Dotsero, Co Train Wreck - Eyewitness Account


Description of the Scene By a Nebraska Traveler.

A letter has been received from Blanche McKibbon of Memphis, Neb., a niece of T.D. Beach of 1426 near Glenwood Springs, Col., She was traveling with Mrs. Ed. Strode, of this city, and after the wreck went on to Salt Lake. The letter follows:
SALT LAKE, Utah, Jan. 18.- My precious sister: Did you get my telegram and have you seen in the papers about our horrible wreck? I sent you a message the morning after the wreck, so you would know I was alright, but it was doubtful whether or not you would get it as everything was in such a commotion, and we were eight miles from nearest telegraph station. I sent the message by a flagman. We are now in Salt Lake City and too busy to write you details, and I can hardly bear to write about it anyway. You have probably seen accounts in the papers, but they really are not very accurate.
I was in the observation car when the crash came. Mrs. Strode and Josephine had retired and I had just finished a letter to Roy and given it to the flagman to mail when there came a terrible jolting and rocking and crash. We were thrown from our chairs to the floor but not hurt at all. I ran at once to the car where Mrs. Strode and Josephine were and found everyone dazed and frightened, but no one hurt, so threw on my coat and went out. I met several running and frightened but no one seemed to know anything. I ran along the track and met a man all blackened and bleeding about the face carrying a suit case. When we met he put out his hand and said: “My God, girl, you can’t go up there – it’s too awful.” I asked a question or two and found it was a head on collision with a freight and an awful one. I could hear the groaning and screaming and shouting and blows of axes. The man said that perhaps he could help if I would take his suit case. He gave me his name and I gave mine and my train address and he ran back. I saw a woman and child coming and waited to pilot them to safety. She was an Italian and could not speak English, but followed me. I then went into the diner and they were just carrying in the first wounded. Oh, it was horrible. The diner was not wrecked – only the dishes and furniture were smashed and tossed about. We cleared it out as best and quickly as possible brought in mattresses and bedding from the Pullman cars and the terrible work began. When I took Mr. Davenport’s suit case in I got some whiskey and camphor and this was taken ahead by someone. There was a young doctor who was a wonder – my how he worked and how level headed he was. He cared for so many so quickly. Fortunately, he had morphine and hypodermic needle and soon had many quiet so we could at least hear. There were two other women there by then and all worked hard. We tore sheets and pillow cases into bandages and were getting fairly well along when the call came for someone to go to the baggage car – beyond the wreck and beyond reach almost it seemed. We were on a curve with a very steep snowy hill on one side and steep downward slope ending at a river below on the other. There was only one way to reach the baggage car and that to climb along the steep hillside around the wrecked cars. There were only two doctors on board, the young man and a large fleshy woman. Of course it would be impossible for her to go so he said he’d go and for her to stay there in the diner.

I offered to go and took a bottle of whiskey and some bandages and started but met trainmen who said it would be impossible for me to get there and the sight was too awful. I insisted, but they were firm so I went back to help in the diner, but in just a few moments a porter came and said the doctor wanted “that little dark haired nurse” (ha ha) to come if she could. That settled it and so the porter said he’d help me and got an overcoat and a stick to climb with. It was pitch dark except for the small lantern which the cook carried and very snowy and cold and – Oh, the groans – the dead bodies stretched on the snow – the pile of wrecked timber – oh, it can’t be imagined only to be seen! We reached the baggage car and before I went in several men tried to stop me and asked if I could stand it – so I was prepared and was glad – to be so useful. The car had only two small lanterns for light and was cold and on the floor – on the trunks and in every corner were groaning, writhing, bleeding figures. My feet stuck to the floor in blood and the first thing I heard was, “Oh, sister, can’t you help me?” It was one of the fireman – the doctor beckoned and the next few hours are beyond description. I saw three die – two men and a little boy. One woman’s face was crushed to a pulp and one leg broken and one badly sprained and internal injuries. She died later. I could go on for pages telling you of these things’ but will only say words can’t tell half. When dawn broke – a heavy frost and fog was over everything and when I came back to our car past the stiff cold figures stretched on the snow covered in white sheets and frost – twenty in a row – it seemed indeed a fitting thing for nature to be veiled.

It was a terrible thing – never to be forgotten. It was our engineer’s fault. He should have waited at Dotsero for the double header freight, but tried to make the next siding but failed and ran full speed into the freight around the curve. About twenty-five killed and about thirty or thirty-five injured. The engine crews all jumped – all seriously injured, but none killed. We were delayed twenty-four hours and are now here, but leave in fifty minutes. Will write again soon. The dead and injured were taken to Glenwood Springs on relief train in the early morning. We struck at 9:17 p.m. Most lovingly, Blanche.

The Nebraska State Journal, Lincoln, NE 28 Jan 1909