Leander Hamilton Prather

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"Spokane and The Spokane Country - Pictorial and Biographical - Deluxe Supplement." Vol. II. The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912. (No author listed.) pgs. 46-52.

       As an able attorney, as judge of the superior court and as one of the prominent representatives of the people's party Hon. Leander Hamilton Prather has become widely known in Spokane and throughout the Inland Empire. He is now devoting his attention to the private practice of law and the careful regard evinced for the interests of his clients and an assiduous and unrelaxing attention to all the details of his cases have brought him a large business and made him very successful in its conduct. Early environment and inherited tendency may have had something to do with his selection of a life work, but in his native talent and acquired ability are found the secret of his continuous advancement at the bar. He was born in Jennings county, Indiana, October 25, 1843, his parents being Hiram and Mary (Huckleberry) Prather. His father was an attorney at law, who also had agricultural interests and was prominent as a political leader in his state, representing his district in both the house and senate of the Indiana legislature.
       Leander H. Prather's interest in the law and its interpretation was early aroused and with the completion of his literary course he at once directed his energies to the mastery of legal principles. He had been a pupil in the public schools of his home town and in the Vernon (Ind.) Academy, which he entered with the intention of further continuing his studies at Asbury University in Greencastle, Indiana. With the outbreak of the Civil war, however, all further thought of school days was put aside and on the eighteenth anniversary of his birth he enlisted as a private of Company I, Sixth Indiana Infantry. He was afterward promoted to the rank of first sergeant of Company B, One Hundred and Thirty-seventh Indiana Infantry, and subsequently became second lieutenant of Company I, One Hundred and Fortieth Indiana. He was next detailed as chief of ambulances of the Third Division of the Twenty-third Army Corps and when mustered out, July 11, 1865, was acting assistant quartermaster on the staff of General Carter.
       When the war was over Judge Prather at once resumed his studies, entering Asbury University, where he completed a three years' classical course. His preparation for the bar was made in the office of his brother, Colonel Allen W. Prather, of Columbus, Indiana, and in May 1868, he was admitted to the bar at Columbus, where he engaged in practice for a year. He was afterward located for a brief period in Fort Scott, Kansas, and in 1871 opened a law office in Huntsville, Arkansas, where he followed his profession until 1879 and also acted as superintendent of schools for that district, which then embraced six counties. During a period of three years he resided in Abilene, Kansas, and then removed to Leadville, Colorado, where he spent the succeeding two years in the practice of law. In February, 1884, he came to Spokane and was superintendent of schools during the first two years of his identification with this city. He was also appointed during that period as a member of the territorial board of education by Governor Squires and acted in that capacity for two terms.
       On again taking up the active practice of law Judge Prather soon demonstrated his ability to successfully cope with the complex and involved legal questions and enjoyed a large practice until his election to the bench as judge of the superior court, entering upon the office on the 1st of January, 1897. He was elected as the candidate of the people's party, of which he has been an ardent and influential champion for many years. In 1901, when a third judgeship was created, he was appointed by Governor John R. Rogers to fill that position until the regular election should be held and on this occasion he received the following letter from the Governor with the appointment:

January 29, 1901.

Hon. L. H. Prather, Spokane, Washington.
       My Dear Judge: It gives me pleasure to enclose to you the within appointment.
       I am glad to be able to appoint a man in whom I have entire confidence.

Yours very truly,
       J. R. Rogers, Governor.

January 29, 1901.

Hon. L. H. Prather, Spokane, Washington.
       My Dear Sir: You are hereby appointed a Judge of the Superior Court of the State of Washington, for Spokane County, until the next general election to be held in the State Washington in the year nineteen hundred and two, and until your successor is elected and qualified.
       This appointment is made under the provisions of an Act approved January 28, 1901.
       Enclosed please find oath of office which execute and file in the office of the Secretary of State.

Yours very truly,
       J. R. Rogers, Governor.

