Thursday, February 5, 2015

12 Unfortunate Ways My Ancestors Met Their Demise

It's a little dark, but there is some genuine fascination felt when you discover that something strange, gruesome, or out-of-the-ordinary happened to one of our early relatives, even if it resulted in their untimely death. It's difficult to explain the "Oh, wow!" feeling that overcomes you when you find something like that. Usually, it's not a very pleasant fascination, like when you read of the death of a relative who died in childhood. Our early ancestors lived difficult lives, and that fact is really brought to life like never before when can read all the gritty details. Those old newspapers left little to the imagination.

In my genealogical research, I have come across several relatives who died in unnatural ways. For the purpose of this article, I am defining an unnatural death as one that did not occur because of old age or any sort of disease. I had ancestors die of meningitis, tuberculosis, dysentery, cholera, diphtheria, and even pellagra. While all of those diseases could be considered unnatural to an extent, for the purpose of the forthcoming list I am lumping those deaths with the more common causes of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other conditions of that nature.

The following is a list of family members whose deaths were the direct results of their own actions, or the actions of others.

12. Howard T. Taylor - Died August 16th, 1851, Daviess County, Kentucky

The diary of Joseph Thomas of Daviess County, Kentucky provides us with the details of the death of my 4th great grandfather, Howard T. Taylor, who was shot and killed in a hunting accident.

11. Roxie Emeline May Jay - Died November 14th, 1938 in Guthrie, Oklahoma and Sarah Olive Sain Moose - Died November 3rd, 1944 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

These two are lumped together for two reasons: first, they died the same way, and they were the two grandmothers of my grandmother. My two great great grandmothers were both struck and killed by cars.

Roxie Jay was on her way to a night service at the First Baptist Church in Guthrie, where she was a Sunday school teacher, when she was struck by a car driven by four teenagers. In 2013, I called and spoke to the driver of the vehicle that killed Roxie, Kenneth English of Guthrie. He stated that it was very dark out, and as they came down the bridge on Noble Avenue, she was suddenly there, right in front of them. Kenneth was 15 years old at the time, and he had three friends in the car ages 14 and 15.

The article in the Guthrie Daily Leader states: "Patrolman Harold Shultz said Kenneth English 15-year-old high school sophomore signed a statement asserting he was driving the car. ... Mrs. Jay was rushed to the Cimarron Valley hospital. An attending physician said she received fractures below the knee in both legs, a shattered right arm, and probable internal injuries. She lapsed into unconsciousness about an hour following the tragedy." Roxie died 11 hours later.

Sarah Olive Sain was on her way to work at Wesley Hospital in Oklahoma City at 7:30 in the morning. She was struck by a car and died an hour later. [The below article is from The Daily Oklahoman.]

10. Albert Louis Moose - Died April 18th, 1932 near Ardmore, Oklahoma

Like his mother, Albert was killed when struck by a motor vehicle. However, there are significant differences in their circumstances. Albert was killed, along with a man named Joe Fitch, by an intoxicated 20-year-old man, Frank Coker in a hit-and-run. Coker was a known alcoholic, and despite this, his mother provided him with the means to obtain alcohol and access to a vehicle.

Albert's widow sued Coker and his mother, and was awarded a large sum of money. Coker's family appealed the ruling until the case came before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, where the court upheld the lower court's ruling, though they did reduce the amount of damages to be paid by Coker's mother.

The LexisNexis overview of Coker, et. al. v. Moose, et. al. states:

"The survivors were the widow and another relative of the decedent who was killed after being struck by a car that was driven by the son. The evidence revealed that the son was a known alcoholic and that at the time of the accident empty beer bottles were found in his car. The complaint alleged that the mother knew that her son was a careless, reckless, and incompetent driver and that she knew of a number of serious accidents that he had had. However, the mother gave the son free access to an automobile and paid the repair bills after his accidents. A jury awarded damages in favor of the survivors, and the court affirmed. It held that an error in the jury instructions was harmless and could not have prejudiced defendants in view of the evidence in the case. The court further held that there was no evidence that the jury ever was aware that either defendant was protected by insurance. The court reduced the amount of the verdict, however, because it found that the award was excessive based upon the decedent's history of earnings."

