The Search for Charles Wesley Stillians (1862-1895)


My heart went out to Charles when I recently discovered his last photograph in my great grandmother’s photo album. The healthy, robust, happy Charles was so emaciated! His sad eyes drew me into the picture.

What in the world happened to Charles?

My great grand uncle, Charles Wesley Stillians, was born October 8, 1862 in Woodbine, Jo Daviess County, Illinois—a younger son of William Michael Stillians, Jr. (1826-1907) and Rachel E. Dilley (1836-1905). Aside from two wonderful childhood photos I found for him, and two taken in 1880 on his trip to Jo Daviess County with his sister, Henrietta and brother, Albert, Charles disappears from records. Piecing his life story together was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Part of that relates to transcriber difficulties with Charles and with Stillians.

In 1880, William Stillians contracted tuberculosis (labeled “consumption” on the federal census for that year.) The family had been living in Bear Grove Twp., Guthrie County, Iowa since 1870. A country doctor and Methodist minister, William was able to treat it, but he didn’t want to pass it all around the household. So, he sent his family elsewhere until it was safe for them to go home.


Rachel and the youngest son, Levi Fosnot Stillians, went to Adair, Iowa and stayed with the Levi Clay family. Levi Clay’s wife, Mary Elizabeth, was my great grandmother. (This is a photo of the Levi Clay house in Adair, Iowa.)


(Levi Fosnot Stillians and his dog. He was the youngest surviving son of William Michael Stillians and Rachel Dilley.)


The oldest son John went to Colorado, where he is found on the 1880 Census in Walsenburg, Huerfano County in a carpenter’s shop. This photo is of Charles and his brother, John.


(L-R: Albert Spencer Stillians, Henrietta Stillians, Charles Wesley Stillians. I love this picture! Henrietta is adorable standing on that box!)


Charles, Albert and Henrietta decided to head back to Jo Daviess County, Illinois to visit family members still residing in the area. Pictures taken on that trip verify their presence in Jo Daviess. These photos are part of a larger photo of their visit with the Jeremiah Clay family in Jo Daviess County. Jeremiah Clay was a brother of Levi Clay. Charles and Henrietta are in the photo on the left. Albert is in the photo on the right. They also spent time with Elisha and Sarah Jane Stillians Lacock, their uncle and aunt.


Shortly after his trip to Jo Daviess County in 1880 with Albert and Henrietta, Charles spent the summer working on a farm in Concord, Louisa County, Iowa.(1) He didn’t return to Guthrie County while his father was still battling tuberculosis! And during the time he spent in Southeast Iowa, he was able to meet some relatives who lived there. For Charles, it was a summer of fun—something he remembered and enjoyed talking about. And then he made a decision that would end his life. [Note: This photo was taken on the 1880 trip to Jo Daviess County. I found it with individual pictures of Albert and Henrietta taken by the same photographer in Galena. Charles had grown a mustache!]


By 1890, Charles went to Redding, Shasta County, California, where a photograph was taken of him by a local photography firm called Franklin & White. In order to verify Charles’ time in Redding, I had to track down these photographers. Fortunately, I found an item that gave me the connection:

“John C. Franklin photographs

PH200_127: 0.01 lin. ft./1 container

John C. Franklin was a photographer operating in Redding, CA 1890-1893. He partnered with Howell in Yreka (1891) and Redding (1891-1893), with White in Redding 1890, and with Darlington in Redding 1893.”(2)

Franklin & White were partners only in 1890; their logo appears at the bottom of the photograph, thereby verifying the time Charles was in Redding. No doubt, he had the picture taken shortly after his arrival there and sent it to his parents back home in Iowa. He was probably full of optimism when he first arrived. He had no idea what he was getting into!

