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    Also part of History of Railroads


Railroad Accident

November 1, 1909

Excursion Train of

Chicago and North-Western Railroad

12 Killed


Compiled and edited by Ken Riedl


Coroner’s Inquest

Watertown Democrat, 11 03 1859


As we go to press we learn that a Coroner’s Inquest was held over the remains of those killed on the railroad last Tuesday.  After a thorough and strict examination of the Engineer and another man who was with him, the jury returned a verdict that the deceased came to their death by means of an accident, for the occurrence of which no body is responsible or to blame.  This is strictly in accordance with the views and opinions of all who have tried to ferret out the real truth, in order to condemn those who were to blame, if any such there should be.


Theron Minor’s Funeral

Watertown Democrat, 11 03 1859


The [burial of the] remains of Mr. Theron Minor of this city [former editor, Watertown Chronicle, 1853-1855], one of the victims of the late railroad accident, took place yesterday.  He was followed to the grave by a large number of his fellow citizens, who sincerely sympathize with the family so deeply afflicted by a calamity that has clothed whole communities in mourning.


The Railroad Accident

Coroner's Inquest

Watertown Democrat, 11 10 1859


An inquest was held in this city on the 2d inst., over the deceased bodies of such of the victims of the recent catastrophe as had either been brought here dead or died during the preceding night, J. A. Hadley, Esq., Police Justice, acting as Coroner.  The examination of witnesses was conducted by J. J. Enos, Esq., of this city and C. A. Eldredge, Esq., of Fond du Lac, and seems to have been thorough and satisfactory in every respect.  We give below the evidence and finding of the jury by which it will be seen that the casualty was one that no human power could avert, and that the engineer and all others connected with the management of the train are in no way held accountable for its occurrence.




R. A. Baker being sworn says:—The bodies of the deceased here present are those of Major J. Thomas, Edward Sickles, Isidore Snow, John Boardman and Jerome Mason, all of Fond du Lac.  Mr. Sickles died last evening at the Planter's Hotel in this city, in consequence of injuries sustained yesterday on the excursion train of the Chicago and North Western Railway about seven miles south of this city.  Mr. Mason died on the cars on the way from the scene of the accident.  The others died at the place of the accident.


George McNamara:—I was engineer on the excursion train yesterday morning when the accident occurred.  The train was running at the rate of about 18 miles per hour.  The accident took place about seven miles south of this city.  I first saw two cattle by the track.  As we approached them one ran off from the track, and the other, an ox, attempted to cross the track, about the length of one and a half cars this side of an open culvert.  He was carried to the culvert and there, dropping under the cow-catcher, threw the engine off upon the west side of the road, into the ditch, the cars following.  Was 20 rods from the ox when I first saw him.  Did not think then that he would go upon the track.  He jumped upon the track close ahead of the engine.  Had we been going faster, would probably have thrown him clear of the track.  The train was thrown off by his being caught in the culvert.  Robert Campbell, Chief Engineer of the road, and G. B. Snow were on the engine with me.  I stayed upon the engine until it stopped.  At the rate of speed we were running, I could not check the train so as to prevent hitting the ox, nor had I time to increase the speed so as to throw him clear of the track.  The ox was between the side ditch and track when I first saw him.  The other turned off, but this one tried to run across the track.  He was 25 feet from the engine when he started for the track.  I did not blow the whistle because I thought it would frighten him and cause him to run upon the track.  Did not give the signal to the brakemen.  Had not time to do so.  If the brakemen had been at their places, there was not time to stop the train.  Have run over that portion of the road before.  Had to run 20 miles an hour to make time.  Don't know what Campbell came forward for.  He did not say that he came to see that the track was clear.  The ox came upon the track from the west side.  I was on the same side of the engine on the foot-board.  Campbell was on the other side.  Snow was on the west side with me.  I consider it my duty when I see cattle on the track to whistle and frighten them off.  The train could not possibly have been stopped, had all the brakes been applied, before going from 40 to 80 rods.  I have run as engineer 3 years or more.  Was a machinist and fireman for 5 years before that.  The cattle were headed from the track.  I noticed the ox after the train stopped.  He laid across the track with his head to the west.  He must have been rolled over and turned around.  Did not see him when the engine first struck him.  Hinckly was one of the brakemen.  Don’t know the names of the others.  If the ox had not caught in the culvert, he would probably have been carried off the track.  The rail turned over and let the engine off; if it had not turned over, the flanges of the driving-wheels would probably have kept the engine upon the track.  If I had blown the whistle, the train could not have been so checked as to have prevented the accident; I did not blow the whistle when I first saw the ox because I supposed he was going from the track.  If cattle are along side of the track my duty is to get by them as quietly as possible and not to whistle; if they are upon the track, then I should whistle and frighten them off if I can.  The rail probably was turned over in consequence of the strain upon it; presume it was laid as well as the others; the strain loosened the rails.  When the engine stopped, I stepped off and let off the steam; I was not thrown off.  After getting the engine safe, looked to the fireman, who was injured.


