Portrait from the Inola Register, May 21, 1914.
Texas native Stillwell Heady Russell left an imprint in the political life of two different states, being a district attorney, congressional candidate, U.S. Marshal, and constitutional convention delegate in Texas and, following his removal to Oklahoma in 1899, was elected as a district court judge. Russell reached his highest degree of public prominence in 1914 when he was appointed as an Associate Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, serving in that capacity until his death two months later.
Born in Brazoria County, Texas on Valentine's Day 1846, Stillwell Heady Russell was the son of William Jarvis (1802-1881) and Eleanor (Heady) Russell. Russell received his odd first and middle names in honor of his maternal grandfather, Stillwell Heady (1782-1852), a prominent Kentuckian who would represent his home county of Spencer in both houses of the Kentucky legislature for nearly two decades. Russell's first name is spelled as both "Stillwell" and "Stilwell". Noted as having been"thrown to his own devices" whilst still in his youth, Russell attended the Texas Military Institute and farmed before entering the Confederate Army in 1863. Little is known of Russell's Civil War service, excepting mention of his being a private in the Texas Cavalry's 25th Regiment.
Following his return to civilian life, Russell was employed as a clerk in a Brazoria dry goods store. Seeing a bright future for himself as a lawyer, Russell read law during his free time, studying in the offices of Lathrop and McCormick. Admitted to the Texas bar in 1869, Russell removed to Galveston and after establishing his practice in that city was thrust into the political life of his state when he was selected as an attorney for the cities of Galveston and Houston. In the year following he was appointed by then Texas Governor Edmund Davis as District Attorney for Harrison and Rusk County, holding that post until 1872.
On April 27, 1870, Stillwell Heady Russell married Mary Althea Carman, a native of Louisiana. The couple would have at least one son, Stillwell Heady Jr. Russell would later remarry to Martha P. Morrison (1860-1935), to whom he was wed until his death. Stillwell H. Russell continued his rise in Harrison County politics in 1872 when he was elected as county sheriff. He served four years in that post and in 1875 was a delegate from the 6th district to the Texas State Constitutional Convention held at Austin. During his service, Russell was named to the committees on the Legislative Department and Revenue and Taxation.
Russell's portrait from the 1875 Constitutional Convention composite.
Having twice declined an offer to run for Congress, Russell set his sights on a congressional seat in 1876, announcing his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas' 2nd congressional district. Hoping to oust one-term incumbent Democrat David Culberson (1830-1900), Russell's candidacy was boomed by both the Tyler Index and the Galveston Daily News, which noted that
"Colonel Russell is an able man, every way worthy of the position, and would do honor to the Republican party in Congress."On election day in November 1876, Russell lost out in the vote count, with David Culberson defeating him by a wide margin, 17, 326 votes to 9, 130. While he may have been defeated, Russell's political career was far from over, and shortly after his congressional defeat was elected as Tax Collector for Harrison County. He resigned that post in 1877 and in the following year was appointed by President Hayes as U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas.
From the Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas, 1880.
Russell's time in the Marshal's service proved to be colorful, and in the late 1870s headed up an investigation into train robberies involving the Sam Bass Gang, a notorious criminal outfit responsible for numerous stagecoach and train robberies. In 1882 Russell again sought a seat in Congress, this time from Texas' 3rd congressional district. He was defeated that November by Democrat James Henry Jones (1830-1904), 14, 045 votes to 9, 492. 1882 proved to be a red-letter year for Russell, as he not only lost out on a seat in Congress but also found himself facing a prison sentence for embezzlement and "rendering false accounts" during his time as Tax Collector and U.S. Marshal!
Stillwell Russell's problems first arose in March 1882, when two astute Department of Justice agents discovered financial irregularities in the accounts Russell had kept during his time in office. By the end of March 1882, several suits had been brought against him and these charges of financial impropriety continued to grow through the coming months. In May of that year, he was "arrested on the charge of misappropriation of government funds and placed under a $4,000 bond". By August 1882 Russell had been acquitted of some of the charges leveled against him, but his troubles continued to mount. In early 1883 more charges were made against Russell, this time "on the account of irregularities in summoning juries". A trial would begin on March 29, 1883, and in April of that year, he was convicted in a San Antonio courtroom "of rendering false accounts to the government" to the tune of $40,000-$50,000. Russell was subsequently handed a sentence of two years to be served at the Illinois State Penitentiary at Chester. In a little over a year, Stillwell H. Russell had gone from a U.S Marshal and prospective U.S. Representative to wearing a prison uniform. An excellent chronology of Russell's misdeeds was detailed in the 1883-84 Miscellaneous Document Index of the U.S. House of Representatives, in which the two aforementioned DOJ agents (Z.L. Tidball and Joel Bowman) excoriated him, writing:
"We have very carefully investigated the official conduct of Mr. Russell, as United States marshal, and can scarcely conceive of a worse condition of things than our inquiries have developed. To say nothing of his unlawful financial transactions, the full extent of which cannot be known short of a judicial investigation, he has nowhere or at no time filled the measure of requirement of United States marshal. His neglect of official duty, his impositions upon individuals, and his apparent lack of respect for public opinion, have subjected the department to sever criticism and unjust abuse."
