The Death of Alva Van McDonald
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In researching our McDonald family, a request for information about Alva McDonald death.
The death record stated, "Death date: 14 May 1876; Place: 3rd & Main Street, Chico, CA;
Cause of Death: dropped dead." We were hoping there would be some old newspaper
article about a man dropping dead in the street. In 2000, Tim Bousquet, then the Editor of "Chico Examiner", replied he would be happy do a lookup. Later he reply this is what he had found for us.
At one time this article was online but has disappeared.

The Death of Alva McDonald
By: Tim Bousquet
Editor of the Chico Examiner in 2000

Prior to September 1875, McDonald (sometimes spelled MacDonald) does not appear in any surviving Chico-area records. But that month finds him running for Constable, a minor court office, in the Chico Township. Not to be confused with the Town of Chico, Chico Township was a court and school jurisdiction that extended from the town of Chico out to the Sacramento river, and included the tiny farming towns of Dayton and Nord.

McDonald ran for constable position from Nord, on the Democratic Party ticket, and won the office with 43 votes.

How McDonald ended up in Nord, or what he did there, we do not know. He did have a wife, Ann, as well as "several" children, names unknown. His election, however, seemed to be excuse enough for the family to move themselves to Chico proper, presumably so that Alva could take up office in the Chico courthouse.

But if he ever heard any cases or made any decisions, there's no record of such. Instead McDonald seems to have immediately lost himself in alcoholism. Dr. C. C. Mason, who testified in the coroner's inquest, said that he had known McDonald for five or six years, but had attended him "several times during the past eight months"i.e. since he moved to Chico "and during the time he had been drinking to excess.

We've already discussed in a general nature the prevalence of drinking in Chico. So, I'm sorry to say, Alva McDonald was welcomed into an alcoholic hole. Whatever happened during his Chico stay, we do not know, until the fateful day of May 14.

A witness, Thomas Walsh, reported that he "came up the street about 10 minutes past four, and saw MacDonald on Second Street. My curiosity was excited by seeing him trying to get into McCormick's drug store, he then turned and came toward Main Street, thence down Main toward Union Hotel.

Watching a drunken man teeter down the street was apparently no such an unusual sight for Walsh, for he went on his way. "That was the last I saw of him until I saw him dead this afternoon," he later commented.

W. P. Judach came upon McDonald's body a full half an hour later, "lying on Main Street between Third and Fourth"----oddly enough immediately in front of Hallet and Loy's, the furniture dealers who doubled as casket makers and undertakers "his head in street, and feet about two feet from sidewalk." Judach felt for McDonald's pulse and, finding none, had the watchman at the union Hotel run for Judge Brown.

Judach then went and found Mr. Loy, the undertaker, and the pair "returned to the body together, Mr. Loy went into shop and procured board, body was placed on board and taken into shop. In the meantime, Judge Brown, Mr. Arnold, and others were viewing the body Dr. E. H. Zwisler, who had an office at Lee's Drug Store, declared that there were no unusual or violent circumstances associated with McDonald's death, and that he had died of "apoplexy." Dr. Mason seconded the opinion, adding that the death was "induced by excessive drinking.

The newspapers were kind to McDonald and his family. "Much surprise and regret," the Record reported "was created on Sunday morning by the announcement that Constable A. McDonald, of Chico, was found dead on the street. The sad rumor was only too true. Mr McDonald had been ill for some weeks, and, it is said, was on his way to procure some medicine, when overtaken by sudden death on the street. Coroner Mitchell was notified, and came up from Oroville, and held an inquest upon the body, the jury finding that he came to his death from apoplexy. Mr McDonald was about 41 years of age. Had been a resident of Nord for some time prior to his election as Constable of this Township, after which he removed to Chico. He leaves a wife and several children to mourn his sudden death. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity, under whose direction his funeral services were held Monday last.

The competing Enterprise published an "In Memoriam" from the Freemasons, which read that "Whereas it has pleased Almighty God in His infinite wisdom and mercy, to remove from our midst, by death, Brother Alva McDonald, a member of Euclid Lodge, N. 65, at Naperville, State of Illinois.

"Resolved, that we deeply and sincerely sympathies with our Brothers of Euclid in the loss of Brother McDonald.

Resolved, that we deeply, sincerely, and affectionately mourn with the widow and orphans in this their dark hour of affliction, in the loss of their earthly protector and parent, and put up our prayers to HIM who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, to shield and protect them...

Later that summer, a probate hearing was held to dispose of McDonald's meager estate. At the time of his death, McDonald was worth a total of $2,166.35, an amount that Judge W. S. Sheppard declared "is insufficient to the support of wife and minor child." Sheppard ordered that Ann McDonald be give $50 per month "in gold coin," an amount he deemed "a reasonable allowance according to the circumstances of said family.

In addition, Ann was given all of Alva's personal property, including "one cow, three bedsteads and bedding, one old cookstove and fixtures, 12 old chains, one looking glass, pictures and clock, one Whitman sewing machine, and one ladies gold watch (this last is the wife's property) ...

There was no real estate involved in the probate process, and Alva never bought or sold property in Butte County. Where he and Ann married is uncertain, as is the circumstances of the birth of their children; at least I could find no such records in the Oroville courthouse.

Sixteen years later, however, a fellow named Sherman McDonald fathered a child in Chico. The baby, born on 03 April 1893, was named Alva McDonald, presumably after his long passed Grandfather.

Alva McDonald (the elder) also had a nephew, Ralph Sheppard, who identified McDonald's body for the coroner.

Between the Sherman -Alva and Ralph branches of the McDonald family, it seems likely that there are descendants of Alva McDonald still in the Chico area, but I have to be unable to find them.

Tim Bousquet

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