I recently posted about the genealogical value of newspapers, and how newspapers can add a lot of life to our ancestors. In my experience, this has been particularly true of newspapers that have been indexed. Instead of just relying on the vital dates about my ancestors to look for applicable articles, I can find any article that was published about the ancestor. I’ve learned about professional accolades, birthday parties, and even family vacations. But the best article I ever found was about my fourth-great uncle, Austin Oliver Sexton. In 1885, Austin got into a fistfight in court with another lawyer named Eppstein because Eppstein said he was too busy to move a court date. Fortunately for all of us, the Chicago Tribune printed a really splendid account of the fight that is just too good not to share:
“You’re a – - liar,” yelled the German jurist. Sexton leaped for him, took his head under his arm, and punished the German badly.
Eppstein roared like a sea-calf and begged for mercy, and finally Sexton let him go. But by this time Eppstein was mad – he was very mad. He sent Sexton flying over tables and chairs; at last clinched with him and for a few moments hard blows and harder words were as thick as autumn leaves in Vallombrosa.
By this time Justice White, who had been sent for to hear the motion for a continuance, arrived, and with him was Constable Glistropp, who soon separated the warring lawyers.
“Your Honor,” gasped Eppstein, as he wiped his bloody face, “I move vor a gontinuance of five minutes vile I vash up.” As Eppstein moved off Sexton said: “Eppstein, can’t you lend me a collar-button?”
“Certainly – won’t you come down and take a drink?”
The two went down and cemented their friendship with a glass of Pilsener, and as soon as Eppstein’s dislocated shoulder is set and Sexton’s left eye is pried open they will probably be as good as friends of yore.*
Without the index, it’s unlikely I would have ever found this article, learned about Austin’s explosive temper, and gotten to enjoy the quality of journalism available in 1885. The article may not have included Austin’s birth, marriage or death date, but what I found was far better than any of those things.
*“A Legal Tangle,” Chicago Tribune, 1 August 1885, p. 15.