Sometimes, when you look back in the history of a family, you come across a number of events that by themselves are devastating enough, but when they are put in the context of the entire history of that family, they can leave you wondering just how much one family can take. While visiting with my aunt, Sandy Pattan a week ago, she told me about a tragedy that I had heard a little bit about before, but really had no details as to who was involved. Now, with a name to put in the story, I set out to find out the exact details. I did find those details, and much more. Enough, in fact to leave me in complete shock.
It seems that when my great grandmother, Estella Shaw Pattan was a girl, she survived a tornado that took the life of her little sister. The circumstances were horrible to imagine, because Estella, or Stella as she was called, was doing everything she could do to save her little sister. People just didn’t know what they needed to do in a tornado. Stella was tightly holding her little sister, Ella Shaw who was just six weeks old, when the tornado ripped her out of her big sister’s arms. Ella would not survive, nor unfortunately, would her older sister, Bertha Delilah Shaw, who was just nine years old at the time of her death. During that same event, their grandfather, Angeloah Shaw was missing for a time. He was found however, and he would live until 1914. These two deaths were devastating enough, but they were not the only tragedy to visit the family of John B Shaw and his wife Harriet Emma Baker Shaw. In fact, at the time of the June 4, 1890 tornado that ripped through the area, the family was already trying to recover from a prior loss.
In late 1889, Diphtheria struck the Shaw family. While vaccinations used today prevent most cases of Diphtheria, these weren’t available in days gone by, and so contracting Diphtheria could have been a death sentence, and often was. In late 1889, the John B Shaw family faced a nightmare situation, and they tried to take care of it in the best way they knew how. Unfortunately, for Ethel Ada and Myrtle Shaw, as well as many other people who contracted Diphtheria, it was not enough. Myrtle passed away on November 7, 1889 at just one year five months, and Ethel passed away on December 7, 1889 at four years nine months. These deaths would bring to a total of six the loses in the Shaw family, and four in just seven months.
Yes, I did say, six. In 1878, the family faced their first of four tragedies, and the first of a total of seven children who would die at a very young age. The first child to die of Diphtheritic Croup, was little Mabel Mary Shaw, who was nicknamed May. May died on April 15, 1878 at just three years five months. Diphtheritic Croup is a diphtheritic inflammation of the larynx. Also called laryngeal diphtheria. Basically it is a bacterial infection that causes swelling in the throat. If immediate action is not taken, the child will suffocate quickly. For the parents, it would be the most helpless feeling. To add to their devastation, their son John Shaw Jr would succumb to Diphtheritic Croup the very next day, April 16, 1878. John was just four years and 5 days old.
With all the deaths that hit John and Harriet between 1878 and 1890, death was still not quite done with them. While not much is known about the death of Edna Shaw, who passed away at three months eighteen days, on September 29, 1894, my guess is either sudden infant death syndrome, or another case of Diphtheritic Croup. When Aunt Sandy told me of the tragic loss of Great Grandma Stella Shaw Pattan’s little sister in the tornado, I had no idea that my research would uncover such a tragic set of circumstances. All I can say is that this family had to have been very strong, because in addition to the seven children they lost, John and Harriet raised five more, my great grandmother, Stella, as well as, Maggie, Albert, Elsie, and Orvil to adulthood.