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The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri
Local History

Charles McAfee

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 Biography of Charles McAfee from "Past and Present of Greene County"

"...Judge Charles B. McAfee, formerly judge of the criminal court, and for a period of sixty years a leader of the bar, now living in retirement, and although he has witnessed the snows of eighty-six winters, is hale and hearty, with keen intellectual faculties, and is entitled to the sobriquet of his professional brethren here as 'the grand old man of the law.'

"Judge McAfee was born in Lexington, Kentucky, March 28, 1829. He is a scion of a sterling old Southern family, and a son of Robert and Martha J. (Kavanaugh) McAfee, natives of Kentucky and Virginia, respectively. The father was a frontiersman, a great hunter and brave pioneer, who carved a comfortable home from the wilderness. Soon after our subject was born these parents removed to Macon County, Missouri, locating near Palmyra in 1829, but in a short time went on to Shelby County and there Robert McAfee spent the rest of his life, dying about 1870, his widow surviving some ten years, dying about 1880. Their family consisted of eight children, only two of whom are now living, Charles B., of this sketch, and Mrs. Elizabeth A. Worley, of near Kansas City, Kansas.

"Charles B. McAfee spent his boyhood in Shelby County, this state, leaving home when sixteen years old, but returned in a few months and left the parental rooftree again when seventeen years old, and went to Hannibal, where he had worked for an uncle in a packing house. Later he engaged at making wheat fans for five dollars per month and board. The shop in which he was employed was removed to Chariton County, Missouri, and young McAfee continued to work in the same, his wages having been increased to twelve dollars per month, and the third year he received twenty-five dollars per month. After a visit at home he returned to the same employment and was given fifty dollars per month. After working another year he went to Henry County, this state, to which the shop had been moved, but there the firm dissolved. Our subject had become a partner in the firm and remained in the manufacturing business until shortly before the commencement of the Civil War. However, he had been studying law all the while during his spare moments from the age of seventeen years, and had begun to practice some in 1850, six months before he was twenty-one years old. He opened his first office at Cainsville, Harrison County, in 1860. He also engaged in the fur business, employing some twenty-five trappers and collectors of pelts. When the war broke out he lost his money and horses and other property, but later was reimbursed. He proved his patriotism by raising a company of one hundred men and entering the Federal army, in which he fought gallantly for three years as captain, and for meritorious conduct was promoted to the rank of major at the close of his term of enlistment. He was first with Neville's Battalion and later in the Third Missouri State Militia, one of the ten regiments authorized by Congress. The regiment was disbanded at Springfield and the field officers were mustered out, whereupon Major McAfee entered the Seventh Missouri Volunteer Infantry, with which he remained until the close of the war, receiving a commission in the veteran service when the war was practically over. He proved to be a most able and faithful officer and defender of the Union.

"Immediately after the close of the war, Judge McAfee formed a partnership with John S. Phelps, who previous to the war had served sixteen years as a member of Congress from  Click to enlarge.this district. The law firm soon became famous, and had business in nearly all the counties south of the Missouri River. In 1868 Judge McAfee made the race for Congress as a Democrat in the face of the hopeless outlook. It took nerve to make a Democratic speech in some localities, and men are yet living who saw the judge proclaim Democratic doctrines with a revolver lying on the table before him. He was defeated by S. H. Boyd, who was his Republican opponent in that race. In 1872 he again made the race against Harrison E. Havens, but was defeated only by a narrow margin.

"At about this time the late Benjamin U. Massey entered the law firm of McAfee & Phelps as a law clerk, and was later admitted to the bar. O. H. Travers, now a practicing attorney in Springfield, also had his legal training there, as was true of P. H. Simmons and other lawyers of note in the Southwest. Judge Moore, now a judge at Paris, Texas, was a student in Judge McAfee's office. In 1875 Judge McAfee was elected to represent the district in the constitutional convention, and with the exception of one or two now living, is the only survivor of the body that formulated the present constitution of Missouri. In 1876 John S. Phelps was elected Governor of Missouri, and after serving his four year term retired from the law firm.

"In those days Judge McAfee was among the foremost Democrats of the state, and was a leader in the regime to which belonged John T. Philips, T. T. Crittendon, David Armstrong, Joseph Pulitzer (later the owner of the New York World), James O. Broadhead, Martin J. Clardy, John O'Day, Thomas H. Sherwood and other noted men. In his law office, where now stands the Landers building, were held many state pow-wows of Democratic politicians.

