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Paul W.H. Rawls (c.1821-1849)

Scholar, Attorney, Soldier

Paul Wideman Huntington Rawls was well known by the people of Kalamazoo, not as a man of wealth and industry, but as a talented student with a promising future. Rawls’ name appeared weekly in the Kalamazoo Gazette as a member of the village’s Literary Society and a student at the Michigan University (later U of M) Branch school. After graduating from the university, Rawls studied law while working as a student lawyer in a local firm. Between 1846 and 1847, he became an attorney in the county and state, ran for political office, and served as a notary public. However, like other young men at that time, Rawls sought excitement and enlisted to serve with the Michigan volunteers in the Mexican War. When his enlistment ended in 1848, Rawls returned to Kalamazoo and his law practice. While ads promoted the work of him and his law partner, Samuel Clark, poor health attributed to his time in Mexico, limited Rawls’ work, and life.

Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor

Branch School building, 1838, KPL P-1170

Paul W.H. Rawls was born in Herkimer, New York. After the death of his father, his mother, Irene Loomis Rawls, moved to Kalamazoo (Bronson at that time) in 1830. Soon after her arrival, Irene married Israel Kellogg, a future owner of the Kalamazoo House. While nothing is known of Rawls’ childhood, by 1841, his name had become well known in Kalamazoo. As a student in Michigan University’s Branch school in the village, which opened in 1838, Rawls’ name appeared in notices printed in the Kalamazoo Gazette. Between 1840 and 1841, Rawls’ was an active member and officer in the Kalamazoo Literary Society’s weekly Lyceums, which met under the auspices of the university. It was also in 1841 that he became a founding member of the Geological, etc., Society, also at the Branch school. Through his involvement in the above societies, Rawls became associated with such future Kalamazoo notables as Nathaniel A. Balch and Benjamin F. Orcutt.

Also in 1841, Rawls was listed among the students who attended the Branch school’s summer term and, in a letter written to his parents he said that “Dutton” (William Dutton, principal of the Branch School) had “urged” him “to enter college.” That year Michigan University opened its new campus in Ann Arbor, from where Rawls’ parents soon began to receive letters. In those letters, he commented on his accommodation, the classes he had each term, the long days a term required, and the names of his instructors. One letter told of his thinking of leaving university when there was a conflict between the school and the state. Rawls decided to stay, primarily because professors he liked had chosen to stay. It was also while in college when Rawls voted for the first time. He wrote in detail of what it meant to him personally to discover his political leanings were to the Democratic Party; this had to have pleased his stepfather, Israel Kellogg, who often worked for the Democratic party of Kalamazoo County. And like so many college students, past and present, Rawls spoke of his concerns for the mounting debts to various people who helped him meet each term’s tuition bill. At one point, he considered taking a break from his education and work to pay off his debts. In the 1840s, a year’s tuition and fees could go as high as $117.50 (the equivalent to just over $4,000, today). Early in 1842, Rawls was appointed a notary public for Kalamazoo County, which he may have worked at during breaks at home to earn extra money. After four years of living in cold rooms in boarding houses and working vacations, often in farm fields, Rawls graduated in the first class at the Ann Arbor campus with a B.A. from the Department of Science, Literature, and the Arts and debts to pay.

A Lawyer with Political Aspirations

Paul W. H. Rawls diploma from Michigan University (U of M), 1845 (KPL Local History)

After graduation, Rawls returned to Kalamazoo and worked as a student attorney in the office of Stuart & Miller on Main Street. Within a year, he went before Epaphroditus Ransom, the presiding judge of the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, and was “granted the privileges of an attorney and counselor in all the law courts” in the state. Along with beginning his legal career, that fall, Rawls ran as the Democratic Party’s candidate for Register of Deeds for Kalamazoo County. A party ad asked the liberal voters to favor Rawls as a worthy liberal based on his “superior ability” and “great personal energy” which helped him to obtain a “liberal education, with very limited means” and to “repudiate the doctrine that education is the bane of democracy.” There was a ten-day delay in naming the winner as Rawls and his opponent were known for using their middle initials. Voters wrote each candidate’s name in diverse ways. All variants for each candidate’s name were accepted. When the results were reported, Rawls lost by only four votes. He continued to practice law and became a noted speaker engaged by social organizations in Kalamazoo to speak on various legal issues. Early in 1847, he was appointed Notary Public for Kalamazoo and in May became licensed to practice law in the 3rd Judicial Circuit Court of the Supreme Court of Michigan. Not long afterwards, he partnered with Samuel Clark and opened an office on Main Street above the store owned by Isaac Moffatt & T.S. Cobb, two doors west of the Kalamazoo House where Rawls lived.

