Thursday, June 08, 2017

Rattlesnakes in the berry patch ...

... and other things we don't worry too much about any more down here in the south of Iowa.

This is a faded image of my aunt, some generations removed, Elizabeth (Douglas) Boswell, who back in 1877 lived with her husband, my great-grandmother's brother Ellis, and children on a farm north of Corydon. Look to the east just north of the Veterinary Clinic as you're driving into the Wayne County seat from the north on Highway 14 and you'll see where the place once was.

Anyhow, as Aunt Elizabeth was picking berries on a fine June morning that year, she had an unfortunate encounter that merited a news item in The Chariton Leader of June 23:

Mrs. Ellis Boswell, living near Corydon, a relative of the family by the same name in this place, was bitten by a rattlesnake, on Sunday morning while picking berries. A doctor was summoned and at last accounts she was recovering.

There was no followup story, but I'm happy to report that Elizabeth did indeed survive. She lived eight more years before dying in 1885 at the untimely age of 38 of tuberculosis.

I'm also happy to report, in these troublesome times some 140 years later, that at least we no longer have to worry much about rattlesnakes in the berry patch --- or dying of tuberculosis.

In fact, the June 23 edition of The Leader reported upon several perils that no longer present immediate threats, for which we can be grateful.


Leader editor, Dan M. Baker, was on vacation that week and had left reporting responsibilities in the hands of his business partner, Edward T. Best, who ordinarily focused on the business and job-printing ends of the Leader operation.

Our honorable pard., accompanied by his brother William, left for Oregon on Wednesday night," Ed  Best reported. When last seen he was dressed in a straw hat, a woolen shirt, and we think a pair of pants, but as to the latter garment we are not certain. He will visit nearly all of Oregon and Washington Territory before he returns, employing his time in hunting, fishing and sight-seeing.

Dan and Bill Baker had planned to angle up through the Black Hills en route to the Pacific Northwest, but changed their minds upon reaching Omaha.

From a postal card received from our partner, D.M. Baker, we learn that he will go to Oregon by way of San Francisco, on account of the Indian troubles. The card was mailed at Omaha, and he reports himself and brother all right and the weather fine, Ed also reported.

"Indian troubles" had peaked a year earlier in the June 25-26 Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Custer's Last Stand, and non-native travelers still were fearful that a journey through that part of the West might prove to be their last stand, too.

Today's visitors to the Black Hills and beyond travel with a considerably enhanced sense of security, for which we can be grateful.


Scammers still are with us, unfortunately, but it's been some time since Lucas Countyans have had to worry about this one: A discharged soldier visited our town this week, working upon the sympathies of our people by the story that he was one of five that escaped from the Custer massacre. The story was generally regarded pretty thin, as none escaped, and in the second place his papers showed that he enlisted some six months after the massacre.

And such guests as we have from the Dakotas generally are a peaceable lot nowadays, which apparently was not the case in 1877:

A Black Hiller arrived in town on Thursday night and celebrated the occasion by firing his pistol on the streets, under the supposition he was still in Deadwood. He was taken before the mayor who inflicted a small fine for the benefit of the treasury, and as a reminder that such antics were not tolerated in Chariton.


Two other causes for concern back in June of 1877 that no longer seem especially relevant now:

Chicken thieves have begun their depredations all over the county, and it will be well for persons owning these feathered luxuries to keep them well locked up at night, and also have a shotgun handy in case of an emergency.


A young man named Loach, son of Thos. Loach, was badly injured by falling slate in the Whitebreast mine at Lucas on Friday. His hip was dislocated, and he was badly hurt otherwise. We understand that Dr. Gibbon was summoned from this place to look after his injures.


Finally, our esteemed banking institutions may worry today about hacks to their computer systems, but at least threats to the nationwide telegraph network no longer are a major concern. Here, also from The Leader of June 23, is a report of an innovative attempt at a telegraph hack that failed:

For several days last week the officers of the C.B.&Q. were in constant anxiety over a mysterious break in the telegraph line between this place and Lucas. Section men repeatedly went over the line carefully examining the wire, but found nothing to reward their efforts until one carelessly remarked that he had seen nothing but a lot of cobwebs fastened to the wire.

He was immediately ordered to make an examination at this point, which led to the discovery that the supposed cobwebs were fine copper wire, and led down to the ground at the bottom of a high embankment, and there was found an outfit for a telegraph office, with instrument, connections, and all complete. Further examination showed that the wire had been cut and connection made with a piece of leather, giving it the appearance of a continuous line.

It has been ascertained that the apparatus was inserted by the gang which attempted to swindle the Osceola Bank by means of a forged draft for $9,400 on Wednesday of last week, by a woman named White, who signified her willingness to have the draft verified by telegraphing to the Bank where it was drawn, in Kentucky, the design being to take off the dispatch, and send an answer to the effect that it was all right.

From some cause the message passed over the break without interruption, and an answer was immediately returned, pronouncing the draft a forgery. This led to the arrest of the woman and her confederates, named Wilson and Ball. The former was arrested in Keokuk for another forgery and the latter, also in Keokuk, where he is well connected, his father being a well known citizen. Ball immediately confessed upon his arrest, and gave away all the parties. On Monday he was brought to Chariton and arraigned before Esq. Gardner, waived an examination and was sent to jail to await the action of the Grand Jury.

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