Genealogy Trails

Jackson County, Illinois

Colonel Ben Wiley


Makanda’s Colonel Ben Wiley

A Grandson Remembers

by Carl Wiley

It was mid-March 1890 and the Makanda, Illinois, hills were beginning to show that spring, this year, was arriving on schedule. The Colonel’s orchards with their 1000 fruit trees were responding to the warming days but this year they would be without the Colonel’s usual supervision.

Four years earlier while transacting business in Murphysboro he had suffered a stroke which affected his right side but from which he had made a good recovery. Two years later he was stricken with a heart ailment which Doctor Agnew, his old friend and family physician, had diagnosed as “avalvular disease of the heart as a sequel to pericaditis.” This, together with his long standing asthma, made him an easy victim to the prevailing epidemic of La Grippe. The Colonel could no longer rest in bed and had to spend the nights sitting up in a chair. This morning he made his own prognosis confessing to Emily, his wife, “This asthma and the grippe are just too much for an old man.”

Old? Well yes, although he still lacked over a year of reaching the Biblical three score and the. But now he felt the weight of every one of those sixty-eight years. As he sat and dozed in his chair his mind wandered back over the years, clear back to his boyhood days in Ohio.

The Ohio Years

The Colonel was born Benjamin Ladd Wiley March 22, 1821 in Smithfield, Ohio. His parents were Abel and Rebecca Richardson Wiley, staunch Quakers of Irish descent who had come from their native Maryland about the time of their marriage. They settled in Smithfield, Jefferson County, a few miles from the Ohio River and near Steubenville, the county seat. It was a farming community in which Abel followed his trade of cabinet maker.

Ben was the seventh of Rebecca’s eight children and was named after Benjamin Ladd, a neighboring farmer and close friend of the family.

The memory of those early years was a little hazy. Theirs was a typical Quaker family of the period. They dressed in the Quaker style, attended the meetings of their Society, and spoke in the second person “thees and thous”. It was a heavy blow to the family when Rebecca, the mother, died just before Ben’s ninth birthday. Abel, with seven young children still at home, married again. Her name was Gulielma Penn Street. Julia, as she was know, was, of course, also an old line Quaker and one who never managed to drop her “thees and thous.”

Ben had acquired such schooling as was afforded in the community and under Abel’s tutelage, had learned the carpenter’s trade.

John, the oldest brother, was thirteen years older than Ben. He had married and when Ben was about twenty-two John moved with his wife Hannah and their four children to a farm in Johnson County, Illinois. The letters John wrote back to Ohio aroused Ben’s interest more and more in the Illinois country and at the age of twenty-four Ben left Ohio to join his brother on a farm near Vienna, the county seat of Johnson County.

Illinois and the Mexican War

Thus began a journey which, over the next twenty-seven months, was to take him from the eastern boundary of Ohio to south of Albuquerque with at least one-half of the distance to be made on foot.

The first leg of that long journey was by far the easiest and fastest. From Steubenville he traveled by steamboat down the Ohio River landing on June 13, 1845 at metropolis, Illinois, near old Fort Massac. From there he walked the twenty-five miles over the southern Illinois hills to Vienna.

Unlike his brother John, Ben was not ready to settle down as a farmer. During his Johnson County stay he taught school and worked at his trade of carpenter. Gradually he became more and more interested in the trouble brewing in the Southwest.

Following the annexation of Texas a dispute arose between the United States and Mexico as to the location of the state’s southern boundary. The determination of the people to fight for the territory claimed as belonging to Texas opened the way for President Polk to seek to wrest from Mexico all of the southwestern country to the Pacific Ocean.

Hostilities began May 8, 1846. By March 27, 1847 the Mexican Army on the lower Rio Grande had been defeated, the United States Army of the West under General Kearny had occupied the entire southwest with the army’s headquarters at Santa Fe and its forward troops as far south as Chihuahua. The coastal port of Vera Cruz had been taken as a base for marching against Mexico City. More troops would be needed for this expedition and the Army of the West needed more men to replace those whose terms of enlistment had expired.

