The story of this Willard clan began in the year 1800 when Dustin Bellfield was born in what is today Washington County, Vermont. Nothing is known of his early life or who his parents were, but by 1823 he had migrated to Louisiana. By 1826 he had moved to Mississippi. There he married Nancy Rachel Curry and raised a family of six children. The family flourished and had a colorful history rooted in the Deep South. They suffered poverty, family issues, war, plagues and famines. It is a story of perseverance and a life-long struggle to live and survive in the rural south. It is a story of people dealing with the gritty everyday issues of slavery in both pre and post Civil War years.
The family lived a few miles northwest of Liberty, Amite County, Mississippi on 160 acres of farmland. Liberty is the capital of Amite County which is situated just north of the Louisiana panhandle. They were surrounded by close friends and Nancy’s family the Curry’s. Between 1850 and 1860 the entire family, extended family and close friends sold their property and they all moved to Bossier County, Louisiana. Maybe the only family member that did not move to Louisiana was Dustin’s eldest son Roswell Bellfield Willard. He chose to remain behind as he was already married and wanted to stay close to his widowed mother-in-law.
Dustin & Nancy purchased 120 acres about seven miles northwest of Benton, Bossier County, Louisiana. Bossier County is in the North West corner of Louisiana on the border with Arkansas. One daughter, Mary Ella married Moses E. Bush and another daughter Angelina, married William B. High. Both families settled down to raise their children in Bossier County near the property owned by Dustin. However, two of their other children decided to relocate to Arkansas. Daughter Thetis Francis married to WSC Gardner and son Jacob married to Laura Ann Yarborough left Louisiana and moved 61 miles North West to Richmond, Little River County, Arkansas. For the next 20+ years there were the Louisiana Willard’s and the Arkansas Willard’s.
However Roswell Willard’s descendants were on the move. His son Allen Anderson Willard married Victoria Mercier and they were raising their seven children in Boque Chitto, Lincoln County, Mississippi. In 1898 Victoria died suddenly and the family literally disintegrated. The children were scattered and Allen vanished. Twenty years later he and his son Clarence reemerge near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Allen is shown as being married to Eugenia Crist on the 1910 census. But as time went by, Allen left and his son Clarence wound up married to Eugenia.
Working as a locomotive engineer on mining company railroads, Clarence moved his family first to Tombstone, Arizona and then by 1918 to Phoenix. Clarence had traded the homestead in New Mexico for a popcorn machine. He did so well with it that he was able to build a string of hot dog and hamburger stands from Phoenix to San Diego. Between Clarence and Eugenia, they raised seven children.
One of the boys was my father, Roswell Bellfield Willard. He taught journalism at a high school in Phoenix and later on at a junior college near Carlsbad, California. He married Leona Ethel Alldredge and they had four children. I am the oldest of the children. I married my sweetheart Sharon Pehrsson and together we have four children and twelve grandchildren. My brothers, sister and children now live in a number of different states. They are in California, Arizona, Washington, Utah and Colorado.
And that is how the Willard’s came west!