Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Henry S. Millan: Death by train

Chariton is a railroad town --- although the trains don't stop here any more --- so there always have been hazards and, now and then, fatal accidents. One of the more dramatic occurred during August of 1889 --- and cost the venerable Henry S. Millan his life.

At that time, the 1867 main line of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy cut through the heart of town at an angle on the right-of-way now followed by the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe, passing a block west of the square. A southwestern branch (now the Cinder Path) provided connections to St. Joseph, Missouri; and the now-abandoned northwestern branch led via Indianola to Des Moines. The north-south Rock Island Line wouldn't come along until the second decade of the 20th century.

On the morning of Monday, Aug. 6, Henry --- then 86 --- had decided to cross the tracks at what probably was the Roland Avenue crossing just south of the Chariton Iron Works foundry (on ground occupied now by its successor, Johnson Machine Works) due west of First Methodist Church.

He did not hear or see the slow-moving train approaching from the northwest, nor did the crew in the cab of the locomotive see him. The cowcatcher (also called pilot) struck him, he fell back onto it, grabbed a hold and hung on for more than a mile until eventually falling off. Although he lived for nearly two weeks after that, the shock he sustained eventually killed him on Aug. 19.

Here's how The Democrat of August 9 reported the accident:

"One of the most remarkable railway accidents on record occurred last Monday morning to H.S. Millan, our venerable and respected townsman. The old gentleman is over eighty years of age, and feeble as that great age would indicate. On Monday morning he was crossing the railroad track by the Foundry when he was struck by the engine of an out-going freight train and thrown on the pilot of the engine. Neither the trainmen, nor any one else, saw the accident. As the train moved on through town, several persons saw someone on the pilot and made frantic efforts to attract the attention of the enginemen, but without effect. He was carried nearly a mile through the city and out past the residence of Scott Rogers, where he fell off and thus was first discovered by the trainmen who brought him back to the city. He was taken to his home and medical aid summoned. The most serious injury sustained was a fracture of the collar bone. Although not unconscious, Mr. Millan was somewhat irrational and can give no very clear account of the affair.

"It was a most singular accident. To think that a man of his years could be hit with an engine in such a manner, and carried as he was, and yet not be killed outright, is a most remarkable circumstance. Dr. Gibbon is attending the case and is hopeful that the old gentleman will recover from the severe shock he has sustained."

The Herald, in its report of August 9, was not so optimistic, reporting that in addition to the broken collar bone he had sustained serious bruises and "his whole system (was) so severely shocked as to render his recovery very doubtful."

The Herald also engaged in some righteous editorializing, suggesting "That an engine should run a man down in the streets of a city, in broad daylight, with two men in the cab whose duty it was to be on the look out, and to carry him on the pilot a mile without knowing anything about it, savors of criminal carelessness to say the least."

"The wonder is that the old man was not killed outright. This is accounted for by the fact that the train was running exceptionally slow, perhaps not more than at the rate of 7 or 8 miles an hour. Another wonder is that there is not someone killed on the street crossings every day or two. There is not a day passes but what some of the trains come thundering through our streets at a speed of from 15 to 25 miles an hour. There ought to be a city ordinance against such fast running in the city and someone employed by the city to see that it is enforced."

Despite, the serious nature of his injuries, Henry lingered until the morning of Sunday, Aug. 19, when he died at the home of his daughter, Miss Josephine, with whom he was living at the time the accident occurred. Funeral services were held Tuesday afternoon and burial followed in the northwest portion of the Chariton Cemetery next to his wife, Caroline, who had died the previous February.

Henry was a native of Fairfax County, Virginia, where he was born on Nov. 14, 1802, and where he married Caroline M. Farr on March 2, 1826. He served as sheriff of Fairfax County for some years and also as captain of the local militia until deciding to move his family to Palmyra, Missouri, during 1835. 

The family trail into Lucas County was blazed during 1848 by the Millans' daughter, Susanna, who had married James Brafford Custer at Lancaster, Missouri, during September of 1847, and James Custer's sisters, Amanda, who had married Edward K. Gibbon, and Sarah Margaret, who had married John S. Sheller, Lucas County's first resident surveyor.

The senior Millans remained in Missouri, reportedly because Henry --- a product of Virginia and resident of a state where slavery was legal --- was hesitant to move into a free state. That changed, however, once Civil War erupted and the atmosphere in northeast Missouri became contentious. And Henry and Caroline arrived in Chariton with younger members of their family during 1862.

Their son, Stanton, who had enlisted in Company K, 3rd Iowa Volunteer Calvary, also was killed in combat in Arkansas on May 30 of that year.

The family tombstone contains inscriptions for Henry and Caroline and their daughter, Lavenia, who died at age 15 during 1864. It also serves as a cenotaph for Stanton, who was buried near where he fell in Arkansas.

Also buried on the family lot are their daughters, Miss Josephine and Miss Margaret.

Buried in the Chariton Cemetery as well are other Millan daughters, Susannah (Millan) Custer, Catherine (Millan) Harlan and Pocahontas (Millan) Hooper.

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