Wheeler Family

Wheeler Family

"In the year 1818 there lived on neighboring farms, on Onondaga County, New York, two families by the names of WHEELER and MAKYES.

Both families were of Puritan ancestry, having moved from Connecticut in an early day.

The WHEELER family consisted of a widow and her six sons, Challenge, Daniel, John, William, Ransley, and George. In the MAKYES family, besides the parents, there were four sons and one daughter: Stores, Smith, Phoebe Diana, Edwin, and Amos. Fine, young people in both these families, but our story follows the fortunes of but two of these children - William WHEELER and Diana MAKYES.

Diana was a blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, dark-haired country belle, who always stood at the head of the class in the spelling schools. Such gatherings furnished weekly entertainment in that country neighborhood. Many stalwart farmer boys came courting pretty Diana, but her choicest smiles were reserved for a young athlete, William R. WHEELER, who bore the enviable reputation of never having been downed in a wrestling match. Naturally, the rival suitors for Miss Diana's favors were jealous of William's prowess and combined to devise schemes whereby he should lose his championship. The rules of the game were not observed then, as in the days of Tunney and Dempsey, but these young fellows used every trick by which they might hope to win the games, but all in vain.

The tug of war came when William found himself confronted by a naked Indian, whose dusky body shone with grease.

For a moment his heart sank, then his quick wits came to the rescue. Sinking his powerful hands into the Indian's thighs, and taking advantage of the moment when his opponent shrank from his grasp, William threw him over his head. This was the final victory in the athletic field, for no wrestler ever after was willing to stand before him. From this time on, the courtship of William and Diana moved along more smoothly until its final consummation in

A picture of Phoebe Diana MAKYES WHEELER, c1890

A photo of Phoebe Diana MAKYES WHEELER, c1890

marriage. This worthy couple had inherited the pioneer spirit of their ancestors, and as they thought of establishing a home, they felt the call of the West. With their few possessions in a covered wagon and rich in rosy dreams, they embarked on the Erie Canal at Syracuse. Such a delightful honeymoon! Floating idly along past modest country homes and fertile fields, with their stump and stone fences; stopping at villages for passengers and freight, those were ideal hours to linger in their memory.

Disembarking at Buffalo and bidding good-bye to the home state, they followed the shore of Lake Erie across a point of Pennsylvania and through Ohio, turning northward near the end of the lake. They were soon journeying through Michigan. William and Diana never forgot the thrills that came as they crossed the broad prairies, where tall grass waned and wildflowers bloomed in gorgeous beauty, nor the trail through virgin forests, whose branches, interlacing overhead, formed an ideal environment for the wildlife that abounded. Oftimes, in the twilight, when shadows shut in their little camp, the bear and deer slipped noiselessly by, to peer at the strangers, who had invaded their domain, while smaller animals crept through the underbrush. Sometimes the notes of the whippoorwill were the last sound they heard as they drifted into slumber.

This memorable journey ended in St. Joseph County, Michigan, near the site of the present town of Flowerfield. This was to be their new homeland, and there, with Indians, alone, for neighbors within the radius of 20 miles, they staked out a little farm, on the edge of a forest.

The Wheeler Farm in Flowerfield, St Joseph Co., MI

A sketch of the Wheeler homestead

William's strong arms felled the trees that formed their one room log cabin. As time passed by, a roomy farmhouse replaced the cabin, and that virgin soil became garden, orchard, and wheat fields. Fourteen children were born to Diana and William, seven boys and seven girls. Those that lived to adult years are as follows: Daniel, Sybil, Theda, Clair, Mary, Birney, Rhoda, Rozene, Challenge, and Jessie.

William became a man of note in that community, and held many offices of trust. He was one of that body of men who formed the great Republican party. Michigan was the first Republican state. He represented his district many times in legislative halls, and Judge WHEELER's name is on record as one whose vote was always cast for civic righteousness.

In those pioneer days, William and Diana had many unique experiences. Indians, peaceful, or in war paint, were common visitors. Diana, besides being a capable helpmeet and mother, possessed the dramatic art of thrilling her audiences as she told tales of personal experiences. The favorite entertainment for her children was to gather around mother in front of the big fireplace in the twilight, with pans of apples and

popcorn, and listen to her stories. How, one day, a weary deer, that had been chased by hunters, ran into the barnyard and dropped to rest beside a straw stack. Mother had been hoeing in the garden. Slipping up behind the deer, she killed it with one lucky stroke on the back of his neck. Then there was a feast of fresh meat for all the neighborhood and a fine rug for the cabin floor. One story, full of thrills, was about the theif who came in at midnight, when father was absent. Mother sat rocking a sick baby, when the door opened and a hand reached toward a drawer, where a lump of money had been placed that day. Opening the door to admit his head, he saw the mother and ran away. Old Mage, the good watch dog, who was guarding mother, gave immediate chase, and returned with a large part of the thief's trousers. There was the tale of the stolen honey, and how father followed the thief to his home by the trail of honey along the way. Like most children, the stories about Indians brought the greatest thrills. There were friendly squaws, who came with gifts of maple sugar in cunning birch baskets and received generous samples of mother's baking. There was a squaw who offered to trade her papoose for baby Sybil.

Perhaps the story that was most prized by the children, is the one about a drunken Indian whom father found beside the road one bitter night, as her was returning from "town meeting". Father brought the Indian home and gave him a blanket before the fireplace. How that grateful Indian was a staunch friend of the family ever afterward, giving timely warning of Indians on the war path, and coming to help in time of need.

