Saturday, November 19, 2016

The accident that killed James Holmes back in 1865

James and Catharine Holmes share this tombstone at Oxford Cemetery and I thought --- for about 15 seconds --- of running out yesterday to take a photo of it myself. But the seasons had shifted abruptly, it was cold and there were gale-force winds. So I swiped this one, taken by Doris Christensen and posted at Find a Grave, instead.

James was a native of England --- Yorkshire to be exact --- who arrived in the United States not long before 1850, married Catherine Hill about 1850 in Pennsylvania and was naturalized a U.S. citizen while living at Johnstown during 1852. About 1855, he brought his young family west to Lucas County and settled northeast of Chariton in the general neighborhood of Oxford.

Then, on November 28, 1865, when he was 43, he was killed in an accident, leaving Catharine and five young children behind.

By now there are many Holmes descendants, some still in Lucas County and  many others elsewhere, and those interested in family history seem to be aware that their ancestor's death involved a mill. But details are lacking. Part of the reason, beyond the simple passage of time, is that there are no surviving files of Chariton newspapers prior to 1867, although The Patriot had been published since the 1850s.

So I was happy --- although "happy" may not be an appropriate word to use in relation to someone's death --- to find the following a while ago in The Burlington Daily Hawk Eye of Dec. 14, 1865, picked up from an earlier edition of The Patriot:

"John J. Logan has a contract to furnish 5,500 ties for the B. & M. R. Railroad, to be used on the first four miles east of Chariton. We also learn from The Patriot that on Tuesday James Holmes, in the employ of Dr. J.D. Wright at his mill in Chariton as engineer, was found dead on the shaft of the engine, his neck broken, skull fractured, and arms and legs mangled. It is supposed that he was caught in the machinery while engaged in greasing it. He was a sober, industrious and intelligent man."

The Civil War had interrupted the progress of the new Burlington & Missouri River Railroad across southern Iowa --- rails had reached Ottumwa by the time war broke out and work had stalled there. Now that the war was over, work had started again and milling ties was part of that process.

The first B. & M. R. engine would not reach Chariton until July of 1867, a year and a half after James's death and burial during this month of Thanksgiving 156 years ago.

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