Biography of Colonel Elhanan John Searle
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Soldier, jurist and publicist, a man of many attainments and widely diversified talent, was Elhanan J. Searle, the subject of this sketch. He was born January 18, 1835, at Royalton, Ohio, coming to Rock Island County with his parents when about two years of age, and died at Rock Island, August 18, 1906. Colonel Searle, or Judge Searle as he was perhaps more familiar known throughout Rock Island County, received his education at the Rock River Seminary, an institution located at Mount Morris, Illinois, and after completing his studies in that school, which was largely preparatory in its scope, he entered Northwestern University at Evanston; from which institution he graduated with the highest honors of his class; and at the time of his death was the oldest alumnus of that institution. After the completion of his collegiate course he decided to fit himself for entrance to the legal profession, and with that end in view he entered the law office of John L. Beveridge, afterwards Governor of Illinois, at Chicago. He remained in Mr. Beveridge’s office until November, 1859, when he entered the law office of Abraham Lincoln and William H. Herndon, the firm being known as Lincoln & Herndon, at Springfield, and here he remained continuing the study of his chosen profession until March, 1861. Daily association with a character such as Abraham Lincoln’s and the intimacy naturally arising from their relation as student and mentor, must have made a deep impression upon the young man, and doubtless exerted a formative influence upon the whole course of his after life. As we can view it now, such an opportunity was a priceless one, and even in those days it was a most excellent thing for any young man aspiring to become a lawyer, to be taken into the office of Lincoln & Herndon, for Abraham Lincoln was then recognized as one of the leaders of the Illinois Bar, although Lincoln, the lawyer, is now overshadowed by that more majestic and sublimely beautiful character as president and martyr. The intimacy thus arising between Abraham Lincoln and his student continued until the tragic death of the president, considerable correspondence passing between the two.
On September 23, 1861, Elhanan J. Searle, declining preferment tendered him by President Lincoln, enlisted in Company H, Tenth Illinois Cavalry, at Springfield as a private. He served in that capacity until July 7, 1862, when he was made captain of his company. His duties carried him into Arkansas as a recruiting officer. He was instrumental in recruiting and sending into the field the First Arkansas Infantry, and the Second and Fourth Arkansas Cavalry, these regiments being organized largely from the mountainous districts of the Ozarks. Upon its organization, he was made lieutenant-colonel of the First Arkansas Infantry, and was in command of that regiment for the greater part of three years, the colonel, himself, being absent from his command, and his duties naturally de-devolving upon the officer next in rank. Colonel Searle was a brave and gallant soldier, and while in command of his regiment, he made for himself a most excellent record, participating in more than forty engagements and skirmishes, and being fairly idolized by his men. Although always in the thick of the fight, Colonel Searle escaped injury, although in different battles three horses were shot from under him. He often acted as brigadier-general in command of the brigade of which his regiment formed a part, and was placed in command of a number of important posts. For several months he was provost-marshal of a military department, and frequently was called upon to act as a member of military commissions and court-martials. At the close of the war, Colonel Searle was honorably discharged from the service, the date of his discharge being August 10, 1865. Upon laying aside the sword, Colonel Searle settled at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and here he entered upon the practice of that profession which he had temporarily put aside to take up the sterner duties of war. On February 19, 1866, he was commissioned prosecuting attorney for the Ninth Judicial District of Arkansas, a district which comprised eight counties. Some time after this he was appointed United States Commissioner for the Western District of Arkansas, which included not only the western part of Arkansas, but all of Indian Territory as well. He served as assistant United States District Attorney in addition to the duties of the latter office until January 1, 1867, when he was commissioned by the provisional governor of Arkansas as circuit judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of that state, his appointment being approved by the United States military authorities. He served as circuit judge until February 10, 1871, when he was appointed as one of the justices of the Supreme Court of Arkansas. This appointment was for a term of two years, and at its expiration he was elected to succeed himself for a term of eight years, but this latter term was cut short by the adoption of a new state constitution, which prescribed different regulations in regard to the selection of the supreme court.
For several years Colonel Searle was a member of the Arkansas State Board of Education and also a member of the board of trustees of the Arkansas State University, which latter institution he helped to found, and of which he drafted the plan of government and instruction to be followed in all departments. He was also a member of the executive and building committees of the board of trustees of that institution.
In 1875 Colonel Searle returned to Illinois, locating at Chicago, where he practiced law for a few years, taking part as counsel in a number of important cases, and taking an active part in the Hayes-Tilden campaign, filling nearly all the speaking engagements of John A. Logan, who was ill. Later he practiced law for a time in St. Louis, and then in Pana, Illinois, till 1885. He then spent two years in travel, and in 1887 returned to his old home in Rock Island County, purchasing the well known Rodman home in Rock Island, and here he resided until his death. He also purchased the valuable farm in Zuma Township, Rock Island County, upon which he had spent his boyhood.
On April 1, 1863, Colonel Searle was married to Miss Cassie R. Pierce, who survives him, the marriage ceremony occurring at Springfield. Of this union six children were born, two of whom are still living, Hon. Charles J. Searle and Miss Blanche Searle, both of Rock Island.
The recent death of Colonel Searle removes from life’s activities one of the few remaining links between the past and the present. He was a gentleman of the old school, modest, dignified, kind and courtous, and a delightful social companion among his friends. He was full of reminiscence and anecdote, and was a man of profound learning and broad general information. Upon political subjects and as a close student of times and conditions he was particularly well informed. Upon his return to Rock Island he lived in practical retirement, but his interest in political and economic questions was keen and to these subjects he devoted much thought. He was a man of the highest ideals, and deplored deeply the materialistic trend which he believed the country was pursuing, feeling that it would work prejudice and finally, if unchecked, ruin to the Republic. But although foreseeing these dangers, Colonel Searle was by no means a pessimist. He supported men rather than party, and although a Republican, was molded after the type of those party leaders who believe in progress and reform. He was an ideal citizen, broad, intelligent and patriotic, a noble example of upright, conscientious manhood.