From Biographical Memoirs of Huntington County, 1901, pages 370-375
Hon. James C. Branyan, Judge of the Fifty-sixth judicial circuit and one of the distinguished jurists of northern Indiana, is a native of Madison county, Ohio, where his birth occurred on the 24th day of October, 1838. His parents, John and Nancy (Black) Branyan, both natives of Ireland, the former born in county Monaghan and the latter in county Derry, are of Scotch-Irish descent, and came to America a number of years ago, locating first in the city of Quebec, Canada, in 1834, where they were united in marriage. Subsequently they moved to Licking county, Ohio, then after a short time to Madison county, Ohio, and thence to the city of Dayton, where until 1845 the father was a building contractor. In September of the above year the family came to Indiana, locating in Huntington county, about three and a half miles southwest of the county seat, on a tract of land consisting of two hundred acres, the greater part of which was still untouched by the ax of the pioneer. Mr. Branyan cleared and developed a good farm from this dense woodland, and raised crops upon the same until his death in 1881, at the age of seventy-five. Mrs. Branyan survived her husband several years, departing this life in 1895, after having reached the ripe old age of seventy-nine.
To John and Nancy Branyan were born the following children: Eliza J., who died when nineteen years of age; James C., the subject of this sketch; Martha E, who married Morris T. Simons and died at the age of forty-nine, leaving four children; John, a farmer of Huntington county, now residing on the old homestead; Mary A., wife of James C. Favorite, departed this life in 1872, the mother of two children; William A., attorney at law and member of the Huntington bar; and Matilda C., who married John Welch, of this city.
James C. Branyan’s early life presents no striking contrasts to those of the majority of boys born and reared in the country. His youthful experience embraced the routine of labor incidental to the woods and fields, and he bore his share in clearing the farm, meanwhile attending, during the winter seasons, such schools as the country at that time afforded. His desire to increase his educational training led him at the age of nineteen to enter an academic school at Marion, which he attended two years, and in the autumn of 1860 became a member of the freshman class of Wabash College, at Crawfordsville, this state, completing a full classical course in that well-known and popular institution.
On leaving college Mr. Branyan enlisted in Company I, One Hundred and Thirty-eighth Indiana Infantry, with which he served during the summer of 1864 in southern Tennessee, northern Georgia and Alabama, his regiment forming part of the Army of the Cumberland. After his discharge he returned to Huntington and began the study of law in the office of Hon. H. B. Sayler, and in the spring of 1865 was admitted to the bar. Shortly thereafter he formed a partnership in the practice of law with Major Isaac DeLong, and the firm thus constituted lasted about two years, during which time the subject took high rank among the successful attorneys of the Huntington bar. During the summer of 1866 he filled the office of county surveyor by appointment, with which exeception (sic) he has always devoted his attention exclusively to the practice of his profession.
In 1867 Mr. Branyan removed to Decatur, Indiana, where he remained one year, and then went to Kansas, where he resided for the same length of time. Not being pleased with the prospect in that state, he returned to Huntington in the spring of 1869, and since that time has been actively engaged in his profession, being one of the oldest attorneys in the city. For a period of nine years he was associated with C. S. Watkins, his opponent for the judgeship in the fall of 1900, and later became senior member of the legal firm of Branyan, Spencer & Branyan, the gentleman last named being his brother.
Mr. Branyan’s well-known ability as a lawyer won him a very large and lucrative practice, and for a period of near twenty-two years he was connected with nearly every important case tried in Huntington county. A diligent student, he is untiring in the study of cases and explores every avenue and field likely to add information or furnish apt illustration. His thorough knowledge of the underlying principles of jurisprudence, his shrewdness as a counselor and power as an advocate, cause his services to be sought in important litigation, not only in the courts of his own county, but other places where his abilities are known and appreciated. Few lawyers have as much power before a jury, and he seldom fails to convince with facts, clearly and logically presented and forcibly and eloquently argued. His well-known ability as a speaker has long been recognized by the political party to which he belongs, and during the progress of heated campaigns his voice for many years has been heard upon the hustings, where he never fails to hold large audiences by the power of his eloquence.
