"Blown to Atoms"
Warning: This post contains graphic details of a USMA graduate’s violent death.
Maiden, Montana is now a ghost town, but in 1888 it was an active mining community. Only seven years old at the time, the town was at its all-time population of 1,200 people in 1888. James Batchelder, USMA Class of 1868, was attracted to the boomtown. After West Point, he spent a short career in the West before going AWOL in 1870. His Army career ended the following year and he seems to have spent some time teaching and working for a railroad company. In Maiden, he was involved in mining and logging. In March of 1888, he was about to put his engineering expertise to work building a bridge under contract when his friends became worried about his whereabouts. Missing over a weekend, two of Batchelder’s friends (Archer and Lackie) hiked to his cabin on Monday. What follows is their gruesome discovery as reported in the Helena Weekly Herald in March of 1888:
After a climb of about two miles the cabin was reached when it was found that the building was badly demolished, and upon closer investigation the men were horrified to discover Batchelder's scalp and shreds of skin and flesh from his left arm banging over the ridge pole and the walls splattered with blood. A bed in the room was completely torn to pieces, part of which being literally ground to dust. As everything in the building was covered with the dirt and timber which had fallen from the roof, Archer and Lackie returned to town and got a number of men to help remove the debris.
Upon closer search the lower limbs, partially rolled up in the blankets, at the foot of the bed, one finger and thumb, a portion of one shoulder blade and a small section of the spinal column, which, in addition to the scalp and fragments of skin and flesh mentioned above, was all that could be found of the remains.
A coroner’s jury was empaneled, and after careful examination rendered a verdict that deceased came to his death by the explosion of giant powder. Cause unknown.
There was known to have been about five pounds of powder in the cabin at the time.
Pretty graphic for the 19th century! Batchelder was interred at Fort Maginnis but his remains were eventually moved to Custer National Cemetery. His Find-a-Grave page is here.
Source: "Blown to Atoms." Helena Weekly Herald, 15 March 1888.