Published in the Kendall County Record, August
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson
Judge Blodgett has just decided a case involving the ownership of 400 acres of valuable land in Kendall County. Along with it, a question of general interest touching the amount and character of proof necessary to set aside an absolute deed on conveyance.
The case was originally commenced in the Kendall County Circuit Court, but transferred to the United States Court in 1869. A large portion of the record and evidence was destroyed in the great fire of 1871 (The Chicago Fire), but enough evidence was saved to play an important part in bringing about the final result. Mr. Arthur W. Windett, solicitor for the complainant, ascribes to a fortunate chance the preservation of the letters, which constituted the principal proof. When fleeing before the flames on the North Side the wagon was upset which contained his books and papers. Several bushels, more or less, of the latter were scattered in every direction by the furious wind. He hastily collected what few he could, and it so happened that the papers rescued upon which, six years later hinged the result of the important case of Hunt vs. Hunt.
The story of the litigation, substantially as told by Judge Blodgett in his decision, begins in 1840. The scene of the beginning is in Litchfield, Connecticut, where a large family of relatives bearing the name of Hunt lived. All of them were eminently respectable, and nearly all well to do thrifty citizens. Reuben Hunt was the exception in the matter of moneymaking. His cousin Charles, who was also the brother of Mrs. Reuben, was rich and prosperous as things went in those days. Being a warm friend to Reuben he had a mind to put the latter onto a good thing. It was fixed up that Reuben and his family should move west, settle in Illinois, buy land, and grow up with the country. Charles, the joint brother-in-law and cousin, had the goodness to furnish the funds to carry out the program. The Agreement being that he should receive six-percent interest, and that the principal should be paid whenever Reuben got ahead enough to pay it. Meanwhile the prudent Charles was to hold title to all the lands, which Reuben should purchase, as security for the payment of the money advanced.
In the fall of 1840 Reuben Hunt came to Illinois and located in Kendall County, where he purchased of Jonas Barton a "claim" which the latter had filed to about 400 acres. The land having at that time not been placed on the market by the United States Government. This claim was paid for with the money loaned by Charles Hunt who was also called upon to advance funds necessary to put the farm in working order. Later on, the Government title to the land was purchased and made over to Charles as security for his advances. The latter was mighty particular about his security, but never claimed to be the owner of the property.
Reuben continued to draw upon his solid relative from time to time up to 1852 or 1853, when he encountered a streak of luck in the shape of a railroad. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy was pushing its way westward through Illinois, and the Hunt domain happened to lie just in the right place for a station. The result was, Reuben got the benefit of what is now known as Bristol Station. Reuben commenced to divide up his farm into village lots and put them on the market. They sold well. In due course, some $4,000 or $5,000 had been realized in this way. The understanding being that all the proceeds of this profitable turn in real estate should be paid over to Charles until his loans were repaid. A bargain which Reuben faithfully kept.
His efforts to secure an accounting and settlement were unsuccessful. Charles putting him off upon some cause or other. The fact was that the thrifty Charles got into deep water, and had mortgaged the Illinois property to sister Wealth Ann and sister Catherine who had been fully informed of Reubenís equities. The later was at last compelled to bring suit for an accounting, but before it could be tried, Charles Hunt died. The Administrator and heirs then became the defendants. The subsequent death of Rueben Hunt brought into the case as complainant his son, George Graham Hunt, to whom the father had assigned all his right, title, and interest.
The defense to the action was that Charles Hunt was the absolute owner of the land at Bristol Station. That Reuben was merely the occupant by permission. To prove the contrary, it was sought to introduce the deposition of Reuben Hunt, taken a short time prior to his death, regarding the admissions of Charles, made during the latterís frequent visits to the farm in Illinois. This evidence was exclude by the Court, in accordance with a well-settled rule of law. The proof of the case then rested almost entirely upon the letters previously referred to. These letters showed very plainly that Charles regarded himself not as the absolute owner of the property, but as holding the title as security for the payment of the money he loaned. Such was the view entertained by the Court, and a decree entered that the heirs-at-law of Charles Hunt hold the title to the land in trust for the complainant. The matter was referred to the Master for the taking of an account to show the exact condition of principal and interest.
Incidental to the case was an allegation by the defendants of forgery in regard to the postscript of a letter written by Charles Hunt. Expert testimony was introduced to show that the handwriting was not the same. The Court declined to sustain the allegations, holding that the handwriting was the same. That in any case the admissions of the postscript were not more significant or important than other admissions in letters the authenticity of which was not disputed. The case was ably conducted on both sides, by Arthur W. Windett for the complainant, and by Messrs. H. G. Spofford, H. O. McDaid, and John P. Wilson for the numerous defendants. Chicago Tribune
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