Distinguished as a jurist, legislator and public spirited citizen, the name of Hon. Charles G. Offutt has long been closely interwoven with the legal and professional history of Hancock county, while his eminent services in his profession, both in general practice and upon the bench, have won for him a reputation equaled by that of few of his compeers through the state of Indiana.
Judge Offutt is a native of Kentucky and the son of Lloyd and Elizabeth Offutt. The father was born in Maryland, but when a boy was taken by his parents to Kentucky and grew to manhood in Scott county. He learned the carpenters trade and shortly after his marriage came to Hancock county, Indiana, and engaged in contracting and building at Greenfield. For many years he worked at his chosen calling, erected a number of different kinds of edifices in this city and throughout the county and became widely and favorably known as a skillful and industrious mechanic. He served about one year as a member of Company B, Fifth Indiana Regiment, in the late Civil war and being especially skilled in the treatment of horses was detailed as veterinary surgeon of the regiment during his period of enlistment. Returning to Greenfield after receiving his discharge, he resumed contracting and continued to do a very successful business until advancing age obliged him to abandon manual labor. During the last few years of his life he lived in retirement at Greenfield, dying in this city on the 20th of May, 1894, at the age of eighty-two. His widow still survives, having recently passed the ninetieth milestone of lifes journey. She is remarkably well preserved for one of her years, retains possession of her bodily and mental powers to a marked degree and is as much interested as ever in the work of the Christian church, to which she has belonged since childhood. She is the oldest living member of the Greenfield Christian church, both in point of years and continuous residence, having been present when the organization was effected and being the only survivor of the little band that constituted the original society. Mrs. Offutt was converted in Scott county, Kentucky, under the preaching of the celebrated Barton Stone and it has been her good fortune to meet and become well acquainted with the fathers of the current Reformation and many of its most distinguished leaders from the inauguration of the movement to the present day. She knew Alexander Campbell well and heard him preach many of the masterly discourses for which he was famous in the years of his prime. Her life has been a long and useful one, largely consecrated to the good of humanity and the influence of her godly example has been productive of untold blessings in moulding the characters and shaping the destinies of her children.
Besides the subject of this sketch there are living at this time two sons and three daughters of Lloyd and Elizabeth Offutt, namely: Thomas H., a carpenter of Greenfield; Jane, widow of George Barrett, deceased, who was also a resident of the county seat and for twenty years a justice of the peace; California, who married Fred Beecher, a shoemaker of this city, and Louisa, widow of the late William Taylor, of Indianapolis.
Charles G. Offutt was born in Georgetown, Scott county, Kentucky, on the 4th day of October, 1845. The story of his childhood and youth is similar to that of the early life of many of our best known public men. When less than one year old he was brought to Hancock county and from that time to the present day his career has been a part of the history of this section of the commonwealth. In his home life, under its firm but kindly parental government, he acquired those habits of industry and principles of integrity and that independence and love of justice which have always been marked characteristics of the man. When old enough he entered the schools of the town, where he bent all of his energies in the direction of acquiring an education, having from an early age manifested a decided taste for books and a fondness for study. These early schools may have lacked some of the advantages and much of the machinery of our modern educational system, but unlike the latter they did not always tend to a dull uniformity, on the contrary they gave to the ambitious youth opportunities to acquire a training that tended to individual development and that independence and self-reliance which so peculiarly fit the student t to grapple with the various questions of our national and political life. Young Offutt made the most of his opportunities while in school, but unfortunately was not permitted to prosecute his studies until completing the prescribed course.
When a lad of seventeen, Mr. Offutt accepted a clerkship in a mercantile house at Greenfield and after spending about two years in that capacity, taught one term of country school. Subsequently he became salesman for the firm of Tausey & Byram at Indianapolis and while in their employ formulated plans for carrying out a long standing desire to study law. Mr. Offutts determination to make the legal profession his life work was formed after very careful and mature deliberation. Entering the office of Hon. James L. Mason, at Greenfield, he prosecuted his studies very assiduously for three years, at the expiration of which time he was formally admitted to the bar at Greenfield, and shortly after engaging in the practice of his profession he effected a co-partnership with Hon. Joseph Buckles, which lasted until 1873, the firm meantime building up a very extensive legal business and becoming widely and favorably known at the different bars of central Indiana and throughout the state. In 1876 was formed the firm of Offutt & Martin, which continued until 1880, when the latter retired and two years thereafter Col. R. A. Black and the subject of this sketch became associated in the practice, a partnership severed by the accidental death of the former in September, 1900. In 1894 Mr. Offutt was elected judge of the eighteenth judicial circuit, in which capacity he served with distinguished ability for six years, retiring from the office November 15, 1900; since 1901 he has been practicing with his former associate, Hon. William H. Martin, the firm being one of the strongest legal partnership in the county of Hancock, with a reputation extending to many other counties in this part of the state.,
As a lawyer Judge Offutt is easily the peer of any of his professional brethren of the Greenfield bar and, as already stated, he has much more than local repute as a shrewd and successful practitioner. His years of hard, conscientious work have brought with them not only a large increase of business and reputation, but also that growth in legal knowledge and that wide and accurate judgment the possession of which constitutes the most marked excellence of a lawyer. His familiarity with the underlying principles of jurisprudence and his ready perception of facts, together with the ability to apply the one to the other, caused his services to be retained by litigants and for many years his name was connected with nearly every really important case tried at the Greenfield bar. In the trial of cases he is uniformly courteous to the court, to opposing counsel and witnesses, and seeks to impress juries rather by weight of facts in his favor and by clear logical argument than by appeals to passion and prejudice. In discussions of the principles of law he is remarkable for clearness of statement, candor and profound knowledge of the matter under consideration. His careful arrangement, his watchfulness, his earnest eloquence, his ability to perceive and lay hold of the strong points of his cause and above all his honesty of purpose, make him an advocate of unusual power before a court or jury. Aside from his success in the trial of suits, in which it may be stated he has few equals and no superiors, Mr. Offutt is no less distinguished as an able and reliable counselor. His thorough knowledge of the principles of law, his ability to see that all questions have two sides, his quick perception, sound sense and unerring judgment often enable him to prevent much useless and expensive litigation by calm and judicious advice.