In politics Mr. Branyan was a Republican until 1872, when, becoming dissatisfied with the policy by which the party was directed and controlled, he identified himself with the Democracy and became a warm supporter of Horace Greeley for the presidency. Since that time he has been a recognized leader of the Democratic party in Huntington county, and also one of its ablest exponents in northern Indiana.
In 1876 he was elected representative from Huntington county to the state legislature, in which body he served one term, declining a renomination. In 1882 he was his party’s candidate for the office of circuit judge, but owing to the overwhelming strength of the opposition he was defeated by the Republican candidate, Hon. H. B. Sayler.
In 1886 Mr. Branyan was nominated for congress against the Hon. George W. Steele; but, owing to the demoralized condition of the party during that year and the formidable majority with which the Republicans had formerly carried the district, he went down in defeat by only four hundred and ten votes. It may be said, however, that this defeat was no fault of his, as he made a vigorous and gallant fight.
In the fall of 1900 Mr. Branyan, at the earnest solicitation of his friends, was again honored by the nomination for circuit judge, and in the ensuing elections defeated his competitor, C. W. Watkins, by a decided majority, being the only successful Democratic candidate. He came to the bench fortified with a long and successful practice, and has already acquired a high reputation for the soundness of his opinions and careful application of principles in the investigation and determination of questions submitted for his consideration and disposal. Actuated by convictions of right, he is firm in his rulings, courteous in his demeanor to lawyers and litigants. His long and tried experience as a practitioner, his thorough knowledge of every detail pertaining to the profession, together with his strong sense of justice, may be taken as an earnest of his further career upon the bench, to which the lawyers of the Huntington bar look forward with no misgivings whatever.
Mr. Branyan is a man of vigorous personality, and has the courage of his convictions upon all questions in which the public is interested. He hesitates not to express himself in terms too plain to be misunderstood, and has little if any use for men who are actuated in all they do by mere matters of policy. He stands firm for the right as he sees the right, performs his duty without fear or favor, and his mind once made up only the most cogent and irrefutable argument will cause a change of opinion.
Mr. Branyan possesses fine literary taste and has a wide acquaintance with the world’s best authors. His contributions to various periodicals bear the stamp of high merit, and he occasionally indulges the muse in verse that will successfully bear the test of criticism. A sample of his composition, herewith appended, will no doubt be read with interest by his many friends and admirers throughout Huntington county. He is a member of James R. Slack Post, Grand Army of the Republic, of Huntington, aside from which he belongs to no fraternal or benevolent organization.
Mr. Branyan was married October 3, 1866, to Miss Emma R. Woodrow, a native of Greene county, Ohio, who has borne him three children: Everett C., clerk in the state treasurer’s office, Indianapolis; John S., practicing law in Huntington; and Wilbur E., who is now preparing himself for the legal profession.
The following poem by Judge Branyan, read by Miss Edith Jones at the memorial services held May 24, 1896, in Huntington, is an eloquent tribute to the lost comrades of the Civil war, and breathes that broad spirit of American patriotism so characteristic of the man:
Comrades, while in this sacred place,
Let us in memory’s hall retrace
The blessings of the years now past,
Since last we heard war’s bugle blast.
Like a dream comes back the clarion call
As we heard it at Sumter’s fall;
We hear the fife and drum’s alarms,
Calling the sturdy youth to arms.
As a vision now we see again
The marshaling hosts upon the plain;
We think we feel, as a living truth,
Within our veins hot blood of youth.
We see the boys, so blithe and brave,
Wearing the blue, and we too crave
In holy freedom’s ranks a place,
To win a greatful (sic) nation’s praise.
We sign the roll, we don the blue,
Bid friends and peace the while adieu,
And in the ranks with measured tread
Follow the flag where duty lead.
The “pomp and circumstance of war,”
We see now only from afar;
In the dim vista war appears
Through a score and ten of years.
The hundred fields once crimson red,
Where friend and foe together bled,
Are decked in green with many a mound,
Which all men now call hallowed ground.
There sleep the Blue, there sleep the Gray,
Awaiting the great reveille’s day;
And over all those honored graves
Only one flag—our flag still waves.
