We Were Here

Bigham and Benway
Unknown publication date
by Konrad Stump, contributing writer to The Logan Daily News

In each of our family histories, there are stories we have heard that stick with us, a lot of the time because they involve something that isn’t quite explained or understood. Sometimes they are mentioned in passing, and sometimes the stories are known but there are elements that have been told incorrectly. The descendants of Joseph Bigham and Oliver Benway may know something of the story of their deaths, but we’d all like an account of the stories that have been passed down in pieces.
It was Wednesday, July 24, 1895. It was about 9 a.m. At his home in the northwestern part of Laurel Township, near Cantwell Cliffs, Joseph Bigham had been digging a well. He was preparing to build a new house, having made the excavation for the cellar and starting work on this well. He was being assisted but his brother-in-law, Oliver Benway. The evening before, they fired a blast in the well in order to get fire to burn in it, but it didn’t do any good. They left the house about seven o’clock on Wednesday morning to work on the well. Joseph went down in the well, but was overcome by carbonic acid gas, which at the time was commonly called well damp. He called to Oliver to pull him up, but was too affected by the gas to hold the rope. Oliver called out for help. Mary Yantes, who was staying with the Bighams at the time, and Joseph’s wife Anna, came to assist. Oliver lowered himself into the well, fanning Joseph for a few minutes in an attempt to revive him, but soon felt himself being overcome by the gas. He called for the women to pull him up; they were able to get him up about 16 to 17 feet, but he was so overcome by the gas he fell back to the bottom of the well, which at the time was about 35 feet deep.
Mary ran to the nearest neighbors about a half-mile away, and a group of men came back with her to assist. Dan Kline went down in the well to retrieve the men, but only got about half way before the gas overcame him and he needed to be pulled out. They pumped air into the well by means of a windmill and sheet, and a burning sheaf of wheat was lowered into it. Dan went back down in the bucket, tied a rope around the bodies of Joseph and Oliver, and brought them up. They had been dead for some time, it having been over an hour since Oliver first called for help. Oliver’s head was badly cut from when he’d fallen back into the well.
The funerals took place at Mt. Pisgah, with the Rev. Mather officiating. Mather’s sermon was delivered outside, as the people who’d come to attend the funerals couldn’t fit in the church. People who were there guessed the attendees numbered around one thousand.
Here is what I can tell you of their lives. Joseph was born on May 11, 1863, in Hocking County to Isaac and Mary (Delong) Bigham. He grew up in Laurel Township, and his father worked as a farmer. On Apr 3, 1886, he married Louisa Anna Hendrickson, daughter of George and Mary (Leisure) Hendrickson. Together they had four children: Samuel Edison, Metta (who died as an infant), Alvah Medred, and Goldie Theresa. Joseph’s wife, Anna, remarried to Samuel Lutz on Oct. 6, 1898, and the children surely lived with them along with Samuel’s daughter from a previous marriage. However, on Jan. 14, 1899, Anna passed away. Though we can’t be sure of a reason, Joseph and Anna’s children were spread out by the 1900 federal census. Samuel went to live with Anna’s brother, Frank. Alvah went to live with Salem and Samantha Shoemaker, and worked as a servant. Goldie went to live with two of Anna’s sisters, Mary and Lavina.
Oliver Benway was born in Canada on Dec. 20, 1861. By 1880, he was living in Antrim County, Michigan, with his brother William. Their father had passed away, but their mother, Louisa, was living with them. On Oct. 27, 1884, Oliver married Elizabeth Della Bigham in Michigan. According to his obituary, Louisa lost her life in a fire not long after his marriage, and Oliver and Elizabeth moved back to Hocking County. The time of this can gauged by the births of Oliver and Elizabeth’s children. They had four daughters together: Lydia, Lauretta, Minnie, and Nettie. Minnie was born in Michigan in 1892, and Nettie was born in Good Hope Township in 1894, making the move probably in 1893 or early 1894. After Oliver’s death, Elizabeth remarried to Andrew Roop, on Apr. 22, 1897, in Hocking County. Andrew adopted Elizabeth’s four daughters, and he and Elizabeth had four sons of their own. The last of these sons was named Oliver.
Reprinted here with the permission of the author, Konrad Stump.

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