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Mini Bios of People of Scots Descent
James P. Wilson Biography

This biography appears on pages 935-936 in "History of South Dakota" by Doane Robinson, Vol. I (1904) 

JAMES P. WILSON, of Lead City, widely known in legal circles throughout the state of South Dakota, is descended from sturdy Scotch ancestry, the history of his family in the United States dating from about the year 1842. His father, James Wilson, a native of Dumfries, Scotland, was the son of James Wilson, who, in the above year, in company with a number of his friends and relatives, came to America and founded in Columbia county, Wisconsin, a pioneer colony to which they gave the name of Caledonia. Among these settlers was one Peter McKenzie, a representative of an old and prominent Scotch family who bore an active part in the affairs of the colony, and whose daughter, Isabella, subsequently became the wife of James Wilson and the mother of the subject of this review. The Wilsons were tillers of the soil and achieved success as such, quite a number of the family accumulating large estates, others moving to different parts of the country and acquiring considerable prominence in their respective localities. The McKenzies were mostly business men, the brothers of the above Peter having been noted in commercial and financial circles of Europe for many years as successful merchants and bankers. One of the number, Kenneth McKenzie, who died in September, 1900, was the possessor of a princely fortune and the proprietor of a large wholesale establishment in London, with branch houses in Spain; James, another who died recently in Edinburg, Scotland, was for many years a leading banker of that city, also one of its wealthy and influential citizens; still another, William McKenzie, who came to America with his brother Peter in 1842, was the pioneer stock and grain buyer of Wisconsin; like the others, he too accumulated a large fortune, and at this time is living a retired life in California, at the ripe old age of eighty-nine years. 

James P. Wilson, the eldest child of James and Isabella Wilson, was born in Caledonia, Columbia county, Wisconsin, on the 23d day of February, 1855. As a pupil in the public schools of his native place, he received his preliminary educational training, and after completing the high school course he entered the University of Wisconsin, where he prosecuted his studies for some years, with the object in view of preparing himself for the law. Leaving the university, he began his legal studies with T. L. Kennan, attorney for the Wisconsin Central Railroad and a lawyer of marked ability, under whose instruction he continued for some time, subsequently entering the office of J. H. Rogers, one of the leading members of the Columbia county bar. Mr. Wilson was formally admitted to the bar in 1881, and immediately thereafter began the practice of his profession in Sauk county, Wisconsin, where he soon took high rank as a lawyer, building up a large and lucrative business, which, in addition to his duties as state's attorney, occupied his attention until 1891. In August of that year Mr. Wilson came to South Dakota and located at Lead City, where he has since devoted himself closely to his profession, rising the meanwhile to a conspicuous place among the leading lawyers of this part of the state, and achieving success second to that of none of his professional brethren of the Lawrence county bar. Since coming to South Dakota Mr. Wilson has been identified with nearly every important case tried in the courts of Lead, among the most noted of which was the great legal contest involving the ownership of the town site, in which he appeared as attorney for the people versus the Homestake Mining Company. This celebrated case, which attracted wide attention and in which some of the most distinguished legal talent of the state appeared, was hotly contested and, after being in litigation for ten years, was finally decided in favor of the people. the victory being largely due to the untiring interest and resourceful management of Mr. Wilson, who, as leading counsel for the town site, left nothing undone to meet and successfully overcome the formidable opposition arranged against him. The prestige gained by reason of his victory in this long-protracted contest placed Mr. Wilson in the front rank of the state's successful lawyers, a reputation he still sustains. He is well grounded in the principles of his profession, his ability in the preparation of his cases and in their presentation to the court being second to none, and as an advocate he ranks with the best, being a fluent, logical and eloquent speaker, seldom failing by this means to convince juries and win verdicts for his clients. In addition to his large private practice, he has served five years as city attorney, and for several years he was a member of the local board of education, in which capacity he did much to bring the schools of Lead City up to the high standard of excellence for which they are noted. 

Mr. Wilson, on the 15th day of June, 1881, was united in marriage with Miss Julia Frances Howe, of Poynette, Columbia county, Wisconsin, daughter of Hon. O. C. Howe, of that state, and a cousin of Hon. Timothy Howe, ex-United States senator and postmaster general in the cabinet of President Arthur. Besides himself and wife, Mr. Wilson's family circle includes two children, James H. and Oliver Chester, and his home is a favorite rendezvous for the best society people of Lead City. In politics he is a pronounced Republican, and while always taking an active interest in campaigns and contributing not a little to the success of his party, he has never sought public honors or official position. Fraternally, he is a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, belonging to Lodge No. 747, in Lead, of which he is now exalted ruler.



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