"In 1879 Judge McAfee was employed by George H. Nettleton as the attorney for the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf and Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis Railroads, now absorbed by the Frisco. He had charge of all litigation of these companies in Missouri, and retained the position until 1891 when he retired from the active practice of the law following a partial paralysis which occurred in April of that year. He soon recovered from that, however, but never re-engaged in the practice.

"In 1896, and at the request of the Democratic leaders, he made the race for judge of the criminal court of Greene County, and defeated James J. Gideon. The judge's term of office will long be remembered. His charge to the grand jury when he took up his duties in 1897 is regarded as a phillippic and attracted attention throughout the state. His terms of court were brief. Court opened at 8 o'clock, and, if necessary, night sessions were held and business expedited as it had never been before. His chief aim was to hold the court at the least expense to the state, and to do this he held down the number of witnesses to the minimum. In this way many witnesses were summoned to court who, because they were not necessary, were not permitted to testify and collect witness fees. The practice discouraged the airing of neighborhood quarrels in court, and in this way saved the county many thousands of dollars. At the succeeding election disappointed witnesses were so numerous that their votes defeated Judge McAfee, who refused to make apology for administering the law strictly to the letter.

"Since he retired from the bench, Judge McAfee has lived quietly at 604 Dollison Street, his home since 1868. When he first moved there it was a fifty-acre tract. As the town grew, Judge McAfee gave to the city Dollison Street, Cherry Street from Dollison to the Boulevard, and the Boulevard [now National Ave.] itself for half a mile was given by him to the United States. At this time the whole tract, excepting what the judge has reserved for his home place--about twelve acres--is built up in beautiful homes.

"Judge McAfee was identified with nearly all of the larger interests founded in Springfield. He organized the Greene County National Bank in the early seventies. The original subscription list signed by Henry Sheppard, Charles Sheppard, W. J. McDaniel, L. A. D. Crenshaw and C. B. McAfee, is now in the possession of the Union National Bank. The instrument was made before the days of typewriting, and is in Judge McAfee's handwriting.

"He was one of the organizers of the Springfield Cotton Factory, the Springfield Iron Foundry, the Springfield Wagon Company, the Metropolitan Hotel and the Springfield Traction Company. He was president of the Springfield Driving Park Association, and the Springfield & Southwestern Fair Association. The fair grounds occupied the eighty-acre tract now occupied by the State Normal School [now Missouri State University], and the residence district now known as the Driving Park Addition.

"Judge McAfee was many times a delegate to the various national Democratic conventions, and was Missouri's delegate to the celebration in New York of the Centennial Celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington, and through the administrations of Governors Dockery, Folk and Hadley was the president of the Mountain Grove State Experimental Station.

"At this time Judge McAfee's family remains intact. His wife, Mattie E. McAfee (nee Ritchey), and his sons, Ernest C., John R., Charles B., Justin J. and Robert B., are all living in Springfield, except Justin J., who is a resident of Joplin.

"Since he became twenty-one years of age Judge McAfee has been a Mason, and has been a Knight Templar for half a century. He was one of the charter members of Ararat Temple, Order of the Mystic Shrine, at Kansas City, the first Shrine in Missouri.

"Judge McAfee, until very recently, has been an enthusiastic fisherman, and since 1887 has made frequent pilgrimages each year to Current river, where is situated the Carter County Fishing and Hunting Club House. He is a former president of that club, and designed the present clubhouse in 1887. He is a great naturalist, and his declining years find him busy breeding his gold fish in the lawn fountain at his home, and experimenting with early berries and vegetables in his garden. Surely he bears his advancing years with wonderful and becoming grace."

The above photograph and proclamation of the Carter County Fishing and Hunting Club was donated to the Library.

From the description of the home of Judge McAfee, it is possible that it was located at the corner of Cherry Street and what is now called John Q. Hammons Parkway. The Sanborn Fire Insurance map here at the Library Center (originally drawn in 1933 and updated in 1956) shows a large undeveloped area on the southeast corner where a large home was once located.

This biography from the Past and Present of Greene County is one of many that can be found in the Library's digitized collections.

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