Statesman Journal, Salem, OR
July 12, 2005
HEADSTONES OF HISTORY
Cow gored pregnant woman; baby lived: Olive English's tragic death in 1906 brought attention for daughter's unlikely birth
July 12, 2005
A cow gores a pregnant woman, and both mother and baby survive.
Such an incident has been known to happen throughout history, as documented on a Web site for obstetric anomalies, but not all have had happy endings.
Ninety-nine years ago in Macleay, east of Salem, a young pregnant woman was attacked by a heifer and died of a hemorrhage. Her baby miraculously survived.
"It's hard to believe something like that would happen," said Ron English, the great-nephew of the woman's husband.
He remembers hearing the tragic tale from his father while growing up and later reading the newspaper clippings.
The headline in the Daily Capital Journal read: "Mother is killed -- child is born."
The Oregon Statesman said: "Strangest case in medical history occurs at Macleay."
It happed July 24, 1906.
Olive English, who was due any day with her third child, reportedly was standing in the road in front of her dwelling when she was suddenly attacked by an enraged cow.
One of the cow's horns tore a gash in her abdomen and just missed the baby, which newspaper reports say was torn from the womb.
Her husband, Willard English, was a short distance away and hurried to her aid. Both local newspapers reported that Olive rose to her feet and walked into the house unassisted while Willard carried the infant.
Willard then rushed to a nearby store to call a doctor.
Dr. W.B. Morse made the trip from Salem to Macleay in his automobile in 30 minutes, according to the Oregon Statesman, but by then, Olive, 23, had lost too much blood.
One paper reported that she died a few minutes before his arrival, the other that she died a few minutes after.
In Morse's opinion, her life might have been saved if immediate medical care had been available.
The case must have been difficult for Morse, one of the area's leading physicians and surgeons, whose wife had died four months earlier after giving birth. His child also died.
This delivery partly had a happy ending.
Ethel Violet English was born. She was given the same middle name as her mother.
The Statesman said that the infant was in "no more danger than attaches to any child of normal birth."
The Journal said: "The baby has as much chance for its life as any baby in this hot weather that has to be nourished exclusively on artificial food."
Most of the longtime residents of Macleay who might have known about the accident are deceased.
Hazel Miller, 89, has lived in Macleay most of her life and first heard stories about the cow attacking Olive English from her mother-in-law.
"I was probably in my teens," Miller said. "All I can remember is this lady was pregnant, walking on the road, and this cow was out of the pasture, and it attacked her.
"I had heard an old wives' tale that pregnant women are not to be around cattle, especially bulls, but cows can attack, too. I don't think it's an old wives' tale. I think it's true."
She doesn't recall any other details, other than what was reported in the papers, but thinks the attack must have taken place near the town store.
"I don't know why I think that, I can just envision her walking in the area of the store when it happened," Miller said.
Kermit Gordon, owner of the Macleay Country Store, had never heard the tale until recently. Gordon grew up in Macleay and did a research project in college about the town.
Gordon bought the store at 8362 Macleay Road SE in 1986. He said the store to which Willard English would have run in 1906 to use the phone was destroyed by fire a decade later. The current store was built on the same site.
A couple of hundred yards down the road is Stipp Cemetery, where Olive English is buried. There is no headstone.
Ron English, a descendant of her husband, isn't sure there ever was one.
Cemetery records show that she was interred next to her father, L.S. Geer, who has a grave marker.
During a recent visit to the grounds, only a small pile of fresh dirt, perhaps from a mole, marked Olive's resting place.
Olive and Willard English were married Aug. 31, 1900, according to Marion County records. They had two other children. Edna May was born in 1901 and Lloyd Victor in 1903.
The children would have been about 5 and 3 at the time of their mother's death and their sister's birth.
Willard presumably would have been overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for three young children by himself. He was a farmer and later worked as a whistle punk in the logging industry, but according to family lore, he never held down a real job.
"I don't think my dad ever said anything about how it affected Willard," great nephew Ron English said. "But it didn't seem like he had a lot of ambition. Maybe he lost his will and kind of bumbled along."
Ron said the family has census records that show Ethel the miracle baby went to live with Olive's sister, Laurel.
Local researcher Addie Rickey confirmed that Ethel was a member of the Eli Hugh and Laurel Howard household of the Brooks precinct in 1910. Ethel was 3 years old and listed as a niece.
Ethel also appears in the 1920 census, although by then she had taken on the last name of Howard, and the family lived in the Tacoma, Wash., area. She was 13. By 1930, she no longer lived in the Howard home.
Census records show that Willard went on to marry twice more. He died July 29, 1942, and is buried near Olympia, Wash.