The Train Wreckers

Our Sincerest Thanks To Margaret Baker Of Monroe, Utah For Photocopies Of The Original Newspaper Articles.

Margaret's Great Grandfather was killed in a terrible train accident caused by "Train Wreckers" - men who set out to intentionally cause a train wreck. Quite often the train wreckers were robbers looking for a way to loot the train and passengers, other times the were men hired by a competitor railroad, but some times they were just plain mean men who got their thrills by causing spectacular accidents. In this particular accident, Margarets great grandfather was working as a fireman for the Rock Island Railroad. His name was William Krieg (although the newspaper articles misspelled his name as William Craig). All spelling and punctuation is exactly as found in the newspaper articles.

Wilson Henry Foote

This photo is of Wilson Henry (Harry) Foote, Linda Colton's great-grandfather, who was the brakeman listed in this article. Submitted by Linda Colton. Linda has supplied some additional information on Harry Foote.

WARNING:Old newspaper articles about train accidents were quite often very graphic in their description of the carnage. The articles below are no exception.



Eleven Lives Go Out In a Rock Island Wreck


A Crow Bar Found Nearby and Tell Tale Marks on the Rails


Heroic Rescue Work in the Face of Blinding Heat and Flames

The Injured Number Fifteen - Anxious
Friends Hunting for Missing -
Unknown Dead Leave No Identification Behind.

The incoming Rock Island train was wrecked and burned at 9:20 last night. A partial list of the dead and injured is as follows:

The Dead

C.D. STANNDARD, conductor, Council Bluffs, perished in flames; family.
WILLIAM KRIEG, fireman, Fairbury; family.
IKE DEPEW, engineer, Council Bluffs, crushed; family.
UNIDENTIFIED, grain man of Fairbury.


HARRY FOOTE, brakeman, leg broken.
C.H. CHERRY, postal clerk, terribly cut about the face and head.
F.T. SCOTT, express messenger, back injured and cut on head.
O.S. BELL, Lincoln, travelling man, internally.

A fearful wreck, involving the loss of eleven lives, one engine and two cars, occurred on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad where it crosses on a high trestle the tracks of the U.P. and the B. & M. railroads at 10 o'clock last night. All indications point to train wreckers as the cause.

Train No. 8 drawn by engine No. 318 is an accomodation called "Ft. Worth accomodation" and is due to arrive here at 9:40 p.m. Last night it was about ten minutes late and was making up time when it struck the trestle that crosses Salt Creek about four miles from the city and two from the peneteniary. When it struck the trestle the rails immediately spread and the engine drawing two cars after it went thumping along over the cross ties for about fifty feet and then with a crash it fell forty feet to the bed of the creek below. The engine burst and glowing coals spreading ignited the wooden supports and the coaches behind it, and in a few moments the bridge dry as tinder from its long exposure to the sun was one mass of flames. The coals falling upon the coaches lying in the ditches set them afire and five minutes after the first warning the entire mass of cars with their load of human freight, below was one mass of flames.

It was an awful sight. The flames mounted high in the heavens coloring the entire sourthern sky a brilliant carmine while the moonbeams fell upon the glowing mass below from which mortal shrieks of agony and pain were heard to issue.

Willing hands were there to help, but little could be done.

The engine had fallen first then the combination car or smoker and express coach fell partially upon that and the rear coach falling behind it telescoped that car, thus pinioning those unfortunates who were in teh smoker so that it was impossible to save them or for them to escape.

The Rescue

Col. C.J. Bills, Jay McDowell, Fairbury passengers, and the brakeman, Harry Foote, were the first to extricate themselves from the rear car. They immediately started ot work, and after a half hour's work the fifteen occupants of teh rear coach were saved.

It was noble, heroic work, the flames were scorching in their intensity, but those noble, heroic men struggled hard to save their fellow sufferers. Rapidly the work of rescue went on until the entire fifteen rear coach passengers, including three women, were rescued and laid upon the bank beside the bridge.

Those engaged in the work of rescue begged them to assist, but they were too frightened and excited to do anything but lay on the bank and moan. Many of them were seriously injured and were unable to help.

About forty minutes after the wreck a B. & M. train came from the south and took everyone to the city.

Giving the Alarm

Colonel Bills and Jay McDowell had started in search of a telephone or telegraph office soon after their work of rescue was finished, leaving Harry Foote, who was unable to walk, laying beside the track in the cool grass.

The nearest point of habitation was the penitentiary, and towards that they plowed through the cornfields towards the tall smoke stacks which loomed up through the moonlight in the distance. Two miles is a long distance, but Colonel Bills with his companion plowed over it manfully until he reached the buildings and telephoned the Rock Island depot, police headquarters and the fire department. It was impossible to get a swamper over the rough country roads and no fire apparatus was available. The only thing to do was just to let the whole pile burn.

Under Red Hot Iron

It was heartbreaking. The fireman, engineer and conductor lay prostrate under the burning mass of red hot iron and burning coaches. their faces were turned out and Stannard whose legs were being consumed by the fierce flameskept crying for help. He begged for someone to tell his wife and to help her.

"For God's sake," he cried, "some one come. What will my wife and little one do? Oh! God, will some help come?"

Harry Foote heard and tried to help, but the fierce flames drove him back. Three times he essayed with his broken foot and leg to extend some assistance but it was impossible to go near that burning pile which meant certain death. Fred Scott, the baggage master, saw him and cried out, "Harry! Harry! Help for Christ's sake."

