Saturday, July 26, 2008

Snakebit II: Worth Eugene Nelson

Look down a ways here and you'll find the first "Snakebit," a list of stories extracted from Darlene Arnold's index to Lucas County newspapers related to rattlesnake bites (some fatal but most not) sustained by Lucas Countyans between the 1880s and 1920s. One of those who died was a little boy named Worth Eugene Nelson, but I couldn't tell from the index if he was from Lucas County or somewhere else.

Got to visiting via e-mail with Darlene yesterday about something else, mentioned this and she recalled checking the little boy's death out some time ago for a relative of Worth named Kimberly Smith, who lives in the Davenport area.

As it turns out, Worth, age 4, was bitten by the snake somewhere in Pleasant Township's wild and wooly hills. The story states that the family farm was "a few miles east of Tipperary, near Olmitz," and that's a little odd --- Olmitz was just south of Tipperary, but at least it tells us the general neighborhood.

And it's a neighborhood where you wouldn't be surprised to find a few rattlers, even today. It's beautiful --- but rough (hilly) and wooded. A couple of units of Stephens State Forest are located there, units that the state intentionally has returned to an undeveloped state after making an effort quite a few years ago to make them a little more user-friendly (the state forest units in western Lucas County, near Lucas, are considerably more hospitable).

Tipperary and Olmitz both were mining towns, now vanished. I can take you to the site of Olmitz, but it's impossible even to get to Tipperary. The road that used to continue east past Zion Cemetery led there, but it was closed many years ago; and the road in from the north now is a private lane.

Olmitz and Tipperary could be pretty tough places in their time. Dad used to talk about the time old Sam Beardsley, Chariton's best-known undertaker, went out to Tipperary to lay out a corpse. "How did this man die?" Sam reportedly asked. "Don't ask," was the answer.

But none of this has anything to do with Worth Nelson. Here's the newspaper report of his death that Darlene forwarded to me:


Little son of Mr. & Mrs. Schaterick Nelson, of Near Olmitz, is Victim.


Passes away after suffering several hours; snake menace in Southern Iowa becoming serious.

"One of the saddest events we have had to chronicle for some time is the sudden death of little Worth Eugene Nelson, four-year-old son of Mr. & Mrs. Schaterick Nelson, who reside a few miles east of Tipperary, near Olmitz, which resulted from being bitten by a large rattlesnake on his father's farm.

"On Tuesday afternoon the boy and his father were picking blackberries, and the little fellow, who was barefooted, stepped on the snake. The rattler struck him three times on the left leg, near the ankle, each bite going deep into the bare limb, and it was impossible to check the spread of the poison through his system. The boy's leg was soon swollen to three time its normal proportions. The accident occurred about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Dr. Fisher, of Tipperary, was hastily summoned, and later Dr. Hills of Russell, both of whom tried every method of relief possible, using whiskey, tourniquets, and other aids without any results, and in the evening it was decided to remove him to the Miners' Hospital in Albia. They arrived there in the evening at 9:30, but hospital officials were unable to give him any aid, and stated that the boy was so badly bitten that it is doubtful if he could have been saved if a physician had been right on the spot. He passed away on Wednesday morning about 2 o'clock. Right after being bitten, the lad said that the snake had gone into a hole in the ground. A large rattler was found about 30 feet away, however, and was promptly killed.

"The remains were brought to the family home on Wednesday and today will be taken to Centerville, where funeral services and interment will take place. The boy is survived by his parents, and by two brothers and one sister. To them the deep sympathy of all good people will be extended.

"Reports from many sections of Iowa state that there are an unusually large number of snakes this year, many of them of a dangerous nature, and people are advised to be cautious and keep a careful lookout. The greatest danger is to children, who seldom watch their steps closely, and who are unable to defend themselves if attacked. Snakes should be killed on sight."

This story was taken from The Chariton Herald-Patriot of Thursday July 27, 1922.

Kimblerly Smith told Darlene that Worth's parents were Shadrick and Lena (Zeller) Nelson, who moved away from Lucas County a few years after the little boy died. Darlene looked for a tombstone record in Appanoose County, since he reportedly was buried at Centerville, but none was found.

By the way --- if you look in the sidebar you'll find a link to the Lucas County Genealogical Society under "Lucas County Genealogy." You can find out there how to join. And if you had joined, you'd already have known all of this since it was included in the most excellent newsletter that Darlene and other members publish once a month.

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