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JIM: Adair County writers II: Judge H.C. Baker

This is the Second in a series of reviews of the works of Adair County writes, from time-to-time, until and maybe past the 2012 First Annual Adair Genealogy & History Book Fair Saturday, June 2, 2012 10am-3pm (CT), at the Historic Adair County Courthouse, 500 Public Square, Columbia, KY. Admission and parking are free, and the event is open to the public.
The next previous writer review: Dr. J.T. Jones


Adair County writers: Judge H.C. Baker

Herschel Clay Baker, a native of Cumberland County, Ky., removed to Adair County as a teenager in the mid-1850s after the deaths of his parents and resided with an uncle on Burkesville Street, Columbia. With the exception of two brief interludes -- his attendance at Georgetown College in the late 1850s-early 1860s and a three-year hiatus in Louisville in the late 1870s -- he lived in Columbia until his passing in the spring of 1934 at the age of 92 years.

In addition to a distinguished career as a jurist, Judge Baker was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives; was President of the Columbia Fair Association for a period of years; was elected as Adair County Attorney; was elected Judge of the 29th Judicial District and served a six-year term (and hence the title "Judge," an honorific accorded him the rest of his life); acted as Chairman of the Board of the Male & Female High School of Columbia for a considerable length of time; was an Elder in the Columbia Presbyterian Church for many years; and was a writer.

He was for several years associated with the Columbia Spectator, of which but a scant handful of editions remain. However, many of his historical and biographical sketches illuminated the pages of the Adair County News, particularly from its inception in 1897 through 1918, the year in which no fewer than 41 of the good Judge's lengthy sketches appeared in serial form over the course of the year.

Perhaps his best-known "sketch," the chilling account of the 1872 Bank of Columbia robbery and the horrific murder of teller R.A.C. Martin, first appeared in the April 27, 1898 edition of the News under what surely is a world-record nine headlines. Of teller Martin's death, Judge Baker, never one to mince words, wrote:

"An hour later the assassins had done their bloody work and his faithful wife, crushed and brokenhearted, was weeping over his lifeless body. That night, with the tolling of the bells and with the sincere sorrow of the community, the hearse drove out of town carrying his remains for interment at his old home in Shelby county...It was a cruel, cold-blooded murder, committed for gain. We have no patience with the false and sickly sentiment which would make heroes of its authors."

Other memorable sketches include pieces about the early settlers of Adair County; Jane Lampton Clemens, mother of Mark Twain; the life and times of Col. Frank Lane Wolford, including Wolford's fiery 1864 letter to President Lincoln; early families of Adair County; the Gradyville flood of 1907; an old-timey corn husking; an account of the day the Johnny Rebs came to town and two Columbia youths, James B. "Jim" Baker and Ben Lee Hardin, very nearly faced a firing squad for taking potshots at the boys in gray; churches of Adair County, most particularly, the Union Church and the strange fate which befell it; and an amusing account of Mose Akin, a fallen man of the cloth, about whom Judge Baker wrote, in part:

"His power over an audience was said to be remarkable--moving it from laughter to tears at will. But the 'flesh and devil' were too much for him, and he fell. His license to preach was revoked by his church, and what preaching he did after that was a free lance...Along about the close of the Civil war, he was charged by the Federal authorities with moonshining..."

And therein (the moonshining charge) lies the tale of high comedy and low drama as the (former) Rev. Akin maneuvered, with a bit of sub rosa help from his old friend Thomas Bramlette, to extricate himself from coils of his own making. He acted as his own attorney, and Baker indirectly quoted Bramlette as saying of Akin's Wolford-esque closing argument,

"[I]t was the finest piece of acting he [Bramlette] had ever seen in a courtroom or anywhere else, and all so natural that it could never have entered into the mind of anyone, Judge or juryman, that it was a play that had been arranged in advance."

In quite a different vein, Judge Baker poignantly wrote of another man of God:

"Another Methodist minister of the county who exerted a wide influence in his day was George M. Taylor, known in his later years as 'Father Taylor.' He was born in 1790, and commenced his work in the ministry when he was twenty years old. He had the care of a number of large churches for fifty years, and was held in high esteem by all who knew him. He was Presiding Elder for thirty years and died at the age of seventy-six. The writer of this carries in his mind a very vivid outline of a sermon preached by this 'Father in Israel,' sixty years ago...

"It was the picture of old age painted by an old man. His form was bent by the weight of three score years and ten, his locks silvered, his eyes dimmed, his hands tremulous, and his voice as tremulous as his hands. In the venerable speaker himself as well as in the vivid word picture which he drew, he saw and realized the ravages of age, and a boy sat and wondered how an old man felt when he reached this point in his earthly pilgrimage..."

In December 1918, Adair County native and former Kentucky Attorney General James Garnett penned for the News a word-sketch of Judge Baker. In it he stated,

"I remember to have suggested to Judge Baker near the close of his term as Circuit Judge [late 1909], that he was the best equipped person I knew to write an accurate history of Adair County and in this conversation I said to him that I knew of no greater service a person could render the county in which he lived than to record the events which should be accurately transmitted to future generations. He has performed this duty and I believe that your subscribers will unanimously agree to this verdict--'Well done thou good and faithful servant.'"Written by JIM

This story was posted on 2012-05-26 04:32:57
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