Then he heard and acted, crawling up to the burning car he caught Scott just as the flames commenced to lick up his legs burning his trousers and shoes completely off. Where the timbers had fallen upon him with crushing force his back was terribly injured. Harry pulled him out, however, and none too soon. Had help arrived two minutes later he would have perished in the flames.

As soon as Scott could breathe he murmured: "Cherry's in there! Save him!" Although the poor boy was suffering the tortures of the damned with his broken leg he returned to his work where the flames rivaled the heat and tenacity of those described in "Dante's Inferno." Crawling up to the prostrate coach he caught the hand of Cherry, the messenger, who was pinioned by the fallen timbers and by almost superhuman strength succeeded in extracting him just as the curling flames commenced to lap around his face and head.

By this time, others attracted to the glow in the heavens arrived, among them being W.M. Saxton the son of George Saxton. He was running across the field when his foot struck something heavy and he stumbled over an immovable object. Quickly picking himself up, he looked and felt around in the long grass until his hand struck a pile of fishplates, an iron fastening used to secure the rails to the cross-ties, and a crowbar. He picked them up and carried them over to the knot of railroad men.

They recognized and questioned him as to where he got and why he brought a forty pound crowbar with him. He explained and in a moment a terrible suspicion took possesion of them.

Laying the plates and crow bar in the grass they went over to the western end of the bridge and examined the rails and cross ties. It needed only a moment to convince them that their suspicions were true.

Train Wreckers Had been at Work. The evidences were plainly there and unmistakable. Marks made by a wrench on a loosened rail were plainly visible and the marks of the crowbar on the cross ties were there so plain that no lantern was needed to examine them.

The wood of the ties was deeply dented where the crowbar had been inserted and the rails lifted clear of the ties and the spikes which had been pulled out were lying around loose on the bridge.

Just after this discovery, City Detective Malone arrived and was informed of these facts.

Several men there who had their suspicions, but they were given only to Malone, who would not give them out for publication last night. It is certain, however, that any time a description of the supposed wreckers can be, and indeed it may already have been, furnished to the police.

Chief of Fire Department Malone was also on the scene and with a number of his men did everything possible to quench the flames. Several hand fire extinguishers had been brought along and with these one of the firemen, Anthony Horr, an employee at the penitentiary, and Detective Malone did some material work in stopping the flames.

Without a doubt, this was one of the most dastardly pieces of work ever accomplished by western desperadoes. The motive no doubt was robbery, but in some manner the villans were frightened away before they could accomplish their end.

The fact that from the nature of the train's headway no great number of lives could have been lost does not pallate the offense in the least. The intent of rapine, murder and robbery is plain to everyone who visited the scene last night.

Praise without stint is given to the men who did such noble work of rescue. Harry Foote is considered every inch a hero. Not many men would have forgotten their own hurts and extended such material aid and assistance to those who had worked and were suffering with him.

Was To Have Been Married

C.H. Cherry, the injured mail clerk, was to have been married in a month and had he not been rescued when he was he would have perished with the other poor fellows who were entirely burned and buried beneath the pile of iron and living coals.

F.T. Scott, the baggage master, was the only unmarried man of the crew, but many friends at Horton, Kas. where his father is the company's surgeon, would have mourned his death.

The work of C.J. Bills and Jay McDonnell was that of clear-headed men. The colonel was severely bruised and injured about the legs, but with consummate coolness and presence of mind, he assisted and directed the work of rescue. Then with his companion while faint from his exertions in the intense heat he tramped two miles over the rough earth and through standing stalks of a corn field to the penitentiary, from where he gave the alarm and asked for medical assistance.

Jack Ocutarre, an humble laboring man, did some material rescue and salvation work.

City Detective Malone, with his had extinguisher, did some good salvage work, and as usual did some investigating of which some one may fear later.

All this time Harry Foote had remained quiet and uncomplaining. No physicians had yet arrived or did not make themselves known, so with some men who had taken a Rock Island hand car and volunteered their service, Harry was removed in a fainting condition to the car and from thence brought the four miles by willing hands to the Rock Island depot. The first thing he did was to telegraph his mother that he was a little bruised, "but still in the ring."

Additional information on Wilson Henry (Harry) Foote, submitted by Linda Colton:

Just to let you in on a few more facts about this train wreck and my great-grandfather, I have been trying to research his death for many months. You see, my grandpa, his son, was born on Aug. 24, 1894, a few weeks after the train wreck, and as he got older, his mother told him that his father had died in a train wreck a few weeks before he was born. This was the story that has been passed down in the family. However, when I discovered these articles about the wreck, it was obvious that he didn''t die initially from the accident. Well, that put a whole new twist on things. After a lot of research, and the help of some wonderful genealogists from Trinidad, Colorado (where my g-grandmother moved to in 1901), and from DeSoto, Wisconsin, where she and her relatives are buried, I have found Harry's final resting place, in the DeSoto Cemetery. I really would like to know when exactly he died - I'm assuming a few days after the wreck - probably from an infection of the leg injury. I suppose he was transported back to Minneapolis via some rail line, and his wife came there to be with him (whether or not he was still alive.) My grandpa was born in Minneapolis, and I could never figure out why, since they lived in LaCrosse, WI. and that was where his older sister was born. But now the pieces of the puzzle are sort of coming together. Harry's wife was obviously almost due to give birth, and probably just stayed in Minneapolis to do that, after her husband had died. Unfortunately, his headstone only has the year of his death - 1894, so some nice people in DeSoto are trying to find a burial record for me so I can hopefully pin-point his date of death.

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