The Wichita Daily Beacon
Monday December 28, 1885
“George Dieter Blows out his brains in his brother’s Hayloft”
This front page story in a Kansas newspaper describing my great uncle’s suicide came to my attention only a few years ago. Its frequent references to my great grandmother the deceased’s “sister in law” caught my eye. The events of the article were totally unknown to me. Yet, I immediately realized one salient fact which the article understandably omitted. At the time of this Sunday night tragedy, my great grandmother “Mrs. Dieter” was pregnant with my grandmother who would be born in El Paso, Texas the following May. Long after my grandmother’s death, and well into my adult life, I learned that she had twice experienced the suicide of a loved one. First, when she was a newly wed her youngest brother took his life and decades later, her husband of more than 50 years, my grandfather followed this sad pattern. Perhaps because of these earlier realizations, my grandmother relationship through her mother with this particular Kansas suicide was startling.
In a much shorter article which appeared several days later, Mrs. Kilian, a women unknown to me and described as the aunt of the deceased was mentioned as coming from Junction City to attend the funeral. These two women, the deceased’s sister in law and deceased’s aunt are my own distant relatives. Their knowledge of and closeness to the events in Wichita, Kansas on that far away winter evening, draws me unavoidably closer to the facts I do not know.
These women are after all present deeply in my blood and less tangibly we share a vision of the world shaped by our common history. A history much better known to them than it is to me. Their future which comprises my life and my knowledge of the most recent past is something of which they knew nothing. Yet, it is all I have to go on in searching backwards to find them.
Finding their names scattered in minimal documents, I can pick up threads of travel and tragedy; the bare essential of their lives. Trying to find the deeper history of that winter Sunday evening, I search for the lives of these women, mentioned only in passing in the long folded pages of a Kansas newspaper.
August 17, 2005