Beneath Old Glory’s folds again
The Blue and Gray meet on that plain;
For the dead, flowers and granite they bear,
To consecrate their memories there.
The waters of Chickamauga’s stream
In the sunlight sparkle and gleam
As they did in the days of yore
Before they were tinged with gore.
And, to its now peaceful banks,
Come back the decimated ranks
Of the brigades of Blue and Gray,
Over their dead to homage pay.
To mark the place, the very spot
Where they had stood mid shell and shot,
While terrific battle raged,
When they, as foemen, had engaged.
Ne’er the like can we call to mind,
The Olive and Laurel branch entwined!
Never was there such a story
Mingling friendship, peace and glory.
Reminiscences are not always pleasant, but the happy recollections of the Judge are humorously set forth in the following:
“I was a country boy among the pioneers of Huntington county, when our nearest neighbor was about three miles distant from our cabin home; when the music of our Christmas eve was the howling of the wolves in the woods surrounding our home.
“On Christmas day forty-eight years ago I came with my father from our home, four miles south of town, to Huntington. It was my first visit here.
“The first thing, of course, was to get a ‘fips’ worth of candy; the ‘fip’ was a silver coin, then in general use, worth six and one-fourth cents. The next thing was to call on the shoemaker, Martin B. Brandt, and leave an order and a measure for a pair of boots. The next thing was to deliver two bushels of wheat at the Thompson mill, a mile east of the village, and on our return to go for dinner to Uncle Hugh Montgomery’s ‘Cottage Inn.’ It was a double log cabin about six rods west of the present Herald office. We had our choice of wheat or corn bread. I took wheat for a change. We had pork, wild turkey and ‘deer-meat’ for La-viand, and all the other luxuries of the day.
“Then we went to Roche’s store. John and Thomas were both there. John, the proprietor and boss, and Thomas—a big boy—were waiting on the mixed crowd of customers in the business center of the town, near where John F. Fulton, our worthy postmaster, now lives. John’s step was sprightly and his tongue was glib. It had the richness of the Americanized young Irishman, but could be utilized by turning it into commercial Indian or German, when occasion required it. Thomas was learning to do the same. The ‘big Injun me’ and his helpmeet and papoose were there.
“We next visited Moore’s store. Samuel; with his exact precision, and John, with his courteous manner, but with halting speech, asked the callers what they would have, and supplied their wants. Much of the traffic at both stores was in deer, wolf, fox and coon skins.
“Then we went east on Market street to where Jefferson street intersects the same, and crossed Flint creek on a plank two inches thick and ten inches wide on our way to the recorder’s office to leave a deed for record. We found this official in a little brick building about twenty feet square and ten feet high, which was surrounded with hazel bush growing through the flint, where the court house now stands. I asked my paternal what that little log house in the southeast corner of the public square was for. He told me it was the jail. I saw no door in the lower part of it, but a stairway led up on the outside and the door was there, and from this door a ladder reached down on the inside to the log floor. I think it was drawn up when a boarder was put in. From the airy appearance it had, I think ‘the boys’ called it the ‘cooler.’
“Thence we went to Frank Reaume’s blacksmith shop to get our horses shod, and listened to his jokes and merry laugh, while, with hurried blows, he shaped and put on the shoes.
“A ‘packet’ was reported standing at the ‘Stone Tavern,’ and I got leave of ‘Pa’ to go and see it. It was a beauty. Many were there to see it. It carried passengers and United States mail.
“We had now seen about all the town and started home. However, before starting we went to the postoffice, for we got a letter ‘from in yonder,’ our old Dayton home, and also the Dayton Journal. But I can not tell you where the postoffice was located, or who was the P. M. But if you will ask the older folks—for I was only a very little boy then—they may be able to tell you. Ask Uncle Jimmy Bratton, John Kenower, John Roche, Thomas Roche, George R. Corlew, or Adam Q. Kenower, William Taylor, or Aunt Mirabah Hawley, Mrs. Judge Slack, Mrs. Byron E. Murray, Mrs. John Kenower, or Mrs. Adam Q. Kenower where it was, for they are all that are left to those who dwelt here then.
