Charles Edward Williams was born March 17, 1867, in Fairmount, Indiana, to Paul and Catharine (Stanfield) Williams. His father was a Civil War veteran. His motherwas the daughter of one of Fairmount’s co-founders. During the first year of his life Charles was so frail of body that he was laid out for dead three different times. At the recommendation of his doctor, his parents moved farther west to Guthrie County, Iowa, in 1868. In the fall of 1873 his parents moved to Jewell County, Kansas, near Mankato. When the grasshopper s took all of the crops in 1874 theWilliams family, along with many others, moved back to Iowa. The lure of the West still called, and the family returned to Kansas in 1878. After trying many locations they settled in Mount Ayr Township, Osborne County, in 1893. Catharine’s father had settled his family there earlier in 1876.
Charles married Laura Mendenhall on October 22, 1893,in the Mount Ayr Post Office, which at that time was in her parents’ home. The Joseph and Angelina (Gregory) Mendenhall family had come by covered wagon from Iowa to Mount Ayr Township in the fall of 1873, when Laura was only six months old. The next spring, the Mendenhall family homesteaded at “The Cedars,” where they eventually built the first frame home in the northern part of Mount Ayr Township.
Charles and Laura were the parents of thirteen children: Verdun Ray; Lola; Luther; Ernest; Herald; Bessie; Walter; Chester; George; Lelia Almina; Ethyl; Virgil; and DuWayne. Charles and Laura’s first home, where five of their children were born, was located approximately two miles west of The Cedars. Later on, they traded homes with Laura’s father, a move that gave them a bigger house, plus put the Williams children in walking distance of the Mount Ayr School then located one mile to the south. Shaded by stately cedar trees, some of which are still standing, Charles and Laura appropriately named their new home “The Cedars.” On the night of May 20, 1918, they and nine of their children still living at home were in their beds when a tornado completely leveled their farm. They and many others in Mount Ayr, Round Mound, Kill Creek, and Tilden Townships miraculously survived this devastating storm. The Williams family lived in a makeshift dwelling for severalmonths after. Their last child, born two months later in July1918, died in November when the entire family was stricken with the worldwide flu epidemic.
In the early 1900s Charles became the Mount Ayr news correspondent for both the Alton and Osborne newspaper. For over twenty-five years he wrote weekly news items and historical articles for both papers. His history subjects were the Osborne County settlers of the 1870s era and he recorded everything from their trips to Kansas in a coveredwagon to their existence on the harsh prairie.
Decoration Day in Alton was always a big event, and this was especially so in 1930 when the monument to Hiram C.Bull, the co-founder of Alton, was unveiled in the Sumner Cemetery. As chairman of the Old Settlers meeting held that year, Charles was instrumental in having the elk horns that killed Bull in a famous incident in 1879 shipped back to Osborne County. The horns, plus the bill of lading, arecurrently on exhibit in Osborne.
A View of Alton, in limerick form, was written by Charles in 1930. This poem described the 50 businesses,professions, churches, and schools in Alton at that time and earned much acclaim. In 1936 Charles, Laura, and the three remaining children at home moved to Hotchkiss, Colorado, where Charles passed away on November 15, 1937. Laura, the final surviving charter member of the Mount Ayr Friends Church, lived until February 26, 1960. Both are buried in the Riverside Cemetery at Hotchkiss, Colorado. Charles was named to the Osborne County Hall of Fame in 1996. – Deanna Roach, descendant.
The legacy of Charles Williams is continued today among his descendants as four generations of Williams family members receive a monthly family newsletter, an integral part of which is the shared contributions of the history and pictures of the Williams family. Their efforts are a fitting tribute to Charles Williams, historian and writer.