About two miles west father’s farm in Jackson county Mich., lived Ami Filley, who moved here from Connecticut and settled about two and a half miles from the town of Jackson, then a small village with plenty of stumps and mudholes in its streets. Many of the roads leading thereto had been paved with tamarac poles, making what is now known as corduroy roads. The country was still new and the farm houses far between.
Mr. Filley secured Government land in the oak openings, and settled there with his wife and two or three children, the oldest of which was a boy named Willie. The children were getting old enough to go to school, but there being none, Mr. Filley hired one of the neighbor’s daughters to come to his house and teach the children there, so they might be prepared for usefulness in life or ready to proceed further with their education–to college, perhaps in some future day.
The young woman he engaged lived about a mile a half away–Miss Mary Mount–and she came over and began her duties as private school ma’am, not a very difficult task in those days. One day after she had been teaching some time Miss Mount desired to go to her father’s on a visit, and as she would pass a huckleberry swamp on the way she took a small pail to fill with berries as she went, and by consent of Willie’s mother, the little boy went with her for company. Reaching the berries she began to pick, and the little boy found this dull business, got tired and homesick and wanted to go home. They were about a mile from Mr. Filley’s and as there was a pretty good foot trail over which they had come, the young woman took the boy to it, and turning him toward home told him to follow it carefully and he would soon see his mother. She then filled her pail with berries, went on to her own home, and remained there till nearly sundown, when she set out to return to Mr. Filley’s, reaching there yet in the early twilight. Not seeing Willie, she inquired for him and was told that he had not returned, and that they supposed he was safe with her. She then hastily related how it happened that he had started back toward home, and that she supposed he had safely arrived.
Mr. Filley then started back on the trail, keeping close watch on each side of the way, for he expected he would soon come across Master Willie fast asleep. He called his name every few rods, but got no answer nor could he discover him, and so returned home again, still calling and searching, but no boy was discovered. Then he built a large fire and put lighted candles in all the windows, then took his lantern and wont out in the woods calling and looking for the boy. Sometimes he thought he heard him, but on going where the sound came from nothing could be found. So he looked and called all night, along the trail and all about the woods, with no success. Mr. Mount’s home was situated not far from the shore of Fitch’s Lake, and the trail went along the margin, and in some places the ground was quite a boggy marsh, and the trail had been fixed up to make it passably good walking.
Next day the neighbors were notified, and asked to assist, and although they were in the midst of wheat harvest, a great many laid down the cradle and rake and went out to help search. On the third day the whole county became excited and quite an army of searchers turned out, coming from the whole country miles around.
Mr. Filley was much excited and quite worn out an beside himself with fatigue and loss of sleep. He could not eat. Yielding to entreaty he would sit at the table, and suddenly rise up, saying he heard Willie calling, and go out to search for the supposed voice, but it was all fruitless, and the whole people were sorry indeed for the poor father and mother.
The people then formed a plan for a thorough search. They were to form in a line so near each other that they could touch hands and were to march thus turning out for nothing except in passable lakes, and thus we marched, fairly sweeping the county in search of a sign. I was with this party and we marched south and kept close watch for a bit of clothing, a foot print or even bones, or anything which would indicate that he had been destroyed by some wild animal. Thus we marched all day with no success, and the next went north in the same careful manner, but with no better result. Most of the people now abandoned the search, but some of the neighbors kept it up for a long time.
Some expressed themselves quite strongly that Miss Mount knew where the boy was, saying that she might have had some trouble with him and in seeking to correct him had accidentally killed him and then hidden the body away–perhaps in the deep mire of the swamp or in the muddy waters on the margin of the lake. Search was made with this idea foremost, but nothing was discovered. Rain now set in, and the grain, from neglect grew in the head as it stood, and many a settler ate poor bread all winter in consequence of his neighborly kindness in the midst of harvest. The bread would not rise, and to make it into pancakes was the best way it could be used.
Still no tidings ever came of the lost boy. Many things were whispered, about Mr. Mount’s dishonesty of character and there were many suspicions about him, but no real facts could be shown to account for the boy. The neighbors said he never worked like the rest of them, and that his patch of cultivated land was altogether too small to support his family, a wife and two daughters, grown. He was a very smooth and affable talker, and had lots of acquaintances. A few years afterwards Mr. Mount was convicted of a crime which sent him to the Jackson State Prison, where he died before his term expired. I visited the Filley family in 1870, and from them heard the facts anew and that no trace of the lost boy had ever been discovered.