Sedalia became the county seat of Pettis County during the Civil War, replacing Georgetown as the seat of justice. The Circuit Court met four terms per year, with each length of the sitting of the court determined by the number of cases to be heard. The courts also dealt with civil matters such as adoptions, divorces, property disputes, and damage cases. The Probate Court handled matters of inheritance.
During the 1890s, Sedalia had numerous attorneys. One of Sedalia’s prestigious law firms was that of Bente and Wilson. Both attorneys are featured in the Portrait and Biographical Gallery of Johnson and
Henry Bente was the senior member of the firm. He was a native Missourian, born in Cooper County to Henry and Dorothy Kropp Bente, both immigrant from Hesse-Cassel, Germany. Young Bente lived on the family farm near Otterville and attended Otterville College, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1890. He served as principal of the Otterville Public School for a year, but in 1892, decided on a change of career.
Bente entered the University of Michigan and graduated in 1893 with the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He returned to Missouri and worked or six months with Judge Shirk in Sedalia. He then formed a practice with Charles Wilson with offices at 210 South Ohio Avenue.
Bente retained an interest in agriculture, being part owner of the family farm in Cooper County that was managed by his brothers. Like many men of the time, he was a member of a fraternal order, the Royal Tribe of Joseph. He was an active member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and active in Democratic Party politics.
Charles Wilson was born in Edina, Missouri, the son of Judge E. V. Wilson and Jane Delaplane Wilson. His family was well-to-do; his father was the president of the Bank of Edina, and his mother was a noted writer of fiction and poetry that appeared in popular magazines under the pseudonym Mrs. Lawrence.
Young Wilson attended public schools in Edina, the Manhattan Agricultural College, and Chaddock College in Quincy, Illinois. He later attended Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, and earned a Bachelor of Laws degree.
Wilson was admitted to the Missouri bar in Scotland County. He moved to Sedalia and worked with local attorneys G. W. Barnett and Louis Hoffman. In 1894, he joined Henry Bente’s law practice. Mayor Hastian appointed Wilson to serve as City Tax Collector.
Like his partner, Wilson was a member of the Royal Tribe of Joseph and was active in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where he served as a deacon and as treasurer of the Sunday School. Wilson was also a member of the Knights of Pythias and a Republican.
The firm had a good reputation in Sedalia. They stayed busy and were especially sought out as collectors of overdue bills. They employed a man as a bill collector and a stenographer to handle the voluminous correspondence. Bente was said to be “in every respect a young man of sterling character.” Wilson was described as “a rising member of the Sedalia bar.”
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.