HON. JOHN MOSES
THE LEWIS PUBLISHING COMPANY
ILLINOIS has always been distinguished for the high rank of her bench and bar. Perhaps none of the newer States can justly boast of abler jurists or attorneys. Many of them have been men of national fame, and among those whose lives have been passed on a quieter plane there is scarcely a town or city in the State but can boast of one or more lawyers capable of cross- ing swords in forensic combat with any of the distinguished legal lights of the United States.
While the growth and development of the State in the last half century has been most marvelous, viewed from any standpoint, yet of no one class of her citizenship has she greater reason for just pride than her judges and attorneys.
In Judge Evans we find united many of the rare qualities which go to make up the success- ful lawyer and jurist. He possesses perhaps few of those brilliant, dazzling, meteoric qualities which have sometimes flashed along the legal horizon, riveting the gaze and blinding the vision for the moment, then disappearing, leaving little or no trace behind, but rather has those solid and more substantial qualities which shine with a constant luster, shedding light in the dark places with steadiness and continuity'. Judge Evans can scarcely be termed an orator, but he has in an eminent degree that rare ability of say- ing in a convincing way the right thing at the right time. His mind is analytical, logical and inductive. With a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the fundamental principles of law, he combines a familiarity with statutory law and a sober, clear judgment, which makes him not only a formidable adversary in legal combat but has given him the distinction, while on the bench, of hafing fewer of his decisions revised or re- versed than any other judge in the State of Illinois.
Judge Evans is a native of the Keystone State, but the family is of Welsh origin. His paternal grandfather was a native of north Wales, while his grandmother was from south Wales. They came to America when children and settled with their parents in Pennsylvania. The maternal grandfather of the Judge was named Lloyd, and was a man of prominence in his day. It was through his influence that a new county was formed in Pennsylvania, which he named Cam- bria, in honor of the land of his birth, Cambria having been the ancient name of Wales. He laid out and founded a town, the county seat of the new county, which he named for his son, calling it Ebensburg. He was a prominent min- ister of the gospel and a man of much note.
Judge Evans is the son of David and Anna (Lloyd) Evans, and was bom at Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, April 17, 1829. His father was a stone-mason and contractor, and aided in the con- struction of the famous Portage road across the mountains in Pennsylvania. This was in the early days of railroading and the Portage road was considered a wonderful engineering achievement. With the money earned in the construction of this road, Mr. Evans purchased a farm and re- tired to rural pursuits.
Judge Evans may in the strictest sense of the word be termed self-educated. He was never in a schoolroom until he was ten years of age, and then spent only abotit two winter months of each year in pursuing his studies there. He was, however, of a studious disposition, and by course of self-instruction became qualified to teach and taught one or two terms, after which he went to Hiram, Ohio, attending the institute at that place. During the summer months he worked in the hanest fields for the money to defray his expenses during a school term. After leaving Hiram he went to southern Ohio, where he taught for five or six years, and during the time attended the Normal Institute at Lebanon, Ohio, for one term. In the meantime, also, while en- gaged in teaching, he had taken up the study of law, and in i860 entered upon a course of study in the law department of the L^niversity of Mich- igan, at Ann Arbor, at which institution he grad- uated in 1863. After leaving Ann Arbor he en- listed in the army, but soon contracted typhoid fever and had to return home.
In November, 1864, Judge Evans came to Danville, Illinois, and in partnership with John A. Kumler opened a law office. Clients not be- ing as plentiful at the start as he had hoped for, he resorted to his former profession of teaching, and for a }-ear conducted a prosperous school in this place. In company with Judge Clapp he then purchased the Chronicle and consoli- dated it with the Vermilion County Plaindealer, making the Danville Plaindealer, and became its editor. A year later. Judge Evans, dispos- ing of his interest, again returned to the prac- tice of law, this time in company with M. D. Hawes. Four years later Mr. Hawes abandoned the profession for that of the ministry and Judge Evans was alone for two years, when he asso- ciated with him Charles M. Swallow, the part- nership continuing four years. Judge Evans was then alone until 1881, when he was elected on the Republican ticket to the office of county judge: and this brings us to consider perhaps the most important work he has done.
