I’ve been wanting to write about Henry Dorsey Etchison since having the opportunity to introduce students to this former Fredericktonian in a class I taught for Frederick Community College’s ILR (Institute for Learning in Retirement) program. That was back in 2017, and the class was entitled “Frederick’s Ties to the Wild West.”
Mr. Etchison’s gravesite can be found in a sizeable plot on Area R/Lot 31/32/33. I have been quite familiar with the family name in Frederick history, primarily being associated with a successful furniture and undertaking business that existed for years in the county. However, my subject, although directly related, had nothing to do with this endeavor. Over his lifetime, he would become one of the leading members of the Frederick Bar. Interestingly, he had a brief, yet historic, experience on the western frontier at the onset of his successful career. This adventure was connected to one of the chapters of our country’s history as it pertains to the concept of "Manifest Destiny."
Henry Dorsey Etchison was born in Frederick City on September 19th, 1867 the son of Henry N. and Mary E. (Louthan) Etchison. Henry Nelson Etchison was a descendant of one of the old families of Frederick County, born in Jefferson (MD) on December 16th, 1825. He was a successful merchant in Frederick City for 40 years and described as “highly esteemed by the men of his generation.” I found his business location and family quarters at today's 10 S. Market Street, a unique townhome mentioned by Frederick diarist in June 1879 when Mr. Etchison had a fourth story added.
Henry N. Etchison was married three times: first to Sarah Lingan (Boteler) who can be found in the family plot in Mount Olivet, having died in 1862 at only 31 years of age. Henry’s second wife (and mother of our subject), Mary E. (1840-1873), was the daughter of John Louthan (1804-1879), a descendant of one of the old Scotch families of Virginia, a slave holder, and prominent citizen of Clarke County, VA. A third wife would come in the personage of Hepzibah “Hepsie” Davis who long outlived her husband, dying in 1942. She is buried in Kemptown Methodist Church graveyard.
Henry Dorsey Etchison had an older step-sister and two step-brothers: Mary V. Etchison (Mussetter), Marshall Lingan Etchison (1851-1919) and William Hezakiah Boteler Etchison (b.1857-1914). Like his siblings, Henry attended the public schools of Frederick, and completed his preparatory studies at the Frederick Academy. He would pursue his college degree in Carlisle, Pennsylvania at Dickinson College.
An internet blog found back in 2017 on Dickinson College’s website offered the following narrative regarding the collegiate career of our subject:
Etchison took a scholastic track including English grammar, United States and Ancient History, Ancient Geography, Arithmetic, Latin, Greek, the classical works, French, German, Natural Science, Religion, and Ethics; however, Etchison himself was far from a model student. The Dickinson faculty ranked Etchison second to last in his graduating class. The faculty also mentioned him twice in the faculty minutes for deserving reprimands. The most significant episode involved a serious case of hazing a fellow student, surname Pomele. The faculty decided to suspend others involved for a month, though Etchison received only a signed reprimand. Etchison still graduated in three years with the class of 1887 with his Bachelor of Arts degree.
After graduation, H. Dorsey began his path to become a lawyer, and apprenticed under Charles Van Swearingen Levy (1844-1895), buried here in Mount Olivet in Area Q/Lot 133 only about 40 yards from his pupil’s final resting place in neighboring Area R. Etchison would pass the Maryland bar in the fall of 1889. His natural ability and knowledge made him a successful lawyer, and was fast-rising, prominent citizen of Frederick. However, his law career would not fully blossom immediately, as it was put on hold due to a very important assignment. In 1893, Mr. Etchison was appointed to a position in the land department under Hoke Smith, Secretary of the Interior during the administration of President Grover Cleveland. At the age of 26, Etchison became the land commissioner of the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma.
H. D. Etchison was stationed in Oklahoma, where he remained until January, 1895. The Cherokee Strip was originally owned by the Cherokee Indians. Because of their support of the Confederate Army, the Indians lost these lands to the Union at the end of the American Civil War. This strip of territory at the border of Oklahoma and Kansas was one of the last open pieces of land in the west.
The territory was officially opened for settlement on September 16th, 1893. After only one day, prospective settlers had filed over 10,000 claims on the 42,000 tracts of land. The opening of the strip began the Oklahoma Land Rush and facilitated the ultimate settling and development of the state. For a year, Etchison helped to handle the numerous claims and homestead ownership disputes of the fledgling state.
Many historians agree that the U.S. government’s procurement of the Cherokee Strip, and the selling of those lands, was another event within a long history of America’s abuse toward the Indians. Though the Cherokee Indians were paid some money for the Cherokee Strip, they were still largely forced to accept the Union’s terms of purchase. The tribe continued to pursue additional payment which was to come from the land rush’s land sale profits, however, the U.S. government responded that the Cherokee Indians had already been paid justly and thus refused to agree to any additional payment.
