Friday, April 5, 2013

A Series of Tragic Happenings

John Cooper Houston (1876-1960)

My Great Grandfather

me --> Ruth Rasmussen Buchanan --> Alice Houston Rasmussen --> John Cooper Houston 

Recently my brother asked me a question about our heritage and added, "I like to believe that I'm able to overcome adversity."  Immediately this story came to my mind.

I'm going to type John's words from his journal because no way could I do the story justice.  Anything in brackets [ ] are my thoughts and notes.

"Valentine's Day 1910 Began A Series of Tragic Happenings

"Sunday, February 13, Victor S. Showalter was confirmed a member of the church and the baby Philip was blessed... The events of that day made my cousin, Dicy De Long Showalter very happy.  That evening at our home she was heard to remark that 'my joy is now complete.'

"Valentine's Day fell on Monday and that morning before daylight, someone on horseback called from the street, 'fire, fire!' We looked out and three miles to the west we saw the sky lighted up and a blaze of fire leaping skyward.

"The Showalter home was on fire and the wife, Dicy and three children burned to their deaths.  The three children victims were Bobby, Helen, and the baby, Philip (this was just one half their family as they had three children who survived, Paul, Beth, and Dee).

"Soon the story came to us as to how it happened.  It seems that Dicy got up at 5:00 a.m. to make a fire and she picked up a five-gallon can of kerosene and raised it up to pour it into a heating stove in which were hidden coals of fire.  In the resulting explosion, oil and fire were thrown all over her body and her clothes immediately were aflame with fire.

"Her husband, Victor grabbed a quilt and went to her rescue but by then the house was filled with gas and flame.  He was badly burned and rushed out to find Bert Allred, a neighbor who was already there trying to rescue the children who were asleep in an adjacent boarded up tent.  

"While the three children in the tent were saved, the three smaller children in the house were lost in the fire.  The babies were smothered and their bodies, only slightly burned were covered by the falling roof.  Dicy's body was burned to ashes except for a hand and foot.  The remains of all the victims were buried in one grave in the cemetery.

"The three surviving children of the Showlaters', namely Beth, Paul, and Dee stayed with us for the remainder of that winter.

"Our daughter, Ruth [my mom's namesake] had scarlet fever at this time from which diptheria developed six weeks later.  Because the usual rash never broke out, we thought she was well and she started back to school.

"One day in early April while she was coming home from Sunday School she (Ruth) took suddenly sick.  We called the local doctor in on Thursday night and the next morning she died (April 20).  Just as the school bell was ringing on Thursday, the last day of school she said, "...the last bell."  She was buried on her birthday, April 21, 1910.  [She would have been seven years old.]

"A day or so later I was up in the loft platting a city park and Cooper (five years of age) was there with me.  After awhile I looked up and found him asleep.  He awakened sick.  We told the doctor that maybe he had better get other medical help to assist him, but he insisted that he could handle it.  So we trusted.  While they sent away for antitoxin it was not given right or in the right quantities.  He died on April 26, at 2:00 a.m.

"Now it was evident that it was an epidemic and people were frightened.  Vera [another daughter] was lying between life and death.  For fear of the contagious disease a public funeral was out of the question, so with Uncle Al's help we took Cooper in his little casket on our laps in the one seated buggy and drove alone to the cemetery.  At the graveside Addie [John's wife] and I , Uncle Al and Eleazer Asay alone laid the precious little fellow away.  Just six days earlier he had laid flowers on little Ruth's grave." 

Later that year John remodeled their home, bought a 20-acre farm, changed jobs with a long commute, and welcomed their newborn son to the family.  

So to answer my brother.  Believe you are able to overcome adversity--it's in your blood.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this story! I stumbled across Dicy while searching my 1st cousin 3x removed (who marries Victor after this amazing fire story). I couldn't figure out how a mom and 3 children die in the same year, so I googled it and your blog post showed up. What an incredible story and I love your outlook on how we can overcome adversity.