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Eli Ruggles 
Saved From Open Well

Year - 1848

   
     Hartford Township had an open well scare eighty years ago similar to the one which happened in Allegan County last year.  It happened on the Joseph Ruggles farm in 1848. Stillman F. Breed who was teaching school in the neighborhood at the time tells about it as follows:  

     It was in the month of February one beautiful, clear Sabbath day after the family had returned from church service when Eli Ruggles, a youth of fifteen went to the well with his younger brother and sister, Wesley and Mariah, after a pail of water and lost the bucket.  His mother had gone to the nearest neighbors.  Eli, with the assistance of his father, who was a large, athletic man but blind, by means of a rope and windlass, was lowered into the well, which was 22 feet deep, to recover the bucket.  Reaching the bottom he placed his feet on the opposite sides of the well, when one of the stones dropped into the water then another and another in rapid succession, when Eli called to his father to wind the windlass and himself sprang up the rope with all his might, but when half way out the stones closed in upon him to the depth of three feet above his head.  With position erect and both hands in which the rope was clasped, above his head, stones below, above and all around, he was firmly held in their cold embrace.  The news was soon conveyed to the mother who hastened homeward.  Wesley mounted a horse to convey the news to the neighbors.  I was seated by the fireside of a neighbor when I heard a voice of someone helloing.  I went to the door and Wesley told me with a stifled voice that Eli was in the well buried beneath the stones.  Taking my cap I hastened to the place which was a mile and a half distant. Many teams were soon on the road hastening to the point of danger.  When I reached the house I was met by the mother who said, "Oh Stillman, we have a trial now".  Who can image the anguish of the mother's heart, the love she felt for her dear son?  I saw, too, a father who was blind and could not behold the scene.  How great must have been his anguish of heart.  Eli's little sisters were weeping bitterly for they feared he would die.  The poor boy was groaning under the pressure of those large stones.  There was yet a circle of large stones at the top of the well held there by the frost and those lay projecting over the inside and there was danger of their falling every minute and any person would have been in danger of his life to venture in there.  Mr. Gilbert Conklin proposed knocking these stones loose and letting them fall in, but Eli cried out, "Don't let the stones fall for my head is hold the stones apart".  Mr. Robertson went into the well and commenced handing the stones out, but seeing they could not work that way he came out and we tore away the curbing.  Several more men had arrived to help release the victim from death which seemed to be his doom. It was enough to melt the most stubborn heart to hear the groans and cries of the poor boy and his prayers he was "O Lord, have mercy on me" and the prayer of the father and mother to save their son.  Ansel Reynolds, the father of the Mrs. Roy Hinckley, went in and worked until the boy's head and shoulders were uncovered, but the blood on the stones was too much for him and he was helped out.  Mr. Samuel Robertson took his place and soon seeing the danger that both were in cried out, "Oh for God's sake, bring something that we can get these stones out faster.  Let us save the boy".  Men lay on their breasts around the well trying to  hold those stones from falling but the sun was shining and the stones were thawing and fall they must.  One man said "lay boards over him", another said "build a stage around him.  Some board, some boards, for Heaven's sake".  Here are boards in this lean-to and down comes the building quickly and the boards were placed around the boy at the outside of the well circle, coming together in the center and then the stones were loosened until they were all down.  The stones were too heavy to be raised by any means at hand.  Mr. John Olds had been digging a well a mile and a half away and a rope and tub were there.  Away files Husen Taylor with his horse and cutter and soon the windlass was erected, then the stones were soon removed.  As we neared his feet the boy was in great pain from the blood beginning to circulate again.  We got almost to his feet when someone said, "Can't you get out, Eli?"  Eli answered, "I might by leaving one of my boots", and a shout went up and a dozen pairs of boots were offered and Eli was soon out and we were all glad to see him.  

 

As told in 1928 by Stillman F. Breed to Charles A. Spaulding 
and recorded in Spaulding's historic book, 
  The History of Hartford, Michigan - The First 100 Years
 

Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 



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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.


Revised: March 20, 2014