Friday, June 15, 2012
Beniah J. Wheeler was born near Bangor, Maine, May 14, 1836. He was the son of Jacob and Martha Wheeler, who in 1845 with their children came by wagon across the continent in the company of settlers and located their family first in Nauvoo, Illinois, but soon left there and came to Lee County. In 1848, Jacob Wheeler purchased a tract of land owned by George Town, just south of what is now the village of Paw-Paw, and a part of which land now forms the south part of this village.
The young son Beniah J. Wheeler attend what was then the South Side High School, where he laid the foundation in his mind and make up of a successful career.
In 49" the father went west with the great Exodus of people in search of gold. The son remained, but in 1855, he went to Minnesota where he engaged in business of various kinds, doing whatever he found do to for a livelihood. Returning to the former home in 1959 he at once left for California to seek, like others, a fortune in gold mining. He settled in Plumes City, California for three years and mined there. The country was new and the facilities for mining here very limited which meant exceeding hard labor for the seekers of wealth. Mr. Wheeler then began freighting supplies for miners, which occupation necessitated the making of long, perilous and wearisome trips across mountains, rivers, plains, and forest, 40 miles of the long journey were across barren desert.
In that early day he crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and it has since been his ardent desire to cross the Isthmus through the great canal, but that desire could not be realized on account of his failing health.
After four years of labor in the far west he returned to this vicinity and, the old farm which his father had purchased having gone out of his hands, Beniah J. Wheeler repurchased it and kept it as a homestead. Here he engaged in various occupations and enterprises, of which was carrying mail a trip of many miles, with very limited conveniences, and performed with many hardships.
In 1873 on January 1st he married Miss Clara Swarthout who become his worthy helpmate and partner, the sharer of his joys and sorrows, his successes and losses in those trying days of the 1870's.
In the year 1879 he took his little family for a visit to the old scene of his labors in California. There was a fascination and a lure about the mining industry that drew Mr. Wheeler that way, so again in 1884 he took his family to the old scenes and engaged again in mining in Plumas, California. His work was successful and he returned to Illinois, with a fair reward for his labors. About the year 1886 he with Mr. Swarthout took charge of the Union Bank of this village under the name B.J. Wheeler and Company with this he was connected until 1901 when it was organized as a State Bank, and Mr. Wheeler was elected President which position he held until death closed his long career as student, laborer, miner, salesman, manufacturer, and banker. Mr. Wheeler made money because he was persistent in his ambitious to get along in the world. But he made his money, as he said, not for the sake of giving much to hide and board and boast of having, but for use. He believed as Robert Burns expressed concerning the accumulation of money-
"Not for to hide it in the hedge; Not for a train attendant;
But for the glorious privilege of being independent."
Money acquired value to Mr. Wheeler by being put to use. He was not extravagant nor was he penirious, He used his means to make life pleasurable and comfortable for his family and himself, but not for the luxurious extravagance. A wise economist but a generous man. Mr. Wheeler was always strong, hale and hearty until a few years ago when an accident with a big automobile so injured him that it impaired his health and since that time he was never strong again.
B.J. Wheeler was an ardent and faithful member of I.O.O.F. since 1886 when he was initiated into the order of East Paw-Paw. He was a Charter member of Anchor Lodge NQ 510, I.O.O.F. of Paw-Paw, transferring his membership here at the organization of Anchor Lodge of this village.
In 1886 he joined Paw-Paw Camp No. 170 N.W. and was a loyal and faithful brother in each of these orders.
All the children born to Mr. And Mrs. B.J. Wheeler, except one who died in infancy survive him.
After days and nights of faithful watching loving ministrations and tenderest care the family was summoned to his bedside in the early morning of March 10, at 12:30 when the lingering mortal life of this dear man at last left its early habitations for a home we trust, even fairer and lovelier than this.
Thus passed on to his reward a man of remarkable career who had crossed this entire continent in a wagon in an early day; who was one of the very few remaining early settlers, who made good because of the rugged fiber of his fibre, the iron determination of his will and because he gave the best that was in him to his work and because his life was so entwined in the lives of his many friends he shall long be held for fond remembrance. He leaves to cherish his loving wife, Mrs. B.J. Wheeler, two daughters; Mrs. Addie K. Guffin, and Miss Jeanette Wheeler, and two sons, Frank I. And Robert W. Of Paw-Paw. Also one brother John of Danison, Texas and four sisters; Mrs. Martha Jones of Yates Center, Knn., Mrs. Diana Aldrich of Mondota, Illinois, Mrs. Mary Atherton of Serich, Kansas, and Mrs. Cora Potter of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The funeral was held at the late home Sunday morning 10:30. Rev. O.J. Canfield officiating and interment was in Wyoming Cemetery.