History of Taylor County, Iowa: from the earliest historic times to 1910 by Frank E. Crosson. Chicago, The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co. 1910
(biographicals transcribed by Linda Kestner: firstname.lastname@example.org)
W. R. WILDMAN
W. R. Wildman, living on section 33, Gay township, is one of the public-spirited citizens of this part of the county and his devotion to the general good is recognized by his fellow-townsmen, who have called him to local office. At the present writing, in 1909, he is serving as township clerk. Taylor county numbers him among her native sons, his birth having occurred December 1, 1878, on the old homestead farm which adjoins the place he is now cultivating. He is a son of (page 256) William Wildman who is mentioned elsewhere in this volume. The old homestead was the scene of his youthful activities as he indulged in the sports in which most boys take part and performed such duties as were assigned him by parental authority. His educational advantages were those offered by the common schools and when not busy with his text-books he assisted his father, remaining at home until he had attained his majority. On the 15th of March, 1905, in Jackson township, he was united in marriage to Miss Gertrude Turner, a native of this county, born in Gay township and a daughter of J. A. Turner of Clayton township. Following their marriage Mr. Wildman rented land and now has charge of two hundred and eighty acres, known as the Hickenlooper farm. He is prospering in his undertakings, doing a successful business in fattening and feeding stock, his specialty being hogs, of which he sells a large number annually.
Mr. Wildman has always given his political support to the democracy and was elected and served for two terms, or four years, as assessor of Gay township. In 1908 he was elected township clerk and is filling the position at the present time. No public trust reposed in him has ever been betrayed in the slightest degree and he regards a public office as a public trust. He is a young man of good business ability and upright character who has the confidence and esteem of the community, both because of his business integrity and the excellent record which he has made as a public official.
More than forty years ago William Wildman came to Taylor county to cast in his lot with its pioneer settlers, and although he faced a difficult problem, he addressed himself to the task which western life presented with steadiness and courage, which as the years have gone by has won him success, as is evidenced by his valuable farm of one hundred and sixty acres located in Gay township. He was born in Greene county, Pennsylvania, June 23, 1840, a son of Manassa and Rachel (Fox) Wildman, who were likewise natives of that county, the former born June 9, 1815. He was there reared and followed farming throughout his entire business career. His first wife died in 1854, after which he was again married. His family numbered six sons and three daughters, of whom two sons and one daughter still survive, the brother of our subject being Joseph Wildman, who still lives in Pennsylvania, while the sister is Mary, the wife of Elias Cowell, a resident of Maloy, Ringgold county, Iowa. The father passed to his final reward in 1886, when he was seventy-one years of age.
William Wildman was reared on the home farm in the Keystone State and after arriving at years of maturity worked in the oil region of that state for a few years. He was married in Greene county, in July, 1867, the lady of his choice being Miss Irene Cowell, a native of that county and a daughter of Jacob Cowell, a farmer of Greene county.
Following their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Wildman located on a farm in Greene county, where he rented a tract. He believed, however, that the west offered better agricultural advantages and with the hope of more quickly acquiring a competence, in 1868 he made his way to Taylor county, Iowa, and for three years operated a tract of rented land. At the end of that time he found himself in possession of a sum of money sufficient to invest in property and accordingly became the owner of forty acres of raw land. He built a small house and barn on the place and then gave his attention to the development of the land. In due time he purchased an additional tract of forty acres and still later added eighty acres, so that his place now comprises one hundred and sixty acres, situated on section 27, Gay township. He planted an orchard and evergreen trees and other shrubbery on the place, while in 1903 he replaced his pioneer home with a modern residence. He has also enclosed his lawn with a neat iron fence and his place presents a very attractive appearance. He does general farming and also raises and feeds stock, fattening about eighty head of hogs for the market each year.
Mr. and Mrs. Wildman have had eleven children but three of the number died in childhood, while Ora D. died in the spring of 1906 at the age of twenty-six years. The surviving members are: John; Jair; W. R., who is engaged in farming (page 581)and is also acting as clerk of Gay township; L. W.; Myrtle O., a young lady at home; Mattie P. and Ersel B., also at home.
Mr. Wildman gives his political support to the democratic party and cast his first presidential ballot for George B. McClellan in 1864, while his last vote was cast in 1908 for W. J. Bryan. He has served at various times for twelve years as trustee of the township and for a number of years has been identified with the school board, at the present time serving as its president. He is a Master Mason, belonging to the lodge at Blockton. Mrs. Wildman is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church at Gay Center. Mr. Wildman is a man of tried integrity and worth, fully meriting the confidence of the people. More than forty years have come and gone since he arrived in Taylor county and in the intervening period he has been a prominent factor in advancing the agricultural interests of this section of the state. Well known in Bedford, Blockton and various sections of the county, his life history cannot fail to prove of interest to his many friends, by whom he is highly respected and esteemed.
