Kemmeter Column: Ferris gravesite renovated, daughter lived with uncle
By Gene Kemmeter
Continued from previous edition
The death of Isaac Ferris, a river pilot on the Wisconsin River, in December of 1862 or January of 1863 led to the foreclosure sale of more than 130 acres of land he owned in the town of Linwood.
Fifty-four years later, P.H. Cashin, a former Stevens Point mayor, started a campaign to improve the neglected grave alongside the road on the west side of the Wisconsin River, across from the Whiting-Plover Paper Co. mill.
Cashin said in the May 7, 1917, Stevens Point Daily Journal that travelers on the road have observed the grave and have wondered about the identity of the deceased person.
He said the wooden slab that served as a tombstone had rotted away and the lettering was gone. The little picket fence surrounding the site was also falling into decay.
Cashin said he found after some difficulty that the grave was the resting place of Isaac “Ike” Ferris, one of the earlier settlers in the vicinity and a man of considerable intelligence who was a river pilot.
He was well known along the river, Cashin said, and was buried there near his home.
Ferris had a large shanty near Conant Rapids and near where he was buried that he welcomed travelers to stop, although he did not keep a regular rooming house, Cashin said.
Cashin suggested that individuals provide a small subscription to place a metal fence around the lot and a marker on the grave, and also to clean up the spot.
“The place has attracted much attention from automobiles and other travelers and a well kept grave would give a much better impression than the present conditions,” he said. “Visitors could occasionally place flowers there.”
Cashin said Ferris left an only daughter, believed to have been an adopted child. “No one knows what became of the little girl,” he said. “There are no known relatives. Ferris’s last request was that his friends look after his little girl.”
The mystery of the orphan girl for Journal readers was answered a few weeks later by Anna Le Mere of Sutherland, Mont.
Le Mere sent a letter to the newspaper May 28, 1917, along with a donation to the Isaac Ferris monument fund. The letter was published in the June 2, 1917, newspaper.
“I ‘do my bit’ by sending 50 cents towards the Isaac Ferris monument fund. I do this in memory of his little daughter – Laura Ferris. I remember Mr. Ferris although I was but a small child when he died. My mother kept a boarding house on the West side. Mr. Ferris would sometimes stop there.
“I remember his making the air lurid with adjectives not found in a grammar (book), during an electrical storm. When not drinking he was very much the gentleman and more intelligent and well-read than the average person of that day. When he died, I believe he requested that his daughter, Laura, not over 10 years of age, be sent to her uncles either in Illinois or Iowa and Laura was brought to my mother to be cared for until the relatives could be heard from.
“I well remember her departure from our home, on the stage for Madison, I believe, on a cold winter’s morning and my mother provided an extra coat and warming bricks for her feet, also our tearful good-by.
“I have often thought of her. She was so young a child that among new surroundings she would cease to remember her old life.”
LeMere said she has never passed Ferris’ grave, “but I have thought of the lonely little orphan starting alone on so long a journey and on such a bitterly cold morning.
Her relatives were willing to receive her but the journey was then a hard one and she was put in the care of the stage driver.”
Laura Ferris’ journey to her new home with relatives was apparently successful.
Her uncle Edwin Ferris, was born in 1827 in Blakely, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, the youngest son of Samuel and Mary (Kelly) Ferris.
He was a farmer in Penn Township, Stark County, Ill., and employed his niece, Mary Searl, the daughter of his sister, Charlotte (Ferris) Searl, as his housekeeper.
The 1870 Census lists Laura living with her uncle and her cousin, Mary Searl, in Penn Township.
On June 18, 1878, Laura was married to Robert Perry Fouts in Stark County, Ill.
They spent most of their life in Rockwell City, Calhoun County, Iowa where they farmed.
Robert died Feb. 11, 1911, and is buried in Rockwell City.
Laura died Jan. 1, 1936, and is also buried in Rockwell City.
On Laura’s Find a Grave webpage, a partial copy of the June 2, 1917, Stevens Point Daily Journal article of Ann Le Mere’s letter is posted, linking her to her father’s Find a Grave webpage.
Laura and Robert had a son, Clarence Perry Fouts, who was born April 16, 1879, and died Feb. 11, 1965, in McLean, N.Y. He was married to Ann Margaret Stumpf, who died July 23, 1971. They had three children, Herbert Harold Fouts (1905-1982), Margaret Ethel Fouts (1909-1916) and Perry Joseph Fouts (1917-1994).
After Edwin’s death July 1, 1916, the Bradford Republican newspaper in Bradford, Ill., wrote in its July 12, 1916, edition that Edwin came west in the early 1850s and “worked in the logging and lumber camps of Wisconsin and rafted lumber down the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers. Later he bought a fine farm of virgin soil near Kewanee, which he improved.
“Afterwards he became actively engaged in furnishing fruit trees to the south and brought Osage plants and seeds north and it was he who helped the farmer with a fence which proved a boon at that time.”
The Republican continued that after the start of the Civil War Ferris “started to purchase and improved his farm south east of Bradford, where his niece, Miss Mary Searl, helped to make a splendid home for him.
The hospitality of that home is still remembered, as well as the wonderful beauty of its lawn and flower gardens. Mr. Ferris was an ardent lover of order and beauty.”
The Bradford Republican of Oct. 8, 1903, reported about Mary Searl’s death on Sept. 26, 1903, saying the impact of the Civil War left “her the only one comfort in life, the care for the welfare of others.
For over 40 years she made her home with her uncle, Edwin Ferris, so well-known here.
That home has been long and well known for good cheer, and boundless hospitality but now it is broken up, for the dear presiding hostess is gone forever.
Her whole life has been one of devotion to duty, and we believe that she is now happy with her loved ones who passed on before her through the portals of glory.”
And what about Ann Le Mere, the woman who reported on the long-forgotten daughter of Isaac Ferris, Laura Ferris.
Ms. Le Mere taught at the Old White School in Stevens Point beginning at the age of 18.
She taught in Stevens Point for several years, then went to northern Wisconsin for many years before returning to teaching in Miles City, Mont., where she died in 1934.