Alexander County

Biography - William N. Butler

HON. WILLIAM NICHOLAS BUTLER. One of those who both as public official and prominent citizen have been important factors in the moulding of Cairo's municipal history, Hon. William Nicholas Butler is presiding judge of the First Judicial Circuit of Illinois, with which section he has been identified since childhood, and his participation in the public affairs of this portion of Illinois and of Alexander county, his home, has been varied and important. He was born at Berlin, Green Lake county, Wisconsin, August 16, 1856, in which state his father had spent considerable time in the Government Indian service, and upon the conclusion of which he took his family to Columbia county, Pennsylvania, in 1859. His father was Comfort Edgar Butler, whose native place was Ithaca, New York, being born there October 23, 1824, the family having been founded at that locality by Daniel Bayard Butler, the father of Comfort E., and the community of Stratford, Connecticut, furnished this bit of human migration. In this part of the Nutmeg state the first Butler settled as an English immigrant in 1839.

Daniel Bayard Butler married Elsie Edgar, who was born in Orange county, New York, a daughter of the Rev. Edgar, and she died at Canton, Pennsylvania, in 1880, the mother of Comfort Edgar and Helen. The latter married William H. Nichols and now resides with her daughter, Mrs. George E. Man, whose husband has been in the United States consular service in European cities for many years. Daniel Bayard Butler passed his life as a journalist and was in the newspaper business at Geneseo and Rochester, New York, and was associated as a publisher with old Dr. John Harper, the father of Harper Brothers, the famed New York publishers. Early in the 'forties he started for the Pacific coast by the way of the Isthmus of Panama, and while crossing the isthmus dropped out of sight completely, and is believed to have perished there.

Comfort Edgar Butler grew up under a pure and intellectual influence, among associates whose homes abounded in culture and where the Puritan air still echoed the music of Colonial days, and his education came rather from contact with the public effort and from absorption from his fellows than from doing a course in an institution of learning. Clerical work seemed to be his forte, and his life was devoted to it wherever he was permanently located. He exercised his suffrage first as a Whig, then as a Republican, but took no part as a partisan politician. He was a man of extreme modesty, held aloof from any appearance of forwardness, and while he was reared under strict church discipline, he took no part in church work himself. Upon the issues of the Civil war he lost little time in offering himself as a volunteer soldier. He enlisted in Columbia county, Pennsylvania, first in Company I, Thirty-first Infantry, and subsequently in Company A, Seventy-fourth Infantry, in the Army of the Potomac. He was acting quartermaster and later chief clerk at headquarters of the Department of Virginia, and passed through the service without untoward incident, being discharged in September, 1865, after a faithful service. He then joined his family at Canandaigua, New York, and was a clerical man until he .went South on an experiment in 1869. He was induced to believe that the state of Texas offered the chief elements desired by the home-seeker, but after spending a few months at Columbus, that state, became convinced of its unadaptability to the Northern ex-soldier at that time.

Returning North with his family the same year, Mr. Butler settled at Anna, Illinois, and followed his favorite vocation there until his death, June 25, 1888. He married Miss Celesta A. Carter, a daughter of Cyrus Carter, who was sixth in descent from Rev. Thomas Carter, the pioneer minister of Woburn, Massachusetts, and a graduate of the theological department of Oxford University, England. Cyrus Carter was born at Rutland, Vermont, and was a son of David Carter, whose forefathers were active participants in the Colonial wars and the war for American independence, and who shed lustre upon their family as civilian gentlemen as well. Cyrus Carter was born March 6, 1798, was a tanner, pump-maker and farmer, and at different times lived at Darien and Canandaigua, New York, at Janesville, Berlin and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and at Anna and Cairo, Illinois, and died in the last-named city October 6, 1891. His wife was Esther Saunders, and their children were: Marietta, who became the wife of Dr. Waldo Allen and died in Wisconsin; Celesta Ann, born August 19, 1833; Olive Fidelia, who married Owen Townsend, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Four children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Butler, namely: Cyrus Waldo, who is unmarried and resides at Seattle, Washington; Judge William Nicholas; Genevieve, the wife of Charles Lyons, of Silver City, New Mexico; and Olive Dacy, who is the widow of Edward H. Myers, of Washington, D. C.

After the public schools of Anna, Illinois, William Nicholas Butler entered the University of Illinois, and graduated therefrom June 7, 1879. His tuition was largely earned by his own industry as a carpenter, at the printer's case, clerking in a store and teaching school. He first read law with Judge Monroe C. Crawford, his first recollections of whom were as a barefoot boy peeping into the door of the courtroom at Jonesboro, where the Judge was presiding over the scales of justice, and thirty-four years after which event the former barefoot boy defeated the dignified and scholarly Judge for the same position on the Bench. In the autumn of 1881 Judge Butler entered the Union College of Law at Chicago, where he was a classmate and seatmate of William Jennings Bryan. In 1882 he entered the senior class of the Albany (New York) Law School and graduated in 1883, with the degree of Bachelor of Laws. In August of that year he located in Cairo and took a Government position in the internal revenue service, under General C. W. Pavey, collector.

In the fall of 1884 Judge Butler entered politics actively as a candidate for state's attorney, was nominated by the Republicans of Alexander county and elected for a term of four years, and was three times re-elected to the office. From 1895 to 1897 he was corporation counsel for the city of Cairo. He has served the public schools here as a member of the board of education six years, being chosen upon the issue of the building of the high school, and was elected a judge of the First Circuit to fill a vacancy, December 12, 1903, and after serving almost six years was chosen his own successor at the November election of 1910, for a six-year term. His activity as a Republican can be estimated by a reference to his party service. He was chairman of the Central Committee of his county six years, was chairman of the Republican committee of the Supreme Court District and of the Republican judicial committee of the First Circuit for the year 1889; was an alternate to the Republican National Convention of 1888 and was seated with the delegates from Illinois and aided in nominating General Harrison for the presidency. He was captain and adjutant of the old Ninth Regiment of the Third Brigade, Illinois National Guard, from its organization. He served for a long period as president of the Alumni Association of the University of Illinois, and is now a member of the Ancient Free & Accepted Masons and the Knights of Pythias. His religious connection is with the Presbyterian church.

Judge Butler was married, October 28, 1885, at Fairbury, Illinois, to Miss Mary Mattoon, daughter of Franklin and Caroline A. (Straight) Mattoon. Mrs. Butler's father died in early life, leaving two children: Mary and Franklin G. The latter entered the Indian service as a young man, became agent at Fort Berthold, North Dakota, held the same position at the Crow agency, and was later appointed head of the consolidated agencies in Idaho, resigning from the service to engage in banking at Forsyth, Montana. Mrs. Mattoon subsequently married Samuel Rogers, and is now one of the household of Judge and Mrs. Butler. The latter's children are: Comfort Straight, who graduated from, the University of Illinois in 1909, and from the law department of the George Washington University at Washington, D. C., in 1912, and is now a practicing attorney in St. Louis, Missouri; William Glenn, a student in the agricultural department of the University of Illinois; Franklin Mattoon, who is attending the Cairo High School; Mary, who has completed her course in the same institution; Helen, who died in 1906 in childhood; and John Bruce, who is a student in the graded public schools of Cairo.

Extracted 15 Jan 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 History of Southern Illinois, Volume 2, pages 814-816.

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