John H. Pitchford.
With the organization of the state courts
following the introduction of Oklahoma into the union of states in
1907, the First Judicial District was formed to include that portion
of the old Cherokee Nation in which the former national capital,
Tahlequah, is situated. The first man to be honored with election to
judge of that district is still holding court, and there is no
district judge in the state who has better stood the test of service,
has more signally upheld the dignity of the judicial office, and is
more generally respected and admired than Judge John H. Pitchford.
He comes of fine old
Southern stock, and as a lawyer has been identified with the bar at
Tahlequah nearly twenty years. Judge Pitchford was born at Walhalla
in South Carolina March 8, 1857, a son of Wesley and Margaret
(Nevill) Pitchford. His father was a native of Georgia, a son Ely
Pitchford, a Virginian of Irish lineage. Judge Pitchford’s mother was
also of Irish origin, and was born in South Carolina.
He was reared in his
native town in South Carolina, where his father was a merchant, and
after completing his literary education in the Newberry College he
took up the study of law in a private law office. He was admitted to
the bar the day he was twenty-one years of age, and began practice at
Clayton, Georgia, and was subsequently in practice at Gainesville in
the same state. He was soon marked as a rising attorney and enjoyed a
promising practice in Georgia, but in 1890 removed west to a larger
field, and at Fort Smith, Arkansas, formed a partnership with Col.
Ben T. DuVal.
home has been at Tahlequah, the old capital of the Cherokee Nation,
since 1896. In a short time he had gained a remunerative practice as
a lawyer and almost as quickly became a leader in public affairs. His
popularity as a citizen led to his election in 1900 as mayor of
Tahlequah. That was a special distinction, since he was the first
white man to hold that office in the Indian city. One of the factors
in securing his election was a desire on the part of local citizens
to show the outside world that Tahlequah, as the Cherokee capital,
was not prejudiced against its white inhabitants. Apart from that
consideration, it is noteworthy that Judge Pitchford set such high
marks during his one year of administration as mayor that his term
inaugurated a new era in the annals of Tahlequah as a municipality.
His able work as a
lawyer and public leader led to his election as the
first judge of the First Judicial District in 1907, and he was
re-elected to the office in 1910, again in 1914, so that his present
term does not expire until January, 1919. The First Judicial District
comprises the counties of Cherokee, Adair, Delaware and Sequoyah. His
administration of the judicial office has been just and fearless,
marked by an eminent impartiality, and his oral and written decisions
indicate a profound knowledge of the law. In dealing with criminals
before his court Judge Pitchford has combined with a strictness of
legal justice a disposition to temper the severity of punishment, and
has never failed to take into full consideration all extenuating
circumstances and his principle seems to have been &ldqut;humanity
first” so far as that is possible without controverting real
justice and the statutory law.
In 1910 Judge
Pitchford was appointed to preside over the District Court in Wagoner
County. There he found the custom prevailing of negroes serving as
jurors. Judge Pitchford has no special animosity against the colored
race, but believes that the best results of court procedure in an
American community cannot be obtained where members of this race are
a conspicuous feature of the court machinery, and looking to a
realization of the utmost efficiency, and without regard for the
politics in the ease, Judge Pitchford under statutory right dismissed
all the negro jurors in the District Court of Wagoner County while he
presided over it.
In politics Judge
Pitchford has always been a stanch member of the democratic party,
and was one of the organizers of the party in Indian Territory, and
for fully twenty years has been active in its councils and has
frequently served effectually as a campaign orator. He worked
untiringly during the struggle for statehood and has for many years
been one of the dominant political figures in his part of the state.
One of the articles of his political creed is that in all the states
and localities the white man should be the responsible and dominating
factor in government, and in that stand he has the support of the
best citizens of his district.
Judge Pitchford is
affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and with the
lodge and Royal Arch Chapter of Masonry, and is a Methodist. He was
first married to Lola Bauknight. The two children of that union are
Joseph Irvin Pitchford, a lawyer at Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and Henry
DuVal Pitchford, now engaged in practice as a lawyer at Stilwell,
Oklahoma. Judge Pitchford’s present wife
before her marriage was Miss Viola Boggess.