ALFRED G OTIS
Alfred G. Otis was born in Cortland county, New York, December 13, 1827, being the son of Isaac and Caroline A. Otis. While a mere boy his father removed to Barry county, in the then new state of Michigan, and engaged extensively in farming. His son Alfred, with other members of the family, was thus reared upon a farm and shared all the labors and hardships of pioneer life. At the age of twenty Mr. Otis resolved to enter upon a professional career and determined, as the first step, to obtain a thorough classical education. As the father was burdened with the care of a large family, the son set about the task of acquiring his education unaided. His first studies in Latin and Greek were commenced in the evening upon the farm after the day's work was done. Afterward, by teaching, he acquired means to prosecute his studies at the Kalamazoo branch of the State University. Entering the university at Ann Arbor, as a sophomore, in 1849, he was graduated in regular course in 1852. He then went south to Mississippi, where he taught school and studied law at the same time. From there he entered the Louisville Law School, where he was graduated in 1854, after which he began practice in that city. In October, 1855, be removed to Atchison, Kansas, where he has resided continuously since. He engaged at once in the active practice of his profession and for several years was extensively connected with the land litigation which about that time sprang up in the new territory, and in which he took a leading and important part. In 1860 Judge Otis, then in full practice, formed a partnership with Hon. George W. Glick, a lawyer of about his own age, who had recently arrived in Atchison from Ohio. This partnership continued until 1873 and the firm did their share of the legal business of the state, both in state and federal courts and before the United States land office. They were the regularly employed attorneys of the Central Branch, Union Pacific Railroad, from 1865 during the whole of this period, and after the dissolution of the firm, in 1873, Judge Otis retained the same position until he was elected to the bench in 1876. During this period, though in the full tide of actual business and professional labor, he yet found time to actively aid the Episcopal church, of which denomination he was a member, being the warm personal friend of Bishop Vail, the Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Kansas.
Judge Otis was also prominently identified with the business and railroad enterprise of northern Kansas, Atchison being then as now the commercial center for that section of the state. In 1876 Judge Otis, though a prominent Democrat, was elected district judge of the second judicial district, then largely Republican, his majority over his opponent being several hundred. He served his term of four years to the general satisfaction of the people and the bar, but declined a renomination. At the close of his term resolutions of esteem and respect were adopted by the bar of each county of the district and were at their request spread upon the records of the court. At Atchison, the home of judge Otis, the closing of his term was made an occasion of especial interest by the lawyers generally of the district.
Among others, Judge Nathan Price, one of his predecessors upon the bench, Hon. G. W. Glick, his former law partner and subsequently the governor of the state, Colonel A. S. Everest. a we1l known and noted attorney, Hon. R. P. Waggener, his former law student, and Judge David Martin, who succeeded him upon the bench, took prominent part. the following resolutions were unanimously adopted by the bar:
"WHEREAS, the Hon. Alfred G. Otis, of the second judicial district of Kansas, who has so faithfully and ably served as judge of said court for the past four years, is now about to retire from the bench, and is about to adjourn this court for the last time, and
"WHEREAS, It is in accordance with the sentiment of the bar here assembled, appreciating the high character and integrity which has marked his judicial labors, to give expression in an appropriate manner of the regard in which he is held by the members of the bar, therefore be it
"Resolved, That it is with sincere regret that we are called upon to sever our official relations with one who has so justly and so ably performed all the duties of the high and honorable office of judge of this district, and who, in the administration of the judicial powers and duties imposed upon him, has, without exception, exhibited that thorough learning, careful research, clear and vigorous reasoning and integrity of purpose that always command the respect and admiration of the bar.
"Resolved, That in the performance of the manifold and arduous duties which necessarily attach to a judicial office, his whole object and aim has seemed to be to administer the law as he found it, without fear, favor or partiality, seeking only to reach the ends of justice by a strict adherence to those fundamental principles of the law that govern and control all civil conduct.
"Resolved, That during the four years of our official intercourse with Judge Otis, he has at all times shown a just appreciation of the proper relations between bench and bar, and we do hereby tender him our kindest and best wishes for his future welfare and prosperity.
"Resolved, That these resolutions be spread upon the records of this court, and that copies be sent to each of the city papers for publication."
These were followed by various addresses from the members of the bar, and among them the Hon. B. P. Weggener made the following very happy address:
"May it please your Honor: It affords great pleasure for me to publicly express my unqualified concurrence in the sentiments of the resolutions that have been presented to you by the members of the bar.
