James H. Hawley By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
January 25, 2013
Among the professionals needed by frontier towns, lawyers were most likely to be found in sufficient numbers for the towns’ needs. A lawyer could earn anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars a month doing the relatively routine work of settling land claims or mining claims. Another reason for the abundance of lawyers was the ease of gaining admittance to the bar in new territories. The only requirements were the applicant must be 21 years old, supply evidence of good moral character, and pass an examination before a judge. But frontier communities did produce a few crack lawyers, sometimes out of unlikely material. Such was the case of James H. Hawley. Hawley was a native of Iowa, having been born in Dubuque on January 17, 1847. His mother died when he was an infant and his father headed towards the gold rush. As an adult James was also in search of gold, and headed to Idaho City in the Idaho Territory in 1863 to dig gold. He found that hard manual labor was not something he enjoyed. He then worked for the Boise County News, where his boss got him interested in a legal career. He went on to earn his law degree at San Francisco City College. However, following his graduation and too much partying, he got into a brush with the law which led him to flee to China to avoid prosecution. In China he became involved in the Taiping Rebellion. Later, still hungry for adventure, he returned to Idaho and again took up prospecting. In the course of winning a suit over ownership of a claim, he finally realized his passion was the law, and he wanted to devote his life to law after all. He became a very successful trial attorney, and participated in 300 murder cases. President Cleveland named him U.S. Attorney for Idaho Territory in 1886, and he went on to become Idaho’s 31st Governor.
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