Joseph Cotton

Joseph Cotton. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Joseph Bell Cotton came to Duluth on September 20th, 1888, the same year he was admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of Michigan. He immediately commenced his law practice with the firm he organized together with Judge Homer B. Dibell—Cotton and Dibell. Later it became Cotton, Dibell & Reynolds, with the addition of Joseph Ward Reynolds. Cotton took an active part in Republican politics, serving as secretary of the Republican City Committee, and in the summer of 1892 was nominated by the Republicans as the candidate for the legislature. He served in the legislature in 1893 after being elected by the largest vote cast for any of the representative candidates and made the nominating speech for Cushman K. Davis at the time of his second election as United States Senator from Minnesota, bringing Cotton to prominence as a public speaker. In 1904 he delivered one of the speeches seconding the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. After Cotton left the legislature he was elected attorney for the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway Company, the Mountain Iron, Missabe Mountain and Biwabik Mountain Mining Companies and in 1894, was named attorney for the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mines as well. His other endeavors included being the vice-president and managing owner of the Bessemer Steamship Company, general solicitor of the Duluth & Iron Range and the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad Companies. In 1903 he became general solicitor of the Oliver Iron Mining Company and the Minnesota Iron Company and all their subsidiary and allied companies in the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan region.  Also second vice-president, general solicitor and director of the North Butte Mining Company, one of the more recent and important copper mining companies. Cotton and his wife Louise built their impressive home at 2309 East First Street in 1906.

Mr. Cotton was born on a farm in Albion, Noble County, Ind. in 1865. Son of Dr. John Cotton, graduate of Rush Medical College, and of Elizabeth Jane Riddle, daughter of a prominent farmer formerly living near Albion and now deceased.  Educated in the High Schools of Albion, Ind., and in the Michigan Agricultural and Mechanical College at Lansing.  Graduated from that institution in 1886 with degree of Bachelor of Science. Was class orator in junior year, elected class president in senior year. Resigning that position was re-elected class orator. Delivered the class oration and also one of the commencement orations, selected by the faculty. Upon graduation was appointed by the Michigan State Board of Control, Instructor of Mathematics at his Alma Mater. While tutoring in mathematics and during the winter vacations he studied law with Hon. Edward Willitts, now deceased, then  president of the college and afterwards Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in the late President Harrison’s cabinet. Was admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of Michigan on the 14th day of June, 1888. Resigned position as instructor at the close of the college year. Came to Duluth September 20th, 1888, and commenced the active practice of his profession. Organized the firm of Cotton and Dibell, composed of Judge Homer B. Dibell and himself, which afterward became Cotton, Dibell & Reynolds, composed of Judge Dibell, Joseph Ward Reynolds and himself. Took then an active part in politics. Was secretary at one time of the Republican City Committee. Nominated by the Republicans as the candidate for the legislature in the summer of 1892, and was elected by the largest vote cast for any of the representative candidates. Served in the legislature in 1893. Was a member of a number of the leading committees and took an active part in the winter’s session. Made the nominating speech for the late Cushman K. Davis at the time of his second election as United States Senator from Minnesota. This effort brought Mr. Cotton into some considerable prominence as a public speaker. After leaving the legislature was elected attorney for the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway Company, the Mountain Iron, Missabe Mountain and Biwabik Mountain Mining Companies in May, 1893.  In February, 1894, was elected attorney for the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron mines as well. Later was elected vice-president and managing owner of the Bessemer Steamship Company. Held these positions until the organization of the United States Steel Corporation, when he became general solicitor of  the Duluth & Iron Range and the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railroad Companies. In 1903 became also general solicitor of the Oliver Iron Mining Company and the Minnesota Iron Company an all their subsidiary and allied companies in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, which positions he still holds. Also second vice-president, general solicitor and director of the North Butte Mining Company, one of the more recent and important copper mining companies. In politics has always been a Republican. His father, however, was a Douglas Democrat. His mother’s people being Whigs. Except being a member of the legislature has held no other office, elective or appointive. Was delegate to the Republican National Convention from this district in 1904. Delivered one of the nominating speeches seconding the nomination of Theodore Roosevelt. Is this year president of the Garfield Republican Club. Is a member of the following clubs and societies: Kitchi Gammi, Commercial, Boar Club, Yacht Club and Northland Country Club in Duluth; Commercial of Superior, Minnesota Club of St. Paul, Chicago Athletic Association of Chicago, Bow String Club of Minnesota, the Washington Club of Isle Royale, Michigan, and the Minnesota Society of the City of New York. Is an Elk, a member of the Phi Delta Theta Greek Society. Has all the degrees in Masonry excepting the 33d, including both the York and Scottish Rites, and is Past Sovereign of St. George’s Conclave of the Knights of the Red Cross and the Holy Sepulcher of St. John. Was married January 4th, 1900. Has two little daughters, Josephine and Mary.

Sources:

  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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