Monday, February 26, 2018

Idaho Supreme Court Justice George Stewart [otd 02/26]

Idaho Supreme Court Justice George Harlan Stewart was born February 26, 1858 in Connersville, Indiana, about fifty miles east of Indianapolis. He was something of an intellectual prodigy: George leaped through a “common” education to himself teach at country schools in his late teens.
Law School at Valparaiso, ca 1880. Valparaiso University Archives.

After several years, he entered Northern Indiana Normal school, in Valparaiso. (In 1900, the school became Valparaiso College, now University.)

George completed their “scientific” course in 1879, at the age of twenty-one, and immediately entered the school’s law department. He graduated in 1881 and was soon admitted to the Indiana bar.

In 1882, Stewart opened a law office in Fowler, Indiana, 15-20 miles northwest of Lafayette. After four or five years there, “on account of failing health,” he moved to a small town in southwest Nebraska. For the next several years, he made a name for himself. Not only did his practice flourish, but he was also elected as county Prosecuting Attorney.

Stewart moved to Idaho in 1890, and immediately involved himself in Republican Party activities. He opened a practice in Boise City with a partner who had over a quarter century of experience with Idaho law. It’s perhaps no surprise that he was elected to the state Senate in 1893. Two years later, he ran for the office of Boise City Mayor, against developer Walter E. Pierce [blog, January 9]. Stewart lost the razor-thin election, 438-436.

George soon partnered with another rising young attorney, William E. Borah. (Borah went on to become a six-time U. S. Senator from Idaho [blog, June 29].) In 1896, the sitting Judge of the Third Judicial District resigned and the governor appointed Stewart to replace him.

When election time came two years later, Democrats and a major faction of Silver Republicans united to nominate a “fusion” candidate to fill the District Judge position. The Prohibitionist Party made no selection, while the Populist candidate withdrew in favor of the Fusion nominee. (One rather wonders what sort of “deal” they cut.) Thus, loyal Republican Stewart faced what appeared to be an insurmountable challenge. Yet, such was Stewart’s reputation, and political skill … he won handily.
Judge Stewart. H. T. French photo.

In 1899, Governor Steunenberg selected Stewart as judge for the trial of union miners involved in bombing the Bunker Hill & Sullivan ore mill. (The judge for the district that included Shoshone County declined to serve.) Despite the high emotions and drama of those trials, George emerged with his reputation as a jurist not just intact, but enhanced.

Thus, running on his very successful district court record, Stewart was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1906. Historian Hiram T. French noted, "In due course he became chief justice during the last two years of his term."

Despite some questions about his health, he was re-elected "by a good majority" in 1912. French wrote his History during the course of that term and said, "His present term bids well to copy fair his past."

That was not to be, however. Stewart suffered a stroke in March of 1914 while he was presiding over the district court in Moscow. He recovered enough to return home but the consensus was that he might never be strong enough to resume his duties. In May, he entered a sanitarium in Portland, where it was hoped their program of fresh air, light exercise and constant nursing care would restore him to full health. Sadly, he suffered two more small attacks during the summer. He died from a final massive stroke on September 25, 1914.
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
"Idaho Jurist Dies," The Oregonian, Portland, Oregon (September 26, 1914).
[Stewart newspaper items], Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 27, May 12, July 21, 1914).


  1. Nice article. I think it is useful and unique article. I love this kind of article and this kind of blog. I have enjoyed it very much. Thanks for your website.
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  2. I am writing a novella about the house Judge Stewart owned while living in Idaho from 1890 to his death in 1914.
    I would be interested in any more information about Judge Stewart. Thank you

  3. The French and "Illustrated" histories of Idaho have fairly long biographies of Judge Stewart. The Hawley history integrates him more into the overall history of Idaho government. You can access those histories at the "Internet Archive" [ ] if your local library does not have copies. Or, if you send me a direct e-mail, I can attach the French and Illustrated bios to a reply -- they would be RTF documents.

    1. Thanks. I did find that Judge George H. Stewart died at the Mountain View Sanitarium in Portland. It was a mental institution. Do any of your sources mention this? Of course, in 1914 it would have been a stigma, and maybe not mentioned.

  4. As noted in the item, H.T. French recorded Stewart's bio while he was still alive and in office. So French would not have known about Stewart being in a sanitarium. The death date came from the ISHS Reference Series.

    As it happened, however, the newspapers freely reported Stewart's treatment at the sanitarium ... and there seemed to be absolutely no stigma attached. (Stewart was highly respected and extremely well liked in the state.) I would judge the reaction to be more along the lines of him being confined to a sanitarium for "consumption" (tuberculosis) -- which, for the well-off, actually carried a "romantic" patina because so many famous writers (Keats, Shelley, Poe, etc.) had suffered from it.

    After I post this reply, I plan to add what I have since learned to the blog item itself.