A call for new recruits went out and on May 8, 1847 Ben went to Marion in Williamson County and enlisted. He was recorded as Private Ben L. Wiley, age 26, dark hair, brown eyes, height six feet. He was mustered into the army at Alton, Illinois, May 28, and sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was assigned to B Company, First Illinois Infantry Regiment under Colonel L.W.B. Newby. On July 7, Company B, together with two other companies and a heavy train of 85 steer-drawn wagons marched out of the fort down the long trail toward Santa Fe 803 miles away.

The western plains were different from the prairies of Illinois over which Ben had ridden. Vast as they were and with little of the marks of civilization Ben foresaw the changes that were to come. On the day they buried a private from one of the other companies Ben wrote in his diary:

“His grave is situated on the right hand of the road about 150 yards east of the ‘Lone Elm’, only tree to be seen on the prairie for miles around. And I could not but reflect that his lonely grave would in the course of a few years be traversed by ploughshares of civilization and the last resting place of this poor soldier who sent out to fight for the rights of his country should be forgotten.”

Ben was enraptured by the plains and on August 7 wrote:

“Some love to roam among the ruins of the old world, and others to sail upon the oceans wide, but for my part let my life, if it is to be one of wandering, be passed upon these wide plains. ‘A prairie land and a chosen band, oh that’s the life for me.’”

There were Indians upon the plains, of course. The company was ferried across the Kansas River by the Delawares. Once Ben attended service in a small church in Kansas in which the congregation was mostly Wyandots. Later in July they was a number of the Crow tribe. There were frequent alarms at night when a nervous sentry would fire at a suspected intruder but invariably it was a false alarm.

There were buffalo, usually just a scattered few, but one day Ben recorded seeing an estimated 1,000, on the next day 2,000, and two days later as many as 10,000. The buffalo provided some food for the men and, on occasion, a substitute for firewood.

The three essentials for a good camp site were water, wood, and grass for the animals. Sometimes they had to camp where one or more of these essentials was missing. The most difficult section of the trail was the 58 miles of desert between the Arkansas and the Cimarron Rivers. After marching with only brief rest stops through the first day and night after crossing the Arkansas they laid in camp until afternoon.

In his diary Ben wrote:

“About 4 o’clock P.M. we took up the line of march. About sunset we made a halt, gathered up some buffalo chips which were scattered over these plains in great abundance, made us a cup of coffee and partook of a very good and hearty meal after which we took to the road once more. The moon shown brightly, thus giving a romantic appearance to the whole scene, enlivened by the serpentine course of the train and companies, cheered by songs, the crunching of whips, the shouts of drivers and enlivening strains of the fife and drum. About daylight we reached the Long Pond having in it an abundance of water.”

The farther across the plains they marched the less enamored Ben became with them. On August 28, he wrote:

“The country has now become broken and picturesque, which is a great relief to the eye, relieving as ti does from the eternal sameness of the prairie, where, although the landscape may appear beautiful, yet your eye is greeted day after day for weeks with a view of the same flowers, grass and tall rank weeds.”

Ben’s first impression of the Mexican people was considerably less than favorable. It came on September 7 when the battalion passed through Las Vegas with a population of 300 about 65 miles northeast of Santa Fe. Of its inhabitants, Ben wrote:

“The people appear to be considerably mixed up with the Indians and Spaniards, rather more of the former than the latter, perhaps 2/3 of one and the rest doubtful. A little more cleanliness in my opinion would not be detrimental to either their health or morals.”

