Reminisce: William Rusler was ‘the Sage of Shawnee’

When a stray chimney spark started a fire on the roof of a Shawnee Township home in late April 1912, the Lima Times-Democrat marveled that “within ten minutes after the alarm had been given there were automobiles, motorcycles, buggies, etc., completely blockading the road in front of C.A. Rusler’s home, everybody eager to help put out the fire.”

The fire, which was quickly extinguished by a volunteer bucket brigade, also brought out C.A. Rusler’s father, William Rusler, from his nearby farm.

Befitting a man known as the “Sage of Shawnee,” William Rusler, with an audience and a topic (how quickly modern conveyances had brought help to battle the fire), did a little philosophizing: “People can talk about the good old times – these times are plenty good enough for me,” the 61-year-old Rusler told the Times-Democrat reporter. “I would have been glad to have lived a hundred years from now instead of now and fifty years back.”

Rusler, who was born in the mid-19th century, knew something about the “good old times” of the past. He’d written a book on it, or, more precisely, he’d overseen the compilation of the book.

Born March 7, 1851, William Rusler was the son of Philip and Elizabeth Rusler. His father was born in Trumbull County in 1825 and was 23 when he came to Allen County, where he married Elizabeth Anthony, whose parents had left Jackson County and settled in Shawnee Township in 1838. After Philip and Elizabeth married, they bought 40 acres in Shawnee Township but sold it a few years later, loaded up a wagon and headed for Iowa, which didn’t suit them.

“A short experience in that wild country sufficed, and they returned to Ohio and bought 60 acres of land near St. Marys, … on which they resided three years, Mr. Rusler then selling that tract and buying 80 acres in Shawnee Township,” according to the 1921 Allen County history.

Philip Rusler enlisted in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 but became ill while still in camp and was discharged. He never fully regained his health and died on his Shawnee Township farm in August 1873. Elizabeth married James Yoakam in 1880 and died in April 1904.

William Rusler attended public school in Shawnee Township and one year of high school in Lima.

“It was his intention to take a full college course, but the poor health of his father made it necessary for him to remain at home upon the farm,” according to an 1896 history of Allen County. “His education, however, was well supplemented by his experience as a teacher” for 13 years in Shawnee Township and Noble Township in Auglaize County. In later years, he would serve on the Shawnee Township school board.

In 1872, when he was 21 years old, Rusler was elected Shawnee Township clerk, a position he held for three years. Two years later, in 1874, he married Anna McClintock, of Auglaize County, who died in 1884. The couple had four children, including C.A. Rusler, who would go on to serve as Allen County auditor. Following the death of his first wife, Rusler married Sophronia Wiesenmayer.

After his first marriage, Rusler settled down to the life of a farmer on 80 acres of his father’s old homestead in section 17 of Shawnee Township, which, according to the 1921 county history, “he cleared of timber and on which he made improvements, also adding to his land from time to time until he now has 180 acres, of which 150 acres are under cultivation. During his active years he was successful as a general farmer and raiser and feeder of livestock.”

Rusler’s active years were very active, and not just in farming.

A Democrat, he temporarily left his Shawnee Township farm in February 1886 after receiving an appointment from the first Grover Cleveland administration to act as U.S. government farmer in charge of the Lac Courte d’Orielles Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. On Dec. 11, 1888, he was appointed Indian agent in charge of the LaPointe Indian Agency, which included seven reservations, remaining there until Republican Benjamin Harrison ascended to the presidency.

“Wm. Rusler is once more a plain, everyday citizen,” the Lima Daily Times wrote June 28, 1889. “He has for nearly four years been under the pay of the Federal government, upon the lands of the Chippewa reservation in northern Wisconsin, but, with the incoming of the Republican administration, which under its interpretation of civil service wants none but faithful Republicans about it, William’s official head was endangered.”

Although he’d returned to his farm, Rusler didn’t settle down. In November 1893, he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, serving two consecutive terms, after which, according to the 1921 county history, he served two terms each as appraiser and assessor of Shawnee Township. In 1908, he was named a member of the board of the Ohio State Hospital for the Feeble-Minded in Columbus, serving in that capacity for about four years.

He also headed the Allen County Board of Elections for five years, was a member and president of the Allen County Fair Board and completed the term of a Shawnee Township treasurer who had died. During World War I, he organized Liberty Loan drives in the township.

He was a member of the Allen County Historical Society and the Elida Pioneer Society. He was the first organizing deputy for Allen and Auglaize counties of the Patrons of Husbandry, a social arm of the Grange movement aimed at farm families.

In 1915, Rusler, with his interest in pioneer history, was appointed by Democratic Ohio Gov. James Cox as a member of a commission to oversee the construction of the Fort Amanda Monument. Rusler, the Lima Morning Star & Republican-Gazette wrote July 4, 1915, the day before the monument was unveiled, was “the man who called the first meeting at which the Fort Amanda Memorial Association was organized. It was through this body that the idea of a monument finally came to fruition.”

About a week before the monument was unveiled, The Lima News in an editorial envisioned another role for Rusler, who was also an advocate for better roads. Speaking of the setting of the Fort Amanda monument, the newspaper wrote, “There is no more scenic spot in all Ohio than this section, but few of the thousands of residents in Auglaize and Allen counties ever view it because of bad roads. Now with the exercises over next Monday, why should not the Fort Amanda Memorial association perpetuate itself and with such a booster as Colonel William Rusler, of Shawnee, at its head, this civic society should be able to secure macadam roads around and about this garden spot.”

Rusler’s next big project, however, was overseeing the compilation of “A Standard History of Allen County, Ohio” in 1921.

“The Allen County history is in two volumes, one being history and the other biography,” the Republican-Gazette wrote August 28, 1921, after receiving the two volumes. “The history of Allen County has been prepared under the editorial supervision of the Hon. William Rusler. His friends know him as ‘The Sage of Shawnee.’”

Rusler died at the age of 78 on June 26, 1929.

“He always remained a student of pioneer history, and advanced education,” according to an anonymous tribute found in his archives after his death. “His training and his reading earned him the loved title, ‘the Sage of Shawnee.’ He was generous with his talent, being called far and near to address every conceivable kind of group on many different subjects. Colonel Rusler was at once the polished scholar, the lovable gentleman and the lasting friend.”


This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


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