EPLER, (Hon.) CYRUS, jurist, Jacksonville, Ill., was born in Charleston, Ind., November 12, 1823, the son of John and Sarah (Beggs) Epler, the former of German and the latter of Scotch-Irish descent. In 1831 he accompanied his father to Illinois, the latter settling in Jersey Prairie, Morgan County, at that time a portion of what was rather vaguely known as "the Sangamon country." Here, on land acquired partly by original entry and partly by purchase from individuals, he made his home, developing the land to agriculture. On this pioneer farm young Epler was reared, and for about ten years after his arrival labored with his father toward the improvement of the property. During this period he enjoyed the limited advantages of attending school in the old "Linn school-house" standing in a grove near his home, but was permitted to continue his studies but three or four winter terms. This was what was then known as a subscription school, the public school system of Illinois not being adopted until several years after Judge Epler had attained man's estate. In 1842 he entered the preparatory department of Illinois College, and was graduated from the latter institution in 1847. During the time he was in college, those noted educators, Julian M. Sturtevant, Samuel Adams, Truman M. Post and Jonathan B. Turner constituted the college faculty. During the most of this period the young man boarded himself and was his own housekeeper. Such was the case with a majority of the students in those days; but as to the neatness with which they performed their household duties, neither Judge Epler nor any of his classmates were prone to boast in later days. During the four vacations in his college course he taught four quarter terms in the old subscription schools, using the small amount of money thereby earned to help pay his expenses.
In 1847 and 1848 Judge Epler studied law for about one year in the office of Judge William Brown and Richard Yates, two of the most eminent and successful lawyers of Illinois. In 1849 he joined Captain Heslop's party and started over the old Santa Fe trail for the gold fields of California, being actuated to this step as much by a desire to regain his health as by a spirit of adventure. Upon his return to Jacksonville he resumed his legal studies and was admitted to the bar. In 1852 he was elected State's attorney for the First Judicial Circuit of the State, then composed of the counties of Morgan, Menard, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Jersey and Calhoun beginning the practice of the law in that office, and serving therein for four years. Entering upon the discharge of the duties of the office without previous experience his contact with the best legal talent in the circuit was of great advantage to him, forcing him to some extent out of a native want of assurance which has always been more or less of a handicap to him; and the lessons he learned, by the rough knocks and routs he received, proved of great assistance to him in his future career. In 1856, in the district consisting of Morgan and Scott Counties, he was elected to the House of Representatives of the Illinois State Legislature for the term of two years and in 1858 was reelected to the office. Believing that a lawyer could not succeed so well in his profession when participating actively in political undertakings, he concluded to give his entire attention thereafter to his legal work. Under appointment by Hon. Charles D. Hodges, Judge of the First Judicial Circuit, he served as Master in Chancery for the Circuit Court in Morgan County for six years, terminating in the year 1873. In the latter year, upon the solicitation and action of almost the entire bar of Morgan County, he became a candidate for the office of Judge of the First Judicial Circuit of the State, for the term of six years. In June of that year he was elected, his opponents being two distinguished jurists - D. M. Woodson, of Carrollton, and N. M. Knapp, of Winchester. In 1877, by act of the Legislature, the Appellate Courts were established, and the State was redistricted into thirteen judicial circuits, Morgan County being placed in the Seventh Circuit, which consisted of the counties of Morgan, Cass, Mason, Menard, Logan, DeWitt, Scott, Greene, Jersey and Calhoun. It was provided that three judges should be elected in each circuit. At the judicial election of 1879 Judge Epler was elected for the term of sic years in the Seventh Circuit, together with Hon. Lyman Lacy, of Menard County, and Hon. Albert G. Burr, of Greene County. In 1885 and 1891 he was reelected to the same office, his last term expiring in 1897; and having been elected to the same office four times in succession and served continuously for twenty-four years, he declined to be a candidate for a fifth term.
During the entire time of Judge Epler's service on the bench, litigation in all the courts of the circuit was very extensive, but rapidly grew less during the last few years of his service. During the first twenty years of his incumbency he was constantly on the bench ten months of every year, but for the last four years was not so continuously employed. He held and presided over more than two hundred and fifty terms of court; he never failed to hold the term of court assigned to him, and with one exception, never failed to be present and convene said courts at the appointed time. During his terms of service it is estimated that he adjudicated or orderly disposed of about fifty thousand cases.
Since 1848 Judge Epler has been a member of the Masonic fraternity, and is now a Past Master in Jacksonville Lodge, No. 570, A. F. & A. M. In August, 1852, he was united in marriage with Cornelia A. Nettleton, a daughter of Dr. Clark Nettleton, of Racine, Wis. They are the parents of the following children: Helen F., instructor in French at Vassar College; Effie L., residing at home; Carl E., an attorney-at-law of Quincy, Ill.; Ernest G., a practicing physician and surgeon at Fort Smith, Ark.; Blanche N., a practicing physician at Kalamazoo, Mich.; Maud A., wife of Carroll Cambron, of San Francisco, Cal.; and Percy H., a minister in the Congregational Church, now located at Detroit, Mich.
In all his social relations Judge Epler is exceedingly democratic, and his sympathies are with the plain, but cultured people. In the varied business of individual and public life he favors giving every one an equal chance; and he has consistently opposed any kind of Government interference which confers special privileges, or affords opportunities to any one class of people to the injury, or at the expense, of the remainder of the people. He believes that the public and private weal of the people is best subserved by the least possible interference on the part of the General Government, and that such interference should be undertaken only to suppress evil doing and to restrain the aggressive and obtrusive among the selfish element from doing violence to the rights of others. While he has always stood with the Democratic party politically, he never engaged in active partisan politics during his long term of service on the bench.
Judge Epler occupies a position high in the esteem of the thoughtful citizenship of Illinois, which freely and gladly honors him for the many admirable characteristics of his strong personality. A man of unimpeachable integrity, of high public spirit, of courage, of devotion to the best interests of the whole people, and, withal, a man of rare modesty regarding his personal worth and attainments, his long and honorable record has endeared him closely to a multitude of people. A good citizen, a kind friend, a wise counselor and an upright judge, this brief outline of his career is entitled to perpetuation in the history of the State and of the county.