Friday, April 26, 2013


The Lawyer Poet of the Rockies

Orie Bower had a way with words.  Whether in the courtroom or in the composition of poetry, this Wilkinson County native was known across the country in his latter years as the "The Lawyer Poet of the Rockies."

He grew up in the red clay, pine studded hills of the Georgia's Fall Line and lived his latter and most prolific poetry writing time in the magnificent blue hazed Rocky Mountains of the American west.   

Orie Bower penned poems about the grand and glorious armies of the South and the Lost Cause.  He composed poetry in his youth, but was quick to say that those early rhymes were all too  elementary.

Isaac Oren Bower, Orie for short, was born on May 26, 1850 in Irwinton, Georgia, the county seat of Wilkinson County.  His father, Judge James Cuthbert Bower, was an attorney and Judge of the Court of Ordinary, which then had jurisdiction over Probate matters, marriages and county business affairs. His mother, Martha E. Davis, was a daughter of Oren Davis. 

Although his father was opposed to secession,  Judge James Cuthbert Bower was an ardent supporter of the Confederacy after the war began.  Orie, only 14 years of age, would often go on recruiting missions with his father to urge local men who were becoming of military age to fight for the South to stem the rising blue tide of the Union Army as it was steam rolling across the state from the North to the sea.  That tide rushed through Irwinton just after Thanksgiving in the fall of 1864.  The war would later have a abiding impact on Orie, especially in his poetry. 

Orie attended school from the age of six until seventeen, when he graduated from Talmadge Institute in Irwinton.  The leading men of the community hired well educated Northern teachers to teach the more elite children of the community with the most modern educational methods.

But, Orie wanted no part of books and mathematical exercises.  He wanted to fish on sunny days and on cools nights, hunt opossums and racoons.

Living somewhat of a "Tom Sawyer" like childhood, Orie became enchanted with a young mulatto slave, "Wash."   "Wash" was a master teller of tales, ghosts stories and Negro folk legends, much in the style of Joel Chandler Harris's "Uncle Remus" stories.  

Orie desperately wanted to engage in the practice of law.  So, after a year to find himself in the paradise of Florida, he began the study of law in his father's Irwinton law office.  At the age of nineteen, Orie Bower was admitted to the bar in the Superior Court of Baldwin County.    Soon the life he had dreamed of, practicing law along side his father, was swept away by the economic tidal waves of Reconstruction and national financial crises which followed.   

Orie decided that he wanted to go to college in Lexington, Virginia at Washington College, where his hero,  General Robert E. Lee, was serving as president. Bower graduated from the illustrious institution, some six months prior to the death of General Lee, one of the most beloved and revered generals in American history. 

Said to have possessed uncanny abilities to perceive character and determine the behavior of human nature, Orie was often called upon to take on cases all around the country.  In his native home, Orie served as a Master of the local Masonic lodge, Justice of the Peace, a member of the school and Mayor of Irwinton, posts he held before the age of thirty.
When his health failed him, Bower reluctantly made the fateful decision to move to a healthier, drier climate.  So, it was off to a new life in Texas with his wife Olive, his four oldest children, his worldly possessions and his law books, in tow. 

From Celburne, Texas, where his 5th child, Bertie was born in 1878,  Orie's travels led him to Old Mexico, Arizona and California.  To help pay the bills of his family, Bower took a job in the newspaper business as a traveling correspondent of several daily newspapers of the West.  He even spent a year working with the Law Department of the Abstract and Title Insurance Company of Los Angeles, keeping track of the ever changing ownership of land in the burgeoning West.  All the while, Orie continued to practice law, from the Mexican Border to the silver mad metropolis of Denver.  

As he grew older and his pace slowed down, Orie's thoughts turned back to the rolling hills of home and of his old friend Wash, telling his tales by the dwindling early morning campfires.  He thought of the good fishing holes and hunting wild game.  He recalled the sounds of the mockingbird's song, mourning whip-poor-wills and constantly chirping katydids - all things that were once wonderful when he was young and carefree. 

Orie's poetical inspirations erupted.  Many in his family had written poetry.  Some say as many of six members of the Bower family had penned published verses.  

Although Orie had written many poems, most of which he thought unworthy of consideration in his youth, it was during his sickly, invalid years when Orie began to turn out one poem after another.  His major work, "T'was ‘64 in Dixie," was a compilation of poems about the War Between the States. It was so long, 8,000 words, that Orie broke it down into subtitles, like "Noble Yankee Dead," "Faded Flowers," "Southern Girls," "The Yankee Cat"  and "Who Wave's the Bloody Shirt?"

It didn't take long at all for Orie's epic poem to be noticed by newspaper editors around the West.  Rienzi M. Johnston, who was born across the Oconee River from Wilkinson, County in Washington County  a year before Orie was born, was the prominent editor of the Houston Daily Post.  Johnston, who would later serve a short term as a United States Senator, published the entire poem in eight issues.  It was Johnston who first penned the moniker of "The Dixie Poet" or "The Lawyer Poet of the Rockies" on Bower.

There is no available space in this column, let alone in this entire issue, to republish the poetry of Orie Bower. To read a compilation of the poetry of Orie Bower, go to:

Orie Bower, who died in Nov. 1901, in  Harrison, Arkansas, spent the last three decades of his life, traveling around the West, looking for a cure for the illnesses which plagued his body,  He never found a physical cure for his maladies.  What he did find was something much more mentally fulfilling and of much more lasting consequence.  He observed and experienced a wonderful introspective life peering at the wonders of nature and writing of  the glories and horrors of war.  From time to time, Orie even took time to speak out on issues which he saw as harmful, the  ways of corrupt politicians for one example.  He even took the time to write about the funny things in the world.

So Orie Bower, may you live forever in the blue hazed mountains of the Rockies and the clear creeks of the green Georgia forests. 

1 comment:

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