March 24, 2019

In 1879 No One Died of Old Age

If one were to think that the Arizona 1880 Mortality Schedule for deaths in 1879 was as dry a source as the Arizona desert just prior to the monsoons—he’d be right! But when one extracts the data for Yavapai County, the way of death in 1879 paints a poignant picture of a most difficult way of life.

First a word about the source. It is a short book. The main body, the listing of deaths, doesn’t quite fill 4 pages. It was gleaned from the US Census and lists the deaths of anglos only with several Mexicans mixed in. The total number of Yavapai County deaths that year, 66, seems a small number to us today, but this is due to the small anglo population at that time.

The first, most noticeable fact is that no one in the county had old age listed as the cause of death. Two men, aged 70, were the oldest in the county to die, but they would have undoubtedly lived longer had not one, a miller, succumbed to a stomach abscess; or the other, a miner, contracted pneumonia (as did 3 other people that year.)

The highest cause of death at 12% was homicide; the vast majority by gunfire. Two victims were 49; three were 28; one was 23 and one was a teen-ager. All were males.

The second highest cause of death involved mining accidents and accounted for 9% of the total deaths in the county. Disturbingly, over 80% of these mining deaths occurred on two separate occasions at the Tiger mine.

The first occurred in September, 1879 when a tunnel collapsed. Three miners, aged 27 to 32, perished. On speaking of the incident the Weekly Arizona Miner wrote: “We are informed by a miner who lives in Bradshaw, that the recent accident in the Tiger mine, whereas 3 miners were killed was owing to bad management on the part of the company. The machinery is said to be defective.”

The second deadly mishap at the Tiger occurred in a mine blast in December. Three men set 5 blasts, charged them, and left the mine for the detonation. The blasts occurred simultaneously and the men thought they heard all five, but, alas, only 4 went-off. They had just re-entered the blast site when the fifth one exploded. One, 33, was killed instantly; another, 28, was severely wounded and soon perished, while the third and last in line was only slightly injured.

Another 2 miners, who thought themselves well-enough prepared, went into the desert alone to prospect and died from exposure. This raises the total of mining deaths to 7, just one shy of the homicide toll. 

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Despairingly, the highest cause of death for women was childbirth. Out of the 10 women of childbearing age who died, HALF of them did so giving birth! All together, 17 females passed away that year; the oldest was only 46.

Nearly 8% of all the deaths were caused by brain maladies. “Brain congestion,” “brain fever,” and “brain inflammation,” took 5 lives. “Consumption,” (tuberculosis,) took another 5 souls. “Dropsy,” (fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body,) was symptomatic of liver or kidney disease and the cause of 3 deaths.

It also was also difficult to be a kid back then. One out of seven of all who perished in 1879 died under the age of 9 with seven of these ten deaths occurring to babies under 1 year old. Common diseases that are curable today were the primary cause.

Drowning, syphilis, malnutrition (called "marasmus,") and “unknown causes” took two lives each. Two soldiers from Ft. Whipple died; one from exposure and the other was the only suicide that year.

But perhaps the dubious award for living life the fastest should go to Miss B. Pennypacker. The 28 year-old’s career was officially coded as “prostitute” and her cause of death was listed as “whiskey.”

As grim as the study of the way of death can be, it still offers valuable insights into that day’s difficult way of life.

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“Arizona 1880 Mortality Schedule” Accelerated Indexing Systems, Inc., Bountiful UT, © 1980.
(Courtesy Micheal Spencer)

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