“remembering the first person to die of a gunshot wound on the Oregon trail”
John Bidwell, May 13, 1841 - “A mournful accident ... a young man by the name of [James] Shotwell while in the act of taking a gun out of the wagon, drew it with the muzzle towards him in such a manner that it went off and shot him near the heart - he lived about an hour and died in full possession of his senses.” John Shotwell made the fatal mistake of getting his gun out of the wagon, muzzle first. Apparently, he was the very first person to die on the Oregon Trail from a firearm accident. Accidents were caused by negligence, exhaustion, guns, animals, and the weather. Shootings were common, but murders were rare -- one usually shot oneself, a friend, or perhaps one of the draft animals when a gun discharged accidentally. Shootings, drownings, being crushed by wagon wheels, and injuries from handling domestic animals were the biggest accidental killers on the Trail. Any one of these four causes of death claimed more lives than were lost to sharp instruments, falling objects, rattlesnakes, buffalo hunts, hail, lightning, and other calamities.
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John Shotwell Death Site
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