As a judge Mr. Offutt fully sustained his high reputation as a learned and successful lawyer and retired from that exalted position with increased honors as one of Indianas foremost jurists. His administration of the judicial office was characterized by great industry, careful investigation, strict impartiality and entire independence of all improper influences from whatever source. One of his marked characteristics is a love of justice, which he always held far above legal technicalities. While he never disregarded the forms of law, he never permitted the ends of justice to be delayed by useless formalities nor be defeated by legal quibbles if by any reasonable construction it could be avoided. His discussions are models of clearness and force and show the pronounced ability of the man and the thoroughness of his professional training. The justness of his decisions was such that but few appeals were ever taken therefrom and perhaps no judge in the state for an equal period of service ever suffered as few reversals at the hands of the supreme court.
Many important cases were brought to the Hancock circuit court by change of venue during Judge Offutts incumbency, notably among which was that of the receiver for the Indiana Banking Company vs. John C. New and John C. Wright; the issues involving one million dollars. In this celebrated case some of the most eminent lawyers of the state took part and throughout the trial of nine weeks duration the Judges rulings were so clear, fair and impartial and withal displayed such familiarity with the profound legal principles and technicalities involved as to win the admiration of every lawyer present.
In his practice Judge Offutt never resorts to any of the devices of superficial men, but makes himself a necessity to those who have complicated cases or who are unjustly accused. He has been connected as prosecutor or defender with the trials of seventeen persons charged with murder in the first degree and the hard legal battles which he put up for or against the accused generally resulted in victory for the side he represented.
In 1872 Judge Offutt was nominated by the Democratic party to represent Hancock county in the lower house of the general assembly and his election by a majority far in excess of the usual vote of the party furnished strong evidence of the high esteem in which he was held by the people. His career as a legislator justified his constituents in the wisdom of their choice. He took an active part in all of the deliberations of the body, served on some of the important committees, in one of which, the judiciary, his profound legal ability had a very decided influence in shaping the judicial legislation of the state. For years prior to that date he had been a recognized power in local politics and from that date forward his influence as an able and shrewd party worker began to be felt in other presidential elections for the sixth district and in 1888 represented the same as a delegate in the national convention at St. Louis which nominated Grover Cleveland for president of the United States. The Judge is a vigorous campaigner, especially effective on the hustings and during the progress of political contests his services as a speaker are in great demand. Few men have greater control over an audience and none excel him as a skillful planner; nevertheless his methods are eminently honorable, as he never resorts to the arts and wiles of the demagogue, nor have his bitterest political adversaries ever accused him of disreputable practices.
As a man Judge Offutt is generous without ostentation and his friendships are deep and strong. In disposition he is cheerful, genial and sympathetic and his character is open and transparent, with no faults concealed, but with sense of honor, strong and decided. He is deservedly popular and his life-long residence in Hancock county as well as the eminent position he has attained in the professional world had made him one of its widely known and most noble citizens.
On the 15th day of July, 1874, Mr. Offutt and Miss Anna Hamel, eldest daughter of Frederick Hamel, late of Greenfield, were united in the bonds of wedlock. Mrs. Offutt was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and after a happy married life of twenty-five years was called to the other world, dying on the 21st day of July, 1899. She was popular in the best society circles of Greenfield, a leader of the citys social life and a lady of beautiful and exemplary moral character whom to know was to admire and love. She bore her husband three children, the oldest of whom is Clara, a young lady of refinement and varied culture whose education was acquired in the Greenfield high school and the State University at Bloomington. Samuel J., the second in order of birth, was also graduated from the high school of Greenfield, after which he took a course in the State University. Leaving the latter institution, he prosecuted his studies one year at De Pauw and then entered Butler University, Indianapolis, where he graduated in June, 1902, with high honors. The youngest member of the family is Charles G., Jr., who gives every promise of following in the footsteps of his distinguished father and brother, being an exceedingly bright lad with a useful future before him.
Fraternally Mr. Offutt is a Mason of high degree, belonging to the lodge and commandery at Greenfield, in both of which he is an enthusiastic worker and the beautiful and sublime principles of which he exemplifies in all of his relations with his fellowmen.
Transcribed from Biographical Memoirs of Hancock County B. F. Bowen, Publisher, Logansport, Indiana, 1902 Pages 227-231.
Submitted by Sylvia (Rose) Duda, Laingsburg, MI May 26, 2002.
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