Pictorial and Genealogical Record
of Greene County, Missouri

Together with Bibliographies of Prominent Men of Other Portions of the State, Both Living and Dead


JUDGE JAMES BAKER, Springfield, Mo. A biographical work on Springfield would certainly be incomplete unless it recorded the life and public services of Judge Baker. There is no man to whom southwest Missouri owes a deeper debt of gratitude than to the man who was the chief promoter of the first line of railroad that ever ran through its boundaries the difficulties surrounding the raising of the large sum of money required for the construction of the Santa Fe Railroad were very great and were overcome by Judge Baker almost solely and unaided. He is also one of the most prominent lawyers of the southwest, a-ad as a public man has been identified with all matters of public importance. Judge Baker descends from an old Colonial family of English descent, the remote ancestors of our subject coming from England at an early period in old Colonial days. The original founder of the family in America had a grant of the entire body of lands comprising Harvard County, Md., and on these lands Morris Baker, grandfather of our subject, passed his days. His son, also Morris Baker, was the father of our subject, and was born on this estate. When a young man he went to Kentucky, where he was one of the pioneers, and married Margaret, daughter of Samuel Waters, who was one of the original pioneers of Kentucky, and a contemporary of the celebrated pioneer and hunter, Daniel Boone, and who was engaged in the early Indian wars of Kentucky. Mr. Waters was also one of the first surveyors of the State, and his surveys are yet referred to. Morris Baker settled in Mason County, Ky., where he cleared up a farm and lived until six of his children were born. He moved to Jefferson County, Ind., in 1823, and settled near Madison, but soon after moved to Jennings County, Ind., where he settled on land. Mr. Baker and wife were the parents of thirteen children: Margaret, William H., Robert, Emeriah, James, John, Leo W., Harriet, Matilda, Morris, Louisa, Mark and Ezra. This is the proper order of birth. The seven older children were born in Kentucky. In 1838 Mr.Baker moved to Iowa and settled near Davenport, the State being then almost entirely unsettled, and here he improved a farm and passed the remainder of his days, and died at the age of seventy years. He was a soldier in the War of 1812, and served at the battle of Vincennes, Ind., against the Indians under Capt. Zachary Taylor, afterward general and President of the United States. Both Mr. and Mrs. Baker were Baptists in religious belief. Mr. Baker had a good education for his day, was a lover of reading, and a man of intelligence. In Indiana he held the office of sheriff. Politically he was a Jacksonian Democrat. He was a prominent member of the Masonic Fraternity, and one of the early Masons of Indiana. Mr. Baker was a typical American and a pioneer in three States. He was a man of sterling character and always maintained the respect of the community in which he lived as a man of honorable character. Judge James Baker,son of above and subject of this sketch, was born on his father's farm in Kentucky, and was between three and four years of age when his parents brought him to Indiana. He received first the common school education of the pioneers and then attended the State University at Bloomington, Ind., two years. He then read law at Davenport, Iowa, with Judge James Grant, and remained in his office until the spring of 1843, when he went to Ottumwa, Iowa, and entered upon his profession where he practiced law for ten years with success. During this time he was elected and served as county collector, judge of probate court, district attorney, and in 1853 was appointed register of the United States land office at Sheridan, Iowa. In l856 he was elected attorney general of the State of Iowa. When Judge Baker first went to Iowa in 1837, it was still a territory, being admitted as a State in 1846. In 1837 it contained no more than 30,000 inhabitants. When the war broke out the State Legislature appointed a commission of three to aid the Government in raising funds and equipping troops for the war, and Judge Baker was appointed chairman. While acting in this capacity he recruited the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Iowa Infantry, and was to have been colonelof the Thirteenth Infantry, but gave place to Col. Crocker, who had more experience in military affairs, a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, and who became a major-general, and who was afterward highly complimented by Gen. Grant. Judge Baker was commissioned Captain of Company C, Thirteenth Iowa Infantry. He was in the battles of Pittsburgh Landing and siege and battle of Corinth, after which he left the army on account of sickness, and returned to Iowa. In December, 1863, he came to Springfield and engaging in the practice of law, soon built up a very extensive business, and for some time was one of the judges of the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri. The Santa Fe Railroad, then called the Southwest Branch, having been sold to Gen. John C. Fremont and his company, who failed the first year, the citizens of Springfield at a public meeting appointed a committee of which Judge Baker was chosen chairman, to go to New York City and secure capital to build a railroad from the Gasconade River, west. The labor of securing the capital fell principally upon Judge Baker, who remained in New York city three months and secured capital to the amount of $1,500,000. He then secured in the State Legislature the necessary laws to vest the title of the railroad in the party he had formed, who immediately incorporated themselves under the laws of the State of Missouri and deposited the money as agreed in the State treasury and entered upon the work of constructing the railroad, which was in June, 1858, and the railroad was pushed through to Springfield in