Saturday, July 10, 2021

A lightning strike and death on the rails

June and July of 1881 are two months for which no editions of Chariton newspapers published therein have survived. So I was intrigued by a report I found elsewhere of a railroad accident near Chicago on June 29 of that year that had killed an employee of one of Chariton's stockyards.

The bare bones of the accident were reported in a paragraph published on Thursday, June 30, in the Chicago Inter Ocean: "The storm of yesterday morning caused an accident on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad near Hinsdale. The lightning divided a stock train so that a  part continued on its way with the locomotive; the part remaining behind was run into by another advancing stock train, and two men were killed."

The next day, a National Associated Press dispatch, widely published across the Midwest, appeared in the Omaha Daily Bee and many other newspapers as follows:

"CHICAGO, June 30 --- Suppressed particulars of a fatal accident on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy road early yesterday morning were learned this morning. A stock train broke in two near Hinsdale. Owing to the blinding glare of lightning, the danger signal could not be seen, and the second section dashed into the caboose of the stock train, instantly killing J.G. Smith, of Chariton, Iowa, and A.J. Evans of Pleasantville, Iowa, both stock men. A man named Schram, of Chariton, Iowa, was also injured."

Unfortunately, the name of the Chariton man who died was incorrect and the circumstances of the crash are somewhat garbled. But a report in the Burden (Kansas) Saturday Journal of July 7 provided the correct name:

"Mrs. Jas. Harden and her mother started on last Friday evening to Chariton, Iowa, in answer to a telegram stating that her brother-in-law, Geo. Smith, had been run over by the cars and killed and that her sister, Mrs. Smith, was laying dangerously sick. Mr. Harden, the county treasurer, went with them as far as Topeka where he stops to make his settlement with the state treasurer."

George, who was 40 at the time of his death, is identified in the 1880 census of Chariton (top) as a stock weigher, although there probably was quite a bit more to the job than that. He was enumerated with his wife, Rosalie, and children Viola, Frank and Ira as next-door neighbors to the family of a pioneer Chariton physician, Dr. Charles Fitch,  who lived on North Grand Street.

It was common practice at the time for stockyard employees and livestock owners to accompany shipments from Chariton to Chicago, finding accommodations in the caboose, something that proved fatal in this instance.

George was a veteran of the Civil War, having served three years in Company I, 33rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry, who married Rosalie Walker in Chariton just after the war, on Oct. 3, 1867. Both were from families that lived near Columbia, just north of the Lucas-Marion county line, and they settled down to farm there after their marriage. Two of their children who died young --- Mary in 1873 and Claude in 1877 --- had been buried in the Columbia.

As a result, George's remains were taken to Columbia for burial --- and quite a nice stone erected to mark his grave (above).

Rosalie and her family, which by now included another son, George Jr., continued to live in Chariton for a time, but then relocated to Florida. She died there 20 years later, at Wauchula, and was buried there.

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