Friday, August 16, 2013

The preacher who drowned on Easter morning

The inscription on his recently restored tombstone at Waynick Cemetery reads, "Sacred to the memory of Rev. Cha's O. Hanson, DIED April 12, 1868, AGED 22 Years."

Easter fell on April 12 in 1868 and that Sunday morning had been preceded by heavy rains. Freshets forced Lucas County streams out of their banks overnight and just west of Chariton, where the newly-constructed tracks of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad crossed White Breast Creek, a freshly cut embankment had collapsed, closing them until mud could be cleared away.

Southwest of town in the Waynick neighborhood, where he was boarding, the Rev. Charles O. Hanson arose at first light, shaved and dressed, picked up his Bible, saddled up and rode off on horseback to fill a preaching appointment at one of Lucas County's rural schools.

Charles was just 22, but already a graduate of Ohio's Oberlin College, a veteran of the Civil War, a school teacher and, most recently, an ordained preacher,  most likely Presbyterian or Methodist.

He also apparently was a stranger among friends. We don't know why he had decided to locate in Lucas County, although there was a Samuel Hanson family --- wife Elizabeth, age 32, and 12-year-old twin sons --- living in nearby Union Township. But Hanson is an extraordinarily common surname. 

Later that Easter morning, Charles made a major miscalculation while attempting to cross a flooded stream, his horse stumbled into deep water, the young man was thrown --- and he drowned.


Two reports of the drowning were published in Chariton newspapers, 27 years apart. The first appeared in The Chariton Democrat on April 18, 1868, days after the drowning occurred:

"We regret to learn that a young man named Chas. O. Hanson, who was well-known in this vicinity as a school teacher, was drowned in a slough on the other side of Whitebreast, while on his way to fill an appointment to preach at a schoolhouse in Otter Creek Township on Sunday last.

"He attempted to ride through the slough, which, it appears, was deeper than he supposed it was, and by some means was thrown from his horse. He was seen to fall from the horse by some persons at a house nearby and they hastened to his rescue, but they were too late.

"They recovered his body in a few minutes after he fell into the water, and it is said, he gasped once after he was brought out, but as those present were probably not acquainted with the proper restorative means, they could not revive him.

"Mr. Hanson was a very worthy and intelligent young man, and many will be deeply saddened at this announcement of his untimely death."

Years later, during early 1895, an anonymous resident of the Waynick neighborhood sat down to write an article about its cemetery, where Charles was buried --- telling a little about several interred there --- and told his story in this manner, published in The Chariton Patriot of January 17:

"I next turned to the tomb of Rev. Chas O. Hanson, who was drowned on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1868. Mr. Hanson had but recently entered the ministry, and his sudden death was peculiarly sad and deeply deplored by all who knew him. He was on his way to fill an appointment at the Murray school house. In order to reach there he would have had to cross a small stream, then greatly swollen by recent heavy rains. The bridge had been swept away a few hours before, and Mr. Hanson, believing it to still be in place, rode his horse over the abutment, both horse and rider sinking in about 15 feet of swiftly flowing water. The horse swam safely to shore, but his rider perished in the watery element. 

"Mr. Hanson was one of our pioneer school teachers; served three years in the 46th Ohio Infantry, took a course of study at Oberlin college. He taught the last term of school at the brick school house on the east line of S.D. Waynick's farm. This house was built in the summer of 1860, by John Payne, now of Hutchinson, Kansas."

Conflicting reports confuse the issue of where Charles died. Otter Creek Township is Lucas County's most northwesterly, a considerable distance to travel. That trip would have required him to cross both the Chariton River and White Breast Creek as well as smaller tributaries.

Murray School was a lesser distance to the southwest, with the Chariton River as a the only major barrier.

But wherever he died, the young man's body was claimed by his Warren Township neighbors, perhaps by his host family, and buried in Waynick Cemetery, where his broken and discolored tombstone recently has been restored.


There is no record of a Charles O. Hanson serving in Ohio's 46th Infantry Regiment. There is, however, a Charles O. Hanson (or Hansen), residence Oberlin, who at age 18 enlisted in Co. C, 86th Ohio Infantry on Aug. 1, 1863. This most likely is our man.

Oberlin --- founded during 1833 by idealistic Presbyterians and the first American college to routinely admit both women and black people as students --- was a hotbed of abolitionist activity in the years leading up to the Civil War. So it is possible that Charles, perhaps a student there at the time, put his ideals into action by enlisting.


A follow-up report in The Democrat of May 2, 1868, provides a little more information about Charles in the form of a reprinted excerpt from The Burlington Gazette & Argus of the week previous. That item reads:

"A young man came into our office (in Burlington) last night and inquired for a Chariton paper. We could not furnish it to him. He said there was a notice of the drowning of C.O. Hanson in it. We happened just then to be looking over the notice in another paper. We handed it to him, which he read, and burst into tears. He said he was a brother --- that he had heard the news while in Michigan and was on his way to Chariton and this was the first account of the particulars he had seen. He said they were from Wisconsin. His brother was 22 years old."

There isn't any more information to be had, for now. But the young preacher's tombstone still stands, marker for another story intertwined with those of the 150 or more laid to rest at Waynick during its 160 years.

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