Sunday, November 14, 2010

College of Idaho (COI) Archives Spotlight #1: A.K. Steunenberg - did he die of a broken heart?

As regular readers know, I periodically share and cite documents from the Crookham /Steunenberg papers collection in the Robert E. Smylie Archives at The College of Idaho. Although that will continue, I am also going to take a little more focused approach from time to time and do a blog entry entitled "COI Archives Spotlight". I am stealing that term from my already existing "Spotlights" at As the title would indicate, I will pick an item from the archives and "spotlight" it as a blog post.

To start us off, here is an interesting post-mortem report on the death of A.K. Steunenberg. The original is in the COI Archives but not yet posted online with the other Steunenberg documents.

It has been said that A.K. died of a broken heart over the death of his brother (Ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg). Of course that would never be the stated medical reason but, as a relatively young and healthy man, the argument could be made that the emotional toll of losing a brother, business partner and confidant in such a sudden and violent manner may well have negatively impacted A.K's health. It is certain that he was emotionally distraught over the assassination, was barely able to attend Frank's funeral, appeared depressed, and was preoccupied with the ongoing investigation of the crime, apprehension of the murderer(s) and impending trial(s)---all while attempting to carry forth with other family and business matters. I think most of us know and accept the fact that psychological well being has a lot to do with our overall physical health. Based upon this post-mortem report, a case could certainly be made that A.K. may have neglected his own health during the proceeding year and a half or so leading up to his death."He should have had surgical treatment several months ago."

From Big Trouble: "A.K. barely mad
e it to the funeral. 'I am all broke up, and can't pull myself together as of yet,' he wrote a friend a few days later. '[Frank and I] were almost inseparable from childhood's hour. We went swimming and nutting together and worked during the summer vacation side by side on the local brick yard or for some farmer. We learned the printer's trade in the same office and have been associated together in everything since we arrived at man's estate....With all his great intellectual powers, he was always just a boy to me---the same one that worked and played with me in years gone by....To lose him would be sorry, but to have him blown all to pieces seems to be more than I can bear.'"
--Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas

Here is the letter written by A. K. to his friend and business partner Monte Gwinn. (courtesy COI Archives (190.1) that Lukas is referencing. Click on the images for clearer/larger views.

It appears the p
ost-mortem report was written and signed by Dr. Edward E. Maxey, a known physician in Caldwell Idaho at the time (see link below). The other signature is difficult to read, perhaps Andrew Church or Churth or something totally different? The signature appears to have been added as an afterthought and crowded in above Maxey's. Please let me know if you can identify that person.

So did A.K. die of a broken heart? No. But he may have ignored physical symptoms and neglected to pursue the early medical attention and surgery that the post-Morten indicates could have saved or extended his life. Of course it is all speculation and not historical fact but this document provides a little more fuel for that argument.

I love finding these documents on interesting letterhead, in this case the Saratoga
Hotel and the envelope being addressed to C. B. (Charles Benjamin but generally went by the name of Pete or Peter) Steunenberg.

More about A.K. Steunenberg on this blog.

And a couple of informative and helpful posts below from our friend Revue Guru (aka Evan) at South Fork Companion:
Edward E. Maxey, Caldwell Idaho Physician

Sept. 11: Caldwell pioneer Albert Steunenberg

Today's Quiz: Speaking of post-mortems, by who, when and where was this rather ill-conceived phrase blurted out: "to hell with habeus corpus. We'll give them post-mortems!"

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