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October 16, 2018

1892 The Most Unusual Death of State Sen. Samuel P. Sparks - Accidental Suicide

Research and writing from Peggy Nuckles, featured contributor! Peggy has had the very interesting Accidental History blog.
There is a street in Warrensburg, Missouri named Sparks Avenue in honor of Samuel P. Sparks, a lawyer, state senator and prominent citizen back in the 1800s. But it is not so much his life, but his unusual death for which he is best remembered. 
On the 14th of May 1892, Sam Sparks bought an Accidental Death Insurance Policy from the National Masonic Accident Association. One night, shortly thereafter, the 48-year-old lawyer got up in the middle of the night, tripped in the darkness and fell face first onto a heating grate in the floor. A sharp piece of metal sticking up from the grate punctured his eye.

Soon infection set in behind his eye and went to his brain, driving him insane. He lingered for several months in this state before taking his own life on Sept. 16, 1892. According to a local newspaper, "...the Senator had been drinking heavily for several days. He laid down on the floor in his night clothes, and, after asking his wife to pray for him, deliberately cut his throat from ear to ear, half severing..." (the rest is unreadable.) His widow, Nannie, tried to collect on the policy, but was told that Sparks didn't die from the accident - he committed suicide.

Nannie took National Masonic to court several times before a sympathetic federal judge ruled that, "his death was the result of a bodily injury, which was effected through external, violent and ACCIDENTAL means..., to wit: the result of a deep gash cut in his throat, with a razor, in his own hands, while he, the said Samuel P. Sparks was insane, mentally deranged and wholly incapable of forming any mental design..."
So it was an accident.

Source: The Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, 20 Sept. 1892 and The Federal Reporter - Vol 79 page 278 and 279.

Here's a little write-up about his first wife Mira.

Close to the entrance of Sunset Hill Cemetery stands a tall, imposing tombstone that tells a story of two young lives that ended much too soon. 

Mira Curtis was the 20-year-old daughter of the Sheriff of Henry county when she married 27-year-old Samuel P. Sparks, the clerk of the neighboring Johnson County on April 6, 1871. 

Nine months and 13 days later she was dead. A small tombstone inches away from hers give evidence of the reason for her death. (Died birthing a child)

A few words and some random letters are visible on the baby's stone, but if the child has a name it is known now only to God. When the main monument was put up, the grieving young husband meant for it to stand forever as evidence of his love for her, but every one's enemy, time, is eroding this neglected structure. Soon all earthly evidence of this story of love, hope, and loss will be gone.

I can't remember where on the Internet I found this biography:


Samuel P. entered Chapel Hill college where he continued about one year when the war broke out, and he enlisted in the 5th Missouri cavalry, commanded by Col. Sigel, and served three years, afterwards on a non-commissioned regimental staff, and was in many hotly contested battles, in the Price raid of 1864. He was mustered out of service in May, 1865, and returned home and taught a term of school. In the following fall entered McKendre college, Lebanon, Ill., where he continued to pursue his studies for five years and graduated in the full college classical course in June, 1870. He then returned home and in the fall of the same year was elected to the office of county clerk of Johnson county. In 1874 he entered The St. Louis Law School and graduated in the spring of 1875. Returning home he commenced the practice of law and soon gained the reputation as a trustworthy lawyer. Mr. Sparks’ second marriage occurred April 8, 1874, to Miss Nannie R. Cunningham, daughter of Capt. Anderson Cunningham Little Rock Ark. Mr. Sparks owns a handsome suburban brick residence just north of the city limits. He and his family the attend Episcopal church, where his wife is a leading member. In politics he is a true democrat. In business he is prompt and attentive and among his friends, social, kind and benevolent.

