Monday, August 23, 2010

The Death of James M. Riley

When tracing a family tree, it's not often that I come across a cause of death that catches my attention as being unusual or remarkable.  In my own family history there have been drunken accidents and even a series of murders, but while recently researching my wife's family I came across one that I had never before encountered - tornado.

James M. Riley, my wife's second great-grandfather, was a farmer living in northwest Ohio in 1922 (just outside of Wapakoneta in Auglaize County, to be exact).  The day after Easter, April 17, a monumental storm began assaulting the Midwest.  Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were devastated as a series of tornadoes carved a path of destruction stretching from Washington County in Illinois to Auglaize County in Ohio.  One particular series of tornadoes began at about 3:30 CST near Ogden, Illinois and moved east-northeast through Indiana before dissipating 210 miles later in Auglaize County - near Wapakoneta.  While these tornadoes were certainly not the most destructive in terms of lives lost and damage caused to property, they nonetheless wrecked havoc among the farms and small towns of the area.  Unfortunately, James was one of the sixteen deaths attributed to this storm.

According to his death certificate, James did not perish during the storm but was injured enough to be transported to St. Rita's Hospital in Lima, a distance of approximately twelve miles.  I can only imagine how jarring that journey must have been.  Even if James' family possessed an automobile, the farm roads would have been treacherous after a storm like that - especially considering that the trek was likely made after nightfall.  The records indicate that there was some kind of surgical operation performed on his left arm, which apparently did not go very well and contributed to James' death.  My medical vocabulary is sparse, so it's hard for me to determine exactly what that "contributing cause" might be other than a gangrenous left arm.

As tragic as this event was, it could have been considerably worse.  The eight Riley children, including my wife's great-grandfather Glenn, survived.  I personally have issues with tornadic storms, so this particular discovery has really touched a chord with me.  The things you find when you start to dig.....

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