Willis worked on his father’s farm. On November 26, 1898, he was accidently shot to death while hunting with his 14-year-old nephew, Clair V. Mann. Willis Shedden was 26 years old at the time.
He was taken back to Dundee, Illinois, for burial in the Udina, Illinois, cemetery.
Clair V. Mann would not talk about the accident but wrote the following describing the accident in his diary:
All the remaining Kansas families of Mann and Shedden, including Uncle Henry (Mann) and Grandpa Shedden (James Shedden), had spent that 1898 Thanksgiving day together as it was thought to be our last for an indefinite time. Father (Charles Mann) had decided to quit the farm and move to Batavia, Illinois. When he married mother (Margaret Shedden) in 1880, her mother Grandma Shedden, made him promise never to take mother away from her. This promise was about to be broken.
Two days after Thanksgiving, on Saturday, November 26, 1898, Leo (Clair’s older brother), Uncle Willie, and I went out hunting. Father had our sale of all our farm property and I had spent a week or more at Uncle Henry’s, five miles south of us, helping the boys, Clyde and Ralph, finish their corn husking.
We drove out with a team and a sled. It had two long runners, one on each side. On top was a box, somewhat like but shorter than a lower wagon box. I think it had a seat at the front.
From Grandpa’s house we drove half a mile east and half a mile south to the northwest corner of a farm owned by Mr. Albert Wright, a close family friend. We had permission to hunt on his place. I think we tied the team to the barbed wire fence post. Then, keeping close to the west line of Mr. Wright’s farm, we chased a flock of quail southward, down into the valley, then up to the slope to the south. We had no success in bagging any, so we decided to go northward into another pasture, owned as I remember by Mr. Rhodes, a Frankfort banker.
As we were in the act of leaving the Wright pasture, two rabbits jumped out and ran to and beneath a small bridge or culvert that spanned a hole in the road, or a gully in a small ravine. The bridge was perhaps six feet wide, along the road, and something like thirty inches high underneath. It had a plank cover laid over 2 x 6 joists that had spanned the gully.
As the rabbits ran toward the bridge, Uncle Willie shot at one, but missed. Leo had untied the team, and was waiting for the two of us to get in the sled. With the idea of catching the rabbits by hand and pulling them out from between the rocks of the bridge walls, I got down on my knees and crawled to the far side of the culvert which seems to have been closed by a drift of snow. But they had crawled in too far for me to reach.
I crawled back to the culvert entrance and asked Uncle Willie, who was standing there, close and waiting, to hand me a gun. Leo and I had husked corn to earn money enough to buy that single barrel breach loading hammer type gun, and at this moment it was my turn to use the gun. Leo had used it to chase the quail. Uncle Willie picked up this gun and handed it toward me, butt ahead, the muzzle toward him.
If one can make a calm observation in describing such an awful tragedy as this, which engulfed him, I would say that neither Uncle Willie nor myself ever dreamed that the thing which happened could ever take place. How could he foresee that the gun hammer, which had no protection whatever to prevent what did happen? How could he foresee that the hammer might, in passing the gun to me, hit the underside of the 2 x 6 bridge joists? He was only interested in protecting me; that is why he handed the gun to me with the muzzle toward him. And, in the excitement of the moment, how could I ever foresee that the gun hammer, if it struck the bridge joist, would be forced into the shell cap and fire the gun? Neither of us foresaw any such possibility, and had we been asked the moment before the tragedy occurred, each of us would have said that he was being very careful.
But fate decreed it otherwise. As he stood, partially bent, handing the gun in and slightly down to me, the gun hammer, not cocked, struck against the second of the bridge joists, and went off. Father and Uncle George Shedden went with me to see the bridge after Uncle Willie died, and we all saw the imprint the gun hammer made on that joist.
Oh what a terrible, terrible shock came with the realization that Uncle had been fatally shot. As the roar of the gun sounded, he cried out in agony, and said, "Oh, Clair! You’ve killed me!" I was instantly, wildly crying. I sprang out but he sank down backward on the snow before I could reach him. Leo, in the sled, saw Uncle fall, and quickly tying the team again, ran to us.
After taking a quick look at Uncle’s fatal wound, I knew the end was near. The charge had all entered the lower right area of his abdomen, and the intestines were protruding through the front skin and muscles of the stomach. Uncle and I urged Leo to go for Mr. Wright, which he did with all possible speed the team could make. First, however, Leo asked Uncle, "Is there anything you want them to be told?" "Just tell them goodbye", Uncle weepingly said.
