Biography of Hon. Gideon C. Moody

Hon. Gideon C. Moody was a courageous pioneer, eminent jurist, prominent politician, conservative civic force, and honorable citizen. His inflexible integrity, coupled with his intellect, made him a force to be reckoned with. He served as an influential member of the South Dakota constitutional conventions, was elected to the United States Senate, and played a crucial role in Republican national conventions. Moody’s success as a lawyer was attributed to his meticulous preparation and unwavering commitment to justice. In private life, he was a devoted family man and a loyal friend. His legacy is one of remarkable achievements and enduring influence.

Gideon C Moody
Gideon C Moody

Hon. Gideon C. Moody.—The strong, true men of a people are always public benefactors. Their usefulness in the immediate and specific labors they perform can be defined by metes and bounds. The good they do through the forces they put in motion and through the inspiration of their presence and example is immeasurable by any finite gauge or standard of value. The death of any one of such men is a public calamity because by it the country loses not only his active energy but the stimulus and fecundating power of his personal influence. There is, however, some compensation for this loss in the memory of his services, the effect of his example, and the continuing fruitfulness of the activities he quickened into life. The late Gideon C. Moody, of South Dakota, was such a man. To epitomize his life and character within the limits which this work allows is impossible to mortal utterance. The stalwart proportions of his living presence are vividly realized by the void his death has made. But less than most men intellectually his equal does he need the voice of eulogy. The clearness of his purposes, the soundness of his judgment, his ample sweep of vision, his tireless activity, his indomitable will, his great achievements, his unbending uprightness of character, have impressed “the very age and body of the time,” making his life a force that cannot die.

Senator Moody was born at Cortland, New York, on October 16, 1832, and was the son of Stephen and Charlotte M. (Curtis) Moody, of that state. He received an academic education and then began the study of law at Syracuse. In 1852, at the age of twenty, he removed to Indiana, where he was admitted to the bar and entered upon the practice of his profession at New Albany. In 1854, after less than two years of practice, such was his force of character and professional promise that he was elected prosecuting attorney of Floyd county. A little later he joined an organization of young Republicans in the state and became prominent and very active in the efforts they made to secure the election of Hon. Oliver P. Morton as governor. It was discovered, however, that Mr. Morton’s personal unpopularity made it inexpedient to place him at the head of the ticket, and he was nominated for lieutenant governor, Hon. Henry S. Lane being named as the party candidate for governor. The popularity of Mr. Lane and the effective campaigning of the young Republicans secured the triumph of the ticket and a Republican legislature at the ensuing election, Mr. Moody himself being chosen a member of the lower house in the face of a normal Democratic majority of five hundred in his district. At the legislative session which followed, Governor Lane was elected United States senator, and Morton, the idol of the young Republicans of the state, became governor. The doctrine of state rights had many ardent advocates in the legislature, and the feeling against the course of the federal administration towards the South, which was then rapidly tending to secession, was so strong that the debates became exceedingly acrimonious and personal. A member named Heffron made a bitter attack on Governor Morton, which was replied to in such scathing terms by Mr. Moody that he was challenged by Heffron to fight a duel. It was arranged that the encounter should take place at Covington, Kentucky, and Colonel Milroy, who afterward became a major general in the United States army, was chosen as Mr. Moody’s second. While crossing the Ohio to the place of meeting, they were arrested and each was fined five hundred dollars, Mr. Heffron failing to put in an appearance. In 1861, soon after the beginning of the Civil War, Messrs. Milroy and Moody raised the Ninth Indiana Infantry, of which Mr. Milroy was made colonel, Mr. Moody becoming captain of Company G. On November 15, 1862, he was promoted colonel, and some little time afterward was mustered out of the service in order that he might accept the post of captain in the Nineteenth United States Infantry, a command in which he served until the spring of 1864, the greater portion of the time on the staff of Gen. George H. Thomas. In May 1864, his term of enlistment having expired, and it being apparent that the war was nearing its end, he resigned his commission in the army and was appointed by the secretary of war to proceed to Dakota and superintend the construction of a wagon road from Sioux City to Fort Randall. In this work, he employed to a very large extent the Scandinavian farmers numerously populating the southeastern counties of the territory, and so arranged the work of construction that they were able to give their farm duties proper attention and build the road during the seasons when farm work was slack, making this arrangement at a considerable sacrifice of his own interests. Moreover, having learned by careful calculation that the road could be built for much less than the appropriation, he voluntarily paid the workmen almost double the ruling price for men and teams. This action on his part brought him severe criticism from the war department and delayed for many years the approval of his accounts and the payment of his commission on the expenditures. But it endeared him to the people of the southeastern counties and made the Scandinavian farmers, who were at that time of very limited means and had a hard struggle to improve their farms and live without outside assistance, his firm and faithful friends to the end of his life. They were always with him to a man in politics and in business and held him ever in the highest regard. When he crossed the Mississippi to make a new home in the farther West, he at first contemplated locating in western Iowa, but instead he settled at Yankton and began there an active practice of his profession. He also took a very earnest interest in political affairs and was elected to the territorial house of representatives, of which he was chosen speaker, and to which four years later he was re-elected. In 1878, he was appointed associate justice of the territorial supreme court by President Hayes on the recommendation of the Republican organization of the territory and that of Senator Conklin, of New York. He was assigned to the Black Hills district and remained on the bench until 1884, when he resigned to become general counsel for the Homestake Mining Company and its associate corporations, in which capacity he served until his death. To the judicial ermine, he lent dignity and distinction in his protracted and able service, and he was known afterward as one of the leading corporation lawyers of the whole Northwest. When he retired from the bench, he at once took charge of the legal business of the Homestake Mining Company and soon found himself again in the whirlpool of territorial politics, a stage on which he was one of the star actors until 1891. Samuel McMasters, a very shrewd and practical Irishman, the superintendent of the mining company, who could not read and was unable to write anything but his name, besought the Judge to take charge of his campaign as a candidate for territorial delegate to the United States House of Representatives. The canvass that followed made the Judge a large number of very bitter personal enemies and gave him a continual struggle from that time until his final retirement from politics to retain his supremacy in the western half of the state. In the broad field of national politics, his capacity, breadth of view, and knowledge of men and of affairs secured him a position of commanding influence. He was a delegate to the Republican national conventions of 1868, 1888, and 1892. In the convention of 1888, he was chairman of the delegation from the Dakotas and made a speech that gained the admission of ten delegates instead of the usual three allowed for the territory. As the personal friend of Senator Platt, of New York, he had advance inside information on all the important maneuvers in the convention. It was said by party leaders that the solid vote of South Dakota, largely influenced by Moody, played a crucial role in securing the nomination of President Harrison, with whom Moody had an intimate friendship and whose candidacy he strongly supported.

