Two Ohio Friends – One SUI Law Library Letter.

It’s October 1880, and in Iowa City, the State University of Iowa is abuzz with both students and faculty settling in for a new school year. Most student activity is focused around University Square (see pic above) and the word around campus is that construction will soon begin on the new Medical Building to be built adjacent to South Hall.

Over in Central Hall – today’s Old Capitol – every inch of space is being used for academic purposes. On the second floor, the growing SUI Law Department has been assigned the job of training new lawyers using makeshift classrooms that were once the Senate and House chambers of the state capitol.

Allow me to introduce you to one of those SUI law students in 1880 – Charles Burke Elliott of West Liberty, Iowa. Charles enrolled in the Law Department in 1879, and in this – his second year – Charles has now been assigned as student librarian for the Law Library – located on the second floor of Central Hall (see pics below).

Which now brings us to…

Our five-page letter – begun on September 8 and finished up on October 3, 1880 – is from C.B. Elliott – Librarian to O. L. Watkins in Fultonham, Ohio, and is written on State University of Iowa Law Department letterhead and mailed – on October 4 – in a beautiful envelope that shows the school’s upcoming calendar for 1881.

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(C-0053) Charles B. Elliott was born on a farm in Morgan County, Ohio on January 6, 1861. It is alleged that Elliott, at age 15, had learned all that the local school could teach him, so by earning money by teaching younger students, he was able to afford the tuition at nearby Marietta Academy and College, where he studied for at least one year before his family relocated to Iowa (1878) – West Liberty in Muscatine County. At age 18 (1879), Elliott enrolled in the School of Law at the State University of Iowa.
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Oscar Leon (O.L.) Watkins was born in Fultonham in Muskingum County, Ohio on September 27, 1861 – about nine months after his good buddy, C. B. Elliott. Records indicate that it’s very likely that these two friends first met as they attended a country school together in rural Ohio, and as you’ll see on this webpage, their friendship and letter writing extended for many years.

This personal letter from Charles Elliott is fascinating, especially when we uncover more of the stories of these two Ohio friends both born in 1861 – but now separated by their schooling. Charles, age 19, was now attending Law School at SUI and Oscar is in Ohio studying music and liberal arts. Apparently, back in Fultonham, Oscar’s father – Oscar M. Watkins, MD – suggested that his son seek the advice of his friend, Elliott, regarding a decision on which law school to attend. It’s in the midst of that conversation, Elliott responds to Oscar. Charles’ letter includes many wonderful themes. Allow me here to summarize…

  1. A strong invitation to Oscar to come to Iowa to take coursework and become Charles’ roommate.
  2. Many references to Charles’ dedication to his school work, taking a whole summer to study literature.
  3. A reference to his job as College of Law librarian with two assistants given him to help with the work
  4. Charles’ amazing vision and fortitude for where he wants to go with his life and career, including law and foreign travel after graduation on June 21, 1881.
  5. References to their new lady friends, not named, but Oscar’s “little woman” is a musician back home.
  6. Best wishes for success in Oscar’s 19th year – challenging him to know what profession he is working toward, and finally,
  7. A friendly close that includes a reference to sending his “shadow” which must have been a poor-quality photograph of himself.

In so many cases like this one – when we come across a rare, historical postal cover – it’s usually one-and-done. But, when it comes to the friendship between these two Ohio friends, we’re so fortunate that the dealer on Ebay who had this rare 1880 SUI letter – also had six other letters from Charles – written to his good friend, Oscar – ranging from 1880 to 1888. Allow me now to share them here…

(C-0054) This wonderful letter pre-dates our October 3, 1880 letter by nine months and is a whimsical 2-page note written by Charles, age 18, late in the evening of New Year’s Day 1880 – only 5 days before his 19th birthday. As best we know, Elliott and his family moved to Iowa prior to the fall semester of 1879, when Elliott started his two-year law program at the State University of Iowa. In his header, Charles states he is in Inland, Iowa, which is located in Cedar County, just a few miles north of Wilton (Junction) and Muscatine County, where the Elliott family lived. Maybe Charles is spending the holidays with friends there? Charles writes poetically, yearning to find out more about his good friend Oscar and other boys back home in Ohio. Here are a few highlights…

