Hon. George J. Barker, who became a resident of Lawrence in 1867 and was identified with that city and the state until his death on October 12, 1912, thoroughly earned a right to rank among the finest legal minds of Kansas during the last half century. He was not less a great citizen, especially in his work and devotion to his home community at Lawrence.
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George J. Barker was born November 6, 1842, near Springfield, Massachusetts, son of Cyrus E. and Eliza (King) Barker. He was of English lineage and of New England stock. When he was seven years of age in 1849 his parents removed to Wisconsin, and he grew up in that state being educated in the common schools and in Allen’s Grove Academy. When a young man he went to Chicago and became a student in the Chicago Law School, where he was graduated in 1864. Mr. Barker located in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1867 and his career from that time forward was marked by growing influence and practice as a lawyer and by numerous positions of trust and responsibility. He was elected county attorney in 1874, elected to the same office in 1882 and 1884, was elected mayor in 1887, became a member of the State Senate in 1885 and again in 1891, was sent to the lower house of the Legislature in 1897 and, in 1900 and 1902, was speaker of the House in 1900, became postmaster of Lawrence in 1903, was again chosen mayor in 1907, and thus for nearly forty years he was almost constantly employed with some public duty or responsibility.
Better than the bare facts just outlined is an analysis and appreciation of his services as given editorially in a local Lawrence paper. His life, in the words of this editorial, was one of service. The honors that came to him were few indeed compared to those he had helped his friends to reach. He was ambitious, but time and again when his brilliant equipment would have fitted him to aspire any office, he sacrificed his interests to those of others.
It was during his second term as county attorney, after his election in 1882, that people became aware of his sterling qualities as an official. The prohibitory law had not long been on the statute books; Judge Barker had been an attorney for the liquor men to prevent the enforcement of the law in Kansas, and following immediately upon that relation he was elected county attorney. He enforced the prohibitory law. It was the first time it had been successfully enforced in Kansas. His success brought his re-election in 1884, and so gratified were the temperance people at his stand for law enforcement that he was presented with a handsome solid service which he prized most highly as long as he lived.
When he was elected mayor in 1887 it was the first election at which the women of Kansas had been permitted to vote in the choice of municipal offices. He served one term–it was all he wanted, but city progress was great. In 1907 he was again elected mayor, this time too against his own personal desire and by the vote of the women. This time was featured by the closing of the drinking clubs of the city for the last time and for good, and by the granting of the franchise for the building of the electric street railway, which is now in operation.
In his election to the State Senate in 1884 he defeated Governor Robinson. The passage of the Quantrill raid claims bill was an accomplishment in which he took great satisfaction. Judge Barker’s service was of inestimable value to the university at a critical period, and his influence in shaping desirable legislation throughout his time was most creditable. In 1897 he was elected a member of the lower house, in 1901 was chosen a second time, and this was followed by a third term. Here again his work was of incalculable value and its impress is written in many of the laws of the state. Of the 1901 House he was the speaker. His influence was such that it was spoken of as “his” house and the feeling of loyalty among both democrats and republicans was never so demonstrated as it was through the love he aroused by his splendid courtesy, his perfect consideration, and his absolute standards of right and wrong. Even when not in the Legislature he exercised a power over law making in the state. Every legislator from Douglas County invited and secured Judge Barker’s counsel and assistance.
His success as a lawyer was remarkable. Judge Barker was connected with many important cases and conducted many long drawn out legal battles. He was attorney for the Union Pacific in the early days of the railroad in Kansas, and spent a year in the West looking after the company’s interests, sitting in the courtroom beside armed men who were fighting the railroad in all its advances. He was the chief attorney for the insurance companies in the Hillmon case, and conducted for the companies every examination of witnesses. His was the legal mind that successfully defended the great bond suit of the state against the City of Lawrence. He also declined a place as lawyer for the insurance companies in the Perkins cases. His brilliance and success were remarked wherever he appeared in court, but they were the result of the hardest kind of deep study, for he mustered every detail of every case entrusted to him with a carefulness that was always reflected at the trial and in the result. Judge Barker built up one of the finest law libraries in Kansas. It was destroyed by fire about two years before his death.
Judge Barker was always keenly interested in politics as a republican, and knew the republican leaders throughout Kansas. His participation was active in younger days, and as he grew older his delight in the political game was as great as ever and his advice was always sought. He saved many a friend from political error, did much to bring about partisan success, but never sacrificed a principle nor the consideration of the public good.
His friendships were many and deep, his love for his fellow man was unbounded. Brilliantly endowed by nature with an active and acquisitive mind, aided by education in school and of the world, he was a most congenial companion and one that won that warmth of feeling from mankind in general that is given to but few to enjoy.
Judge Barker was married February 4, 1867, to Lucene Sheldon Allen, of Allen’s Grove, Wisconsin, a graduate of Rockford College and a musician of no mean ability. To her the judge attributed a great deal of his success. Judge Barker was survived by four daughters: Anna (Mrs. Charles B. Spencer), Lucene Allen (Mrs. Luther North Lewis), Frances (Mrs. Hugh Means), and Bernice (Mrs. Russel Bigelow Caples).