From the Magazine of Western History, Volume 14, published in 1891.
Tucked away in a small corner of the Oakdale Cemetery in Jefferson, Ohio lie the remains of a towering figure in the history of Montana legal circles, Mr. Decius Spear Wade. As the longest serving Chief Justice of the Montana Territorial Supreme Court, Wade has justly been referred to as the "father of Montana jurisprudence", not only due to his service on the court, but as the man who headed the committee to codify Montana's laws over a period of three years from 1889-1892. How did this man who devoted a good majority of his public career to the development of the legal system in Montana come to rest in an out of the way cemetery in Ohio? Read on to find out more!
Born into a family influential in Buckeye State politics, Decius Spear Wade's story begins on January 23, 1835 in Andover, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Our subject was the second born son of Charles and Juliet Spear Wade and was the nephew of Benjamin Franklin Wade (1800-1878), U.S. Senator from Ohio (1851-1869) and President Pro Tempore of the Senate who was one of a number of Radical Republican senators who led the charge in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Decius Wade began his education in schools native to his home county of Ashtabula and was later enrolled at the Kingsville Academy, "one of the best educational institutions of Ashtabula County." The Magazine of Western History Volume 14 also notes that Wade began "teaching a district school at age sixteen" during the winter time. He began pursuing the study of law in the office of his famous uncle and after being admitted to the Ohio bar in 1857 began a law practice. Just three years later the twenty-five year old Wade was appointed as a probate judge for Ashtabula County, serving on the bench until 1867.
At the dawn of the Civil War Wade did his patriotic duty and signed on for service. He was eventually elected as a first lieutenant of his company and later participated in the defense of Cincinnati against Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith and his troops. Wade married in Ohio on June 3, 1863 to British native Bernice Galpin (1843-1912) with whom he had three children, Alice (died aged one month in 1864), Clare Lyon (1868-1966) and Charles (died aged three months in 1872). Clare Lyon Wade was the only one of the Wade children to live to adulthood and went on to graduate from the Wellesley College in 1890. She would later marry in 1904 to William Edward Safford (1859-1926), a noted botanist and ethnologist in the employ of the U.S. Government. Safford would go on to further distinction as the first Lieutenant Governor of Guam, serving in this position from 1899-1900.
Following his marriage Wade continued in his role as probate judge until 1868, when he was elected to the Ohio State Senate from Ashtabula County. Taking his seat the following year, he served in the senate until 1871. While still a sitting senator, Wade was appointed by President Grant to succeed Henry L. Warren as the Chief Justice of the Montana Territorial Supreme Court. In Grant's choice of selecting fellow Ohioan Wade for the post, the Magazine of Western History Volume 14 acknowledged that "the appointment was recognized as one of the best that had been made anywhere in the West. The new official was not only trained in the law, but a man of the highest character, and a member of a family that had already furnished many sons who had been an honor to the state."
Decius Wade's appointment as Chief Justice was confirmed by the senate in March 1871 and his service as Montana's chief jurist lasted for a record four terms (sixteen years), the longest tenure for any Chief Justice in the history of the territory. During his tenure on the bench Wade is remarked as authoring a prolific number of court opinions, so many in fact that it was said that "his opinions fill more than one half of the first six volumes of Montana Supreme Court Reports." Wade also served as a trial judge during his Supreme Court service, and in this capacity sentenced twelve men to hang. As past executions were usually reserved for Friday (hence the term "Hangman's Day"), Wade decided to break with this rather macabre tradition and sentenced a condemned man to be executed on a Thursday. As Wade later related, "I could not see but the fellow enjoyed it just as well as though Friday had been the day appointed, and I thought that poor abused Friday looked a little brighter the next morning." This interesting side note on Wade's judgeship later received mention in a Friday the 13th article in the Blacksburg, Virginia Free-Lance Star and is shown below.
The Free Lance Star, Friday, April 13, 1990.
While Wade's reputation as one of the territory's foremost jurists earned him wide repute, he also found time to author a law themed novel entitled Clare Lincoln in 1875. Set during the Civil War period, Clare Lincoln was completed by Wade during his "leisure hours while seeking rest from the arduous labors on the bench" and proved to be quite popular, receiving a substantial revue in the November 16, 1876 edition of The Nation.