Perhaps after ten minutes, Leo and Mr. Wright returned. The sled was driven close to the barbed wire fence, and we together picked Uncle up and carried him to the fence, then lifted him over it and into the sled. All this we did as carefully as anyone could do it but it hurt uncle so that he called out, "Oh boys, be careful, be careful". I think Mr. Wright held him in his arms as we drove that long mile home. As we drove on, the sled would occasionally hit some rock or lump of dirt, and this hurt Uncle very much. As we went on, he spoke to us as much as he could, and among other things said, "I’m a goner. I'm crossing the river" then, "Oh boys go slower, go slower!"
How, I do not know, but finally we drove into the front yard east of the old farm house. On seeing us, grandpa and grandma and mother and father knew at once something terrible had happened. Who can bear to conjure up that scene again? It was the most awful thing I ever want to experience. Grandma Shedden was a woman who had seen many crucial events in life, and was given to calmness under stress. But she could not contain herself when, as she came to the sled, Uncle Willie spoke to her and said "Oh, Ma I’m shot!"
The others carried him in and laid him on the bed in the living room, the one where we ate our meals beside the little pie cupboard where grandma for so long had kept all manner of pies for me. I can yet hear those pitiful cries of grandma and grandpa and Aunt Florence, and mother. They examined his wounds, and decided that the end was very close, so did not try to dress the wound. They got warm blankets, and warm clothes, and laid these over his legs and body, "Oh, I am so cold", he would moan. He had lost a considerable portion of his blood, and his legs felt to him as though they were freezing.
Of course, they wanted to hear just how it happened. I do not know who told them, probably Mr. Wright, whom we had told the facts on our way home. Leo at once went for a doctor. I do not know whether to Bigelow, or to Frankfort. Probably to Frankfort, so as also to get Uncle George. As for me, I was best out of the road, and I could not bear to watch Uncle die. I have often regretted that I did not.
Uncle was shot at about 11 o’clock in the morning. At 1:30 in the afternoon he was gone. Oh gone! And nobody in the world to take his place!
The next day was Sunday. I recall that Uncle George (Shedden) had come out from Frankfort, and was there in the morning. There must have been an undertaker, but I remember nothing of him. I only recall that, as the funeral service began at 10 o’clock on that Sunday morning, November 27th, the family, with neighbors were gathered into the middle room of the house, the parlor, where Uncle lay in his casket. He was so very white from loss of blood. Oh, I can see him there yet, as he lay there so pure and white, with a peaceful expression on his face though his last hours had been so agonizing. He was conscious up to the last 15 minutes, and told those beside him all a goodbye.
I do not recall much the minister had to say, but I do remember that those assembled sang what seemed so piteous to me now, and then, 'Shall We Gather At the River'. Aunt Florence was seized with uncontrollable grief. She could scarcely bear to have me in sight and that continued for the years up to her own death.
(Note: Florence Shedden was 22 years old at the time. She died almost three years later to that date on November 12, 1901 of spinal meningitis.)
As the newspaper article stated, the remains were shipped to Udina, Illinois where the family, grandpa’s, had now precipitately decided to go, since we of father’s family were going to Illinois. Uncle Willie was the bread winner for grandpa’s family, and they could not stay on the Kansas farm with him gone. So their farm sale was decided on, and their goods were packed with ours in that Central Branch freight car and emigrant car, routed to Batavia, Illinois.
The afternoon following Uncle’s funeral was terrible for me. Mother and father bent their energies in consoling and ministering to grandma and Aunt Florence. Father and Uncle George must have accompanied the remains to the town of Barrett, on the way to Frankfort, where the casket was put on board the train routed to Udina. As described in the news article, Uncle Lantie (Alanson Shedden, son of James Shedden, who had previously moved back to Dundee, Illinois) had come out from Dundee to accompany the remains home and have charge of the interment at Udina.
In the forenoon, or maybe after dinner, father and Uncle George went with me to see the culvert where the accident had taken place. Uncle George wanted to be convinced that there had been no foul play; that it was all an accident. That little imprint of the gun hammer on the bridge joist did more to take away any question anyone may have entertained than all Leo or I had to say.
And so, all through life (I am now writing as of August 14, 1946), I have carried the terrible scar of that day. I have always felt that, since Uncle was now gone, and since he loved me so, somehow I must manage to live both for myself, and for him too. That has been a lifesaver for me many times, when otherwise I would have sunk to the very depths of despair. It has caused me to get on my feet once more, and go ahead and try to carry on life’s work. But to this day, I cannot help wishing that I had faced the gun, not Uncle Willie. His going so drastically changed so many lives and meant practically the death of Aunt Florence, also. My death would possibly have been a grief to those who loved me, but it would not have so disarranged life for so many others.
Life is so very strange; sometimes so very sad and lonely. God pity us, his children; we make so many ghastly blunders, so many mistakes and our loved ones are the ones who have to suffer! This was one of those times.
Willis R. Shedden, according to his obituary, was planning before his death to return to Dundee to study photography with J.P. Kildahl.
Clair Mann never said anything about the shooting until this was discovered after his death in 1974.