It is the time of day as Shakespeare says ‘All honest men should be in bed’ and when ‘ghosts do prowl about and visit their earthly abodes’ and this and my aching ‘chair’ must be my excuse for this short epistle. It is only to let you know that I survive the lapse of time and our eternity. Write some and give me the news entire. How does Sheppard and the rest. My best to all “and yourself too.” Have you enjoyed the holidays? I have been in school except Christmas. Turkey Roast and Oyster supper and a good time generally. What do you study? If I had time I would tell you of our Literary but Fate decrees otherwise. Write at once and believe me As Ever. Your true Friend Elliott  (ps) How is Bagley and the rest. Wish I could write to all the boys!
(C-0055) This 6-page handwritten letter was written in Iowa City on November 1, 1880 – less than one month after our original letter (October 3, 1880).

Charles apologizes for not writing but is very busy with his Law studies at Iowa. He talks in length about all of the big name lawyers and educators who are serving as his teachers. One judge took Charles “8 miles south of the City” to chat with a retired law professor who was a personal friend of President Millard Fillmore and Daniel Webster.“ Just imagine sitting in a steamboat cabin,” Charles writes, “ your feet against the wall, in confidential conversation with Daniel Webster!” Charles once again encourages Oscar to come to Iowa for schooling. “Did you receive the catalogue I ordered sent to you. I wish you would come out here to school, “ and “I wish you were among us here.” He closes by reminding Oscar, “I wait impatiently for that photo.”

Graduating from SUI in the spring of 1881 with his Bachelor of Law degree, Elliott was not yet twenty-one and was, therefore, too young for admission to the bar. He was, however, able to secure a position as a law clerk in Muscatine, where he waited out the seven months – January 1882 – until he could apply for admission. After being admitted to the bar in Iowa, Elliott moved to South Dakota where he spent a short amount of time in Aberdeen working as legal counsel for a land company. In 1884, he married Edith Winslow in Muscatine and relocated to Minneapolis.

(C-0056) Here’s a short note from Charles – written on February 20, 1885, now married (1884) and re-located – from South Dakota – in his new Minneapolis law office in the brand-new Kasota Building, checking in with Oscar, after apparently not hearing from him since October.

I came here (Minneapolis) and opened an office the beginning of this year (1885) and hope to spend the remainder of my life in this beautiful city… Come and spend the summer with me. Let me hear from you… CBE.”
Charles new Minneapolis Law Office – 1885.

In 1887, Charles returned to the study of law, earning the first degree of Doctor of Philosophy ever granted by the University of Minnesota. His dissertation – “The United States and the Northeastern Fisheries A History of the Fishery Question” – brought attention to him as a legal scholar, both in the United States and abroad. In 1890, at age 29, he began teaching Corporations and International Law at the University of Minnesota, which he continued until 1899. That same year, Elliott was appointed to the municipal bench in Minneapolis and four years later, was appointed to the district bench.

(C-0057) 3-page letter by Charles to Oscar on September 4, 1887 from Muscatine, Iowa.

Here, Charles speaks of a severe illness that he has just come through and has heard that Oscar is suffering from as well. He continues to press Oscar about his profession – “What have you chosen as a profession or have you chosen yet?” – and invites him to “come out west when your school is out.” – referring to Oscar being a high school principal back in Ohio.“I have seen the East and you have not seen the great West. Come out and grow up with the country.” Charles concludes by warning Oscar to not fall prey to “becoming the slave of (a) beauteous woman.” Charles confesses, “(I) can enjoy myself more with my books than with the ladies. Am fast becoming an old Bachelor in spirit if not in age,” and then adds “Must close my wandering epistle.”
(C-0058) Hand written note by Charles to Oscar – postmarked September 12, 1887 in Minneapolis with envelope printed: Charles B. Elliott, Attorney at Law, 245 and 246 Temple Court, Minneapolis, Minn.

