Rustic Monument to a Judge

DANIEL GANTT

DIED AT NEBRASKA CITY

MAY 28, 1878

AGED 63 YEARS

At the time of his death

he was honorably serving

the State of Nebraska

in the high position of

CHIEF JUSTICE

NON ENIM TAM AUCTORITATIS IN DUSPUTANDO

QUAM RATIONIS MEMENTA QUAERENDA SUNT.

CICERO

The ledger laid atop carved stone logs in the Wyuka Cemetery in Nebraska City, Nebraska, was created for Daniel Gantt in the Rustic Style which was popular the late 19th Century and the very beginning of the 20th Century, coinciding with the Rural Cemetery Movement. 

Daniel Gantt (June 29, 1814—May 28, 1878) was born in Perry County, Pennsylvania.  Gantt, after a serious jobs, was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1843. In May 1857, Gantt and his wife, Agnes, moved to the Nebraska Territory. He first settled in Douglas County.  In October of that same year, Agnes died of lung-fever.  The following year, he married Harriet Cooper in Pittsburgh making their home in Omaha, where he became active in local politics.  In 1861, Gantt was elected City Treasurer in 1861.  Two years later, Gantt won a seat in the Territorial House of Representatives.  President Lincoln appointed Gantt U.S. District Attorney for the Nebraska Territory on May 10, 1864.  After his appointment was over, the Gantt’s moved to Nebraska City, where he hung out his shingle and went into private legal practice.  In 1872, he was elected an Associate Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court. In January of 1878, Gantt became Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, a position he held until his death just five short months later.

Gantt’s legal career and penultimate rise to Supreme Court Justice of Nebraska is most likely noted by the stack of books on one end of his grave ledger. It is likely they represent law books and are a nod to his career in the law.  The scales carved on the lower portion of his gravestone, on the other hand, are a symbol, like many, that can have more than one meaning.  For instance, it could be as simple as representing his Zodiac sign.  Libra is representing by the scales. Except that he was born June 28th, which makes his Zodiac sign Cancer, which is the crab.  In cemetery symbolism, the scales traditionally represent justice being rendered and administered by Lady Justice—weighing guilt and punishment.  In this case, the scales are again, as are the books, a reference to Gantt’s position on Nebraska’s High Court.

The Latin inscription at the bottom of the ledger was very difficult to decipher. I had little luck with it, only being able to read a couple of words.  The rest of them looked like a jumble of letters to me.  A friend and colleague of mine, Charlotte, who has studied Latin, however, was able to read the inscription even though it was weathered, pitted, and stained.  The line, “NON ENIM TAM AUCTORITATIS IN DUSPUTANDO QUAM RATIONIS MEMENTA QUAERENDA SUNT.” is from Cicero’s book De Natura Deorum, or On the Nature of the Gods. The loose translation reads, “In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities.”  Again, a nod to his achievement as a judge of which he must have been extremely proud.

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