the force of his argument the whole length of my spine. Bob sat right next to me. He saw that Horace was going to sit down, and he leaned over to me, and he said, "Charley, tell them I don't care whether they give me a cent or a million dollars. What I want is my character back!"

And so, after his debts were all paid, and he had served in that town twice as mayor, and so far as I know every one respected the old lion, the lion of the Calf Case, he walked down home one day and sat down in the kitchen with his old wife, Mary Ann, who had attended every trial and sat by that old man through thick and thin, he sat down in the kitchen with her, and she happened to be looking at him, and he dropped his head, the first time he ever dropped his head in his life when he was in battle, and she went to him—he was dead.

Old Bob, the lion of the Jones County Calf Case, peace to his ashes!

The Toastmaster: You have just listened, my friends to the richest story in the legal history of Iowa. Throughout that story runs a richer story, the story of the sweetest character at the Iowa bar, Charles E. Wheeler. Charley, I know the bar of Iowa thank you for your splendid effort making it possible to place in printed form that story that our successors may read it.

Dean W. R. Vance of Minneapolis: In expressing to you my very great enjoyment from the day that I have spent in Cedar Rapids in attendance upon this Bar Association, I cannot refrain from saying that the long and rather tiresome trip from Minneapolis, taken at a time when I was particularly busy, is one hundred times repaid by the privilege of hearing—I should say seeing—before me the heroic figure of Bob Johnson. I am glad to indulge the hope that the report of this meeting will put in indelible print that rare recital, one of the most vivid word pictures that I have ever been privileged in my life to hear.

It was not only instinct with life and beauty, but with feeling; and as I looked at that wonderful portrait of a real hero I could see behind it, with my own eyes, the portrait of another hero, the figure of the lawyer who stood by his client through thick and thin; a lawyer who through adversity and ill success, without hope of reward, stuck fast by his client, and when finally at the end of the long litigation he came out victorious for his client, he generously said that he owed him nothing.

When I place beside the portrait of this hero lawyer of the generation that is passing off the stage, the picture of some of the miserable creatures that I know of in Minneapolis, who comb the country over for unhappy victims that have lost legs or arms, and try the cases to a jury, taking one-half of the pitiful blood money, leaving the other half to the fellow that furnished the arm or leg, I am a little afraid that the lawyer of today, at least in some places, is not measuring up to the lofty figure of those great old lawyers that, I am sorry to say, seem to be passing from off the stage.

I say to you: All glory to such a lawyer as Charles E. Wheeler. I am proud to have heard him. I am proud to have sat in the same room with him. And when I get a printed report of the story, I am going to read it to my boy, and if he grows up to be a lawyer, I want him to know something of the man who lived for his client.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1927, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.