Friday, February 8, 2019

Idaho U. S. Senator, Lawyer and Judge Kirkland I. Perky [otd 02/08]

U. S. Senator from Idaho Kirtland Irving Perky was born on February 8, 1867 in Smithville, Ohio, about 22 miles southwest of Akron. The family surname is generally considered an Americanization of the Swiss and south-German name “B├╝rki.” His physician father had contracted health problems serving during the Civil War and died when Kirtland was about five years old.
Lawyer Kirtland Perky. [Hawley]

His widowed mother moved the family to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1880 and then to a small town north of Lincoln four years later. Perky went back to study at Ohio Northern University and attained a Bachelor of Science degree in 1888. There, he also met his future wife, whom he married three years after graduation.

Kirkland next studied law as a clerk in the Lincoln office of William Jennings Bryan, later famous in national politics. To expand his education, Perky then did an intense stint at the University of Iowa Law School. He was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1890, but returned to Nebraska to open a practice in his home town. In 1894, Perky followed two friends in the legal community to Idaho. He opened a practice in Albion, then the county seat of Cassia County.

During the 1897 murder trial of “Diamondfield Jack” Davis, defense attorney James Henry Hawley hired Perky to provide essential knowledge of the local situation. Despite their best efforts, Davis was convicted … but would be exonerated and (eventually) released. [Blogs, January 17, December 17, and several others.]

In the fall of 1898, Perky moved to Mountain Home, the county seat of Elmore County. Then, in January 1901, he was appointed a district judge to serve the remaining term of Judge Charles O. Stockslage [blog, February 8], who had been elected to the state Supreme Court. However, Kirkland chose not to run for re-election when his term expired. He moved to Boise in the spring of 1903 to open a practice there.

News reports show that Perky handled cases all over the state … as far north as Coeur d’Alene and into the southeast at Montpelier. In keeping with the times, local prosecutors often hired him to help present the state’s case. But he also had many cases as defense attorney. He was so busy that, despite strong support, he refused to run for the position of Boise mayor in 1907.

That same year, and the following, he aided the defense for officials of the Western Federation of Miners, accused in the assassination of ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg [blog, December 30]. In the process, he became a personal friend of famous attorney Clarence Darrow.

In November, 1912, then-Governor James Hawley appointed him to fill the unexpired term of U. S. Senator Weldon B. Heyburn, who had died in office. Again, Perky declined to run for a term of his own.
Protest Meeting, before 1923. Library of Congress.
By this time, it can be inferred that Kirtland’s refusals to run for public office were, at least in part, his “anti-establishment” politics. Thus, he often found himself at odds with the policies of both major parties. They were entirely to blame, he asserted, for the post-war depression and the failure to improve the lot of farmers and other “ordinary people.”

Perky’s wife died in the summer of 1921 and by 1924 he had moved his law practice to Long Beach, California. Most of his cases that made the news had him defending “unpopular” defendants. In the late Twenties, Perky moved to Huntington Park, south of Los Angeles, but continued to practice law. He passed away there in January 1939, after a brief illness.
References: [Hawley]
Clarence Darrow, The Story of My Life, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York (1932).
David H. Grover, Diamondfield Jack: A Study in Frontier Justice, University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada (1968).
Patrick Hanks, Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, New York (2003).
“[Perky News],” Elmore Bulletin, Mountain Home; Idaho Statesman, Boise; Twin Falls News; Lewiston Tribune; Idaho (August 1892 – January 1939).
Albert Watkins, Illustrated History of Nebraska, Vol. III, Western Publishing and Engraving Company, Lincoln, Nebraska (1913).

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