Willis - Nathaniel Parker - Montgomery InGenWeb Project

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Willis - Nathaniel Parker

Source: History of Montgomery County, Indiana.  Indianapolis: A. W.   Bowen, 1913, P. 1242

Nathaniel Parker Willis, oldest son of Abner Denman Willis and   Frances Ellen (Comegys) Willis, was born at Crawfordsville,   Indiana, On August 21, 1868.  From the time he entered upon young   manhood until his tragic death in Little Rock, Arkansas, on July   27, 1909, at a time when he was making an effort to see his   little daughter, Mary Frances Willis, who had been ruthlessly   taken from him, he held positions of peculiar esteem and some   prominence in the communities in which he lived.  As a boy he   lived with his parents for a short time in Missouri, after which   he was brought by them to Crawfordsville where he diligently   pursued his studies in the public school.  He graduated from the   Crawfordsville High School in 1890, winning the free scholarship   to Wabash College, which was the prize for the most meritorious   grade.  He elected not to go to college, however, and began the   printing trade, apprenticed in the office of Bayliss Hanna, who   was then publishing the Crawfordsville Review.  In time he came to have the reputation of being the   fastest compositor in the town.  In 1892 he secured a position as   government mail carrier, but did not remain at this vocation very   long.  As a boy he had done much work in the Photograph Gallery   conducted by his father and he left the government service to   take charge of this business, in which he was singularly   successful, both from a business and artistic standpoint.  He was   a prominent exhibitor at the exhibitions, winning the first prize   in Class B at the exhibit of the Indiana Photographers   Association in 1897.  In 1898 and 1899 he again exhibited in the   association and took second prize in the same class.  He took   third prize in the Milwaukee exhibit of 1899 and in 1897 he   secured a medal from the Photographers Association of America.    Leaving this business he engaged in the same business at Chicago   from whence he launched into the sale of a cure for the liquor   habit, in which, after a few months of hard struggle, he was successful up to the time of his death.  While in   Chicago he was married, his wife dying a few weeks after the wedding   ceremony.  Several years later he again married Hattie Bell, of   Ladoga, but the union was not a happy one.  He took his liquor   cure business to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lived for three   years, there his daughter Mary Frances was born, after which he   removed to Indianapolis, which remained his place of residence.    Shortly after his return to Indianapolis his wife ran away,   taking with her their little girl, Mary Frances.  The remainder   of his life was devoted largely to attempts to see the child who   was secreted in various parts of the country.  The child was   eventually taken to Arkansas and in the courts of Little Rock He   obtained permission to visit his child at stated intervals.  In   1909 he made his customary visit to Little Rock to see Mary, and   was securing an order of the court to have her with him at his   hotel for a period of two weeks, when the man W. Y. Ellis, whom   his divorced wife had married, shot him without warning while in the court room.  In the subsequent   trial many letters that the subject of this sketch had written to   his daughter were read and they showed such a tender regard for   the child that the spectators in the court room were moved to   tears.  For the last few years of his life a desire to see his   child was his abiding passion. - transcribed by kbz

