The mysterious death of Hattie (Eddy) Askew

Detail of obit headlineThe death of my great-great-grandmother Harriet S. “Hattie” (Eddy) Askew, young wife of Wilfred L. Askew, was a bit of a mystery at the time she died, and it’s been a big mystery to me for years, given that the evidence I had (mainly family stories until recently) was scant and often contradictory. I had reported in previous posts (here and here) that Hattie died of pneumonia while on a trip to Cripple Creek, Colorado, and that she was buried in Cripple Creek. I had also heard that she died on a train while travelling between Cripple Creek and Wadena, Minnesota. More recently, I heard another version, that “Hattie’s death was in childbirth, the baby died too. It was in a snowstorm and they could not get the doctor there in time.”

Why all the confusion? For one thing, her children were young when she died—only 1 ¾ years old (Lucille), nearly 9 years old (Manfred), and 12 ¾ years old (Clyde) when she died. After their mother’s death, all three of the children were also sent to Washington state to live with their aunt Mattie and her husband Addison Stewart, making it less likely, perhaps, for them to hear about the circumstances of her death.

Adding to the confusion, Hattie’s death was originally mis-reported in the local papers and word of mouth. According to an obituary printed four days later in Wadena (reproduced below), a member of the Askew family in Casselton (Cass County), North Dakota, telephoned a family member in Wadena, MN, late on Sunday night, February 14 (she passed away at 11:00pm, so the call was after then), and told them that Hattie Askew had died. The person on the Wadena end of the telephone apparently mistakenly heard that it was Lettie Askew who had died, not Hattie Askew. Lettie Askew was Hattie’s sister-in-law, the wife of Wilfred Askew’s older brother William Askew.

For nearly a full day, the Askew family in Wadena and their friends mourned Lettie’s death instead of Hattie’s death. According to the later obituary, “this report was not contradicted until late Monday evening.” According to this same obituary, “it was only when directions concerning the location of the grave in the family lot in the Wadena cemetery, were given, that the error was suspected and the true facts became known.”

Hattie’s mother-in-law, Jane Askew, and her sister-in-law, Henrietta (Askew) McDonald, left for Casselton on Monday evening to be with the grieving family. Hattie’s remains were returned to Wadena sometime that week, as her funeral was held on Saturday, February 20, 1909, at the home of William and Edie (Askew) King. Hattie was buried in the Askew family plot in the public cemetery in Wadena.

There are still many unanswered details about Hattie’s death and contributing illness, but at least some of the specifics are beginning to come into focus. Her death is not recorded in North Dakota’s Public Death Index, but I’ll contact the ND Department of Health’s Division of Vital Records to see if I can get a copy of her death certificate. Adding a bit more mystery is the fact that the ND Public Death Index does have a record of an unnamed Eddy baby girl who died in Cass county on the day of her birth on March 16, 1909, one month after Hattie’s death. Is this just a coincidence, or did one of Hattie’s relations come to help take care of Hattie and Wilfred’s young children in Casselton, only to lose her own baby girl a month later? If the latter, perhaps this was Mattie (Eddy) Stewart, who later took the three Askew children into her family and home in Pierce County, Washington? So much more to learn!

Obituary from the Wadena Pioneer Journal, February 18, 1909:

1909 Hattie Eddy Askew obit part 1 1909 Hattie Eddy Askew obit part 2

Obituary from The Menahga Journal, February 19, 1909:


Passed Away at her Home Near Caselton, N.D., Sunday Night

Mrs. Wilfred L. Askew passed away at 11 o’clock Sunday night at her home near Casselton, N.D., of heart failure, following an illness of a week.

Mrs. Askew is well known to the older residents here having at one time lived here. She was married about 13 years ago and is survived by a father, sister, husband and three small children. The remains will be brot to Wadena where the funeral will be held tomorrow afternoon.

The news was received here Monday morning and Mrs. McDonald left for Casselton that day. It was at first reported that it was Mrs. W.H. Askew who had passed away, the mistake being made in telephoning.

Hattie’s headstone in the Askew plot of the Wadena public cemetery:

Hattie S. Askew, 1876-1909

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