Chatsworth Train Accident
August 10, 1887


Pictures published in the London News September 3, 1887

A train, 2 engines and 15 coaches, with passengers from central Illinois
were bound for Niagara Falls when an ill-fated accident occurred.
Below is an excerpt from the newspaper accounts.



Note: Transcribed by Gaile Thomas. Thank you Gaile!

Peoria Weekly Journal: August 25, 1887

Page 2:


The Official List of Those Who Were Killed in the Chatsworth Horror --- No More Missing.

The following is the corrected list of the dead who were killed in the bridge horror at Chatsworth. It has been proved and corrected by Auditor Usner of the T., P. & W., and is believed to be full and complete. A press dispatch from Chatsworth says that Coroner Long places the total at eighty, but this appears to be an error. He held inquest on the first seventy-one bodies named in the appended list, and the remaining seven died since the night on which the accident occurred. It is stated that a baby ten months old, the child of Mrs. Jonathan Neal, of Louisville, Il., was killed, but is not accounted for here. Auditor Usner says he has no knowledge whatever of this. His list is as follows:

Alter Minnie, West Point, Iowa.
Alter Eva, West Point, Iowa.
Alter Nancy, West Point, Iowa.
Adams E. F., Blackstone, Ill.
Allen Mrs. Wm., Peoria, Ill.
Ball Mrs. Wm., Peoria, Ill.
Breese S. G., Wyoming, Ill.
Blaudin Mrs. A. J., Harkers Corners.
Rody Isaac, Morrisonville, Ill.
Carrithers Emeline, Evans, Ill.
Collins Wm. M., Galesburg, Ill.
Clay Mrs. J. M., Eureka, Ill.
Clay Dovey, Eureka, Ill.
Clay Hattie, Eureka, Ill.
Crosswell Mrs. Arch B., Kankakee, Ill.
Craig Will, Cuba, Ill.
Clarke Joey, Roostown, Ohio.
Cress Mrs. Palm M., Washington, Ill.
Cassell Mat., Washington, Ill.
Deal Mrs. James, Peoria, Ill.
Dahlke Capt. Robt., Peoria, Ill.
Dacker Mrs. Dr., Forrest, Ill.
Gale Azro, Peoria, Ill.
Godel E., Peoria, Ill.
Hill Mrs. E., Berwick, Ill.
Hill, Infant, Berwick, Ill.
Havermale Noah, Canton, Ill.
Hicks, Mrs. Ira, Chillicothe, Ill.
Johnson Oscar, Monarch, Ill.
Kelley J. S., Breeds, Ill.
Lott W. H., Elmwood, Ill.
Mann Mrs. J. H., Peoria, Ill.
Murphy Mrs. John, Peoria, Ill.
Murphy Agnes, Peoria, Ill.
Murphy Rose, Peoria, Ill.
McClintock Edgar, Peoria, Ill.
McFadden J. D., Peoria, Ill.
Meek Jesse, Jr., Eureka, Ill.
McClure Mrs. H. A., Keithsburg, Ill.
McClure, infant, Keithsburg, Ill.
Moses James, Eureka, Ill.
McEvoy May, Peoria, Ill.
Nokes James N., Moline, Ill.
Powers Mamie, Springfield, Ill.
Putney Mrs. E. E., Peoria.
Potter, W. H., Colchester, Ill.
Patterson Miller, Wyoming, Ill.
Reagan Michael, Binghampton, N.Y.
Richards J. D., Patriot, Ind.
Smith Melleville, Metamora, Ill.
Sackenreuther Paul, Pekin, Ill.
Swigelson Henry, Hamilton, Ill.
Spaith Oney, Green Valley, Ill.
Sneadeker Mrs. Rev. G. B., Abingdon, Ill.
Strachan R. E., Syracuse, N.
Stevens Wm., Peoria.
Stevens Emma, Peoria.
Sherman Jesse, Brimfield, Ill.
Stoddard Mrs. E. D., West Point, Ia.
Trovino W. V., Abingdon, Ill.
Valdejo Mrs. Peoria.
Webster Ada, Peoria.
Weiennett F. D., Peoria.
Wright Thomas F., Peoria.
Zeitler John, Pekin, Ill.
Zimmerman Mrs. Catherine, Peoria.
Van Liew P. P., Galesburg, died at Piper City.
Valentine Mrs. Peter, Peoria, died at Piper City.
Valdejo, Miss Julia, Peoria, died at Chatsworth.
Clark Mrs., Roostown, O., died at Chatsworth.
Stearns J. W., Green Valley, died at Peoria.
Waters Elton, Dayton, N. Y., died at Fairbury.
Stillwell G. R., Bippers, Ind., died at Piper City.


