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1901 Train Wreck

The Slater Rustler Coverage The Marshall Republican Coverage


The Worst Wreck in the History of the Alton Road
Occurs Between Slater and Marshall

The worst wreck in the history of the Chicago & Alton railroad occurred last Wednesday morning about 7:30 o’clock on a curve just south of Sulphur Springs, and about midway between Marshall and Slater. Seventeen persons are known to be dead, between thirty and forty injured, two engines totally demolished, one sleeping car and one dining-car, two coaches and a baggage- car shattered to pieces and half a train of cattle killed.

The wreck was caused by a head-end collision between passenger train No. 7 (known as "The Hummer") in charge of Conductor Robt. Densmore, Engineer F.A. Briggs and John Varndell, and freight train No. 2nd 88, in charge of Conductor Dan McAnna, Engineer Dave Anderson and Fireman Dan Donelly. Both trains were about an hour behind time, and doubtless, both engineers were trying to make up lost time.

The place at which they met was at the foot of two grades on a sharp curve and about fifty yards east of a bridge which spans a small stream, the dividing line between the grades on either side. It would be difficult to find a place on the road where trains, which were behind time would be running at a higher rate of speed. Both engines were large and powerful, the 309 being one of the new Baldwin moguls, and the 225 one of the large passenger engines. The force with which they came together was sufficient to strip both engines of all machinery, and each train seemed to crush about half of the other. Engine 309 went on the north side of the track and Engine 225 on the south side. The baggage-are was completely demolished. The smoking-car landed on the north side of the track, and just behind it was the chair-car – both badly wrecked.

The next was a Pullman-car, which stood diagonally across the track, and the escaping steam from both engine boilers into its open windows, scalding nearly all the passengers. Steam also scalded passengers in the other coaches in the front and those in the dining-car in the rear of the Pullman. Three Pullman-cars at the rear of the train remained on the track, but one of them and the dining-car burned before they could be removed. Only two coaches of this magnificent train were saved from destruction The stock train fared but little better, as only five cars and the caboose were left of it. The remainder of it, which was loaded with cattle, was crushed and piled up in a shapeless mass, where wails of wounded, scalded and dying men and women were mingled with the groans of the cattle. To add to the horror of the scene, the train caught fire, but it is not thought that any of the passengers perished in the flames that consumed the two coaches.

An accurate description of the awful disaster will probably never be given, as it is impossible to describe it. Death seemed to exist on every hand. Under every shade tree in the locality lay men and women – young and old – scalded, bruised and bleeding. The atmosphere was polluted by the fumes that came from the dead. It was a sight that stirred the coldest hearts and no one present will ever want to witness again.

The Dead

The list of dead is as follows:

Frank A. Briggs, of Slater, passenger engineer

D.J. Anderson, Slater, freight engineer

Dan McAnna, Slater, freight conductor

Dan Donnelly, Slater, fireman of freight train, died at hospital in Kansas City

I.S. Raser, Chicago, express messenger

B.W. Hooker, an aged man of Phoenix, N.Y. died en route to Kansas City

Mrs. Rhoda Curtiss, elderly woman died en route to Kansas City

Mrs. Gilliam, Goodland, Ind.

Two unknown men and an unknown woman about 35 years of age

Sidney Jones, Chicago, 45 to 50 years of age, sandy mustache, light gray eyes, weighed 190 to 200 lbs. Identification not positive. Died at St. Joseph’s hospital, Kansas City

Mrs. Dixon, 67 years old, died at University hospital at 10 o’clock

Miss Lulu Rider, 25, Kentland, Ind. Died at University hospital at 8 o’clock

Unknown woman, died at St. Joseph’s hospital

Mrs. S.A.D. Harry, Hoopeston, Ill., died at St. Joseph’s hospital at 10 o’clock

The Injured

The injured are as follows:

H.J. Titus, trainman, dislocated arm

John Varndell, of Slater, fireman, ankle dislocated

Miss Ora Tallman and mother, or Valparazo, Ind., both scalded and bruised

Miss Luly Rider, Kentland, Ind., scaled on face and body

Leslie D. Colburn, Pawpaw, Michigan, arm and leg dislocation and face scalded

Mrs. S.L. Ray, Wilmington, Vermont, scalded about head, face and arms

Jas. Whittle, Gilliam, Mo., leg and arm bruised

G.P. Dixon, Fairbury, Ill., face and leg scalded

O.D. Sanburn, Chenoa, Ill., scaled hands and face

C.E. Bray, 151 State St., Chicago, traveling man, slightly injured.

