DAVID D. BANTA, LL.D., was born in Union Township, Johnson County, May 23, 1833, the son of Jacob and Sarah (Demaree) Banta. The Bantas were a Dutch family, who came from Holland and settled in New Jersey, just when is not definitely known, but it is known that they were there in 1686. On the Demaree side, the Judge is of French descent; the Demarees fled from Picardy, France, into Holland, during the Huguenot persecutions, and, in 1676, David Demarias (now Demarest in the east, but softened into Demaree in the west) came to America and settled on the Jersey side of the Hackensack River. Branches of both families moved to Caughnewauga, Penn., near Gettysburg, before or about the commencement of the Revolutionary War, remaining there until the winter of 1779-80, when they moved to the vicinity of Harrods Station, Ky. Near the close of the century, branches of these families moved into Shelby and Henry counties, Ky. Jacob Banta, son of Peter Banta and father of Judge D.D. Banta, was born in Henry County, Ky., August 14, 1811. In December, 1831, he married, in Henry County, Sarah, daughter of David Demaree, who was judge of the circuit court in his circuit; she was born in Henry County, January 14, 1815.
In the fall of 1832, they moved to Johnson County, Ind., and settled in Union Township, in the woods. Jacob was a large man, full six feet in his stockings, well formed, and possessed of great physical strength, and had been chosen captain of a militia company in Kentucky, for the same reason that Saul was chosen King of Israel. His labors in Johnson County were of short duration, for, in the latter part of August, 1835, he was stricken down with fever, and died on the 4th of September, being less than a month over twenty-four years of age. The subject of this sketch was at that time but a few days over twenty-seven months of age, but the sickness and death of his father made a vivid impression on his mind, and he can now recall his father lying upon his sick bed. After the funeral, his mother and he went to live with her brother, in the Hopewell neighborhood, where they remained till the spring of 1837, when she returned to her home.
In the fall of 1839, D.D. attended his first school, and, though only six years of age, walked two miles through a blazed path in the woods. At seven years, he often went to mill astride his grist of corn, returning sometimes after nightfall. In the spring of 1841, his mother was married to Jesse Young, and, from about 1841, he attended the district school every winter, working summers on the farm. This he kept up till he was fifteen years of age, when he attended one year at the Hopewell school, which was superior to the other schools in that vicinity, and was kept by a Yankee schoolma’am. In the spring and summer of 1851, he taught a three-months school in White River Township, making many friends and acquaintances.
Early in the spring of 1852, he set out with his cousin David N. Demaree, for a jaunt into Iowa. They went down the Ohio and up the Mississippi to Keokuk, then walked up to Burlington, and thence to Fairfield, cut cord-wood and worked in a sawmill alternately for two months, after which they footed it over southern Iowa to look at the country. They came home via Chicago, walking half way across Illinois, as there was no railroad across then; also walked from LaPorte, to Noblesville, Ind., where they struck a railroad, and returned home during the summer.
That fall, Mr. Young, his step-father, sold out and moved to Iowa, taking his family. David went along with the others, and hired out chopping cord-word at thirty-five cents a cord, finding it hard work to make seventy cents a day; after a day or two of this work, a severe snow-storm set in and forced him to seek home; as he had to walk nine miles, he became weary before reaching home, and in crossing a stream, fell and hurt himself severely. All this tended to make him disgusted with his occupation, and he resolved that he would never follow such a life. His mind had theretofore been wavering in regard to his future occupation, but these few circumstances made him come to a quick conclusion to study law, and, the next morning after arriving home, he astonished his mother by informing her of this resolution.
In pursuance of this determination, he immediately made arrangements to study law with Clinton & Baldwin, attorneys, of Fairfield, and went to work at once on Blackstone, never leaving his studies long enough to return for his ax, which he had left in the woods, and never collecting the money for what wood-chopping he had done. He read industriously till the next spring, 1853, when he returned to Johnson County and entered Franklin College. In the fall of 1853, he and his friend John C. Miller, went to the Indiana University at Bloomington, where he graduated, in 1855, in the scientific department; he remained at the institution, however, studying the Latin and Greek languages and English literature until the law school opened, in the early part of the winter, when he entered it under Judge James Hughes, keeping up his linguistic studies meanwhile, and until the next June, but attending particularly to the law, which he continued to do until he graduated from that department, in February, 1857.
