Major Indiana Railroad Disasters up to 1903

With last week’s entries concerning the Purdue Special crash of 31 October 1903, this week starts with what the Indianapolis Star, of 1 November 1903, called “in the history of Indiana there have been but four railroad disasters which can at all compare in magnitude with the wreck of the Purdue special.”

26 June 1901: Wabash Railroad at Cass

A crash on the Wabash Railroad at Cass, four miles east of Logansport, killed 14 people and injured “probably” 50 people when heavy rains caused a washout of the rails. The consist of the train was “three baggage and express cars, three coaches, three sleepers and the private car of Superintendent W. M. Cotter, of the Iron Mountain railway.”

“In a flash the ground sank away beneath the engine, and the train, with the exception of the three sleepers and the private car, rolled over a high embankment.”

The Indianapolis News of 26 June 1901 simply lists the dead as “fourteen Italian immigrants.” The next section of the article listed the “fatally injured.” These are listed as John Adams, fireman; Mrs. Mattie Cruse, Italian, New York; Luigi Venini; and An unknown Italian.

Indianapolis News, 26 June 1901, Headline of Wabash crash at Cass, IN.

10 March 1897: Evansville & Terre Haute at Hazleton

At 3 AM, Train #5, known as the Chicago and Nashville limited, approached the White River bridge two miles north of Hazleton, which is roughly half way between Princeton and Vincennes. The area around the railroad had been flooding, and the water at the White River bridge was about 20 feet deep. This weakened the embankment holding the southern approach of the bridge.

Slowing down from an original speed of 25, the train was still running fairly fast when it reached the embankment. At a spot 150 yards south of the bridge, the track slid out from under the locomotive without warning. The embankment, acting as a levee, gave way letting massive amounts of water through, making the breach even larger.

Details of the damage are quite striking. According to the source I am using, the Princeton (Indiana) Clarion of 11 March 1897, “the engine wenr over in the ditch, about ten feet east of the track, landed in five feet of water and careened over on its side. The baggage car followed head end first down into the washout. The smoker was telescoped be the baggage car and had its top cut off down to the level of the windows. This car broke loose and floated off. The ladies coach and the sleeper remained on the track and none of the occupants were injured in the least.”

The article went on to state “it will be impossible to get the ladies’ coach and smoker out until the water goes down. The dead bodies in the smoker cannot be recovered and more than likely they will be washed away and never found.”

Princeton Clarion, 11 March 1897, Headline concerning train wreck at Hazleton

11 January 1891: Monon, two miles north of Crawfordsville

Unfortunately, I am unable to find any sources for this crash other than the 1903 Indianapolis Star article that mentions it in the first place. Eleven people were killed when, while negotiating a curve before entering Crawfordsville, the rails spread throwing the train down a 20 foot embankment. This almost immediately started a fire which consumed the train.

The article goes on to say that the legal entanglements for this crash were so outrageous that a Greencastle woman finally, a few months before the 1 November 1903 article in the Star, recovered a large verdict for the death of her husband.

All information and clippings used in this article are courtesy of newspapers.com.

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