The first term of the circuit, Hon. David Todd, presiding, convened at the house of Josiah S. Walton, June 13, 1833. Alfred McCutchen was sheriff, and Robert W. Wells attended as attorney-general. Thomas G. Davis was appointed clerk of the court. No cases were on docket, and no presentments by the grand jury. At the next regular court, the judge not appearing, the court was adjourned sine die. No trial case was called until February term, 1834. The only attorney of record at this term was Robert W. Wells. No presentment was made by grand jury until March term, 1835, and then only a small misdemeanor. At the September court, 1835, Charles H. Allen was judge. At May term, 1836, the attorneys regularly enrolled to practice law in Morgan county were: John Wilson, David Steriger, Charles P. Bullock, Charles S. Yancy, Littleberry Hendricks, Benjamin L. Lisle and Washington Adams. At the June term, 1837, William Scott was judge, succeeded by Just James w. Morrow, who presided until 1851, when Judge George W. Miller was elected. He was successively re-elected until 1868, when Judge Theron M. Rice succeeded, holding the office six years, when Judge G. W. Miller was again elected, and continued in office until he died, in 1879. Hon. E. L. Edwards was elected to fill the vacancy, and has continued in office to the present time.
The first court met at the house of John B. Fisher, in February, 1833. It was composed of Zacheus German, Seth Howard and John B. Fisher. In law they were "called county justices." Thomas G. Davis was appointed clerk; Joseph M. Bernard, collector of the county; Howard Chism, surveyor. Lot Howard was appointed assessor. At the May term court adjourned "to the store-house of Hugh Gailbraith." This court transacted probate business until 1847. In 1835 the court was composed of Philip Barger, Joseph M. Bernard and William S. Barnett. In 1836 William S. Barnett resigned, and J. B. Fisher was appointed to fill the vacancy.
Court then consisted of Barnett, Fisher and German; in 1838, Philip Barger, presiding judge, with John Chism, Zacheus German and Philip Barger, were the court; in 1841, Francis Ross, associate; in 1843 the court was composed of John Porter, Charles M. Brooking, Buford Allee; in 1844, John M. Reed was appointed; in 1845, E. J. Salmon; in 1846, William K. Brown; in 1848, B. F. Wilson, Coleman Bridges, associates; 1852, Martin H. Parks succeeded Brown; in 1854 the court was W. K. Brown, John Sims, John Porter; in 1857, James W. McCoy, Hugh Kelsay, associates; 1858, John Porter, elected; 1860, Hiram Madole and C. O. Rice; in 1862, B. F. Wilson, Jacob Cline, John Sims; 1863, Hugh Kelsay, 1866, Hugh Kelsay, I. Luckenbill, S. M. Wilson; 1867, W. V. Parks and Peter Haase; in 1869, John H. Papen; 1870, Samuel M. Wilson, judge, John H. Stover, William V. Parks, associates; 1871, W. V. Parks, judge, John Bohling, E. D. Bailey, associates; 1872, Eben D. Bailey, John Bohling, S. H. Legg; 1873, Joseph N. Martin, elected; 1875, T. B. Clark and J. M. Salmon; 1877, H. P. Bond, associate; 1878, J. N. Martin; 1879, D. M. English, elected judge for four years; H. B. Bowlin, First District; Henry Ghers, Second District; 1881, B. G. Bohling, J. H. Webster, associates; 1883, J. H. Alfter, judge, E. F. Gunn, First District, and J. W. Camp, Second District; 1885, I. H. Earnest, associate; 1888, Henry Wagenknecht, judge, F. L. Callison, First District, I. H. Earnest, Second District, associates.
By act of the Legislature, in 1847, the probate court was formed, thus taking away from the county court probate business.