Timothy F. Strong:—Am Assistant Supt., of the Chicago and N. W. Railway; was on the excursion train yesterday; Arthur A. Hobart was the conductor.  He has been a conductor for a number of years.  He is regarded as a very competent conductor.  There were 12 passenger cars attached to the train when the accident occurred—also a baggage car.  Lunt and Mason were in the baggage car. 


Text Box: Theron MinorTheron Minor was caught between two cars, I think the 3rd and 4th, and killed.  Don’t know where Sickles, Emmons and Craig were.  The train was going at the rate of 16 or 20 miles an hour; have been connected with railroading for 12 years.  Such a train as this, going at the rate it was, could not have been stopped with the usual number of brakemen in less than 1000 or 2000 feet.  The train was heavily loaded.  All the cars were filled but one and that was about two thirds full; there were probably 600 or 700 persons on the train.  If the engineer had seen the cattle with their heads from the track, his duty was to pass as quietly as possible and not to have whistled.  If he saw them 8 or ten rods from the train headed for the track, his duty was to notify the brakemen.  If the cattle jumped on the track 25 or 30 feet from the engine, he could do nothing and would have to submit to the consequences.  Had the speed been greater, the ox would doubtless have been thrown from the track; discovered the position of the ox after the accident.  His hind parts laid across the east rail, with his head to the west.  He was probably turned around when in the culvert, or when the engine first struck him.  Robert Campbell is Chief Engineer of the road.  He is a careful officer.  Don't know for what purpose he went forward.  The accident occurred on a grade very nearly level, I think; I think there were 5 or 6 brakemen on the train; Barney was one of them; don't know the others; Campbell is now at Oshkosh; he resides there; I think some part of the animal got between the rail and the flange of the engine; it must have required a great power to have turned the rail over; I think no one connected with the running of the train is in any way blamable for the accident; I know of nothing that could have prevented the accident under all the circumstances; after the accident occurred I went forward and assisted in digging out those buried in the ruins; when an engine is thus thrown from the track, it is the duty of the Engineer to look after it and see that it does not blow up; the Engineer did so yesterday; no other dead bodies were found there as late as nine o'clock last evening; don't know that any person is missing.


George B. Snow.—I am a machinist in the employment of the Chicago and North-Western . . .


Meeting of the Excursionists

at the Railroad Depot

Watertown Democrat, 11 10 1859


Last Wednesday, on the 3d inst., just previous to the cars leaving the Railroad Depot in this city for the north, a large number of the Excursionists on the Chicago and North-Western Railroad,  who had remained here through the day for the purpose of attending to the injured, deemed it appropriate to hold a meeting to give expression to their sentiments of gratitude for the favors extended to themselves and the unfortunate by the authorities and citizens of Watertown. 


