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Hon. William E. Cullen


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"Spokane and The Spokane Country - Pictorial and Biographical - Deluxe Supplement." Vol. II. The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912. (No author listed.) pgs. 66-70.

       In the history of the northwest no name is regarded with greater honor and prominence than that of William E. Cullen, who remained for a number of years as a leading representative of mining law in this section of the country. He was also well versed on railroad and other branches of corporation law, his opinions coming to be regarded as authority upon questions relative to those branches of jurisprudence. He rose to a position of distinction because he wisely, faithfully and conscientiously utilized the powers with which nature endowed him, and among those who have left their impress upon the legal history of the northwest none have been more faultless in honor, fearless in conduct or stainless in reputation. He resided in Spokane for only a comparatively brief period but was a resident of this section of the state for many years.
       His birth occurred in Mansfield, Richland county, Ohio, June 30, 1838, his parents being among the pioneer residents of that state. The ancestry is traced back in the paternal line to Scotland, whence the great-grandfather of Judge Cullen came to America, leaving the city of Edinburgh in 1768 to become a resident of the new world. He was a man of fine intellectual attainments and scholarly habits, was a Greek professor and in that connection was for some time a member of the faculty of one of the early colleges of Pennsylvania. He was the father of John Cullen and the grandfather of Thomas W. Cullen, and the latter was the father of William E. Cullen of this review. Thomas W. Cullen engaged in the manufacture of woolen goods in Pennsylvania and was there married in 1837 to Miss Isabel Morrison. Thirty years later they removed to Ohio, where their remaining days were passed, the father's death occurring when he had reached the age of seventy-seven years, while the mother passed away at the age of sixty. Their religious faith was that of the Protestant Episcopal church and their lives were ever in harmony with their professions.
       William E. Cullen was reared amid the refining influences of a good Christian home and was the eldest in a family of six children, to whom the public schools of his native town afforded them their early educational privileges. He afterward had the benefit of three years' study in what is now known as Kenyon College, a celebrated Episcopal institution at Gambier, Ohio. The west with its limitless opportunities attracted him, and following his graduation he went to Minnesota, where he was appointed superintendent of instruction for the Winnebago Indians, his uncle, Major Cullen, being the Indian agent for the entire northwest. Two years were devoted to that work but during that period he determined to enter upon the practice of law, hoping to find in it a more congenial and profitable field. The trend of his mind was naturally analytical, logical and inductive and he felt that there would be sustained interest for him in the preparation and conduct of cases and in the solution of intricate and involved legal problems.
       In 1860 Mr. Cullen entered the office of Judge E. Flandreau, at that time associate justice of the supreme court of Minnesota, and there continued his studies under most effective direction until 1862, when he was admitted to the bar. He shared in the experiences of lieutenant in a company of state troops at the time of the Indian uprising of 1862, which reached its climax in the fearful massacre at New Ulm. The company to which he was attached did active duty in suppressing the Sioux Indians, and when his military aid was no longer needed Mr. Cullen turned his attention to the active practice of law, opening an office at St. Peter, Nicollet county, Minnesota, where he became associated with Major S.A. Buell, a brother of General Don C. Buell. This connection was maintained until 1866, when Mr. Cullen started on the overland journey to Montana, traveling by ox team with a party that made the trip under command of Captain James Fisk and arrived in Helena in August.
       Mr. Cullen at once opened an office in that city and soon gained recognition as a lawyer of wide knowledge and ability. His services were in constant requisition in the trial of cases and in counsel and he also took active part in shaping the early history of the district through political activity. He was chosen to represent the district in the legislative assembly, which at the time numbered but seven members and was the first to convene subsequent to the annulment of the laws of 1866. At later dates and on different occasions, when the country was more thickly settled, Mr. Cullen again represented his district in the territorial and state legislatures and was identified with the work of framing many of the laws which now have place on the statute books of the state and constitute a firm foundation for its present high legal and political status.