May, 1870. Thus Judge Baker had alone received from New York capitalists this large sum which enabled the first railroad through this section to be constructed. This company leased the Missouri Pacific Railroad and Judge Baker became the general solicitor of both these railroads and continued in this office until this company dissolved and a new company formed known as the St. Louis & Santa Fe Railroad, of which Judge Baker was general solicitor, vice-president and president. Judge Baker remained president of the St. Louis & Santa Fe Railroad until 1881, when he resigned. He possessed the entire confidence of the eastern capitalists, so much so that he bought the Joplin & Girard Railroad and immediately telegraphed Banker Seligman, of New York City, asking him to honor his draft for $300,000. Banker Seligman replied by telegraph that the draft would be honored, but to be very careful about buying railroads. The object in buying this railroad was to prevent it from extending its line to Arkansas and tapping valuable territory, which was being projected. Judge Baker was connected with the Santa Fe Railroad as a prominent officer for thirteen years. When he took the management of the road its gross receipts were only about $1,200,000 per annum, and by his judicious policy in extending branch railroads into new territory, the receipts were soon augmented to $7,000,000. Among other enterprises he bought the railroad from Pierce City to Oswego, Kas. Then called "The Carthage Branch," of which Judge Baker was at one time president. This road he consolidated with the Santa Fe Railroad and extended it to Wichita. His whole policy was to advance the interests of the road by wise and judicious enterprises. While Judge Baker was solicitor of the 'Frisco Road his wide and thorough knowledge of railroad law and his intimate acquaintance. with the western people and their legislators, enabled him to make many skillful legal points, and to pursue a course which resulted to the great advantage to the road. Judge Baker is the only man in the State of Missouri who ever owned a railroad personally. When the Missouri Pacific was sold on foreclosure, Judge Baker became the purchaser for the bond-holders, paying for the road $3,000,000, and this road was operated in his name and under his management for three months, until a new company was formed to whom he turned it over, receiving for his services and for preventing serious litigation and loss, the handsome sum of $20,000. All through these years, Judge Baker's policy and wisdom guided the management of the 'Frisco Road, and its success and freedom from litigation is largely due to his legal acumen. Judge Baker has invested his capital in Springfield, and in this way has been a direct promoter of its growth. He has erected thirteen residences and business buildings. In 1885 he erected the substantial and commodious office building of stone, brick and iron on the northwest corner of the public square of Springfield, called the Baker Block. It is by far the finest office building in the city, is four stories in height with ample basement, and containing sixty-five well lighted and convenient business offices and rooms. It has steam heat and elevator. Judge Baker married October 4, 1844, Thomar Overman, and to them was born one daughter, Emma. This wife died in 1851, in Iowa, and Judge Baker married Cynthia Moore, and they were the parents of one child, Herbert J. Mrs. Baker died in the spring of 1871, and Judge Baker married Maggie C. Clark, and they have three children: Edith, John and James. Originally Judge Baker in politics was a Democrat, and became a Republican, with which party he affiliated until 1883, since which time he has been a Prohibitionist. Socially, the Judge is a Royal Arch Mason, and one of the prominent early Masons of Iowa, and held the office of master, senior grand warden and high priest of the chapter. He is a member of the Methodist Church, and has been a liberal contributor to all the churches of Springfield, and assisted with his means in their erection. His protection of defenseless and friendless women in Springfield who were unjustly threatened with mob-violence, is well remembered. His courageous defense of Mrs. Malloy, who was persecuted because she was a temperance advocate by the worst saloon element in Springfield, is a true index to his character as a man who in the defense of his principles is fearless and uncompromising. He has always been a stanch advocate of free speech, law and order, and although born and reared in the West among the scenes of frontier life, his voice and pen have been ever ready in this cause. It is related of him that soon after the war when the country was yet in a disturbed condition and the rougher element among the farmers of Greene County had lynched several men that 200 of these followers of Judge Lynch rode into Springfield for the purpose of intimidating the attorneys and officers of justice, making demands that the leading lawyers should address them, that Judge Baker in a bold speech severely reprimanded the taking of human life without proper legal proceedings, and advocated law and order as the only remedy for lawlessness, while several other public men well known as fearlessly courageous, made conciliatory speeches. During his long career as a public man, Judge Baker was personally. acquainted with many of the most prominent men, viz: Gens. Grant and Sherman, with whom he had an army acquaintance, and many military men of lesser note, with statesmen like Frank P. Blair, Senators Blaine, Evarts, Edmunds, Carpenter, Conklin and Cameron. Among capitalists Jos. Seligman, Commodore Garrison, Russell Sage, Jay Gould and Commodore Vanderbilt Judge Baker has always desired to see the success of enterprising young men of ability, and has assisted many of them to positions of prominence, among them securing the appointment of John O'Day as attorney for the 'Frisco Road.

[195-198]


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