| Special to The Blade
In the 1800s, the United States economy was agriculturally based. More than 90 percent of Americans were farmers. William T. Stackpole lived from 1827 until 1894. He was one of the 10 percent who were not farmers. During his life, William was a gold prospector, pioneer, farmer, merchant, grain speculator, oil field worker, real estate salesperson, inventor, writer, publisher and visionary. He was one of Fairbury’s earliest residents and one of Fairbury’s most colorful characters.
William T. Stackpole was born in 1827 in Thomaston, Maine. The family moved to Pekin. When William was nine years old, his father died. His mother had to raise William, his four sisters, and his half-brother George Stackpole.
In 1849, when William was 22 years old, he caught the gold bug. He and his half-brother George Stackpole left Pekin to strike it rich in the California gold fields. Within a short time after leaving Pekin, George became lonesome for his young wife and his daughter. George walked back home to his family in Pekin. George eventually became a steamboat captain.
William and his party continued their 2,000-mile journey to the gold fields of northern California. William was one of the few gold prospectors that actually found gold and struck it rich. After he found his gold, he became ill and decided to return home to Pekin. Stackpole took a sailing ship from San Francisco to Nicaragua. He then walked across Nicaragua to the Gulf of Mexico, where he boarded another vessel to New Orleans.
William’s adventures are documented in his personal diary. His diary has been converted into a modern book titled, “William T. Stackpole’s 1849 Journey from Illinois to the California Gold Fields.”
After returning to Pekin, William bought apple orchards and a coal mine using his gold wealth. In 1856, he married Jennie Sophia Harlow.
William then sold his Pekin businesses and became a pioneering farmer in Anchor. He was the first settler in Anchor. In a Pantagraph interview, Stackpole recounted that rattlesnakes, greenheads and mosquitoes were the most troublesome enemies that engaged the new farmer. For two or three years, prairie wolves were a significant problem.
But these minor objections shrunk into insignificance compared with the terrible prairie fires. Grass grew to …….