"The circumstances surrounding your elevation from that bar, which you had so long honored, to the bench of this district, were such as to impress upon your mind that you carried with you the respect and confidence of your fellow citizens, with whom and among whom for so long a time you had lived and mingled, and as you are now about to close your judicial career, I think I express the sentiments of not only each member of the bar, but of the citizens of the district, that you have in no manner betrayed the trust reposed in you by them, and that you will transfer the judicial ermine unstained and untainted to your successor in office.
"You, sir, can retire to the shades of private life with the satisfaction of knowing that your judicial integrity has never been questioned, or your honesty of purpose ever made an issue between parties litigant.
"In our zeal for the cause of our clients we may have differed from you upon the interpretations of those rules of action so often invoked in furtherance of justice, yet we have uniformly accepted the result as the opinion of an unbiased, intelligent and impartial judge.
"In thus giving expression to my sentiments upon this occasion I am actuated by a feeling to me more sacred than that feeling of respect which the lawyer has for the court. Whatever, sir, I am today, whatever success I have attained at the bar and in the practice of my profession, I attribute to an attempt to follow your precepts and emulate your example, and to the helping hand that you extended to me in my youth in the hour of adversity and misfortune. Without friends, without money, without education, you took me from the cold charities of the world and by kindness and the exhibition of the impulses of a generous heart you planted in my very existence an ambition to achieve success, and by words of encouragement inspired me with hope that although not reared in the lap of luxury I might overcome the obstacles of life and gather richer sheaves in the great field of human actions before me than had blessed my labors in early life; and when promoted to the bench I felt that those qualities of heart and mind that adorned your private life and commanded for you the adoration of your neighbors and fellow citizens would pre-eminently characterize your administration of justice in the courts of the several counties of this judicial district; and while we regret your retirement from the bench we congratulate ourselves upon the fact that your successor in office is a gentleman of great moral worth and intellectual culture, and one whom we all know possesses in an eminent degree that enlarged experience and those qualifications so necessary and requisite to the purity and dignity of the judiciary."
This was followed by many other addresses and then by a response from Judge Otis, in which, after thanking the bar for their kind words, he discussed at some length and very frankly the defects in the legal procedure of the state which had come under his notice during his term of office, and suggested various remedies therefor, many of which were adopted by the legislature at its next session shortly thereafter.
Judge David Martin, his successor, then took the oath of office, administered by Judge Otis, and, on being formally introduced to the bar, made the following response:
"May it please the court and the gentlemen of the bar: It is not meet that he who girdeth on the harness of a public servant should himself boast of what he expects to accomplish. But he that putteth off may well speak of what he has actually done, and his words of advice and counsel to his associates will be treasured up and pondered well by the wise and thoughtful.
"Our learned and honored friend and brother has crowned a long, active and highly successful professional career with four years of hard judicial labor to the general acceptance and satisfaction of the bar and the people of the second judicial district. His extensive research, profound learning and great experience as a lawyer eminently fitted him for the arduous and responsible duties of the judgeship. We have had the benefit of his judicial labors and have now listened to his parting words of advice and counsel from the bench, in which I, for one, have been greatly interested, for they have been 'apples of gold in pictures of silver.' There may well be general regret of his parting, for he who is to come in the room of Judge Otis cannot reasonably hope for the same measure of success. I trust, however, that he may not prove unworthy of the confidence and respect of the people of the district who have called him to the place by a unanimous vote, and that when his career as a judge is ended he may also merit the commendation which we now so fittingly bestow upon Judge Otis : 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant.'
The following were the comments of the leading city papers. In the Atchison Daily Champion, of January 7, 1881, was this article:
"The respect and confidence in which Judge Otis is held by the members of the profession is testified to by the complimentary resolutions adopted by the bar of this county yesterday and by the legal fraternities of other counties in the district during the past few weeks. He has made all able, impartial judge and his thorough integrity has never been questioned.
"The Judge made the bar meeting yesterday the occasion for some very plain talk on the methods of our jurisprudence and the defects of our laws. The criticisms he makes and the reforms he urges have been suggested by a long and valuable experience as a practicing attorney and a judicial officer and will commend themselves to the approval of all intelligent people. We are glad Judge Otis has embraced this opportunity to give the public the benefit of his observation and experience in the practical workings of our judicial system. If any one, not of the legal guild, had said what he does, his opinions would have been pooh-poohed by the legal fraternity as the thoughtless vaporings of a busybody who did not know anything whatever about that great science the law. Coming from a lawyer of high repute, and a judge of conceded honesty and ability, these criticisms cannot be ignored by the profession and will be gladly approved by the people.
