Finding Mabel Hawley

Saturday morning I got up a few hours before dawn to drive to through the first snowflakes of the season. My destination: eastern Wisconsin to meet Vicki. Our agenda for the day: to find Mabel Hawley.

“Some things are just meant to be,” Vicki keeps saying. And after the string of crazy coincidences that landed Vicki in my inbox last week, I had to agree.

A few years ago, when Vicki purchased Mabel Hawley’s autograph book, Ella Renville wasn’t on the Internet. When Vicki sat down a few weeks ago and began Googling the names in Mabel’s album, Ella’s story had been on the Internet for three weeks. That’s how Vicki found me.

“Where did you buy the album?” I emailed in response to Vicki’s comment here. “At a rummage sale,” she replied, attaching a photo of Ella’s page in the album.

A few days later Vicki shared that the rummage sale was in Berlin, Wisconsin.

Berlin is the town where John, Mary, Ella and Belle Renville settled as refugees after the U.S Dakota War of 1862, 15 years before Ella met Mabel, and 150 years before Vicki found Mabel’s album there.

The house in the foreground was 15 years old when the Renvilles were in Berlin.

Mary’s brother, Russell Butler, was living somewhere in Berlin in 1862 and opened his home. But he and his wife had four children and John and Mary had two. When the house proved too small, John rented a house nearby.

There Mary sat down at a table and, with Ella and Belle playing at her feet, opened a journal she had kept during the war and began writing the newspaper serial for the Berlin City Courant, that became, in 1863, A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity.

The offices of Berlin Courant editor T. L. Terry were on the second floor of the yellow brick building in the foreground.

Vicki purchased Mabel’s album here: at a little house across the green from the church (below, today) where Mary and John worshiped before they moved back to Minnesota.


This trip, for me was also about finding Mary, Ella, and John during the months they spent as refugees in Berlin.

I only “found” Mary –discovered her family of origin –on March 17, 2010: three months before the manuscript was due. I was thrilled to find her after years of fruitless searching. But I was also appalled that I had only 12 weeks to incorporate Mary’s family into the story.

While I hunkered down in a bunker of sources on the Underground Railroad, Zabelle rode to the rescue and corresponded with Bobbie Erdmann, former Mayor of Berlin, author, historian, and as I discovered in person on Saturday, a living encyclopedia of Berlin history.

Bobbie confirmed, via email, the little we knew about the Renvilles’s stay in Berlin. But they were only there through the winter of 1862-63, not long enough to leave much of a trace–beyond the serial, “The Indian Captives: Leaves from a Journal” on the front page of thirteen issues of Terry’s newspaper.

Her 2010 correspondence with Zabelle intrigued Bobbie, who looked further into the Courant story. When I met Bobbie on Saturday, she handed me a new Berlin Historical Society transcription of “The Indian Captives” as appeared in the Berlin newspaper in 1862-63.


This is Mabel Hawley as a little girl, the beloved daughter of the up-and-coming George Hawley and his third wife, Isabella. Vicki, who is a born historian, found a Mabel picture in a book on a Poysippi, WI, family related to the Hawleys.

Mabel Hawley Tresler’s grave in Lot 95 of Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, WI.

Vicki and I found Mabel’s grave at the end of a long, wonderful day exploring Poysippi, Berlin, and Ripon, the places Mabel Hawley and Ella Renville called home in Wisconsin. Then we found a handy ledge on a nearby mausoleum and opened Mabel’s autograph album again.

Unfortunately, and perhaps tellingly, at school in Ripon, Ella used inexpensive ink. Her inscription in Mabel’s book is fading off the page. But Ella’s story, like Mabel’s, is just beginning to see sunlight after a century of obscurity. Some traces, like Mabel’s album, are ephemeral. Other answers, like the spelling of Mabel’s names and the existence of Ella’s baby sister, Mary, are carved in stone.

This entry was posted in Ella Renville, Primary Sources. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Finding Mabel Hawley

  1. vicki says:

    Beautifully written….hopefully by next year, we’ll both have more to share about the two young ladies who have become so much to each of us!

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