Dudley Willits
Submitted by: Nadine Holder
Aledo Weekly Record January 7, 1874
DUDLEY WILLITS The death of Dudley Willits occurred on Tuesday, December 2, 1873, after an illness of about thirteen days. His disease was paralysis of the bowels. He died at the residence of Y. B. Trego, three miles west of Crawfordsville, which has been his home for the past ten years. His age was about 71 years, having been born in Fairfield Co., Ohio, March 17, 1802. The departure of this extraordinary man requires more than a passing notice. By his contributions to these columns his name had become familiar to our readers, among whom he had gained quite a favorable reputation as a writer. But he has traveled all over this and adjoining counties, having spent the last fifteen years of his life in lecturing in the country school-houses, on various subjects. He was therefore known by reputation to almost every one. He called himself an "infidel," and his appearance in any neighborhood frightened many nervous people, who knew him only as that terrible word pictured him to their imaginations. Of course he was immensely unpopular. Many a rotten egg was thrown at him, and many a time has he been refused a night's lodging because of his belief, or rather, unbelief. Yet a closer acquaintance showed him to be a kind, warm hearted old man, who would not do an intentional wrong for all the world, and with a wonderful faith in God, in a happy Hereafter for all, and in the possibilities of the human soul. His extreme views on these subjects, led many to regard him as a monomaniac, or as crazy, a fanatic, etc. He was an infidel - that is, he rejected the Bible, or the idea that it was the only divine revelation to men; regarded it as a good book, but thought he had outgrown it as a child outgrows a primer. Among his acquaintances he bore the reputation of being strictly honest; frankness and square dealing marked all his transactions, and he despised subterfuges and trickery. Doubtless a sketch of his life would be interesting, if we knew its incidents. All we know is that he was a pioneer farmer, and at an early day cleared out a farm in the woods of Indiana, became quite "well off," but for some cause "broke up," losing all he had. Moving west to Illinois he made another farm, was prosperous and in comfortable circumstances when he again lost everything to bad speculation. Refusing proffered aid from friends, he set to work again, overcoming all obstacles, and again succeeded in securing a home and a competence. About fifteen years ago he was able to leave off hard work, and had the satisfaction of seeing his family comfortably situated. Then he set out to preach "reform," and he lectured often on education, always one of his favorite themes. Of book learning he had none; having probably never went to school a day in his life after he was old enough to work. His manuscript was always a source of amusement in a printing office because of his curious spelling. Yet in his way he was an educated man. During all his years of toil on the farm, he was a voracious reader; the briefest spare moment found him deep in a book or paper, or with pen in hand writing to his county paper on some farm or reform subject. He had an unusually active, thinking mind, and had he been college trained might have been one of the foremost men of his day. At one time he was a Methodist local preacher, but his doctrines had in them so much Campbelliteism that his license was withdrawn. He preached awhile for the Campbellites, but soon outgrew that faith, and after a long investigation embraced Spiritualism. He was among the first and most ultra Abolitionists, and his labors in that direction gained him as much unpopularity as did his later hobbies in this county. When the late war broke out he boldly proclaimed that the downfall of slavery was the only road to peace. He went to Galesburg, among other places, to arouse the people to this idea. He secured the church of Rev. Charles Beecher in which to speak, but when the time came around Beecher objected to opening the church because he had heard that Willits was a Spiritualist. He finally consented to open the church but would not himself go near. Willits had a large audience, and did not hesitate to rasp Beecher's knuckles severely for his attempted stab at free speech, and was applauded roundly for his effort. But if his life and character were peculiar, his death was even more so. His views and habits of thought were totally different from other men's, and his death was also different from other deaths. He maintained his intense individualism to the last moment. We saw him on Sunday previous to his death. The grim monster was then grappling with his victim. He knew he was to die, yet he talked of the event with the utmost composure, as though it was the expected visit of a friend. He spoke as though it was an everyday affair, was hopeful, cheerful and uncomplaining. When asked if he had any regrets or fears as his end drew near, he replied: "Oh, no, if it were not for the hope of doing a little more good in the world, I would rather go than not." The well-meant entreaties of his neighbors to have a physician summoned brought from him this remark: "I have never in all my life called in a regular physician, and I am not going back on myself now, for the remnant of time I have yet to live." He joked and laughed at the idea he had when first mentioned, that it would hurt his dead body when a post mortem should be made! He sat in his chair most of the time, and died in the chair. On Tuesday he sat and noted death as it crept, cold and slow, from the extremities to the vitals, and remarked upon the phenomenon as an interesting study. "There, that hand is gone," said he. Once when revived after becoming unconscious, he said: "Let me go." Another exclamation was: "I shall soon be in the summer-land." He bade his friends goodbye, with cheerfullness, and told them to live true to their convictions of right and duty. At about 12 o'clock, on Tuesday, he died as if he were going to sleep. For days he had stood face to face with death, and with a calmness and fortitude seldom seen, met the fate that awaits mortality. Thus died an infidel. We have chronicled facts - the reader may do the moralizing. He was buried in accordance with his wishes in front of Mr. Trego's house, on the spot where stood the little office, the burning of which some years ago, gave rise to the slander suit against ex Sheriff Hawthorn. The remains were carried to their last resting place by Pleasant View Grange. - Iowa Granger.
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