"There is no question of the fact that there is growing up in the public mind a profound distrust of our judicial system as a means of righting wrongs and dispensing equal and exact justice. The laws of Kansas appear to have been especially devised, in some parts, to protect criminals, to prevent the administration of justice, to promote vexatious and expensive delays and to furnish steady business for the lawyers. Rich and poor suffer alike from these intolerable methods and only criminals and those notoriously in the wrong are benefited by them. A premium is put upon ignorance and general depravity in the jury box, civil causes drag their slow length along through weary and anxious years, while the costs increase and multiply until a final decision is inevitable ruin to both parties litigant; unscrupulous lawyers learn to depend for success upon artifice and fraud and chicanery, rather than upon legal learning and ability; the vilest criminals go unwhipped of justice through the intervention of cobweb technicalities that should never be permitted to deface and disgrace the operation of a judicial system, and, as the natural sequence of such resulting evils, the public mind, which ought to be inspired with a high respect for courts, regards them with almost universal distrust, if not with absolute abhorrence.
"Judge Otis frankly acknowledges all this, cites special causes why the public ought to regard our system of jurisprudence with suspicion and points out changes and reforms, by means of which the law can be restored to the high place it ought to occupy in a civilized and intelligent commonwealth. His suggestions are not only wise, but timely. The legislature is soon to assemble and it ought to be able to correct some of the evils complained of by intelligent legislation. The others must be corrected by the firm action of our judicial officers, who ought to be assisted in any efforts they may make to this end by all the reputable and honorable members of the legal fraternity."
The Atchison Patriot, of January 7, 1881, after sketching the proceedings at length, closed as follows
"In conclusion, the Patriot would add its mite to the kindly words that were addressed to Judge Otis this morning. A grave and dignified judge and able and skillful jurist, well versed in the law, familiar with the practice, scrutinizingly just in all things, he has been a judge whose record will long be pointed to as the bright example of an honest, upright judge, against whose untarnished name there stands not one breath of suspicion, save that of an honored and trusted official."
Among others, the following letters were received, commenting upon the address:
"State of Kansas, Senate Chamber.
"TOPEKA, January 17, 1881.
"Dear Sir: I have read with great pleasure your address delivered to the bar in Atchison. I am satisfied that most of your suggestions will become established law. I thank you for the pleasure the perusal of your address has given me.
"E. A. WARE."
Hon. T. M. Cooley, judge of the supreme court of the state of Michigan and professor of law at the Michigan University, wrote the following letter:
"ANN ARBOR, February 2, 1881.
"Hon. A. C. Otis.
'My Dear Sir: I have read with much pleasure your address on legal reform, made on laying down your robes of judicial office. In the main I concur in what you say and regret that your views do not generally prevail. The time has come, I think, when unanimity should not be demanded in the verdict of juries. There has never been much good reason for requiring it; jurors have been suffered to act freely, and it is now counted upon as likely to afford immunity to wrong doing in such cases as public opinion naturally divides upon. There is less reason for requiring jurors to agree than for making the same demand upon judges, for judges are presumably more fitted by their training to draw the proper conclusions from the evidence, and they have better opportunities for examining it with deliberation and care.
"I also agree that your statutes of 1859, respecting the disqualifications of jurors, is a great improvement on the common law, as it is generally administered. We have a similar statute in this state, but we have held independent of the statutes that the rule would be substantially the same.
"Many other things in your address give me pleasure but I have not time to notice them. Wishing you every happiness in your retirement, I am
"Very truly yours,
'T. M. COOLEY."
Hon. John F. Dillon, formerly United States circuit judge for the seventh judicial district which included Kansas, made the following response:
"716 MADISON AVENUE, NEW YORK, February 4, 1881.
"My Dear Judge: I must give you my thanks for a printed copy of the proceedings of the bar on your retirement. It gave me sincere pleasure to read it. I personally knew almost every person who spoke and it brought 'the light of other days around me.' It must have been a great satisfaction to you and your family and friends to have had such an impressive testimonial to the worth of your services and the high esteem in which you are held by those who have known you longest and best. I was especially interested in your practical suggestions for improving and amending the law and its administration. Some of your views ought to be adopted by the legislature and I hope they will be. It too often happens that matters that most need attention fail to get it. I have not time now to enter into the subject further than to say that no one more fully appreciates the value of your observations than I do, and I agree in almost all you say in your address and in your letter. I trust you will enjoy your well-earned leisure. For myself I do not regret my own retirement from the bench; but leisure still eludes me, for I find myself about the busiest man I have met with in this busy city. With my best wishes for your future, I am as ever,
Very truly yours,
"JOHN F. DILLON.