When Judge Evans came to the bench he found the afifairs of the court in a deplorable condi- tion, owing partly to the long-continued illness of his predecessor. Judge Hanford, and partly to the loose and wholly inefficient methods which had prevailed in the conduct of the office. When he entered upon his duties he found the office of the county judgeship of but little more importance than that of any ordinary justice of the peace. He found the afTairs of the ofSce a tangled skein, difficult indeed to unravel and straighten out. He found cases on the docket ten, fifteen and even twenty years behind. Nothing had been attempted beyond probate adjustment, and even in this mat- ter grave abuses and neglect of duty were evi- dent, not the least of which was the practice of allowing guardians, executors and administra- tors to settle at such times as they might elect, with their wards out of court, and such settle- ments had been accepted by the court in direct violation of law, which requires such settlements to be made under oath, in court, with an item- ized account of all transactions pertaining to the estates or other property in trust. Judge Evans insisted upon changing all this. It is probable that the history of the entire State would fail to show such a complete and radical reformation and transformation in so short a time as was wrought by him during his first term in this of- fice. He radically revised the methods in vogue in probate matters, and, as rapidly as possible under the circumstances, took up, straightened out and disposed of the old cases which had so long been lingering on the docket; required all guardians, administrators, executors, assignees and conservators to account for their trusts in the manner prescribed by law; developed the common law term from practically nothing to three terms per year of several weeks each, or in short he made the county court of almost equal importance to the circuit court. He appointed over two hundred executors and administrators and about one hun- dred and fifty guardians and conservators, all of whom he required to account regularly in court as the law required. He gave his undivided at- tention to the duties of the position to which he had been chosen, and gave careful consideration to each case as it came up; and as a result of this care and as evidence of his knowledge of law and sound legal judgment he achieved the proud dis- tinction of having but one finding revised and but a single one reversed by the higher courts during his term of service.
Upon the expiration of his first term. Judge Evans was again elected to the same position, and for four years more presided over the court, the standing of which lie had done so much to estab- lish and elevate.
It must not be supposed that the methods adopted by Judge Evans met with the unqualified approval of all people in the community, although no one could speak aught against him personally, for in honor, integrity, ability and all that goes to constitute the ideal judge he was above reproach; yet there were many malcontents. There were those who had been thriving off the use of es- tates in trust who found their occupation gone; the machine politicians were not in love with him, for he was not the kind of man they could ap- proach, much less handle, for the furtherance of their schemes; and when it came time to nominate a candidate for the third term Judge Evans busied himself with the duties of his offlce instead cff wire- pulling for the nomination, with the result that he awoke one morning and found another Rich- mond in the field. Then it was that the better element of the other political party— the Demo- cratic — formed plans, and without consulting him and entirely without liis knowledge, and of course without his consent, either direct or indirect, placed his name on their ticket as their candidate for county judge. They justified their action in this matter partially by citing the fact that during his first candidacy for the office they had placed no candidate of their own in the field against him but had instead placed his name on their ticket, thus making him virtually the candidate of both political parties; and now, when the machine ele- ment in his own party had succeeded in getting him put aside, the Democrats placed his name on their ticket purely from consideration of the able and impartial manner in which he had for eight years conducted the afifairs of this important po- sition. This action of his friends — undoubtedly kindly meant — placed Judge Evans in an awk- ward position. He could not without wounding the feelings of his neighbors and friends peremp- torily spurn this indorsement, and in fact and truth he had no opportunity of "declining the honor,"' as he was never consulted in he matter; so he simply let matters take their course. His ene- mies worked persistently and desperately, while he made no move and gave no utterance in his own behalf. The result was that he was defeated at the polls by a small majority. This may have been poor "politics," and undoubtedly was from a practical standpoint, but Judge Evans was never a practical "politician" in the sense that term is used in the present day. He has none of that "all-things-to-all-men" sort of qualifica- tion which is the principal stock in trade of the average latter-day politician. He is modest, dig- nified and reserved, and scorned the practice of going into the field and actively soliciting votes for himself. The result was that his opponents called him an aristocrat without sympathy with the common people, and said he was a party turncoat because his name appeared on the Dem- ocratic ticket. By these and other like methods enough votes were secured to retire him from the office he had done so much to dignify and honor. He accepted his defeat gracefully, and at once took up again the practice of his profes- sion. In 1892 he became half owner of the Wabash Milling Company, and in 1894 the entire plant was destroyed by fire, and, it being only partially insured, a large loss was sustained.
In 1867 Judge Evans was married to Mrs. Edwilda A. Sconce, nee Cromwell. Of three children born to them only one survives — Waldo Carl, now seventeen years of age.
Judge Evans has been a member of the board of education and chairman of the Republican central committee. He was a delegate to the Republican national convention in 1876, which nominated Hayes for the presidency, and has repeatedly been a delegate to State conven- tions. As a citizen no man in Danville stands higher; his hospitality is unbounded, and he and Mrs. Evans have given many of the most successful and enjoyable entertainments ever held in that city. As a lawyer he ranks among the best inthe State. Above pettifogging orchicanery, he conducts his cases earnestly, honestly and skill- fully. He is an impressive and logical reasoner, well grounded in the principles of law, quick to grasp the points in the case and adroit in presenting them. Of his qualifications as a jurist we have already spoken at length. As a writer he is graphic, con- cise and remarkably forcible. Had he contin- ued in the newspaper field he would have un- doubtedly ranked as one of the ablest editors in the State. He is a man of broad views, and his religion is that of works, not faith alone. He believes that the universe is governed by general, not by partial, laws, and that the infraction of those laws brings its penalty regardless of faith or belief. His mind is of that logical type which cannot accept on trust any dogma or creed against which his common sense rebels. In this, as in other matters, he is liberal and char- itable, according to all the perfect right of free- dom and reserving the same right for himself. He has proved himself in all the relations of life an earnest, honest, upright man, and a citizen of whom any community might justly be proud.