Miss Cora Colburn, Topeka, Ind., leg dislocated

Mrs. Mary Bird, Vandalia, Mo., ribs broken

C.E. Nully, Mexico, Mo., express helper, slightly injured

Robert Densmore, conductor on passenger train, face slightly cut and rib fractured

Walter Walsh, son of Conductor Walsh, of Slater, badly burned on the back

George Allen, colored, of New Frankfort, hurt on side and back

Mrs. C.W. Snider, Jasper, N.Y., hands and face scalded

Miss Lottie L. Still, New York City, face and arms scalded

Miss Julia Hayslip, Chenoa, Ill., face and arms scalded

Miss Annie Morrison, Valpariso, Ind., scalded head and arms

Prof. S.A.D. Harry, Supt. of Schools, Hoopestown, Ill., arm sprained and hand scalded

Adolph Kaufman, white cook in dining car, Hoopeston, Ill., bruised and burned – not serious

Mrs. J.S. Adsit, Hoopeston, Ill., scalded about the head and shoulders

Miss Emma Dixon, Wilmington, Ill., scalded about the neck and face

Gus Williams, negro porter, New Orleans, back sprained and ribs broken

Mrs. J.A. Miller, of Bloomington, Ill., slight cut on body and scalded on head, not serious

Mrs. Levy Arch, Crumwell, Ind., broken arm and hurt in side.

Miss Dora Wickline, Goodland, Ind., hip dislocated

Sadie E. Taylor, Wilmington, Ill., face and arm scalded

Jos. Baldus, Salt Springs, Mo., slightly scalded

C. Johns, Shackelford, Mo., slightly scalded

Miss Gertrude Duncan, Elgin, Ill., bruised about the chest, was on her way to the Epworth League Convention at San Francisco

Mrs. Newton and Mrs. Berth Mitchell, Pontiac, Ill., faces and hands scalded.

The first news of the wreck came to Slater from Norton and was sent by the flagman. The message simply read to send wrecker and doctors. Drs. Howard and Duggins went on a special train and as soon as possible sent word to all the physicians in Slater and Marshall to come. Everything possible was done by the physicans, officials and men and women of Slater and Marshall to relieve the suffering. Relief trains were sent from Higginsville and Slater. Slater’s dead and crippled were brought home about 1 o’clock and the rest sent to Kansas City in charge of twelve physicians.

The body of Engineer F.A. Briggs was not found until the afternoon, when his crushed form was discovered under a stock car. His remains, with those of engineer Dave Anderson, Conductor Dan McAnna and Expressman I.S. Raser (part of the article is missing here) Baptist Church this afternoon at 3:30. Expressman Raser’s remains were shipped to Chicago. The remains of the other two will remain in Slater until relatives arrive before it is decided where they will be buried.

The cause of the wreck is thought to be dure to an oversight on the part of Conductor McAnna. There was an extra west-bound passenger train on the road Wednesday morning running as "2nd No. 7". The St. Louis train passed the freight train at Marshall. Soon after this message was sent to Marshall for No. 88 to meet "2nd No. 7" at Slater. It is supposed that McAnna failed to read the order closely and supposed it meant the regular No. 7 and was probably not aware of the extra train being on the road. He had been assisting the engineer and fireman in running the engine, and as he ran toward the engine he is said to have called to the rear brakeman "We meet them at Slater". He was on the engine when the crash came. Another report is that the word "2nd" was left out of the message by the operator.

The loss to the company will probably run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The loss of property, great as it is, will be small when compared with the amount that will have to be paid the relatives of the dead and for damage claims of the injured.

Slater’s Dead

Frank A. Briggs was born in Plainfield, Michigan, Oct. 17, 1857, but has lived in Slater for a number of years. He leaves a wife and four small children. He was a Mason of high degree, being a member of the Blue Lodge and chapter of Slater and the Commandery at Marshall.

D.J. Anderson is also one of the old railroad men of Slater and was recently promoted to engineer. He also leaves a wife and children. He was a member of the Odd Fellows lodge at this place.

Conductor McAnna has not lived in Slater a great while. His relatives live in Pennsylvania and will be here to take charge of his remains.

Fireman Donnelly came here a short time ago from Mexico, Mo., and his remains will be taken home for burial.