Two months later he felt quite differently about them. While the battalion was camped just below Albuquerque Ben became ill with a fever and on November 7 he wrote:

“I repaired to the house of a Mexican of whom I had bought ‘mars’ for the mules and cattle. I was kindly received and made as comfortable as a soft bed and warm fire could make me. I cannot too highly commend the kindness of these people during my sojourn in their ‘casa’. A brother and sister could not have shown more solicitude than was exhibited by this kind hearted couple. Every little delicacy which their stock afforded was kindly pressed upon me. The best couch prepared for me and then gentlest touch given to arrange its covering about, while the soft hand of the olive-colored wife or the harder one of the dirt-stained husband was laid gently upon my burning brow while in broken English they would inquire with the utmost solicitude ‘Americano mucher marlo?’ When taking leave of them it was with the utmost difficulty that I could prevail upon them to take a trifle in return for their kindness to me. I shall never cease to think of these kind Mexicans who acted the true Christians to the sick stranger.”

The battalion reached Santa Fe September 12 where it remained for six weeks during which tine Ben served as Chief Clerk at Regimental Headquarters. When the southward march was resumed on October 27 Benton was appointed Acting Quartermaster Sergeant.

On November 6 they passed through Albuquerque on their way to El Paso. By then Mexico City had been taken, Santa Anna had fled from the country and an interim president had been appointed. The new president requested that peace negotiations be started.

The farthest south reached by B Company was 15 miles below Socorro across the Rio Grande from San Antonio. There on December 16 orders were received for all units to return to Santa Fe.

Although a peace treaty had been signed on February 6 by representatives of both governments it was not ratified by the Mexican Congress until May 25. Ben was not mustered out of the army until October 11, 1848 at Alton, Illinois, where he had been mustered into the service almost a year and a half before. Once more in civilian life Ben returned to Johnson County.

Jonesboro: Marriage, Business and Politics

Plans for the construction of a railroad extending from Chicago to Cairo had been under way for several years. When built it would hasten the development of the area through which it passed. The proposed route was not through Johnson County but down the middle of adjoining Union County. It would pass through Jonesboro, the county seat, some 20 miles west of Vienna. This, then, was where greater opportunities would present themselves. So in 1849, only a few months after being mustered out of the army, Ben left Johnson County and settled in Jonesboro.

In his new location Ben found work as a carpenter, had time to help start a newspaper, the Jonesboro Gazette, and later in the year he was employed as a clerk in the store owned by Winstead Davie.

Mr. Davie, who had served as Probate Judge of the county for many years was a very successful merchant who had accumulated not only a considerable amount of land but also a family that included four young daughters. Mr. Davie’s store was situated on the north side of the town square. Conveniently located immediately behind it was the Davie home and in it was pretty, dark haired Emily, 20, the oldest of the daughters. Ben courted Emily and a year later on December 5, 1850 Emily and 29-year-old Ben were married in the Davie home by the Reverend W.M. Hamilton.

Ben continued to work in the Davie store in Jonesboro until 1853 when he became a traveling salesman for a St. Louis firm with a sales area that included parts of Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri. With the experience gained while working in the Davie store and that obtained calling on merchants as a salesman Ben felt it time to become a merchant himself and opened a hardware store in Jonesboro. The move may have been well thought out but timing was poor. The 1857 depression was in the offing. In August the failure of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company precipitated a country wide commercial and financial panic which Ben’s young business was unable to weather.

In the meantime the Chicago to Cairo railroad which was to be named the Illinois Central had been built. But instead of passing through Jonesboro it was built one mile east of the town across farm land owned by Emily’s father, Mr. Davie and a friend. Colonel Lewis T. Ashley, who owned an adjoining tract, laid out lots along the railroad and filed the plat of a new town on March 3, 1854. The town was named Anna after Emily’s mother.

The building of the railroad gave a great impetus to real estate sales. Ben joined with Colonel Ashley to set up a real estate agency in Anna under the name Ashley, Wiley & Co. The two laid out another town on the railroad five miles north of Anna called South Pass but later changed to Cobden. After Colonel Ashley left the firm the agency continued in business under carious names including that of Wiley, Phillips & Dresser.