LEVI P. WILLITS
Great changes have occurred in this section of the state since Levi P. Willits took up his home in the district. He has lived in Adam and Taylor counties for thirty-eight years and was formerly the owner of a farm of two hundred and forty acres within three miles of Lenox. He took up his abode in Adams county in October, 1871, and in Taylor county in 1893, and throughout the years has carried on general agricultural pursuits.
Mr. Willits was born in Wayne county, Indiana, on the 12th of November, 1841. His father, James Monroe Willits, was a native of the same county and after arriving at years of maturity was married there to Miss Sarah Ann Myers, also born in that locality. On removing to Illinois they settled in Mercer county, where Mr. Willits opened up a new farm. In connection with the tilling of the soil he imported and dealt in Norman horses and became one of the prominent stock dealers and horsemen of that section of the state. He continued to reside there until his death, which occurred in 1907, when he had reached the venerable age of eight-seven years. His wife had passed away some years previous. They were the parents of three sons and two daughters, all of whom are yet living. After the death of his first wife the father married again and there are five children of the second marriage.
Levi P. Willits was reared to manhood on the home farm in Mercer county and assisted his father in the work of the farm from the time of early spring planting until crops were harvested in the late autumn. He was twenty-two years of age when on the 21st of December, 1863, he joined Company I, of the Seventeenth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and went south with the Western Army. He was first under fire in different skirmishes up and down the Mississippi River, doing guard and scouting duty and fighting bushwhackers. He participated in the battle of Fort Blakely and continued at the front after the close of the war, being on military duty in Texas for a time. He was mustered out at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was there honorably discharged May 15, 1866. He never lost time from sickness or other cause, but stacked arms every night with his company and he still has his army musket and side arms, which are cherished possessions and mementos of his military experience.
When the war was over Mr. Willits returned to Mercer county, Illinois, where he was employed as a farm hand by the month for several years, and was married there March 16, 1871, to Miss Maria Shields, who was born and reared in that county and was a daughter of William Shields, a prominent farmer and stock-raiser of Mercer county. He was born in Wayne county, Indiana, but when a young man of twenty-one years went to Illinois, becoming one of the pioneer settlers of Mercer county. He was married there to Lucy Wilson, who was born and reared in Illinois, and there they reared their family, the death of Mr. Shields occurring in 1892, while his wife passed away only a few months before.
Soon after their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Willits removed to Iowa, reaching Lenox in October, 1871. About the time of the great fire in Chicago a fire swept over the prairie here, burning the hay and everything. Mr. Willits purchased land in Grant township, Adams county, becoming owner of one hundred and twenty acres, on which he turned the first furrows and made the first improvements. Subsequently he purchased one hundred and twenty acres adjoining. He later built a good house, barns and cribs, also a house for his machinery, hay barracks and other equipments which are accessories of a model farm. He enclosed his place with wire fencing and divided it into fields of convenient size. In connection with general farming he raised and fed cattle and hogs, which he fattened for market. There he carried on general agricultural pursuits until 1893, when he sold that property and bought a farm in Platte township, Taylor county, pleasantly and conveniently located within a mile of Lenox. It comprised one hundred and sixty acres, but the farm and the buildings were both run down. He at once began the work of improvement, built a commodious residence, thirty-two by thirty-two feet and two stories in height, a cattle barn and other necessary (page 416) outbuildings, fenced the fields and today has one of the neatest and best-improved places in the township. In fact, it is a model farm, on which he continuously resided until 1903, when he rented the place and removed to Lenox. Here he now has a nice home. He continued to own this farm until 1907 and he is now the owner of three hundred and twenty acres of land in western Canada, near North Dakota.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Willits have been born six children: Victor, who is overseer for a mining company at Clifton, Arizona; Britt L., a farmer living north of Prescott; Dott, the wife of Frank McCoy, of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Glen, living in Charles City, Iowa, where for the past two years he has been principal of the Cromwell schools and is also engaged in the newspaper business, having formerly conducted a paper in Lenox; Blaine, now a traveling salesman for the Swift Packing Company; and Burr, a student in the Lenox high school. All of the children have been provided with liberal educational advantages.
Politically Mr. Willits is a republican, supporting the party since casting his first presidential ballot for Abraham Lincoln while in the service of his country. He has never sought nor desired office, however. The family attend and support the Methodist Episcopal church, of which Mrs. Willits and the children are members. Mr. Willits belongs to the Grand Army post at Lenox, of which he served as commander for one term and has also acted as adjutant and in other official positions. At the time of his arrival in Iowa Lenox was a cross road village with but few houses, and this entire portion of the state was largely an unimproved district. He has always stood for progress and development in every line tending to better conditions here, and in all matters of citizenship has been as true and loyal to his country in days of peace as when he followed the old flag upon southern battlefields.
