Monday, July 11, 2016

W. H. Townsend's fatal encounter with the Fast Mail

William H. "Dooley" Townsend, buried on a west-facing slope in a northwest section of the Chariton Cemetery, interests me for a couple of reasons. 

In the first place, he is the only representative of the family of William S. "Buck" and Edna Townsend, pioneers during the late 1840s at Chariton Point and major figures in the organization of Lucas County, to find his way back --- permanently. 

Buck and Edna, peripatetic pioneers who also managed to help launch Cass and Pottawattamie counties, Iowa, and Johnson County, Nebraska, but now are largely forgotten, eventually landed at Tecumseh, Nebraska.

The manner of their son's demise --- sent flying by the fast mail while returning to his office from lunch in Lucas at age 46 during February of 1887 --- is another point of interest, although a negative one.

Dooley Townsend and his wife, Alice, ended up back in Chariton when his brother-in-law, Cornelius Tenbrock Haskins, launched an extensive lumber business here during the late 1870s. Alice (Siminton) Townsend and Susannah (Siminton) Haskins were sisters. The Haskins lumber operation included branches at Murray and Lucas, both of which were managed at various times by Townsend.

Townsend had been manager of the Lucas operation for about five years at the time of his unfortunate demise on Feb. 22, 1887, reported upon as follows in The Chariton Democrat of Feb. 24:

W.H. Townsend of Lucas Killed
One Moment from Time to Eternity

W.H.  Townsend (Dooley as he was familiarly called), formerly of this city but recently a member of the firm of C.T. Haskins & Co., lumber dealers of Lucas, was killed at the latter place about one o'clock last Tuesday by the Fast Mail train.

The particulars as given us by J.A. Penick, Esq., are briefly these: Mr. Penick had called at Townsend's office on the south side of the track to see him on business. Townsend being then at dinner, Mr. Penick passed back to the north side to a point near the Gilmore & McCullough store, about 40 or 50 feet from the track, where he met J.Y. Stier and W.B. Barger. While talking with them Mr. Townsend came up and the four gentlemen spent a few minutes in conversation. Mr. Penick and Mr. Townsend stepped aside and spoke of their business matter when they separated, the former going north and the latter toward the railroad.

The place where the gentlemen met afforded a view of the railroad to the west, but not to the eastward from whence the Fast Mail was coming. Mr. Penick, hearing the roar of the passing train and ringing of the bell, involuntarily turned to see. He saw Mr. Townsend attempt to cross the track in front of it. The smoke beating downward he lost view of the doomed man in the cloud. The train passed, the smoke cleared and the dead body of W.H. Townsend lay some ninety feet away, where it had been sent by the blow from the locomotive cylinder. He had crossed the track but not far enough to miss the blow from the side of the flying engine. He was killed instantly.

Mr. Townsend, we understand, carried some $7,000 life insurance which will make a good provision of his wife and family.

Funeral services for Townsend were held in Lucas later in the week and on Friday his remains were brought to Chariton by train for burial, accompanied by large delegations from the Lucas Masonic and I.O.O.F lodges, both of which he had been active in.

Alice Townsend purchased the cemetery lot where her husband was buried and three years later, her niece, Nellie Haskins, dead of consumption at age 20, also was buried there. Three years after that, on May 20, 1893, Nellie's mother, Susannah, died at Lathrop, Missouri, where the family had relocated after Nellie's death. Her remains were returned to Chariton for burial. Cornelius Haskins, having remarried and moved to Des Moines, died there on Oct. 8, 1900, and his remains were brought to the Chariton Cemetery, too.

The Haskins family and their brother-in-law and uncle, William H. Townsend, share the distinctive tombstone in the foreground of the photo at the top of this page. Townsend's inscription is on the east face of the stone, Nellie's and Susannah's on the west face --- but Cornelius has no inscription at all. Apparently his widow and surviving daughter forgot.

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