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Sullivan, Parks, Wheeler, & Hawkins

Steven Nathaniel Hawkins (1846-1928)

Easton, Augustus B., History of the Saint Croix Valley, Vol 2, Chicago: H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co., 1909, page 876

Colonel S. N. Hawkins, ex-mayor of New Richmond, Wis., who, in the face of apathy and opposition, had the courage to declare in his inaugural address of April 17, 1906, that the people of every community have as good a right, morally and legally, to protect themselves and their children from the pollution of the profaner and the blasphemer as they have to guard against the contagion of scarlet fever, or smallpox, or any other contamination, is a man whose opinions on this subject have received commendation from prominent thinkers in nearly every state in the Union. Although he has met with reverses that would have crushed weaker men, he has risen above it all and is now far on the road to an even greater prosperity than that which was blasted and ruined by the devastating tornado of 1899. Stephen Nathaniel Hawkins was born near the city of Loughrea, County of Galway, Ireland, December 26, 1846. He was the youngest child of a family of sixteen, twelve of whom, eight boys and four girls, grew to manhood's estate and settled, later on, in the St. Croix valley, Wisconsin. The genealogy of the family shows that on the father's side they were of English extraction, derived from the Saxon "Hawkingge," of Saxony, which name was Anglicized to Hawkins in the County of Kent, in England, from which place his ancestors went to Ireland. On the mother's side they were of Norman Welch extraction, the family on the mother's side being readily traced back as far as the twelfth century to Thomas De-Jorse, afterwards modernized as Joyce. Thomas De-Jorse emigrated to Ireland and settled in what was known afterwards as "The Joyce's Country," since which time the people on both sides had resided in Ireland and became thoroughly identified with the Irish people. His people came to America while he was yet an infant and settled in Meriden, Conn., from which place they came to Wisconsin in 1852, settling upon a farm near the city of Madison, and in 1855 they were among the early pioneers of the St. Croix valley, which place has ever since been his home. His mother died when he was but seven years of age, after which time he lived with his sister until, at the age of fifteen, he ventured abroad to make a living among strangers, working during the summer months and attending the public schools in the winter. During those years he was engaged in various kinds of employment, farm laborer, following breaking teams, threshing machines, in saw mills, on rafts on the Mississippi river and steamships on the lakes, also as clerk on a steamboat, and thus, by his own efforts, unaided save by providence, as the years went by he obtained the best common school education which the country afforded in those early pioneer days, and finished his course at the "old academy" at River Falls, at that time the principal seat of learning in northwestern Wisconsin, and was the valedictorian at the close of the scholastic year in 1864. At the age of fourteen he enlisted for the army, but was rejected on account of his youth, but later on, however, he was accepted and served until he was honorably mustered out at the close of the Civil war. On his return home from the army he began life as a school teacher in January, 1866, and taught successfully in various parts of the St. Croix valley, including a term in "The Military Institute" at Hudson. As an evidence of his success as a teacher he was paid from five to twelve dollars a month higher wages than any other person received during the last two years of his service in that occupation. He also taught school in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1869, and at the close of his labors was deputized by the county superintendent to assist him in the examination of the graduating classes of the various schools of Dubuque county, Iowa. While teaching school he also studied both law and medicine. While in Dubuque, Iowa, he had for his tutor Dr. M. H. Waples, county physician, a graduate of the Jefferson Medical college, of Philadelphia, and at Hudson he studied with that sturdy veteran of two wars–Dr. Otis Hoyt–formerly a surgeon in the Mexican war and Civil war. During the same time he studied law under the instructions of Judge Wetherby, of Hudson, and while in Dubuque he attended the various courts in that city and thus laid the foundation of his future legal studies and practice.