This case established the legal precedent in the state of Oklahoma that a parent, guardian, or caretaker could be held responsible for the actions of someone in their charge.

In the end, as it usually does, karma had the last laugh. Frank Coker was unceremoniously killed December 21st, 1934 at the age of 22 in Wewoka, Oklahoma. He got into an altercation with two other youths when he allegedly tried to steal the vehicle in which they were all traveling and leave the others behind. One of the other boys knocked Coker to the ground on the highway, where he was struck in the head by another car and died shortly after.

9. Colbert "Cole" Campbell - Died October 15th, 1862 in Jackson, Kentucky

My family had countless deaths that occurred in the fighting during the Civil War. However, it is my 4th great grand uncle's death that occurred while he was serving in the Civil War but not in action at the time that is the most interesting.

According to the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, Cole was killed when struck by lightning.

The above excerpt comes from "History of the Orphan Brigade", an 1898 book by Ed Porter Thompson. Cole was enlisted in the 5th Kentucky Mounted Infantry (CON) at the time of his death.

It should be noted that the adjutant general's report of his death differs from the account on his Civil War service record, which states he was "accidentally shot" on October 15th, 1862. So while the two reports agree on the date, they do not agree on the means. Either way, Cole's death could be considered both unfortunate and out-of-the-ordinary.

8. Dr. David Allen Duckworth - Died November 19th, 1891 near Keosauqua, Iowa

Dr. Duckworth was my first cousin five times removed. He was a prominent physician in his locale in Iowa and was a veteran of the Civil War. He was conducting a house call at the home of a Mr. Duffield when Mrs. Duffield's dress caught on the hammer of Mr. Duffield's gun, discharging it and killing Dr. Duckworth instantly.

7. Reuben A. L. May - Died November 6, 1897 near Huron, Indiana and George A. Downing - Died October 16th, 1881 in Jeffersonville, Indiana

Reuben was my 3rd great grand uncle, and George was my 2nd cousin four times removed. The reason the two are lumped together are because they (sort of) related, and their deaths were very similar. Reuben was the son of an elder Reuben May, and was a product of Mr. May's second marriage. Mr. May's first marriage was to an Elizabeth Downing, who was the grand aunt of George A. Downing.

Reuben's death is described in the November 11th, 1897 edition of the Brownstown Banner in Brownstown, Indiana. It reads:

"How time has proven the words which Reuben May made to an acquaintance here during the last term of court, when he stated that he "had never been in an accident, but no telling how soon he would, and probably be killed."

A freight train on which he was fireman was wrecked near Huron, about ten miles west of Mitchell last Saturday. The place where the wreck occurred was a stretch of road that contains a number of bad curves. The cause was spreading of the rails. Seeing the train was about to be wrecked, May jumped and was caught under a box car. He was dead when found and it is supposed that death was instantaneous. The engineer did not jump and was uninjured. The wreck is said to have been a very
costly one for the company."

George A. Downing's death was similarly gruesome. A summary of the accident can be read below, which came from the October 17th, 1881 edition of The Indianapolis News:

A much lengthier article from The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky] dated October 17th, 1881 states in part: "Downing was conductor of what is called the L., N. A. and C. freight train. ... The train consisted of fourteen loaded freight cars, which were backing up at the usual rate of speed. This train is backed over, the engine being in the rear. When near the junction where the Jeffersonville Short-line intersects with the Louisville branch, a cow stepped on the track and the car knocked it under the trucks, turning the car completely over. Conductor Downing was standing on this car and attempted to jump. He went over the embankment with the car and was crushed beneath the debris. ...The body was soon removed, and it was found that the head and chest were terribly crushed, and death must have been almost instantaneous. His neck, right arm, and leg were broken."

6. Louvica Barnett Cunningham - Died January 1911 in Davenport, Oklahoma

Louvica was the elder sister of my great great grandfather, Andrew Barnett. Her death was the most unjust of those listed here. She had recently married to Richard Cunningham, but for reasons known only to she and those close to her, she attempted to have an abortion. The man hired to carry out the procedure was "Dr." Albert B. Armstrong, a native of Kentucky who resided in Shawnee but was well known in Stroud and Davenport. It had been established that despite the fact that he called himself a "doctor", he was not a licensed physician. He swindled multiple persons out of their money, and was a wanted man not only across Oklahoma, but in Texas as well.

