Casefile Clues

19 September 2013

1887 Suicide in the Barn and Why Didn't He Kill the Farmer?

When I really sat down to locate a little more detail on this event, it only took me five minutes. The event referenced in the clipping is not that of a relative, but it's mention in an 1887 letter spurred my interest in the event.
A letter by Noentje Lena (Grass) Ufkes written on 20 September 1887 states (in part):

Dirk (can't read last name--Frieden?) shot himself in the barn of Enne Koffman and that an "English girl" is in mourning. 

The names were not familiar to me as being part of the well-documented family of Noentje and her husband, but I still wondered to whom she was referring. It appears that the newspaper clipping from the Quincy, Illinois, newspaper shown above is mentioning the same incident.

The last names in the newspaper are consistent with the names in Noentje's letter written two weeks later. As mentioned in the earlier post, the names of the two involve appear to be Ostfriesen (at least to this writer's ears) and the English language newspaper could easily have gotten the names incorrect. It is also possible that the Quincy Daily Journal, from which the clipping is taken, copied the news item from another newspaper and compounded errors that first appeared in the original publication. The fact that the letter and newspaper clipping are close to each other chronologically and agree in the general details lead me to believe that both refer to the same incident.

There's not much detail about the suicide itself, but the phrase "instead of killing the farmer and marrying the widow" is an interesting one and may indicate there's more of a story here than meets the eye. Noentje only mentions that "an English girl is mourning." That covers a lot of ground.  Fortunately now I have a better date of the event than I had originally.

The item was located in the digital newspaper archive on the Quincy Public Library website. Locating it took a little doing, but was not all that difficult. The successful search was an advanced search that searched all newspapers in 1887 for the last name of Coffman (after Koffmann did not work). I was hoping that there would be a reference to the incident in the Quincy paper--at least enough of a reference to give me a date.

Now that I have an approximate date and a location, I'm going to check Carthage area newspapers for a more detailed mention of the incident. Given that the death took place in 1887 there probably is a death certificate on record at the county courthouse. And if the deceased was living near the German Lutheran Church south of Carthage (which the Ufkes family attended) there may be a mention of him in the church records.

There is no probate for a man with this last name in the 1887 and after era. But if he was working as a farmhand, a failure to locate one is not unusual.

We may have an update if more details are located.

Note:

Memory can be wrong. A relative asked me if I had located any information on this incident a few days ago. The answer was "no." In remembering the "barn death" I could have sworn the death was by hanging--both the letter and this newspaper account indicate the cause of death was a gunshot.
Newspapers may not be close. This newspaper account is in the county seat paper for the county south of the county where the event took place.