Ray County History: David Jackson O’Dell: A man who loved people

Western judge, road overseer, justice of the peace

The three county commissioners, known as judges in an October 1931 photo, behind the desk were, from left: David Jackson O’Dell, western district judge; John M. Rhodes, eastern district judge, and Thomas Andrew Campbell, presiding judge. In the foreground is county clerk Robert Nutter. (Submitted photo)

By Liz Johnson, Staff Writer

The unraveling of our family history is often peeled back layer by layer through research, rich family lore passed down from generation to generation and official records.

For the ancestor that held positions within the county government, the historical review is enhanced through public records that can help bring that ancestor to life more vividly.

David Jackson O’Dell is one such ancestor.

O’Dell, a fifth generation O’Dell, was the grandfather of Kathryn O’Dell Davis, of Elkhorn. She has begun to pass her grandfather’s history on to her two sons Kendall and Randall.

“The boys have listened to everyone talk over the years, and they’re interested in the family history,” Davis said. “And they know Jerry Bishop.”

Bishop is the present-day western commissioner.

O’Dell served as Judge of the Western District of Ray County for two terms from 1929 to 1933.  Today, O’Dell would be called the western commissioner.

O’Dell’s wife was Roberta Tarwater, also from Ray County. She had been orphaned at age 10 and taken in by neighbors until she married O’Dell when she was 16 years old. The couple had 13 children.

Davis, hoping to pass the family history to her sons, Randall and Kendall, recently brought them to the second floor courtroom in which the commissioners work. The courtroom just so happens to be the exact same one her grandfather served in as western judge nearly 90 years ago.

Though the faces have changed, the bench the commissioners sit behind is the same, and the four walls have a few more photos hanging on them.

“What amazes me is that the courtroom is exactly like it was over 80 years ago, except for the partition,” Davis said, referring to a partition that attached to the center of the bench where the commissioners sit, partitioning off the area where the court clerk would sit. The groove where the partition attached to the bench is still visible today.

Kendall and Randall were able to get a sense of the job their great-grandfather had for four years and what it was like to walk the same halls.

“I told my boys, you put your hands out and you’re going to feel where it’s worn,” Kathryn said. “So many feet have gone up and down those stairs.”

Kathryn said her sons enjoyed their trip through the 102-year-old courthouse, but that wasn’t their only lesson in family history.

There was so much more to O’Dell than his years as a judge.

“He farmed, he did all these other things,” Davis said, referring to other jobs her grandfather had over the years – justice of the peace, farmer and road overseer.

“He was so involved in this (the community),” she said. “I think his real interest was people.”

The complete story is in the Friday, August 11, 2017 Richmond News.


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