My Christmas columns talked about Lew Wallace and his novel "Ben-Hur" and the stage and screen productions that followed. Wallace was such an interesting personality that I plan to spend my next five columns on his life. This first in the series is about his family.
Lew Wallace was not only a great state, national and international figure, he was also one of the larger-than-life figures of the Kankakee River, particularly the Baum's Bridge area in southern Porter County.
Jim Collier told how his family was visited by Wallace: "General Lew Wallace worked in his houseboat on the novel 'Ben Hur.' Wallace was a regular visitor in the Collier home."
His houseboat was moored a 100 yards south of Collier Lodge at Baum's Bridge.
Lewis "Lew" Wallace was born April 10, 1827, to David and Ester French Wallace in Brookville, Ind. The Wallace family was very important in early Indiana society and politics. Lew was no exception.
In 1832, the Wallace family moved to Covington, where Lew's mother died from tuberculosis in 1834. In 1837, Lew's father became Indiana's sixth governor and the family moved to Indianapolis.
Lew started his formal schooling in Covington in 1834. Although Lew showed a great aptitude and loved reading, he much preferred the outdoors. This presented some disciplinary problems.
Lew was finally sent away to a private academy in Centerville, where one of his teachers encouraged his writing skills. In 1842, Wallace began working at the Marion County clerk's office. He was now an independent man living under his own roof and earning his own livelihood.
In 1846, Lt. Lew Wallace left to join Zachary Taylor in the Mexican War. Although he saw little combat, he gained experience that laid a foundation useful to him during the Civil War.
After returning from Mexico, while attending a party at his commanding officer's home, he met Susan Arnold Elston, born in 1830 to Isaac and Maria Elston.
Her father was a successful merchant and Susan was to benefit from the opportunities his wealth opened. She was an educated and refined young lady.
Susan's parents had some reservations about the match, but in 1852 she and Wallace married in Crawfordsville. The following year, Henry Lane Wallace was born to them, their only child.
By this time you should be aware of Lew Wallace's literary achievements, but I doubt many are aware of Susan's accomplishments. She was a talented musician and author of many newspaper articles and novels — publishing years before Lew.
Much of her works are of the religious and family nature, perhaps reflecting her Quaker background. She also wrote extensively about their travels. Lew credited Susan as instrumental to his success—collaborating on many projects. Lew passed away while writing his autobiography—Susan finished it.
Susan Wallace was a true partner in life with Lew. She passed away in 1907 and is buried next to him in Crawfordsville.