Biography of Robert Bruce Spilman

The name Spilman has for half a century been one of prominence in Riley County. The people of that county, including both the bar and the general public, will always recall with special marks of affection and esteem the life and services of the late Judge Robert Bruce Spilman, who was one of the pioneer lawyers of Manhattan and for ten years occupied a seat on the district bench.

A son of William and Dorcas Jane (Garrison) Spilman, who were natives of Kentucky, and early settlers in Indiana, Judge Spilman was born at their home at Rockville, Indiana, August 7, 1840. He was just in the prime of his years and ussfulness when his death occurred at Manhattan, October 19, 1896. His parents in order to provide better opportunities for their children moved from Rockville to Crawfordsville, Indiana. Crawfordsville is the seat of one of Indiana’s most noted educational institutzons, Wabash College, distinguished for the many eminent men who have gone from its halls. Judge Spilman was one of the graduates with the class of 1861. On leaving college he accepted the place of teacher in a school, but soon left the schoolroom to enlist in defense of the Union. Crawfordsville was a hotbed of patriotism during the war, and was the home of General Lew Wallace, the soldier author. Judge Spilman became a private in Company K of the Eighty-Sixth Indiana Regiment, and was in active service for three years. On the basis of merit he was promoted to captain of his company and was a faithful and efficient soldier in every capacity.

With the close of the war he returned to the home of his parents at Crawfordsville, and soon began the study of law in the office of a local lawyer. In 1866 he was admitted to the Indiana bar and in the same year removed to Kansas and began practice at Manhattan. His ability, industry, integrity, soon brought him a place of prominence in his profession, and he was the recipient of many honors from the people. In 1868 he was elected county attorney for Riley County, holding that office three years, and after an interval was again elected to the same office. In 1870 he was elected mayor of Manhattan. In 1872 he was made county superintendent of schools. He was representative from Riley County in the Legislature in 1879-80. His private practice was also punetuated at intervals by service as city attorney of Manhattan.

When the Twenty-first Judicial District was organized in 1888, Governor Martin made a splendid appointment in choosing Mr. Spilman as the first judge of the district. Thereafter by regular election his services were retained on the district bench until the time of his death. The lawyers who recall his service as a judge commend strongly his impartiality, his judicial temperament and the dignity and resonrcefulness which characterize all his work. By virtue of all this service he was easily one of Riley County’s foremost men during the last century. Judge Spilman was an active republican, and as a Presbyterian became a charter member of the First Presbyterian Church of Manhattan and was a ruling elder from its organization until his death. He was affiliated with the Grand Army of the Republic.

In 1868 Judge Spilman was married at Des Moines, Iowa, to Miss Hanuah Russell. Mrs. Spilman was born in Lagro, Indians, February 6, 1844, and is still living at Manhattan in her sevonty-third year. Since her marriage she has been a member of the First Presbyterian Church. She was reared at Danville, Indiana, and from there her parents moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where she married.

The virtues and abilities of Judge and Mrs. Spilman were transmitted to their children. Six were born into their home. Their son Elbert died in infancy and Catherine passed away at the age of seventeen. The four living children are William R., Robert Bruce, Clara and Harold A. The daughter Clara, who resides with her mother in Manhattan, is a gradnate of the Kansas State Agricultural College and is now secretary to the superintendent of the public schools of Manhattan. The youngest son, Harold, born at Manhattan December 27, 1883, is a graduate of the Kansas State Agricultural College and after passing a civil service examination spent four years as superintendent of schools in the Philippine Islands. He returned to the United States broken in health and after recuperating requested a transfer to the postoffice department at Washington, D. C. His request was granted in the fall of 1912 and since then he has lived at Washington. He married May McCarty of Washington.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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