In 1890, Shasta County, California was the setting of a number of large mining operations. One mine in particular, the Iron Mountain Mine, was one of the largest copper mines in the country, and Charles probably worked there. In describing the scene at Redding, the Wikipedia site notes:

“Redding was incorporated in 1887 with 600 people. By 1910, Redding had a population of 3,572 supported by a significant extraction industry, principally copper and iron. However, with the decline of these industries, which also produced significant amounts of pollution damaging to local agriculture, the population dropped to 2,962 in 1920.”(3)

The smelters were chief among the mining problems, a situation described by The Shasta County History Page:

“The copper smelters processed the copper ore. However, the processing of the ore created and caused great environmental hazards and problems. The surrounding forests were cut down for the needed timber in the mine tunnels as well as for building fires under the mountainous piles of ore for open-air roasting.

Ore was burned or heap roasted at the smelters and the process created poisonous sulphur dioxide gasses which moved with the wind and killed whatever it touched as it moved along.

All of the smelters were located in a horseshoe shaped area from Iron Mountain on the west, around to Bully Hill, and finally to Ingot on the east.

Fruit orchards with fruit ready to be picked as far away as Anderson and Happy Valley were known to be completely destroyed overnight because they were unlucky enough to be in the path of the toxic smoke as it blew through their area.

As a result, the irate farmers organized and sued the mining and smelting companies. Falling market prices combined with the lawsuits eventually put most of the mines and smelters out of business. Those that continued to mine had to ship their ore as far away as Martinez for processing.”(4)

Charles sucked that poison and other toxic substances into his lungs. His death was slow and agonizing. He returned to Guthrie County to die. His father (a country doctor) could only make him as comfortable as possible and pray for him. There was no way to reverse the death sentence. Charles’ last picture taken in Adair by his brother, John,–who had a photography business in Adair, Iowa at the time–shows an emaciated young man with sad eyes. It was probably used at his funeral.

Charles Wesley Stillians died in Bear Grove Twp., Guthrie County, Iowa in 1895 at the age of thirty-three. He is probably buried in old North Branch Cemetery with other family members.

As for the Iron Mountain Mine in Shasta County, California—it last operated in 1963 and has since been abandoned. Today, it is the site of a superfund project, vividly described as a “hellhole” in an article by Peter Fimrite:

“Today, dirt roads snake over and around the mountain. Treatment plants, holding ponds and dams are scattered about to catch the toxic runoff. The entire area is carved up. Rubble and large areas of bare reddish dirt pock the hills.

The primary source of the acid is inside a shaft on the side of a steep, barren hillside known as the Richmond Mine. The group that trekked into the bowels of this shaft was one of the first to ever go that deep; it included news media and other observers not directly involved in Superfund research.

Inside, the sound of bubbling and burbling is everywhere as water drips onto superheated rocks and turns into vapor. The chemical steam heats up the cavern and emits a strong odor. One visitor is told it might not be good to breathe the air there for extended periods of time.

This is what Sugarek calls “the belly of the beast,” a place so hot and lacking in oxygen that it has to be pumped full of air so workers and visitors don’t pass out.(5)

That “hellhole” with its smelter and toxic pollution not only killed all the vegetation in the area, but it also killed Charles Wesley Stillians!


(1)1880 United States Federal Census about Chas. Stielen (Stillian),, Provo, Utah. Date Accessed: March 10, 2014. Available online at:

(2) Photograph of Charles Wesley Stillians by Franklin & White Photographers, Redding, Shasta, California (1890). Now in the possession of Barbara Inman Beall

(3)Abstracts of Photograph Collections, Special Collections and University Archives, Knight Library, 2d Floor North, University of Oregon. UO Libraries Web Page. Date Accessed: April 12, 2014. Available online at:

(4) “Redding, California” from the Wikipedia Site. Last modified: 7 April 2014. Date Accessed: April 9, 2014. Available online at,_California

(4) Dottie Smith, “Copper Mining and the Toxic Mining Smelters,” Shasta County website. (2009).Date Accessed: April 12, 2014. Available online at http://ShastaCountyHistory_com – Copper mining and the toxiccopper smelters.htm

(5) Peter Fimrite, “Inside a Toxic Hellhole, Iron Mountain Mine. SF Gate Website. Published August 10, 2010. Date Accessed: April 12, 2014. Available online at:


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