Louvica died while Armstrong was performing the operation, and he promptly fled the area. He was a wanted man, and eventually apprehended in Hollis, Oklahoma and extradited back to Davenport. In what can only be described as a tasteless and classless move, a number of citizens of Davenport signed a petition for Armstrong to be granted bail, and then promptly threw a party in his "honor". Only after he swindled yet another citizen of Davenport was he apparently seen for what he was, and he fled again. He escaped jail, was apprehended again, and was going to be extradited to Texas on other charges when he escaped once again. I have not found record that he was ever held accountable for his crimes, including the death of Louvica Barnett Cunningham. She was 19 years old.

5. Thomas Glass - Died February 21st, 1915 in Thompson, Texas

Thomas is the youngest person on this list, and his death was perhaps the most tragic. My first cousin four times removed was accidentally shot and killed by his younger brother, Byron, who was four years old at the time. Eight-year-old Thomas (the newspaper incorrectly gave his age as 7) and Byron were presumably playing when Byron pointed his father's gun at Thomas and fired, shooting Thomas through the neck. Their parents consoled the frightened and upset Byron, not knowing that Thomas had even been hurt. Tragically, they only discovered this after it was too late.

The above article was from the February 25th, 1915 edition of The Courier-Gazette out of McKinney, Texas. Thomas was interred at Princeton Cemetery.

4. John M. Downing - Died  June 18th, 1921 in Iowa City, Iowa

John Downing's death is both depressing and morbidly fascinating. Downing, who was my first cousin five times removed, attempted to hang himself in his home in West Liberty, Iowa. It is unclear if the attempt simply failed, or was thwarted by another person's intervention. Either way, he clearly intended to leave this life relatively quickly, and instead he hurt himself so badly that his last weeks were certainly filled with significant pain, both physically and emotionally.

The first article comes from the Iowa City Press-Citizen (18 Jun 1921), and the second from the Lime Springs Herald (30 Jun 1921).

3. Roy Lewis Moose - Died July 28th, 1929 in Pampa, Texas

My great grandfather's cousin, Roy, and another man were killed in a gruesome accident in an accident at an oil site in Pampa, Texas. The Pampa Daily News (July 28th, 1929) writes:

"One man killed outright and another was critically injured late Friday in a shower of lines and blocks from the top of the rig of Gulf's Saunders No. 2, about 2 miles southeast of Lefors. Amos Robertson, 36 years old, died instantly, his body crushed to the floor of the rig and battered by falling materials. Roy Moose, 22 years old, suffered a skull fracture and has since been in a semi-conscious condition. His recovery is problematical. His wife is with him at Pampa hospital. ... The men were working for Adams & McGahey, drilling contractors, at the Gulf well, in section 3, block 1, when the accident occurred. In some manner a string of pipe under control of a rotary rig crashed into the top of the derrick. Lines, pulleys, and part of the crown block fell to the floor of the rig.

It is believed that neither man was aware of the danger. Others working on the floor miraculously escaped injury. Two Malone ambulances were summoned as soon as possible after the accident, which took place about 5 p.m. Mr. Moose was at first thought fatally injured, but he rallied and yesterday was slightly improved, The back of his head was crushed when struck by a portion of the crown block."

Despite his rally, Roy died the day the above article was published, his death certificate citing a brain contusion resulting from his skull fracture as the cause of death.

2. Thomas Alexander Jeter - Died May 15th, 1885 in Bedford County, Virginia

Thomas Alexander Jeter, or "T. A.", was shot and killed by Hairston H. Terry, or "H. H.", the son of famed General William R. Terry. (This is General Terry's Wikipedia page: He was said to have been killed because he named his family's dog, which had been gifted to him by the Terry family, "Lettie", which was the name of Harriston's sister and grandmother. Perceiving this to be a slight against his family, Terry shot Jeter, my first cousin six times removed, and was arrested.

