Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens


COL. GEORGE SOLON RATHBUN. For nearly a quarter of a century the late Col. George S. Rathbun occupied a conspicuous position among the professional men of Springfield, his reputation as a lawyer and politician being state wide for half a century. In the active practice of the law his character for personal and professional integrity was fully recognized and appreciated. He escaped the suspicion of ever having knowingly failed to fulfil all proper obligations of his profession. Combined with the excellent personal and official qualities of the highest type of public servant, he was infused with the genius of enterprise, and was a man of enlarged public spirit. He was always ready to identify himself with his fellow citizens in any good work and extended a cooperating hand to advance any measure that he deemed would better the condition of things; that would give better government, elevate mankind, insure higher standards of morality and the highest ideals of a refined, ennobling, intellectual culture. The educational, moral and material interests of the locality honored by his citizenship were matters of concern to him, and the promotion of them were not forgotten in his cherished objects of life. He was for years the federal referee in bankruptcy. He took a prominent part in the war between the states and was a candidate for Confederate senator against the famous George G. Vest. He was especially well known in central Missouri where he spent his young manhood, residing in Lexington prior to removing to Springfield.

Colonel Rathbun was born at Newburgh, Ohio, February 27, 1829. He was a son of George Steward and Harriet (Warren) Rathbun. His mother died when he was thirteen years of age. After having received a fair academic education and graduating at Bacon's Commercial College at Cincinnati, Ohio, he entered upon the study of law in the office of Bishop & Baccus, attorneys, at Cleveland, Ohio. Previous to completing his studies at the age of nineteen years, he removed to the state of Missouri, residing for several years in St. Louis county, when he removed to Lafayette county and for a time engaged in teaching, having charge of the Wellington Academy. On May 25, 1857, he was duly licensed by Judge Russell Hicks of the Sixth judicial Circuit as a practicing attorney and enrolled as a member of the Lexington bar.

In November, 1860, as a candidate of the Whig party upon the Bell and Everett ticket, he was elected to represent his county in the state Legislature. In politics he remained an active Democrat, although he held few political offices, contented to be a worker for the cause. In the Civil war he took a prominent part and was a Confederate soldier with a record of which his descendants may well be proud. Prior to the sounding of the guns at Fort Sumter, Mr. Rathbun received his commission from Governor Jackson as lieutenant colonel and judge advocate of the Eighth military district, including the border counties south of the Missouri river, and immediately repaired to Lexington to organize forces for the coming struggle. He actively participated in the siege and battle of Lexington, and rendered efficient service in the organization of the army at Boston mountains and in the advance to Pea Ridge and at Elkhorn Tavern was present upon the field and participated with the Missouri troops in all the vicissitudes of that memorable engagement. He commanded the advance at the battle of Prairie Grove and fought at Lone Jack, Granby and Newtonia, was also on the expedition to Cape Girardeau, commanding the rear from Bloomfield to the crossing of the St. Francis river, repulsing repeated attacks made upon it, and he participated in the ill-fated expedition to Helena. In August, 1864, it having been determined to invade Missouri, a company of officers and men numbering about one hundred were sent into the state in advance of Price's army to penetrate to the western border and concentrate all the irregular troops and volunteers to join the regular forces upon their arrival. Of this company Colonel Rathbun was chosen commander, and starting out upon the march from Batesville, Arkansas, entered the state near West Plains, and passing through Texas county entered Laclede. Passing on, without interruption through Henry and Johnson counties, Lafayette county was reached, Lexington menaced, the federal forces stationed there crossed the Missouri river and the city formally surrendered and was occupied by the Confederates some three weeks before the arrival of General Price's command. Then followed the battle of Westport and the retreat southward which, after leaving Missouri, became the march of a disorganized rabble, without order, without commissary stores and without any fixed purpose except to get through the wild Indian country, if possible, into southern Arkansas and Texas.

Our subject remained at Arkadelphia until the year following the close of the war, when he returned to Lexington, and, as soon as he was permitted to do so, resumed the practice of his profession and thereafter his rise was rapid. As attorney for the Lexington & St. Louis Railroad Company he aided materially in the successful operation of that road, and secured its first lease in the Missouri Pacific.

Colonel Rathbun was married July 4, 1858, to Dicie Jennie Dean, a daughter of Jesse. Dean and wife, of Lexington, Missouri, who removed from Carrollton, Kentucky, to a farm in Lafayette county, Missouri, about the Civil war period. Mr. Dean was a successful agriculturist during his active life and a highly respected citizen. Politically he was a Democrat. To Colonel Rathbun and wife six children were born, four of whom are living, namely: Jesse W. is the eldest; George is deceased, William A. is a well-known attorney of Springfield; Edward B. is deceased; Jennie L., and Hattie M. are the two youngest.

