Bridge Fell (1904)


Passenger Cars Plunged Into Mountain Torrent


Search for Dead Swept Away by the Current


Weakened Trestle Went Down Under World’s Fair Flyer Near Pueblo–Alarm Given by Fireman, Who Was One of Four Men to Escape, and Relief Hurried from Pueblo–Treacherous Sand Drifting Over the Bodies Not Yet Recovered–Identification Difficult.

Pueblo, Colo., Aug. 8.–The wreck of the World’s Fair Flyer, on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, near Eden, seven miles north of Pueblo, last evening proves to have been one of the greatest railroad disasters in the history of the country. Two crowded passenger cars and a baggage car were ingulfed in the torrent that tore out a trestle spanning Steele’s Hollow, otherwise known as Dry Creek, and, so far as known to-night, only three of the occupants of these cars escaped death. Fortunately two sleeping cars and a diner, completing the train, remained on the track at the edge of the abyss, and none of their occupants was killed or injured.How many perished probably never will be definitely ascertained, for the treacherous sands are drifting over the bodies, but it is thought the number is nearly 100. Searching for the dead was begun about midnight on an extensive scale, and still is in progress to-night. All corpses found were brought to Pueblo and placed in four morgues here. At 8 o’clock this evening seventy-six bodies had been recovered, and of these fifty-seven had been identified.

Bodies Carried Down Stream.

During the day bodies were recovered all the way along Fountain River from the scene of the wreck to this city. At 1 o’clock this afternoon two bodies were taken from the stream at First street, Pueblo, more than eight miles from the point where the disaster occurred, and it is probable that some may even be recovered farther down stream.

None of the bodies is badly mutilated, and all are in such condition as to be recognizable. Many identifications have been made by articles found on the bodies, no person who viewed them recognizing the features.

The Known Dead.

J. F. BISHOP, architect, Pueblo
ETTA E. BISHOP, sister of J. F. Bishop, Pueblo.
Miss BENNETT, Pueblo
BETHEL –––, Cripple Creek.
H. CURTIS, Pueblo.
GEORGE ENGLAND, Colorado Springs.
JESSE F. GRAY, Pueblo.
H. R. GRAVES, Pueblo.
Mrs. GARTLAND, Denver.
J. G. GALBRAITH, Pueblo.
J. H. GRAHAM, Florence, Col.
A. E. HOOS, Pueblo.
A. G. HESS, Pueblo.
Miss PEARL HOPPER, Pueblo.
HENRY HINDMAN, engineer, Denver.
DOROTHY JOHNSON, eight years old, Pueblo.
R. O. MEARS, Denver.
HUGH McCRACKEN, Aurora, Ill.
A. S. MAXWELL, Pueblo.
DR. JAMES B. McGREGOR, Ballard, Wash.
Miss ANNIE PINE, Pueblo.
Miss MARY PRICE, La Salle, Ill.
T. S. REESE, express messenger, Denver.
Miss VINNIE SELBY, Pueblo.
Mrs. ELLA STEVENS, Northampton, Mass.
Miss LOTTA SHOUP, Grand Rapids, Mich.
J. H. SMITH, conductor, Denver.
JOSEPH F. TURNER, brakeman, Denver.
Miss EMILY WOOD, Pueblo.
Mrs. GEORGE F. WEST, wife of former mayor, Pueblo.
Miss ERNE WRIGHT, Pueblo.
I. W. WRIGHT, Pueblo.
Maj. FRANK H. WHITMAN, formerly of the Twentieth Kansas Volunteers, Topeka, Kans.
Mrs. A. L. YEAGLA, Pueblo.
G. W. GEPPERT, St. Louis.
EDWARD and LILLIAN GARTLAND, children, Denver.
B. T. LASHELL, Denver.
Mrs. PARKER, Pueblo.

The Missing.

