Portrait from the Villisca Review, March 25, 1904.
Uniquely named Iowan Elogious Clay Gibbs was a Pennsylvania native, who, after attaining maturity, left his birth state for life in the midwest. Following his permanent settlement in Villisca, Iowa in 1878 he entered into a nearly five-decade career as one of that area's leading lawyers and public men. A former township clerk, justice of the peace and city attorney, Gibbs had, by the time of his passing in 1926, served Villisca as its mayor more times than any other man (over twelve years in total.) Nearly a century into the grave, Gibbs' reputation as one of Villisca's leading citizens has been consigned to history's dustbin for a good majority of the time, and now, with the aid of several archived issues of the Villisca Review, his life is highlighted for a new generation of readers to evaluate.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 4, 1847, Elogious Clay Gibbs was one of ten children born to shoemaker Elogious B. Gibbs (1821-1873) and his wife, the former Anna Myers. Little is known of his schooling or early life in Philadelphia, and on July 8, 1864, he signed on for service in Co. A., 192nd Pennsylvania Infantry. His term of enlistment extended 100 days and was mustered out with his company on November 11th of that year. After his return from service Gibbs continued residence in Philadelphia and in 1869 married to Adelle (also spelled Adelia) Hallowell, about whom little is known. The couple would have at least two children, including Anna (died in infancy), and George (born ca. 1874).
In 1870 E.C. Gibbs left his Pennsylvania home for a brief residence in Iowa, and in March 1870 settled in the small town of Villisca, which had been incorporated just a few years prior. His first stay in Villisca proved to be brief, and by the end of 1870 had returned to Philadelphia. However, Gibbs' first view of this Iowa town proved to have had a lasting effect on him, and in January 1878 he permanently resettled there. Within a short period, he began plotting his future and, deciding upon a career in law, began study in the Villisca office of Greenlee and Ross. He was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1879 and later formed a partnership with the man he studied under, future Villisca mayor Francis Pearce Greenlee (1847-1932).
The partnership of Greenlee and Gibbs extended until 1882, whereafter Gibbs continued to practice alone until his retirement in 1921. In 1880 Gibbs made his first foray into the political life of Villisca, winning election as township clerk. He remained in that post until 1890, and from 1882-1890 also served Villisca as its city attorney. In addition to these posts, Gibbs would also be engaged as a justice of the peace for over three decades.
In October 1883 E.C. Gibbs remarried to Evaline "Eva" Hunter (1867-1902) in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Just sixteen years of age at the time of her marriage, Eva Gibbs later gave birth to one son, Francis Whitney (1884-1941). Following his marriage to Hunter, E.C. Gibbs entered into Villisca business life when he helped to incorporate the Villisca Mutual Building and Loan Association. During his near four-decade-long connection to that organization, Gibbs served as its secretary (1886-1924), vice-president and president, holding the latter post the year before his death.
From the 1908 Villisca Review Illustrated Supplement.
In early 1890 Gibbs threw his hat into the ring for mayor of Villisca and in March of that year won the election, defeating incumbent mayor Peter R. Bates by a vote of 199 to 111. Gibbs' first term as mayor extended two years, having won reelection in 1891. He was defeated in his bid for reelection in March 1892 by C.J. West, and during that year not only saw Villisca chartered as a city of the second class but also the mayoral term increased from one year to two. By a quirk of fate, Mayor C.J. West resigned from office that July and moved out of the area, whereafter he was briefly succeeded by Mason M. Stoddard. At a special election held in October 1892, it was E.C. Gibbs who was selected as mayor, with his third term extending until April 1894.
Frome the Villisca Review, March 9, 1911.
After several years away from city politics, Gibbs was nominated for a fourth term as mayor in March 1900 as a candidate on the Citizen's Ticket. He went on to defeat People's candidate Aaron Paulus by a vote of 354 to 73 and was elected to a fifth term in 1902, and a sixth in 1904. Early in his 1902 term Gibbs was beset by tragedy when his wife of nearly twenty years, Eva, died aged 35 in December, having undergone several surgeries for tumors during the year. Four years following her death Gibbs remarried to Jessie Wiseman (born 1878), later to be a published author and poet. The couple was wed until Gibbs' death in 1926, whereafter Jessie relocated to Tennessee.