Samuel Preston Sparks, 1870, Co.B, 5th Mo. Vol.I nf., University of Missouri

Samuel Preston Sparks, born January 1, 1844, In Surry County, North Carolina, and died in Warrensburg, Missouri, on September 16, 1892,
SAMUEL PRESTON SPARKS,  son of William W. and Lucretia C. (Pryor) Sparks, was born on January 1, 1844, in Surry County, North Carolina. He married (1st) Myra Curtis on April 6, 1871, in Henry County, Missouri, and (2nd) Nannie Rebecca Cunningham on April 8, 1874, at Little Rock, Arkansas. He served in Companies B and H, 5th Regiment Missouri State Militia Cavalry. He died on September 16, 1892. File Designation: Wid. Cert. No. 397,351.
 On December 5, 1892, Nannie R. Sparks, aged 38, a resident of Warrensburg, Missouri, made a declaration for a Widow's Pension under the provisions of the 1890 Act of Congress. She said she was a widow of Samuel Preston Sparks who had enlisted on March 15, 1862, at Lexington, Missouri, as a private in Company H, 5th Regiment Missouri State Militia and had served until he was mustered out with his company on May 13, 1865. He died on September 16, 1892. She was married to Sparks on April 8, 1874, at Little Rock, Arkansas, by the Rev. Thos. B. Lee. Sparks had been previously married to Myra Curtis on April 6, 1871, but she had died on January 19, 1872. The only child of Samuel Sparks under the age of sixteen was Bayard P. Sparks who was born on December 16, 1889. Mrs. Sparks appointed S. J. Burnett of Warrensburg, Missouri, as her attorney, and the declaration was sworn to before W. S. Hornbuckle and J. W. McFarland.
A week later, Dr. Francis C. Smith, M.D., made an affidavit that he was the attending physician when Bayard Sparks, son of Samuel P. Sparks, was born on December 16, 1889. Shortly thereafter, Henry Neill, aged 65, and O.D. Williams, aged 67, both residents of Warrensburg, Missouri, swore that they had known Nannie R. Sparks for over twenty years and that she had been married only one time and that was to Samuel P. Sparks. She and Sparks had lived together as man and wife until his death on September 16, 1892.
William E. Crissey, aged 53, of Warrensburg, Missouri, made an affidavit on behalf of the application of Nannie R. Sparks on April 6, 1893. He said that he was an abstractor of titles, a notary public, and a general loan agent. During the past 25 years, he had been intimately acquainted with Samuel P. Sparks. He knew Sparks's first wife, Myra Curtis, who had died some years ago and whose body was interred in the Warrensburg Cemetery. He also knew Nannie R. Sparks, now the widow of Samuel P. Sparks. Nannie now owned a tract of land 100 by 300 feet with a dwelling, her home, worth about $3,000, but which had an encumbrance of about $1,500. She had no income and was dependent upon her own labor. Since the death of her husband, she had not remarried or had she abandoned the support of her child.
Two days later, the Recorder of Johnson County, Missouri, John C. Rivers, certified that there was a record in his office of the marriage of Sam'l. P. Sparks, of Warrensburg, Missouri, and Miss Myra Curtis of Henry County, Missouri, on April 6, 1871. They had been married by the Rev. J. S. Newcomb, Pastor of the M.E. Church. A short time later, the assistant rector of Christ Church, South, Little Rock, Arkansas, certified that, according to the rites of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, Samuel Preston Sparks and Nannie Rebecca Cunningham had been married in his church on April 8, 1874.
On the same day, Green B. Lannom, aged 67, a resident of Warrensburg, testified that he was the sexton of the Warrensburg Cemetery at the time of the death of Myra, first wife of Samuel P. Sparks, and that he was present and assisted at her burial. He said that the inscription on the marble stone which marked her grave read as follows: "Sacred to the memory of Mira, dearly beloved wife of Samuel P. Sparks, died Jan. 19, 1872, aged 31 years 4 months."
In the meantime, on August 31, 1893, the War Department had sent the Commissioner of Pensions the military and medical history of Samuel P. Sparks. He had been enrolled as a private on March 15, 1862, in Company B, 13th Regiment Missouri State Militia Cavalry and was transferred (through reorganization to Company B, 5th Regiment Missouri State Militia. He was mustered out with his detachment on April 27, 1865. At the time of his enlistment, he had been 19 years of age; he was 5 ft. 9 in. tall; he had a dark complexion, black eyes and black hair; he had been born in Surry County, North Carolina; and he was a farmer. He was present for duty with the following exceptions: August 24, 1862, on scout; December 31, 1863 to February 28, 1865, detailed as a hospital steward at Waynes ville, Missouri; June 11, 1862, hospitalized with scabies; April 1, 1865, hospitalized for bronchitus ; April 16, 1865, to May 5, 1865, "int. fever."

Widow Certificate No. 397,351 was issued to Nannie R. Sparks, and she was placed upon the pension roll.

