Buggy ride along plank road would be John Christian’s last
This segment of the 1885 Sanborn fire prevention map for Hannibal, Mo., represents the locations of the Marion House, where John Christian’s final journey began in April 1875. At right is the West School, which was located on Market Street at the time of Mr. Christian’s fateful journey. Note toward the middle of the photo, is am image for the Market Street Fire Station, which wasn’t constructed until post 1885. The Marion House was located just to the west of what is now Carpetbaggers Antiques, operated by Ray Delaporte, 1408 Market Street. This building is the last remaining structure of the original interior Wedge buildings. Image acquired from the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
German-born Margarethe Sophie Loschler Christian, 53, lived with her sons and young daughter on the north side of Market Street, next door to the Marion House, during the final year of the 1850s. Her husband, Johann Jacob Christian, succumbed to apoplexy at a young age, leaving the widow to fend for herself and her four children, John, Henry, William and Margaret.
The Marion House served as a key landmark on Hannibal’s west end for many years, beginning before the Civil War and continuing well into the 20th Century. The two and a half-story brick boarding house, as it was, featured 13 guest rooms and was located on the north side of Market. Just to the west was the start of the plank road, and an associated toll booth.
A fateful journey
It was at this precise location, 16 years later (in April 1875) where Margaret’s son, John - now married with six children of his own - would begin a three-mile fateful journey.
His horse-drawn wagon loaded with supplies purchased in town, 42-year-old John Christian, now a farmer of near Hydesburg, Mo., prepared, during this mid-April Saturday afternoon in 1875, to follow the familiar and well traveled path of the Hannibal to Paris Plank Road.
Both the horses and Mr. Christian were well acquainted with the route, which began near the Marion House - in 1875 owned by Detrick Foss - and proceeding west along the Marion/Ralls county line toward Hydesburg, and beyond.
Mr. Christian, considered by his neighbors to be clever, good hearted and honorable, had taken this same route - only in reverse - that morning, in order to buy groceries his wife needed to feed their children.
Driving a wagon pulled by two horses, he first stopped nearby the Marion House, where Albert Russ, 40, operated a drug store across the street.
After chatting with Mr. Russ, John Christian made two purchases; first a bottle of muriatic acid - also known as hydrochloric acid. His other purchase was what was known at the time as “chill medicine.”
His next point of business was to stop at the toll both, nearby where he lived as a youth. He conversed for a few moments with the toll collector and paid his just debt for the privilege of traversing upon the plank roadway.
Along the route he would pass the West School, located at Pearl and Houston; John L. Schnizlein’s soap and candle factory on the south side of the plank road; Bear Creek, which ran parallel to the road for a time; and the Stockyards Hotel, under construction at Stringtown.
At Stringtown (later known as Oakwood), Mr. Christian stopped and visited with Arch Hawkins, and just beyond Stringtown, he met Mr. Jackson at the next toll gate.
The sun was about to set, but Mr. Christian kept on his way toward home. About a mile and a half west of Stringtown, Temple Davis, a 60-year-old a prominent Clay Township farmer, found Mr. Christian lying in the bottom of the wagon bed, apparently stupefied, and his horses standing still in the road.
Mr. Davis spoke to Mr. Christian, who opened his eyes and muttered something unintelligible. Believing that Mr. Christian was very intoxicated, Mr. Davis walked the horses to the fence row and left the driver to sleep off his condition.
The next person who passed was Abraham Wilton, a 33-year-old neighboring farmer. He examined Mr. Christian and believed him to be dead. He sought the assistance of Preston Bird, 63, a Ralls County bachelor farmer, and the two determined that Mr. Christian was, indeed, deceased.
Mr. Christian’s body was taken to his home, where a coroner’s cry, under the direction of Squire Daniel Buckles West, was conducted at 2 a.m.
Was it foul play? Mr. Christian’s younger brother, Henry, while working as a United States detective, had been murdered in St. Louis a few years prior. A neighboring physician examined John Christian’s body but no found marks of violence.
Was it poison? Did Mr. Christian accidentally or otherwise swallow the poison purchased from Albert Russ? The coroner’s jury determined that there was no indication that either bottle had been opened. Mr. Christian’s son testified that the poison was likely intended for a farm horse suffering with the fistula.
Was he, indeed, drunk? No evidence was found to support that notion.
The Hannibal Clipper newspaper of April 26, 1875, reported: “After hearing all the evidence and in accordance with the opinion of the physician who made the examination, the coroner’s jury rendered a verdict that the death of the deceased was the result of an apoplectic fit. Mr. Christian’s father died with apoplexy, being taken in the harvest field and expiring in an hour.”
Margarethe Sophie Loschler Christian, born May 17, 1805 in Germany. She died Dec. 2, 1860, at the age of 55, and is buried in Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery.
John Christian, 1833-1875, is buried at Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery near his mother.
Henry Christian was born circa 1836, and died Nov. 16, 1872, in St. Louis.
William Christian, 1839-1920, is buried at Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery near his mother.
Margaret Christian Jones, born circa 1841 in Ohio, was married to John E. Jones of Hannibal in 1866. She died in 1910. They are buried at New Providence Presbyterian Cemetery, Marion County, Mo.
Apoplexy is rupture of an internal organ and the accompanying symptoms. The term formerly referred to what is now called a stroke.
Fistula is an abnormal connection between two hollow spaces (technically, two epithelialized surfaces), such as blood vessels, intestines, or other hollow organs.
This advertisement for Schnizlein soap and candles is from the 1875 Hannibal City Directory, acquired from the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site.
This 1903 photo of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad’s covered bridge over Bear Creek is fairly typical of the scene John Christian would have witnessed in 1875, when he drove his two-horse wagon west from Hannibal to near Hydesburg, Mo. Photo from Archie Hayden’s collection.