Rabies Death

This gravestone is located in Cedar City Cemetery, Utah, USA

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The death of Martha Jane McCune (her name is misspelled and should read McEwen) when she was only 17 years old is a tragic story.

Martha was born on January 22, 1838 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Three years later her family moved to Nauvoo, Illinois and finally settled in Fillmore, Utah in 1853. She married James W. Farrer and the couple moved to Cedar City. James, who was a teamster, had to leave for three weeks on business, and as Martha did not feel comfortable staying alone because of the Indians her friend’s family let her stay with them.

Early one morning Margaret McConnell and Martha awoke to strange sounds in the chicken coop and ventured out to see what was causing the disturbance. When they opened the doors to the coop they discovered a coyote sitting in the corner. Martha made a swatting motion with her hand and the animal lunged at her sinking its teeth deep into her throat. Margaret’s father, Jehiel McConnell who had been summoned by his daughter, wrapped his hands around the coyotes’ throat forcing it to unclench its jaw and eventually killing it.

The following is purportedly a recollection of the event by Martha McConnell.

“My girlfriend, Mary Jane McCune and I gathered wild food together and planned what we would do after we grew up. Then Mary Jane got married. One night she was staying over with me while her new husband, James W. Farrer, made a freighting trip to Salt Lake. She couldn’t stay alone because of Indians. Mary Jane and I heard a commotion in the adobe chicken coop, and when we opened the door we could see a coyote crouching in one corner, its eyes gleaming in the semidarkness. Mary Jane flung her hand out to frighten the animal away, but instead of retreating, it darted at her, sinking its fangs into her throat. I ran screaming to the house for Papa.

Taking in the desperate situation at a glance, Papa saw he could not pull the animal off without tearing Mary Jane’s throat to pieces. He sank the fingers of one hand around the coyote’s throat, slowly strangling it, at the same time prying its jaws open with the other hand to release the girl’s throat as the animal relaxed in death. And then the full horror of the situation came on us, for the coyote, frothing at the mouth, had rabies. In its madness, it had burrowed under the adobe wall of the coop to get at the chickens.

For a few days all of Cedar City watched the situation, and we all breathed a little easier as Mary Jane’s throat healed remarkably fast. Almost a month went by, then one day she began to develop unmistakable signs of rabies. She steadily became so vicious and violent that several strong men could not hold her, and it became necessary to bind her and peg her to the floor to keep her from attacking others. She would beg piteously for people to come near her so she could kiss them, but when anyone approached, she would snap at them like a mad dog. As the disease progressed to its horrible end, the stricken girl’s suffering became so unbearable that her family finally smothered her to death between two feather beds to shorten her agony.

Papa, fearing that he might have been infected while prying loose the coyote’s jaws, insisted that he be chained to the wall for two weeks to forestall any possible violence on his part. He was not contaminated by the encounter, and remained well. Mary Jane’s husband of only several months returned to find his young wife and unborn baby tragically dead and buried.

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