“On that occasion I may have met or seen in town Mr. Samuel Emley, or his brothers, Joel and Anthony, or their sons, John W. Emley and the older boys, Joseph C. Best or John G. Best, from Clear Creek township, or Uncle Thomas Fisher, or his son Oliver, from Wayne township, or O. W. Sanger, from Jefferson, or William or Samuel Jones, from Salamonie, or Uncle Samuel DeHaven, George, Jacob or Simon Sours, of Rock Creek township, or Uncle George Buzzard, Jimmie Garretson, David Heaston, Jacob Heaston, Joel Burkett or Aunt Hester Chambers, of Lancaster township; or Uncle Mart McFarland or Frank Miller, of Polk township; or James and George Loverton, Luther Cummings, John McGlin, William W. Helm, William Billiter, William A. Little, Martin W. Little, or Aunt Hannah Barker, or Uncle Daniel Wintrode, and James Frame, and possibly Captain Jacob Wintrode, for they were all residents of this county then. And I might add that if you are interested in some of the subsequent history of this county, that the Captain can also tell you who made the first stump, and sat upon it, where the town of Andrews now stands, and if pressed hard he may tell you who took Vicksburg.
“But I must hasten home. We crossed the river which now divides our city, on a frail bridge, spanning it from a point south of the Herald office, and landing us just west of the old spoke factory, where we entered the unbroken native forest, divided only by a narrow road, hewn out a few years before, full of stumps and huge ‘nigger-heads;’ and saw on the Wabash river a ‘corn-cracking mill,’ called the ‘Cole & Coon mill.’
“This river we crossed on the ice above the dam, and was again in the ‘open streak’ without another break in the woods till we reached our ‘cabin home.’ After distributing some little presents to the other members of the family, and partaking of supper, a new buckeye back-log was put in the mud-jambed fireplace, and father proceeded to read his Dayton Journal, where I remember of his reading of the prospect of a war with Mexico on account of the annexation of Texas. I judge that about that time Uncle Tommy Pinkerton, Uncle William J. Maynes and Uncle Steve Duncan were hustling around brim full of fight for the ‘Greaser,’ for they were the boys in blue at Buena Vista or Vera Cruz.
“But you, dear reader, have had enough of this old Christmas day. So wishing you many happy returns of this Christian anniversary, I bid you good-night. “James C. Branyan.”
The versatility and vigor of his mentality is again manifested in the following poem given in the course of an address at the Presbyterian church in Huntington, on the occasion of the Thanksgiving services, held July 10, 1898, as a special mark of gratitude for the successful issue of the recent war with Spain:
We bow in reverent thanks tonight
To Him who bade the sea divide,
While Israel’s host with great delight
Should humble the Egyptian’s pride.
To Him who gave the cloud by day,
And the pillar of fire by night,
To guide His people on their way
To a free land of pure delight.
To Him who heard in days of yore,
At Plymouth Rock the Pilgrim’s song,
Planting freedom on our shore,
Defying the oppressor’s wrong.
To Him, the Great Deliverer, now
With thankful heart and buoyant hope,
For blessings new, we humbly bow,
And their continuance invoke.
Cuba, Fair Island of the Sea,
Thou “Queen of the Antilles,”
Thy bonds shall break, thou shalt be free,
Is surely written in God’s decrees!
Thy wail, thy Macedonean cry,
That “midst plenty our people die,”
At last has reached a nation’s ear,
Who, in doing right, has no fear.
The land where a Washington led,
And where the martyred Lincoln bled,
To make freedom birthright of all,
Hears and heeds thy pathetic call.
As the “Samaritan” of old,
As a good shepherd of the fold,
McKinley would have fed the poor,
Famished by Spain’s oppressions sore.
But the good ship, token of peace,
Put thy oppressor ill at ease,
Of its explosion, the echo
Arouses the world, as all men know.
The fiercest flash and thunder loud,
Come from the dense and blackest cloud;
Sumter’s fall broke the blackman’s chain.
Cuba’s Freedom comes through the Maine.