Later came the days of the Civil War. Many companies of soldiers came to the WHEELER farm or a good-bye treat of doughnuts, apples, and cider, before they marched away. That farm was a prominent station on the Underground Railway, leading from slavery to freedom. During these later years, the older children had married and gone to Iowa, and on 1864, William and Diana sold their grand old farm and, with their younger children, removed to Glenwood, Iowa, where their later years were spent. Having gained a competence they were able to give each of their children financial assistance. Beside his own family, there were many young men who owed their start in life to the philanthropy of Judge WHEELER.

In 1881, they celebrated their Golden Wedding, with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a large circle of friends to rejoice that they had reached this golden milestone.

They were permitted to live beyond the "three-score-and-ten" allotted to men, and when, at a ripe old age, they were gathered to their reward, there were hosts to do them honor. A noble old couple! Green be their memory!

"For forms of government let fools contest;
Whate'er is best administered is best.
For forms of faith, let graceless zealots fight,
They can't be wrong whose lives are in the right."


Source: "Golden Milestones on the Road of Life, 1877-1927" by JESSIE FREMONT WHEELER SHIPMAN. Written for Jessie and Ransom SHIPMAN's 50th Anniversary.

Additonal information that was written about William and Diana WHEELER*:

"From a long line of New England ancestry of the pioneer school, William Wheeler was born at Hartford, Connecticut on the 18th Day of August, 1810; and on the 10th day of September, 1885, he died, at Glenwood, Iowa, aged seventy-five years. All who knew the deceased are willing witnesses that a man of great power for good has passed away and paid the inevitable debt of nature - "earth to earth and dust to dust".

The nation will not mourn his departure as a calamity to the whole country, yet there are many who were favored with a knowledge of his life and power for good, who do know that weaker heads and hearts and hands than William Wheeler's have brought the flags of our country to half-mast on many an occasion.

William Wheeler, during his long life, in all things personal to himself, was not only self-made, but he possessed the ability and will to make others as well. During his twenty-five years in residence in Glenwood, he lived not for himself. His labors were solely directed to the welfare of family and friends. As for himself, he was wont to say "I am finished" and modestly insist that he had not done a good job either; but hoped there was yet spared to him some power for the good of others. Industrious, naturally, he was never idle. His Yankee blood led him at the age of fifteen to engage in peddling jewelry and notions on foot, among the rock-bound homes of his childhood. Afterwards, in western New York, in 1827, he followed kindred pursuits on a larger scale. He was to that early day, ante-dating railroads and telegraphs, what the modern commercial man is to this. Possessed, withal, of great physical vigor, he was the pride of his companions, who boasted of him as one who never kissed floor in a wrestling match, so common in those days. In due time, on the sixteenth of July, 1831, at the age of twenty-one, he assumed the marriage relation by wedding Phoebe Makyes. Being a now a married man with his increased responsibilities, the boundless riches of the great west attracted his keen business eye. A place where cheap land could be procured and honest toil fairly rewarded, was what the newly-wedded couple desired. This he sought by settling near Three-Rivers, St. Joseph County, Michigan, where he lived the life if the sturdy farmer on the same homestead until 1864, his large family having grown up and gone father to the west, for their benefit he sold his grand farm, and removed to Glenwood.

Mr. Wheeler's mental qualities were rarely and excellently balanced; and in this consisted (those who knew him best will agree that it is no flattery) his greatness. While it is the common lot of a man in life's growth to prominence, that each develop some special ability in a particular calling, to Mr. Wheeler's credit, it can truly be said that his mind was capable of mastering all matters pertaining to life's duties. With tenacious memory and a desire for wisdom, without the aid of professors, he grasped the entire field of the world's knowledge. As a historian, his equal was scarce to be found anywhere. The nations of earth, ancient and modern furnished no significant epoch, but what Father Wheeler knew all about as if it had been his special study. The armies of Alexander and of Hannibal, of all known wars, and the campaigns and battles they fought, were all as familiar to him as his flocks and fields. In theology he was posted in every creed and doctrine from the earliest times to the largest change of monosyllables in the revision. In all his beliefs, his guiding star was to be honest with himself. Tying himself to no one theory, he sifted from all what seemed to him good, and cast all else aside. He believed there was much good in orthodoxy and heterodoxy both, and while he winnowed from each the good, he was unsparing in pointing out the evil. As indicated his bent of mind about churches, when several years ago a paper was being circulated to build Glenwood a place of worship for Catholics, he promptly responded, "Yes, put me down ___ dollars," (A goodly sum for a man of his means.) "I'm in favor of religious competition as well as all other kinds of competition. It's better that no one denomination get too strong." In literature, he knew all the great authors as he knew his own family, specially delighting in poetry. He basked in the flowers of the valley, and mused on the rugged mountaintops; and even in his later days delighted in repeating word for word the beauties of the masters by the hour.

He died more in ignorance of his own greatness than of anything else. He was the noblest of old commoners. Green be his memory."

*This data is not sourced.

Listing of related surnames:
Butler (MI, IA), Bunnell (CT), Castle (CT), Curtiss (CT), Coolidge (MI, IA), Fellows (MI, IA), Guilford (MI, IA, IL, IA), Hotchkiss (CT), Lewis (NY, MI), Makyes (CT), Plumb (NH, CT), Shipman (MI, IA), Smith (CT), Smith (MI, IA), Strahan (IA), Thomas (CT), Tubbs (MI, IA), Wheeler (NH, CT, NY, MI, IA), Wilson (CT), Woodin (CT), and Woodrow (MI, IA).

For additional information on this family, please contact, Jeni Huffstedtler, a direct descendant of William Wheeler, who graciously donated this interesting data for a detailed look into one of St Joseph County, Michigan's pioneers.

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