In the meantime, June 11, 1856, he was married to Mrs. Melissa E. Perrin, daughter of James Riddle, of Covington, Ky. She was born in Hamilton County, Ohio, March 27, 1834. The fall following his marriage, and while still in the law school, he was elected principal of the Monroe County Female Academy--The former principal having resigned--and had the charge of about seventy-five girls of all ages; he took charge of this institution for about three months, pursuing his law studies as best he could. After graduating from the law school, in February, he went to Covington, Ky., and remained until the following October, studying.
He then moved to Franklin; was admitted to the bar by Judge Hardin, then on the bench, and opened a law office. He found many discouraging things to contend with; the bar was full, and it was very difficult for a young man to obtain much business; fortunately, however, he had an abundance of perseverance, and all these discouragements only served to bring out all the more effort on his part. Time brought the reward, and business came. In the spring of 1859, he went into partnership with Judge Finch, but the election of Finch to the bench the next fall terminated their partnership; the same fall, Banta was elected district prosecutor. In 1864, he moved his law office into the recorder s office, and took an appointment under Willett Tyler as deputy recorder; this office he held for a year or more, when the pressure of legal business caused him to leave the recorder s office and give his whole attention to his chosen profession, which, with various official duties, has since occupied his time, except as he again tried his hand at editing the ìJohnson County Pressî, a paper published for some time in 1865, by John Farley, up to some time in 1868; this paper Banta edited for a pastime.
Some time previous to this, he was in partnership, for a short time, with G.F. McNutt, now of Terre Haute. In 1865, he was appointed by the county commissioners to the office of school examiner, holding the office three years. In 1866, he was appointed United States division assessor, which office he held for about two years. In 1867, he was appointed school trustee of the city of Franklin, and held this office two years, and was a member of the board when the fine school building of Franklin was erected.
In 1867, he formed a law partnership with Cass Byfield, now of Indianapolis, which continued up to 1869, when, under an appointment by Judge Woollen, who was unable to attend to his duties, by reason of sickness in his family, he served for some six months of that year. In the spring of 1870, he was nominated for the judge of his circuit, and elected; served six years, covering a period of the most active litigation that has ever been known in the history of the state.
In 1872, he was attacked with a spell of fever, which left him with a broken, nervous system; for a year and more, he had a hard fight for life, but, after spending a good deal of money in looking for health in various quarters, at last found it in the pine woods of Michigan, where the pure air and rough fare of the wilderness completely restored his lost powers. On leaving the bench, he was defeated for a nomination for a second term, and went back to practice, forming a partnership with Judge T. W. Woollen, since attorney general of Indiana. The partnership still exists.
In his family, the Judge has been fortunate, and has been blessed with a good wife, who has borne him three children, all of whom are living; George, the eldest, was born in Covington, Ky., July 16, 1857; Charles, born October 16, 1859, in Franklin, and Mabel, born November 19, 1864, also in Franklin. He gives his children the excellent advantages of an education at the Indiana University. George graduated in the class of 1876; Charles in the year 1881, and Mabel a few years later. This institution has always had a firm friend and support in Judge Banta, and he has been a trustee since 1877; is now serving his second term, and is president of the board. In all local matters, he has taken a deep interest, and has ever given his strength of mind and body to the furtherance of what might be considered for his country s good. A member of the Presbyterian Church for many years, and in politics a democrat, both of which faiths he inherited, and has always lived up to. It is unnecessary to say anything in regard to the standing of Judge Banta as the various offices of trust he has held, and the large business he does as a legal adviser, are stronger proofs than any words we could write, of the esteem in which he is held by the people of Johnson County, and we may say that his reputation is not confined to this county alone, but extends throughout the state to a very considerable degree.
While on the bench, he gave general satisfaction to the members of the bar, rendering his decisions with ability and conscientiousness; and if Judge Banta has one quality which we could wish to mention more than another, it would be his entire honesty of purpose, and the whole-souled and heart-felt manner with which he does what he undertakes. As a writer, the Judge has had considerable experience, and has a pleasant way; especially is he adapted to narrative, and enjoys nothing better than to dig down into the moldy past and bring up facts and figures to form into an interesting sketch of by-gone days. He is quite a book-worm, and buys a great many books, having a law library of some 1,200 volumes, besides a literary library of 1,000 more; also takes a deal of pleasure in hunting and fishing, and is a first-class companion on any such excursion, enlivening the boys with his stories, and ever ready to give or take a joke. Judge Banta holds a high place in the affections of the people of the county, and in recognition of his merits the authorities of Franklin College have lately conferred upon him the degree of LL. D.
Transcribed by Cheryl Zufall Parker