Postcards: Judge Dunn issue resolved in court, over which he once presided

By Linda Emley

gives me great pleasure to say, “it’s a Dunn Deal.” The George Washington Dunn Cemetery issue is finally over.
On Friday, Nov. 15 the final chapter of this book was written and the case was closed. I’m happy to say I was there and got to witness first hand the joy of seeing everyone agree “that the said location be designated as a private/closed cemetery/closed private burying ground (and) will remain on the private property.”
A survey was made and the George Dunn family plot and the current location of his tombstone are now located in the “Dunn Family Cemetery.”
Like many other Richmondites, I took this issue personal. I was called to provide documents about George  Dunn and soon felt like he was family.
I appreciate Kayce Duran’s work over the past few years and understand her desire to remember Judge Dunn. On the other hand, I have known Mark Guy since he was a young boy who played on my son’s baseball team.
Mark and I see each other every Friday at the Richmond Rotary Club, so we share a family-like brotherhood through this connection. I truly feel that both parties are happy with the outcome and George Dunn can now “rest in peace.”
I totally agree with Judge Jim Thompson, who congratulated both parties on resolving this issue. It’s now time for everyone to make peace and remember Judge George Washington Dunn for the man he was and not the man who was buried on Dunn’s Lane.
In honor of Dunn, I want to share again the story I wrote about him a few years ago. This one is for you Judge Dunn …

I am not a big fan of poetry, but Richmond did have a poet once. One day at the museum library we took his poetry book off the shelf and read a few pages. Someone made the comment that he wasn’t a very good poet and I was glad to know that I was not the only one who didn’t understand his poetry.
I was shocked to find his book for sale by Barnes and Noble 129 years after it was published. I knew in 1891 his book had sold at the Patton Drug store in Richmond for $3, but I never expected to find that the New York Public Library has a copy of his book.
I read a few more poems and still didn’t understand why “The Temple of Justice” by George W. Dunn was a big deal. I told myself he was just a man from Richmond who thought he was a poet.
A few days later I was reading an article about the Richmond courthouse and I saw the words, “Temple of Justice”. I reread his poem and realized that he wasn’t talking about some grand temple that Solomon built, he was talking about his courthouse.
The following are a few lines from his poem, “The Temple of Justice.”
Its walls and towers attest the builders’ art.
I only ask to bear an humble part In fashioning the work—to have my name Inscribed upon its walls ere I depart.
The Judge just wanted to be remembered after he departed. His name may not be inscribed upon the courthouse walls, but it can be found in many courthouse documents.
Dunn was born in Kentucky Oct. 15, 1815 to Major Lemuel and Sarah Campbell Dunn. Both parents were from Irish families that fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1829, Major Dunn died and 14-year-old George worked to save the family farm. Despite working long hours, he still found time to study law, poetry and the classics. When Dunn was 20, he entered law school. He took a job as a school teacher to finance law school and graduated in 1837.
He moved to Richmond in the spring of 1839, and opened a law office. By 1841, he was an established lawyer and his political career began when he was appointed to be the circuit attorney.
Dunn decided it was time to get married, so he returned to Kentucky and married his childhood sweetheart, Miss Sarah Henderson in 1841. They set up housekeeping in Richmond and their first child was born in 1842, a boy named Lemuel after George’s father.
In 1845 Susan gave birth to a daughter named Mary, who died as an infant. The following year they had another son, George Jr. The Dunns’s fourth child, Joseph, was born in 1849 and was named after Susan’s grandfather, Col. Joseph Crockett. Joseph died in 1850.
Their fifth and final child was John born May 6, 1852 and was named after John Campbell, Judge Dunn’s grandfather. The Dunns now had three sons, 10-year-old Lemuel, 6-year-old George Jr. and their infant son, John.
Their oldest son Lemuel died from scarlet fever in 1857 at 16. Seven years later, George Jr. died in 1864 at 18. This left 12-year-old John as their only child.
John grew up and became a lawyer like his father and married Susan, a daughter of Dr. Horace King. John and Susan lived with the Dunns for a while but moved to Excelsior Springs when it was being established in the 1880s. John was mayor of Excelsior and later became a state representative.
Tragedy struck the Dunn family for the last time when John died at the age of 35 in 1887 after a sudden illness. His obituary was very sad. “to his father and mother the sad news of the death of their only child came like a crushing thunderbolt. The last child gone, the last link broken, the last hope crushed. ”
Judge Dunn outlived all five of his children. Despite all his hardships, he was active in many things around town. In 1846, he and two other men became the trustees of the first Richmond public burial ground, now the Mormon Cemetery.The judge was appointed a trustee of the Richmond College in 1853 and spent many years involved with the education of Richmond’s youth. Three of his sons were schooled there.
He served as a circuit judge of Ray County for 25 years, which is longer than any other person. He was a friend of many men like Alexander Doniphan, David Whitmer and the future governor, Austin King.
There are many stories about Judge Dunn, but my favorite is about his friendship with Col. Christopher T. Garner, who was his neighbor and closest friend.
Garner joined Dunn’s law office in 1845 and their friendship was compared to David and Johnathan in the Bible. Many days they would go to town together. If Col. Garner had to stop by his law office, Dunn would not start court until Garner arrived in his courtroom. If Garner did not show up, Dunn would request the sheriff to call him from the window.
Since they did not have telephones, the sheriff would go to the front window of the courtroom and yell for Col. Garner. Usually this was done in such a loud voice that everyone in downtown Richmond would hear and know that court had not started because Garner was missing.
Once Garner arrived, the Judge would be advised and court would be called to order. It was always said that their friendship never influenced Judge Dunn’s decision if Garner was the acting attorney in his courtroom.
Judge Dunn died in 1891 at the age of 76. His funeral was a beautiful and impressive Masonic ceremony. His fellow lawyers met at the courthouse a few days later and wrote a number of resolutions addressing his many contributions to Ray County.
Susan Dunn died in 1895 and the Richmond Conservator gave her a wonderful farewell. “She was very domestic in her habits and seldom mixed and mingled with the outside world, especially in latter years. She was passionately fond of young people, and the death of her children seemed to intensify that fondness, and her house was a place sough by scores, yea hundreds of young people, who have shared her generous hospitality and whose memory will linger upon the pleasant moments when they visited that home. Her body was deposited in the family burying ground on the old homestead, where the bodies of her husband and children lie buried. We regret exceedingly that we were unable to gather more information concerning the deceased and only close by saying that a grand and good Christian woman has gone from among us. Peace to her ashes.”
The Dunns had many tragedies, but they also created many wonderful memories. We should not feel sad for them because the important thing is that they lived. So who was Judge George Washington Dunn? He was a poet, a judge, a lawyer, a Mason, a farmer, a Democrat, a Presbyterian, a friend, a father and a husband. We will remember him because he was a man who lived and loved, and chose to call Richmond home.

If you have a thought on George Dunn or another topic of historical interest, you can contact Linda at

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