Source: Greencastle Herald 7 Sept 1912 p 1
The tragedy which occurred in a court room in Little Rock, Ark July 29, 1909 which resulted in the death of Nathaniel Parker Willis, a former resident of Greencastle is recalled by a handsome marble shaft recently erected in Oak Hill cemetery near Crawfordsville, Indiana. The monument bears an excellent likeness of the victim of W.Y. Ellis, who shot and killed Willis in cold blood.  Mr. Willis’ mother, Mrs. Caroline Willis, at one time conducted a boarding house in the building across the street from the jail. Her daughter. Annabell Wilson lived with her. Mr. Willis at that time lived in Crawfordsville but often came to Greencastle and was well-known here. The following item which appeared recently in the Arkansas Gazette published at Little Rock is from the pen of Mrs. JR Etter of Crawfordsville: “In Oak Hill cemetery, one and one-half miles northwest of Crawfordsville where the bodies of Gen. Lew Wallace, Maurice Thompson an dother distinguished Americans lie, the most unique and costly monument yet placed there was erected only a few weeks ago. It is at the grave of the late Nathaniel Parker Willis who was slain at a court of justice in Little Rock on July 27, 1909 by WY Ellis.  “Willis was shot and almost instantly killed by Ellis, when Judge Guy Fulk of the second division of the Pulaski Circuit Court had handed down a decision granting Willis permission to see his only child Mary Fraqnes Laura Willis, who was the stepdaughter  of Ellis. “The monument was chisled from marble at St. Louis, Mo. It is 12’ high, 6’ wide and about 2’ thick.  On the front a large bronze tablet is riveted to the marble. This tablet bears the image of the man who sleeps beneath it, together with that of his little girl, Mary Frances Laura Willis, who survives him.  It is a splendid piece of workmanship and was executed at great expense.  On the left of the figure, moulded in the bronze, area these words: “Nathaniel Parker Willis, August 21, 1868 – July 27, 1909 – Tried & true.  Inscription – “Beneath this tablet, chiseled in the marble, one may read the inscription: “Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life a friend (child) John 15:13.  “Murdered in a court of justice in Little Rock, Ark where he had gone by permission of the court to see his own daughter, Mary Frances Laura Willis, whom he loved and from whom he had been separated by the fallacies of the court.” Ther eis one Law-giver who is able to save and to destroy. Who art thou that judges another.  James 4:12. To reconstruct timid justice, and place the fact above the falsehood is the work of time.  The tragedy was caused by a bitter struggle, extending over a period of more than 5 years, waged by Nathaniel Parker Willis for the possession of his little daughter.  Willis and his wife, who later married Ellis, separated and were divorced while residing in Indianapolis when the child was but two years of age, the court awarding the custody of the child to the mother. This displeased the father and he continued litigation during the period of five years, hoping to secure possession of the child. “After several trials in court, the mother gaining the vicory each time, she went south with the little one and located in Pine Bluff, Arkansas where she married WY Ellis. Willis went south at different intervals to try to get his daughter, but was unsuccessful. Finally he made a trip to Little Rock and secured an order from the court to have little Mary visit him and his mother for a few days. The court ordered him to give a $5,000 cash bond for the safe return of the child. This he gave. “Ellis was in the court room when this order was given and fearing that Willis would forfeit the bond and obtain possession of the child, he shot him, the unfortunate father dying in a few minutes. Ellis was arrested and after several weeks trial he was sentenced to the penitentiary for two years. Ellis was granted a parole by the penitentiary board on Dec 6, 1910 after a long fight to secure his freedom.  Nathaniel Parker Willis came ,on his father’s side from one of the most eccentric families in the state. His mother who still survives him in an excellent woman, well educated, refined and cultured. She lives in modest luxury near Benjamin Harrison’s old home in Indianapolis. She has had the sympathy of everyone since the tragic death of her son, for whom she never ceasedto mourn. Benjamin Willis, grandfather of Nathaniel Parker Willis was an extensive land owner in Parke and Montgomery Counties. He was a splendid financier devouting religious and highly respected. He raised 5 sons and 3 daughters. All were intelligent and well educated but very peculiar. His first (wife) died when the children were young.  He married again, choosing as a wife a woman who helped in a very material way to rear their eccentric family. Abner D. Willis, his oldest son and the father of Nathaniel Parker Willis claimed to possess psychic power. He often communed with his friends who had passed over the dark river. He was a man who had made extensive research and was a photographer of ability. He claimed he could take photographs of spirits as well as of those who were yet on this sphere. He had many photographs that be taken and friends recognized them as some of their loved ones, rejoicing over his wonderful power.  Joseph Willis, an uncle of Nathaniel P. Willis, committed suicide. He was a well-educated man and in his younger days was a prominent teacher in the public schoosl of his county. He finally invented a remedy known as the “Pansy Compound,” for the cure of numerous diseases.  It is claimed the medicine possessed merit. It made him a fortune. This man commanded attention by his fine physique and his taste in dress but he was seldom seen in the company of anyone. He left a will strongly suggestive of a man he was. Among the strange bequests it contained, he asked that the Ringgold Band, a band then famous throughout the country play at the funeral. He desired the Odd Fellows to take charge of the obsequies and asked that no songs be sung, no prayers offered and no minister present. He directed that a certain undertaker of Crawfodsville take his body to St Louis and have it cremated and that his ashes be brought back and placed under his monument in the little cemetery at Alamo, Ind. “Fearing that some one would get a part of his belongings or money, he willed that after his debts were paid and funeral expenses, which were enormous, settled, that every cent which was left was to be put into a monument. His requests were obeyed and today there stands a massive granit shaft over his grave 40’ high, weighing many tons and costing many thousands of dollars.  An aunt of Nathaniel Parker a beautiful young lady and possessed of rare musical ability, died with a tubercular trouble, said to have been caused by living in seclusion after a disappointment in a love affair.  She rejected a young man to whom she was devotedly attached because of her father’s objections to him.  He too passed away in early life.  “Nathaniel Parker Willis was also a peculiar man. He was born and raised in Crawfordsville. He was a handsome young man of pleasing personality. He was graduated from Crawfordsville High School with honors. Like his father, he was a splendid photographer, but he discovered a cure for the whiskey habit which made him a fortune. He was twice married. The first time to a young lady of his home city who died a few days after the marriage while they were on their honeymoon trip.  After several years he married again this time to a Miss Bell of Ladoga. One child was born to them, Mary Frances Laura Willis. It was over this little on e that he was killed.” - kbz

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