During the residence of Ben and Emily in Jonesboro four children were born to them. The first, William Winstead, was born October 22, 1851. Next came John Arthur born August 10, 1854. He was followed on February 11, 1857 by Anna Rebecca, named after the mothers of the two parents. A third son, Benjamin Ladd Jr., made his appearance October 18, 1859.

Ben took his first active part in politics in 1856. He had been an adherent of the Whig party but the results of the 1852 Presidential election ad foreshadowed the break up of that party. By 1854 there was a political realignment and those opposed to slavery organized a third party called the Republican Party. Ben, adhering to the tenets of the Society of Friends, was opposed to slavery and became a member of the new party.

The counties in extreme southern Illinois had been settled by people coming from the slave states of the south. Most of them were opposed to the attempts of the Republicans to restrict slavery in the new states that were being formed in the west.

To help his party Ben, then 36, agreed to run for Congress in the 1856 election fully aware that his district, the 9th, was overwhelmingly Democratic. He was defeated as expected but ran very well, considering, polling 3,419 votes whereas Fremont, the Republican presidential candidate received only 825 votes in that district.

In the off year election of 1858 the Republicans tried to unseat Stephen A. Douglas, the Democrat who had served in the United States Senate since 1847. The Republicans put up Abraham Lincoln as their candidate and Ben took an active part in the campaign. In a letter written March 24 to the other Senator from Illinois, Republican Lyman Trumbull, Ben submitted, as he had been requested to do, a list of names of persons who could be helpful in the election. He also gave his assessment of the situation in the southern end of the state.

“Col. Dougherty is firing away through the Gazette at Douglas and anything else that comes in the way. But he continued “Egypt is for Douglas whatever you may hear to the contrary.”

But pro-Douglas “Egypt” was not to be given up by default. In the proposed series of debates between Lincoln and Douglas an invitation was extended and accepted to hold one of then in Jonesboro. The debate was held in the Jonesboro Fair Grounds on September 25. D.L. Phillips, Ben’s partner in the real estate agency, was host to Mr. Lincoln during his visit and this gave Ben the opportunity to talking to and becoming better acquainted with him. Ben was impressed with Lincoln’s ability as a campaigner but his prediction made to Senator Trumbull as to the outcome of the race was not to be revised. He explained this to the Senator with a candid opinion of the people in the southern tip of the state:

“Our people here, as a rule, are rather slow to change. It is a result of a want of taste or inclination for reading and a consequent ‘posting themselves up’ on the affairs of the world at large. We hope that they will gradually redeem themselves in this respect- if not the adult generation their children will. We are stronger now in these southern counties than ever before and shall continue to gain strength from immigration and the occasional conversion of a native until we shall become troublesome if not dangerous to the ‘Pro-Slavery Democrats.’”

The battle over slavery grew more intense as the time for the 1860 Presidential election neared in which Lincoln was again to be pitted against Douglas. Ben was disappointed at the call for the Republican nominating convention to be held in Chicago in May. In the call an attempt had been made to appease various factions of the party and in a letter to Senator Trumbull written January 10, 1980 Ben wrote:

“I should have preferred a straight out Republican call leaving it for the members of the ‘Peoples’ Party’ in Pennsylvania or the members of the opposition in New Jersey to come in as it suited them. I should have preferred this course, even with the certainty of defeat before us. But perhaps I could have been wrong. I am Republican because I believed that the principles put forth by the party in their state and national conventions were true and of sufficient importance to engage the devotion of any free man. It is not sufficient for me that a man should be opposed to the present administration of even the Democratic party to constitute him a Republican. He must be wedded to the great principles advocated by the party. I do not join any organization merely for the sake of present success.”

Although he had worked hard for the election of Lincoln over Douglas for the Senate seat in 1858 Ben did not at first favor pitting Lincoln against Douglas again in the race for President. He gave his thoughts to Senator Thrumbull:

“Our friend Lincoln is a good, amiable and talented gentleman but is not, in my opinion, the man for the times. My first choice is yourself as first and Judge Reed of Pennsylvania as second on the ticket. If you have an eastern man for President I would have no objection to F.P. Blair of Missouri for the second spot.”

