Milo Erwin was born October 24, 1847 near the village of Crab Orchard, six miles east of Marion. This area had been settled by people from North Carolina, among them a Revolutionary War ancestor of Milo Erwin.
Milo Erwin was the son of Robert P. and Eliza (Furlong) Erwin. Robert P. and his brother-in-law, James M. Furlong, built a steam mill for both grist and lumber at Crab Orchard in 1854; this was the county’s second mill. It was in the center of town and had no doors. Folks who had no desire to pay for grist found it easy to take what they wanted at night; thus the village was nick-named “Steal Easy.”
Both Robert P. Erwin and James M. Furlong served as county tax collectors before the duty was assigned to the sheriff in 1843. The two millers opened a general store in 1857 and Robert P. Erwin served as postmaster of Crab Orchard in 1855. He was born November 12, 1821 and died June 13, 1899. His wife, Eliza J. was born in 1820 and died in 1882.
Milo Erwin attended the University of Michigan and graduated in 1872 with a Bachelor of Law degree. He returned to the county of his birth to practice law. Two years later, he was serving as City Clerk of Marion, as well as maintaining his law practice. He ran for the legislature in 1874 on the Republican ticket, but was defeated in the predominately Democratic district.
The year 1876 found him again running for the legislature, as well as defending some men connected with the Bloody Vendetta and working on his book, “The History of Williamson County.”
In 1877, after political success eluded him, the 30 year old man was a partner in the operation of a mill at Crab Orchard and helped his brother-in-law, John H. Rumage, run a 200 acre farm. He was the speaker at a Fourth of July celebration at Crab Orchard, was superintendent of the art exhibit at the county fair and served his party as congressional district committeeman.
The Egyptian Press reported on March 15, 1877, that Milo Erwin had informed them that scarlet fever was prevalent among the children in and about Crab Orchard. He said two or three Holderfield children and a child of Dr. Huddleston had died. He also reported three children of John Rumage – his sister’s husband – were afflicted but would recover.
His try for state representative was unsuccessful in 1878, but he was elected in 1880 and again in 1882. The newspapers reported on Thursday, October 14, 1880, that during his speech at Crab Orchard the Saturday night before, Robert Parks Jr., Val Rich and Tom Hilliard called him a liar. A row came up between Robert Slankard and Robert Parks. Jr. When Andrew Bruce Hendrickson tried to restore peace he was stabbed and killed by Tom Hilliard.
His mother had died by 1880 and when the census taker came around, he was found in the household of his brother-in-law, John H. Rumage. His father was in the household of his other son, William Erwin, living at Eldorado, Saline County. I found mention of Milo Erwin several times after his election in 1880. He was reported as visiting his old home and the newspapers also noted when he went back to his post in Springfield.
We do not know what his activities were after his legislative service terminated in 1884, but the Marion Monitor announced on February 16, 1886, that he was leaving Marion to practice law in Peoria. This was a full ten years after the publication of his book. He is believed to have visited Marion only once after that and is known to have worked briefly as a reporter for the St. Louis Globe Democrat.
Until his death in 1894, few, if any, of his Marion friends knew of his whereabouts. How he spent some of those years was revealed after his death. He had changed his name and started a new life in Forest City, the county seat of Arkansas. He was a civil engineer and was elected twice to the office of County Supervisor. He was an active Mason and prominent among the residents of the town who knew him as Mark. M. Stanly. Strangely enough, Williamson County also had a Mark Stanley.
The January 17, 1895 issue of The Leader picked up this account of his death from The Forest City Times:
“All that remain mortal of Mark M. Stanly, County Surveyor, was consigned to mother earth Monday afternoon. Mr. Stanly died quite suddenly and unexpected last Thursday. He was taken with a chill which seemed to yield to remedies and on Saturday morning he went into Henton’s restaurant for his meal, when he was taken ill and retired to a bedroom in the rear. Nobody seemed to realize how ill he was until Sunday morning when he was found in an unconscious condition. A physician was called, but too late to do any good, as he was in a congested state. He was removed to the residence of G.B. Mosley where all attention was paid him, but all in vain and his spirit returned to its maker at 9 o’clock Sunday eve.
Mark M. Stanly was a man of considerable ability and the high compliment has been paid him that he was perfect in his work. He has relatives living in Illinois who have been notified of his demise. The Thursday night train from the east brought to this city, R.P. Erwin and John Rumage, who introduced themselves as father and brother-in-law of him we knew as Stanly. The gentlemen came from Marion, Illinois. The father, though bending under the years of more than man’s allotted time, came with a heart full of affection and tender devotion, eager to learn ‘where is my wandering boy tonight.’ A Times representative met them and from them learned the true name and a bit of interesting history of the prodigal son.”
