James Humphrey.The passing of this old and respected pioneer, in 1907, robbed Kansas of one of its strongest constructive leaders, one whose capable and useful services had been exercised in molding the institutions of Kansas for fifty years, and whose name and memory will endure as an active moral force in the future growth of this great state.
Judge Humphrey was born in Pleasley, Nottinghamshire, England, March 8, 1833. He was a son of John Humphrey, one of four brothers, who were land owners but lived in the village. They owned some hand hosiery-knitting machines and employed men to operate them, but the introduction of hose manufactured by steam machinery made it impossible for these brothers to compete in the trade and ruined their business, so that they were placed in less prosperous circumstances than the family had been for generations. These conditions occurring during the boyhood of Judge Humphrey limited his educational opportunities to some extent. He had, however, a natural inclination for books and an order of mind which acquired knowledge intuitively, which, with his tenacity of purpose, caused him to exhaust the resources of the village libraries and village schools, and, at the age of twenty-one, he was fully prepared to enter King's College in London. The reading of biographies of eminent American men induced him to immigrate to the United States, however, instead of entering the university. He reached Newport, R. I., in 1854, and went from there to Fall River, Mass., where he remained until the spring of 1857. He became interested in the agitation then being made to make Kansas a free state and came to the territory, alone, in the same year. He reached Manhattan in April, 1857, and from that time until his demise, in 1907an even half centurywas prominently identified with the public and social life of the state, and especially of Central Kansas. The colony at Manhattan gave him a cordial welcome and he was there employed at any honorable employment he could find. He performed the duties of sheriff for George W. Higinbotham, a pioneer of those days, at a time when outlawry was rampant, but most vigorously and fearlessly did he perform his duties. In those days he also served a term as mayor of Manhattan. He assisted Dr. Amory Huntington in the duties of county treasurer in 1859 and 1860, succeeded to the office in his own right in 1861 and 1862, and during the earlier days also served as a justice of the peace. His attention was turned to law through the advice of lawyers, whose admiration he had won while trying his first case as a justice of the peace. He had so ably managed the case and evinced such a clear legal mind that with one accord they assured him he ought to study law. That profession appealed to him, while the professions of theology and medicine, to both of which he had given some study, did not. He was admitted to the bar in 1863 and began practice with cases sufficient to keep him busy during the entire term of court. His literary ability and general knowledge led him also into the newspaper business. In 1860 he was employed by C. F. DeVivaldi to assist in editing the "Manhattan Express," and when the latter was made consul to Brazil the full control of the paper passed to Mr. Humphrey. Through the paper he was outspoken in his condemnation of crime and law evasion, then so prevalent in that section of Kansas, and so open was his denunciation of the gangs of roughs operating there, and so broad were the exposures made that his life was pronounced the penalty, and the result was one of the most startling and romantic incidents in all Kansas history. The incident is told as follows by a writer in the "Club Member":
"The editor, who was also a justice of the peace, issued warrants for the arrest of ring-leaders, but proved his altruism by giving material aid and comfort to one who had returned, wounded, sick, and in want. It was this act of compassion to which he afterward owed his life. Seated in his home, one dark, cold nightwith bright fire and light, and books and newspapers, and bride, full of happiness and hopefulnessbut for the interposing hand of that man, there might have been a tragedy to end this story. Suddenly, upon the quiet scene, there came a crash of a bullet through the window, the sound of an oath of rage and disappointment, of footsteps receding rapidly, and then all was quiet. The young couple found themselves, standing, startled, amazed, confounded, and then thanking God for safety. Long afterward, when an early raid of the vigilance committee to the den of the gang had resulted in the shooting of one and the capture of fifteen, who were lodged at Fort Riley for safe-keeping; when others had been taken and dealt with by Judge Lynch; when the quiet little community had resolutely purged itself of lawlessness, and law and order were finally established, the editor learned the true secret of the bullet that failed of its mark. 'Sandy swore he would kill you, and compelled me to go with him and see the fun,' said a quiet man to him one day. 'It was a purty picter you made that night. It only angered Sandy, but it touched me. I thought of all you had done for me and my family, and how my wife said you was right. All this in an instant, for you sat in full view, and Sandy took straight aim at your head. His hand was on the trigger. Quick as a flash I jogged his elbow, and struck out on a dead run for dear life, it was dark as pitch, and Sandy was mad, consequence he stumbled and fell, and I live to tell the tale. You saved me from a life of sin, and I gave you your life in returnguess we're even. Shake.'"
During the business activity in the years following the close of the war, Mr. Humphrey built up a large law practice. In the spring of 1867 he was appointed judge of the Eighth judicial district and in the fall of that year was elected to that office by a very large majority. He was then living at Manhattan and continued his residence there until May 1, 1870, when he resigned to enter the law practice with James R. McClure, of Junction City, and removed to that place. The practice was more lucrative and furnished greater scope for his tireless energy. He continued to be associated with Captain McClure thirteen years, and during that period of continuous practice was engaged on nearly every case of any importance in the Eighth district, either civil or criminal, and seldom lost a case. The legislature of 1883 established a state board of railroad commissioners and, March 1, of that year, James Humphrey was elected the Democratic member of the board by the executive council, for the term of two years, and he was twice reëlected to the office, in 1885 and 1888. After eight years of continuous service he was retired, March 26, 1891. He resumed his law practice, but in 1891 was reëlected judge of the Eighth judicial district and served one term, declining to be a candidate for reëlection.
In the fall of 1861 Judge Humphrey was married to Mary Vance, of Cincinnati, Ohio. She was born in Springfield, Ohio, but removed with her parents to Cincinnati when a child and was there educated in the Wesleyan College. Mrs. Humphrey has always been very active in educational, literary and club circles. She has been president of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, and president of the Woman's Kansas Day Club, a patriotic organization. To Judge and Mrs. Humphrey were born five children: Herbert J., a very bright and promising lawyer, died Aug. 8, 1890; Spencer, a passenger conductor on the Union Pacific, was crushed to death between two cars at Lawrence, Sept. 22, 1895; James Vance is a leading lawyer at Junction City; Elinor is the wife of John A. Smith, of Butte, Mont.; and Adelia is a teacher in the same city.
Judge Humphrey was always interested in and gave aid to all local or general movements for the social, local or public comfort or advancement. He delivered twenty lectures on constitutional law before the law department of the University of Kansas, in 1894, and from 1892 to 1896 appeared many times as a lecturer on the general subject of equity. He was a regent of the State University from 1883 to 1885, and his loyalty to that institution is shown by the fact that four of his five children were graduated there. He was the legal adviser of George Smith, and it was he who drew the will which left the legacy for library purposes, now the pride of Junction City; and the city authorities made him president of the board which carried out so handsomely the purposes of Mr. Smith. He was interested in the Universalist church, was a trustee, and frequently talked on a Sabbath evening to the people. In 1907 Judge Humphrey responded to another call to public service, when Governor Hoch, though not required to name a Democrat, named Judge Humphrey as the first member of the newly created tax commission, an appointment which the Republican senate promptly confirmed. He was further honored by his two Republican colleagues when they made him chairman of the commission. It was a deserved honor, merited by his years of unselfish devotion to public interests, a devotion not actuated by the desire for political honor or pecuniary benefit, but by his intense desire to do the best thing for the general welfare of his state. His service lasted but two months, however, for after a short illness death claimed him, Sept. 18, 1907, and the bar, the press, business and political associates, and all who knew him united to pay tribute to one of the state's most useful and honored pioneers. Thus passed to his reward one whose devotion to high ideals will forever remain prominent in the state's history.Pages 824-827 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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