Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cassia County Attorney and Idaho Chief Justice T. Bailey Lee [otd 8/10]

Thomas Bailey Lee, Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, was born about twenty miles southwest of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on August 10, 1873. He attended law school after graduating from the University of North Carolina but chose not to practice at that time. Instead, he found a position as a prep school Latin teacher in Asheville. In 1898, he took up the practice of law in Butte, Montana.
Burley, ca 1819. J. H. Hawley photo.

In 1905, Lee moved to the new town of Burley [blog, July 19], becoming the first lawyer there. He also secured a position as a Director of the Burley Town Site Company. He spent two years as the City Attorney for Burley, and also served four terms as Prosecuting Attorney for Cassia County.

For six years, T. Bailey served as District Court Judge for the region encompassing Cassia and surrounding areas. Then, in October 1926, Lee was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Idaho Supreme Court. A month later, he won election to continue in that position. At that point, Bailey moved his family to Boise.  He rose to the position of Chief Justice in 1931.

His most recent biography, in Defenbach, makes the point that, “Three of his ancestors were Revolutionary soldiers, two of them with the rank of captain.”

In 1931, Judge Lee’s Congressman wrote a letter to the Bureau of Pensions. A family Bible, now “two hundred and nineteen years old,” had been submitted as verification to allow the widow of Captain John Dickey to continue receiving his Revolutionary War pension. That document now reposed in the National Archives.

Since the relevant pages had been torn out, the Judge wanted the bulk of the Bible back, as a family memento. This request was refused, so Lee wrote a personal note to the Director of the Veteran’s Bureau. Addressed to “My Dear General,” Lee commented, “I am presuming to write you direct upon a purely personal matter, as the only methods I understand are those of a soldier and lawyer. God save me from civilian bureaucrats!”

Lydia Pinkham. Brochure cover, 1901-1904.
Posted on Wikipedia Commons.
T. Bailey had personally seen the Bible, “dumped in an old box.” Someone had filed the torn out pages, “and tossed the wrecked volume into the scrap heap.” As such, he went on, “it’s mere junk … and is about as valuable to Uncle Sam as … an empty bottle of Lydia Pinkham's.”

Again the Administrator refused his request … for the good of all researchers, not just the family, they said. In his letter to Lee’s Congressman, the Administrator said, “To insure added protection to the Bible in question it was securely wrapped and tied in kraft paper, given the file number of the claim from which it was removed, and locked in a cabinet free from dust. It is now reposing in a steel vault.”

So the Judge “lost,” but perhaps he accomplished something more important: He rescued a potentially-valuable historical document from oblivion.

Through 1932, judges campaigned for election to the Idaho Supreme Court as partisan candidates. That year Judge Lee ran on the Republican ticket. Although Bailey did better than most other Republican candidates, he lost his seat during the Democratic landslide behind Roosevelt on the national ticket. He returned to Burley after the end of his term, and finally moved his family back in late summer (Idaho Statesman, Boise, August 23, 1933).

Lee would again serve as a District Judge in 1942-1946. He passed away in March 1948.
References:[Blue],  [Defen], [Hawley]
“Letters Concerning the Family Bible,“ Captain John Dickey Revolutionary War File, U. S. National Archives (1931-1932).
Ben Ysursa, Idaho Blue Book, 2003-2004, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (2003).

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