Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Day in the Life of a Student Aviator


Despite intermittent challenges to one's personal sense of vertigo, the role of student aviator is not one I'd assume to be ridden with drama or intrigue. Not so, apparently, for the aspiring airman who turned out, coincidentally, to have been fourth cousin to my mother in law.

About the same time I unearthed my mother in law's genealogical relationship with Flowers family descendant Arthur James Daugherty, fellow native of Perry County, Ohio, I also discovered news articles reporting his sudden death and suspected role in a human smuggling scheme in southern California.

According to a United Press news wire only two days after the April 30, 1927, shooting which brought about the Ohio man's death, the local immigration official overseeing the agents involved in the incident requested more time for the investigation so that he could "produce witnesses from San Diego in an effort to show that Daugherty was a member of a smuggling ring engaged in bringing Chinese into this country."

Just as had the articles on the shooting incident itself, details in reports I found on the smuggling charges varied widely. Some reports fingered Daugherty as the smuggler. Some named both Daugherty and his supposed flight instructor, Burley R. Chaney. Others indicated up to seven other aviators in a smuggling ring, and anywhere from a few to "a score" of Chinese immigrants who were illegally brought into the country. 

Following the unclear reports of the actual incident itself—when student aviator A. J. Daugherty was shot by federal immigration officials sometime during the landing or takeoff of the plane he was learning to fly—journalists turned their attention to the next step in the investigative journey, the coroner's inquest.

All of this unexpected excitement was, for me, quite a startling launch into a genealogical project. And not only was this a local news story I had found, but one which was covered in newspapers throughout the state. Besides the expected coverage in the Los Angeles area, where the tragic event occurred, the story could be found in newspapers in the state's central valley, the Bay area, and even as far north as Healdsburg, California.

What at first seemed to be undue curiosity in what I thought was just a local story—a tragic one, admittedly, but a southern California event—turned out to hold interest for a significant number of people throughout the state. Puzzling, that is, until I took into account the broader historical context of the times.

This expanded coverage, presumably, was not just a reaction fueled by a normal sense of justice in recoiling from such official statements about the "regrettable" shooting which was done merely by those "acting in the line of duty." The expanded focus may well have been due to another political maneuver which happened to be holding sway at the same time.



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