"Hon A. G. Otis."
The following comment was made by the New York Churchman:
" 'Legal Reform' is the title of the address delivered by Judge A. G. Otis, of Atchison, Kansas, on the occasion of his retirement from the bench. It is largely devoted to reforms which have only a local interest, but parts of it are of general concern to all litigants and to their counsel as well. It is plain and practical and is eloquent with the logic of facts. The Judge did not think it necessary to put on his gloves in handing many of the evils that have grown up around the courts of law in Kansas and elsewhere, and we are sure his words will have weight in bringing about their removal. He discusses the jury system with great power and sets forth its folly in requiring the absolute unanimity of twelve men, and seems to think, if it is to be continued, we shall have to go back to the time of Blackstone, when juries were compelled to agree, and who says, if they do not, 'the judges are not bound to wait for them, but may carry them around the circuit, from town to town, in a cart. Judge Otis would have the infallibility of the twelfth man entirely removed. The selection of jurors, too, he thinks, may be modified greatly to the advantage of all parties, and that impressions, opinions and belief about current events should no longer disqualify a juryman. We need in our juries intelligence and not ignorance. We were especially interested in that part of the Judge's address which speaks of the law's interminable delays. He tells of one case, involving the title to some land, which was continued in the courts until it outlived all the parties in interest and the professional life of all who were engaged in it, and was finally ended by an almost arbitrary act of judicial power! The title to a pig was contested until the costs run up to seven hundred dollars, and a similar case of a calf went from court to court until, after multiplying costs, it was finally settled by the attorneys themselves! These delays, the Judge well says, make inequality in the laws, and the right of appeal needs to be further restricted and the bill of costs limited by positive enactment. We are glad to hear such sentiments accompanied by practical suggestions from the bench. Law is itself an evil and should be freed, as much as may be, from the evils that have grown up around it."
The following communication was also written by one of the sovereigns of Kansas to the Topeka Commonwealth:
"LAW AND JUDICIARY REFORM.
'MCPHERSON, KANSAS, January 25.
"To the Editor of the Commonwealth:
"I am so forcibly impressed with the addresses of Colonel A. S. Everest and Judge A. G. Otis, which were recently published in your paper, that I can scarcely forbear saying something about them. Indeed, they are such remarkable illustrations of the progressive genius of man as to deserve more than a passing glance. They do not call for a sudden and startling revolution in moral and legal ethics, but they certainly do suggest some very wholesome and wise reformatory changes in our laws in the civil code and in the judiciary of the state. It is needless for me to review their addresses in detail or at length, but I must commend them to the careful and considerate attention of the legislature, particularly to the younger and less experienced members, to the 'conservatives' and to that class of men whose fervent zeal for 'retrenchment and reform' lead them into the ridiculous pastime of pursuing shadows and leaving the substance to decay. Perhaps Colonel Everest and Judge Otis did not intentionally deliver and publish their significant speeches for the edification of the legislature; undoubtedy they did not, for their speeches are as well calculated for the enlightenment of the common people as for those 'old Romans' who wrap their togas about them and wax warm in parliamentary conflicts! But there is a happy coincidence in the delivery of these addresses and the session of that august assembly. Certainly the people should not have cause for reproving their representatives, lest they reprove themselves. But I do not intend any reflection upon that body, for, as a whole, it is good; it has some bright and able minds, and yet all of them will do well to listen to the words of men whose experience arid training renders them capable of speaking as with authority in the important concerns of civil society -- the laws and the courts and the machinery of justice. Indeed, upon reading the able addresses referred to, one wonders if the scenes and influences of that high court of chancery of our old mother country, and of which Dickens wrote in such splendid strains of honest indignation. will be repeated on American soil -- in Kansas and over Kansas homes! Look upon your little ones at home; think of Jarndyce and Jarndyce; reflect upon the suggestions of Judge Otis and nerve yourself for the change that must come! If the present legislature will commence the inauguration of a new era of jurisprudence, posterity will applaud their acts. Of course, these things require time and calm deliberation and wise counsel, rather than excited and hostile debate. But they must be debated and the time must not flag too much. I commend those addresses to the press of the state and hope that every newspaper will publish them, and that they will reach and be read in every office and at every fireside, for by those signs the people shall go peacefully over the ruffled seas of life, finding plenty of quiet harbors wherein they can moor their ships for rest and enjoy the blessings they have heaped upon themselves."