BERT F. WILSON
Bert F. Wilson is numbered among the prominent business men of Taylor county, having conducted a bank at Sharpsburg for the past seven years. A native son of the county, he was born at Conway, April 11, 1878, of the marriage of Jerry and Caroline D. (Beall) Wilson. The father was born at Skaneateles, Onondag county, New York, April 29, 1839. He justly deserves mention as a self-made man. At the age of thirteen years he purchased his time of his father for one hundred dollars and started out in the world a penniless lad but full of native American grit. He left home and emigrated to Wisconsin, where he worked in the lumber region and did such other labor as might be offered in those days. His first earnings were used to pay his father for his time. In the early '60s he became imbued with the desire for western life and for several years freighted across the plains from the Missouri river to Denver. While in that section of the country he accumulated a little money and decided to return to the east. At that time southwestern Iowa was a sparsely settled region but he was endowed with keen business insight and foresaw the future possibilities of the country and settled in Taylor county in 1864. He then purchased a farm in Marshall township where he resided until the middle '70s when he removed to Conway and engaged in the lumber business. After withdrawing from that field he turned his attention to the grain business in which he continued until the fall of 1902, when he sold out and lived retired, enjoying the fruits of his former toil.
(Page 659) On the 6th of September, 1866, at Bedford, Jerry Wilson was united in marriage to Miss Caroline D. Beall, who passed away December 12, 1881. They became the parents of six children, five of whom are still living, namely: Mary Bannon, Etta Carter, Cora Seymour, Minnie Cooper and Bert F. Wilson. Following the death of his first wife Mr. Wilson was married November 12, 1882, to Mrs. Maggie M. Church, of Conway, who still survives. He was a man of keen discernment and sound business judgment and from time to time bought land until at his death he was the owner of nine hundred and twenty acres in grant Marshall and Gay townships. A man of sterling qualities, liberal minded but firm in his convictions, cheerful in disposition, he loved the comforts of home and enjoyed not only the love and confidence of the members of his own household but also of others with whom he came in contact. He was always liberal in his dealings with his fellowmen and to the appeals of the needy he never turned a deaf ear. During his long years of residence in Conway he invariably identified himself with all public enterprises proposed for the benefit of the town and opposite his name on a subscription list was always found a liberal sum which he gave freely in behalf of public progress. During the last five years of his life he suffered from ill health, due to heart trouble, though he bore his sufferings patiently, always thinking of the comforts of his family even to the detriment of his own health. While on a visit to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, with the hope that his own and his wife's health might be benefited thereby, he passed away suddenly May 6, 1907. His long residence in Taylor county and his prominence as a land owner and business man made his acquaintance far-reaching. He was a member of Triangle Lodge, No. 348, A. F. & A. M. of Conway, and of Conway Lodge, No. 553, I. O. O. F., and in his life exemplified the beneficent spirit of those organizations.
Bert F. Wilson was reared in Conway and began his preliminary education in the schools of that town. He was graduated from the high school and afterward entered the Western Normal College at Shenandoah, where he pursued a commercial and shorthand course, after the completion of which he was engaged in that institution as Assistant Instructor in Commercial Branches. He thus served four years, and during that time completed the Normal Didactic and Scientific courses. He then took a course in penmanship at Columbus, Ohio, after which he returned to the Western Normal College and for five years had full charge of the Shenandoah Commercial Institute. This constituted the basis of his business career. In 1903, he came to Sharpsburg, since which time he has conducted what is known as the Sharpsburg Bank, a private institution owned by J. R. Cooper which has for security Taylor county real estate to the amount of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. Mr. Wilson has been cashier and has had charge of the bank since the organization and secured a good patronage; and the bank is today recognized as one of the strongest moneyed concerns of the county and one in which the people feel a just pride. It is solid and safe beyond question and its management is conservative.
Mr. Wilson was married in Conway, December 29, 1897, to Miss Nellie A. Cooper, a daughter of John R Cooper, who is engaged in the banking business at Conway and is a large landowner of Taylor county. His sketch appears elsewhere in this volume. Mrs. Wilson was born and reared in Conway and (page 660) there acquired her early education while later she attended the Western Normal College at Shenandoah, Iowa, and Amity College at College Springs, Iowa. She is now acting as assistant cashier in the bank and is proving an able assistant to her husband in his business affairs. She is the mother of one daughter, Martha Belle, and the family have a nice home in Sharpsburg.