Postcard of the T. P. & W. Depot at Chatsworth
where many of the injured/dead were taken to after the accident.
Submitted by Max Latimer


Song "The Chatsworth Wreck"

Peoria Weekly Journal: August 25, 1887
Page 4:

The section hands at the coroner's inquest in Chatsworth have revealed the whole story. They set the grass on fire and then went away and left it. The fire crept up to the end of the trestle works where there were a lot of old ties piled up to support the embankment. There were like punk and they smouldered away undermining the track. It also appears that this was done on the east end of trestle and that the adjoining timbers had burned down until they were all charred. As soon as the train struck this the first engine passed over all right, but the next went down and the wreck followed. It is inconceivable that some one of the section men did not have sense enough to go down there and attend to it, particularly when they knew that there had been fire so close to the trestle. They seem to have acted in the usual way, that when six o'clock came their responsibility ended. Outsiders looked down the track and saw a light and wondered at it, but the railroad men with that lordly indifference that characterizes most railway officials paid no attention to it, and the train was allowed to go on to its own destruction. This seems to be the story as reluctantly told by the section men. It carries its own comment. We have often said that if an individual carried on his business with the same slackness, indifference to his customers, insolence and general carelessness that a railroad manifests he would fail in less than a month. Nothing but the fact that railroads are virtual monopolies and the public are "forced to patronize them" enables them to live at all. This sort of policy has cursed the T., P. & W. management ever since it was first built. It was constructed at a time when railroads were new, and it might have been a great trunk line. Its officials unhappily conceived the idea that their policy was to bully and browbeat the public and to disoblige its customers as much as possible. The policy of doing as little as possible seemed to animate everybody, from the highest official down to the lowest section hand. The present management have striven against it, and done the best they could, but this neglect and devil take --- the-hind-most-style, shows that the old spirit had sunk too deeply into the road to be easily eradicated.

Peoria Weekly Journal: August 25, 1887
Page 5:


The Coroner's Jury Hold Coughlin Responsible,

And Recommends that he be Held to the Grand Jury.

The T., P. & W. Railway Co. Censured.

Chatsworth, Ill., Aug. 17 -- The inquest was resumed in the school house at 1:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon, the town hall not being in a fit condition to use, not having been cleaned since the head and wounded had been placed there.


at Piper City, said that he was in the latter city on the night of Aug. 10, about 9 o'clock. He walked across the Toledo, Peoria & Western track, and, looking toward Chatsworth, saw a bright light some distance away and east of that village which resembled a locomotive headlight. About an hour and a half afterward he looked again, and still saw the light there. He then came to the conclusion that it was a fire on or near the track between Piper City and Chatsworth, and that it had been caused by section men burning grass. Occasionally he could see the fire flame up, and then it would die down again and nothing could be seen but the reflection. The witness did not look at the fire after 11 o'clock, at which time he could still the flames. The appearance of the fire did not change between 9 and 11 o'clock. He did not hear any one suggest that the fire might be caused by a bridge burning, although that thought suggested itself to him because of the manner in which the flames would flare up and subside. He did not communicate this belief to anyone else. The witness went to the wreck by a special train. He walked back to Piper City on Thursday morning about 10:30 o'clock, and found two ties partially burned recently west of the county line. While about two miles east of the county line he discovered another burnt tie in the track. The two first ties were in the section looked after by Timothy Coughlin.


from Dayton, was next sworn. He was at Piper City on the night of August 10. He was awakened about 12:30 o'clock by the whistling of a locomotive. He heard a woman ask where the fire was. Somebody on the sidewalk replied that it was the excursion train wrecked. He got up and went to the depot and found an engine there without any tender. The man in charge of the locomotive said that the wreck was two miles away, and that 150 people were killed at least. The witness arrived at the wreck on foot about 1 o'clock. He began work on the car from which the top had been torn off. He did not see any fire near the engines, his attention being given to helping the wounded. The witness walked back to Piper City several hours later, and found several ties burning in the track east of the county line. He walked over the track again Saturday morning, together with a friend, and found the ties under the rail so badly burnt that he told his companion that he thought the train had been thrown from the track, giving away through having been weakened by burning. Seven or eight other persons saw the track ties burning on Thursday morning. About eight or ten ties were on fire. They were not blazing, but burning vigorously. The wind at that time was from the south.


