Rollin Laird Biography


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Rollin Laird
Biographical Sketch from the History of Kern County, pp. 1253-1254

The present city attorney of Bakersfield belongs to an honored pioneer family of California and traces his genealogy to Scotland, whence one of the name crossed the ocean to America shortly after the close of the Revolutionary war. When the great unknown west first attracted worldwide attention through the discovery of gold Peter Laird determined to cast in his lot with the enthusiastic army of Argonauts bound for the mines of the coast. Accompanied by his family, in 1851 he came across the plains with a prairie-schooner and a drove of stock. In the care of the stock he was aided by his boy of seven years, John W. P., whose extreme youth did not prevent him from attempting to do a man's work in the long and fatiguing journey. The difficult tasks of devolving upon father and son were rendered less arduous through the constant encouragement and cheerful aid of the beloved wife and mother, a woman of deep religious spirit and gentle character. She bore the maiden name of Julia A. Pierce*. While still a young woman, needed in her home and unspeakably dear to her family, she was taken from them by an unfortunate accident. The family had settled in Eldorado County and the father had engaged in mining at Mokelumne mines, where he established his wife and children in camp. One day in 1854, while Mrs. Laird was lying in a hammock, a mine blast occurred and she was killed by a flying rocket when one of the powder charges exploded. Her passing was mourned not alone by the immediate family, but also by the miners, to all of whom she had been a friend, benefactor and nurse.
After the Laird family had lived for some time at the old mining camps of Diamond Springs and Shingle Springs, about 1858 they moved to Sacramento County and became interested in the stock business. During the latter part of the 1860's they removed to Inyo County. Peter Laird died at the home of his son, Judge J. W. P. Laird, at Bakersfield in
January, 1910, at the age of eighty-nine years. John W. P. Laird was born at Mount Carroll, Carroll County, IL May 28, 1844, and in 1851 came across the plains from Missouri with his parents. Later he worked in the mines and on ranches. While engaged in the cattle industry he procured some law books from an old-time attorney in Sacramento and after the day's work was done he read law by the camp fires. Thus by dint of hard work, both manual and mental, he fitted himself for the career of an attorney. When he resolved upon a legal career he was considerably past thirty and in 1879, soon after he was admitted to practice before the California Supreme Court, he was elected district attorney of Inyo County, serving as such until 1886. During the first administration of President Cleveland he served as register of the Independence land office. His first appearance as an attorney in Kern County occurred in 1890, when he came to Bakersfield as a special prosecutor in the trial of W. T. C. Elliott for murder, the case resulting in mistrial, and Elliott was never acquitted or found guilty. Being well pleased with Bakersfield, Mr. Laird determined to establish an office in this city and in May 1891 he arrived here, being followed by his family in July. In the practice of law he formed a partnership with Jackson W. Mahon, then a young attorney just rising to prominence, now a superior judge of Kern County. The pleasant and profitable association was terminated after a few years by the election of Mr. Mahon to the bench. Later Mr. Laird formed a partnership with H. L. Packard and this connection existed until 1903, when he was appointed district attorney to succeed the late J. W. Ahern, an able lawyer and a loyal friend. Such was the ability with which the vacancy was filled that in 1906 Mr. laird was regularly elected to the office and in that capacity he was regarded as an able prosecutor and a fearless champion of the people's cause.
A recognized leader of the Kern County Democracy Mr. Laird exercised a wide influence in the party councils and in 1900 was elected assemblyman on the regular party ticket. While a member of the house he served on the Pardee investigating committee during the Chinatown scandal in San Francisco taking a prominent part in the investigation. In the fall of 1910 the Democrats nominated him without opposition to represent the thirty-second district in the state senate. At the election Kings and Tulare counties gave large Republican majorities, which defeated him, although he carried his own county by a flattering vote. Upon the death of Judge Ben L. Brundage, less than a year before his own demise, he was a member of the committee on resolutions an in that capacity gave a deserved tribute to that honored California pioneer, whose career in the law was long and brilliant.
While living in Inyo county in 1872 Mr. Laird married Henrietta McLaughlin, who had come to California ten years before and whose death occurred at Bakersfield during 1900. They were the parents of three sons, Ernest, Lester and Rollin, all residing in Bakersfield, where the eldest son is employed as court reporter and the youngest serves a city attorney. After the death of his first wife Mr. laird married again and is survived by his widow, also by four step-daughters, namely: Mrs. A. K. Miller, of Berkeley; Mrs. Ralph Knight, of Stockton; Mrs. Oscar Reynolds, of Helena, Montana; and Mrs. Ralph Toland, of Bakersfield. During the latter part of 1910 ill health began to assail the judge (for by that title he was commonly known) and early in 1911 he spent three months in the mountains near Weldon, but the change of climate proved of no avail. A few days after his return from the mountains he dropped dead from heart failure on the sidewalk a short distance from the residence of his step-daughter, Mrs. Miller, in Berkeley, whither he had gone to put himself under the care of physicians. The body was brought to Bakersfield and interment was made under the auspices of the Masonic fraternity, of which he was an honored member. Universal regret was felt on account of his sudden demise. None knew him but to admire him for his splendid qualities of mind and heart. It was profoundly felt that in the upbuilding of the community he, as a member of the bar, ranked with the most brilliant who ever practiced law in the road San Joaquin Valley. His youngest son, Rollin, whose career has somewhat resembled his own up to the present date and who is believed to possess many of his sterling characteristics, was born in Inyo County, California, September 8, 1880, is a graduate of the Valparaiso Law School in Indiana in 1909, was admitted to the bar in Indiana and during the same year in Los Angeles, from which place he returned to Bakersfield to engage in practice. Elected city attorney in 1911, he is filling the office with such efficiency that his friends predict for him greater honors and a bright future in the political world.

* Julia's maiden name was Julia Adaline Lindsay. Julia A. Lindsay's mother married twice - the second time to a man named Pierce - who raised the Lindsay children.