George W. Fenton of Saline County, Kansas, was a young father of three when he was accidentally shot and killed by his brother-in-law on 9 October 1880.1
George, the American-born son of English immigrants, was raised in Ohio and Illinois and was orphaned around the age of ten. He ventured to Kansas as a young man, no doubt seeking opportunity and adventure on this new frontier. In 1873, at the age of twenty-two, George married Sarah Ellen Hall, who was barely sixteen, though she claimed to be a year older.2 They settled near her mother and siblings by Gypsum Creek in Saline County, Kansas, and it was there that they raised three daughters: Minnie Bell, Alpha Doretta, and Anna Leota Fenton.3
The tenth of October 1880 was a Saturday. Farm chores were put aside for the afternoon, as George, Sarah, and their young daughters gathered at Sarah’s mother’s home with a crowd of neighbors and kin. Perhaps they were celebrating a successful harvest, or perhaps it was simply a good time to enjoy the early autumn weather, to catch up, and to let the children play.
Also in attendance that afternoon was Sarah’s elder brother, Elithan Davis “Bud” Hall, who fell between Sarah and George in age, and no doubt thought well of George as he, as Sarah’s oldest living male relative, had granted permission for their marriage seven years before.4 He and George were talking of hunting when he reached for the double-barreled shotgun behind the door, teasing his nieces Bell, six, and Alpha, four, that he was going to shoot their dog. His niece Leota, at seven months old, was still too young to play along, as was Bud’s own daughter, Gracie, just over a year.5 As Bud raised his shotgun in jest, however, presuming it to be unloaded, it discharged – sending a bullet straight above George’s heart.6
George was mortally wounded, and lived only an hour more on that fateful October afternoon. His death was ruled purely accidental at the inquest held two days later, when five witnesses testified in front of a jury. The Salina Herald headlined the incident as a “Sad Accident,” and added, “The thing to be condemned [is] the careless handling of firearms.”6 The Journal (Salina), detailed, “Hall is nearly distracted over the result of his carelessness. The brothers-in-law were the best of friends – no trouble ever having occurred between them.” The frequency of such accidents was noted with sorrow, and it was questioned, “Will people never learn better?”7
George W. Fenton was buried at McQuary’s Graveyard on Gypsum Creek.8
1 Saline County, Kansas, Coroner’s Records, “Fenton, George,” filed 10 October 1880; database, Smoky Valley Genealogical Society, “Saline County, Kansas Coroner’s Records” (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~kssvgs/ : accessed 18 September 2013).
2 Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage, 11 June 1873; digital images, FamilySearch, “Kansas, County Marriages, 1855-1911,” (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 18 September 2013).
3 1880 U.S. census, Saline County, Kansas, population schedule, Eureka Township, enumeration district (ED) 300, p. 204 (stamped), dwelling 102, family 110, George W. Fenton; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 396.
4 Saline County, Kansas, “Marriage Affidavits, 1873-1879,” p. 43-44, George W. Fenton and Sarah Hall marriage (1873).
5 1880 U.S. census, Saline County, Kansas, population schedule, Gypsum Township, enumeration district (ED) 300, p. 12 (handwritten), dwelling 82, family 90, Elithan D. Hall; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 September 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T9, roll 396.
6 “Sad Accident,” The Salina Herald (Salina, Kansas), 16 October 1880, copy of newspaper clipping privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
7 “A Sad Accident, The Journal (Salina, Kansas), 14 October 1880, copy of newspaper clipping privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
8 “Sad Accident,” The Salina Herald (Salina, Kansas), 16 October 1880.