of Piper City, testified that his shop is situated about seventy-five feet from the railroad track. In the afternoon his attention was directed to a fire down the track in the direction of Chatsworth. He and others thought that the village was on fire, but subsequently came to the conclusion that it was a straw or hay stack on fire. He went back to his shop, and went home about 6 o'clock. At 10 o'clock he went to the depot for the purpose of seeing the excursion train. He looked down the track toward Chatsworth and saw what he supposed was the reflection of a locomotive headlight. He waited there for about three-quarters of an hour, and being told that the train was forty minutes late at Weston went home. About 12:30 o'clock he was awakened by the continued whistling of an engine, and going to the depot was told by the engineer in charge of the engine that the excursion was in the ditch and 150 persons were killed. The witness and others took a hand car and started for the wreck, having in front of them a push-car. Slow progress was made. The push car was abandoned some distance down the track, while several physicians and others went ahead on the flat car to the wreck. The witness, together with a number of others walked to the wreck. On the way there he noticed about one dozen ties under the rails on fire. They were about one mile east of the county line. After crossing the line he saw no ties on fire. Reaching the wreck he helped put out the burning bridge. There was nothing left of the bridge but the piles and abutment timbers. A number of men were throwing dirt on the bridge when he got there for the purpose of extinguishing the flames. He carried water to the wounded and saw no persons being robbed. The wind was from the south.


of Piper City, swore he was at the depot in that place about 9:30 o'clock on the night of Aug. 10. He saw a light down the track in the direction of Chatsworth. He with others thought it was the headlight of a locomotive which was down in the valley. He saw the light continually from 9:30 until 11 o'clock. About the latter hour the light appeared to be growing dimmer. The attention of F. M. Mason, the station agent, was directed to the light, and he said that it appeared to him to be a locomotive headlight. He telegraphed down the road for the purpose of ascertaining where the excursion train was, and found that it was forty minutes late at Weston. The witness walked down the track to the wreck after the news had been brought to Piper City, and saw two ties under the rail on fire. They were in the section between the east end of the Chatsworth section and the Davis crossing. On reaching the wreck he helped to carry the wounded from the first coach behind the last engine to the caboose, which was attached to the train that was to take the wounded to Chatsworth The entire east end of the bridge was all burn-away and all the stringers consumed. He saw persons on the north side of the track taking articles from the dead and wounded, but supposed they were persons authorized to do so. In the case of Rev. Mr. Collins, of Galesburg, several Knights Templars took charge of the jewelry on the body, a list being made of the same. He saw no evidence whatever of robbery.


of Piper City, testified to the same facts as did the previous witnesses in regard to seeing the light down the track toward Chatsworth. He went to the wreck on foot about 1:30 o'clock in the morning, together with his son. He noticed two or three ties on fire at the side of the track. They were east of the crossing between Berger's crossing and the crossing at Davis' place. On arriving at the wreck he helped to carry water to the wounded. He saw no robbing the dead or wounded. He went to the bridge about 2:30 o'clock. At that hour it was almost entirely consumed.


living half a mile south of the wreck, said that about 5 o'clock on the afternoon of August 10 he was on his way home from stacking grain. When he arrived at the railroad crossing and the county line he observed men firing weeds and rubbish east of the crossing. There was a blaze between two of the men, who were some distance apart. He observed smoke west of the bridge. After dark he saw fire in the direction of the bridge, but could not see the structure itself, a cornfield intervening. He and his family watched the fire for half an hour and thought it was further away than the bridge. The fire had the appearance of a building in the distance burning. At times he could see the flames flash up. He went to bed about 10 o'clock, and was awakened about 1 o'clock in the morning by a young man named Welsh, who came to his house with a team looking for barrels to take water in to the wounded at the wreck. He went to the latter place and assisted to carry out the dead and wounded. When he first noticed the bridge it was almost destroyed. He thought the bridge burned before the train crossed. The light which he had previously noticed and the wreck were proved to have been in the same place. The witness saw no person rifling the pockets of the dead or wounded. The wind was quite fresh during the afternoon and came from the southwest. When the wife of the witness first saw the fire she said that she thought it was the house of Maj. Shaw which was on fire.


