Portrait from S.D. Butcher's Pioneer History of Custer County, Nebraska, 1901.
For the past four years, I've traditionally devoted the last article of the year to an especially odd named political figure, and this year's final posting takes us to Nebraska and one of that state's most unusually named public officials, Florentius Merrill Hallowell of Buffalo County. A transplant to Nebraska from Maine, Hallowell was an attorney based in the city of Kearney and later served a decade as Buffalo County Judge. Late in his life, he resided in New Jersey and California, dying in the latter state in 1937.
Born in Augusta, Maine on August 12, 1852, Florentius Merrill Hallowell was the son of John (1820-1901) and Elizabeth Gaslin Hallowell (1814-1890). Hallowell's early life in Maine saw him attend the Waterville Classical Institute and the Maine State Normal School. In 1873 he enrolled at the Colby College and would graduate in the class of 1877 with his A.B. degree. Hallowell's time at Colby proved to have had a profound influence on him, and never forgot his Alma mater, as he later established the Hallowell Public Speaking Prize as a gift for the school. This prize (totaling $100) was made available for the encouragement of public speaking.
Both prior to and following his graduation Hallowell taught school at several locations in Maine, including Vassalboro and the Oak Grove Seminary in Bath. On Christmas Day 1876 Florentius M. Hallowell married to Etta Kilbreth (1850-1918), to whom he was wed for over forty years. The couple's union would see the births of five children, Florence (1881-1961), Marion (1883-1965), Amy (1887-1968), Bertha Lillian (1888-1978) and Howard Haynes (1892-1934).
A year following his marriage Hallowell and his wife removed from Maine to Kearney, Nebraska. Soon after his arrival he began reading law in the office of his maternal uncle William Gaslin and was later admitted to the Nebraska bar. In 1878 Hallowell was named as an official court reporter for Nebraska's 5th judicial district and held that post until 1892. During this time Hallowell also made his first foray into Buffalo County's business community, serving as the President of the 1st National Bank of Elm Creek and vice president of the Kearney National Bank.
Through the latter portion of the 1890s, Florentius Hallowell continued to practice law in Kearney and first entered local politics in 1892 when he was elected as Secretary of the Kearney Board of Education. In 1900 he won election as Judge of Buffalo County and officially took on judicial duties at the beginning of the following year. His first term as judge extended until 1905 when he was succeeded by Ira Marston.
Hallowell was returned to the bench in 1907 and continued to serve until news reports broke that did momentary damage to Hallowell's reputation. In October 1911 the Omaha Bee published a report from a Kearney based newspaper that leveled charges against Hallowell, noting that "excessive fees have been collected by him from litigants in his office."
From the Valentine Democrat, November 2, 1911.
The effects of the Bee's October 1911 report continued to snowball through the coming year, and by March 1913 further reports had been leveled at Hallowell, with the Buffalo County Attorney and board of supervisors charging him with
"practicing law in his own court and unlawfully preparing papers for cases and accepting fees for such work."Ouster proceedings were launched against Hallowell in March 1913 and a later report by a referee assigned to the case noted that the only count with substantial proof was that of practicing law in his own court. On June 15, 1913, Hallowell was removed from the office of judge, with a Nebraska district court declaring the office vacant. A short while later the Buffalo County Board of Supervisors appointed J.E. Morrison to the vacant judgeship.
Understandably irked at being removed from office (as well as having the aforementioned charges made against him), Hallowell took action, bringing suit against Buffalo County on the basis that he was wrongly removed from office. Hallowell's appeal later resulted in his ouster being held void, and he was reinstated as judge. Despite being reinstated, Hallowell would bring further suit against Buffalo County, "seeking payment of his salary for the time he was removed from office", wages that totaled $1,053.85. A later court finding denotes that J.E. Morrison, the man who had been appointed to succeed Hallowell as judge, had been the rightful holder of that office, and had rightfully earned the salary entitled to being judge. The court found that Buffalo County could not be compelled to pay the same salary to the de jure officer (Hallowell).
Florentius Hallowell served as Buffalo County Judge through the remainder of 1914 and later retired from the practice of law. Widowed in 1918, he was later resident of Cranford, New Jersey and is also recorded as having spent "a number of years in Maine." In the twilight of his life he resettled in Placerville, El Dorado, California, where he died on March 26, 1937 at age 84. He was later interred at the Placerville Union Cemetery.