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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

And a Can of Pineapple. . .

Per a request from a Civil War researcher with the Martin County Indiana Historical Society, John King was tasked with tracking down William B Smith, a Lawrence County resident who had somehow ended up dead in Loogootee, Indiana in 1899. And in true John King fashion, the resulting story was quite interesting.

W B Smith, better known as “Fiddler Bill”, was 63 years old in 1899 and a fiddler from “way back”. He attended the fiddlers contest in Vincennes that year and came home loaded down with the following prizes: a sack of flour, a buck saw, an ax, a box of cigars and a can of pineapple. (John did not ascertain if the can of pineapple was a “first” prize or a consolation prize, but it makes no difference to the story. . . )

During the Civil War, W. B. had served in the 65th Indiana Infantry and was living in Lawrence County when he married, Mrs. Ann Davis Montgomery November 11, 1888. This was his third marriage. (The number of his marriages is also incidental to the story but John leaves no stone unturned. . .)

Returning to this man’s death, one version of the accident was described in the Lawrenceville Republican November 17, 1899. W B left for Loogootee and Shoals to look after some business interests, stopping off at Loogootee to visit friends, and then took the freight train to Shoals. He told his friends that he would walk back that evening as there was no (passenger) train. He walked about five miles on his return trip when he became tired and sat down on the track presumably to rest. Unfortunately, he fell asleep and when the fast No 2 B&O mail train came along, he did not wake up. The train struck him, breaking one leg and badly bruising him. He lived about 15 minutes.

Some workmen about a quarter of a mile away tried to waken him as the train approached but could not do so. The body was taken to Loogootee and identified. The coroner inquired into the manner of death and found it as above described.

But leaving no stone unturned, John found another version of the accident as printed in the Lawrence County News the day before, and it is slightly different. W B had gone to Loogootee to see some friends but not finding them there, he went on to Shoals. He started to walk back to Loogootee and about a mile from there he sat down on a trestle. While sitting there the fast No. 1 mail train struck him, knocked him off the track and to the ground about 20 feet below. Some section men who were working a half mile away ran to him but he never spoke and lived about 15 minutes.

Only John King could identify the correct man with the last name of Smith 125 years ago, and also find conflicting stories of the man’s death. We hope the researcher in Martin County was impressed.

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