E.C. Gibbs was defeated for reelection in 1906 by James Sellman Jackson, who, later having declined renomination, saw Gibbs earn a seventh term as mayor in 1908. As his seventh term as mayor began in April 1908, Gibbs could reflect on establishing a record--having held the post of Villisca mayor more times than any other man up to that time. With ten years as mayor behind him, Gibbs began to tire of the office, remarking before the 1908 election that he believed "some other man ought to be given the office". He continued this line of thinking in the days following his election, relating to the Villisca Review that:
"While the office was unsought by me, and while I refused, again and again, to allow my name to be used, yet having entered to the race and won out, I thank one and all who supported me for your work and votes in my behalf, and I can assure you that my endeavor will be to fufill the oath of office which I will take "''to see that the ordinances of the city are enforced, and, impartially, to the best of my ability, discharge all the duties of the office.""With proven popularity amongst the Villisca citizenry, Gibbs was renominated for an eighth term as mayor in 1910 and in April of that year began his final term in office. In March 1911 he announced that he'd be resigning at the end of that month, citing the:
"Burden of the office, the cares, the worries, the ensuing loss of sleep, had so effected his health as to make his continuence in the mayor's chair a matter of serious import to him. He does not wish to pose as an invalid, and is not much, but is was necessary for him to make some sacrifice and the mayorship was to be let go of with greater ease than any of his numerous personal affairs which demand the greater part of his time and attention."
A caricature of E.C. Gibbs, from the Villisca Review, November 25, 1921.
Gibbs' resignation from the mayor's office came one year before unprecedented tragedy struck Villisca. On the night of June 9-10, 1912, prominent local merchant Josiah Moore, his wife Sarah, and the couple's four children were murdered in their beds by an ax-wielding intruder. Also killed in the attack were two neighbor children, Lena and Ina Stillinger, friends of the Moore's daughter Katherine who had been spending the night with the family. This gruesome crime made headlines through Montgomery County, Iowa, and elsewhere in the United States, and the Moore family slayings remain officially unsolved, with no perpetrator being convicted of the crime, now over a century old. It remains unknown as to E.C. Gibbs' role in the criminal proceedings following the murders. As a justice of the peace and prominent city figure at the time of the slayings, Gibbs likely had a frontline view of the inner workings of the investigation surrounding the crimes, an investigation that later centered on a number of different suspects.
In April 1921 E.C. Gibbs retired from the practice of law, selling the contents of his law office and library to fellow attorney R.J. Swanson of Red Oak, who took over his practice. While he may have retired, Gibbs remained active in his community well into his late seventies, being affiliated with the Villisca Mutual Building and Loan Association. He was chosen as president of that organization in 1925 and in the year of his death was returned to that post for another term. After nearly five decades of service to the political and civic life of Villisca, Elogious Clay Gibbs died at his home of a stroke on July 2, 1926, aged 79. He had been in failing health for several weeks prior to his death and following funeral arrangements was interred at the Villisca Cemetery, the resting place not only of the aforementioned Moore family but also several Villisca mayors.
From the Clarinda Journal, July 22, 1926.
While information on Gibbs' life remains scant and no full biography of him was published during his lifetime, the above article hopes to fill that void. For further reading on Mr. Gibbs, the following issues of the Villisca Review proved invaluable when it came to completing this article.
- Villisca Review issue date July 9, 1926 (containing his obituary)
- Villisca Review Issue date November 25, 1921 (gives an overview of Gibbs' life and previous business experience in the community
- Villisca Review issue date April 1, 1921 (Gibbs' retirement from his law office.)
- Villisca Review issue date March 9, 1911 (centers on Gibbs' upcoming resignation from the mayor's office."
- Villisca Review issue date April 2, 1908 (centering on his reelection as mayor)