Biography of Judge John D. Spragins of Falls City

Judge John D. Spragins, born December 21, 1840, in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, was a Civil War veteran and pioneer of Falls City, Nebraska. Serving in the Union Army, he participated in eighty battles, including the siege of Vicksburg. In 1869, he moved to Falls City, where he engaged in various businesses before becoming police judge and justice of the peace. Active in community affairs, Spragins was a Mason, Odd Fellow, and Grand Army of the Republic member. He married Lydia Frances Friend in 1868, and they had one son, George. Spragins contributed significantly to the growth and governance of Falls City.

Judge John D. Spragins, police judge at Falls City, an honored veteran of the Civil War, justice of the peace in and for Falls City, also engaged in the insurance business in that city, of which he is one of the pioneers, is a native of Illinois, but has been a resident of Nebraska ever since the summer of 1869, when he came out here and settled at Falls City, then a village of but two hundred and fifty inhabitants. He was born on a farm three and a half miles north of Galena, in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, December 21, 1840, son of Thomas and Louisa danglois) Spragins, both of French descent, the former a native of Virginia and the latter of Illinois.

Thomas Spragins left Virginia in the days of his young manhood, in 1827, and came West, becoming one of the early lead miners at Galena, Illi­nois. He was one of the party led by Monsieur Dubuque that crossed the Mississippi river and laid out the town that later developed into the present city of Dubuque. That party was run out by the Indians, but later Dubuque returned with a stronger party and the Indians were dispossessed of that tract forever, the town thereafter being peaceably settled. Thomas Spragins married Louisa Langolis, who was born at St. Charles, Illinois, daughter of Gabriel Langlois, a Frenchman, who later was killed in the Black Hills while on an expedition in behalf of the American Fur Company. In 1844 Thomas Spragins moved to the Apple River mines in Elizabeth, Jo Daviess county, where he made his home until 1869, in which year he came to Nebraska and settled at Falls City, where his last days were spent, his death occurring there in 1883. He and his wife were the parents of seven children, of whom the subject of this sketch was the fourth in order of birth, the others being as follow: J. W. S., who went on farther West and spent his last days in California; Thomas F., who became a pioneer in Montana and there spent his last days; Mrs. Louisa Batchelder, now living at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; Mrs. Julia C. Goodwin, who died in Milwaukee; Mrs. Annie E. Miller, of Duluth, Minnesota, and Mrs. Virginia P. Crowley, also of Duluth.

John D. Spragins grew up in Jo Daviess county, Illinois, and from the days of his boyhood was trained in the ways of the mines, becoming an expert miner, and was engaged in working in the mines when the Civil War broke out. In August, 1861, he enlisted for service as a member of Company E, Forty-fifth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and went to the front with that command, continuing in service until the close of the war, being mustered out on July 12, 1865, with the rank of first lieutenant. During this long period of service Judge Spragins participated in eighty distinct engagements, including some of the hottest battles of the war, including forty-eight days at the siege of Vicksburg, during which historic siege his ability as a miner proved very serviceable, he having there had charge of a detachment of sappers and miners, whose hazardous task it was to mine under the Confederate forts and blow them up. On one of these expeditions the judge was trapped with three others in his own mine, the rebels having been successful in blowing up the entrance to the mine, and before he and his men were able to dig themselves out they were almost overcome by the deadly mine “damp.” After the fall of Vicksburg he was on provost-guard duty in the city from July 4 to October 24 and thence on down Black river, going on to Meridian, Mississippi, fighting every day, and at Canton, Mississippi, entered upon the task of destroying the railroad, tearing up twenty miles of track and destroying twenty-three locomotives and other rolling stock. After this expedition the judge was given a veteran furlough home. After some hazardous experience, on his return, he rejoined his regiment at Vicksburg and proceeded on to Huntsville, Alabama, and thence to Chattanooga and then on the march through Georgia. After the battles of Resaca and Carterville, his regiment was detailed to guard the Ettawa bridge and from there went on, taking part in numerous battles including Kenesaw Mountain and Marietta and was then detailed to guard the bridge near the Chattahoochie cotton mills, burning that bridge when Atlanta fell and then returning to Marietta. Just as the army was starting on the march to the sea the judge was seized with a severe attack of rheumatism and was turned back, that having been his last fighting. He remained on sick leave until he joined his regiment at Louisville; after the close of the war, the command proceeding thence to Chicago, where it was finally discharged. Among the other battles Judge Spragins participated in may be mentioned, as among the hottest, Ft. Henry, Ft. Donelson, Savannah, Pittsburg Landing or Shiloh, Holly Springs, Thompson’s Hill, Clinton, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hills and the Black River and on at Vicksburg. His command was in action almost continually and, as noted above, he was an active participant in eighty distinct engagements.

Upon the completion of his military service John D. Spragins returned to Illinois and in June, 1868, at White Oak Spring, Wisconsin, was united in marriage to Lydia Frances Friend, who was born in Pennsylvania, daughter of George and Priscilla (Harrington) Friend. The next year; in August, 1869, the Judge and his wife and their four-months-old son came to Nebraska and located at Falls City, then a promising village of about two hundred and fifty inhabitants. He there became engaged as a building contractor and three years later engaged in the livery business, continuing engaged in that line for three years, at the end of which time he began manufacturing wagons and buggies and was thus quite successfully engaged until 1884, when he sold his establishment and went out to Hayes county, Nebraska, where he homesteaded a tract of land with a view to establishing a home there and “grow up with the country.” The judge has little to say regarding that homesteading experience, the disastrous experiment in pioneering being summed up in his terse phrase that he “saved himself, but lost five thousand dollars.” Upon the failure to realize his plans as a homesteader, the judge returned to Falls City and there engaged again in wagon-making, later moving to Straussville, Richardson county, but after a sometime residence there returned to Falls City, where he since has made his home. In November, 1905, he was elected justice of the peace, in and for Falls City and in, April, 1906, he was elected city police judge, both of which magisterial offices he still-holds. In addition to attending to his magisterial duties, Judge Spragins is engaged in the insurance business and is doing very well. The Judge formerly was a Republican, but in the memorable campaign of 1896, became one of the ardent supporters of William Jennings Bryan and has since remained a Democrat.

He is an active member of the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic and is a Mason and an Odd Fellow, taking an earnest interest in the affairs of these several organizations. Judge and Mrs. Spragins have a pleasant home at Falls City and have even taken an interested part in local good works. They have one son, George W. Spragins, who was born in Illinois in April, 1869, and is now a traveling salesman for the Oliver Chilled Plow Company. He married Grace Jack and has one child, a son, Given Spragins.


Edwards, Lewis C., History of Richardson County, Nebraska : Its People, Industries and Institutions, Indianapolis : B.F. Bowen, 1917.

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