Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Newell family Bible and an 1898 Russell tragedy

One of the great tragedies of Russell's past occurred during the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 23, 1898, when William M. Newell, 51, owner of a clothing store, shot and killed his wife, Josie (Mary Josephine), 9-year-old daughter, Madge, and then himself at the family home. Worries about the state of his business were cited as the cause. 

Their son and brother, Fred, 21, who was visiting the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha with two friends at the time, was the sole survivor of the family.

Young Fred made a life for himself and 15 years later, while working as rear brakeman on a passenger train running between Aberdeen and Mobridge, South Dakota, during early March of 1913, somehow lost his footing and fell alongside the tracks, where he was found the next morning. He died that day, March 8, at the hospital in Mobridge, age 37, and his remains were returned to the Russell Cemetery for burial.

I'll not retell the entire story here, but you can find additional details in a 2018 Lucas Countyan post entitled, "Murder & Suicide on an August Morning in Russell."


About a century later, Marge Didier, of Des Moines, came across and purchased in Manning a large family Bible that had gone adrift, separated by time and circumstance from its original owners.

Although the volume was somewhat battered, the family record inside was intact and so she was able to identify it as the William M. Newell family Bible, and to track down the stories of the tragedies associated with it.

We know that the Bible remained in the extended Newell family through 1913 --- Fred's death is recorded in it. Its course after that is unknown.

The Bible also contains a record of the marriage of William M. Newell and Mary Josephine Hennion at the Methodist Church in Melrose on May 9, 1878, and a list of births.

Two of the children recorded here, Pearl (May 4, 1876-May 25, 1876) and Bert (Dec. 31, 1884-Aug. 14, 1885) are buried in the old Methodist Cemetery on the north edge of Melrose. William M. Newell had been in business in Melrose before moving his operation and his family to Russell.


After serving as custodian of the Bible for several years, Marge has decided that it should come home after all these years to Lucas County and so we'll be adding it to the Lucas County Historical Society collection this spring --- grateful to her and to others who have ensured that this reminder of a long-vanished Lucas County family has survived. Photos courtesy of Marge Didier.

1 comment:

jake said...

Interest, as usual for you Frank. Thanks for keeping up with things.
Jacob Vincent