Matamoras Minute: Fourth of July tragedies

This week we take a look at the more tragic events of July 4th in Matamoras. The holiday seems to hold some degree of recklessness for the area. There are three years in particular that were especially evident of this inclination.

Early in the 1850s on the eve of the celebration a large crowd from the Matamoras/Grandview area gathered on the wharf in Grandview. They intended to fire salutes from a homemade cannon that would officially begin the Independence Day activities. Several firings were made and then a fuse failed to ignite the next explosion.

Dr. Drake, a young physician in Matamoras, stepped up to light the fuse again but this time using his burning cigar. The mighty explosion that followed tore his head completely from his body causing his instant death.

Apparently no one learned anything from this lesson because in 1856 another similar event occurred during that year’s holiday. William Ellis, Isaac Cline, Sylvester Martin, and Amos Ridgeway (who had only a few years earlier donated three acres to establish the Matamoras Cemetery) were in charge of a small swivel gun to be used once again in firing salutes. They, along with others, were on a hill overlooking the town to mark the day.

While firing away, Martin was caught by a premature discharge which tore off both of his arms. One of his thumbs was hurled with great force into the arm of Josephine Cline who stood but a short distance away. Martin endured his loss by rigging up some devices so that they served as artificial arms and hands. He later left Matamoras living until 1900.

On July 4, 1867, a half dozen or so residents of Ludlow, Ohio came to Grandview to make the day memorable for themselves. They succeeded in that goal. The group was rowdy, having a bit more “kick-a-poo” juice than was wise, and looking for a fight.

Grandview had its own saloon and it was there where a Grandview gang met the interlopers. A drunken fight followed. The leader of Ludlow’s band was struck over the head with a barrel stave followed by a blow from a club. He fell unconscious from the strikes and died a few hours later. The guilty party was bound over the court in the sum of $200 according to the “Marietta Register.”

It is said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its past. Let’s hope that lesson is not lost as we celebrate each Fourth of July.

John Miller is president of the Matamoras Area Historical Society. Membership dues are $15 per year single/couple. Life membership is $150. Contact the society at P.O. Box 1846, New Matamoras, Ohio 45767. Much of this column is built on the work of Matamoras’ historian, the late Diana McMahan.


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