Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Processions of the dead & dying through Chariton

The coming of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad to Lucas County in 1867 brought with it an ongoing procession through Chariton of the rich and famous, poor and aspirational, that continues to a very limited extent today as Amtrak makes its daily east- and west-bound runs. The dead and dying often passed through in freight and passenger cars, too.

During the early years, editors of Chariton's various newspapers kept their noses close to the ground at the fancy new C.B. & Q. depot, restaurant and hotel three blocks northwest of the square in order to be able to report upon the most interesting arrivals, departures and passages through.

Two very brief reports in The Patriot of Wednesday, May 28, 1873, caught my eye yesterday: "The body of Gen. Canby passed through here last week en route to Indianapolis for burial" and in the same column, "The Countess De Pourtules Georgier, wife of the Count De Pourtules, attache of the French legation at Washington, who passed through here one day last week, died shortly after reaching Burlington. She had been on a visit to her father, Hon. Ben Holliday, at San Francisco, and was homeward bound when over taken by the destroyer."


Gen. Canby, above left, was Major Gen. (brevet) Edward R. S. Canby (Nov. 9, 1817-April 11, 1873), who holds the dubious distinction of being the only U.S. general to be killed during the Indian Wars. His assassination in far north California approximately a month before physical remains were transported east had generated a huge amount of publicity at the time.

An 1839 graduate of West Point, Gen. Canby had built a distinguished record of service in the Second Seminole War in Florida, the Mexican-American War and the Civil War before his 1872 appointment as military commander of the Pacific Northwest.

As such he became embroiled in what was known as the Modoc War and while attempting to negotiate a settlement was assassinated --- two shots to the head and his throat cut --- on April 11, 1873, within the bounds of what now is Lava Beds National Monument.

By the time this report was published in Chariton, he had been buried with  considerable ceremony at  Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.


The Comtesse de Pourtales-Gorgier, nee Jenny Lind Holladay, just 22, was a daughter of Ben Holladay, the "Stagecoach King" of California. Holliday made his fortune after heading west from Missouri to California during 1852 and establishing a network of thousands of miles of stagecoach routes. He also established the Overland Stage Route to California and, during 1862, acquired the Pony Express. After selling out to Wells Fargo, he moved to Oregon and began speculating in railroads.

Two of his daughters, including Jenny, joined the parade of American heiresses who spent time in Europe after the Civil War shopping for members of the aristocracy to marry. She had wed Arthur de Pourtales, Count de Pourtales-Gorgier (1844-1928), at the Chateau de Gorgier, Neuchatel, Switzerland, on Dec. 6, 1869.

Pourtales, who would not succeed his father as count until 1876 and so the titles here were a bit premature, was a career diplomat who was serving as secretary of the French legation in Washington, D.C., at the time of Jenny's death.

Here's a more complete report of the death from the Chicago Inter-Ocean of May 16, 1873:


Death, in one of its saddest phases, came yesterday afternoon to a lovely and much esteemed lady, widely and honorably known, both in this country and in Europe. The closing scene in the life of the Comptesse de Pourtales-Gorgier occurred in a Pullman palace car, near Aurora, as the afternoon train on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad was approaching this city. The lamented lady is the daughter of Benjamin Holladay, the great stage line owner of the Pacific Coast, and who has been prominently connected with the recent development of the railways of California and Oregon. The Countess was accompanied by her husband, the Compte Arthur de Pourtales-Gorgier, by their child, a little girl about one year and six months old, and two servants.

For more than a year the health of the Countess de Gorgier had not been good, and during that time the family have traveled extensively. The past winter was spent at Holliday's home in Portland, Oregon. This spring the family concluded to spend the summer months among the mountains of Switzerland, and as the strength of the lady seemed adequate to the long journey, the family left Portland about a week ago, and had come thus far on their way when this terrible and unlooked for calamity befell them.

At Ogden, on the Union Pacific Railway, the Countess was attacked with billious fever, but was not so seriously affected as to delay the journey or even to render the services of a physician necessary. Yesterday morning, however, her symptoms grew rapidly worse, and medical attendance was from time to time summoned by telegraph, until several skilled physicians were collected at her side. Everything was done for her relief, but without avail, as she sank rapidly and died about two o'clock in the afternoon.

The intelligence was at once telegraphed here to H.B. Ledyard, assistant superintendent of the road, who had an undertaker and hearse in readiness at the depot when the train arrived The body was handsomely incased and removed to the Sherman House, whence the husband will accompany it this morning to New York, where it will be interred. The Count is quite prostrated by the terrible blow. The deceased had been married less than four years, and was only 22 years of age. Her amiability and accomplishments won the affectionate regard of all who knew her, and will make her untimely death keenly felt and widely mourned.


Jenny's parents had an elaborate home (Ophir Farm) near Purchase, New York, and her remains were transported there for burial in a crypt below the private family chapel. In 1919, new owners had the remains of Ann Holladay (Jenny's mother), Jenny and two of her siblings reinterred in a vault at nearby St. Mary's Cemetery.

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