But Lincoln was nominated and Ben and his partner Phillips campaigned vigorously for his election.

A farm near Makanda, 12 miles north of Anna on the Illinois Central Railroad, had been bought by Emily’s father in 1851, given to Emily in 1855, cleared and set to fruit trees. It had on it a one room log house that had been built in 1830. Ben’s father and stepmother, Abel and Julia, had moved from Ohio to Putnam County in the late 1840's then to Jackson County where they lived in the log house on the farm while it was being remodeled and enlarged by adding more rooms making it ready for the time when Emily and Ben and their increasing family would come to live there. It was in December 1859 when they moved to the farm with William, 8, John, 5, Anna Rebecca, 2, and Benjamin, 2 months. Ben looked forward to the busy but quiet life of a progressive fruit grower but it didn’t come without interruption. He had campaigned hard for his party’s nominee for the Presidency and Lincoln had won. But the war clouds gathered, tensions rose- and then came Fort Sumter.

Makanda and the Civil War

President Lincoln was inaugurated March 4, 1861. By then seven of the southern states had seceded to be followed by four others. At 4:30 on the morning April 12 the first shots of the war were fired on Fort Sumter. Three days later Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers.

Ben answered the call and after helping to organize an infantry regiment in the southern part of the state he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel on September 9, 1861 and assigned to the Fifth Illinois Calvary Regiment which was being organized at Camp Cutler. He was mustered into the federal service on December 31. The regiment was commanded by Colonel Hall Wilson of Springfield. Ben was the only officer of the regiment who came from south of Centralia. The regiment trained at Camp Cutler during January and February 1862 and then marched to Benton Barracks at St. Louis.

It was the Union’s plan to gain control of the Mississippi River for its entire length thus effectively separating Arkansas, Texas and most of Louisiana from the other Confederate states. The Fifth Cavalry was to participate in this campaign.

On March 3, 1862 the regiment marched south from St. Louis to Pilot Knob. Moving on southward it reached Doniphan, Missouri, southeast of Poplar Bluff near the Arkansas line, on March 27. There on April 1 it had its first skirmish with the enemy inflicting casualties and taking its first prisoners.

On April 27 the regiment marched to Pocahontas, Arkansas, a few miles inside the state. It remained there for two months awaiting results of the navy’s action on the river.

In May Admiral Farragut with a fleet of ocean going ships headed northward from the Gulf capturing New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Natchez, arriving a few miles below Vicksburg May 18. The city’s fortifications controlled a five mile stretch of the river and Farragut could go no farther. At the same time a flotilla of ironclad gunboats moved down the river from Cairo, captured Memphis in June and reached Vicksburg July 1. Bombardment by the ships of both fleets failed to knock out the City’s fortifications and it became evident that a large land force would be required to capture the city and gain complete control of the river.

With the river north of Vicksburg now under Union control the Fifth Calvary Regiment on June 27 started a march eastward and arrived at Jacksonport on the river two days later. There it joined General Curtis’ army and was transported down the river past Memphis arriving at Helena, Arkansas, July 13. It was to wait at Helena while the troops and supplies for a massive land assault on Vicksburg were assembled.

By September Ben’s rheumatism had become so acute that he felt he could no longer effectively carry on his duties. On September 15, 1862 he submitted his resignation together with a request for a twenty day leave of absence to allow time for approval of the resignation request. Having taken this reluctant but decisive step he left the regiment at Helena and returned to his Makanda home.

Back in the Southern Illinois hills where the fall air was crisp and less humid than in the Mississippi river area of Helena Ben’s physical condition improved. The stalemate in the Vicksburg campaign and the lack of activity of the troops at Helena lessened his sense of personal involvement in the war. Then came the Union disaster at Holly Springs, Mississippi, below Vicksburg.