After his retirement from the bench Judge Otis took an active part in the management of the Atchison Savings Bank, then one of the leading banks of the city, and of which he had long been president. This, with the care of his own private business, engrossed for some years his time and attention. He was, however, for six years a regent of the University of Kansas and took an active part in its control. At the dedication of Snow Hall, November 16, 1887, the following is an outline of his address
SNOW HALL DEDICATED.
Interesting exercises at the Kansas State University. Judge Otis, chairman of the building committee of the board of regents, delivers an exhaustive review of the institution's past. Remarks by Chancellor Lippincott and Professor Snow and Governor Martin -- History of the new structure. Lawrence, Kansas, November 16. This has been a red-letter day in the history of the State University, the hall of natural history, recently completed, being formally turned over to the university and dedicated to the purposes for which it was constructed. At ten o'clock this morning a large audience, composing state officials and members of the legislature. the board of regents and the university faculty, invited guests from different parts of the state and from Lawrence, students and citizens, gathered in the spacious hall of the main university building and the meeting was called to order by Chancellor Lippincott, who presided. The exercises were opened by prayer by the Rev. Dr. Post, of Leavenworth, in which the university, its officers and students and the purpose for which the assembly had gathered were suitably commemorated.
The chancellor, in a few well-chosen words, introduced the Hon. A. G. Otis, of Atchison, the chairman of the building committee of the board of regents. In a very graceful speech he reviewed the advances which had been made in the work in the past four years, during which the present board had been in office. The services of the day had a peculiar value to the board of regents. The building they were about to dedicate was the evidence of the continued confidence of the people in the administration of the university and in the work which it had undertaken to accomplish.
MAKING A UNIVERSITY.
"Four years ago," the Judge continued, "the board, in reviewing the history of the institution, had determined that if the state meant to endow a mere preparatory school or college in the ordinary sense it had expended far too much; if a university in the fullest and best sense of the term, far too little. But it was clearly manifested that nothing less than a university in the fullest sense of the term had been intended, and they had resolutely set themselves to the work which the founders had planned, to make the University of Kansas an educational center of the West, like those of Ann Arbor and Wisconsin for the north and northwest. The people of the state have, through their legislatures, cheerfully responded to the call. In 1883 the chemistry building had been provided and fully equipped for the pursuit of that important branch of science. Next the law department had been endowed and under the charge of an able jurist gave opportunities for young men preparing for the bar quite equal to those they could find even at long distances from their homes. Then the department of pharmacy had been established under the care of an eminent and distinguished professor and cordially adopted and provided for by the state. And now the department of natural history, which has been from the beginning the special care of the eminent professor whose honored name it was to bear, was to receive the beautiful and spacious structure which has been prepared for displaying its cabinets and the carrying out of its works."
CONTINUING THE GOOD WORK.
"The future of the institution was," the speaker said, "assured, yet there would be no relaxation in their efforts to carry on and complete the work." He referred to the plans for the future and made special allusion to the additional facilities for the comfort and convenience of the lady students. The university had always recognized their right to an equal share with their brothers to all the privileges of a state education, and was now considering plans by which they could more readily and widely avail themselves of its advantages. A residence for the chancellor on the university grounds was also needed, in order that he might give his personal and constant supervision to the work and property under his charge.
The speech of the Judge was frequently interrupted by applause, and he was roundly cheered as he closed with an eloquent reference to the cause in which they were engaged.
On the 22d of April, 1887, was the "silver wedding" day of Alfred G. Otis and Amelia J. Otis, and was thus described by the local papers : "Twenty-five years of married life -- moving along happily, with children growing up, an honor to their parents and friends -- is what is not accorded to every one in this whirling, changeable world. Yet that has been the experience of Judge and Mrs. A. G. Otis. Twenty-five years ago yesterday they were united in marriage in the city of Philadelphia and soon thereafter came to Atchison, where they have since resided and their career has been one of uninterrupted prosperity. As a lawyer, as a judge, as a banker, Judge Otis is known and respected, not only throughout the state, but the west, and his high reputation has been the work of his own hands. He has been honored with official positions by the people and has fulfilled them faithfully. He has had the perfect confidence of all, because he has shown himself worthy of it. Mrs. Otis has grown up with the society of Atchison and has recognized, in the fullest sense, her obligations to it. As a friend, a neighbor, a true Christian lady, she has won the love and regard of a very large circle of friends and acquaintances. It must, indeed, have been a source of pleasure to the two, whose lives had been passed together so happily, to see around them not only the children who had so faithfully obeyed the command 'Honor thy father and thy mother,' but hundreds of friends with whom the best years of their life had been passed.