aged 24, son of the last witness, swore that he was a farmer and lived with his father. He stacked oats on the afternoon of August 10, and while going home about 5 o'clock saw three section men lighting grass near the county line and the railroad crossing. He saw smoke about eighty yards away and toward the bridge. He also saw smoke on the east side of the crossing, but no fire. About 8 o'clock he saw a fire in a direct line with the bridge, but thought it was Major Shaw's house on fire. The light was very bright, but a corn field intervened and he could not see it distinctly. He did not prepare to go to bed until 1 o'clock. He did not hear the noise of the wreck. At that time a neighbor came to the house and told him of the disaster. He went there and helped take dead and wounded out of the wreck and gave water to the latter. He did not see the dead or wounded robbed.


living half a mile south of the county line, was with the two Morrises on the afternoon of August 10, and came home with them about 5 o'clock. When near the railroad crossing at the county line he saw three men cross the track on a hand-car. He saw smoke on the east side of the crossing before reaching the track. When he got to the crossing he saw one of the men two rods away and another fifteen rods beyond the line. Both men were burning grass. He could not then see the third or the hand-car. He went to the wreck at 2 o'clock the following morning. He took out a number of the dead and wounded. He saw no thieves stealing from the injured or dead. The witness believed the bridge was set on fire by grass and weeds which the section men had burned in the afternoon.


living near the bridge, who testified last week, was recalled. He was shown a map of the neighborhood prepared by Juror Shaw, and identified several spots in the locality. He testified last week to having seen the smoke from his house, near the wreck, about 5 o'clock Wednesday afternoon. The smoke was about forty rods from the crossing. The bridge was sixty rods from the crossing. He saw some men on the hand-car near the culvert shortly before. The car did not stop, but kept moving west, nor did any one get off. He saw the hand-car about 3:30 o'clock in the evening. He went across the railroad and saw smoke along the road. It was too dark to see the smoke when he came back. He looked for fire but saw none.


aged 19, was employed as section-hand by the Toledo, Peoria & Western railroad until last Saturday. On Wednesday morning he worked in Chatsworth, and about 1:30 o'clock started out with a flat-car and a hand-car for the east end of the section. At the section house Timothy Coughlin told the witness and the other section men to start a fire five or six rods west of the bridge and on the south side of the track. The grass was green and would not burn close up to the bridge. When the men got to the county line they fired those patches of grass that had not been previously burned. The men scattered fire along wherever they found patches. The witness said that the grass and rubbish was burned within five or six rods of the bridge. He was positive of this. He came that close to the bridge and set fire to the grass. A strip of grass eight feet wide and fifteen feet west of the bridge and about five or six feet from the bridge was set on fire. It was on the edge of the ditch. Two months ago the grass and rubbish was cleaned away from the bridge for a distance of seven or eight feet, and there was no strip of grass or weeds running from the strip of grass fifteen feet long to the bridge. When he left the bridge the grass on the east side was burning, while that on the west side was extinguished. He and Timothy Coughlin, the section boss, received a telegram on the afternoon of August 10. Coughlin did not go to the west end of the section that day, nor did any of the section men. The west end of the section commences two miles and a half from Chatsworth and extend four miles east of town. The burned bridge is two miles and a half from town and just west of the west end of the section. Coughlin was with the section men all day and did not leave them long enough to go to the west end. The witness had a conversation with Coughlin last Saturday, but did not remember what was said, with the exception of Coughlin having made some remark about "west of the county line." When the witness left the bridge Wednesday afternoon the grass near the bridge was smouldering and sometimes it would blaze up. No grass or rubbish had been burned near the bridge for nine or ten days before last Wednesday. When Coughlin, the witness and the other section men left the bridge they did not stop to examine if it was in a safe condition. The witness saw Roadmaster Ennis pass west on a train about 4 o'clock. The bridge might have caught fire at that time from coals dropped from the engine of the train. It would not have caught from sparks. He thought that it would have been more likely to have caught from coals from the engine then from sparks from the burning grass.


