D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections and University Archives

Merwin M. Hayes Family Letters

A Virtual Collection

The most famous picture of a meteor shower, the Leonid. [Wiki Commons]
The most famous depiction of the 1833
shower actually produced in 1889 for the Adventist book Bible Readings for the Home Circle - the engraving is by Adolf Vollmy based upon an original painting by the Swiss artist Karl Jauslin, that is in turn based on a first-person account of the 1833 storm by a minister, Joseph Harvey Waggoner on his way from Florida to New Orleans.

Title Merwin M. Hayes Family Letters
Identifier http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/mss/hayes_merwin_letters/default_merwin_m.htm
Creator Hayes Family
Subject Keyword : Merwin M. Hayes ; William Riley Killian (1814-1860) ; Margaret Hughes Killian (1814-1894) ; Great Meteor of 1860 ; Jackson, NC ; Sarah Elizabeth Turpin (1790-1876) ; Ravensford, TN ; 
Subject LCSH : Killian, William Riley, 1814-1860
Killian, Margaret Hughes, 1814-1894
Turpin, Sarah Elizabeth, 1790-1876
Astronomy -- Miscellanea. 
Description Two letters donated by Merwin M. Hayes as digital copies .  The letters written by his relative William Riley Killian, contain information on the Killian family and a remarkable account of the so-called "Great Meteor of 1860" which streaked across the skies of western North Carolina. 

William Riley Killian was writing from Jackson, North Carolina to Margaret Hughes Killian, his wife, who was living in Missouri at the time.  Margaret Hughes Killian's family was from the Ravensford area of North Carolina, where the current Great Smoky Mountains National Park headquarters are located today.

The donor describes the letter written on August 3, 1860:

"...he commented on a meteor sighting on the night of August 2, 1860.  In his words, elegant handwriting in spite of the lapses in spelling (verbatim) ..."

The first letter dates August 3rd, 1860, the day following the sighting.

The second letter pre-dates the "Great Meteor" letter and contains "gossip of family and neighborhood matters."  The donor describes the family of his great-grandmother:

The family of my great-grandmother, Margaret Hughes Killian (1814-1894) was the family of Ralph Hughes (1780-1861) + Sarah Elizabeth Turpin (1790-1876).  My grt-grandfather was William Riley Killian (1814-1860); nothing is known of how he came to be in Haywood County to marry around 1833.  He was born in the vicinity of Lincoln County, first documented in court records there around 1821.

Merwin M. Hayes
Rawlins, WY

Publisher Digital: D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, UNC Asheville
Contributor Merwin M. Hayes,  Rawlins, WY
Date 2011-08-25
Type Text ; image
Format virtual images shared by donor
Source D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, Manuscript Collections
Language English
Relation Web pages, Great Meteor of 1860 http://www.heritagewnc.org/WNC_natural_disasters/meteor_1860.htm ; Frederick Church painted the meteor shower of 1860.  A reproduction of this painting may be seen here:
Coverage 1860
Rights No restrictions;  Copyright: Retained by the authors of certain items in the collection, or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Donor Merwin M. Hayes, Rawlins, Wyoming
Acquisition 2011-08-26
Citation Merwin M. Hayes Family Letters, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections,  University of North Carolina Asheville
Processed by Special Collections staff; 2013 lg
Last update 2013-02-11


Virtual Collection
Digital only


1 Letter 1:  Page 1

August 3, 1860
Letter describing the GREAT METEOR OF 1860 and other family affairs.

[partial transcription]

"Last evening about 11 oclock there was a curious circumstance took place as I was returning for evning meeting.  There was a larg comet past so nere that we could plainly feel the heete and in a few minits after it pased ther was two loud cracks one imediately after the other and went off with a droll lumbering for several minuts, like unto hot rocks thrown in to a barrel of water, which alarmed some of the females very much."

wrk-ltr1a.jpg (189806 bytes)
  Letter 1:  Page 2

August 3, 1860
Letter describing the GREAT METEOR OF 1860 and other family affairs.

wrk-ltr1b.jpg (200594 bytes)
  Letter 1:  Page 3

August 3, 1860
Letter describing the GREAT METEOR OF 1860 and other family affairs.

wrk-ltr1c.jpg (141098 bytes)
  Letter 1:  Page 3 [color duplicate of page 3, above]

August 3, 1860
Letter describing the GREAT METEOR OF 1860 and other family affairs.

wrk-ltr1c-color.jpg (131120 bytes)
2 Letter 2:  Page 1

July 13, 1860

The donor writes regarding this second letter:

"Here are the scans of the second letter from William Riley Killian, dated August 3, 1860.  The last page was scanned to a higher contrast, to see if it was any more readable.  I should note that WRK was a farmer, a carpenter, and a circuit-riding preacher; his prose became a bit flowery/preachy on that last page.

WRK [William Riley Killian] never returned to Missouri; he was on his way back home, on horseback, when he became ill, or maybe more ill (he complained of ailing in his letters), and died at the home of a relative near Irving College, Tenn., where he was buried in October, 1860.  It has been suggested that he was a victim of typhoid fever."

wrk-ltr2a.jpg (232732 bytes)
  Letter 2:  Page 2

July 13, 1860

wrk-ltr2b.jpg (301675 bytes)
  Letter 2:  Page 3

July 13, 1860

wrk-ltr2c.jpg (297933 bytes)
  Letter 2:  Page 3 [duplicate]

July 13, 1860

wrk-ltr2d (1).jpg (198260 bytes)