Elsie Rowland, Pueblo.
Dr. W. F. Munn, Pueblo.
Mrs. John S. Moliter and two daughters, aged four and eight years, respectively, Pueblo.
Minnie Davis, Pueblo.
Malcolm S. Diggins, Pueblo.
Frank Bodman, Pueblo.
Mrs. H. S. Gilbert, Pueblo.
V. S. Durham, Pueblo.
Minnie Selby, Pueblo.
Sophie Gilchrist, Pueblo.
James O’Bannon, Pueblo.
Miss Boseman, Pueblo.
Mrs. Mary Welch, Chicago.
Miss Hadenburg, Salina, Kans.
Clyde Price, Aurora, Ill.
Margaret Donnelly, Des Moines.
Mrs. Henry Donnelly, Des Moines.
Dr. E. C. Stimmel, Pueblo.
Ralph Swartzcuff, Pueblo.
J. W. Thomas and wife, Pueblo.
Miss Marguerite Kelley, Pueblo.
Harold B. Page, Denver.
James Paul Keating, two years old, Pueblo.
F. H. Messinger, bank cashier, Central City, Colo.
Miss Alice Wood, Jacksonville, Fla.
Mrs. Everard Roscoe, Durango, Colo.

Engineer Was Cautious

On the lookout for danger, warned by the squally clouds and heavy rains to the north, Engineer Charles Hindman was running cautiously about fifteen miles an houras he approached the arroyo, which was spanned by a bridge ninety-six feet in length. The condition of the bridge was not known until the locomotive, one of the monster passenger type, had nearly crossed. Fireman Frank Mayfield, with a torch that the engineer and firemen had burning to ascertain the condition of the track, was in the gangway. When Engineer Hindman felt the tremor in the great machine and caught a glimmer of the water, he shouted his last words:

“Put out that torch,” evidently thinking that in the accident he felt certain was coming the flames would serve to spread fire.

But before Mayfield could obey, while the words were still on the lips of the doomed man, and his hand seeking the mechanism controlling the air, the bridge gave way as though it had been a stack of kindling wood, and the locomotive dropped, with the hissing of steam, thirty feet to the bottom of the arroyo, crosswise to the track.

Cars Swept Away.

The baggage car, smoking car, and chair car followed the locomotive into the stream and were swept away. All the occupants of these cars except three men perished, and had not the roof of the chair car burst asunder, none would have escaped.

The fireman, as the locomotive went over, was thrown out, and managing to grasp a piece of wreckage from the bridge, floated with that to a curve made by the caving bank and crept out of the water. He ran toward Eden, meeting on the way Operator F. M. Jones and his wife, who already had started up the track.

“Notify Pueblo,” came the voice of the running man; “the train’s gone down and everybody is killed.”

Even as he spoke, relates the operator, there were cries coming from the distance. The two men ran to where the bridge had been to search, but in vain, for victims of the disaster. When they reached the spot all cries for help had ceased.

Relief trains, with physicians, wreck and pile—driving outfits, and scores of workmen were hurried from the city. The first train from the wreck came in shortly after midnight, with J. M. Killin, of Pueblo; H. S. Gilbert, Tony Fisher, and Fireman Mayfield. These were four men in the midst of the wreck who escaped.

Miracle that Any Escaped.

When dawn came the wonder grew that four had been permitted to emerge from the raging torrent with breath still in their bodies. he end of the Pullman car Wyuta extended four feet over the brink, while broken timbers and twisted rails hung still further over. The Arroyo had been widened to more than a hundred feet at the point where the bridge had been. The water tore a zigzag course across the prairie to a depth of thirty feet in several places. There was little left of the baggage car–a few rods, a truck or so, dimly seen in the muddy water, and a half—buried iron safe. The great locomotive, the boiler free of the trucks, the cab and tank gone, lies where it fell.

A quarter of a mile to the east of where this gorge of death debouched in the Fountain lay the chair car, windows gone, three—fourths filled with mud and sand. A hundred feet father on was the smoker, bottom up, against a sand—bar. A hundred and fifty feet father on, in the bed of the Fountain, was the coal tender of the engine, and from that point on for four or five miles vestiges of the coaches, the engine, and tender stuck up from the bed of the stream or lay along the shore or on the islands. Red plush seats of the smoker were strewn all along the stream.

