In the mid-1800s, many people came west to find a new life, land, and fortune. Willy and his family came from the east to Iowa and bought a parcel of land along the Wapsipinicon River in Clinton County, where the Lincoln Highway would be laid out in the future. The land was green, lush, and wooded, and there was plenty of water beside the river. It seemed like the perfect place to homestead. He and his wife erected a small cabin beside the Wapsi. The children played in the water, but also helped their parents work the farmland. There were lots of birds and animals, and the family never went hungry.
All was well until one night when there was a terrible storm. Willy, who had been in the woods hunting deer, was caught in the torrential rain and wind. He headed for home amidst hail, thunder, lightning, and the heaviest rain he’d ever seen. It took him several hours to work his way back to the cabin on the river bank. In the meantime, the river had risen past flood stage. When Willy arrived home everything was gone; cabin, family, horses, and wagon. The river was a torrent far out of its banks and he could see nothing recognizable. With his lantern, he searched up and down the river looking for his family, but he never found any trace of them. For the rest of his life, Willy walked up and down the river asking people if they’d seen his family. He never stopped searching, and finally died of exhaustion. But even after his death, people saw his lantern bobbing up and down the river banks at dusk, and heard him calling for his lost loved ones. You can still see his light in the woods sometimes today, as he continues to search along the Wapsi for his wife and children, and if you’re quiet you may hear him calling.