Excerpts from The Defiance Democrat Newspaper
Defiance Democrat, April 29, 1880
A Whole Family Drowned by the Accidental Overturning of a Skiff
Probably the most fatal accident known in the history of Defiance occurred last Friday shortly after two o'clock in the Auglaize just above the Baltimore & Ohio railroad bridge by which Fredrick HILLMAN, a German laborer, residing on the corner of Third and Summit streets in East Defiance, his wife Amanda and his two children found a watery grave by accidentally overturning their boat. Hillman had undoubtedly set out with his family for the purpose of fishing, thus the fishing tackle found in his boat after the accident clearly shown, but in selecting a boat, he chose one which was entirely too small for the load. The boat is scarcely twelve feet long, very little more than two feet wide and is in poor condition. In this miserable shell, the family is supposed to have set out about at Third street and then they rowed upstream under difficulties undoubtedly, for witnesses state that the edge of the boat was nearly on a level with the water and the waves were running high, owing to a strong wind. Yet they succeeded in rowing about the distance of four blocks before the accident happened which terminated so suddenly four young lives.
So many versions have been given of the manner in which the accident took place that in order to give the exact facts, we publish the evidence which was given before the Coroner by eye witnesses: J. P. STORCK and L. S. STORCK, two young men from Highland township, who were on the bridge at the time of the accident testified as follows:
"On the 22nd day of April 1886, we were in the city of Defiance and about 10:15 a.m. sun time, we saw Frederick HILLMAN, his wife, and two children in a small boat on the Auglaize river near the B & O railroad bridge. They were rowing upstream, the boat being sunk pretty well - about level with the water. Mrs. Hillman made an effort to get up, the boat tipped and all four of its occupants were thrown into the river. Mrs. Hillman and the two children immediately sunk, the two children not coming to the surface again. Mr. Hillman rose to the surface once and then sank out of sight. Mrs. Hillman did not sink at once, but remained above the water until after the others had sunk and until a gentleman whose name we do not know approached her in a boat. But before this gentleman reached her, she sank and did not rise again."
Oscar O. STONER, a laborer in the Turnbull Wagon Works, was near the scene of the accident and made a futile attempt to save Mrs. Hillman. His story before the coroner was told in the following words: "On the 22nd of April, a little after 10:15 a.m. sun time, I was in the yard at the east end of the B & O railroad bridge across the Auglaize river. At about that time I heard screams coming from somebody on the river. Michael SCHULTZ then called to me, saying that there was a whole family drowning out on the river. I immediately ran down to the bank of the river and asked Mr. Schultz to loosen a boat that was fastened there and go to the rescue of the woman I saw floating on the water. I unfastened the boat, paddled out into the river with a board, but before I could reach her, she sank below the surface and did not rise again. Failing to rescue the woman, I returned to shore and went out onto the river in company with a stranger and brought to shore the boat belonging to the parties who had been drowned. During this same time, a cane and a pike pole had been secured and I and the stranger began to search for the body of the woman which we found some time afterwards. It was that of Amanda HILLMAN. About two hours later, we found the body of ? .
As shown in the latter testimony, search for the bodies was instituted at once and 38 minutes after Mrs. Hillman had disappeared, Oscar Stoner found her corpse, about 20 minutes later, Jacob YOUNG discovered the corpse of the boy, a little after, Oscar Stoner found Hillman's corpse and at nearly 2 o'clock, John A ELSER lifted the body of the little girl from the water. They were all found within a circuit of from 20 to 30 feet in water of a depth of about 12 feet. The bodies were conveyed to the family dwelling and placed upon a bed side by side where they were viewed by hundreds of persons. It was indeed a most piteous sight. On Saturday forenoon, funeral services were held at the Presbyterian church and from there they were conveyed in three coffins to their last resting place in Riverside cemetery. Hillman was aged 26 years, his wife Amanda had attained an age of but 19 years. John F., the boy, was one month over three years, and the girl, Minnie, 18 months old.
The Coroner's Verdict: The fact that the drowned family were in very destitute circumstances, so much so that a few chairs, a table, a scanty bed and very few other articles comprised the entire outfit of their humble cottage, while no estables were to be found, the house caused many to suppose that the accident was suicide. This, however, seems hardly credible, not only because the party were equipped for fishing, but especially because the accident happened before eye witnesses and suicides very seldom parade their cowardly deeds. Judging the matter in the same light and basing his opinion on the evidence, Coroner ALDRICH, after the inquest had been held last Saturday, rendered a verdict that Frederick Hillman, his wife and two children, were drowned in the Auglaize river by the accidental upsetting of their boat.