Brass rails from the coaches were found in the sand a half mile from the bridge and pieces of the baggage car stuck out of the water in several places. Bits of clothing, coats, skirts, and women’s hats were found in the brush along the shore, and the searchers scanned the foliage for bodies. Masses of earth had caved in from the high sides of the river at many places, and searchers passed these with fear that bodies were buried under them which they were helpless to reach.

Careful Search for Bodies.

Five hundred men scanned every inch of the river and its surroundings a few hours after daylight. They waded in the stream and carried out mud—begrimed bodies, which were found at widely separated points, some of them miles from the scene of the accident.

The first of the corpses of the recovered were those of Miss Irene Wright and little Dorothy Johnson, sister—in—law and daughter, respectively, of Harry Johnson, of Pueblo. An unknown woman lay beside them. Engineer Hindman was found with his watch still running a few feet farther down the stream. All day long stretchers with sand covered, dripping burdens were carried ever few minutes to the railroad tracks, where the death train awaited them.

While it was still dark, axes had been used on the half—buried cars at the junction of the creek with the Fountain, and at daylight this work was resumed on the smoking car, which lay out in the Fountain, where men were compelled to wade almost to their waists to reach it. A few moments search and clearing away of the floor of the car revealed the wounded head of […]g man in his shirt sleeves.

Dead Entangled in Debris.

A second party, farther down the river, found several persons entangled in a mass of debris, thought to have been part of the baggage car, which was literally torn to pieces. In a short time a large number of bodies were dug out of the sand here. One woman was completely buried, save one foot, which stuck above the water. Some bodies were round lodged in the shrubbery along the banks, others in the wreckage in midstream, and many half buried, with only an arm or a bit of clothing to reveal their whereabouts. It required eight strong men to lift the water-soaked body of one woman to the shore, and a skirt and a hat found on the bank could scarcely be lifted with the fingers of one hand. Many of the bodies were almost naked. Many of them were slightly bruised, probably from the first shock of the wreck, but there was little blood visible when they were removed from the stream.

Drowned Without Warning.

Without doubt, the great majority were drowned like rats in a trap when the cars were plunged, without a moment’s warning, into the whirling water, thirty—five feet deep, 100 feet wide, and with a current strong enough to carry thousands of pounds of weight nearly a mile before subsiding.

When brought ashore the bodies were placed on the ground and covered. baggage car was kept running between the city and the wreck, bringing in those who were found. A number of wagons was finally pressed into service to haul the bodies to the tracks, leaving the searchers free to continue the hunt for others. Some searchers worked all night and all day without food or rest. Persons were constantly arriving and anxiously inquiring for lost ones known to have been on the train. By 9 o’clock this morning the plains were dotted with vehicles, each with its load of anxious seekers or the morbidly curious. More than a thousand persons were on the scene two hours before noon, and the roads in every direction were filled with streams of others coming away.

Identification Was Slow.

Bodies recovered were identified very slowly, because many of them were those of strangers here, who had been to the fair at St. Louis and other Eastern points.

The wrecking crews were under the direction of Supt. R. H. Bowren and Assistant Superintendent W. [?]. Miller, of the Denver and Rio Grande, and Supt. Dyer, of the Missouri Pacific, who made every effort to recover the bodies of all victims of the disaster. They were ably assisted by Chief of Police H. M. Shoup and a force of officers from this city.

The Fountain River still rushes with the impetus of the flood, and the Arroyo has a clear tiny stream trickling along where the fatal mass of water rushed a few hours before. The earth on either side is swept clean by the flood.

The walls of the so-called Dry Creek are rugged, irregular, caving, and widened, but still so narrow that it is almost impossible to understand how the great coaches, the baggage car and the tender, could have been swept so far without becoming lodged against the sides. Most of the bed of the creek is now visible, with little streams weaving about the strips of sand, forming islands of mud and sand, which are being searched for bodies that may lie buried there.

Awful Scenes at the Morgue.

A visit to the morgues presented a horrible picture. Relatives and friends were anxiously seeking friends and loved one supposed to be among the blackened, dirty, and almost unrecogizable [sic] bodies piled in rows in different rooms of the undertaking establishments.