"The occasion was not one of ostentatious display; no presents were expected ; it was a sincere tribute to Judge and Mrs. Otis by friends who had known them long and well. To say that the spacious rooms of the family mansion were crowded would but feebly express the idea. And yet all received that kindly, cordial welcome and kind attention that ever distinguishes genuine hospitality, and the hours passed most happily with social converse and pleasant reminiscences of the old times in Atchison. It was a real reunion of friends and neighbors who had lived together for a quarter of a century. Among those present was ex-Governor Glick, Judge Otis' former law partner, and his estimable lady.
"In bidding goodnight to the host and hostess and the children who had been born and reared under their roof, each guest expressed the wish that Judge and Mrs. Otis might live to celebrate their golden wedding as happily and that no shadow might fall across their household in the intervening years.
The following old settlers' day address calls to mind many of the old times in the early history of Atchison. Judge Otis spoke substantially as follows:
"In looking over the past, the history of Kansas would seem to divide itself naturally into three divisions -- before the war, during the war and since the war, -- infancy, youth and manhood. This refers not merely to its people and population, but also to its diversified interests, its commercial development and the political and moral progress of the state. Under the act of 1854 Kansas became a territory and treaties then and soon afterward made opened it up for settlement. The appearance of the country at that time, in its undeveloped and primitive state, before civilization and settlement had changed its general features, presents a marked contrast to the subsequent development of the state. Like the photographs of a man taken at different periods of his life, the changes that took place as it passed from one condition to another were marked and interesting.
"Its first appearance was primitive and rude. Its second period began to show signs of wonderful progress in every particular. Its third period, since the war, showed still greater progress -- the most wonderful in its entire history -- changes almost magical, railroads, towns and cities springing into being, cattle on a thousand hills took the place of deer and buffalo. The plow and the scythe, the school and the church began to assert themselves and demonstrate their beneficent power.
"It seems to me proper and in accordance with the spirit of this occasion to deal in reminiscences and the expression of personal observation, and this is what I propose to do."
At this point Judge Otis described his arrival in Kansas, at Leavenworth, in October, 1855, and the appearance of the city at the time. Continuing, he spoke at length of a number of the early settlers, John Bennett, George T. Challis, Samuel Dixon, Henry Adams, L. Yocum, Heber Taylor, P. B. Wilcox, P. T. Abell, Mayhew, Haskell, Newman, Jackson, Wade, Eli C. Mason, Senator Pomeroy. Dr. Alderson, John A. Martin, Dr. Stringfellow, John M. Crowell, John M. Price, George W. Glick, I. S. Parker, Major Grimes, Dr. Grimes, Thomas Wise, Cheesborough Kelly, Benton, William Hetherington and others, a long list and many of them now dead.
Then he added : "In conclusion, old settlers, let me say, Kansas is our future home. It is a matter of congratulation that we have lived here, had such joyous friendships. Here with our families gathered around us we shall spend the balance of our days. and departing do so without regrets, grateful that we have been permitted to live and die here."
Judge Otis spoke extemporaneously and to the delight of his auditors.
The following sketch discloses something of the early pioneer days of Judge Otis' life:
"Hon. Alfred G. Otis is another man who came to Atchison unheralded and poor, and who has earned both fame and fortune and one of whom Atchison and her people are proud. Judge Otis is a native of Michigan, but came to this section from Louisville, Kentucky. His capital stock was a copy of Blackstone, a genial temperament and abundance of brain. His devotion to the interest of his clients was proverbial and herein was the foundation of his future eminence. He was a great student and many were the times that the writer found him in the small hours of the morning endeavoring to unravel intricacies of law problems. No hour was too early or none too late nor no journey too arduous when the interests of his patrons were involved; his time was their own, and right well did he champion their fortunes.