The 109th Illinois Infantry Regiment had been organized at Camp Anna with many local men as both officers and enlisted men. Barely three months after the men were mustered into the service the green troops were stationed at Holly Springs, the junction of two important railroads, where a great quantity of arms, food and other supplies were being assembled for the planned assault on Vicksburg. The regiment was to guard the railroads and their bridges and the supplies at Holly Springs.

On December 20 Confederate General Earl Van Dorn with a large force of cavalry made a surprise dawn raid on the town. Meeting with no resistance from the troops guarding it they burned many trains standing in the railroad yards, set the torch to the storage buildings and captured a great quantity of arms and supplies. This effectively delayed for several months the assault on Vicksburg.

A Court of Inquiry was held at Holly Springs on January 2 and the folks back home anxiously awaited its findings. The news, when it came, was shocking. On February 1 the official announcement was made that eight of the officers of the regiment were dismissed from the service. The highest ranking officer to be cashiered for refusing to defend the town was Lieutenant Elijah Willard dismissed “For disobeying orders and deserting his command in the face of the enemy that he might be taken prisoner.” This came as a great shock to Ben and Emily for Elijah Willard was Emily’s cousin.

Ben felt that he must go back to his regiment. He returned to Helena on February 18. After appearing before a Court of Inquiry he was restored to his former rank and placed in command of the First Battalion of the Second Cavalry Regiment.

When he left Makanda everything on the farm was running smoothly. William was now 12 and was of some help with the farm work; John, 9, had his chores to do; Anna, 6, could help a little with the house work; and little Ben was now 3. But a cruel blow was soon to fall on William.

Alexander Beecher, an unmarried Canadian in his mid twenties, had worked as a farm hand for Ben before he, too, entered the service in 1861, enlisting as a private in Company D of the 89th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Young William had taken a liking to Beecher, following him about the farm and helping him with his work. So it was only natural that, when Beecher in April 1863, returned to Makanda on a brief leave suffering from what was called the “red sore eyes,” William managed to spend much of the time with him. It was too much, for in some manner William contracted an infection which became increasingly severe.

Ben’s unit had moved from Helena to Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi, and he was there when he received the news of William’s crisis back home. William was critically ill with brain fever. Emily, seven months pregnant, was greatly in need of help. Ben hastened back to Makanda. By the time he reached home William had become permanently blind.

There was much to be done. First, they must try to nurse William back to health. If this could be done they must determine how best to help him learn to live with his handicap. While William’s health gradually improved Ben sought outside professional help and turned to the Illinois Asylum for the Blind at Jacksonville. There William could learn how to cope with his blindness, attend school and learn a trade that could make him self supporting. When he was able to travel he was taken to Jacksonville.

Despite all the strain Emily had gone through with William’s illness she came through her pregnancy safely and on July 10, 1863 Daniel Davie Wiley joined the family.

Beecher, although continually bothered by his eye condition, returned to his regiment, was promoted to Sergeant, then to Second lieutenant, and, when his company commander was killed in action, promoted to First Lieutenant and company commander. Despite his fine war record Emily was never able to feel kindly toward him, forever blaming him for causing William’s blindness.

The recovery and placement of William took time and Ben found that he was being carried on the army rolls as absent without leave. Eventually a General Order was issued under which Ben could return to his former command but he was already back in the service as Enrolling Officer in the Provost Marshal’s office in Cairo. He served in that post throughout the remainder of the war and was mustered out of service May 5, 1865.

The Last Quarter Century

Two of the results of Ben’s war were that first, he was referred to thereafter as “Colonel” Wiley, and second, an army friendship provided the name for their next child born March 11, 1866. The army friend was Dr. Charles W. Higgins of Centralia, a Surgeon in the Fifth Calvary Regiment. The child, a son, was named Charles Higgins Wiley. Understandably Ben nicknamed the boy “Doc.”