The account went on to tell of Milo’s accomplishments and said as the mileposts of time passed, financial distresses visited his home and as a relief from scenes of crumbling fortune, he sought refuge from the sorrowing cup. Prompted by his high sense of pride and honor, he resolved to bid adieu to home and friends and seek his fortune in different lands. He had made St. Francis County his home several years. He was a Royal Arch Mason and was well up in the Blue Lodge. After his death, a letter was found on his person disclosing the name and residence of his parents. He leaves a very aged father, R.P. Erwin, one sister, Mrs. Mary Rumage, wife of John H. Rumage and a younger brother, William F. Erwin who now resides in DuQuoin, Illinois, his mother having died several years ago. Milo Erwin’s demise will end a long wished for return by his many friends.
The weeks following would have been sorrowful times for relatives and friends. I can imagine the father did some deep soul searching before making the decision to disturb the Arkansas grave of his son. The desire to have his son’s final resting place close to home won out and John H. Rumage went to Forest City more than four months later and attended to the business of having his brother-in-law’s remains disinterred and shipped back to Williamson County.
The Forest City Times reported Mr. Rumage was pleased to hear nothing but good words for the surveyor while he lived in that community, notwithstanding his eccentricities. The Leader reported on May 2, 1895, that John H. Rumage returned Friday with the lifeless form and the funeral was held Sunday.
One of the largest congregations ever seen at Mount Pleasant gathered from various parts of this and other counties to pay their respects. After the singing of an appropriate hymn, Rev. Z.T. Walker offered a touching prayer. Judge George W. Young gave the eulogy. The body was laid to rest in the churchyard where a headstone today marks the grave of an author who became a man of mystery.
Eva M. Skelley found the following in one of Milo Erwin’s original books, owned by Dr. G.R. Brewer and written in Brewer’s hand:
“History of Williamson County, Milo Erwin,” the author of this book was a noted character and citizen of the community of which I was born and raised. When I was a young man, I attended the funeral and burial of this man who had died mysteriously somewhere in Arkansas, about Hot Springs, as I recall it, and whose remains were brought back to Marion and on to Mt. Pleasant, “The Shed” cemetery, some mile and a half west of Crab Orchard, for burial. The climactic event at the funeral and burial of this young man, to me as a young man, was a final song that was sung as the old friends and acquaintances were gathered about the grave, entitled, “Oh Wait, Meekly Wait and Murmur Not.” The deep base voice of Mr. Askew of Marion so thrilled me that an impression of the song, the singer and the surroundings was imbedded in my mind where it lingers yet. The family of this man was well known to me, as were his father, sisters and uncles and their descendants. Robert Erwin, the father, was an old soldier in the Civil War and a very good friend of my father’s, as well as his brothers, John and James Erwin. Some of the descendants [relatives] of Milo Erwin are now residing near Stonefort, where other Erwin’s have resided for decades. When I was a boy I was engaged in farming on the old John Erwin farm near Pleasant Grove Church, the old home of the Erwin’s. G.R. Brewer, M.D.”
I recently visited the churchyard at Mount Pleasant. In my mind, I saw another day over one hundred years ago. I imagined the family and friends gathered around the open grave; perhaps my feet stood on the very same ground. The father would have been devastated at the loss of a son. I have buried a lovely daughter and know the pain of parting. The feeling is unnatural to outlive your child, as if the nature of things is out of order.
The father followed the son to the grave within five years. His stone reads: Robert P. Erwin died June 13, 1899 aged 77 years, 7 months and 1 day. “Oh twill be sweet to meet on that blessed shore, All sorrows passed all pain forever o’er”
Milo Erwin’s grave is next to his father’s. His stone reads: Milo Erwin died in Forest City, Arkansas December 16, 1894, aged 47 years 1 month and 22 days. “By strangers honored and by strangers mourned.”
I wonder what caused a lawyer to leave all that was familiar and change his name and occupation and start all over in a strange place. I also am curious as to what was meant by his ‘eccentricities.’ I suppose the occupation of civil engineer was a profitable and satisfying one and the fact that he was twice elected to the office of county surveyor certainly indicates the respect and confidence the residents of St. Francis County, Arkansas had for him. It seems he suffered financial troubles, but one would think he could have worked those problems out, possibly in his hometown where he certainly seemed to be respected. Also, his father knew where he was as indicated by the letter found on his person.
I suppose we will never know the circumstances which caused Milo Erwin to become Mark M. Stanly.
I have often wondered what Milo Erwin looked like and even had a mental image of him in my mind. Recently, while looking through some old books at the museum, I came across a copy of Hal Trovillion’s reprint, titled The Bloody Vendetta. Taped inside the book, opposite the title page was a picture. It would seem to be a picture of our man of mystery. Why else would it be taped inside a reprint of his book?
(Extracted from “Footprints”, a quarterly publication of the Williamson County Historical Society: Volume 5, #2, 2002, by Helen Lind)