Transcription of an article from The Slater Rustler, Friday, July 12, 1901


Since our last issue four more victims of the Sulphur Springs disaster have died. They were Mrs. A.J. Adsit of Hoopeston, Ill., age 29 years; Mrs. Hulda Hayslip of Chenoa, Ill., aged 52; Miss Lottie L. Still, Hornelisville, N.Y., aged 26 years; L. S. Coleman, PawPaw, Mich., aged 24 years. It is supposed that Coleman was traveling on the freight train. Messages were received from his father and his remains were shipped to Michigan.

Robert Densmore, the oldest conductor on the Alton, who had charge of the train, spent Friday and Saturday in Slater, and has recovered from the slight bruises received. He says the exact time of the wreck was 7:30 but it was more than an hour before the relief train arrived. In the mean time heroic work was done to get out of those under the wreck. In all (dead and wounded) twelve persons were taken from the debris. The smoking car in which Densmore was riding was thrown down the embankment with such force as to reverse the ends of the car. For a moment it stood on end, then fell back, right side up.

"Frank Brigg, poor fellow," said Densmore, "his last act, in the face of death was to try to save the train and its passengers, when possibly he might have saved his life by jumping. He was one of the best engineers on the road and I have had the utmost confidence that hs part would be well done whenever he was at the throttle. I felt the air go on and the next instant came the crash."

Fireman John Varndell, the only survivor of the two engine crews, was very fortunate. He saw the freight train when only a few yards away and jumped. Before he struck the ground the engines came together. How he ever escaped with only a sprained hip and ankle cannot be accounted for.


The wreck train with a steam derrick and complete equipment were sent over from Bloomington to assist in cleaning up the wreckage. Nine car loads of it were brought to Slater Saturday and six more cars were gathered up this week. The two boilers were stripped of everything and loaded in cars to themselves. The head of the larger engine was knocked in farther than the passenger train. But both were badly shattered. One of the strange features of the wreck was, the track was not torn up a particle. A few ties had to be placed under the rails to replace those burned under the coaches. With this exception little work was needed on the track.


Mr. Starr, Supt. of the Western division, says: "The fault of the wreck rested entirely with the conductor and engineer of the stock train. The orders given them allowed no opportunity for a misunderstanding. No fault whatsoever attaches to the train dispatchers or the men of the passenger train. The exact nature of the mistake made by the freight men will never be known. There is a slight possibility that they might have mistaken the St. Louis train, which was two hours late, for the first section of the Chicago train, but I scarcely think they did."


Miss Sarah McAnna, of Pittston, Pa., arrived here last Friday for the remains of her brother, Conductor McAnna. The remains left Slater Friday night, and were accompanied to Pittston by Conductor S.J. Mead, Miss Julia Sullivan, and Miss Mary Schreiber. Miss Schreiber and the deceased were engaged to be married next September. She formerly lived in Slater, but for the past year has been in Kansas City.


The funeral of F.A. Briggs took place at the Baptist Church Friday afternoon and was attended by a large concourse of friends. After the service at the church, the Mason’s of Cambridge Lodge No. 63 A.F. and A.M. took charge of the remains and conducted the services at the grave. The pallbearers were composed of six Masons, three of them being members of the B. of L.E. Missouri Commandery No. 36, of which he was also a member, sent a beautiful floral offering, a passion cross. The other beautiful and appropriate offerings were as follows: The order of the Eastern Star; The Ladies Auxiliary to the B. of L.E., a cross and a crown; Cambridge Lodge No. 63, A.F. and A.M., a square and compass encircling the letter G.; B. of L.E.. a wreath; C.H. Johnston and wife, bouquet of cut flowers; James Day and wife, bouquet of cut flowers.

Among those who attended his funeral from a distance were Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery of Blue Springs, uncle and aunt of Mrs. Briggs, Mrs. H. Arnold, of Roodhouse, Lafe Briggs, of Muskegan, Mich., brother of the deceased, Mrs. R.B. Miller, of Blue Springs; Miss Zadie Cope, of Rockford, Mich.; Mrs. Lucy Jones, of Blue Springs; Mr. and Mrs. Jas. Day, of Kansas City, and Homer Pulliam, of Pittsburg, Kansas.

The funeral of David J. Anderson took place at the Christian church, Saturday morning at 9:30 o’clock. The services were conducted by Elder R.L. Wilson, assisted by Revs. Russell and Alton. After the services at the church, the members of Samaritan Lodge No. 390, took charge of the remains, which were interred at the City Cemetery, with the solemn ceremonies of that benevolent order. It is a matter of regret by the friends and relatives of the deceased that the floral offerings which were ordered from Kansas City, failed to arrive until Sunday morning. Mr. Anderson began his railroading in Slater. He formerly lived in Clay Township, and many of his friends from that county were present to pay the last tribute to his memory.

