The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

W. C. Wilson - All Through His Life He Did Wander

By Sue Collins © 1996

Issue: Summer, 1996

Walter Clan Wilson was born January 17, 1878 in either Southside or Brookneal, Virginia and died May 7, 1930 in Washington, DC. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery and was in service during the Spanish American War.

The following writings covering turning points in his life, as well as the photographs were supplied by Sue Collins, also of Roanoke, Virginia. Sue's mother, Janelle Wilson Collins was Walter's sister.

Sue Collins added, "At time of death, he was a telegrapher as he was in Roanoke. He was a court reporter in far Southwest at one time. Aunt Cora said that she had a picture he drew of a woman (a fashion plate) who was on trial for murdering her husband. After her death I looked high and low and can't find it. The "Benny Boy" and a teenage picture of dogs (maybe one is Jack) is all I know exists." She concluded saying, "All through his life he did wander."

The following is an account in three parts through correspondence, written by and about Walter Wilson's life. The first part was sent to his father a month before he died of pneumonia, but it gives the reader a glimpse of his leaving home at a tender age. If he was born in 1878, this event of leaving home would have taken place circa 1890. Here are his own words...

"Somewhere deep down into my sensitive nature, a vibrating chord had been struck, and when I awoke from a restless night's weariness and troubled sleep, I looked out of the little window in my attic bedroom, and felt that the world was wholly without sympathy or understanding. It was a beautiful Spring morning, however, and out under the trees I could see the early birds hopping about, so content and so happy in their bird world. Often I had coaxed these little birds to hop around me as I threw crumbs of bread for them, and somehow I felt the understanding of their happy lives.

Our home [Sue Collins interjected that it might have been in Blue Ridge, Virginia] was situated in a little Valley surrounded by beautiful, picturesque and very blue mountains, none other than the Blue Ridge of Old Virginia, and because our little world was shut in by these very mountains, for hours at the time I would gaze at the horizon of our little valley and dream beautiful dreams of the big wide world beyond. In my dreams I pictured all the happiness and all the beauty it is possible to summarize, and although my tender years just numbered twelve, it seemed a pent up energy which constituted my very being stretched those years by twice their number, because my thoughts were bigger, I suppose, than most boys at that age. My father was entirely right when he often told me I was nothing but a dreamer, and often mother would take sides with him and try to coax me to join in the neighborhood games with other children. Somehow, though I did not care for these amusements, but rather would wander away into the woods and over the foothills where I tracked rabbits, watched squirrels hopping from tree to tree and spent much time with beloved little birds hopping around me picking up the crumbs I threw to them.

My old dog Jack, a wonderful mongrel of the Hound type, was actually human in his understanding of my every mood, and for hours we would lie in the broom straw which covered the foothills, and gaze out into space and dream - I am sure Jack dreamed with me, because in his eyes I could detect a something - an understanding which I knew existed between the dog and myself, and so in this manner I whiled away the hours, sometimes coming home in time for lunch, and more often being hours late.

It was because of this attitude I took of life that my Mother and Father often talked with me - sometimes very harshly, and just the night before after supper had been finished, I was in for a severe lecture, and on this occasion the lecture had been more personal and humiliating to me, because I felt that I was living my own life as I choosed and had tried my best to analyze or detect anything wrong I was guilty of. My father very plainly and severely summarized his lecture with the admonition that I would never account to anything and that he was ashamed of me.

That was the blow that struck the vibrating chord in my nature that sent my thoughts whirling through space in a vibrant panic, and all that night between restless moments of sleep I tried to analyze the situation so thoroughly disgusting to me. I did not want my father and mother to feel ashamed of me, and yet I was hardly content at anything except my wanderings through the woods and over the mountains, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming of everything beautiful, honorable, big and plentiful just over the mountains and beyond into the wonderful world outside of the little valley. Finally a momentous thought occurred to me, it was like a flash, and although I was possessed with a daring nature, nothing so subtly beyond my tender age had ever occurred to me like this before, and I jumped out of bed, lit a small kerosene lamp and stood for a moment gazing at old Jack curled up on the floor beside my bed on his tattered old blanket.