In 1847 James P. Ross was elected the first probate judge for the term of six years. Ross went to California in 1849, and E. J. Salmon succeeded. He died in August, 1851, and was succeeded by John A. S. Tutt; in October, 1858, Judge William C. Sevier; 1862, Andrew Masters, judge; 1865, William C. Reed, judge; May term, 1867, John C. McCoy, judge; November, 1872, James B. Allee, who died in March, 1875, and Jonathan C. Todd was appointed to fill the vacancy. He was then elected to the regular term. James S. Thruston came in in 1881; the term is now four years. He was first elected for two years, then for four, and re-elected. His present term will expire in 1891.
In the earliest courts in the county there was no occasion for either judges or lawyers, except to open and adjourn courts. At the first court only the judge and Attorney-General Wells were present, this officer then being ex-officio prosecuting attorney for the county. At the next term Attorney-General Robards was present. At the May term, 1836, was enrolled the first list of attorneys to practice in Morgan County. The list is given elsewhere. Among the early visiting members of the bar were Judge William Napton, J. A. S. Tutt, G. W. Miller, afterward circuit judge; Mr. Richardson, P. R. Hayden, E. L. Edwards, the present circuit judge; Mr. Stewart, of Boonville; Littleberry Hendricks, George White, B. F. Robbins, Mark Means, Benjamin Stringfellow, James B. Gardenhire, Foster P. Wright, William Muir, Mr. Harbison. These are given somewhat in the order as they appeared to practice law at the terms of the court. For many years the coming of the members of the bar at each term was a great day for the little county capital.
The first resident lawyer in Versailles was James McCord. But as one lawyer in a county is as much as but one blade of a pair of shears, he was soon followed by Mr. Slaughter. Then came, nearly in the order given, F. A. Kaunslar, Garrett Milner, James P. Ross, J. A. Tutt, William Sevier, Col. John Stover, A. W. Anthony, James Spurlock, Daniel and James Ray.
The members at present of the Morgan County bar are as follows: A. W. Anthony, B. R. Richardson, D. E. Wray, James A. Wray, John D. Neilson, John D. Bohling, J. B. McGuffin, Samuel Daniels, A. L. Ross, county attorney; James A. Surplock, R. A. Long and a. Arnold.
In the fall of 1853 William T. Cole was slain by his brother-in-law, John B. Ruthven, in Versailles. It was Morgan County's first and only homicide until the war. The prominence of the people as well as the many remarkable circumstances surrounding the case made it a notable one.
Cole and wife had had a disagreement, not the first, it is said, and Mrs. Cole went to her daughter's, Mrs. Ruthven's, with the declared intention of a permanent separation from her husband. The daughter took the side of the mother, and in time Ruthven joined with his wife, and there was bad blood, it seems, in the family toward the husband and father. Cole had visited his daughter's several times to induce his wife to return to her home. On the fatal day he had gone again on this mission, it is supposed, and was killed in Ruthven's house. No one, it appears, saw all that occurred just at the time of the killing. Ruthven shot Cole twice, both fatal shots, and the physician, who was called in a few minutes, found Cole dying, with a pistol in his hand. He never spoke, so far as could be learned, after the shooting.
The case was tried, and resulted in a mistrial, and was moved to another county, and in the course of time Ruthven was acquitted, and the case, so far as the courts are concerned, was dropped.
Cole was one of the early settlers of the county, and had served in the State Legislature.
A terrible murder and attempted robbery occurred in the early part of 1865. The victim was a man named Murry, who lived six miles southeast of Versailles. Zeke and Tom Hart, brothers, went to the house and demanded money, and made an attack. The man and family defended themselves, and finally drove off the murderers, but Mr. Murry was shot, and died the next week. The men were arrested, identified by the family, and the younger, Tom, confessed. They were tried separately, and at the September term, 1866, of the court, Zeke was sentenced to be hanged on the 19th day of October, of that year. He was accordingly executed, the first and only execution that has ever taken place in Morgan County.
Tom being the youngest and having sworn that he was compelled to the awful deed by his brother, was let off with a term in the penitentiary.
History of Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Benton, Miller, Maries and Osage Counties, Missouri, Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.