LIMA — The West was still wild, really wild, in 1873. Jesse James and the James-Younger gang were perfecting train robbery, the U.S. was waging war on Captain Jack and the Modoc, and General George Armstrong Custer had his first run-in with the Sioux.
In his meticulous look at Custer and the Little Bighorn, “Son of the Morningstar,” Evan S. Connell summed it up: “The West was not dull, it was stupendously dull, and when not dull it was murderous. A man could get killed without realizing it. There were unbelievable flash floods, weird snakes, and God Himself did not know what else, along with Indians descending as swiftly as the funnel of a tornado.”
Hungry for adventure and with a head full of tales of the West, Byron D. Kraner, son of a prominent Kenton family, yearned to go there. In the early spring of 1873, three years before Indians descended on Custer at the Little Bighorn, Solomon Kraner finally gave his consent to his 21-year-old son.
Byron Kraner would return to Kenton in a coffin.
His only son’s death was but one chapter in a three-part tragedy that befell Solomon Kraner that year. By the time the summer of 1873 settled over Ohio, he had lost all that was of his family — his beloved wife, his devoted daughter and the impetuous Byron.
Solomon Kraner, who was born in Fairfield County in 1828, had already led an eventful life by 1873. In December 1850, in Fairfield County, he married Mary J. Russell and the couple had two children, Byron, born in 1852, and Lachapella, born the following year.
“There are few who can boast of a life as successful as that passed by this splendid man. As a soldier, magistrate, senator, representative and physician, he from his early youth lived a life of great usefulness,” the Findlay Morning Republican wrote after Solomon Kraner died Jan. 1, 1903.
According to a Hardin County history, Kraner “read medicine with William McKean; attended lectures at Starling Medical College in 1852-53, and began practice in Kenton during the latter year.” In 1855, he moved to Roundhead where he continued to practice medicine.
That practice was interrupted by the Civil War. When the 118th regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry was organized at Lima in August 1862, Solomon Kraner was named a captain. On Dec. 29, 1863, he was twice injured in action against Confederate forces at Mossy Creek, Tennessee.
“The injuries were severe and their results handicapped him all his life in his different vocations,” the Morning Republican wrote. “Upon returning from the war Mr. Kraner was compelled to give up the practice of medicine because of his wounds. At Kenton he was a highly praised citizen. From Hardin County he was elected to two positions of honor, once to the (Ohio) Senate and another time to the House of Representatives.”
In 1872, he was elected probate judge of Hardin County and was serving in that position when, on Feb. 14, 1873, 20-year-old Lachapella died. “She was taken sick about the first of October, but was not bedfast until four days prior to her death. She was the only daughter, and was the love of the household, and in the unyielding devotion to her invalid mother, she was stricken down with consumption (tuberculosis),” the Kenton Republican eulogized. “She was beloved by a wide circle of friends and at her funeral but few eyes were not moistened with tears as they beheld for the last time her fair and beautiful face.”
Mary Kraner, the object of Lachapella’s doting care, survived her daughter by only a few months, dying on June 30, 1873. “The deceased was in her forty-fifth year at the time of her death. She was married to her surviving husband on the 23rd of December, 1850. She had been suffering with consumption since 1864, and for the last three years has been constantly confined to her room and bed,” the Republican wrote.
Byron Kraner, according to an 1873 report from the Department of the Interior, was killed by the Lone Horse Band of the Miniconju Sioux on April 10, 1873, not quite two months after his sister’s death, a little more than two months before his mother’s and barely a month into his longed-for adventure.
He left Kenton in March 1873 with four friends. “They were going to one of the real rugged wild sections of the U.S., the Dakota Territory, home of the Sioux Indians,” the Lima Citizen recounted in a story on July 1, 1957.
“In Sioux Falls, the group was outfitted with all necessary equipment and horses, and obtained the services of a half breed guide, Little Crow, and a cook,” the Citizen wrote. “They left Sioux Falls on April 2, heading for the most advanced cavalry outpost in that part of the west, the government’s White River Agency.” There, the Citizen continued, “the young men were awe-stricken by the hunters, trappers, cavalrymen and Indian fighters and others that make up such an outpost at the end of civilization.”
At some point, according to the story, Byron Kraner “boasted to his friend that he was going to kill an Indian before he went back home. ‘The first one I see out here in this savage territory, I am going to shoot,’ he said.”
On April 10, 1873, as he rounded a hill, he spied an Indian approaching from the opposite direction. Before he could be stopped, he drew his rifle from its scabbard, fired and the Indian dropped dead. “The group rushed up to find that Byron, instead of killing a Sioux brave, had killed an Indian squaw,” the Citizen wrote.
They immediately fled back toward the White River Agency, but were overtaken by the Sioux. “No one knows just what happened; whether Little Crow indicated Kraner as the killer, or whether Byron surrendered himself in order to save his friends, but the Indians seized him and immediately bound him, as his friends stood helplessly by,” according to the Citizen. “About a half hour later, Kraner was back in camp dead. He had been tied behind an Indian pony and dragged to death over the jagged rocks of the badlands. The braves then scalped him and tossed his body back into camp.”
Several months later, after Mary Kraner’s death and Byron Kraner’s body had been returned to Kenton, Solomon Kraner ordered two monuments. Before they were erected, the Citizen wrote, “Mr. Kraner went down to the monument works in Kenton and asked one of the workmen for a sledge hammer. Before the astonished monument maker, he proceeded to knock off the tops of the monuments …” According to the story, Solomon Kraner told the workers, “That’s the way my heart was broken when my boy was killed.” The truncated tombstones still stand in Kenton’s Grove Cemetery.
In 1874, Solomon Kraner married Sarah Jane “Sallie” Aull, the widow of a baker named John Aull, in Logan County. He served as Hardin County probate judge until 1875 and later worked as a banker and cashier at Kenton Savings Bank before moving to Findlay. He died there at the age of 74 just after midnight on Jan. 1, 1903.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.