Among the more interesting details you may find on a death record is the cause of death. Even more so when that cause leads a story:
Anyone who has spent long hours staring small screens or reading small type knows a little about eye strain, but who knew it could be fatal? This 1880 census mortality schedule from Leadville, Colorado reveals that J. Nash died from “Sore Eyes.” Consider yourself warned.
Accidental deaths may be reported in newspapers, as was the case with Ohio politician and lawyer, Clement Vallandigham. Clement was defending a murder suspect and trying to demonstrate the possibility that the victim had shot himself. He attempted to demonstrate his theory, but grabbed a loaded gun by accident. His reenactment proved fatal. This article from The Herald and Torch Light of Hagerstown, Maryland (21 June 1871) describes the accident and the aftermath.
The defendant was eventually acquitted, but in 1875, he too succumbed to a bullet wound when he was shot in his saloon.
Death by Safe
Although Jack Daniel’s death certificate only lists “blood poisoning from operation,” the full story of the famous distiller’s death is a bit unusual. Apparently in frustration in not being able to open his safe, he kicked it, injuring his toe. The resulting infection was responsible for his death. The deadly safe is on display in Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg.
It Really Was a Wild, Wild West
If you think that the gunfights of the American West were a product of Hollywood, a look at some mortality schedules might change your mind. This Arizona City, Yuma County, Arizona mortality schedule is a good example. Eleven of the thirty-one deaths reported were due to wounds, a fracture of the skull, shootings, or stabbings.
At the bottom of the page, in the remarks section, the enumerator notes that, “I expect a great many violent deaths, this being a frontier county where all disputes are settled by the use of weapons, and it occurs between transient and single men who have no families.”