Ben’s brother John, living over in Johnson County had died a few days before Charles was born and the next year Ben lost his father. Abel had bought a lot on Main Street in Anna in 1858 and conducted a business in that town for a time. He and Julia had often come to visit with Ben and Emily and their growing family and it was in their home that Abel died April 15, 1857 of a sudden, severe attack of pleurisy. He was buried in a small cemetery on a farm about two and a half miles north of Ben’s home. Julia then returned to Putnam County to live with her daughter Adeliza Sturdivan.

Emily presented Ben with their second daughter on January 7, 1868. Their first daughter had been named after both grandmothers. This one was named Mary Emily after her mother.

William, now 17, had made good progress at the school in Jacksonville and had become proficient in the manufacture of brooms and brushes. In preparation for his return home a small building was erected back of the house to be used by William as a work shop. There he set himself up in his first business.

On September 11, 1868 Ben and Emily bought from her father for $27,388 a town lot in Carbondale, 138 acres of farm land about a mile north of Jonesboro and 1,554 acres of Mississippi River bottom land between Wolf Lake and the Big Muddy River. The deed was made in Emily’s name as had been the deed for the Makanda farm. Even so, at times various parts of this land became entangled in some of the many land deals made by Ben’s real estate firms. During the 1850's, 60's and 70's Ben operated with different partners. First there was Wiley and Ashley followed by Wiley, Phillips & Dresser. Then came Wiley and Frick, and Wiley and Shick. They dealt in farm lands not only in Union and Jackson Counties but also in Williamson and as far away as Clinton and Washington Counties. Occasionally one of the deals turned sour but always the land in Emily’s name, though entangled in various ways, came through safely.

In 1869 the Legislature authorized the creation of a board to be headed by Lieutenant Governor John Dougherty of Jonesboro to select a site for an Asylum for the Insane to be located somewhere in Southern Illinois. The other members of the board were Dr. D.L. Owens of Marion County, Colonel H.W. Hall of McLeansboro, D.R. Kingsbury of Centralia and Ben representing the extreme southern tip of the state. Ben was named secretary of the board.

One factor to be considered in selecting a site was the availability of an adequacy of water. Ben was familiar with the area around Anna where numerous springs were to be found. One afternoon while prospecting about a mile and a half north of Anna he sat down under a tree to rest. He soon became aware of the sound of running water beneath him. He recommended that an investigation be made to determine the source and size of the subterranean stream. This was done and the site approved for the construction of the institution. Some time later each member of the Site Selection Board was sent a case of imported champagne. The lead sealed bottles sent to Quaker-born Ben were placed on the high shelf in Emily’s pantry where they remained unopened for the next twenty years.

Emily’s last two children were boys. Henry Kingsbury, born December 29, 1870, was named after Ben’s friend, D.R. Kingsbury of Centralia, a fellow member of the Asylum Site Selection Board. James was born June 6, 1875 when Emily was 45. This completed a family of seven sons and two daughters.

Ben gave public service locally, serving at various times on the School Board and on the County Board of Supervisors. Then in 1876 he once again accepted his party’s nomination to run for Congress in the November election against the incumbent William Hertzell.

The race between the two presidential candidates, Tilden, the Democrat, and Hayes, the Republican, was extremely close. Tilden had a slight majority in the popular vote but a decision on the disputed electoral vote was not decided until February when an electoral Commission appointed by the Congress ruled that Hayes had been elected.

The race for Congress between the Colonel and Hertzell was even closer. The Hertzell forces attempted to make a campaign issue out of the Colonel’s return home during the Vicksburg campaign when the crisis at Makanda left William critically ill and blind. This issue seemed to have its greatest impact in Union County, home of the disgraced 109th Infantry Regiment. Hertzell carried Union County by 1,222 votes, by far the largest majority of any of the four counties he carried. Although the Colonel carried the other six counties in the 18th District he lost the decision by a scant twenty votes, 14,691 to 14,671.