The meeting having been organized by calling John Potter, Mayor of Fond du Lac, to the chair, Charles A. Eldredge, Esq. of the same place, stepped forward and addressed those present as follows :


Mr. PRESIDENT—LADIES  AND GENTLEMEN:  We from abroad—the people of Fond du Lac, Oshkosh  and Appleton—who by an accident as sudden as it was calamitous and sad, have been unavoidably thrown upon the hospitality and kindness of the citizens of Watertown, are unwilling to leave with a mere silent adieu [to] those who have so generously come to our relief in the hour of our utmost need, and take this, our only opportunity, to make a public, though   inadequate expression, of the gratitude we cherish for such conduct.


If such a startling event as that we all so much deplore could not be averted by human agency and must come, it was well that it came as it did, within the reach and in the midst of those who have hearts to sympathize and hands to help.


Yesterday morning, beneath a cloudless sky, full of life and hope, neighbor met neighbor, friend   welcomed friend, and citizen saluted citizen, and all joined to gather to participate in the ceremonies and festivities of a reception which the inhabitants of a great and flourishing metropolis had prepared to give to the cities that had been brought near to each other by the completion of an extended and magnificent line of inland communication.  We had all looked forward to this closing act of the great, celebration with elevated feelings of joy and pride, for we all taken a lively interest in the final success of a splendid  enterprise, whose fortunes we regarded as intimately bound up with the future growth and prosperity of the fertile and beautiful river valley through which it runs. 


At length the day dawned that was to see the fulfillment of many a bright promise long and often deferred, and while community was thus mingling with community, relatives from one place gladly greeting their relatives from another, and all were smoothly passing along together over the even and newly opened highway of iron, without a thought of danger, we were suddenly arrested by the occurrence of a terrible, and to many a fatal, catastrophe, which quickly spread gloom and  sorrow over many a home on which no shadow rested when the sun arose, but which was destined to be clothed in the dark robes of sorrow before it set in the west.  The frightful crash came when least expected, involving all ages and sexes in a common wreck of life and property, and we, who were most deeply and severely affected, wanted assistance and found it—we found it in men ready to work early and late to rescue the perishing from the most dreadful of all deaths—we found it in women ready to answer every cry of distress by an act of kindness, and who sought only to learn how they could most quickly cool the fevered brow.  When the full extent of the appalling disaster had been ascertained, and it only remained to go where the most effectual aid could be most easily obtained, we appealed to the people of Watertown—no, we did not appeal to them, for they did not wait for that—they said to us with cheerful alacrity, that anything and everything they had that could be of the least use to us was at our service, without money and without price.  Here we brought our dead, and they were shrouded for the tomb; here we brought our dying, and they were watched over with all the solicitude of parental tenderness; here we brought our wounded, and they have received all the attention it was possible to bestow upon them, and have had the full benefit of the most constant medical advice; here we must leave some who may be hovering on the borders of the unseen land, "quite on the verge of heaven," but we know they will be restored to health if sleepless care can do it.


I cannot say now all that might and ought to be said concerning the ceaseless efforts of the efforts of the officers of the road to do what they could to lessen the miseries of an accident which they had no means of preventing.  Many who deserve great credit will have to be passed by unnamed at this time.  But if there is anything that could cast a single gleam of consolation around the soul-melting scenes and affecting incidents we have just gone through and witnessed, it is the universal and earnest disposition and desire on the part of all who had the means of lessening the burden of our loss and grief, to do so by following the noblest of human impulses—that of binding up the broken limb and comforting the bereaved heart.


I address those having cause to drop a tear with us:  The citizens of this fair city have also been touched by the awful visitation that has pressed so heavily upon us.  One fireside here at least is desolate.  Many of them have just followed to the grave one of their own prominent and active business men [Theron Minor], who, without an instant's warning, was called to join the companionship of our departed on their quickly-sent and untimely journey to


"That undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns.” [Hamlet]


And whose mysterious pathways we must all find and tread for ourselves sooner or later, in one way or another.  They too have been rudely summoned from the house of pleasure to the house of mourning.  Repeat it as lightly and as often as we may without realizing the full force of its truth, still


"What shadows we are and what shadows pursue.”


