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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.
Judge Pitchford’s 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.