The Bench And Bar Of Illinois: Historical And Reminiscent

Regarding Judge Hiram B. Decius

Volume 1, pages 423-427
By John McAuley Palmer

About the year 1857 Hiram B. Decius was admitted to the bar. He was a native of Fairfield county, Ohio, but came to this county with his parents when very young. He was elected county judge in 1861, but before his term expired was elected representative to the legislature for the counties of Cumberland and Clark.

Shortly after the expiration of his term in the legislature he was elected to the circuit judgeship, to complete the term of Hon. Charles H. Constable, who died at Effingham during a term of court. Judge Decius was re-elected in 1867 for the full term, serving until 1873. After his term expired, in 1873, he resumed the practice of law, and continued therein until his death, which occurred in September, 1882.

His was an active, energetic life. He was an indefatigable worker and student. His judgment as a lawyer was almost unerring, and his decisions in the cases taken from his to the supreme court were nearly unanimously sustained. He "rode the circuit" for years as a lawyer, and in most of the counties in which he held court he had to traverse the distance by land.

He too, like others of the circuit judges of years ago, did more work, held more courts and heard and disposed of more cases at a much smaller salary—I think twelve hundred dollars a year—than all three of the judges in the latter-day circuits.

As a lawyer, after his retirement from the bench, he was engaged in many of the leading cases in adjoining counties, as well as nearly all in his own county. Among important cases tried before him as a judge were the celebrated Champaign cattle cases, about the year 1870, involving the constitutionality of certain legislation against Texas cattle. He held favorable to the constitutionality of the law, and his decisions were upheld by the supreme court. He defended in the celebrated Long Point murder case, in 1876, his associate counsel being Judge J. W. Wilkin, now of the state supreme court, and L. N. Brewer, of this village. The defendants were acquitted.

He was also leading counsel in a great deal of litigation growing out of the construction of the old Grayville & Mattoon. now the Peoria, Decatur & Evansville, Railway.

He was about fifty-two years old when he died, and he left a competency to his four surviving children. Of these, Lyle, now of the firm of Everhart & Decius, is now in the active practice of his father's chosen profession.

Back in the trial of the celebrated Champaign cattle cases above mentioned, among the counsel whom I remember were Judge C. B. Smith,Judge Summers, Judge Scholfield and O. B. Ficklin; there were others whose names I do not now recall.

Still further back, before Judge Decius'election to the bench,—in fact, about the year 1861, there was a celebrated replevin case between two good old farmers,—both with fat pocketbooks—over the ownership of a calf, worth probably five dollars "in coin of the realm." It was brought by appeal to the circuit court, and was tried twice, with the result of disagreed juries, after numerous continuances, and the sending to the army in the meantime for divers depositions of men who knew something about the case and who had enlisted.

Among the counsel were Messrs. Thomas Brewer, Decius and Ficklin for the plaintiff, and Messrs. Craddock, Scholfield and Ethelbert Callahan for the defendant. I recollect Judge Scholfield making an able argument bearing on the instinct of the calf —then grown to a large steer—in going in the direction of the farm of the defendant; to this Colonel Ficklin responded that he had not heard of Mr. Instinct being sworn in the case. Eventually the suit was decided in favor of the defendant, the mistaken identity being plain.

George C. McCune came here about 1857 ar'd engaged in practice. I think he came here from Shelbyville, having previously come there from a prolonged trip with the " 4(;ers" to California, and having ere that gone from Ohio to the Mexican war. He was a well read lawyer, but had a temper of large dimensions, which was often taken advantage of by opposing counsel to his disadvantage in the trial of cases.

Previous to leaving Ohio he had been a preacher of universal salvation, and away back about 1837, according to John A. Gurley's "Star in the West," he was "churched" for licking a toll-gate keeper who said the rule passing preachers over a bridge at half-fare didn't apply to Universalist preachers. The only time I remember seeing the old gentleman engaged in active hostilities was at a school election, where he challenged the vote of a fellow son of Erin; whereupon canes and chairs were broken, a head or two likewise, before the school officers could quiet the "muddle." "Mac," as he was familiarly known, succeeded with Judge Constable in clearing one Shafer, of the northeast part of the county, of a charge of assault to murder, before a jury, Judge Harlan presiding, about the year 1859 or 1860. Mr. McCune died in 1867 and his remains were deposited in Salem cemetery, by the side of those of his wife, who preceded him two or three years.

About 1857 or 1858, one John K. Youstler came here to practice law, but soon hunted pastures new. Well, the new court-house, in the midst of the old frog-pond, and a few straggling houses, was not a very entrancing field for young limbs of the law, foot-loose to look for more imposing locations. But the little straggling village has grown, and still grows, and those members of the bar who anchored here have had no cause for regret.

After Mr. Starkweather removed to Charleston, in 1857, H. B. Decius (above mentioned) was appointed master in chancery, remaining in that position until his elevation to the judgeship, when William H. McDonald was appointed.—of whom further notice will appear soon hereafter.


Hours & Location

100 E. Jefferson Ave.,
Effingham, IL 62401

Daytime Hours:
(January-February)- By appointment only and some special evening hours, TBA
Phone: 217.240.2471 to leave a message

(March through December)
Tuesday and Saturday 10 a.m-2 p.m.

Evening Hours:
6:00-7:00 p.m. on night of lecture series, November-March
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ECCCMA Meeting Schedule

Board Meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. at the court-house first floor courtroom. For information contact Delaine Donaldson, President at:

General Membership Meetings are held once a month of the second Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. at the court-house first floor courtroom.

Our MISSION is to preserve our Historic Register structure, to collect artifacts from county history, and to use them to educate our local and external communities, while immersed in the broader context of American history.

Our VISION is that the 1872 Effingham County Courthouse remains as an architectural gem that instills a sense of community pride and provides a venue to
educate and showcase the history, art, and transportation of Effingham County.

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On November 11, 2012, the Museum opened its doors to the public. Currently there are exhibits on the first floor and the second floor. On the second floor there is exhibit space as well as room for lectures and other types of public gatherings.