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William Watie Wheeler. Each successive year now is witnessing the removal of some of the historic characters who were most prominently identified with the older Indian Territory and with those movements and activities which crystallized in the new State of Oklahoma. A recent death which attracted wide attention over the state was that of William Watie Wheeler, who died at his home in Sallisaw, February 15, 1915. His own experiences and work gave him a notable place in the old Cherokee Nation, and through his family he was related with some of the most prominent men of the early days.
He was not yet seventy years of age when death called him. He was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, December 14, 1847, a son of John F. and Nancy (Watie) Wheeler. John F. Wheeler, who was a son of white parents, spent his early life in Georgia and was there before the Cherokee Indians were removed to the west of the Mississippi. He married a Cherokee woman, Nancy Watie, daughter of David Watie, a full blood Cherokee. The brother of Mrs. John F. Wheeler was the celebrated General Stand (or Isaac) Watie, whose name will always be given prominence in the annals of Indian Territory during the Civil war. From New Echota, Georgia, John F. Wheeler and wife moved with other Cherokees to the Indian Territory in 1831. John F. Wheeler is credited with having been partly instrumental in providing the Cherokees with a written language. While the chief honor is given to Sequoyah, it was John F. Wheeler who supervised the casting of the type in Cincinnati in 1827, and he printed the first Cherokee document ever run oft a press. He did printing for the Presbyterian ministry both in Georgia and in Indian Territory. After his removal to Indian Territory his home was at Park Hill, near the site of the old Indian Mission, and one of the early landmarks of Cherokee history. In consequence of the factional warfare among the Cherokees which continued for a number of years after their settlement in Indian Territory, he left the nation and made his home in Fort Smith. He took his printing outfit to Fort Smith, and used it both for printing in the Cherokee language for the benefit of the missionaries and also for a secular English newspaper. He established at Fort Smith the first newspaper west of Little Rock, known as the Herald. He was proprietor of this paper until the close of the Civil war, and in 1868 he established the Wheeler’s Independent. He was likewise prominent in public affairs at Fort Smith. He was elected county judge of Sebastian County, served as a member of both the lower and upper houses of the Arkansas Legislature, and during and after the war he was one of the leading democrats of this part of the state, though previously he had been a whig. Though self-educated, he possessed many excellent attainments of mind and character and was one of the leaders of his time. He was active in church affairs, and was both a Mason and Odd Fellow. John F. Wheeler, who was born near Frankfort, Kentucky, died at Fort Smith in 1880 at the age of seventy-two. His children, who were half-blood Cherokees, were: Theodore, who was killed near Pike’s Peak in 1854 while going to California; Susan, who was brought from Georgia to Indian Territory as an infant, spent her life in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and married W. W. Perry; Mary A. died in 1863 as Mrs. E. B. Bright; Harriet married Argyle Quesenbury a native of Fort Smith, Arkansas and now lives in Sallisaw; Sarah P. married Clarence Ashbrook of Memphis, Tennessee, who is deceased, and later she married Captain Nelms, and lived at Vinita; John died in 1880 after his marriage to Lulu G. Sanders; William Watie was next in order of birth; and Nancy died unmarried in 1863.
While the life of William Watie Wheeler was not of unusual length, it was one of unusual experience and variety of activity. As a boy he lived in Fort Smith, attended the public schools of that city, and gained a practical education in his father’s printing house. He was less than fourteen years of age when the war broke out, and not long afterward his ardent patriotism led him to enlist with the Arkansas troops, and with Price’s army he took part in the campaigns around Little Rook and in Louisiana. Subsequently his fortunes attached him to his uncle’s, Gen. Stand Watie, and he was with that noted chieftain through the latter part of the war. He fought at Jenkins Perry, Pleasant Hill and Mansfield, and came out of the war unscratched.
With all this experience he was still a boy when the war closed, and he soon afterward became connected with a drug house in Fort Smith, and from there moved to Indian Territory, not far distant from Fort Smith, and followed farming and trading among the Cherokees until 1880. In that year he became one of the pioneers of Sallisaw. He was there when the first railroad came, and thenceforward for thirty-five years was one of the progressive leaders in the development and upbuilding of the town. During the greater part of that time, for fully thirty years, he operated on a successful and extensive scale farming and stock raising, he was one of the pioneer fruit growers and developed one of the best orchards in Sequoyah County. When the Cherokee lands were allotted, his share was a handsome portion on the east side of Sallisaw, and altogether he owned about twelve hundred acres in one body, and had various other business relations with Sallisaw. He was a director in the Merchants National Bank of Sallisaw, was interested in the Wheeler Lumber Company, was head of the firm Wheeler &. Sons, cotton buyers and ginners, and held stock in the Sallisaw Cotton Oil Mill. His public spirit was equal to his business capacity, and for nine years he was president of the Sallisaw Board of Education and served several terms on the Sallisaw town council. In his younger years he had at one time served as chief of police in Fort Smith. He was an active democrat, and altogether one of the best known and influential citizens of Eastern Oklahoma at the time of his death.
On November 5, 1868, he married Miss Emma C. Carnall who was born at Fort Smith in March, 1848, daughter of John Carnall, who came from Virginia. The children of Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler were: John Perry, who married Nancy Benge; Fannie M., who married T. F. Shackelford; Daisey E., who married Edgar T. Stevenson; Corrie F., who married Raleigh Kobel; William Watie, Jr., who married Jessie Meechem; Jessie V., who married W. B. Mayo; Carnall, who in l9O9 graduated from the Virginia Military Institute; and Theodore F., who completed his higher education in the University of Missouri.