Moody was a prominent and influential member of the South Dakota constitutional conventions of 1883 and 1885. He was also a member of the committee appointed to draft and present to Congress a memorial for the division of Dakota and its admission to the Union as two states. Under the constitution of 1885, he was elected United States senator, but Congress did not recognize the movement as valid, although the Senate allowed him the privilege of admission to the floor. In 1889, after the enabling act was passed by Congress, the constitution of 1885 was again adopted, and he was once again elected to the United States Senate, but this time for the short term of two years. In 1891, he was defeated by the great Populist upheaval.

In 1901, Governor Herreid appointed him as a member of the commission of three to codify the laws of the state as provided for by an act of the legislature. In this capacity, Moody was assigned the codes of civil procedure, justice, and probate. His service in this connection marked the last of his public contributions.

Judge Moody was married on September 21, 1855, to Miss Helen Eliot, and they had one daughter and four sons. He was a devoted and pure-hearted family man, greatly endearing himself to his friends and loved ones. He was an excellent conversationalist, serving as both a companion and guide to his children. He was their warmest friend and most judicious counselor. In his private life, Moody exemplified fidelity and integrity. He treated everyone with fairness and insisted that his friends do the same when working on his behalf. He despised flattery but appreciated kind words spoken of him. Though impervious to temptations, he possessed the ability to turn enemies into lifelong friends through open and honest communication.

In his legal career, Judge Moody achieved remarkable success. His thorough preparation, diligent study, and keen attention to detail contributed to his reputation as a brilliant practitioner. He subjected his clients to rigorous questioning, ensuring that their cases had both moral and legal merit. He never hesitated to reject a case if he believed his client lacked a just cause, even if a large fee was involved. Whenever he was deceived by a client and unknowingly took up an unworthy case, he returned the fee and reprimanded the client for the deception. Moody’s unwavering commitment to the Homestake Mining Company as its general counsel further enhanced his standing. His judgment on matters within the company was highly regarded, and litigants often found it unnecessary to resort to the courts, as they could trust Moody to provide fair treatment.

In summary, Judge Gideon C. Moody was a courageous pioneer, eminent jurist, prominent politician, conservative civic force, and honorable citizen. His inflexible integrity, coupled with his intellect, made him a force to be reckoned with in various spheres. His loss was deeply felt by the nation, as he left behind a legacy of remarkable achievements, unyielding character, and enduring influence.


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top