Decius Wade's tenure as Chief Justice concluded in May 1887 and shortly thereafter he returned to his residence in Helena where he became a partner in a local law firm. He was called back to public service in 1889 when he was appointed by then Montana Governor Preston H. Leslie as the chairman of a commission to "codify the criminal and civil law and procedure and to, revise, compile and arrange the statute laws of Montana." Also tasked with this seemingly impossible job were former Montana territorial Governor Benjamin Platt Carpenter (1837-1921) and prominent state attorney and judge Frederick W. Cole (1837-1895), who died shortly before the Montana legislature adopted the commission's report in July 1895. Wade had earlier spoken before the Helena Bar Association on the commission's work in 1894, and his speech before that body was later reworked into a pamphlet entitled
Necessity for Codification.
From "Montana, Its Story and Biography, Vol. I, published 1921.
In 1895 Wade returned to his home county of Ashtabula, Ohio and retired to his family's ancestral home "Little Medford" in the town of Andover. During his twilight years Wade is noted as being a "frequent contributor" to law magazines of the time and died on August 4, 1905 at age 70 at his home. He was memorialized in a resolution of the Montana Supreme Court, which notes that "we also cherish the memory of Chief Justice Wade for his manly personal character, his uniform courtesy to all with whom he sustained official relations, his dignity and bearing while on the bench, his kind and noble disposition incapable of entertaining malice, and his attractive social qualities."
Following his death Decius Wade was interred at the Oakdale Cemetery in Jefferson, Ohio. His uncle Benjamin F. Wade is also interred here, as is Bernice Galpin Wade, who died in November 1912 at age 79. On July 17, 2013 I was able to visit and photograph Wade's gravesite at Oakdale, and some photos from the trip are posted below.
Located behind a large grove of poppies is Decius Wade's headstone, indicating his birth in Andover, Ohio. Curiously, no mention is given as to his service in the Ohio Senate or his numerous contributions to the Montana legal system.
Decius Wade's headstone is located on the right side of the family plot. Also interred here are his children Alice and Charles Wade, both of whom died in infancy. Their headstones are similar in shape and size to that of their father and mother. Clare Lyon Wade, Decius' second born child, died in Washington D.C. in 1966 at age 97. A burial location for her is unknown at this time.
Buried a few feet in back of Decius Wade's family plot is the gravestone of his famous uncle, Senator Benjamin Franklin Wade. Imposing in its size, it is an impressive monument to a very prominent 19th century public official--a man who came within a hair's breadth of becoming the 18th President of the United States (had Andrew Johnson been convicted during his impeachment trial in 1868!) Also interred near both of these plots is the gravesite of Congressman Joshua Reed Giddings (1795-1864), who represented Ashtabula County in the U.S. House of Representatives for over two decades. A former law partner of Benjamin Wade, Giddings later served as U.S. Consul General to Canada, where he died in 1864.
Another "Decius" who served in political office was Decius Hunt Wilcox, a one term member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly from Schuylkill County. More obscure than the man who preceded him here, Wilcox is one of a great many picture-less political figures I've stumbled across, and no portrait of him could be found to post here.
Born in Harpersfield, New York in September 1828, Decius Wilcox was the son of Aaron and Electa (Barnum) Wilcox. He removed to Dauphin County, Pennsylvania at an early age and in 1841 settled with his family in Schuylkill County. A farmer for the majority of his life, Wilcox was also a teacher in the Donaldson and Tremont, Pennsylvania areas.
In 1863 Wilcox relocated to Llewellyn, Pennsylvania, where he took over ownership of the American Hotel. He remained there until 1865 and afterwards continued in hotel management at the United States Hotel in Tamaqua (residing here from 1865-67), at Uniontown (1867-69) and the American House at Mechanicsburg (from 1869-70.) He returned to Llewellyn sometime later and was still residing here when he was elected to the Pennsylvanian State House of Representatives in 1876. Serving in the session of 1877-78, Wilcox held seats on the committees on the Bureau of Statistics, Mines and Mining, Iron and Coal, and the Military.
Decius Wilcox retired from the hotel business in 1889 and continued to reside in Llewellyn, Pennsylvania until his death at age 90 on April 19, 1919. He was survived by his wife Angeline (1835-1931), who, following her death at age 96, was interred alongside him at the Llewellyn Cemetery.