William G. Porter, a distinguished member of the South Dakota bar, is the senior partner of the renowned law firm Porter & King in Sioux Falls. Born in Thetford Center, Vermont, in 1858, Porter’s lineage can be traced back to a Norman knight in the eleventh century. After an impressive academic journey, including graduating from Dartmouth College and obtaining a law degree from Drake University, he embarked on a successful legal career. Serving as state’s attorney and later as assistant United States attorney, Porter has excelled in his profession, earning a reputation for his expertise and commitment. Additionally, he has been actively involved in Republican politics and various fraternal organizations throughout his life.
WILLIAM G. PORTER.— Among the distinguished members of the bar of South Dakota is Mr. Porter, who is the senior member of the well-known and leading law firm of Porter & King, of Sioux Falls, and who is at the present time incumbent of the office of assistant United States attorney for this state.
William Gove Porter is a native of the old Green Mountain state, having been born in Thetford Center, Orange county, Vermont, on the 5th of September, 1858, and being a son of Amos Phelps Porter and Mercy (Eastman) Porter, the father having devoted his life to agricultural pursuits. The genealogy of our subject in the agnatic line is of distinguished order and is authentically traced back to the eleventh century and to a Norman knight, William de la Grande, who was a member of the army of the great Norman duke, William the Conqueror, who effected the conquest of England in 1066. His son, Ralph de la Grande, became “grand porteur” to Henry I, King of England, in which capacity he served from 1120 to 1140, and from his office was derived the present family name of Porter. In 1630, the family was founded in New England, the original progenitors in America settling in Dorchester, Massachusetts, at the time of its foundation. It should be noted that the family in England retained possession of valuable realty in or near Kenilworth, in Warwickshire, where the original ancestor, William de la Grande, had acquired large tracts of land. Hezekiah Porter, grandfather of the subject of this review, was born in Hebron, Connecticut, whence he removed to Vermont about the year 1800, settling at Thetford Center, Orange county, where he developed a farm, and it is pleasing to note that on this ancestral homestead still reside the venerable parents of the subject, his father having been there born in the year 1818. The maternal ancestry is of Scotch-Irish extraction, and the name has been identified with the annals of American history from the colonial era to the present.
William G. Porter passed his boyhood days on the ancestral New England farm and received his early educational discipline in the common schools, while contributing his quota to the work of the farm. He has always delighted in study and reading, with standard novels, biography, and Shakespeare being his favorites, while he has also had a great fondness for history and the classics. He continued to work on the home farm at intervals while preparing himself for college, and subsequently, while he earned the funds to defray his collegiate expenses by teaching, after his graduation, he followed the same vocation to enable him to further prosecute his literary studies and his course in the law. He first taught in a district school at Bondville, Windham county, Vermont, where he presided as pedagogue during the three months’ winter term, receiving in compensation a stipend of fifty dollars and his board. In June 1878, he graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy, in the Vermont town of that name, and in June 1882, he completed the classical course and was graduated from the famous old Dartmouth College, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts, while in 1888 his alma mater conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts. Mr. Porter came west in 1882, soon after his graduation from Dartmouth, and for one year was a professor of Latin and Greek languages in Havges Seminary, at Red Wing, Minnesota. He then entered the law department of Drake University, in the city of Des Moines, Iowa, where he was graduated in June 1884, receiving his degree of Bachelor of Laws and being admitted to the bar of the state by the supreme court in the same month. He was the valedictorian of his class, and after leaving this institution, he was for one year principal of the high school at Center Point, Linn county, Iowa. In 1889, Mr. Porter came to South Dakota and took up his residence in Custer, Custer county, where he engaged actively in the practice of his profession, meeting with gratifying success from the initiation of his efforts. He served as state’s attorney of the county from November 10, 1890, to January 20, 1895, being elected each time on the Republican ticket and making an enviable record as a public prosecutor. On the 19th of February 1891, while he was serving his first term as state’s attorney, occurred the execution of John B. Lehman, at Custer, this being the first judicial hanging in the state after its admission to the Union and being the fifth execution of the sort in Dakota as originally constituted. Lehman, who was convicted of murder in the first degree, had three jury trials, the case having been once appealed to the supreme court and affirmed in this tribunal, while it was once brought before the state board of pardons and twice before the governor of the state, while the defendant was twice sentenced to death. Many attorneys were concerned in the case, but Mr. Porter alone tried and prosecuted on the third jury trial, whose result was the execution of the prisoner.
In March 1898, Mr. Porter was appointed assistant United States attorney for the district of South Dakota, of which office he has since been incumbent, having transferred his residence to Sioux Falls upon entering upon the discharge of his official duties, and having since been actively engaged in the practice of his profession here, controlling a large general legal business in the state and federal courts. He has been engaged as a prosecuting attorney in several counties for ten years and prepares and tries the majority of cases appearing in the United States court for this district, his success having been pronounced. He is the senior member of the firm of Porter & King, his coadjutor being John King, and their offices are located in the Minnehaha building. In September 1901, Mr. Porter was appointed attorney at Sioux Falls for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, to succeed Hon. A. B. Kittridge, upon his appointment as United States senator. In politics, he has never wavered in his allegiance to the Republican party, nor has he been deflected by any party heresies or followed after false political idols. He is a prominent figure in the party councils of the state, was elected secretary of the Republican State League of South Dakota in 1898, and was chosen its president in 1900 and re-elected in 1902, being thus incumbent of the office at the time of this writing. Mr. Porter is identified with numerous fraternal and social organizations, and among his affiliations may be noted the following: He is a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and was an officer of its grand lodge in the state in 1897-8; he is past master of Custer Lodge, No. 66, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, at Custer, and is at present affiliated with Unity Lodge, No. 130, in Sioux Falls, also with Sioux Falls Chapter, No. 2, Royal Arch Masons, and Cyrene Commandery, No. 2, Knights Templar, and with El Riad Temple, Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, in this city; while on the 24th of November 1894, he received the thirty-second degree of Scottish Rite Masonry at Deadwood, being a member of the Black Hills Consistory.
On the 27th of June, 1888, at Center Point, Linn County, Iowa, Mr. Porter married Miss Jessie M. Yost, who graduated from Ferry Hall, Lake Forest University, at Lake Forest, Illinois, on the 25th of June, 1879. She is a talented musician and is highly esteemed in the social and musical circles of Sioux Falls. Mr. and Mrs. Porter do not have any children.