On January 16, 1929, Nannie R. Sparks wrote the following letter to the Commissioner of Pensions: "This coming April 1929, I will be 75 years old, God willing. Born April 30, 1854. Married to Samuel P. Sparks April 8, 1874. Samuel P. Sparks died September 16, 1892. This is the Bible record. My pension voucher was made out so many years ago, I don't know how correct it is. Does this not entitle me to an increase in pension next April? I'm now receiving $30 per month. [signed] Nannie R. Sparks, 761 W. 180th St., Apt. 68, New York City."
The last document (in chronological order) from the "selected papers" in the pension file for Nannie R. Sparks provided by the National Archives is a memorandum dated June 6, 1936, authorizing the suspension of her pension payments of $40 per month, pending the verification of her death which apparently occurred prior to April 30, 1936.
[Editor's Note: A biographical sketch of the life of Samuel P. Sparks appears on pp. 732-33 of THE HISTORY OF JOHNSON COUNTY, MISSOURI, published in Kansas City in 1881, and describes him as "prominent in the legal profession." His father was William W. Sparks who had come to Missouri in 1844 from Surry County, North Carolina. He was a farmer; he died on February 16, 1876. Because only children under 16 could benefit from a Civil War pension, only Bayard P. Sparks was mentioned in this application as a child of Samuel P. Sparks. From other sources, it is known that he and his second wife, Nannie Rebecca, also had three other children: Leonard F. Sparks, born about 1875; Russell C. Sparks, born about 1878; and Mary V. Sparks. Samuel Preston Sparks was a grandson of Joel Sparks, Sr. who had served in the War of 1812 from Surry County, North Carolina. As a resident of Bates County, Missouri, in 1855, Joel Sparks, Sr. had applied for bounty land based on his service in the War of 1812. (See the QUARTERLY of September 1961, Vol. XI, Whole No. 35, pp. 579-580 for the papers supporting Joel's application.) A correction should be noted, however, in the editor's note on page 580. While the name of Joel's father was given correctly as Matthew, his grandfather's name was given incorrectly as William Sample Sparks. This should have been simply William Sparks. William Sparks was born about 1728 in Queen Annes County, Maryland, married a woman named Ann -----, moved to Frederick County, Maryland in the late 1840s, then to North Carolina in 1764, and died in Surry County, North Carolina, in the spring of 1802. It was William Sparks's father who was named William Sample Sparks.]

Additional papers citing details about Nannie Sparks acting as administratrix of her late husbands estate. The papers range from 1890 to 1899 during which time she had to submit an annual account of how she spent the money including paying herself a salary from the estate. She had to obtain permission to sell the Sparks law library for $25.oo. She also had to pay the probate court an annual fee for watching over her.

1890 Sam Sparks borrowed $300 and used his life insurance policy as collateral.

Nannie Sparks is appointed administratrix of her husband's estate.

The N.Y. Life insurance policy pays off.

Court appointed W.W. Hook, F.B. Fulkerson, and Charles E. Morrow to appraise Spark's estate.

Note that the appraisers valued his office furniture and law library as worth $1041.00. They also valued his NY Life Insurance policy at $2,000.

 Later, Nannie asked, and got, permission to sell the library for the best offer she had, $25.00.

Below John Adams petitioned the court to order Nannie Sparks to turn over a deed for some land that Sam Sparks sold but never delivered.

John Adams won his suit and Nannie was ordered to turn over the land unless John Adams turned out to be an infant, a married woman, a person of unsound mind, or a person living outside of the United States, in which case the contract was null and void.



The following is undated
Nannie E. Sparks, administratrix of the estate of Samuel P. Sparks, deceased, will take notice that it shall (unreadable) for allowance at the next term of the Probate Court of Johnson County to be (unreadable) at the court house at said county on the 2nd Monday of December next and on the first day thereof or on some thereafter as it can be heard, a demand against said estate (forwarded?) on a note of which the following is a copy:

(Unreadable) Mon. August 1st, 1887, I promise to pay to N. A. Chiny on order, one hundred and forty dollars for (unreadable) said (unreadable) Johnson County Savings Bank at Warrensburg with interest from (unreadable) at the rate of (unreadable) per annum and if this (unreadable) be not paid (rest is unreadable.)

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