The Patriotic Lawyer

At the same time as notices for the new law practice of Clark & Rawls appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette, so too did articles calling for volunteers to support the army in the war with Mexico. The Gazette supported Colonel Frederick W. Curtenius’ commission to enlist volunteers from Kalamazoo. One article described signing up as a patriotic duty that would keep a young man from facing shame in the future, and a safe way to “visit a fine country and mingle with the world.” Along with duty and honor, the government would pay all expenses and provide “liberal wages.” Adventure and pay probably both influenced Rawls to enlist to reduce daily expenses and help pay off his college debt. He was among the one hundred and one who volunteered from Kalamazoo and the county and like some others was willing to give up a “profitable business” to fight for his country.

Company A from Kalamazoo rendezvoused in Detroit with companies from other counties to form the Michigan regiment. From there the regiment marched two hundred miles to Springfield, Ohio, then the railway to Cincinnati, where they boarded a steamer to New Orleans. Rawls wrote home that the march, military rations, and sleeping on the hard ground with only a tent cover and a blanket improved his health. He claimed he was healthier than he had been in Kalamazoo where he battled “dyspepsia” (i.e., indigestion).

On the march down, Rawls had received a promotion and upon arrival in New Orleans, informed his parents that future correspondence from home should be addressed to Lieutenant Paul W.H. Rawls. He was placed in command of the non-commissioned officers, artificers, musicians, and privates in Company A, 1st Regiment Michigan Volunteers. A document among his papers shows that he managed the record of clothing given to each man. The document also shows that fellow Kalamazoo recruit and attorney, Samuel Rice, served as the witness to each soldier’s claim.

Once in Mexico, Rawls’ letters became more a travelogue that described the architecture and layout of, and scenery surrounding, the cities of Vera Cruz, Cordova, and Orizaba. He referred to William H. Prescott’s, conquest of Mexico, 1943, as a definitive source to the beauty of the land. The culture of the people and the impact of the Spanish invasion guided his impressions of the Mexican people. Rawls respected the early native peoples, referencing the Aztecs and their last ruler, Montezuma, as great warriors, but their descendants, and those of the Spanish conquerors, he described as “effeminate” and “cowardly.” Under these headings, he placed the guerilla fighters led by Santa Anna and others. He further added that the country needed to be “civilized and regenerated by our Anglo-Saxon rule or this goodly country will ere long become a desert waste.” To emphasize his view of the people, Rawls said that the fortifications of Vera Cruz were such that they could have withstood a bombardment if properly manned preventing a foreign conquest; Yankee women, Rawls said, would have proven stronger defenders.

Rawls wanted to see battle as the Michigan troops had not been blooded. Whether they entered Mexico through battle or as an occupying force, he would accept whatever happened. The latter proved to be the case in Vera Cruz, Cordova, and Orizaba. Even on the trek inland, Rawls saw no action. The guerrilla troops, he said, tried hit and run tactics on their three-mile-long train, but still no fighting due to the military strength. Settled in the cities, the company often was involved with tracking down spies and searching for illegal weapon stores. The citizens in the towns were pleasant toward his “countrymen,” Rawls said, as the army’s presence supplied economic stability against guerillas who crept into towns to report on U.S. troop movements and attack merchants working with the conquerors.

