Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: Willard Ackley

There is saying attributed to Lois Wyse that says in part, "A good friend is a connection to life, a tie to the past, a road to the future ..." As I've researched my ancestors and widened the research net to include the siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, I am reminded every now and then that there are others who shared their lives - those we call friends. My selection for today's Tombstone Tuesday, Willard Ackley, falls into that category.

Willard Ackley was among the first white settlers in what is now Langlade County, Wisconsin, and appears in concert on several documents (including land and marriage records) with my maternal great-great-grandfather Isaac Stone. Rounding out the third of my family's version of the Three Amigos is John Hogarty, another early settler in this part of the state.

According to his death certificate Willard was born William in 1818 in England. His family immigrated and settled in Chenango County, New York, his last known place of residence prior to his arrival in northeast central Wisconsin. 

Oral history and legend states that the original spelling of the surname was ACLY, but a feud with his family, who remained in the east, caused Willard to adopt the spelling ACKLEY.  As the story goes, this separation of the Acly/Ackley family was said to be due to Willard's marriage to Ma-Dwa-Ji-Was-No-Quay of the Ojibwe band of Native Americans. A common theory but unsubstantiated.

Ackley, Hogarty and Stone all appear to have been actively logging in this area around 1850 and all three worked at one time or another for Charles Hazeltine in Kelly in Marathon County.

Ackley built a cabin and homesteaded on what is now part of the Riverview Golf Club outside of Antigo, WI. Ackley also had a logging camp along with the cabin site on the 1851 government survey map. The camp was listed as Ackley and "Hoyaroy" farms which I believe is a misspelling of Hogarty. Hogarty, Ackley and Stone, as stated earlier, were close friends and at one time or another, business partners. All three men had trading posts and had supplies brought in from Stevens Point at the same time.

During the time that Ackley, Hogarty and Stone were engaged in logging, the venture wasn't very profitable as the price for pine was so low it barely paid for the supplies. When the men first arrived, the logs were hauled to the Eau Claire River on a travois pulled by oxen; a distance of about a half mile. Later, horses were used and the logs were hauled two or three miles in winter to streams. Logs were floated down the river to Kelly, then Schofield at the mouth of the Wisconsin River.

Each camp had their own logs marked so when they reached their destination, they could be sorted out. Records indicate that Ackley preferred to release his logs ahead of the other loggers to avoid mixing them with those sent down the river by Isaac Stone and Jesse Boyington, another early settler.

Willard Ackley and John Hogarty shared more than business ventures: they also shared wedding anniversary. A family history told by a granddaughter of Ackley recounts that Ackley and Hogarty married women from the Sokaogan Chippewa tribe near Post Lake. The men first walked to Post Lake to the home of their brides and then the two couples walked to Wausau where they were married by a Justice of the Peace. Witness to the marriages? None other than Isaac Stone.

Willard Ackley's wife was the daughter of the chief of the Sokaogan tribe of the Chippewa, Me-gee-see, known as Great Eagle. He lived a very interesting life which must have been evident to everyone he met: he lost his nose and one eye during of the many battles he had taken part in between the Ojibwe and the Sioux. A treaty signed in 1825 bears his signature.

By all accounts, the Ackley's were very kind to the early pioneers of Langlade County. Many of the early settlers lived with the Ackley's until their homes could be built and much has been written of Willard's generosity and willingness to help his neighbors. One settler wrote of Willard "[he] was a prince among men." 

Willard's wife, who took the name Mary following her marriage, was also generous to her neighbors. It is noted she never turned down a call for help in case of illness, using her knowledge of medicinal herbs and acted as mid-wife, helping to bring many of the pioneer children into the world.

Willard was small in stature, weighing approximately 130 pounds but he is said to have had a booming voice. Hearing him speak, people expected to see a man "... who weighed 400 pounds."  The Chippewa called Ackley "the little man with the big voice."

On the tax rolls, Willard paid the highest in the area. He owned more horses and buggies than his neighbors and kept two or three canoes on the Eau Claire River but never went farther than one and a half miles from Hogarty in Shawano County. 

Willard Ackley's death is recorded in the Langlade County Death Records, Volume 1, Page 44: Wm. L. Ackley; white male; page 76; farmer; born in England; date of death Nov. 25, 6:00 a.m. 1894.

His obituary in the Antigo News reads, "The first of the week, Willard L. Ackley, undoubtedly the oldest settler in Langlade County, died at his home, about four miles west of Antigo, at the age of 77 years. Very little is known of the early life of the deceased, but the memory of man in this section runneth not to the time when he was not located on the bank of the Eau Claire River. As near as we can learn, he lived there fifty years, most of the time with no other companions than the Indians. He lived with them and was one of those erratic individuals, who for some unknown reason, preferred their company to that of the whites. He was a familiar figure among old residents and those who lumbered on the Eau Claire."

Mary Ackley died on March 8, 1899. Her death certificate states she was 97-years old at the time of her death placing her year of birth 1802. Her maiden name is listed as Mary White Eagle; father Great Eagle and mother Roaring Water.

Willard, Mary and a granddaughter, Lillian McDonald, are buried in the Antigo Cemetery in Lot 1, Block 9; just south of the main gate.

The name of Willard Ackley isn't found listed in my family tree but I've discovered he was someone my great-great-grandfather called a friend, earning him a place of importance in my family history.

Digital Images. Undated. Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. 2011

1 comment:

Stuart W. Ackley said...

Dear Cindy,

I am a great-great grandson of Willard L. Ackley. I've also been doing lots of genealogical research into the family tree. What I discovered was that Willard L. Ackley was born in 1828 in Coventry, Chenango Co. NY to a Joseph Ackley. Joseph Ackley was a great-great-great grandson of the first Ackley in the US - Nicholas Ackley (b.1635) who was indentured as a boy and came to Connecticut in 1642. Willard left his home in NY at the age of 16 with his elder brother Elbert. They hired themselves out as farmhands near Ft. Atkinson, WI for several years before parting ways - Elbert went to the Dakota Terr. (Minnesota) and Willard went up to the Wausau area. I've been trying to get these dates corrected. We have a letter from Willard to his family (at age 16) written in 1844, the year they went to Wisconsin from NY.

Stuart Whiteeagle Ackley


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