"We remember, with great pleasure, many instances of unselfish devotion. When the alarm was sounded on a memorable occasion in 1856 that the interests of the Atchison steam ferry were in jeopardy, how quickly he mounted his horse and sped to Louis Burns, at Weston, and how successfully he managed the complications. This and many other instances of like character are to his credit, but none stand out in such bold relief and none more pronounced than his efforts on behalf of the pre-emptors of this section. The land office opened at Doniphan, but after a brief career was moved to Topeka. His frequent trips to Doniphan and his journeys to Topeka, on a horse, and his camping on the ground with a blanket before a log, on the north side of the river, in the interest of a pre-emption right to a valuable tract adjoining the city, will never be forgotten, and are called up afresh as we wander back to those early days and think of the struggles and privations of this young attorney in the battle for future greatness.
"Judge Otis' studious and painstaking disposition, his struggles and devotion, had their reward. He was successful in the practice of law, far beyond the average, and as the most capable man of the time was elected, some twelve years since, as judge of the district court, which position he held with great distinction for several years. The old Otis house was named in his honor, and many other marks of appreciation of the man are recorded. In late years he became wearied of the law and having earned large wealth has devoted his time to the care of his estate and the management of the Atchison Savings Bank, -- of which he is and has been president many years. Such, in brief, is Judge Alfred G. Otis, and it is the wish of the Champion that he may live long to enjoy his well earned reputation and wealth and the respect of his fellow citizens."
In 1891, when about sixty-four years of age, Judge Otis' health became very much impaired, not so much from any acute disease as from a general breaking down of the system, and it seemed for a time that he had reached the period of life when the grasshopper becomes a burden, but eminent physicians who were consulted, notably those of the Johns Hopkins University, assured the family that such incidents were common to men of about that age, between sixty and seventy, that nature was tired and must have rest, and prescribed absolute freedom from all care and all responsibility as an absolute essential to recovery. This course was followed and for over two years the charge of all business affairs and family interests wholly devolved upon Mrs. Otis and their son, William A., who managed everything with singular prudence and care. At the end of that time Judge Otis recovered his health and strength, both of body and mind, fully and perfectly, and resumed the care of his own affairs with vigor and strength apparently as complete as in his younger days. But he realizes fully, to use his own language, that he has passed the three score and ten and that the autumn leaves are thick about him. His old comrades have nearly all gone over the range and he is now the oldest settler of the city.
In 1862 Judge Otis was married to Miss Amelia Harres, of Philadelphia, and they have a family of five children, still living: Amy, Mark E., Pearl, Theodore and Carl. The family were in all eight children, two -- Grace and Harrison G. -- having died in infancy. The eldest, William A. Otis, was for a long time an active member and officer of the Syms Grocery Company, of Atchison, but his health failing him he found it necessary to seek the climate of Colorado, where he died August 8, 1899. Amy Otis was married, in 1895, to Edwin S. Earhart, an active lawyer of Kansas City, Kansas, where they are living. Mark E. Otis is engaged in active business in New York City. The remaining three are still a part of the home circle, where all reside in a beautiful residence overlooking the Missouri river and surrounded by a grove of trees of Judge Otis' own planting and where he brought his wife in 1862.
Of the same family Judge Otis has one brother, Charles E., who for the last nine years has been the district judge at St. Paul, Minnesota, and another brother, George L. Otis, now deceased, was for a long time one of the leading pioneer lawyers of Minnesota, and at one time the mayor of St. Paul. Ephraim A., another brother, is a well known lawyer of Chicago, Illinois, and another, Isaac N., now deceased, was formerly a devoted minister of the Presbyterian church at Boulder, Colorado.
The father of this family, Isaac Otis, died in 1854. The mother, Caroline A. Otis, who often visited Atchison, died in 1883. The following testimonial of this estimable lady was published by the local press at Kalamazoo, Michigan, at the time of her demise
"The death of Mrs. Otis, in the seventy-fifth year of her age, deserves more than the passing notice usually given to those who for years have been absent from our circle of social or business activity. I am sure the Telegraph will permit a friend and neighbor of this early pioneer and most estimable lady to recount for the gratification of her few remaining old friends and her many newer ones, the salient points of her history and to feebly portray her admirable qualities of mind and heart.
"Caroline Curtiss was born August 20, 1808. In 1826, when she was eighteen years of age, she married Isaac Otis, at Homer, Cortland county, New York, where they lived six years. In the spring of 1834 they came to Michigan and for two years lived in Calhoun county, but made permanent settlement, in 1836, near Prairieville, Barry county. Here her husband died of an accidental injury March 12, 1853, leaving to his widow the care of eleven children.
