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It is not the distinctive and specific purpose of biography to give expression of a man’s modest estimate of himself and his accomplishments, but rather to leave the record establishing his position by the consensus of public opinion. Judged in this manner W. P. Ferguson is numbered among the eminent representatives of the Iowa bar and for many years has been termed “the first citizen of Shenandoah,” not only in the fact that he was the first to establish himself in business here, but also because he has ever stood as a leader in the work of public progress and improvement, contributing in most substantial measure to those causes which have been foremost in upholding the legal and political status and in advancing the material, intellectual, social and moral interests of the city.
Judge Ferguson is a native of Glasgow, Scotland, his birth having occurred in that city, July 29, 1843. He was a lad of five years when with his parents he crossed the Atlantic to America on a sailing vessel, which was thirty days in making the voyage. During that period the family lost an infant son and brother, who was buried with marine service on board ship. For a few years after their arrival in this country the family resided in Erie county, New York, and then removed to Guernsey county, Ohio, where judge Ferguson was reared to manhood. He supplemented his public-school education by study in the Londonderry Academy and while there pursuing his course became aroused by the wave of patriotism that swept over the country following the attack of the south upon the Union. Offering his services to the government he enlisted as a member of Company B, Fifth Independent Batallion Ohio Cavalry, and subsequently reenlisted in a company of United States engineers. He did important service at the front and after the war was over returned to his childhood’s home, but soon started westward, traveling by rail to St. Joseph, Missouri, then up the Missouri river on a steamboat to Nebraska City, Nebraska. The desire to enjoy better business opportunities than could be secured in the east prompted him to take this step and, becoming identified with educational interests, he taught in a Nebraska school for a time, while later he accepted the superintendency of the public schools at Sidney, Iowa, and at Hamburg, Iowa. Eventually, however, he gave up school work at the latter place to enter the profession of law and removed to Shenandoah.
Judge Ferguson had previously read quite extensively, becoming familiar with Kent, Blackstone and other commentaries and in the month of August, 1870, having been admitted to the bar at Sidney, Iowa, he came to Shenandoah, where he at once began the erection of a little office building, the dimensions of which were probably about ten by twelve. This was, however, among the first improvements ever made upon the uncultivated grounds of Shenandoah. Judge Ferguson has remained here continuously since and was at all times actively engaged in the practice of law until the month of April, 1907, when he was elevated to the bench of the superior court through the appointment of Governor (now Senator) A. B. Cummins. He has since occupied the judgeship and his record on the bench has been in harmony with his record as a man and lawyer distinguished by unfaltering fidelity to duty and by a masterful grasp of every problem presented for solution. His decisions are based upon the law and the equity in the case and indicate thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence and large familiarity with precedent. His life has been one of extraordinary activity and there are but few of the great legal battles that have occurred in Page county in the last thirty-five years that he has not actively participated in and he has had the reputation for a number of years of being one of the most successful trial lawyers in southwestern Iowa, unusually successful in the cases that he has appealed to the supreme court.
Judge Ferguson’s work at the bar would alone entitle him to representation in this volume as one of the leading citizens of Page county, but in other directions his work has been equally noteworthy, far-reaching and beneficial. He prepared the incorporation papers for the town, wrote the ordinances for Shenandoah and has been directly identified with every improvement, public and private, that has been promulgated for the benefit of the city since he became its first settler thirty-nine years ago. It was he who first prepared the plans and secured the proposition that has resulted in a college for Shenandoah. While acting as mayor he corresponded with parties at Bushnell, Illinois, concerning building a college here and was one of two men who furnished funds for expenses of a man to come to Shenandoah and present the plan to the people. The two things the judge is especially proud of is the fact that all will acknowledge him to be the founder of the college and Presbyterian church here. He was also active in the building of the Wabash Railroad through Shenandoah, in the establishment of the fair grounds and in many other improvements which have been of material benefit here. His fellow townsmen have honored him with the office of mayor, in which he gave a public-spirited and businesslike administration. He also held the office of county attorney of Page county for two terms. In politics he has always been an ardent republican, taking an active part in the various political campaigns which have occurred since he cast his first presidential vote for Abraham Lincoln.
On the 17th of June 1874, Judge Ferguson was married to Miss Julia Burnet, who was at that time a school teacher in Shenandoah. They have become parents of six children, three sons and three daughters, and with the exception of one daughter now living in Seattle all are residing within a block of the old homestead, at No. 305 Church street. There is a substantial and modern residence, justly celebrated as the abode of hospitality. Judge Ferguson is a devoted member of the Presbyterian church, which he joined on its organization in 1872, while his wife is an Episcopalian in religious belief. His present duties as judge of the superior court keep him busy in the trial of cases, but he still finds time to lead a literary life and has gradually built up one of the most extensive libraries of history and biography in this part of the state. Considering all that he has accomplished in the profession and all that he has done for the city of his residence it may well be said of him when his life’s labors shall have ended-and may that day be far distant
“He leaves a patriot’s name to after times, Linked with a thousand virtues-and no crimes.”