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"Biographical History of
Pottawattamie County, Iowa"
by The Lewis Publishing Company, 1891


Copies of the original pages provided by Mona Sarratt Knight.

page 423


WF Sapp

Letter COLONEL WILLIAM FLETCHER SAPP, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, was born at Danville, Ohio, November 20, 1824. His grandfather, Daniel Sapp, was born and reared in Maryland, near Frostburg, from which State he emigrated to Ohio, settling in the eastern part of Knox County, adjoining and on the south side of Danville, which takes its name from his, where he lived and reared a large family, having married, before emigrating from Maryland, Mary Robinson. Daniel Sapp was one of the early pioneers to Knox County, Ohio, passing through all the vicissitudes and trials of a pioneer life. He was the first County Surveyor of his adopted county, which was the only office held by him excepting that of Justice of the Peace, which latter office he held for many years prior and up to his death. Daniel Sapp, the grandfather, and Carl Sapp, with three other brothers, served in the war of 1812. John Sapp, the father of the subject of this sketch, was Daniel Sapp's oldest child; he was born in Knox County, Ohio, and continued to live there until his death, which occurred in December, 1888. John Sapp married Elizabeth Myers, who was born at Cumberland, Maryland. She emigrated, when but a child, with her parents to Knox County, Ohio, where she was married to John Sapp. At the death of John Sapp, he left his widow and three children to survive him, two daughters, Angelina and Louisa, and a son, the subject of this sketch. The eldest daughter, married Dr. Allmon F. Stanley, both of whom are now dead. Louisa was married in Knox County, Ohio, where she is still living, having reared a family of two sons and three daughters, all of whom are married. From this sketch it will be seen that William Fletcher Sapp is of Maryland stock, the parents of both his father and mother having been reared in Maryland. John Sapp was what was commonly called a very prosperous and thrifty man, and was greatly beloved by all who knew him, for his honesty, generosity, and superior judgment. At his death he left his widow and children in very good circumstances for that day. Prior to his death, John Sapp made arrangements to move his family to St. Louis, Missouri, and in furtherance of that design he converted all his property into available means. On his deathbed, he purchased a farm, upon which his widow maintained herself and raised her three children. The farm adjoined the town of Danville on the west, and to this day it is looked upon as one of the best farms in that part of the country.

William Fletcher Sapp continued to live with his mother and sisters, working on the farm in the summer, and attending the public schools in the winter, taking but little interest in education further than to identify himself with the debating societies or lyceums then prevalent in that community, and in which he, when but a young boy, became a prominent debater. At the age of fifteen years he began putting in much of his time during the summer months in reading, and in such other studies as he was able to master without a tutor, still continuing to attend the public schools in the winter seasons. At the age of eighteen years he attended school at the Martinsburg Academy, an institution of learning under the management ment (sic) of the Presbyterian Church in his native county. When he felt himself qualified for that purpose, he commenced teaching school in the winter seasons and attending school at the academy in the summer, and continued doing so until he commenced reading law in the spring of 1847 in the office of Hon. Columbus Delano and Hon. William R. Sapp, his uncle, in the now beautiful and prosperous city of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, the county-seat of Knox County. His aptitude in debate gave him a liking for the law, and he had scarcely begun reading for his chosen profession until he was employed by his friends and admirers to attend cases before justices of the peace. It is his pride now to tell that during the time he was a law student, he made enough in petty cases before justices of the peace to maintain himself, and when admitted to the bar to buy a small library of books with which to commence the practice. The rapidity with which he ran into practice after his admission to the bar was most remarkable, having had during the very first term following his admission, a dozen or more cases in the Court of common Pleas of Knox County. He was admitted to the bar on the 27th day of June, 1850, and immediately opened a law office with Hon. Walter H. Smith, then a young man who had read law in the same office with him. He was engaged in the trial of a number of important civil and criminal cases during the first year after his admission. His success in his practice, and his ability in the trial of jury cases led his Whig friends to put him on their ticket as their candidate for the office of Prosecuting Attorney in the fall of 1850. At that time, Knox County was nearly 900 Democratic. The Democrats had nominated General George W. Morgan as their candidate, he having returned from the Mexican war with an enviable reputation for his services rendered therein. When the official votes were counted it was ascertained that General Morgan had but thirty-two majority over Mr. Sapp, who was then a mere boy.

In 1854, at the formation of the Republican party, he took an active stand in the organization of this new party, was nominated, with out being a candidate for the office of Prosecuting Attorney, and was elected over James G. Chapman, his Democratic opponent, by 800 majority. In 1856 he was re-elected over Hon. Charles Scribner, now of Toledo, Ohio. In 1856 he was engaged in making political speeches for three mouths and more, being called upon to go far and near, and so exposed himself during that campaign that his health seriously failed him.