After an apparent break – longer than a couple of weeks? – since Charles had heard from Oscar, he’s writing once again – one week later than our September 4th letter – to touch base. Not sure of Oscar’s current address since he wrote: “Please forward if not there” on the envelope. The Postmaster obviously forwarded to Etna, Ohio in Licking County – located 35 miles west of Fultonham – closer to Columbus. Charles mentions “have the finest boy in the west” and if he can be sure of Oscar’s address, he will send a picture. He’s referring to his first son, Charles Winslow Elliott, born to Charles & Edith on February 8, 1887.
(C-0059) Hand written note by Charles to Oscar on July 27, 1888, soon after a visit from Oscar to Minneapolis.

Following up on Oscar’s recent visit to Minneapolis, Charles writes, “ I was glad to learn that you enjoyed your ride home and that you used up so much “grey matter” over Judson’s novel.” This might be referring to E.Z.C. Judson – American adventurer and writer, the originator of the so-called “dime novels” that were popular during the late 19th century. Charles refers to being “very busy” trying a case and closes with, “Here comes a man who I know will keep me busy for hours…but I will send this at least so you may know that I received your letter.”

Click here to read the entertaining story from 1890 – Charles B. Elliott: Romancing the Forest City Meteorite.

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1906 – 25th Reunion of SUI Law Graduating Class of 1881.

On October 1, 1905, Governor Johnson appointed Elliott as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. On September 1, 1909. Justice Elliott resigned from the Court to accept a presidential appointment from President Taft as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippine Islands. He held that position for two years and then was appointed Secretary of Commerce and Police in the Philippine Commission, which he held until 1912 when he returned to Minnesota to practice law. Elliott was also an active representative of his profession, serving as president of the American Branch of the International Law Association and speaking on their behalf at such notable venues as The Hague.

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1920’s Reunion of SUI Law Graduating Class of 1881.

A personal note – After doing some on-line research on Elliott’s postal cover & letter, I was able to locate some relatives of Charles Elliott. I contacted several names and heard back from both Susan Spaulding & Rosalie Osborne. On September 16, 2020, I forwarded Elliott’s original letter to Rosalie, allowing this family letter to go “home” once more! Here was Rosalie’s response…

Thank you so much for contacting my cousin Susan Spaulding about our great-grandfather’s letter. My name is Rosalie Daly Osborne and my cousin forwarded your letter to me because my mother Edith Winslow Elliott Daly is living with me at the present time. She is a healthy 100 years young! She is the sister of Beatrice Elliott Williams, who you found on Find a Grave. My mother Edith is the daughter of Edwin Eugene Elliott who was the son of Charles Burke Elliott. My mother is the family genealogist and would be thrilled to have this letter. She spent many years putting together family history albums, many including stories of her grandfather Charles Burke Elliott. Have you seen the account about the meteorite, found on the Iowa farm but claimed in Minnesota? This is another fascinating story of those times. My mother will be very interested in this and so will the rest of the family. Thank you so much again for taking the time to find our family.  Sincerely, Rosalie, Severna Park. MD.

Oscar L. Watkins was born on September 27, 1861 in Fultonham, Muskingum County, Ohio, and followed several occupations including teaching in Chillicothe, Ohio, school principal, and a textbook sales representative for Ginn & Co. beginning in 1892.  On April 29, 1896, in Chillicothe Ohio, Oscar married Rosa Mills (see below). Rosa’s mother, Kate Morris, was a descendant of Robert Morris, financier of the Revolutionary War.