was at work with Coughlin on the west end of his section on the afternoon of August 10. He saw Coughlin receive a telegram about noon. In the afternoon he burned grass around the bridge. He and several others fired grass within about one rail's length or sixteen feet , from the burned bridge. Of this he was positive. He set fire to the grass there himself. There was fire near the bridge when he and the men left there in the afternoon. On their way home they did not extinguish it, thinking no danger would ensue. The witness set fire to part of the strip of grass just west of the bridge. Taggard also set fire to a portion of the strip. The fire came within fifteen or twenty feet of this bridge. The fire was on the west end of the bridge and on the south side of the track. He thought this strip of grass was extinguished when he left for home. The ground was cleaned out around the bridge about two or three weeks ago. It was then thoroughly cleaned of grass and weeds by cutting away with shovels. He did not think the bridge had been set on fire by sparks from the engine which passed with Roadmaster Ennis at 4 o'clock. The witness did not see Coughlin examine the bridge before leaving it in the evening. The writer added he did not see how the bridge could have caught fire unless it was from the fire which the section hands left behind them. "Come on, boys, I don't think that will do any damage." The foreman told the witness not to give him away. He said something about the "county line." The witness was among the first that reached the wreck. The bridge was then on fire. He did not see any stealing going on. He had been laid off from work on Friday night, and had not decided whether he would work any longer. He observed that he had been sick since he had seen the wreck.

The jury here adjourned until 7:30 o'clock.

When the jury assembled in the evening Coroner Long announced that it had been decided to hold the night session with


     This circumstance looked decidedly suspicious and was a very strong indication that things were coming to a focus.
At 8:o'clock the jurymen strolled into the school house, and after Coroner Long had locked every door in the building so that newspaper men could not be afforded an opportunity to steal a march on them, the jury ascended to one of the upper rooms. Your representative, however, having the power usually ascribed to Asmodeas of making himself invisible, succeeding in entering the room through the open window, and was an observer of the proceedings.
     When the jury had settled down to business they began a general discussion of the evidence. They finally simmered down to the consideration of the most important points in the testimony of Timothy Coughlin, the section boss, and James Taggart, James Healy, and the three Bohemian section men, who testified last week. Before proceeding further


as to the necessity of hearing further testimony. It was unanimously decided that enough evidence had been heard on which to find a verdict, and that it was useless to keep on piling up evidence.
     The order sent to Coughlin on the afternoon of the wreck by Supt. Armstrong, ordering him to keep a close watch over bridges and culverts, was then read, several jurors declaring that this fairly showed that the railroad company were taking proper precautions to insure the safe condition of the track.
     The testimony of Coughlin was discussed at length, and the discrepancy between his evidence and that of the section hands considered. The fact was strongly dwelt upon that Coughlin had sworn that no grass had been burnt within thirty-five or forty rods of the bridge for ten days or two weeks before the wreck took place, and that no grass at all had been burnt close to the bridge on Wednesday. This it was argued, had been most positively contradicted by several of the section men, while the grass near the bridge also showed that it had been recently burnt, thus proving the falsity of Coughlin's evidence.


among the jury, however. It was soon made evident when the question arose of where to fix the blame. One-half of the jurors were in favor of merely censuring Coughlin for criminal carelessness in having failed to extinguish the fire before leaving the bridge, and also censuring the company for having run the train as a "double-header" which they must have known was a most dangerous proceeding. Others in the jury favored holding Coughlin to the grand jury for criminal carelessness in having disobeyed orders by not patrolling his section of the track as directed, as well as for leaving the grass on fire near the bridge. It was also insisted that the railway company ought to be censured for not using proper precautions to protect the safety of their passengers. It was on this point that the dissensions quietly took place. The subject was discussed for one hour and a half, when it was decided to adjourn until 8 o'clock this morning, when the star-chamber proceedings will be resumed. It was ascertained that the jury will in all probability bring in,


     After the meeting had adjourned, Jurors Shaw Sqears, Brigham and Cook went directly to the latter's store, where they locked themselves in and continued their consideration of the important matter. It is evidently the intension of the jury to proceed slowly, there being an unwillingness to take anything but the most deliberate action in the premises. As one of them said to the representative of the Times yesterday morning, they feel that the people of the entire country are watching for the verdict and that it is consequently a matter that should be proceeded with in the most careful way. Added to that, it was only just that the future interests of the railroad company should not be lastingly injured by a verdict reflecting strongly on the management of the road unless the facts warranted it.
     Attorney T. S. Stephens, the solicitor of the Toledo, Peoria & Western railroad, arrived here yesterday afternoon for the purpose of attending the investigation of the coroner's jury. He was accompanied by a stenographer, who took notes of the proceedings. State's Attorney Chrithers did not come.
     When Coroner Long yesterday picked up a copy of the Times, he noticed the statement that a farmer named Broadhead had