Colonel Rathbun removed from Lexington to Springfield in 1886 and here continued the practice of law for a period of twenty-three years with his usual success, and ranked among the leaders of the Greene county bar, and here his death occurred March 1, 1907, at the age of seventy-eight years.

We quote the following from a Lexington newspaper, under date of March 20 1907: "The passing away of Col. George S. Rathbun will be a reminder to many of his old-time friends in this county that they too have climbed to the summit of life's tortuous journey and are traveling rapidly toward the sunset of this existence. He was well known all over Lafayette county. The most active and useful period of his career as a lawyer and citizen was when he resided at Wellington and Lexington in this county. He was what might be termed one of the pioneers of this county, having come here many years before the Civil war from the Buckeye state, locating in Greenton Valley where he began life as a teacher in the public schools, afterwards studied law and the year preceding the war was elected to the state Legislature on the Whig ticket from this county.

"Colonel Rathbun was truly one of the most remarkable men that the war period brought into the spotlight of publicity in Missouri. Arriving in this section of the state at about the same period that the late Senator Vest arrived from Kentucky, they were thrown much together in the practice of law and became fast friends. It was against Rathbun that Vest made his first political eloquence count with telling effect and thereby paved the way to his future greatness in the field of politics. Though the warmest of friends they were decidedly unlike in physical appearance and. temperament. This marked difference in the makeup of the two men is doubtless responsible for Missouri sending Vest, the ex-member of the Confederate congress, to the United States senate, while Rathbun, who won the epaulets of a colonel in the service of his beloved South, ended his days in practicing the profession of law. As practitioner at the bar, Rathbun was the equal of Vest at every turn of the legal road. Where Vest was eloquently persuasive, Rathbun was logically invulnerable. What Vest would accomplish with a rapier Rathbun could do equally as well with a club. In mental attainments Rathbun was equally the equal of Vest, and as a student, those who knew both men, say that he clearly outranked the 'Little Giant.' When the Civil war broke out Rathbun and Vest both enlisted under 'Old Pap' Price. Vest was given a place on the staff of General Price with the title of colonel while Rathbun commenced further down the line. Vest had a decided aversion to soldiering. He had to take part in the battle of Lexington, but was heard to say soon thereafter that he would never be in another battle. It was doubtless this pronounced dislike for army life that prompted him to wax so eloquent down in Arkansas a few months later when General Price's army held an election to send a representative to the Confederate congress. Colonels Rathbun and Vest were the two leading candidates. Vest was bringing all his cunning into play to secure his election while Rathbun awaited the result of the ballot with utter indifference. At the opportune moment Vest had one of his supporters to start the cry for a speech. It was the 'Little Giant's' opportunity and he made the most of it. His portrayal of the soldierly qualities of his friend Rathbun made him loom on the military horizon like a Napoleon. The cap-sheaf of his eloquent speech was when he pointed to the magnificent and nearly perfect figure of Colonel Rathbun and said, 'Boys, are you going to allow the Confederate service to lose such a soldier when a d_____ runt like myself, who is of no earthly use to the military, can serve you in the Confederate congress just as well. After the speech a ballot was taken and Vest beat Rathbun just one vote.

The defeat never soured Rathbun the least bit. He served throughout the entire war and returned home with the title of colonel which was gallantly earned under Gen. Joe Shelby. After the war was over he took up the practice of law in this county and was one of the leaders of the bar, until he removed to Springfield."

A lengthy address, eulogizing Colonel Rathbun, before the Springfield bar association, shortly after our subject's death, after recounting in detail his long career as a soldier, lawyer and politician, closed with this paragraph:

"Colonel Rathbun's life since 1884 here in Springfield has been an open book to you all. His genial nature, warm and generous heart was clouded to his latter day acquaintances and more recent friends by the growing physical malady which overtook him. But to those who knew him of old, his heart was as of yore, and through that heart back along the cycle of years, I come to the picture on memory's wall that I love best, one in the bloom and beauty of a vigorous manhood, going forth with a proud unconscientiousness of strength to do and to dare, to battle for the right as it was given to him to see that right, to give and receive the blows of honorable conflict, to accept without murmur the fate of battle and to bring to the new life a spirit unbroken, and a heart without taint. This picture, treasured in my heart, wreathed in immortelles, is the tribute I bear to the memory of Colonel Rathbun, the true friend and brother of the bar of us all."

After the principal address at the memorial held to honor the subject of this memoir, which was delivered by Mr. Massey, the following attorneys also spoke of the commendable qualities of the deceased, of his ability as a lawyer, his courtesy, his scholarship, his kindness to young lawyers, of the value of his friendship and counsel, of his kindly and gentlemanly methods of conducting himself under all circumstances: Judge J. T. Neville, Judge W. D. Hubbard, Judge J. J. Gideon, Judge Howell, A. H. Wear, Perry T. Allen, Guy D. Kirby, J. T. White and E. A. Barbour.

[889-893]


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