South Bend, IN Railroad Disaster, June 1859 - Revised list of Killed, Injured & Not Injured

Statement of Conductor Osgood.

I was seated in the forepart of the first passenger car at about 12 o’clock on Monday night, when suddenly I heard a cracking in the car, as if the car was trembling and shaking, the I felt the car was plunging, when I got upon my feet to see what was the matter, and I tried to reach the centre of the car, but not being able, as I felt my foothold slipping from beneath me, I commenced climbing to the roof, and succeeded in getting a hold. The roof was much broken away by this time and I got through it to the top, where I kept hold until I landed below. I then commenced climbing up, and reached the bank. I saw a number of others clambering up out of the cars, and there were several persons assisting the persons who had been injured. I saw some laborers whom I ordered to light bonfires on the track up and down the road. Of the speed of the train I took no particular notice. I do not think it was running at full speed, as we had just passed over a big bridge, where we usually slack up, and had not got under full headway yet. Several of the passengers in the car escaped, but I cannot remember their names, or the names of any others, although I knew some of their faces. Mr. David Runnion, I think, was in the car with me, whether he escaped or not I cannot say. I should judge there were some 150 persons on the train. I could not tell, as I had taken up my checks of the second class (or emigrant) cars, or the Eastern tickets. There were fifteen or twenty laborers got on the foremost of the emigrant cars from Ainsworth station and at the New Albany and Salem crossing. The emigrant cars were all smashed up. When I got out of the car the night was very dark and the water was running heavy; I was confused. I wanted to reach the telegraph station at South Bend, Ind., and started as I supposed, for it, but again I forded the creek; I had gone the wrong way. I never saw any rain in this ravine before; it was what I call a dry run, and the culvert was of stone, as good as any can be found upon any road. The scene of this catastrophe is, as near as I can judge, about half way between South Bend and Mishwaukee (sic). This (Tuesday) morning, I crossed the same spot where last night was a flood, almost without more than wetting the tops of my feet. I know nothing further of the cause of the accident than the carrying away of the culvert, and I was sitting on a forward seat, with my lantern near me, when the pitching and cracking commenced.

Statement of a Passenger.

A passenger, Mr. Wm. A. Brett, of Elkham, Wis., makes the following statement:

I was a passenger on the 8 p.m. train of the Southern Michigan Road. I, with my wife and others, occupied the first passenger car-the forward one of the first-class cars. There were three first-class and two second-class cars, making the train. I sat near the middle of the car. At the time of the accident I was not asleep, but dozing. I had just got up and exchanged seats with my wife. I heard a heavy crash and felt the cars make what appeared to me a tremendous leap or plunge. It was but an instant that I felt this motion. It did not seem to me that the occupants of the car were pitched about much. I was not thrown out of my place, nor was my wife out of hers. But when the car struck all the front part of it was demolished by the force of the concussion, and most of those occupying that end of the car must have been instantly killed by the crash. The car fell in the water. Those of us who could hurried to get out. The lights were all extinguished, and the night was cloudy and dark. I got out of a window as the car lay partially on it side. My wife escaped, she hardly knows how. The scene at the wreck was frightful. The engine, by the giving way of the culvert and embankment, plunged down full thirty feet, and the two second-class cars fell near it, our car was a little to one side. It was a fearful pile. No one in the sleeping car was killed. I had several contusions about my face and body. My wife is hurt about as much as I am.

The Press and Tribune add the following particulars:

“The tank of the engine, the smoke stack and few splinters were all that was discernible of the wreck of the train. A large force of the men were engaged in picking up the bodies, and many were excavating the debris, but considerable had been carried off by the torrent.

Some nine of the wounded passengers had been carried to Mishwaukee, (sic) and were laid out on pallets arranged in a large room in the hotel. Every care was bestowed upon them. The townspeople were particularly assiduous in their attentions to the sick, while there were some for or five doctors on hand ministering, as far as possible, to their wants. The dead bodies were picked up and laid out in the cars, with sheets covering their faces. The men had worked two hours to get one woman out of the after. She was, of course, dead when recovered. The sleeping car seemed to be uninjured, with the exception of a few broken windows. It lay in a diagonal direction from the track. The engine shot some forty feet distance from the west bank of the ravine, by which we conclude the train was going at a rapid rate. The scenes on the bank of the ravine, Mr. Pardee says, was truly awful, as one may well suppose, but he says the amount of human misery among the wounded was terrible to behold. In the Mishwaukee Hotel he saw a fine little boy about nine years old, with his left leg broken, and almost open through the thigh, while the right leg is cut completely off. The lad was failing fast, and it is almost impossible for him to recover.

He was one of a family of five children, with the mother, who were going to meet the father and the husband of this family. The mother was killed, a daughter is missing, and another boy is wounded but not seriously. He is in the same room with his wretched brother, while he saw another of the young ones, six years old, dead, having had his face completely cut off. The bodies of the females were not much mutilated. By the dress of those dead and wounded, Mr. Pardee judges them to have been mostly second-class passengers.

One passenger got out of the sleeping car into the current, and was swept along, but in going down he luckily clutched hold of a tree, and by that means effected a landing.

Although the accident happened soon after midnight, nothing was known of it in Chicago until about 9 o’clock this morning, when the Express Company received a dispatch announcing the death of its messenger. But when the news once got abroad, it flew like the wind, and within an hour it was the theme of conversation at every corner of the streets. The different offices of the company were soon filled with anxious inquirers who had friends on the train, each begging to be assured of their safety, or hesitating to inquire the extent of their loss.

We saw many turn away from the operator’s list, some with faces lit up with hope and joy, and other struck with heavy despair. One gentleman of this city had sent his wife, three children and sister eastward on the fatal night. He was an early inquirer. The obliging operator dispatched a message of inquiry, and he stood by the instrument, a picture of woe, waiting an answer. In reply to a question, he said he had put his family in the forward car. He was told to expect the worst, because the destruction of life in that car was fearful. He trembled like an aspen leaf, and the sweat of agony stood like rain drops on his brow, in reply to another question, he said that his wife was going only as far as Kalamazoo. He was told that Kalamazoo was on the Michigan Central, and that his precious ones could not be involved in this catastrophe at all. The relief came too suddenly. The revulsion followed like a waterfall, and the happy and thankful man threw himself into a chair and wept like a child. A rough-bearded customer who related the incident to us, says that he also cried as he witnessed the thrilling scene.

The New York Times, New York, NY 2 Jul 1859