among the ashes of the wreck Monday afternoon. The man Broadhead lives a short distance from the village. Coroner Long sent a messenger to him requesting him to deliver up the watch, in order that it might be given to the rightful owner. Broadhead positively refused to so. It is said that a subpoena will be issued for him today ordering him to appear before the coroner and explain the facts in connection with the finding of the watch. If he then refuses to deliver it to the coroner a warrant will be issued charging him with the larceny of the timepiece. Broadhead will probably reconsider his determination and surrender it. The number of the watch is 3,282, and it was made by the Tremont Watch company, of Boston.
     The theory that the train was wrecked for the purpose of robbery is now almost entirely abandoned here. The report which was also circulated in some quarters that residents of Chatsworth assisted in robbing the dead and wounded is a most outrageous falsehood.

Chatsworth, Ill., Aug. 18 --- By 8 o'clock yesterday morning Jurors Shaw, Sears Brigham and Cook, the big four, had assembled on a street corner and were discussing among themselves the chief points in the evidence brought out before the coroner's jury. While the feeling existed that Coughlin was without doubt culpable to an extreme degree, yet the jurors argued among themselves that the railroad company was also responsible for having allowed the excursion train to run over the road in one section. After stand about in the rain for half an hour longer, they finally walked over to the school house, and after locking the door again began to discuss the question as to where the responsibility rested. After being in session about one hour, they were still unable to agree and finally decided to rescind their action of last night and summon more witnesses for the purpose of ascertaining what precautions had been taken by the company to insure the safety of its track on Wednesday. They then adjourned until 1 o'clock, and informed Coroner Long that they desired to hear further testimony from Roadmaster Ennis, and also wished to examine J. M. Mason, station agent at Piper City. At the hour designated the jury again met.


of the Toledo, Peoria & Western railroad, swore that he had been in his present position since May 16. The witness is a young man with evidently an exalted opinion of Mr. Mason. He gave his testimony in a flippant and defiant manner. Aug. 9 he received a message (which was produced and read) from Roadmaster Ennis at Watseka, addressed "To All Section Foremen," instructing them to go over their sections and see that all bridges, culverts, and the remainder of the track were in good condition before quitting work that night. The witness also received a dispatch telling him to see that all switches were turned on to the main track, all locks locked, freight cars switched off on to side tracks, and the brakes thereon set. A similar message from Supt. Armstrong announced that the Niagara Falls excursion train would only stop at his station when flagged, and then only for persons having excursion tickets. He believed that the section men in his section went over the track as ordered. Such an order had never before been given on that road to his knowledge. The witness heard from the excursion train about 10 o'clock on the night of Aug. 10. It was then half an hour late at Gridley. He looked along the track toward Chatsworth when told by Mr. F. O. Walrich that he saw a train coming. The witness could see no indications of the train coming. He did not believe a train could be coming, because it had been late at Gridley. He did not see any light on the track, nor did he tell any one that he had done so. He did tell Walrich that if he saw a light it must be the switch-light at Chatsworth. The witness did not believe that there were any switch-lights at the latter place and told Walrich that he must have seen the switch-light just for a burlesque. He did not know anything about the wreck until the engine arrived at Piper City from the wreck. About 11 o'clock he saw the light of a locomotive on the crest of the first hill east of Chatsworth.


Page 5 continued...


The Railroad Commission Inquiry and Inquest -- The Primary Cause of the Disaster -- Important Witnesses and Interesting Testimony.

Wednesday afternoon the first witness was Superintendent Armstrong recalled.
Q. ---Have you any knowledge with regard to the alleged robberies after the wreck?
A. ---I do not think there was any systematic robbery. Called to several persons who seemed to be tampering with the effects of dead bodies, but they generally proved to be friends taking care of valuables.
Q. ---By whom did you send word to Peoria and elsewhere?
A. ---By the fireman of the head engine.
Q. ---What about the alleged detention of a train from Peoria bearing physicians?
A. ---I detained a train at Forrest to prevent any more jam in the hospital at Chatsworth. There were as many physicians there as could work, and I was not aware of there being any physicians on the train. The dead are sent without expense wherever they are duly claimed. The wounded are being cared for and express charges on dead bodies being paid by the company.