       He has great respect for the dignity of judicial place and power and no man ever presided in a court with higher regard for his environment than did Judge Prather. As a result of that personal characteristic the proceedings were always orderly upon the part of everyone--audience, bar and the officers from the highest to the lowest. His opinions were fine specimens of judicial thought, always clear, logical and as brief as the character of the case permitted. Since his retirement from the bench Judge Prather is giving his attention wholly to the practice of law and his varied legal learning and wide experience in the courts, together with the patient care with which he ascertains all the facts bearing upon every case, are among the salient features of his success, giving him high standing as a representative of the legal profession.
       In August, 1889, Judge Prather took up the cause of about five hundred families, who had settled in a part of Spokane called "Shanty-town" and excerpts of the following letter, which he prepared for publication in the Chronicle and which on further thought, he omitted to send to that paper, will explain the facts and something of which he undertook to do, to save the property of the five hundred or more families who had located on this land. This case is known as the "Shanty-town Case."
       "The grant of land to the Northern Pacific Railway Company was of odd sections of land on both sides of its track, and was to take effect at the time of the final and definite location of the road, which was on the 4th day of October, 1880, so far as the said land was concerned. All lands then claimed by a competent entryman, which claim could ripen into a patent, were excluded from the operation of said grant. On that date and for many years prior thereto, Indian Enoch was located on said land, being the NW one quarter of Section 19, Tp. 25, N. of Range 43, EWM, and during all said time was entitled to homestead, said land under the Indian Homestead law, which was enacted in 1875 and in 1879 went to the U.S. Land office at Colfax, Washington, to make his homestead entry of the same, but was refused the right because the land officers there said that said land was railroad land. He then came back and continued to reside on said land and refused to leave it until the said railroad company, in 1882, pretended to buy his land for the sum of $2000, when Indian Enoch gave the company a deed for the land and moved off and abandoned. It will be seen that said Indian was living on said land on the 4th day of October, 1880, claiming it as his homestead, having a homestead right, the same as any other squatter on government land having a right to enter the same; and it also appears and is made plain that his said occupancy and claim of said land excluded it from the operation of said grant, and that when the Indian abandoned it, it was still government land, and remained such, the railroad company having no more right to buy it of the Indian than you or I would have to buy government land from an Indian. In fact, the pretended purchase of said land from said Indian by said company was a confession that it was not railroad land.
       "Knowing these facts many families moved onto said land, believing it to be government land, subject to entry by them under the Townsite act. In August, 1889, there were about three or four hundred families, or about fifteen hundred people settled on said land, claiming the same under said act, and I was employed as their attorney to petition the Secretary of the Interior to be allowed to enter said land under said act, which allowed two lots to each competent entryman, and I then so petitioned the Secretary, setting up all of said facts, and asked that these people be allowed to enter said land under said act. The petition was before the Secretary, due service thereof having been made on said company, until March, 1890, when the Secretary held and so notified the said company and the said settlers, that according to the facts stated in said petition the said settlers were entitled to enter said land under said act, and ordered a hearing as to said facts before the local land office in Spokane at a time to be fixed by said office. This decision made all said settlers happy, and they thought that they were about to become beneficiaries of the government's liberal benevolent disposition of its lands as well as the Northern Pacific Railway Company. Their wives and children were glad, and I was glad, too. We all had a great meeting congratulating each other on good fortune in store for them.
       "But the railway company moved the Secretary of the Interior for a review of his decision and the hearing was set for the 20th day April, 1890, before the Honorable Secretary of the Interior at Washingon, D.C. It became my duty to go to Washington to argue said motion for review, and the settlers raised the sum of $200 to pay my expenses on said trip. I went. When I appeared before the Secretary on said occasion, there I met our two United States Senators, Watson C. Aquires and John B. Allen, and our member of Congress, John L. Wilson, and a committee of five bankers from the city of Spokane, all of whom were advising with and assisting J.H. Mitchell, Jr., son of Senator Mitchell of Oregon, who was then attorney for the western division of said road and James McNaught, the attorney general of said road. I was depending on the law of the case, which only could rightly and legally be argued on a motion for review, but there I found ex parte affidavits from divers persons to me unknown to the effect that the Indian had never abandoned his tribal relations, which was a question of fact, not to be heard on a motion for review, but before the local land office only, the same as any other question of fact alleged in the petition. I was confident in believing that, in as much as the facts alleged in the petition with on other influence had induced the original decision. There was no additional argument in the presence of the senators, the representative and the bankers, and I came back to those settlers with that belief. Within a month after said hearing the Honorable Secretary of the Interior, Mr. John N. Noble, rendered his decision to the effect that Indian Enoch had not at any time abandoned his tribal relations and hence was not a competent entryman, and therefore the land passed by the grant to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and the settlers were moved off under the state restitution act which was passed by the legislature of the state in March, 1890.
       "This case is entitled 'E.R. Spicer and others vs. The Northern Pacific Railway Company,' and the papers and all the public proceedings in it are on file in the office of the Secretary of the Interior.
       "Now, I have told all I know about the case, and I know for myself that it received my best attention, and that I did everything I possibly could do to get for said settlers the right to enter said land; and that I did nothing to the contrary. Comtemporaneous discussions of the case may be found in the daily papers of the dates referred to. The land in question lies south of Sprague avenue and west of Division street in the city of Spokane. "Respectfully,
       "L.H. Prather."

       On the 6th of May, 1879, at Little Rock, Arkansas, Judge Prather was married to Miss Edna Letcher Rice, a daughter of Judge Milton L. and Catherine (Cronly) Rice, of that city, and a direct descendant of the famous Letcher family of Virginia and Kentucky, which included Robert Letcher, at one time governor of Kentucky and afterward minister to Mexico. Judge and Mrs. Prather have become parents of three daughters and two sons; Rose, now the wife of Adrian P. Judson, of Tacoma, Washington; Edna, the wife of H.C. Strahorn, of Hayden Lake, Idaho; Mary, who is a teacher in the public schools of Spokane; Lee, who has charge of the office of the Federal Mining Company at Wallace, Idaho; and Rice, who died in January, 1911, at the age of nineteen years.
       Judge Prather is a member of Sedgwick post, G.A.R., of which he served as commander, and through this connection he maintains pleasant associations with his old army comrades. He also belongs to Imperial Lodge, No. 134, I.O.O.F., and he holds membership in the First Methodist church and the Spokane Pioneer Society. His activities have and their roots in high and honorable principles. He has been identified with this city since the days of its villagehood and has done important service in his support of progressive educational methods and upholding the legal and moral status.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton

* * * * Notice: These biographies were transcribed for the Washington Biographies Project. Unless otherwise stated, no further information is available on the individuals featured in the biographies.

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