The book "Our Kin: The Genealogies of some of the Early Families who made History in the Founding and Development of Bedford County, Virginia" was co-authored by Jeter's daughter, Lula Jeter Parker, along with Mary Denham Ackerly. About Thomas, they wrote:

"Thomas A. Jeter (called "Pomp" Jeter from childhood by his family and intimate friends), was one of the most popular men that Bedford County has ever produced. He had a big heart and pleasing personality and his business brought him into daily contact with all classes of people--both black and white--and also placed him in position to befriend many who needed assistance, by advancing money on their crops of tobacco. These kindnesses were never forgotten, and for decades after, were recounted to his children whenever occasion permitted.

He was assassinated May 16, 1885, at his place of business by Hairston H. Terry, son of General William R. Terry, who, in a temporary fit of insanity and without the slightest provocation, shot him through the heart--death resulting almost instantly. Terry, for years, had been one of his most intimate friends, had never shown any ill feeling toward him, and often came in town and visited him at the warehouse in a most pleasant manner."

The below article originated in the May 27th, 1885 edition of the Staunton Spectator out of Staunton, Virginia.

The below article is another condensed version of the events which came from May 23rd, 1885 edition of the Peninsula Enterprise out of Accomac, Virginia.

The picture below came originated in the previously-referenced book, "Our Kin".

As in the case of the above Frank Coker, karmic justice was swift and unfavorable to Hairston H. Terry.

1. Absolom Rorie and Hezekiah Columbus Rorie - Died January 24th, 1864 near Sylamore, Arkansas

The most gruesome and terrible of the deaths in my family were those of my 5th great grandfather, Absalom Rorie, and his son, Hezekiah. They were said to have been providing powder works to the Confederate army, and when the Union army learned that Colonel Thomas R. Freeman was reportedly camped at Rorie's Mill, which was owned by the eldest Rorie who was assisted in running it along with his sons, soldiers came to apprehend Freeman.

The following was written in "Places of Our People: Stories of the People and Places of the White River Valley" by Freda Cruise Phillips:

"Scouts were sent to find Freeman, with the remaining Union troops moving to Riggsville to join the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry that had gone south out of Batesville. The scouts reported back that Freeman was camped on Middle Sylamore Creek at Rorie’s Mill. Union soldiers were dispatched. Next morning, Jan 27th, 1864 William] Monks and the 11th Missouri Cavalry went in first, but Freeman had left before dawn going back northeast toward Livingston Creek. Official records report they [Monks and his men] burned both the saw mill and grist mill and killed three men. ... Angry that Freeman had gotten away, the Union soldiers burned the Rorie family’s sawmill and grist mill to the ground, but not before torturing and killing three men of the Rorie family in an effort to determine the location of Freeman and of Rorie’s Cave, believed to be producing powder works. Absalom Rorie and his sons, Andrew and Hezekiah, had their arms tied to separate horses, which were driven in opposite directions, dismembering the bodies."

After this was published, it was discovered by this researcher that Andrew B. Rorie was not the third man killed at Rorie's Mills as previously believed. He, along with his brother John G. and Absolom Josiah "Jody" Rorie [my ancestor], enlisted in the Union army days after their father's and brother's deaths, presumably for the safety of their surviving family members. My belief is that they assumed that if they joined the Union army, were the soldiers who killed their father and brother to return to the area, they would be less likely to harm their family with three of them being soldiers in the Union army. Andrew died in the service of the Union army according to his service records, so the identity of the third man killed at Rorie's Mills is not known. More on the scoundrel William Monks can be read here:

Pictured above is Absolom Josiah Rorie and his wife Mary Snellgrove, my 4th great grandparents. In his later years, Jody would not speak of the attack on his father and brother in 1864. But the effect on him was lasting, and the family has never forgotten what occurred that day.

This has been a summary of some of the unusual and unfortunate deaths that have occurred in my family. Though all sad in their own ways, I think it is important to remember these events, as they affected our families immensely, and can often be cited as the reasoning for some family's habits or beliefs. Perhaps one day I will have discovered 12 more and I will share those as well.