"Jack" I admonished, after convincing myself that he was thoroughly awake, his honest, friendly eyes gazing into mine, "Jack I want you to listen very intently to this. Just now a thought occurred to me, and just now I determined to put that thought into quick action, and old boy I am going to leave a lot for you to do. In the morning, as soon as the sun begins to shine I am going away, Jack, for beyond the tops of the big mountains we can see, and while I am going away, I want to tell you that I'll be gone a very long time. I want you to keep a vigilant watch over our little valley here nestling close to the mighty mountains, and any cat you may catch stalking one of our birds, young rabbits, or squirrels, chase them Jack, chase the cats to death if possible. You and I don't like cats anyway, and because they stalk our feathered friends. Then, too, when Father is away, which he is often is, attending to business, I want you to keep careful watch over the house and see that nothing comes close enough to give mother a scare. I'll think of you, dear old friend, and often mayhap, I'll wish to be back here with you, roaming the fields, the woods and mountains, but Jack I have determined to go because they are all ashamed of you and I. Pretty soon I'll buy a big mansion just beyond a beautiful city, and I'll make sure there is plenty of space in which you can run, then I'll come back for you and take you to our home. We'll have all the gold we want, everything dazzlingly beautiful, and then we'll be very happy, because when I've worked and made all this money Father and Mother wont feel ashamed of us, and maybe they will come to live there too."

Jack looked his understanding of it all I had told him, and several times during the remainder of the long night I heard him whine, his restless slumber keeping pace with my rolling and tossing on the bed.

Finally as the sun began to climb over the top of the mountain I jumped out of bed and began a hurried toilet. Wrapped a few inconsequential articles into a roll and went down to breakfast. Mother suspected nothing, and had little to say, but Jack was a bundle of nerves, restlessly running around the room whining, scratching and otherwise making himself miserable because he sensed a happening unusual in that little valley home.

As I left the house after breakfast, the dog following, no one suspected anything out of the ordinary, although I was drenched with my own thoughts and the responsibilities I was about to shoulder outside of home - responsibilities of taking care of myself, and responsibilities of accomplishing all that I was setting out to do. My legs were shaking as I trudged along, but the determination to go was thoroughly saturated throughout my being and I could do nothing nor think nothing except to go ahead.

After a few miles on the road, I wrote a note to Mother, telling her that I was going away because I didn't want her and father to feel ashamed of me - told her of my ambitions to do great things in the outside world, and promised as soon as I had accomplished all that I had gone for I would return.

This note I tied to Jacks neck, and sent him trudging back homeward. He didn't want to go, but finally I made him understand that his mission back at the house was an important one. That was the last I was to see this wonderful dog and friend, and my heart felt heavy, and my feet slackened their pace just a trifle as I turned events of the past few hours over and over in my mind.

Determination urged me onward, though, and finally as my thoughts turned to the immediate present, I began devising ways and means to procure the bare necessities I would require. I had no money, few clothes, and was facing the world barehanded. Just what to do first, I could not settle in my mind, but finally a harmonizing thought urged through me to let events take care of themselves. Somehow I believed this was best and it surely was the most consoling of all my thoughts at that moment."

The second part of this story is not dated, but surely a lot of time has passed and now Walter Wilson is a man. The following was an article in a Cheyenne (most probably Wyoming) newspaper:

Cupid Takes Advantage Of The Public

Pulls Off Wedding Stunt Not Expected Until "Robins Nest Again"

Mr. Wilson - Miss Lebhart Principals

On Saturday afternoon at 4:30, at the Methodist parsonage in this city occurred the wedding of Mr. Walter C. Wilson and Miss Anne Lebhart, Rev. Nelson officiating, employing the ring ceremony. The only witnesses to the ceremony were Miss Edna Gleason and Mrs. Rev. Nelson.

The news of the wedding will be a surprise to the many friends of the contracting parties, even the parents, brothers and sisters of Miss Lebhart being in ignorance of the event until after the ceremony was performed.

Immediately after the wedding the happy couple took apartments in the Plains Hotel, and in the evening enjoyed a sumptuous feast. The news they had gone to Denver was given out evidently for the purpose of enabling them to escape the attentions of inquiring friends.

Mr. Wilson is the popular and respected head operator at the Western Union building where he first met Miss Lebhart, she, too, being engaged in that office, Mr. Wilson came to Cheyenne some months ago gathered about him a host of friends among the best people of the city. He is a young man of striking personality thoroughly in touch with the spirit of the times and popular wherever known.

Miss Lebhart is a daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Fred Lebhart, 708 East 21st Street, a much respected family of Cheyenne, the father being a well known Union Pacific engineer. She is an accomplished, intelligent and business-like young lady, whose list of friends in this city comprise the best of people.

It is said this union is the result of love at first sight. No sooner had Mr. Wilson arrived from the sunny south and began his duties with the Western Union than a friendship sprang up between himself and Miss Lebhart, that rapidly ripened into an affection which cupid took advantage of yesterday. The engagement had been a matter of knowledge by a few friends for some time, but the wedding was not to have taken place until next spring, the plans having been suddenly changed and the union consummated without knowledge of those most intimate with either the bride or the groom.