December of 1880 brought both happiness and sorrow in the family. On the 5th Emily’s mother, Anna Willard Davie, died in Jonesboro at the age of 71. On the 29th son John was the first child to marry. His bride was Margaret Applegate. This first marriage was soon followed by the second. On June 12, 1881 William, 29, married Mary Jane Grear Glasco. On the very next day a tax sale was held in Jonesboro which included a lot on Vienna Street in Anna one block east of Main Street. It was a location to which William could move his shop from the Makanda farm. There would begin William’s successful career as an Anna merchant.

The lot, 70 by 331 feet, came into William’s possession in a round about way. Ben had bought it for $370.30 in 1857 but had neglected to pay the taxes on it for several years. When it was included in the county’s delinquent tax list William’s uncle, Warren Brown, bid it in paying the amount of overdue taxes and penalty totaling $19.11. He asked that when the deed was prepared it be in William’s name. Then Ben executed a quit claim deed giving William clear title to the property.

Grandchildren began to appear on the scene. On December 1, 1881 John’s first son, Charles Leroy, was born. He was followed by a daughter, Bessie Viola, January 7, 1883. Twins were born to William and Mary Jane May 9, 1884 but they lived only a short time. John’s third child, Fannie Margaret, arrived the next year on November 1.

Winstead Davie, Emily’s father, five years a widower, continued to live in his Jonesboro home despite his increasingly poor health. He died there July 1, 1885. William and Mary Jane were expecting a child at the time and when a son was born on December 29 in Anna he was named Winstead Davie Wiley.

More marriages and more births followed. Daughter Anna Rebecca, 30, married Edwin Ford Smith Leib, a farmer, at Makanda on July 1, 1887. Two months later son Daniel, 24, married Alice Maud Hartman at Makanda on September 25. The first child of Anna and Ed Leib was born at Makanda July 1, 1888 and was named Benjamin Wiley Leib after Anna’s father.

John’s fourth child, John Leroy, like his brother and two sisters, was born in Sleep Hollow near Makanda October 25, 1889. The next grandchild was the first to be born away from the Makanda vicinity. Anna and Ed had moved to a farm near Balcom five miles south of Anna and their second son, Daniel Webster Leib, was born there December 15, 1889.

It was a closely knit, happy family. Seven sons and two daughters with, at last count, five grandchildren.

All of Ben’s children were there on Friday, March 21, 1890. They all knew that Dr. Agnew, who had been with Ben most of the time for the past week, could do no more. Ben knew it too and his concern was for Emily, worn out by the strain. “Take it cool, ma,” he told her. “Don’t worry about me. I am not afraid for I was always ready whenever the Lord called for me. The boys will take care of you.”

The colonel passed away peacefully at 1:15 Saturday morning, the 22nd. It was three days before what would have been his 69th birthday.

There was a Masonic funeral service of course. Ben had joined the Masonic fraternity in a military lodge during the Mexican War. When he came to Jonesboro after the war he helped organize Jonesboro Lodge No. 111 and was elected its first Master. As the lodge’s first representative to the Grand Lodge of Illinois held in Springfield he was elected Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge. Later, after moving to Makanda in 1870, he was elected Master of Makanda Lodge No. 434.

The funeral was held the next day, Sunday, at the Colonel’s home. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. Both house and yard were filled with friends who had come by carriage and by railroad. An extra train was run from Murphysboro to Carbondale to meet the southbound Illinois Central train. An extra coach was put on the train from the south and set out at Makanda to make the return run with the “hill” engine after the funeral.

At Emily’s request her six younger sons served as pallbearers. They laid the Colonel to rest in beautiful Evergreen Cemetery on the high hill overlooking the Makanda valley. The Colonel had been mustered out of the service of his country and his fellow men for the last time.

Source: The Wiley Family History, compiled by Joyce Wiley Swogger, 1996, pp. 53-59, copied from Illinois Magazine, May/June 1980 - July/August, 1980, pp. 14-20.

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