On December 29, 1856, he was married to Mary C. Brown, of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, daughter of Captain Richard Montgomery Brown, he having commanded a company during the war of 1812. Miss Mary C. Brown was a most accomplished and beautiful girl, and was, in the truest sense of the term, a helpmate to her husband all through life.

But few young men succeed on their own merrits in acquiring so lucrative a practice as William Fletcher Sapp did at the bar of his native county in Ohio. His reputation as a young man of ability in his own profession was not confined to his own county, but extended almost through the whole State of Ohio. He often refers to his early practice, saying that from 1850 until 1860 he made more money in the practice of law than he has ever made in the same length of time since. From 1856 to 1860, his health was such that he decided to remove to a locality where the atmosphere was purer and dryer than that of central Ohio, and in the fall of 1859 he started out in search of a new locality. After traveling very considerably through the West, he made up his mind to remove to Omaha, Nebraska, which he did in the spring of 1860, where he again entered upon the practice of his profession. Omaha was then a village of from 1,800 to 2,000 inhabitants, and that now prosperous city and the Territory of Nebraska had not recovered from the crisis of 1857. In the summer of 1861 he was appointed Adjutant General of Nebraska Territory by Governor Alvin Saunders, and in the fall of that year he was nominated a member of the Territorial Legislative Committee by the Republicans of Douglas County to till the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of General John M. Thayer, and was elected to that position by the people over Ron. John I. Reddick, then a prominent attorney of Omaha, which position he filled to the entire satisfaction of the people of that county.

In 1862 Major-General Pope issued an order for a regiment of cavalry to be raised in the Territory of Nebraska, to serve for nine months on the frontier against the Indians, and relieve the regular army then stationed at Fort Kearney and other military posts. As Adjutant-General he aided Governor Saunders in raising said regiment, and was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of that regiment by the Governor. During the time of his military service he was put in command of the Department of the Platte upon the resignation of General James Craig, of St. Joseph, Missouri, which position he filled until he was relieved by General McKane. Before the Second Nebraska Cavalry was mustered out of service, Colonel Sapp had made arrangements for a law partnership with Samuel Clinton, of Council Bluffs, and, after spending the winter with his family in Ohio, he came to Council Bluffs and entered into practice under the arrangement so made with Judge Clinton, under the firm name of Clinton & Sapp. They had a large and lucrative practice in Pottawattamie and adjoining counties, practicing law in the Federal as well as State courts.

In the fall of 1865 he was elected to represent Pottawattamie County in the State Legislature, which position he filled with distinction, and during the session of which he was a member he introduced and had passed a hill locating the Deaf and Dumb Asylum at the city of Council Bluffs. He also introduced and had passed through the House of Representatives a bill for holding the State Supreme Court at Council Bluffs. He, was a most efficient and active member. He declined a re-election to the Legislature. In 1869 he was appointed United States District Attorney for the State of Iowa by President Grant, filling that position four years, with honor and credit. It is said that his success in that office, as shown by the report of the Attorney General of the United States, is considerably in excess of that of any other United States Attorney for that period.

He was nominated by the Republican party as their candidate for Congress in the Eighth Congressional District to the Forty-fifth Congress. At that time the District was composed of the following counties:.Adams, Audubon, Case, Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Pottawattamie, Ringgold, Shelby, Taylor and Union. He was elected over Hon. Lemnel R. Bolter, the Democratic and Greenback candidate, by over 4,000 majority in the above named counties, and was again re-nominated by the Republican as their candidate to the Forty-sixth Congress without opposition, and was reelected as their Representative from the Eighth Congressional District, receiving 15,348 votes against 7,453 votes for Colonel John H. Keatley, Democrat, and 7,760 votes for Mr. Hicks, National. During the time he was a Representative from the Eighth Congressional District, he introduced and secured the passage of a bill providing for holding the United States Circuit Courts at the times and places where the United States District Courts were then held,--that is, at Dubuque, Des Moines, Keokuk and Council Bluffs. He also succeeded in getting bills passed through Congress, giving to the city of Council Bluffs, Big Lake and Car Lake, which are now the properties of said city. He also introduced and had unanimously reported by the Committee on Public Grounds in both the Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth Congresses, a bill for the purchase of grounds and erection of a Government building at the city of Council Bluffs; but, owing to the stern opposition of Hon. Samuel J. Randall, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, to appropriations for Government buildings, he was refused a recognition to move and suspend the rules and have the bill passed, at both sessions, which, doubtless, he would have procured but for the stern opposition of the Speaker. As a Representative in Congress he devoted himself most assiduously to all the wants and interests of the people of his district. It is said of him that during the time he so represented the people, he was never absent from a roll-call during either the Forty-fifth or the Forty-sixth Congress. He never failed to answer a letter written to him as such Representative by any one in his district. In all his official conduct, he deported himself most honorably and uprightly. It can he said of him justly, that there was never a murmur against him as an officer as respects his integrity, honesty and application to his duties. He was nominated by the State Convention of Iowa, by acclamation, as Elector at Large for Hon. James G. Blaine, the Republican candidate for President, and made quite a State canvass during that campaign.

