Governor of the Northwestern Branch, 1891-1914
Cornelius Wheeler, a veteran of Company I, Second Wisconsin, was appointed governor of the Northwestern Branch December 26, 1891. In an interview after his appointment, he told the Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph
: “While I am glad to have been deemed worthy of promotion at the hands of my superiors, there is nothing which I look back to with so much pleasure, or with greater satisfaction, than the fact that when I was a boy I enlisted as soon as I could and that I served most of my time in the ranks.”
Concerned about disciplinary problems at the Home, he introduced a pass system for travel outside of the grounds and the Keeley cure
for alcoholism. While the cure was short-lived, he did note a drop in discipline cases from 2,116 in 1892 to 1,070 in 1893.
Lake Wheeler was named in his honor on May 26, 1938.
Officers of the Home from the 1894 Souvenir Book
It can easily be deduced that the Governor described by Elizabeth Corbett in Out at the Soldiers' Home: A Memory Book
is none other than Wheeler.
The personnel of the officer staff varied somewhat over the years. But for Bebby there was only one Governor of the Soldiers’ Home…
The Governor was a man with a splendid war record: he had enlisted as a private, and been mustered out a first lieutenant with a brevet captaincy. He had the kindest heart in the world, and the men liked him because he had in dealing with them a bluff but good-tempered fashion of speech that they understood and respected.
“That wig isn’t clean,” he said to one old soldier. “If I catch you again with it on, I’ll give you the gate.”
“Give you the gate” meant “discharge you from the Home.” Would he have done that for such an offense—or could he? Nobody paused to question. The old soldier thus threatened simply destroyed the offending wig.
Bebby admired the Governor because he was absolutely without fear. Even as an old man he used to go off on fishing trips up North, and sail his boat in any kind of wind. His wife, left behind on the Grounds, was always on tenterhooks while he was away; but it simply never occurred to him to be afraid.
Photo: Isolation (Leper House) , from the Zablocki VA Medical Center Archives
When the Spanish-American War veterans began to be admitted to the Home, among them was one unfortunate who had contracted leprosy in the Philippines. As soon as his ailment was diagnosed, he was isolated in a small brick cottage well away from the other buildings. Even the surgeons used to visit him with fear and trembling. But the Governor would stroll over two or three times a week and talk to the leper, just to keep the poor fellow from feeling lonesome.
A children's party on the Home grounds, circa 1912
Governor Wheeler is in the back row, third from right.
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