In respect to the two dead engineers, who had long been citizens of Slater, the business houses were closed during the funeral services.


Friday night another one of the coaches, the smoker, caught fire and burned to ashes. Watchers had been sent to the wreck, but it appears that they went to sleep and awakened to find the coach in flames.

Transcription of an article from The Slater Rustler, Friday, July 19, 1901


By J.R. Edwards, Publisher

The direct cause of the wreck which cost 21 lives on Wednesday of last week, is no longer in doubt. The train orders which were found on the body of Engineer Anderson have been examined by a number of railroad men at Slater and their unanimous opinion is that had the orders been obeyed no wreck would have occurred. They also claim that the engineer and the conductor were equally responsible according to the rules of the road. It is evident that Conductor McAnna misunderstood his orders, and the engineer relied entirely on the judgment of the conductor and placed the orders in his pocket without reading them. Both of them were dashed to death as a result of their mistakes and no one will be unkind enough, under the circumstances, not to spread the mantle of charity over their fatal error.

But this is not the only misfortune the Alton has experienced of recent date, nor can the trouble be traced to any single cause. Indirectly the change of management, the change of rules, the change of officials and the discharge and retirement of old employees and the employment of new men, may be factors in its misfortunes. We do not mean to say that these changes have not been necessary in many cases, but in our opinion they have occasioned trouble.

When the road changed management it was the opinion of the old officials and the men under them, that it was only a question of time when they would have to seek employment elsewhere. They naturally grew uneasy and were not in a frame of mind to accomplish the best results. Old employees who had run on the road for year made errors and were discharged. Then came the big engines before the track was fully prepared to receive them. This caused some good engineers and firemen to give up their positions, which with the increasing business of the road forced the officials to employ new men and promote others to new positions.

This chain of circumstances, it seems to us, in connection with the extremely hot weather, shortage of power and disabled engines was to some extent indirectly reflected in the Sulphur Springs disaster.

But back of all of this the irresistible desire of the American people which forces railroad corporations to run their trains at a frightful speed. In this age of progress and development the traveling public is too often jeopardized by its own demands.

Transcription of an article from The Slater Rustler, July 19, 1901


Head End Collision by Passenger and Freight Trains
Ten Deaths, Many Injured, Cattle Killed and Heavy Loss in Other Property
Horrifying Scenes on the Ground


The list of killed and injured follow:

Dan McAnna, conductor on freight train, Slater, Mo.

S. J. Anderson, Slater, Mo., engineer on freight train

Frank Briggs, Slater, Mo., engineer on passenger train

J.S. Rogers, Chicago; express messenger

Two unknown men, supposed to be tramps

Two women, names unknown


F.C. Bray, Chicago; shoe salesman, bruised about head

Miss Clara Golden, Topeka, Indiana; hurt in right hip

George a. Hill, Gilliam, Mo.; badly cut on left knee

George Allen, colored, New Frankfort, Mo.; left side hurt

Joseph Whittle, Gilliam, Mo.; cut on left arm and on head and left leg sprained

Miss Zola Harvey, Hoopeston, Illinois; scalded on face and arms

Miss J.S. Adsit, Hoopeston, Illinois; scaled on face and arms

Sidney Jones, Kansas City, Mo.; badly scalded about head and body

Dr. J.S. Adsit, Hoopeston, Illinois; head badly scalded and cut on head

Gus Williams, colored, New Orleans’ porter on tourist car; hand scalded and ribs broken on left side

Mrs. C.W., Snider, Jasper, N.Y.; hand and face badly scalded

Mrs. Francis Walker, Brooklyn, N.Y.; face and body badly scalded

Miss Lottie L. Still, Hornellsville, N.Y.; face and arms badly bruised

D.P. Dixon, Farbury, Mo.; face bruised and both legs scalded

Prof. S.A.D. Harvey, Hoopeston, Illinois; hands badly scalded and left arm badly injured

Miss Julia Hayslip, Shenoa, Illinois; hands and face scalded

Mrs. Anna Morrison, Valparaiso, Indiana; scalded about head and arms, not seriously

Miss Eva E. Pallman, Valparaiso, Indiana; slightly scalded about head and arms

Mary Bird, Vandalia, Mo.; rib broken and bruised about head

Sadie Taylor, Wilmington, Illinois; face and arms badly scalded

Miss S.L. Ray, Wilmington, Illinois; scalded about head and arms

S.S. Calburn, PawPaw, Mich., badly scalded on face and arms, right leg and right arm broken