From 1872 to 1876 he was engaged in the mercantile business at New Richmond, and during that period the firms of Early and Hawkins, Thomas Early and Company, and S. N. Hawkins and Company (general merchandise) were well and favorably known in commercial circles. The financial panic of 1873 embarrassed a number of merchants, many of whom took advantage of the bankruptcy laws and became released from their debts through insolvency proceedings, but Mr. Hawkins chose to face the situation like a man, and arranged with his creditors for an extension of time and gave them security, even upon his homestead by a mortgage, and although he lost $4,900.00 and four years' hard labor by such a course, yet, at the end of four years thereafter, 1880, he had the satisfaction of redeeming the last obligation existing against him, and he and his friends celebrated the event by holding an informal banquet in his office. Having disposed of his mercantile interests in the spring of 1876, he returned to his first love–the law–and after a searching examination in open court, as was the usual custom in those days, he was duly admitted to practice law in the county and circuit courts in the fall of 1876, before the supreme court of Wisconsin in 1884, department of the interior in 1886, United States federal courts in 1887, and United States supreme court at Washington, D. C., in 1900.

Mr. Hawkins has been the presiding officer in many fraternities–G. A. R., I. O. O. F., Modern Woodmen, and others–and although not an office seeker, yet he has occupied practically every local and municipal office within the gift of his fellow citizens, including the office of district attorney several terms and mayor of his city. He has been a delegate to county, congressional and state conventions of the republican party, as well as a member of the congressional committee, and was in attendance at the republican national convention at Chicago in 1888, when Benjamin Harrison was nominated for the presidency of the United States. As an orator he has been in great demand on patriotic events, and the fraternal organizations and civic societies have frequently drafted him to fill the position of orator on their programmes of entertainment.

Prior to becoming incorporated New Richmond had given bonds to a railroad corporation, and in 1873 Mr. Hawkins was selected by his townsmen as a suitable person to go to Madison and look after the interests of the town, as a fierce conflict was being waged at that time in the legislature as to the extension of the land grant to that railroad. In 1878 he donated his services to the people in drafting the necessary papers and in procuring from the circuit court (as was the procedure at that time) a village charter, it being at that time a very difficult proceeding on account of the intricacies and imperfections of the law as it then existed. Again, in 1885, his services were sought to aid in the drafting of the city charter and then to proceed to the state capitol at Madison and assist in procuring its passage.

In 1872 he married Margaret Ellen Early, a native of Allegany county, New York, who proved to be a constant and faithful companion throughout all the busy scenes and changes of his public life. Six children blessed their union, the oldest of whom died in infancy, and the remaining five–three boys and two girls–grew up to be fine promising children. He had a nicely furnished home and an elegant library at his house and another at his office. The three oldest children graduated from the high school with honors. The oldest son, Fred, after teaching school several terms, took a special course at Laurence university, Appleton, Wis., and Robert and Cammilla took special courses in commercial colleges, and being, as he believed, fully equipped to manage a successful business themselves, a new firm–Hawkins and Hawkins–was organized by him in May, 1899, and started into business with flattering prospects of future success. June 12, 1899, a terrific tornado swept over the city of New Richmond, shattering all of Mr. Hawkins' fondest hopes with its cruel breath. A reporter, who visited the scene of disaster at the time, wrote as follows: "Perhaps the saddest case of all that occurred as the result of that direful tornado was that of Hon. S. N. Hawkins. His wife, two highly educated and accomplished daughters, his youngest son, a bright boy of twelve years, his niece, wife's aged father, and their hired girl–in all seven persons killed and his home and all its furnishings, including his home library, swept away, his tenement houses demolished, his office, including his elegant law library, all destroyed, and he himself badly injured, buried under a two-story brick building that fell in upon him, head bruised, lower limbs crushed, ribs fractured, bones broken, so that after being extricated he was taken to St. Joseph's hospital in St. Paul for treatment."

After some treatment at the hospital he returned, in a crippled condition, however, and erected an office and started his two sons, Fred and Robert, who, with himself, survived the disaster, and together they labored for a while to re-establish their home and business. Owing to the great shock which he received, and his attempts to work before he recovered, he soon became prostrated with melancholia and neuritis and was compelled to take further treatment and a vacation to get rid of sad memories, and so, leaving his law office in charge of his sons, and upon the advice of his physicians and friends, he went to Washington, D. C., in 1900. Mr. Hawkins keeps a picture of President McKinley hung up in his office and the special written invitation that he received to attend a presidential reception is framed and hangs in his parlor as a memento of the kind-hearted martyr president.

