No. 461
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 18, 2020

The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster.

February 11, 2014
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(Thanks to Henry-Clement Sanson for the guest post. The former executioner — the last of his illustrious dynasty comprising six generations of bourreaux — was the grandson of that dread figure of the Paris Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. Henry-Clement’s Memoirs of the Sansons: From Private Notes and Documents (1688-1847) describes some famous or infamous executions […]
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Executed Today - 2/17/2020

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"Denver's Oldest Bar" matchbook cover outside cover - A (Click image to enlarge) new addition to my collection A matchbook cover from "Denver’s Oldest Bar" is a new acquisition to my private Soapy Smith collection. Though it is a "modern" item from the 1960s-70s, it has a direct link to Soapy Smith. "Denver’s Oldest Bar" was once controlled by Soapy, under the name, "Tivoli Club,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 2/7/2020

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905, via Newspapers.com The true-crime writer F. Tennyson Jesse suggested that not only are some people "born murderers," others are "born murderees." It is when these two types of people happen to find each other that you get A Situation. It is an interesting theory, but one that tends to fall apart once you study murder cases. For example, it is hard to find
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Strange Company - 2/17/2020
Beginning on January 1st, W&W will begin featuring fascinating short clippings from the Fall River papers and other newspapers from …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 12/29/2019
Every day since Halloween 2007, the blog ExecutedToday.com has posted a story of an execution that took place on that date in history somewhere in the world. While this certainly says something about the human condition over time, it also says something about the determination and thoroughness of the blogger of ExecutedToday.com, who goes by the epithet Headsman. As someone who has scrambled to
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/15/2020

Wherever rich New Yorkers built their homes in the 19th century, they also built private stables for their expensive horses and carriages—with upstairs living quarters for a coachman or groom. So when Upper Fifth Avenue along Central Park became the city’s new Millionaire Mile during the Gilded Age, certain Upper East Side blocks to the […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/17/2020
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Nature versus Art. | Society Unveiled.

The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster.

Train

California. – The disaster on the Southern Pacific Railroad at Telegraph Pass, January 19th.

[more]One of the most terrible railroad disasters on record occurred on the Southern Pacific Railroad, near Tehachapi, Cal., about midnight on January 19th. The road at this point crosses the mountains through a pass, after having toiled up a grade of 105 feet to the mile for twenty-six miles. While the express train which had left San Francisco the day before was stopping at the station on the summit to detach an extra engine, it broke loose and started down the incline. The train gathered headway quickly, and was soon dashing down the grade at the rate of a mile a minute. At a sharp curve of the road the coach and smoker, where were ahead, broke the coupling and separated from the rest of the train, making the turn safely. The sleeping-cars and the mail, express and baggage cars were dashed against a high bank and then thrown back, rolling down an embankment. The lamps and stove at once set fire to the wreck, which was instantly in a blaze. The passengers in the sleeping-cars had retired, and had scarcely been awakened by the terrible speed with which the train dashed down the mountain before the crash came. A few escaped uninjured, or with only slight bruises, but the rest were either killed outright or burned to death in the flames. The night was intensely cold, and the point where the disaster occurred was a considerable distance from any settlement, so that little could be done for the sufferers until help arrived from Tehachapi.

In some instances a few handfuls of whitened bits of bones were all that remained of what had been a human form, and it was with great difficulty that the remains of several victims were identified. The number of dead is believed to have been thirteen, of whom the most prominent was the wife of ex-Governor Downey, of California, while several other were badly injured.

The disaster was at first attributed to carelessness of the train hands. It was said that the air-brakes had been taken off, and the men who tended the hand-brakes were away from their posts, one attending to switching the engine, and the other relighting his extinguished lamp. The railroad officials, however, declare that the accident was the result of an attempt to rob the express car. They claim that the hand-brakes were properly set by the brakemen, but that, while one of the was escorting a lady to the station, some miscreants let off the brakes and started the train down the grade in order to get it away from help and in a position where the express car could be robbed. Being inexperienced, they lost control of the train, and the disaster occurred. Some support is lent to this theory by the fact that when the train drew into the station two men were seen there who were subsequently found dead in the wreck, and who are as yet unidentified. 


Reprinted from "The Southern Pacific Railway Disaster." Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 3 Feb 1883.