Dennis Bowen Had “The Music”

Dennis Bowen Had “The Music”

According to Katie Bowen, Dennis Bowen had “the music.” I’m not exactly sure what she meant, but she wrote to her mother that Dennis was very much like his younger brother, Isaac. Dennis was Isaac’s closest sibling and they were the most alike in demeanor – serious and industrious, but also pranksters who loved books and music. Isaac chose a soldier’s fortune, while Dennis relished the law. Their parents were “jolly farmers” who lived in the village of East Aurora, New York, 25 miles south of downtown Buffalo. Jonathan Bowen (1782-1868) and his wife, Vashti Wheeler Bowen (1782-1857), were Quakers who had a very large family of 12 boys and girls. In his teens, Isaac managed to obtain a commission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, while Dennis studied law as a clerk in the Buffalo firm of Millard Fillmore and was admitted to the bar in 1842. That same year, Isaac Bowen graduated from West Point and was assigned to Fort Kent, Maine. Later in 1842, Dennis formed a partnership with Nathan. K. Hall (later the 14th Postmaster General of the U.S. in the cabinet of President Millard Fillmore – his lifelong friends) and continued to practice law, with different partners, until his death on April 21, 1877. Dennis’s practice was largely one of personal counsel, and while he did not often appear personally in court, he advised perhaps the largest number of clients in the city.

Katie Bowen adored Dennis and his wife, Mary Eliza Potter Bowen, and got to know them well. She first visited them at their home in Buffalo while Isaac was serving in the Mexican War (1846-1848) and then later with her various children. Mary Eliza became a good friend and close confidant, and she and her son, Eddie Bowen, spent a few months with Katie and family in New Orleans in 1857. Dennis and Mary Eliza had six children, but only Eddie survived childhood. They were the perfect choice to raise Katie and Isaac’s children after the parents died of yellow fever in 1858.

Per his obituary: The public figures of Bowen’s era were marked as great industrialists, entrepreneurs, politicians, or military leaders. They were often immigrants, from either a foreign land or another section of this country, who overcame difficult circumstances to make their way upward. Bowen was cut from a different bolt of cloth. He was a quiet, hard-working, and trustworthy man whose counsel was widely sought regardless of his reticence, whose character spoke loudly when he himself did not.

The Buffalo Courier eulogized him thus: “His life was an uneventful one. There is no story to be told of severe struggles in boyhood or of fierce combat with the world in early manhood. He figured neither as advocate or statesman, nor was he in any sense a politician, although endowed with rare judgement and remarkable administrative ability. He was rarely seen in the courts, and we cannot learn that in his thirty-five years of practice he ever addressed a jury. There was nothing of the orator in his composition, and he shrank from the idea of addressing an assembly of any size or kind, but his knowledge of the law was profound, his judgement was accurate, his reasoning faculties were quick, clear and comprehensive, his conscience dominated his character, and his opinions, to the minds of all who knew him, were invested with all the importance that attaches to the decision of the highest court. He commanded the confidence of his fellow-men as easily as the sun shines; he had prodigious capacity for work and used it to its utmost; he carried vast responsibilities with an ease and grace that were marvelous; and he never betrayed a trust. No man in Buffalo ever bore in his mind or on his shoulders such a multitude of important interests, and no man could unravel an ugly legal complication with greater dexterity. His character was broad, deep, firmly planted and generous. He was as simple and modest as he was grand; as quick and luminous of faculty as he was straightforward and honest; as tender-hearted and patient as he was profound; and as inflexible for the right as he was strong in the prime of his manhood.”

He sounds like the kind of man you’d like to know. The Buffalo parks are a lasting part of the legacy of this man of character.

Author’s Note: For more information on the law career of Dennis Bowen, visit this site: