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BY MIKE AVITT
Orr Fisher took this photo of “Willie” Willey in, I believe, the mid-1930s.
Orr painted Willey’s portrait on one of Willie’s visits to Mount Ayr.
Willis Ray “Willie” Willey was born in Mount Ayr on September 15, 1884 along with his twin brother, Willard Roy Willey. Willard was the father of Gerald Willey of Mount Ayr.
According to an October 19, 1933 Record-News newspaper, the twins went to Spokane, Washington in 1905 to try their hand at wheat farming.
Willard returned home after a couple of years, but Willie didn’t return until 1920 (I found no information in the newspapers concerning this return) for a visit.
When Willie returned to Spokane, he found himself in a legal battle over some land Willie believed he owned. Willie lost that battle.
Willie’s next visit to Mount Ayr was in October 1933, hence the newspaper article, while Willie was on his way to Chicago for the Century of Progress Exposition.
Willie made it to Chicago but landed in jail for “indecent exposure” as soon as he arrived. After six weeks in the “hoosegow” Willie headed back to Mount Ayr where he would find more of what he found in Chicago.
In December 1933, Willie was arrested for “indecent dress” and sentenced to 30 days in the Ringgold County Jail. Mayor George Wright suspended the sentence on the condition that Willie adopt civilian dress.
In February 1934 Willie was arrested for assaulting his sister-in-law, Mrs. Willard Willey. Mrs. Willey’s daughters testified on her behalf.
In January 1935 Willie was arrested at the Liberty Spring Lake Athletic Club for “indecent exposure.” Willie spent a great deal of his life behind bars.
The Record-News of September 26, 1935 reports Willie was going to the Ike Hamblin farm to live and work. Ike was a respected farmer near RinggoldCity.
I did not find Willie again in the newspapers until his obituary in 1956. Williard Roy Willey passed away on December 15, 1935.
Willie eventually returned to Spokane and died there on May 13, 1956 of a heart attack. He was 71 years of age and is buried in Spokane.
Keith Yates wrote a book about Willie entitled, “The Life of Willey Willey.” The book first appeared in 1966 and the Mount Ayr Public Library had a copy of it the last I knew.
The internet also has information on the “Wild Man of Spokane.”
I moved to Mount Ayr last week after having lived in Afton for nine years. Mount Ayr is my hometown and it’s good to be back.