From the time he was admitted to the bar, he devoted himself must assiduously to the practice of law, excepting while he was in the military service and in Congress, and may be said to be a very successful practitioner. The Union Pacific Railroad Company undertook to procure a separate bridge charter over the Missouri River. Against this scheme Colonel Sapp took a most active interest; went to Washington, and, mainly through his influence, the proposition for the bridge charter making the terminus of the Union Pacific at Omaha was defeated. Subsequent to this, he, assisted by others, procured the necessary legislation to compel the Union Pacific Railroad Company to build their bridge as a part of the line of their road, and to compel them to perform their legal obligations, and authorized proceedings by mandamus to compel them to do so. After this provision passed Congress he took an active part in the litigation following to compel the Union Pacific Railroad Company by mandamus to operate their road as a continuous line to and from Council Bluffs. By his advice Hon. John N. Rogers of Davenport was employed, who, in conjunction with Colonel Sapp, commenced a proceeding by mandamus in the United States Circuit Court at Des Moines, which was decided in favor of the city of Council Bluffs. An appeal was taken from this decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the decision of the Circuit Court holding Council Bluffs to be the terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad Company was affirmed, that court decidiug that the terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad Company was at Council Bluffs and not at Omaha. This decision was a matter of vital interest to the city of Council Bluffs, and its terminus was greatly to its advantage. All the assistance he rendered in that litigation and the legislation that led to it, as well as the two arguments upon the terminus question made by him, was free of any charge to the city, he always absolutely refusing to accept any pay for his services in this respect, and bearing his own expense to and from Washington, and in having his arguments printed. The people of Council Bluffs remember his action and service in that regard fully and with gratitude. On this question of the terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, Council Bluffs had a most earnest, sincere and effective friend in Colonel Sapp. He was most diligent in procuring the influence of the Iowa delegation in Congress necessary for the needed legislation.

After the firm of Clinton & Sapp was dissolved, Colonel Sapp formed a partnership with the Ron. Joseph Lyman and Hon. S. J. Hanna, the firm being known as Sapp, Lyman & Hanna. In a short time Judge Hanna removed to Chicago, after which the firm name was Sapp & Lyman, which firm continued for fifteen years, during all of which time they did a very extensive law practice in the State and Federal courts. January 1, 1884, Hon. Joseph Lyman was appointed Judge of the Circuit Court by Governor Sherman. Immediately upon Major Lyman going upon the bench, Colonel Sapp formed a partnership with N. M. Pusey, a prominent attorney of Council Bluffs, since which time he has continued in the active practice of the law, the firm name being Sapp & Pusey.

Whether we view him as a practicing attorney, as a citizen, or as an officer, his record is a most honorable one. As a trial lawyer, he has few equals in the State, and is regarded as a formidable man to meet in a contest before a jury. His recollection or the testimony of witnesses by which he is enabled to repeat over their very words, and his sound judgment as to the policy to pursue in the conducting of a trial, are among the things leading to his success as a trial lawyer. Colonel Sapp is a man of very vigorous and healthy constitution, and it is said of him, by the brother members of the bar, that he can endure more hard work than any man at the Council Bluffs bar. He is a man of very quick and active perception, a very retentive memory, and very superior judgment.

Colonel and Mrs. Sapp were the parents of three children, of whom one son still survives, William F., Jr., the eldest; two sons died in infancy. Mrs. Sapp was a daughter of Captain Richard Montgomery Brown, who commanded a company during the war of 1812, and was at the battle where Hull surrendered; but rather than surrender he marched his troops through the wilderness to Mansfield, Ohio, and continued in the service until the. close of the war, after which he located at Mount Vernon, Ohio. He was a native of New England, and was remotely related to Daniel Webster, At the end of the war he married Miss Mary Honn, a resident of Knox County, Ohio. She was a native of Hagerstown, Maryland. They resided in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where Captain Brown was engaged in the mercantile business, from which he retired with a competency. They reared a large family of six sons and four daughters, Mary C., the wife of our subject being the second daughter.

Since the above was written Colonel W. F. Sapp has died, his death occurring on November 22, 1890, just one day and a half after his sixty-sixth birthday. His death was considered a public calamity, and he was mourned by rich and poor, black and white alike.

Resolutions of respect and condolence were passed by many organizations in Council Bluffs and sourrounding (sic) counties, and, for the first time in the history of Pottawattamie County, and as an especial mark of respect, a day was appointed and observed by the bar of his home county, of which he was president, for memorial services, at which eulogies were pronounced upon his life and character.

Colonel Sapp was laid to rest by the side of the wife he loved so well in the beautiful little cemetery at Mount Vernon, Ohio.

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