Thursday, June 30, 2016

William "Bill" Frazier: the Medina Legend You Have Never Heard Of...

William "Bill" Frazier was born on 16 April 1848 in Holmes County, Ohio to Squire Frazier and
Bill Frazier in a 1954 Gazette article.
Margaret Asire. He died on 24 December 1926 of Arterial sclerosis in Medina at the age of 78. But it is how he spent the years in between that made "Uncle Bill" a Medina character and legend .

The family moved to Medina in the 1860's when Squire Frazier was off fighting the Civil War. Squire survived being taken prisoner by the Confederates and the explosion of the boat Sultana and came home to Medina to be with his family.

William didn't make much of a mark in the history books of the day. He isn't listed in the 1874 or 1897 atlases, nor is he mentioned in the 1881 History of Medina County and Ohio. But he was already well known in the community. Luckily, Joann King's book, Medina County Coming of Age 1810-1900 has numerous mentions of Frazier.

William Frazier started his run with fame in the 1870's. He already had a reputation for being a speedy fellow when he decided to challenge Benny Diesenberg of Akron. Diesenberg had walked from Akron to Medina in just five hours. William bet $100 that he could do it in four. The Gazette article estimated the distance to be 20 miles and would require walking a mile every 12 minutes. Described as "26 years of age, weighs 162 pounds...muscular and used to hardy out-doors work", William was confident that he could do it. A mason, William was already married (twice!) and the father of young children when he took on this challenge. The June 19, 1874 Gazette article is titled "Pedestrianism Extraordinary". The day was cool and cloudy, it "could not have been more favorable". Hundreds of people, in Medina and in Akron, came out to watch his attempt. Many followed him in their carriages. The Akron crowd greeted him with shouts and cheers.  He made it in three hours and forty minutes! That's an average of a mile every 11 minutes. He said he could have easily gone another 10 miles.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Frazier was elected town Marshal in 1874.

In 1875, Bill pitched for Medina's winning baseball team.

In 1877, William devised a string and can "telephone" that worked well for a distance of 100 feet.

1878 saw William Frazier serving on the committee to dedicate the new Town Hall and Engine House.
Medina Town Hall and Engine House Museum

In 1879, Frazier again competed in a walking contest, this time against Harry Allwright of Massillon. They were to walk 80 hours. But the contest was stopped just an hour shy of the mark when both men were arrested for violating the Sabbath. Frazier was in the lead, but there was no winner. The newspaper article did wonder "If the arrests were made for violating the Sabbath, it seems strange that they were not made in the morning, instead of waiting till almost the last minute."

A September 1880 newspaper article mentions a race in which William Frazier "got left in the usual manner".  He lost!

Also in 1880 Bill challenged anyone in Medina, Wayne or Cuyahoga county to walk 100 miles, the winner to take home $100. But there were no takers.

1881 saw William catching a black bass that weighed 6.5 pounds.

In 1882, he organized a "big hunt" like the famous one in Hinckley in 1818. But instead of taking bears and wolves, they killed rabbits and squirrels. Just for the fun of it.

In 1885, Frazier took over the Hook & Ladder Company of the fledgling fire department.

However, in 1890, Bill resigned from the Company because of criticism from the town council. The newspaper editor praised him as "the best man for the job" and they reinstated him.
Bill pictured walking down a Medina Street
after a blizzard in 1913.
Medina Gazette
 23 July 1976 p. 11

William lost his parents in 1896 and 1898.

One of the feats that Frazier was best known for was his hunting skills. He would hunt foxes. Not too extraordinary in itself. Until you learn that what he did, was run down the fox until it was exhausted! He once ran for 50 miles to catch his prey. Another time, he went to a friendly farmers barn to sleep for the evening and took up the hunt the next day. And caught his quarry!

In 1917 profile of Frazier in the Medina Sentinel, he was favorably compared to Buffalo Bill, Davey Crocket and Daniel Boone for his hunting skills. At the age of 70, he claimed that he could still "trot" for 10 miles and that a horse tried to follow him on his 1879 20 mile run to Akron, but the horse died along the way because "he wasn't as young as I."
Medina Sentinel, 26 Oct 1917 p. 4

After the end of World War I, Bill danced the can-can to celebrate.

At the age of 71, he was described as the "despair of doctors" because of his excellent physical condition.

In the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, he is still working and listed as a carpenter.

But no man is immortal and Bill Frazier died on 24 December 1926. His death certificate lists Arterial Sclerosis as the cause of death. But his obituary states that he had suffered two paralytic strokes in the last weeks of his life. It also exaggerates some of his exploits: he pitched a baseball game in which his side scored 130 runs, his 20 mile run was accomplished in 2.5 hours instead of 3.75; he once hit a baseball from the area of A.I. Root Company all the way to the railroad embankment on West Smith Road.

His life is remembered in two later Medina Gazette  articles. In 1949 he was compared to Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink and Buffalo Bill. It relates how he would travel to Canada in order to hunt bigger game. Many of his relatives' homes sported the moose heads that Bill had bagged.

In 1954, Charles Bohley, writing from Detroit, remembered many of Bill's exploits in hunting down foxes. It was estimated that he had killed over 400 foxes in his lifetime.*

*Please remember that during this time period, foxes were considered nuisance animals, as they would break into chicken coops and kill most of the chickens. Rural people relied on their chickens not only for the eggs, but also for their own meals.

Ancestry Library Edition - accessed through the Medina County District Library
Family Search
History of Medina County and Ohio (1881)
King, Joann G., Medina County Coming of Age: 1810-1900
Medina County Gazette
      12 June 1874, p. 3
      19 June 1874, p. 3
      26 January 1877, p. 5
      22 November, 1878 p. 2
      3 October 1879, p. 7
      3 September 1880, p. 7
      18 Feb 1881, p. 5
      9 December 1881, p. 7
      28 December 1926, p. 1
      6 September, 1949, p.1
      6 July 1949, p. 1
      23 July 1976 p. 1
Medina County Sentinel
     8 August, 1919, p. 1 & 12
     26 October, 1917, p. 4

P.S. - As often happens, life events interfered with my pursuit of genealogy. Because of inactivity on the Genealogy Course I was taking through Gale Courses, I was removed from the class list. I have signed up for the next one and let you know how that goes.
P.S.S. - I did miss a question on the first quiz. But that was due to a difference of opinion on what the best source was for particular information, not ignorance.


Anonymous said...

Medina's first "marathoner". Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

What's that critter on Bill's arm?

Scott Thomas said...

Wow, well done! You have found in a couple days as much and more than what I have found in years of research into my great-great grandfather. Great-Great Grandpa Bill was quite the frontiers man, at a time when the frontier was considerably further west.

Kat said...

The "critter" is not mentioned in the article or in the picture's caption. By its looks, I would guess some type of wild cat, perhaps a bobcat.