Chatsworth, Ill., Aug. 18. --- The coroner's jury in the railroad disaster, after a deliberation of three hours, returned a verdict that Section Boss Coughlin was guilty of gross criminal negligence in leaving fires burning across the track, and in failing to inspect the track. It is recommended that he be held to the grand jury. The company are censured for not having had the track patrolled all the evening. Coughlin will be arrested. The coroner's warrant was taken to Pontiac.
Chatsworth, Ill., Aug. 18. --- As early as 7 o'clock this morning the coroner's jury gathered at the school house and resumed the discussion of the testimony regarding the catastrophe. There was considerable diversity of opinion, several of the number being desirous of making the verdict non-committal. They, however, gave way to argument. The verdict says that the bridge burnt out before the train struck it; that the evidence shows conclusively that Section Foreman Coughlin disobeyed positive orders to inspect the track and bridges; that he is guilty of gross criminal negligence in leaving fires burning along the track and recommends that he be held for examination by the grand jury. In a rider to the verdict the jury expresses the opinion that the leaving of the track for six hours before the passage of the excursion train and not putting out of fires by section men on such a day were ???? [couldn't read] deserving severe criticism.


Peoria Weekly Journal: August 25, 1887
Page 6:

The Official Investigation

[ A few testimonies during the court hearing]

Will O. Clark

Resides in Peoria; is proprietor of New Peoria House. Was in the second sleeper. Had just gone to bed as the shock came. Got up and went to the front, and seeing the fire called out to the people not to be alarmed; there was no present danger. He made substantially the same description of the burning bridge as has been given by other witnesses. Worked at the fire until the rain came and danger from that source was past, then made himself generally useful around the wreck. Was there when the wrecking party commenced work, but no cars had been removed as yet in the wreck when he left for Chatsworth at about 10. Saw Mr. Armstrong around the wreck, extremely active and helpful. All the railroad men were hard at work. Is not and never has been in any way connected with the road.


Mayor of Peoria. Was not on the train. First heard of the accident by telephone from the depot. Went down to the depot about day light and learned that one train had already gone, and that another would go soon. Sent three men out to the wreck, then proceeded to make arrangements here in the city for the care of dead and wounded on their arrival. There was a citizens relief committee organized here. There are still a few wounded here at the cottage hospital, and at St. Francis hospital. The unidentified dead were taken to an extemporized morgue, where all but one have been claimed. That one is the baby of a woman which has been placed in the vault at Springdale. The railroad company granted with alacrity every request he made upon them.


Have lived in Peoria ever since the war. Was a member of the first committee of relief. Went down to the first train from the wreck, and found ample help at hand to take care of the dead and wounded. So of every train on its arrival. The bodies were brought in boxes packed in ice, and all arrangement were complete for their disposition. The wounded were also taken care of as fast as they came in. Mr. Well's was most of the time at the depot and gave all the assistance in his power. All employes of the road acted with the utmost alacrity in giving such assistance as they could.


Is undertaker, and has lived in Peoria thirty-two years, was in the last sleeper of the train, in the smoking department, when the shock, or apparently several shocks came. Went out immediately at the rear end of the train with Van Sant and started forward in the total darkness until they came to the bridge. He and Van Sant were first at the bridge, and by Van Sant's suggestion they commenced to fight the fire with dirt. Being relieved here by some younger man, witness went over the ravine to the wreck, where he saw Dr. Will dressing wounds. Remained on that side most of the time working with Dr. Will and about the wreck until the wounded were all on the train. He crawled through the ruins wherever he could, in search of victims, and described the horrors encountered. Saw what looked to him like pilfering from the dead. Saw five or six men crawling through the ruins examining everything. Saw them take up watches and pocketbooks. Asked them what they were doing there and accused them of being robbers. One of them ---a large, red-whiskered light haired man --called out: "Who is robbing the dead?" Went with the first train to Chatsworth.


Was in the first sleeper, partially asleep, and was shaken up by the shock. Corroborated former statements about the fire and the manner of opposing its progress. Is satisfied that the fire caught in the old ties which constituted the abutment or bulk head, having probably smouldered there for days. He reached this conclusion from discovering fire far down among these old timbers as they were laid bare in getting dirt. Does not believe in the tales of robbery. Is not in the employ of the road and is not related to any of the company.
Adjourned to 8 o'clock p.m.

Evening Session.