The following letter was written to the Frederick newspaper by H. Dorsey Etchison in Oklahoma in which he describes his mission with the Cherokee Strip
T. J. C. Williams’ History of Frederick County, Maryland (published in 1910) relays some more of Mr. Etchison’s life story in the biographical volume. We pick up after his work in Oklahoma.
Returning to Frederick County, Mr. Etchison resumed the practice of his profession in Frederick, where he has a large and lucrative practice. He is one of the leading members of the bar. His legal acumen, vigorous diction, and splendid delivery give him great power in summing up evidence before a jury. He is noted for the zeal and care with which he safeguards the interests of his clients. He is well-informed on all such subjects. His private library is one of the best in Frederick.
Mr. Etchison has never held an elective office. He was a candidate for nomination to Congress from the Sixth Congressional District of Maryland in 1910. From 1889 to 1897, he served as secretary of the Supervisors of Elections of Frederick County, and was a member of the Board for the reassessment of the property in Frederick City, in 1908.
Mr. Etchison is a member of Mountain City Lodge, No. 29, Knights of Pythia, of Frederick City, and has occupied all the chairs of the Order; of Frederick City Lodge No. 100, International Order of Odd Fellows, and has filled all the chairs in the offices of this lodge; of Francis Scott Key Council, O. U. A. M., No. 48, and has held all the offices of this Order; of Camp No. 79, Patriotic Sons of America; Chippewa Tribe, No. 19, I. O. R. M.; Camp No. 7710, Modern Woodmen of America; and Braddock Lodge, No. 1834, of the Modern Brotherhood of America.
You would assume that H. Dorsey Etchison was almost too busy for a private, home life. In the 1900 US census, he can be found living as a boarder in the Park Hotel once located at the SE corner of W. Church and Court streets. He took the plunge, however, marrying Miss Elizabeth Garvin Maize, of Williamsburg, PA on December 1st, 1903.
Twin sons would be born the following year but then H. Dorsey's good-fortune changed drastically with the loss of one of the boys (Henry M.) and his wife in fall, 1904. Elizabeth died November 8th, 1904, five days after her son, leaving H. Dorsey a widower in care of surviving son, George Johnson Etchison.
Mr. Etchison would marry again in 1908. This was to Miss Mary Helen Ward. They would welcome a son, James Milton, born in January, 1909. On May 25th, 1914, the Etchisons added a daughter, Mary Marshall to the family.
Tragedy struck our subject again in 1923, as Mary died from a rare case of septicemia. I was curious to learn more so I looked up its definition according to Healthline.com:
Septicemia is a serious bloodstream infection, also known as blood poisoning and occurs when a bacterial infection (elsewhere in the body, such as the lungs or skin) enters the bloodstream. This is dangerous because the bacteria and their toxins can be carried through the bloodstream to the entire body. Septicemia can quickly become life-threatening and must be treated in a hospital. If left untreated, septicemia can progress to sepsis. Septicemia and sepsis aren’t the same. Sepsis is a serious complication of septicemia which causes inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can cause blood clots and block oxygen from reaching vital organs, resulting in organ failure.
A visitor on one of my recent walking tours of the cemetery told me that she had learned that Mary’s illness was the result of falling into a rose bush while playing near her home on Court Street. I could not confirm this story with the articles that appeared in the newspaper at the time, but an interesting aside, nonetheless.
H. Dorsey continued practicing law and was one of the most sought out men of the profession in town, usually involved in the leading cases of the day. All the while, Etchison stayed busy in church (Methodist), fraternal and civic activities. Two local projects of note in which he participated were the dedications of Memorial Park in 1924, and Baker Park in 1927.
H. Dorsey Etchison was well-traveled and was one of the early promoters of Frederick tourism. I found an article in an edition of the Frederick News-Post of 1932 in which he talked of the importance of Frederick utilizing such assets as natural beauty and historical figures of national importance. Barbara Fritchie. He is quoted in response to the beautiful landscape and recalled a visit from a true wild west hero in 1916. In was then that he accompanied the legendary Buffalo Bill on a local visit, and hosted him atop Braddock Mountain. It made me wonder if he had met Mr. Cody while working in Oklahoma back in the early 1890s?
In 1934, he lost a bid for Democratic state senator. He immediately took a break from his practice as he was appointed Frederick County’s Deputy Register of Wills. Following his four-year term with the county, he announced that he would resume his law practice in December, 1938. The following year would be his last.
After a multi-week sickness in the fall of 1939, H. Dorsey Etchison would pass on the morning of December 1st. His funeral was very well-attended as he was laid to rest in the Etchison family lot (D32/33) alongside the graves of his parents, siblings, wife Helen and daughter, Mary.
Son James Milton Etchison would be interred here in 2005, dying at the age of 96. His other son, the surviving twin, George, died in 1955 but is buried in Geeseytown Cemetery in Frankstown, Blair County, PA near Altoona.
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