From the San Antonio Light, July 10, 1883.
After arriving at Chester prison Russell was given his prison uniform and by July 1883 had taken on a prison clerkship and also worked in the brickyard. During this time petitions were circulated by Russell's supporters advocating for his pardon and release, with former Texas representative and judge Anthony Banning "A.B." Norton even traveling to Washington, D.C. to plead for Russell's release. In all Russell would serve 21 months of his sentence, being released in February 1885. Upon being freed, Russell declined to comment on the particulars of his incarceration but related to the Austin Weekly Statesman that he looked forward to returning to his home in Marshall, Texas, and to:
"Try and begin life again, taking up the practice of law which I formerly followed. I feel assured of a cordial welcome by my town's people."Russell proved to be right in his assessment of his fellow citizens, as he was welcomed back with "generous receptions and cordial greetings." In a write up concerning his release, the San Antonio Light remarked that:
"He does not come back with a grievance, nor does he proclaim that he has any settlements to make with any one. Public opinion long ago exonerated him from any complicity in the acts which deposed him from public life, and time will prove that those that were instrumental in his persecution will realize that they have builded him up."By May 1885 Stillwell H. Russell had returned to the practice of law, removing to Denison, Texas to reestablish his profession. In 1895 Russell's reputation had been rehabilitated to such an extent that he was selected as a delegate from Texas to the 18th annual International Order of Odd Fellows Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Following a similar trip as an I.O.O.F. representative to an encampment in the Oklahoma Territory in April 1899, Stilwell Russell left Texas for a new life in Oklahoma, and by December of that year had established a law office with Edgar Wilhelm in Ardmore.
Shortly following the admission of Oklahoma as the 37th state Stillwell Russell was returned to public office, being elected as a district court judge for Oklahoma's 8th district, having switched political allegiance to the Democratic party. In 1910 he was re-elected to the bench, defeating Republican nominee James Humphrey by a vote of 2,797 to 1,204. In March 1914 Russell was appointed as an Associate Justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, in the wake of the resignation of Judge Robert Lee Williams, who had resigned to run for Governor. Russell's time on the court proved to be short, spanning just two months. A week prior to his death he fell ill at a state bar association meeting but later felt well enough to attend a court proceeding four days before he died. Russell's health continued to fail, however, and on May 16, 1914, he died in his room at the Lee-Huckins Hotel in Oklahoma City. The Calumet City Chieftain recorded a "weak heart" as the primary cause of death, but also mentioned that "an attack of acute indigestion" as a contributing factor.
Stillwell H. Russell was survived by his wife Martha and both were later interred at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Widely lamented upon his death, Russell's colorful activities in Texas had no bearing on his being eulogized as a great man and jurist in Oklahoma, with fellow judge Thomas Doyle memorializing him as:
"A great lawyer; a just and faithful judge. His name and fame are identified as closely with the judicial history of our state as that, perhaps, of any other lawyer or judge. And his worth and character were known and prized by none more than by the members of the Court of Appeals. It was the good fortune of each of us to know him personally for many years, and from our knowledge of him as a jurist, lawyer and citizen, we know that no eulogium extolling his character and ability would be fulsome or extravagant when ranking him amongst the greatest and most distinguished of our lawyers and judges."
Russell's obituary from the Daily Ardmoreite, May 21, 1914.
From the History of Kentucky: From its Earliest Discovery and Settlement, 1892.
In addition to Stillwell Heady Russell's political exploits, attention must also be given to his maternal grandfather and namesake, Stillwell Heady, who served multiple terms in both houses of the Kentucky legislature. A native of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Stillwell/Stilwell Heady was born in 1782, being the son of James and Eleanor (Jackson) Heady.
The Heady family left Pennsylvania for Kentucky when their son was seven, and after entering young adulthood Stillwell struck out on his own, making "the first settlement in the wilderness on East Fork of Simpson's Creek" near Bloomfield. In 1806 he married Matilda Drake (ca. 1783-1856), to whom he was wed until his death. The couple would have several children, including Eleanor (Heady) Russell (1817-1890), the mother of Stillwell Heady Russell.
By 1820 Stillwell Heady had become a prominent landowner in Shelby County, developing a "fine farm of six hundred acres on Plum Creek." Following the creation of Spencer County, Kentucky in 1823-24 Heady was elected as that county's first representative in the state legislature, an office he would hold from 1828-30, 1832, 1838, 1842-44 and 1850. Heady would also serve a four-year term in the state senate from 1833-37.
Remarked as a man whose "hand was always open to the poor and needy", Stillwell Heady died in October 1852 at his home and was later interred at a cemetery located on his farm, located near what is now Wilsonville, Kentucky.