Politically Mr. Wilson is a republican and in the midst of a busy life has always found time for matters of general interest. He was active in securing the incorporation of the village and has been town clerk since the incorporation; while in many other ways he has done his full part toward the promotion of public measures. He is a Master Mason, belongs to the blue lodge at Conway, and both he and his wife are consistent members of the Methodist Episcopal church. In all directions in which he has bent his energies his efforts have been crowned with success and his methods are of interest to the commercial world, while a social, genial nature has endeared him to all with whom business or social intercourse has brought him in contact.
L. B. WILSON
The ranks of Civil war veterans are fast being desolated and among those who still remain to answer to the roll call of the Grand Army of the Republic is L. B Wilson, of Lenox. For over a quarter of a century he has been numbered among the active business men of this place and is also classed with the old settlers in Taylor county where he dates his residence from 1876. He has lived in Iowa since 1868, arriving here when a young man of twenty-five years. His birth occurred in Clark county, Ohio, on the 12th of June, 1843, and he was there reared to manhood. His educational privileges were somewhat limited but the experiences of life have brought him many valuable lessons, and reading and observation have greatly extended his knowledge. In the opening year of the Civil war he espoused the Union cause, joining the Forty-fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, as a member of Company D, when eighteen years of age. With his command he went south, joining the forces under General Rosecrans and was first under fire in the engagement at Lewisburg, West Virginia. He afterward participated in the battle of Dutton Hill and in the siege of Knoxville. After he veteranized at Strawberry Plains, he was granted a thirty days furlough and returned home, spending that time happily in association with old friends at the north. Later he returned to the front and afterward joined the Eighth Ohio Volunteer Cavalry with which he did scout duty in West Virginia. Subsequently he went on the Hunter raid in the rear of Lynchburg and was slightly wounded there. Later the regiment camped at Beverly, West Virginia, where Mr. Wilson together with a number of his company, was captured. He was then taken to Libby and was held as a prisoner of war for several months, almost suffering starvation for the rations granted to the Union prisoners were scarcely sufficient to keep soul and body together. At length he was released under a general order of exchange at the close of the war whereby all prisoners were to be discharged under parole.
No longer held captive in a loathsome prison pen Mr. Wilson returned to Ohio where he recuperated from the hardships of war. After a time he began to work at the tinner's trade at Yellow Springs, Ohio, and was there employed for two years. In the meantime he was married on the 14th of September, 1865, to Miss Elizabeth Albin, who was born and reared in the Buckeye State. In 1867, they removed westward to Iowa, settling first in Louisa county, and Mr. Wilson worked at his trade at Fredonia where he remained for about two years. He then removed to Ainsworth, Washington county, Iowa, where he engaged in the hardware and tinware business for eight years. At length he traded his store for land in Taylor county and shortly afterward made exchange of his farm for a business in Lenox. Here he has since handled hardware and agricultural implements and formerly was also engaged in the coal and grain trade, but at a more recent date has withdrawn from the grain business. He erected a business block which was later destroyed by fire and afterward he rebuilt it and continued the business therein until February, 1899. He has also owned two residences in the town, first purchasing a dwelling and later erecting the neat home which he now occupies. He is recognized as a man of keen business discernment and was one of the promoters, stock holders and directors of the First National Bank, of which he is now the president. He is closely associated with the financial interests of Lenox and since taking up his abode here his labors and efforts have continually been effective in promoting the business progress and advancement of the city. His possessions include two hundred and forty acres of land in Platte township, near Lenox, and his farm is one of the valuable properties of the community.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Wilson have been born three children: Edgar T., a business man of Iola, Kansas; Emert J., who is connected with business interests in Lenox; and Etta, the wife of Howard McKenzie, a hardware merchant of Lenox.
Mr. and Mrs. Wilson are active members of the Methodist Episcopal church, and he served as a member of the building committee at the time of the erection of its house of worship. He has assisted liberally in building two churches here and was one of the trustees of the congregation in which he now holds membership. His wife is an active worker in the Ladies' Aid Society and both do all in their power to promote moral progress here. Mr. Wilson became one of the charter members of the Grand Army post at Lenox and served for a number of years as its commander. His political allegiance has always been given to the republican party and upon its ticket he has been elected to a number of local offices, serving as a member of the council for a number of terms and also on the township board. He has likewise been a delegate to county and state conventions and assisted in nominating Leslie M. Shaw for governor. His record as a soldier, as a business man and private citizen is one over which there falls no shadow of wrong or suspicion of evil. He has conformed his life to high standards, has sought success by honorable methods and at all times has borne in mind the spirit of President Lincoln's statement: "There is something better than making a living -- making a life."