In 1892, Oscar left his teaching position in the public schools to become a textbook salesman – Midwest & Mideast representative – for Ginn & Company. Ginn and Company, founded by Edwin Ginn (1838-1914), was one of the world’s largest textbook publishers from 1837 to 1937. Today, the company has evolved into Pearson Education. Thanks to that same Ebay vendor who had the Charles B. Elliott letters, we’ve also recovered five letters from Oscar to Rosa. Allow me to share them here…

(C-0060) Written to Rose on August 15, 1895 and postmarked August 16, 1895 in Indianapolis – received in Chillicothe, Ohio later that same day. This letter was written as Oscar was en route from Warsaw, Indiana to Mt. Vernon, Indiana and is addressed as “Dear Friend.” It’s obvious from the content that the two are writing each other quite regularly. Note the progression of greetings in the next three letters. Oscar was staying at The Denison Hotel in Indianapolis, the top hotel in the city in its day.
(C-0061) Written to Rose on December 15, 1895 and postmarked December 16, 1895 on a Chicago-based RPO – received in Chillicothe, Ohio on December 17, 1895. This letter was written as Oscar was on the road in Elkhart, Indiana. More than likely the RPO postmark was on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway from Chicago, passing through Elkhart going east. In our earlier letter, Rose was addressed as “Dear Friend,” but now we see Oscar using “Dearest Sweetheart,” and closes “I wish that I might kiss you tonight and whisper in your ear how much I love you. But there is a discipline in this waiting. My dear, dear Sweetheart, good-night. God’s peace be with you. As Ever, Oscar.”
(C-0062) Written to Rose on April 8, 1896 and postmarked April 9, 1896 in Worthington, Indiana – received in Chillicothe on April 10, 1896. A short note from Oscar – now her husband-to-be. The couple will be married in only 21 days – April 29, 1896 – in Chillicothe Ohio. Here, Oscar addresses his fiancée as “My Own Dear Rose.” Oscar is looking for a place for the new couple to live after getting married. “Would you believe it, I have yet settled upon a place for us to live? I have found one place at $30 for two furnished rooms and table-board at $5 each per week. It does seem that we could do better.”
(C-0063) Written to Rose on August 3, 1896 in Ironton, Ohio, and postmarked August 4, 1896 across the Ohio River in South Portsmouth, Kentucky – received in Chillicothe later that day. This short note is from Oscar and offers great hope for a huge textbook sale which would bring in “several thousand dollars.”
(C-0064) Written to Rose on November 18, 1897 and postmarked in Anderson, Indiana – received in Indianapolis the next day – a short note on “official” Oscar L. Watkins, The Blacherne, Indianapolis, IND letterhead. By this time, Rose & Oscar had moved to Indianapolis, where they finished up their years together. Another important note here: there’s a baby in the house! Notice that Oscar signs his letter “Daddy.” The Blacherne Apartments was constructed by General Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur, and was completed in 1896 as a lavish apartment building on a scale Indianapolis had not yet seen. Oscar & Rose were obviously doing well! I’m guessing his good friend Elliott, back in Minneapolis, was proud of his long-time friend.

Justice Charles B. Elliott and Edith Winslow had five children – Charles Winslow Elliott (1887–1955),  Edwin Eugene Elliott (1888–1972), Ethel Elliott Benton (1890–1941), Walter Allen Elliott (1893-1945), and Philip Clarkson Elliott (1903–1985). Click here to read a biographical overview of Charles B. Elliott, written by his son, Charles W. Elliott – The Colonel.

Charles died in Minneapolis on September 18, 1935 and is buried alongside his wife, Edith (1934) in Lakewood Cemetery in Hennepin County, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Oscar L. Watkins and Rosa Mills had three children: Osric Mills Watkins (1897), Maida Watkins (1900), and Dorothy Wordsworth Watkins (1904). Oscar died February 25, 1945 and is buried alongside his wife Rosa (1960) in Crown Hill Cemetery in Marion County, Indianapolis, Indiana. Oscar L. Watkins’ papers/writings are available here.


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Judge Charles B. Elliott, Find-A-Grave

Edith Lanora Winslow Elliott, Find-A-Grave

Oscar Leon Watkins, Find-A-Grave

Rose Mills Watkins, Find-A-Grave


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