"Except, as one by one the older sons pushed out into the world for fame and fortune, she, with her family, continued to reside on the homestead until 1871, when, with three daughters and two sons, she removed to Kalamazoo. For nearly twelve years this has been her home. Like the Roman Cornelia, her chief pride was in her motherhood and in her children. She was the mother of thirteen, two of whom died in infancy and eleven, eight sons and three daughters, lived to maturity. Within the last three years two of these eight sons have died -- Curtiss, well known here a few years ago in business circles, and Newton, a rising minister of the Presbyterian church, near Denver, Colorado. Her oldest son, Judge Alfred G. Otis, is a prominent citizen of Atchison, Kansas. Judge Ephraim Otis and her youngest son, Arthur, are well known residents and lawyers of Chicago. George and Charles Otis are old and wealthy residents and lawyers of St. Paul, Minnesota. Stephen Otis, for a while a resident here, now lives, a farmer, near Battle Creek, Michigan. The three daughters, Mary, Louise and Lilly, well known in our social, educational and literary circles, have remained with their mother. For the past seventeen years this venerable lady has been an invalid, most of the time unable to leave her home, much of the time dependent on her daughters for the simplest offices, and all the time a great but patient sufferer. She died at her home in this village March 12, the day before the thirtieth anniversary of her husband's death.
"Mrs. Otis was a woman of marked characteristics. Superior in intellect and moral attributes, devoted to her family and scrupulously observant of every duty, she had, also, an energy and persistency of purpose which impressed her qualities on her children, made her services invaluable to her neighbors in the straits and emergencies of pioneer life and her friendship a pleasure and a blessing to all on whom she bestowed it. Over these solid and fundamental elements of character was thrown a charm and dignity of manner, warmed by an unaffected kindness of heart that made all feel in her presence that she was, in the best sense, a noble woman and a true lady. All who, during her years of illness, have been admitted to her chamber of suffering will bear witness to the sweet patience and resignation with which she bore her afflictions.
"Burns' epitaph on his father declares, 'His failing leaned to virtues's side,' and so her greatest trouble in life came from her strongest and truest traits -- her mother love and her conscientiousness. Her physical infirmities and her real troubles she patiently bore, but the excess of these two noble traits caused her a constant fear lest harm happen her children or she do something wrong.
"Those of her old neighbors of the pioneer days who are yet alive will tenderly remember her neighborly sympathy and her practical kindness; the older members of the Presbyterian church at Gull Corners, of which she and her husband were early members, will bear testimony to her purity of life, kindness of heart and helpfulness of spirit, and all who knew her well, especially her children, who 'rise up to call her blessed,' find in her life and character a striking exemplification of Solomon's picture of the 'virtuous woman,' 'Her own works praise her in the gates.'
This sketch would be wholly incomplete without mention of Mrs. Maria Harres, the mother of Mrs. A. G. Otis, who resided in Atchison with her daughter and was a member of the household from 1865 until 1896, the time of her death. She was then in her one hundredth year. She was a lady of sterling qualities of mind and heart, but of singular sweetness of disposition..
Judge Otis always claimed that she reversed completely the traditions about mothers-in-law, for he has no recollection of an unkind word between him and his mother-in-law during the entire period of over thirty years. In her ninety-ninth year she attended at Trinity church, in Atchison, the wedding of her granddaughter, Amy Otis. The following tribute to her memory was paid by the local press at the time of her death:
'Mrs. Maria G. Harres, who was in the one hundredth year of her age, died at twelve o'clock last night, at the home of her daughter, Mrs. A. G. Otis. Mrs. Harres was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, August 2, 1797. She was married early in life to Gephard Harres, residing afterward in Philadelphia. In 1863 Mr. and Mrs. Harres came to Atchison on a visit, and Mr. Harres died while here. His remains were taken to Philadelphia for burial in Laurel Hill cemetery. Mrs. Harres never ceased to grieve for her husband, and at her often expressed desire, her remains will be laid to rest beside those of Mr. Harres at Laurel Hill. In 1865 Mrs. Harres came to Atchison to live with her daughters, Mrs. W. L. Challis and Mrs. Otis, and has since resided here, honored and beloved by all. Of eight children, only the two mentioned have survived her. Mrs. Harres represented five generations, Mrs. John A. Martin being her granddaughter. Mrs. Harres not only enjoyed all unusually long life, but it was particularly free from care. Her health was always good until the beginning of her fatal illness eight weeks ago, and her faculties were clear until the end. The burial services will be held at Trinity church at 4 p. m. Friday, September 8th, to which all friends are invited without further notice. After the services the remains will be conveyed to Philadelphia at once. Friends are asked not to send flowers.'