Dan Donnelly, Slater, Mo.; fireman on freight train; jaw broken and eye injured

D.E. Null, Mexicio, Mo.; express messenger; bruised on back and leg

Mrs. Emma Dixon, Wilmington, Illinois; body scalded

James Varndell, Slater, Mo.; fireman on passenger train; badly sprained ankle

W.E. Meyer, St. Louis, Mo.; superintendent of dining car; badly scalded

Walter Walsh and Adolph Kaufman, cooks on dining car; badly scalded

Thomas Johnson, cook on dining car; slightly bruised

D.W. Hooker, Syracuse, N.Y.; badly hurt about head and arms, not expected to recover

Leona G. Miller, Bloomington, Illinois; scalded and cut on head

Miss Levi Arch, Cromwell, Indiana; broken arm and hurt in side

Miss Dora Wickwine, Goodman, Indiana; hip dislocated

T.J. Elliott, Farber, Mo.; slight cut on head

Miss Lula Rider, Kentlean, Indiana; badly scalded on face, arms and back

Mrs. S.A.D. Harvey, Hoopeston, Illinois; scalded about head, arms and chest

Mrs. Newton Mitchell and Miss Bertha C. Mitchell, Pontiac, Illinois; badly scalded on face and arms

About 8 o’clock Wednesday morning a head-end collision occurred about four and a half miles east of Marshall. Passenger train, No. 7, know as "The Hummer". With conductor "Bob Dinsmore" in command and Engineer Frank Briggs in the cab, headed westward, was met by a special freight, in charge of Conductor Dan McAnna and Engineer D.J. Anderson, going east. Both trains were rounding a curve at a high rate of speed, each unconscious of the approach of the other until too near together to prevent the appalling catastrophe which followed, and they came together with terrific force and deplorable results. The two engines appeared as telescoped and bound together by sheer force of concussion, and were thrown from and across the track, a mass of ruined mechanism and departed symmetry and power. The passenger train, composed of the usual Pullman, sleepers, chair cars and coaches, with the addition of a tourists’ sleeper were jammed together in unshapely mass, piled upon and drive into each other, until the whole mass was in ruins, one Pullman bouncing upon top of the fallen monster engines, as if in an intelligent effort to land its burden of human souls beyond the bounds of danger. Several of the cars took fire, and it was with difficult that any of the passengers were saved from a crushed or fiery death.

The freight train was loaded in large part with cattle, and the dead and maimed brutes were not dumb, but gave evidence of the misery inflicted upon them. The mixed mass of piled up and broken rolling stock, charred timbers,, dead and dying animals, and the litter of broken trunks and scattered human garments, presented a scene of no enviable kind. But the loss of property, regrettable as that be, was not the worst phase of the occurrence. The loss of life and the wounds inflicted upon the passengers was horrible to behold. Ten human beings, in the vigor of health and strength of manhood, were deprived of life in one brief moment. Conductor McAnna of the freight train, the engineers of both trains and several of the passengers were among the dead. The fireman on the passenger train, who jumped and escaped with an injured leg, states that Engineer Briggs, after whistling for brakes, mindful of the burden of human souls behind him, and responsibility resting upon him, sat at his post, his hand upon the lever, and went fearlessly down to death, a heroic martyr to his duty.

About 25 to 30 persons were more or less severely wounded, among them were many ladies. The wounds were in the main severe in character, because of the unexpectedness of the accident, and of the subsequent fire. The broken limbs and bruised bodies called forth may shrieks and groans, but the bruised heads and burnt faces, many being scarred beyond recognition, presented to the on looker a heartrending scene, and called forth all his energies and sympathetic efforts to give relief to his suffering fellows.

The entire medical force of Marshall was called to the scene and nobly responded and faithfully administered to the needs and sought to relieve suffering and save life.

The cause of the accident is at present conjectural. Two passenger trains pass Marshall in the early morning, going west – one at 5 o’clock and "The Hummer" at 6:20. The 5 o’clock train was late, and the freight train stood upon the side-track at Marshall waiting a clear track, and as the passenger train passed by the freight started east.

"The Hummer", also, late, had approached closely to the eastern train and met the freight at the fatal curve. We are not disposed to unjustly censure, but someone must have failed to properly instruct as to their meeting.

Transcription of an article from The Marshall Republican, July 12, 1901.

Submitted by Conni Braun

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