About the same time the Grand Army national encampment, hearing of the sad catastrophe and remembering the patriotic services of Mr. Hawkins, his youthful enlistment, his/active participation in soldiers' reunions, Decoration day exercises and memorial addresses at various places, sent him a commission with title of colonel as aide-de-camp on the staff of the commander-in-chief, G. A. R.; hence the title colonel.

Being desirous of getting away from the scenes of sad memories and with visions of the golden West before them, his sons–first Fred, the oldest, and next Robert, went westward, and the father was left alone. After mourning in loneliness for his loved ones for over two years, in 1901 he married Katrina Victoria Kane, of Watertown, Wis. He has built up a beautiful home again and is rapidly gathering a new library to take the place of the one that he lost. In 1902 his son Robert came home from the West, afflicted with a malady from the effects of which he died in less than a week, and again the father was stricken with grief. He made a trip to Tacoma and Seattle the same year to see his only remaining son and nursed him through a long siege of sickness until he recovered. That son, Fred, his only remaining child, is still in the West. Mr. Hawkins has been engaged in several very important cases which attracted more than local interest. "The Kibbe will case" is said to be the most stubbornly contested case of its kind ever tried in that county. The will for which Mr. Hawkins contended was sustained. During his incumbency of the office of prosecuting attorney, from 1888 to 1892, there were several noted criminal cases of more than local interest, which were managed by him in such an able manner as to elicit very favorable comment from the court officers and complimentary notices in the newspapers. One of the cases which was fought very strenuously and which was watched with a great deal of interest all over the Northwest was what came to be known as "Hawkins' famous police court." Briefly stated, that case, also known as "The Hallowe'en cases," started in 1906, when Mayor Hawkins, having caused the adoption of the general charter, contended that it carried with it a provision for a police court. Nearly if not all the other lawyers contended otherwise, but Mr. Hawkins after due deliberation established a police court and appointed a police justice to act until it could be filled by an election. The court thus established did business all summer and, although there were doubts expressed as to its validity, yet no protest was formally entered and no legal proceedings were had to determine its validity. Hallowe'en time approached and Mayor Hawkins caused notices of warning to be published that, while he would be lenient towards innocent and harmless amusement, yet annoying elderly and infirm people and destruction of property would not be tolerated. As an extra precaution he appointed an extra policeman in plain clothes to guard against the wanton destruction of property. The next morning, however, it was found that the mayor's orders had been disregarded. Then the police court was set in motion and young men and boys varying in their ages from thirteen to twenty-three years were dealt with. Nearly all plead guilty and paid their fines. Several who had plead guilty, however, refused to pay the fine and were sent to jail. On habeas corpus they were released by the county judge on the theory that no police court existed or could exist under the New Richmond charter. Then they sued the officers, including the mayor, for big damages for an alleged false imprisonment. The case was fought vigorously through five courts and the Supreme court decided that a police court did exist.

Mr. Hawkins' people were originally what was known as "Douglas Democrats," but when the Civil war broke out they fought to preserve the Union, and our subject became a member of the Republican party.

His office is quite noted for the correctness and systematized method of doing business, and his dockets and other records are kept with neatness and dispatch. He is noted as being a wide observer of men and events and among his choicest possessions are his "Scrap Books," which are methodically arranged with indexes and proper titles, such as "Editorial Comments," "Current Events," "Legal Clippings," "Wit and Humor," etc., so that upon nearly every topic of discussion he has a fund of information, and many mooted questions upon general topics have been settled by the disputants after visiting Mr. Hawkins' office. In closing this sketch of Mr. Hawkins we may be pardoned if we conclude by quoting the language of another, who said:

"His has been a busy life, and his lips know not the taste of the bread of idleness. Whatever else may be said of him when he is gone, no one can truthfully state that he ever tried to deceive a fellow man by chicanery or crookedness, or that his advice was otherwise than truthful, honest and sound."