The work apparently was being conducted with as much system as was possible, bodies being carded as fast as recognized. Many of them were taken away immediately.

Women and men are to be seen rushing frantically through the streets from one place to another, wringing their hands in anguish and imploring those supposed to be in possession of information to tell them the fate of their relatives and friends, and every few moments an agonized wail shows that some searcher has discovered what he sought yet feared to find.

Station Agent’s Story.

F. M. Jones, the station agent at Eden, who was the first to go to the aid of the stricken people on the train, gives the following version of the accident:

“I was sitting in my office, a distance of a mile from the scene of the wreck, when suddenly a loud sound, followed by a series of smaller reports, startled me. I had heard of No. 11 passing Pinon from the operator there, and at this time she was overdue more than six minutes, an unusual thing, for the train is a flyer. Becoming thoroughly alarmed, I seized my lantern and ran up the track to the place where the bridge should have been.

“The faint rays of my lantern threw just enough light for me to distinguish three cars, but between myself and them there was a chasm fully fifty feet wide through which dashed a river almost level with the ground upon which I stood. Opposite me I could make out outlines of three cars, bu the other four that usually go to make up No. 11 were nowhere in sight.

“I started across the mesa in the direction of the stream, which was high, and making much noise. After walking about half a mile I saw near the bank a dark object. It was almost stationary in midstream, with one end swinging toward the left bank. I slipped of my clothes and plunged in, swimming in the direction in which I had come, as I knew the strong current would carry me down stream. By proceeding in this course I managed to get to the object, which proved to be a chair car half on its side and held in position by an arm of land extending into the stream probably fifteen feet. The roof of the car was gone, and inside there was not a sould to be found. Guided by the light of my lamp on shore, I struck out for the bank, and, being a strong swimmer, I reached it in a few minutes. The car, or what was left of it, broke loose and was completely demolished.

“It was then after midnight. There were two survivors of the wreck that I know of, the fireman and a passenger in a chair car. His story he told me in a dazed manner. He was sitting in the third chair from the rear of the car when the train turned upward, and the suddenness precipitated him through the window, after turning a complete circle, he landed on the bank.”

Fixed in Fireman’s Memory.

Fireman Mayfield, upon his arrival here, was the first person to give any details of the awful wreck. He was dazed by the ordeal he had passed through, yet each incident is fixed so firmly in his mind that he will remember it until his dying day.

“It had been raining all evening,” he said, ” and we had a hard time to keep steam up in order to run on schedule time. A little while before we reached the bridge that crosses Dry Creek, I began firing up. Just as I was putting in the second shovelful of coal the engine gave a sudden lurch upward. I lost my balance and was thrown from the train onto the bank of the creek. I must have struck partly on my head, as I was dazed and did not know what happened for several minutes. WHen I came to I saw the Pullman cars standing near me, but could not see the engine or the rest of the train. I went up and down the stream looking for my engineer, Charles Hindman.

“I did not notice whether water was running over the trestle as we approached the bridge, but when I was thrown out the water was much higher than the tracks.

“After a long time I met some men who told me Hindman was dead and that his body was found near Eden.

Did Not Expect Disaster.

“We did not expect anything at all. We were going along at a good speed at the time, and never dreamed that anything was wrong. We thought that if there was any kind of a flood near Eden, the operator there would know, and that he would flag us. We passed there, but saw no signals of any kind, and never for an instant felt any danger. It is only a mile from Eden to the bridge that went down.”

R. Brunnazzi, superintendent of the dining car service of the Denver and Rio Grande, one of the survivors, had a narrow escape:

“I was sitting in the front end of the forward sleeper Wyuta,” he said, “near the door. The train had slowed up on account of the bad condition of the tracks, and I think were going about fifteen miles an hour, when all at once I felt a sudden jolt, then a terrific crash, and our car turned almost on its front end.

Saw People Hurled to Death.

“I rushed to the platform and saw before me nothing but a black, raging torrent, with three coaches whirling down the stream. I have never experienced anything like the awful sensation that came over me when I saw the cars, packed with human beings, floating down the raging flood. The water was rushing against the banks with terrible velocity, and no human being, it seemed to me, could ever withstand that awful current.

