Cover: Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties
1891 Portrait and Biographical Record:
Hon. W. G. Cochran


HON. W.G. COCHRAN, Speaker of the House during the Thirty-ninth session of the General Assembly, is well known not only in Sullivan but throughout Southern Illinois as a leading attorney and an influential citizen. He has resided in Moultrie County since he was four years old, although his residence in Sullivan permanently dates only from April 1891. He was formerly located in Lovington and vicinity, where he won laurels in his profession and as a politician. His advent as a student of the law began under Judge Miner in 1877, and May 23, 1879 he was admitted to practice at the bar. Since that date he has been progressing constantly and is regarded as one of the stanchest Republicans in the county.

In 1888 Mr. Cochran was nominated by the Republican party for Representative and was successfully run on the minority ticket. After his election to the State Legislature he felt the embarrassment of being compelled to enter the Legislative halls without knowing the State Executive or any of the State officers, or even a member of either branch of the Legislature. But he was possessed of a genial disposition and frank, open manners which soon won him the confidence of all with whom he came in contact and the respect of every member of the law-making body of the State. When it became necessary to elect a Speaker of the House an old soldier was looked for, and among that class Mr. Cochran was entered in the race with Judge Cooly, the well-known "heavy weight" of Knox County.

On the third ballot Mr. Cochran won the race. It is well known that he filled this place of trust with great success and to the satisfaction of the members of both parties. While a Republican he looked closely to the interests of his constituents and made many friends who rejoiced in his election to the Speakership. On his return home he was nominated by his party for Senator and polled more votes than his party ticket, which is much in the minority. While in the Legislature he served as a member of the Judicial Committee and was Chairman of the Municipal Committee.

Not without a struggle, however, did Mr. Cochran attain to success in this life. He was reared in this county, having no advantages for a schooling and working on the home farm. At the age of seventeen the war broke out, and at this youthful age he sought an opportunity to enter in the defense of his country early in 1861, but was refused admission by the Captain of the company where he made application. About one year later he succeeded in securing a place in the ranks as a private of Company A, One Hundred and Twenty-sixth Illinois Infantry. The regiment was composed of young men who possessed the fighting qualities of veterans. Their presence was soon felt in the South and they did service at the siege of Vicksburg. They also participated in the battles of Clarendon, Little Rock, and went on an expedition to Red River to meet Gen. Banks. They afterward continued their march through Arkansas and as they went along did good service in frightening the enemy out of the country and suppressing the sharpshooters.

Young Cochran stood his army life nobly and endured many hardships, but he was always prepared for duty and did his part without flinching. He was promoted to be Sergeant, and at the expiration of three years was mustered out at Pine Bluff, Ark., and honorably discharged from the service at Springfield, Ill., in August, 1865. Although be had seen a great deal of hard fighting he had fortunately escaped uninjured and had never seen the inside of a prison or hospital. He had just attained to his majority before his term of enlistment expired, and to illustrate the progress he has since made it may be said that when he entered the service his enlistment papers bear only his mark, as he could not write at that time.

For several years after the close of the war Mr. Cochran was engaged in farming pursuits near Lovington, but his heart was meanwhile with his books and he later followed his natural bent, the study of law. He has a brilliant, daring eloquence which with his sparkling wit makes him an attractive speaker. At the beginning of an address he is cool and calm, but gradually warms to the subject. In politics he is intensely Republican, but his personal friendships and influence extend to all parties. He is a member of the Masonic order and has been honored with some of their highest offices, having membership with Blue Lodge, No. 288, and Chapter No. 171, at Lovington. He has served several terms as Master and has also been chosen High Priest. He is a Knight Templar in the Commandery at Sullivan. In church and Sunday-school he is an active worker, having been a faithful Christian since the late war. His membership is in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and since 1868 he has preached when called upon to do so, and has been heard expounding the Scriptures in almost every place of meeting in the county. In Lovington he was a member of the Sunday-school for twenty-seven years and was Superintendent for fifteen years of the time.

The birth of the Hon. Mr. Cochran occurred near Frankford, Ohio, the oldest town in the State, located in Ross County, November 3, 1844. He came of comparatively poor but highly respectable parentage, his ancestors being people of steady habits and moral character. His father, Andrew Cochran, was a native of Pennsylvania and a son of another Andrew Cochran, born in the same State. It appears that the family had lived in the Keystone State for many years and came of a mixed stock, strongly adhering to the Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry. The elder Andrew Cochran grew to manhood upon a farm and was married to Miss Margaret Hewitt, whose love he had won by his heroism. The Hewitt family was once trying to cross a swollen river and all seemed destined to be drowned in the rapidly flowing stream, but young Cochran showed his natural bravery and rushed to the rescue. By heroic effort he saved the life of two of the daughters, the remaining members of the family having already been borne down the rushing river. A marriage to one of the daughters soon followed and proved a happy union.

The brave young Cochran and his wife began life poor in this world's goods but labored together for some years in their first home. Desiring to better their condition they resolved to go to the wilds of what was then the new country of Ohio. At an early day they settled in Ross County and there opened up a new home in the woods where they died at a ripe old age. They were Christians and reared an honorable family. The son Andrew was only a small boy when his parents started out in Ross County and there he grew to a stalwart manhood. He married into a good family, his wife, Jane Foster, being one of a pair of twins. The other twin is now Mrs. Isabell Gregory, and survives at the age of eighty five years, being quite active and hearty.

After their six children had been born to Andrew Cochran, Jr., and his good wife, they decided to follow the example of their ancestors and locate in a new country. In 1849 they gathered together their worldly goods, and with wagons and teams started for Illinois, camping by the way and the father and sons sleeping at night under the canopy of the heavens. After a somewhat long and tedious journey they landed at their destination and pitched their tents not far from Lovington, where the father secured a small farm. There the father and mother lived and labored until their death. The good wife and mother passed away in November, 1881, and had reached a good old age, having been born in 1806. The father who was born in 1808 survived until January 5, 1889, and passed from earth on the same day that his son was to start for the State capital to accept his office of trust as the representative of the people of Shelby County. He had been a life-long Democrat and cast his only Republican vote when he gave his suffrage to his son W. G., who had grown up a Republican in his political faith. Andrew Cochran was a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church but in the absence of that church here, joined the Methodist Church.

Of the six children our subject was next to the youngest. Two of the daughters are now deceased. The survivors are Isabell, wife of William C. Foster, of Decatur; Charles, a farmer on the old Cochran homestead; Andrew W., a farmer in this county; and our subject. The wife of our subject bore the maiden name of Charlota Keyes and was born in Ohio, her parents being Virginians. The father, James Keyes, was a farmer and died in Loveland, at a good old age. Mrs. Cochran was reared and educated principally in Sullivan County and has made a good wife to her worthy husband, to whom she has borne six children. Prudence is deceased. The survivors are - Oscar, a successful teacher in this county; Grace M., a graduate of Lovington High School; Archie B., Arthur G., and Laura C., all of whom are under the parental roof and are bright, intelligent children.

Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties, 1891 - p. 714-716

Transcription copyright 2003/2007, Moultrie County ILGenWeb/USGenWeb