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Frank Lane Wolford
and the Harp of a Thousand Strings

Famed Adair Countian was brilliant criminal lawyer, as well as a highly respected Mexican-American War and Civil War hero and statesman. This story recalls a biographical sketch by another great Adair Countian, H.C. Baker.

By "Jim"

The memory of Col. Frank Lane Wolford is so richly layered with the glory of his heroics in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War it's easy to forget he was one of the most brilliant criminal lawyers ever to charm a jury in the Green River section.

Shortly after Col. Wolford died in 1895, H.C. Baker penned a lengthy - and insightful - sketch about his fellow practitioner before the bar. He wrote, in part:
Col. Frank Wolford was a man of marked individuality--one of the most original and unique characters, we believe, the State has produced. He had no polish of address, nor did he desire it.

If anything he rather prided in the oddities of speech and dress and appearance generally which characterized him; or, perhaps it would be truer to say that he was indifferent to these things and gave them no thought.

His broad accent came to him naturally and he did not try to improve on it. He had a way of reaching the public comprehension and that was the main point with him.

He did not aspire to be any body other than Frank Wolford, and hence he had no model after which to pattern. Frank Wolford was sui generis, a diamond in the rough, and just a little different from all other diamonds.
Mr. (later Judge) Baker also noted that Wolford was "never a student of books, but he was a student of men," and that
He knew but little about the written altercations of the courts and technical niceties of the law, and he cared less, provided he could manage to get his case to the jury. There he could play upon the harp of a thousand strings. As a consequence he was in demand in all important criminal cases in the courts which he attended.
Nowhere was his playing "upon the harp of a thousand strings" more in evidence than a case near the end of the Civil War, the story being related decades later in the January 25, 1899 Adair County News. Wolford, then a resident of Casey County, traveled to old Adair to assist in the defense of eighteen-year-old Elisha Keeton, charged with horse stealing. There were ample witnesses and a plethora of evidence, and the court of public opinion already had the prison doors slamming shut behind young Keeton.

Enter Frank Lane Wolford to deliver the closing argument:
He commenced his speech soon after court met one morning. When the hour for the noon recess came Wolford was still speaking. The court, supposing he had certainly about exhausted himself, when the bells commenced to ring for dinner, interrupted him and asked whether he would prefer to conclude his argument before the adjournment or should he take a recess for dinner. Wolford suggested that recess be taken for dinner.

Returning to the court-house after dinner, he resumed his speech, and five o'clock found him still firing away at the jury. Another adjournment was had. The next morning found him fresh as a daisy and still speaking. He concluded about noon--having consumed a full day and a half.

He had spoken so long and traveled so far and by such devious ways that Capt. Sandidge, the attorney for the Commonwealth, was bewildered when it came his time to speak. In fact, it was speech that could not be followed and did not really need to be answered, but it accomplished its purpose. The jury retired, and after remaining out a few minutes returned a verdict of "not guilty."

The speech had a double effect. It saved Elisha from the penitentiary, and made out of him an orderly citizen. He was never known to be mixed up in questionable transaction after that time.
Today, September 2, is the birthday of Frank Lane Wolford, one of the greatest Adair Countians of all times. "Jim"

This story was posted on 2010-09-02 08:50:19
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