As we are now going away, it will be a satisfaction to ourselves to bear some testimony to the fact that these things are rightly appreciated and will always be remembered and should the occasion ever arise—we hope it never may—then a like demand shall be made upon us, we shall try to meet it in a similar spirit.  To follow the example set us in this respect is all we can expect to do.


I hold in my hand, Mr. President, a series of resolutions, which have been hastily drawn up in the hurry of the moment, feebly expressing some of the emotions that swell our hearts.  I will read them and move their adoption:


Resolved, That we, the  friends and neighbors of the killed and wounded on the excursion train of the Chicago and North-Western Railroad, do hereby most sincerely return to the citizens of Watertown, the physicians, and all others who administered to and sympathized with the afflicted, our grateful and heartfelt thanks.


Resolved, That such generosity and kindness from the municipal officers and citizens of the city of Watertown, although they may never be repaid, can certainly never be forgotten by the people of Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Appleton, while they retain a recollection of the terrible disaster which has clothed their respective cities in mourning.


Resolved, That we also acknowledge our deep and lasting obligations to the officers of the Milwaukee, Watertown and Baraboo Valley Railroad Company, to the Mayor, physicians and surgeons of Milwaukee for the prompt and efficient aid they rendered, and the great and unremitting efforts put forth to give the sufferers the benefit of their skill and experience.


Resolved, That we are satisfied that the accident which has occasioned this great calamity was unavoidable and could not be foreseen, and that the Company and its officers have done all in their power to alleviate the sufferings, and to provide for the living and the dead.


On motion, the above resolutions were unanimously adopted.


It was moved and carried, that the papers of Watertown, Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Appleton, be requested to publish the above proceedings.


JOHN POTTER, President.

Watertown, Nov. 3d, 1859.


Watertown Democrat, 11 10 1859


A large proportion of our paper today is necessarily filled with matter connected with the late railroad accident near this city, which compels  us to leave out many local items of news intended for this week.  All the injured, five in number, at the Planter’s Hotel, in this city, are doing well, as are those at Oshkosh and Fond du Lac.  No more deaths have occurred and probably will not, though some may be maimed for life.  The only wonder is, when everything is considered, that so many have escaped and so few perished.


A Hint Worth Heeding

Watertown Democrat, 11 17 1859


We are just re-covering from the shock and sorrow of the worst railroad accident that ever happened in Wisconsin.  That event has given all who journey so swiftly and comfortably over our network of iron railways a lesson to study and learn as well as a calamity to regret and remember.


Whatever fearful responsibility may rest on those who undertake to run such a train as that was—crowded, as it was, with leading members of many communities—let them not be blamed for the gay and thoughtless risks or imprudence of either the living, injured or dead.  Let us be just, for we may be sure that right will wrong no one.  The Buffalo Republic calls public attention to a feature of this crash which has heretofore escaped comment—the position in the cars of those who suffered most—and warns passengers to keep their seats, and not leave them while in motion.  It makes the following statements, which, as far we know, are correct:


Text Box: Twelve passengers killed"Of the twelve passengers who were killed on the excursion train in Wisconsin a few days since, seven are reported by the papers as being, at the time of the accident, as follows:  one in the Post Office car, three in the baggage car, and three on the platform; of the five others the account does not state where they were, but as two of them are said to be in the employ of the company, it is to be inferred they were not in the regular passenger seats, and the other three may have been in their seats or not—the reports do not say—but as not one lady or child was killed, and as they were a large proportion of the party, the presumption is that not many of the men were where, by the rules of the company, and the dictates of common prudence, they should have been.  Had that "Notice to Passengers," on the car door, not to stand on the platform, been regarded, several lives would not have been lost.  Why will not passengers obey that necessary and danger-saving rule?  Because, in many instances, they are so wedded to tobacco that they must smoke even at the peril of their lives."