It was during the move inland to Cordoba when Rawls received another promotion to 2nd lieutenant. When the armistice was signed with Mexico in the spring of 1848, Rawls wrote that he hoped Mexico would break it, saying that he and other volunteers thought it an insult to the U.S. government and wanted to fight for more territory. Near the end of his enlistment period, Rawls, still eager to fight, wrote that he thought of re-enlisting to stay in Mexico and help the native peoples of Yucatan in their rebellion against the state. In the end he decided that “a seat in a law office in Michigan is hardly desirable but it would be better than fighting Indians.” Rawls’ health may have helped him make that decision. When the Michigan regiment had prepared to march inland, Rawls was battling a “debilitating” illness. He wrote that he was only able to make the march with the aid of opium, brandy, and a horse that the Quartermaster and fellow Kalamazoo attorney, Samuel Rice, found for him. Rice, himself, was so ill, he had to ride in a carriage. Once in Cordoba, Rawls praised the pure mountain air and the abundant fresh fruits of curing him and others. Along with keeping good health for some time to come, he was also able to celebrate earning the funds to send home for the final payment of his college debt.

Respected and Remembered

On 18 July 1848, Rawls was honorably discharged in Detroit. He returned to Kalamazoo and resumed his law practice with Samuel Clark. In March 1849, Rawls was again appointed a notary public for Kalamazoo County. However, Rawls was quite ill; the pure air and fresh fruit of Cordoba had not cured him. Whatever ailment he had contracted in Mexico caused him discomfort. At some point in the spring of 1849 he went to Richfield Springs, New York. His reason for going there may well have been to take treatment at the Great White Sulphur Springs medical facility. While in Richfield Springs, Rawls succumbed to his illness.

The obituary that appeared in the Kalamazoo Telegraph said that “the hardships of the campaign, and the ungenial climate of that country (Mexico) so deranged his physical system, that no remedy could rescue him…” Rawls had less than two years as a working attorney in Kalamazoo, but he and fellow attorney and Mexico Volunteer Samuel A. Rice were both honored at a county Bar meeting in early 1850 with a lengthy statement of condolence that was shared with their family and friends and printed in the Gazette. Years later, Rawls was remembered in the History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan (1880) and the Michigan Pioneer Collection, in the sections on attorneys in Kalamazoo. Both referenced the significance of his education which endowed him with “remarkable qualifications as a scholar” who showed “great promise in the profession.”

It is not known where Paul W.H. Rawls was buried. There is no known record. However, the only cemetery in Kalamazoo at that time was the South West Street Cemetery located where South Westnedge Park is today. He was possibly buried there. If he was, when it closed in 1882 as a health hazard and the burials dug up and moved, Rawls’ grave may have been one that was lost or unidentified. At the time of his death in July 1849, Paul W.H. Rawls was only 28 years old, had spent less than fifteen years of his life in Kalamazoo, and yet he was “beloved by all and deeply mourned.” Mrs. Allen Potter, a contemporary of Rawls in the 1840s, confirmed this when in a feature article in the Gazette about her life, printed in 1912, said that his death caused the “whole village to mourn.”


Article written by Brent Coates, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, December 2023



History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan
Everts and Abbott, Philadelphia, 1880
Call Number: H 977.417 H67

Michigan Pioneer Collections, vol. 11
Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Company, State Printers, Lansing, 1908
Call Number: H 977.4 M62 vol.11

Kalamazoo and how it grew…and grew
Dunbar, Willis F.
Call Number: H 977.418 D89.2


“Kalamazoo Lyceum”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1840-1841

“At a meeting of the citizens of Kalamazoo and members of the Branch School,…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 June 1841, page 2, column 6

“A catalogue”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 August 1841, page 2, column 6

“Appointments by the governor,”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 February 1842, page 2, column 6

“The Gazette…democratic nominations”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 October 1846, page 2, column 3

“Official canvas”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 November 1846, page 3, column 6

“The boys are going”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 October 1847, page 2, column 2

“Some of the finest young men…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 November 1847, page 2, column 4

“Business Directory”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1847-1848

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 28 July 1849, page 2, column 3

“Death of P.W.H. Rawls & S.A. Rice”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 February 1850, page 2, column 6

Local History Room Files

Name File: Rawls, Paul Wideman Huntington

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