Monday, August 24, 2015

Life Altered in an Instant

How often have you wished you could do something over again, vowing that this time you would do it better?  Sometimes the consequences of snap decisions are just annoying, but other times they are tragic.

As I shared in last weeks post, (found here) running across a McCleskey among Utah Death certificates came as a surprise, especially since it was a McCleskey with a connection to my family in Oklahoma. It would take some digging to find the story, but things eventually fell into place.

muskogge oklahoma, okmulgee oklahoma, genealogy,  family history

Lillian Howell was born in 1883 in Collin County, Texas to Henry Harrison Howell and Amelia Louisa Turner.  Lillian grew up in a household of 11 children, two were half siblings from her father's prior marriage. By 1900 the family moved to Creek Nation, Indian Territory.

Two years later, on 28 December 1902, nineteen year old Lillian Howell married thirty-one year old Benjamin Green McCleskey in Muskogee County, Oklahoma.

A year later their first child Floyd Elmer was born in 1903, followed by Williard Roscoe in 1904. Raymond was born in 1906 and Green Russell McCleskey was born on the 31 of March in 1909, likely in Okmulgee where his family was living in 1910. The brothers were close in age with all four born within six years. I can only imagine the challenges their mother faced as she raised four boys so close in age. 

Russell and his brothers all learned to read and write and helped their father on the farm. Life was hard and there was a lot to do for those families struggling to farm in the early days in Oklahoma. 

I wonder how many times over the years Russell's father, Benjamin, shared the story of losing his father, George Walter McCleskey, in a shootout with Native Americans in Weatherford, Texas, a story I shared here.

At the age of 20, Russell proposed to Virginia Canes and they tied the knot on March 2, 1929 in Okfuskee, Oklahoma.  While most couples feel a certain sense of optimism and hope for the future, few anticipate the challenges and difficulties that come with life. Sadly Russell and Virginia's life would include a very tragic event within their first year of marriage. 

When Russell and Virginia married, Oklahoma was already struggling economically, but the big stock market crash would occur later that year making life even more difficult. Jobs were hard to come by and people were willing to look beyond their immediate communities. I am not sure how Russell learned of the job, but he was hired to work for a loan company in Utah, so he and Virginia packed up and made the nearly 1,300 mile move to Utah.

In Salt Lake City, Russell worked as a manager for The Commercial Discount Company while Virginia worked as a telephone operator. They lived in a small three-year old brick house located at 1453 Westminster Avenue in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were some of the lucky ones. 



rumble seat, accident, salt lake city utah, genealogy, family history


Over Labor Day weekend in 1930, Russell and Virginia went on a little trip to Ogden with friends, Alma U. Daniels and wife Bernice. Bernice also worked for the phone company and it is likely the wives met there. In addition, the couples were close in age and lived within five minutes of each other. 


fall colors, Utah, Ogden, family history, genealogy
9/28/2012 Ogden, Utah 
The 2012 Federal Duck Stamp Contest 
photo by Garry Tucker, USFWS
On Monday evening, September 1, 1930, the couples returned from Ogden, driving along the Ogden-Salt Lake highway, a distance of about 40 miles. Riding along the base of the Wasatch Mountain range, they would have had a clear view of mountains, ablaze with the colors of fall. 

With an altitude of a little over 4,000 feet, evenings in Salt Lake City tend to cool down considerably as the sun drops and such was the case that day. Although the high on September 1, 1930 was 81, the low was 55. [1] While Alma, Bernice and Virginia rode in the front seat of the car, Russell rode in the rumble seat in the back, which soon became too cool. Several articles reported simply that G. Russell tried to move from the rumble seat to inside the car while it was still moving. Thankfully the following article gave a more complete picture of the events that occurred.[2]




Green Russell McCleskey, Alma U. Daniels, Salt Lake City, Utah. Benjamin Green McCleskey, William McCleskey, Raymond McCleskey, Floyd McCleskey, Oklmulgee, Genealogy,  Family History,

The newspaper reported that Russell died of a skull fracture, but the death certificate indicated that he probably died from a broken neck. [3]



Green Russell McCleskey, Virginia McCleskey, Salt Lake City, Utah, Okmulgee, Oklahoma, genealogy, family history, research, death certificate

I can't comprehend the shock folks must have felt as the news reached Russell's friends and family in Oklahoma. Russell was a young man in the prime of life with so much ahead of him. He was working, renting a nice home and was newly married. As friends and family gathered to comfort his devastated parents, Benjamin Green McCleskey and Lillian Howell, I imagine his aunt and uncle, Henry Edgar Howell and Ollie (Ganus), were among them. There would be many hard days to follow.

Life can be altered forever in an instant. A seemingly simple action can lead to a tragic end. How often I have replayed an incident over and over in my mind, wishing I could go back and do it again but different. If only.....

Married just over a year, Virginia had her husband's body shipped back to Oklmulgee and buried in the Okmulgee Cemetery. 


[1] "The Weather" column Salt Lake Telegram, September 1, 1930, image 7, Utah Digital Newspapers;  http://digitalnewspapers.org/, accessed 14 August, 2015. 

[2] Salt Lake Man Killed In Fall off Auto, Salt Lake Telegram, September 2, 1930; Utah Digital Newspapers, http://digitalnewspapers.org/; accessed 11 August, 2015. 

[3]  Utah Death Certificate Index, Utah Department of Administrative Services,http://www.archives.utah.gov/research/indexes/20842.htm, Green Russell McCleskey Death Certificate, accessed 14 August 2015. 


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

12 comments:

  1. Such a tragedy! How sad for Russell's wife and parents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really just made my heart ache to find the story. It bothered me so much to think of them honking to try and get traffic to move so they could get him to the hospital. Very sad.

      Delete
  2. Oh my yes, tragic and easily preventable. You would think that at such a slow speed, a fall would not have been so serious. Russell must have hit head first. Very sad story, indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You would have thought he would be okay at 10 mph. I agree, he myst have hit head first.

      Delete
  3. Wow, what a sad, sad story! Sometimes the research leads to tragic stories, and sometimes joyful happenings. I'm so sorry to hear about this fateful end for Russell. You are such a marvelous weaver of tales!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Myrna. I found the death certificate first, then a bunch of little one-paragraph articles, but I just wanted to know more and just kept looking. It was interesting because the long article that really told more of the story was found on a free newspaper website, whereas the short little ones were on the paid websites. I was so glad to find the article that told more of the story.

      Delete
  4. A very sad story that you told so well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Carol and thank you for stopping by!

      Delete
  5. A unique story. These types of stories make our genealogies come to life. We are reminded that genealogies are not just a list of data; they are about the lives of real people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is so true Colleen. If I had stopped with the death certificate, I never would have known the story of what happened. Chasing the details makes all of the difference.

      Delete
  6. A wonderful, and determined piece of research on a very sad story.

    Family History Fun

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! It is amazing to see the stories unfold.

      Delete