“Strangely enough, there was hardly any screaming. I listened to and heard the cries, but it was all over in a minute, and the coaches whilred away down the stream with their loads of human beings. Apparently the people were swallowed up in the flood, the water surging into the coaches and drowning them instantly. There was not a sound. I heard no calls for help.

“I reached the bank and joined with those who were trying to rescue the lost. I worked the best I could, but hoe I shall never see another thing like this again. It was terrible, terrible.”

Peculiar pathos attaches to the death of Miss Stella McDonald, of Pueblo, and Dr. James B. McGregor, of Ballard, Wash., who were together. Their engagement was announced last week, and the wedding was planned for the near future. Miss McDonald had been connected with the Pueblo schools for several years.


Passenger Tells Graphic Story of Escape from Submerged Car.

Pueblo, Colo., Aug. 8.–The most remarkable escape from death that the railroad officials have yet learned in connection with the wreck was that of J. M. Killin, a well—known hardware merchant, who was one of the occupants of the chair car. He is now in a hospital here.

Mr. Killin was severely cut about the head, hands, and arms, but no bones were roken, and he will be entirely recovered within a few days if no serious complications ensue. His escape was due entirely, he believes, to his ability as a swimmer, his great strength, and his presence of mind, which led him to hold his breath while he was submerged with the other passengers in water.

“When the first crash came we were riding along as smoothly as one could go,” said Mr. Killin. “It was just as though the train had struck against a stone wall. The lights went out, the fixtures and everything fell down, all the passengers were thrown forward, and there were the most awful cries for help and the grinding of timbers. I saw the man next to me was down, and I helped him up, but just then another crash came and the train seemed to sink about five feet. I lost sight of everybody and could not think of anything but to save myself. I remember well the sensations that I had at that time. I knew I was in terrible danger, and my first thought was that I must get out of the car. At the second crash I was about up to my waist in water. All the time the grinding and crushing of timbers was going on.

“In another crash I was thrown about a third of the length of the car, right up against the front door. I grabbed the top of the door and the car went over in the water three times. My first instinct when the water went up over my head was to hold my breath. I think I was under water for a full minute. The car naturally righte, and when it came up the water was just about to my lips. I could breathe all right and saw that the transom was just above me. With my right hand I smashed out the glass, hoping I could get out in that way.

“At that moment another crash came, and I was struck int he forehead by some floating object and was dazed, but managed to keep my head above the water, and after a terrific struggle reached the shore.

“The only man I could see in the coach as I left it was F. H. Messinger, a banker from Central City. He sat just behind me and at once came to the endo fthe car, and it seemed that he would be saved, but before he could be saved he went down and was lost.

As I approached an island I heard a faint cry of a woman for help. I answered, shouting, ‘I am coming.’ but that moment I heard a gurgling sound as if the poor unfortunate was lost, and I heard the cries no more.”

Whitman A Graduate of West Point.

Lyndon, Kans., Aug. 8.–Capt. Frank H. Whitman,
killed in the Pueblo wreck,was on his way home here to see his aged father, Prof. J. S. Witman, who is on his death bed. Capt. Whitman graduated from West Point in June, 1896. He was major in the Twentieth Kansas Regiment during the Spanish war. After being mustered out as a volunteer, he resumed his place in the regular army, being promoted to captain. After visiting with his father here, he was going on to Manassas, Va., where was to act as an umpire in the Eastern army maneuvers.

Brother and Sister Victims.Northampton, Mass., Aug. 8–Mrs. Ella Stevens, who was killed in the railroad wreck near Pueblo, Colo., was a resident or the village of Florence, a part of this city, and word has been received here that Frank Bodman, formerly foreman at the Nonatuck Silk Mills, a brother of Mrs. Stevens, also was killed. Mrs. Stevens was the wife of Louis A. Stevens, a traveling salesman. She left here a week ago to visit her brother, who was in Colorado for his health.

Source: Bridge Fell, The Washington Post, Washington, District of Columbia, 9 August 1904, pp. 1, 9.

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