William B. Almond (1808-1860)
Fur trader, Forty-niner,
Pioneer Judge and Lawyer
[California State Library]
William B. Almond, a prominent Platte County lawyer was one of the organizers of the Platte County Self-Defense Association, a group that set the pattern for pro-slavery action in Missouri. [Paxton, Annals, 184]
Almond was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia and attended Hampden-Sydney College, graduating in 1829. He clerked in a store in Fairfax, Virginia before emigrating to Missouri in 1832. He took a job at James and Robert Aull's store in Lexington. There Almond met many of the mountain men who traded at the store, including William Sublette. In 1833 Almond left the Lexington store for Sublette and Campbell's fur trading expedition to the Rocky Mountains.
After a season of traveling the mountains, Almond was put in charge of a trading outpost on the Yellowstone River. His post did little business and was ultimately raided by a hostile band of Indians, Almond escaping through the snow to Sublette's headquarters at Fort William. Almond was said to have read Blackstone's Commentaries continuously through the winter and when he returned to Lexington, he invested his fur trading wages in law books.
He entered a clerkship with Circuit Court John Ryland and by 1837 he was sitting as Lafayette County Justice of the Peace. In 1838 he was commissioned Circuit Court Attorney and was made a Brigadier General in the newly organized Missouri Militia. He led troops on a expedition to the Mormon community at Far West but order had been restored when they arrived, so they saw no action. [Arbunckle, Judge Arnold]
In 1839 Almond and his family moved to a cabin in the newly organized Platte County and entered legal practice in the county, trying cases in Judge David Atchison's court. He was first grand master of the Platte City Masonic lodge and active in politics as a `soft money' Democrat, nominated by that faction for Lieutenant Governor in 1844. [Paxton, Annals, 289]
Gold fever swept Missouri in 1849 and Almond organized a company to go to the California gold fields. Paxton wrote in his annals for February 3, 1849: "William B. Almond, an old mountaineer, as well as an educated and accomplished jurist, forms a company of forty emigrants and draws up a constitution for their government." The Almond party reached Sutter's Fort on July 29 in a record time of eighty-eight days. Almond was soon in San Francisco and appointed by Mayor John Geary as a judge in the wide-open town. In Almond's court, justice was swift and the docket heavy. Jury trials were discouraged and lawyers limited to five minutes in presenting their case. Most cases lasted only twenty minutes. Almond dressed in his trail clothes, chewed tobacco in the courtroom and occasionally announced a recess for all to adjourn to the nearest bar.
Almond moved on to San Jose where a growing number of land disputes made for a lucrative title practice. He was a founder of the Masonic Lodge in San Jose and a prominent member of the very large local bar. In 1851 he returned to Missouri, where his family had remained. He was elected Circuit Court Judge and conducted his court in a more traditional manner in Missouri than he had in California. [Arbunckle, Judge Arnold]
Although he was active in opposing the free-state movement in Kansas, Almond saw opportunity in the numerous land disputes in Kansas and established a practice in Leavenworth, while remaining a Platte County resident. He joined Samuel Young as counsel in Lane v. Jenkins, a famous land dispute in Douglas County. [Connelly, The Lane-Jenkins Claim Contest, 176]
In his last years in Platte City, he was a partner in a steam-powered flour mill and patron of a female academy. He favored Missouri's secession in the early debate in 1860, but died in that year. [Arbunckle, Judge Arnold]