       As the years passed Judge Cullen progressed in his profession until he occupied a position of distinctive precedence and prominence. In 1876 he became a partner of Colonel W.F. Sanders, one of the most distinguished members of the bar of the state. Later he was associated with George F. Shelton and afterward with Governor J.K. Toole, all distinguished representatives of the legal fraternity in the northwest. He likewise served as division counsel for the Northern Pacific Railroad Company from the time its line entered the state of Montana in 1881 until it was reorganized in 1897. As its chief representative in Montana he passed through many exciting periods in its history, from the time when General Grant drove the golden spike at Gold Creek, Montana, through its many vicissitudes, including in its later years the troublesome seizure of trains by the Coxey army and the great sympathetic strike of 1894, which completely tied up its property, and finally through its passage into the hands of receivers and its final sale to the present reorganization.
       Professional service, which also brought Judge Cullen into more than local prominence, was his work as general counsel for F. Augustan Heinze during the long legal contest which he waged with the Amalgamated Copper Company for many years at Butte, Montana, resulting finally in victory for his client. The judge was one of the organizers and a large stockholder of the Powell Sanders wholesale grocery company of Spokane.
       The political offices which Judge Cullen filled were always directly or indirectly in the path of his profession, being connected with framing or with the interpretation of the law. He was the first attorney general of the state of Montana and also its first adjutant general. In politics he was a recognized supporter of the democratic party but felt that his professional duties should be precedent to all else and thus took comparatively little active part in political work. A contemporary biographer has written of him: "In his chosen field of mining law few men were his equals and he has left a deep imprint upon the mining laws and decisions of the country. His ability was recognized by the public and the profession and was the outcome of close study, thorough preparation of his cases, keen analysis of facts and the logical application of the law. Before a court or jury he entered easily and naturally into an argument; there was no straining after effect, but a precision and coolness in statement, an acuteness and strength in argument which few possessed, marked him as of a mind trained in the severest school of investigation and to which analytical reasoning was habitual. Such decisions as Black vs. Elkhorn Mining Company and Lewis vs. Northern Pacific Railroad Company, in the supreme court of the United States, were from their beginning great legal battles and were fought by him on points which were then new in the history of litigation then existing in this country. For a period of twenty-one years he conducted for the Montana Mining Company, the owner of the famous Drum Lummon mine at Marysville, Montana, the bitter litigation existing between it and the St. Louis Mining Company of Montana, and in the end fell a victim to his ardor in fighting the litigation. The last trial of this case, in Helena, Montana, where he conducted it, lasted for a period of over three months, in the year 1905, and he wore himself out during the course of this trial, although on account of his rugged health the effests [effects] of exhaustion did not disclose themselves for a long time to come and not until he was before the supreme court of the United States, in arguing this case for the Montana Mining Company in December, 1907, when he was stricken down by an attack of heart disease from which he never recovered.
       Judge Cullen spent the last few years of his life in Spokane, to which city he removed with his family in 1899, and here entered into partnership with F.M. Dudley, under the style of Cullen & Dudley, a connection that was maintained until his life's labors were ended. He was always very devoted to his family, and his was a happy home life which had its inception in his marriage, in 1868, in Helena, to Miss Corlin V. Stoakes, who was a native of New York, a descendant of the Lawrence family and a daughter of Clarence B. Stoakes, for a long time a prominent attorney of New York city. Mr. and Mrs. Cullen became the parents of five children, of whom three are yet residents of Spokane. The mother of these children died on the 18th of January, 1911.
       He considered no effort on his part too great if it would promote the happiness and welfare of his wife and children and his was a nature that shed around it much of the sunshine of life. His friends, and they were many, found him a most congenial companion and one, too, with whom association meant expansion and elevation. Death came to him in September, 1908, and thus passed from the scene of earthly activities one who had long been prominent in the northwest. Success and honors came to him in merited recognition of his personal worth and ability. He was recognized as the peer of the ablest members of the bar in this section of the country and his life was rich in all the traits of honorable manhood and citizenship.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton

* * * * Notice: These biographies were transcribed for the Washington Biographies Project. Unless otherwise stated, no further information is available on the individuals featured in the biographies.


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