The third part of this story was written from Roanoke, Virginia to the Lebhart family on a joyous occasion. Obviously Walter moved his wife back to Virginia. It doesn't say whether it was written by the proud father or mother, but given the style, it was probably from Walter Wilson's hand:

Roanoke, Va. Nov. 11, 1917
(Sunday Afternoon)

My dear Grandfather and Grandmother Lebhart; Grandfather Wilson, and all my dear relatives and kind friends:


Last night was the beginning of all time, for in the night I made my debut into the world, and when I came they weighed me on a pretty scales, and my weight was exactly seven pounds. My hair, which is thick and long, is dark, and my eyes are blue. Every one says I favor my Little Mother, and the Doctor Man told me I was the finest baby girl he ever saw. I tried to thank all the good people who welcomed me in their midst, though I couldn't talk, but could only cry. I cried for a long while, because I wished every one to know that I had arrived, and Oh – just for the fun of crying too.

Soon they tucked me in my little bed and then I fell asleep, and when I opened my eyes again it was broad day light and the sun had just begun to peep over the top of Mill Mountain. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and the sunshine outside was warm. From the trees I heard many little bird songs, and thought the songs very beautiful. Over by the incline road, which passes the hospital [Roanoke Hospital, now Roanoke Memorial] on its way to the top of the mountain, I saw a very large tree all trimmed in gold and red, and my Little Mother told me that Jack-Frost had been gnawing at its tender little leaves, for somehow they seemed sad, as though they wished to live on through the winter months with me, so that we might play together when the Spring had come.

But Little Mother told me there would be other little leaves next Spring, and that God hadn't intended for them to live through but one summer. She told me, too, that I must be a very good little girl during the winter months that are here, so that Old Jack-Frost wont get me, and she promised that when the little leaves have again begun to bud, she will take me to the parks so that I may express my gratitude for the beauty they bring.

So, my dear folks, this had been a wonderful day for me, and many times during the day my big blue eyes have been wide open, wondering at the beauty of it all. Everything seems so strange, and the little noises I hear around the hospital, startle me, though each little noise brings the knowledge that I shall soon learn from whence they come.

My precious Little Mother was very sick from 6 o'clock last evening 'till 2:20 this morning, but the kind nurse assures me that Little Mother was very brave, and that the horrid old pain only lasts for a few moments at a time.

Immediately after 2:20 my Little Mother was bright and smiling, and she gave me such a wonderful hug that welcomed me into her world. Then she went to sleep, even as I fell asleep myself, and all during this day she has been bright and happy and talked with those who came to see us.

The big Doctor Man came to see us at Noon today and laughed and talked with my Little Mother, and told her she was the bravest Little Mother he knew. He said we were getting along fine and that we had nothing to fear. He also assured us that if we were real good he might let us leave the hospital next Sunday and go to our own home.

So you see, we have much to think of this week, for we are already planning to make our little apartment the brightest and happiest home in Roanoke - certainly we shall think so. Little Mother says she will have the big man pick out a pretty little bed for me, and that he will have everything ready for us when we go home.

Today Little Mother told me about the big man at our home, whom she said was my father, and even before she had finished telling me about him, he came into our room. I looked at him very straight and for a long while. Little Mother said he would always be very good to us, and for that I gave him a smile. I know that he is glad I came, for he has been here the live-long day, and is already wishing that Little Mother and I were at home with him. I think I shall try to love him, even as he loves my own Little Mother and me.

Well, dear folks, I'm too busy with my own thoughts to try to write you the wonder of all that's happened today. It would, indeed, fill a very large book, and I suspect you are too busy to read it all. So wont you come to see me real soon? That I might show you how deeply I love you, and perhaps then I may tell you all that's too numerous to write.

Let me assure you my Little Mama is feeling fine, and best of all she loves me better than all the world. So I am happy - happy because she is feeling so good, and happy because I came to Roanoke to live, always with her and that fellow she told me was my father. I'll have to let Little Mother tell you about him, because I don't know him very well - yet.

I am sure I will love you with all my might, and are hoping you will love me, too. It's time for bed and the good nurse has already begun to tuck me in though I'm too busy to sleep.

Little Mother is going to sleep, too, and we will be real quiet while the darkness reigns outside, so we will feel refreshed and all the better when another morning has come. Then I'll watch the wonderful sun peep his head over the top of the mountain, and will think of you.

Tenderest Love,
Barbara Ann Wilson

Editor's Note... We thank Sue Collins for sharing her family documents with us so that we might follow the life of Walter C. Wilson during the last part of the 1800s and the first part of the 1900s.