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Shocking Details From History's Most Significant Forgotten Assassinations

Everyone knows about the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and JFK; after all, they rank among the most famous assassinations in history. There are even gruesome photos of these infamous assassinations. But what about history's forgotten assassinations? 

President James Garfield was killed after doctors stuck their unwashed fingers into his bullet wound. A US Governor was scalped. Poisoned yogurt and Japanese assassins killed a Chinese emperor and Korea's last empress, respectively - these were royal assassinations that changed history, even if few people remember the details.

These important assassinations have largely been forgotten by history despite the fact that some of them, like the assassination of Serbia's first democratically-elected prime minister, rank among the most famous assassinations in the 21st century. These assassinations changed the course of history - we might never have heard of Alexander the Great and Teddy Roosevelt otherwise - but these assassinations, including an axe-wielding bear-man, a car blown five stories in the air, and a scorned gay lover, are just as shocking today as when they first happened. 

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  • The Bullet Didn't Kill President Garfield – His Doctors Did
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    James Garfield was elected president of the United States in 1880, but only months after being sworn in, Garfield died from an assassin's bullet. His tenure marked the second-shortest presidency in US history, and his assassination has been largely forgotten. 

    Garfield almost wasn't president at all. At the 1880 Republican presidential convention, it took 36 ballots to choose a nominee. Garfield was a dark horse choice, and he won the general election by less than 10,000 popular votes. If he hadn't been elected, Garfield almost certainly would have lived.

    Garfield had only been in office for four months when a disgruntled attorney fired a shot at the president. The assassin, Charles Guiteau, had not been given a political appointment by Garfield and preferred his vice president, Chester A. Arthur. As Garfield was hit, Guiteau yelled "Arthur is president now!" But Garfield didn't die right away. Instead, doctors stuck their fingers into his wound multiple times in their search for the bullet. Alexander Graham Bell even tried using his new invention, a metal detector, to locate the bullet. 

    Unsurprisingly, infection set in. Garfield wasted away, losing 80 pounds in three months. When he finally died, his assassin quipped:2 “the doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.”

  • The KKK Murdered A Senator To Intimidate White Politicians Who Supported Civil Rights
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The KKK Murdered A Senator To Intimidate White Politicians Who Supported Civil Rights

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, many white Southerners refused to give up power. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in December of 1865 to insure the continuation of white supremacy. Right away, the KKK started lynching Black people, and they also targeted white politicians like North Carolina Senator John W. Stephens, who was committed to civil rights. 

    On May 21, 1870, Stephens was killed at the Caswell County Courthouse by KKK members. Stephens was stabbed, choked, and left dying on a woodpile. Although the governor, William Holden, declared martial law, Holden was impeached by the legislature and convicted for "illegally" declaring martial law. Stephens's murder and Holden's impeachment show how white supremacists used violence and political power to maintain their position.

  • Anton Cermak Took A Bullet For FDR
    Photo: Underwood & Underwood / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Anton Cermak was a major force in creating Chicago's Democratic power base, eventually rising to become Chicago's mayor. But the political power broker, who helped Franklin Delano Roosevelt secure the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1932, was accidentally shot by an assassin who was trying to kill the president.

    Just days before FDR was inaugurated as the 32nd president, he invited Cermak to ride next to him in his convertible. During the slow drive past a crowd of supporters, assassin Giuseppe Zangara struck, raining gunfire down on the car. The bullets missed FDR, but Cermak was hit. As Roosevelt sat with the former mayor on his ride to the hospital, Cermak said: "I am glad it was me instead of you." 

  • Poisoned Yogurt Took Out Emperor Guangxu
    Photo: Qing Dynasty Court Painter / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Poisoned Yogurt Took Out Emperor Guangxu

    In 1908 a Chinese emperor was killed with poison. Guangxu was the second-to-last emperor of the Qing dynasty. He was only in his 30s, but he was already in a vicious battle with his aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi. She opposed the reform efforts of her nephew and refused to let Guangxu outlive her. So she plotted to murder the emperor. 

    The murder weapon was a bowl of poisoned yogurt. A eunuch carried the deadly yogurt from the empress dowager's room straight to the emperor. Two hours later, the emperor was dead. The aging empress dowager herself died the next day. China's history might have looked very different if Guangxu hadn't eaten the poisoned yogurt.

  • Korea's Last Empress Was Murdered By Japanese Assassins
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Empress Myeongseong of Korea, also known as Queen Min, was the last empress of Korea. She was murdered by a group of Japanese assassins in 1895 as part of Japan's plot to take over Korea and turn it into a Japanese colony.

    The assassins, carrying swords, were able to enter the palace with the help of a Japanese diplomat. Then the assassins swept through the palace, killing guards, until they found the empress's private chambers. None of the security measures Queen Min had put in place, including trap doors and escape routes, could save her. She was killed and her corpse was burnt; Japan controlled Korea until 1945.

  • In the 1830s, Charles Bent left the United States to move to Taos, which was still part of Mexico. He made numerous friends among the Mexican elites living in the city, and he even married a wealthy Mexican widow. Bent also became close friends with New Mexico's governor, Manuel Armijo. But when the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, Bent betrayed his friends and positioned himself to become governor of the new American province of New Mexico.

    As soon as the US soldiers left, Bent's enemies rose up against him. On January 19, 1847, a violent mob made up of Mexicans and Taos natives attacked Bent. They murdered his guards and killed Bent, dragging his body through the street and scalping the former governor. A total of 16 Americans were killed in the skirmish. When the war ended in 1848, New Mexico remained part of the United States.