Resides in Peoria, and is a lawyer. Was in the smoking department of the rear coach when the shock came. It was of such a character that witness supposed the car was off the track. Went out and forward, finding the bridge on fire. The first sleeper was resting over the bridge. Remained at the bridge and worked there until the danger from fire was passed. In the meantime the grass caught fire, and it was with difficulty prevented from spreading from there. Went over to the general wreck and found four or five cars telescoped and crushed into about the space of one. No cars burned, and no persons lost their lives by fire. Did not count the dead, and did not suppose all the bodies were out at the time witness left with the second train for Chatsworth. The grass which burned was five or six feet from the end of the timbers on the south side of the bridge. At that time the end of the bridge toward Peoria was all aglow with fire, from top to bottom. Should think the fire commenced at the bottom of the structure. The grass on the south side caught fire just before the rain. At that time there was a change of the wind, blowing flame and sparks in that direction. The fire in the grass burned in irregular space of perhaps four feet square, Did not go back to this part of the ground by daylight. Do not know anything about the old ties used to form abutments or bulkheads. No question but the whole wreck would have burned had not the fire been held in subjection. Have no idea how fast the train was running at the time it struck the bridge. Do not know how many doctors were at Chatsworth but was surprised that there were no doctors but Steele on the wrecking train from Peoria. Do not know what reason there was for holding the second relief train from Peoria at Forrest. There was no great jam around the hospitals at Chatsworth. Witness came home on the last train from Chatsworth.


Mr. Armstrong was recalled to state the speed of the train between the several stations, but it was shown that this point was already in evidence. He, on being questioned, explained that the reason for holding the train at Forrest was mainly on account of there being no side track room in Chatsworth until the train was made up at the latter point to leave for Peoria. Had the train come on it would have blocked the train at Chatsworth from getting out with the wounded.


Went on the wrecking train which came from Peoria, arriving at the wreck between seven and eight. Did not leave the train at Chatsworth. Dr. Steele and at least three doctors from Fairbury got off. No wounded at the wreck at the time of the arrival of the wrecking train, but the dead men had not been all removed. Stopped at Chatsworth on returning, and it seemed as if everything was done for the sufferers that it was in mortal power to do. Many of the wounded were impatient to be taken back to Peoria. Came back to Peoria with the first train, with several of the wounded on board. On arriving here saw preparations to take care of ten times as many wounded as came on the train. At Chatsworth heard Mr. Armstrong and some other railroad men talk about holding a train at Forrest until this train bearing wounded could get out. There seemed to be an abundance of helpful hands at Chatsworth. Did not hear anybody calling for a physician. Went to several acquaintances and asked if he could do anything for them, but they invariably said everything had been done that could be. Had it been known that the train at Chatsworth would be delayed as it was the train from Forrest might have run in and then backed down to Forrest, but that was not known.



Is in the grain business in Peoria. Wife and daughter were on the excursion. Went on the train which was delayed at Forrest. Witness found his own family safe and went around to the wreck. Dead had all been removed, at least it was so stated, and none were to be seen. Was satisfied that there were then no bodies in the wreck. On returning to Chatsworth there seemed to be more doctors than were needed. In going out the train was detained about an hour and a half. Found the side-tracks at Chatsworth full of cars. It was understood by the passengers at Forest that the train would be detained until the arrival of the train with the wounded.


Just as the commission was about to adjourn a committee, consisting of Mayor Kinsey and B. Cremer, appeared on the scene. The mayor stated that there had been a citizens' meeting at which it was thought that important additional evidence could be brought before the board, and requested that another session be held to-morrow. This was readily assented to and the board adjourned to 9 o'clock a.m.

Morning Session.

     The commissioners met at the National this morning in response to the request of the citizens committee, but adjourned to the supervisor's room in the court house. Mr. Rinaker stated that the board was here to represent the people and had invited evidence from all quarters. Had to commence at the beginning and hence the session at Chatsworth. Have inquired of railroad officials, passengers and citisens generally for all facts in their possession, but was glad the citizens meeting last night had offered to introduce further evidence.
     Mr. Niehaus stated that the people had the fullest confidence in the commission, and only requested further deliberations with a hope that more evidence could be brought forward, in response to the oft-repeated wishes of the board for all possible information. Mr. Marsh had not looked upon the action of the citizens as any reflection upon the board.


Direct questions by Mr. Niehaus. Mr. Tennery stated that he resides in Peoria, is a lawyer by profession. Was on board the first sleeper, which hung over the burning bridge; was in his berth when he noticed a shock, which aroused him, and seemed to be followed by two more shocks and a grinding sensation. Before the car had actually stopped could hear the crashing of glass and timbers ahead. Looked out and saw fire directly under the coach. Saw on getting out of the coach that the bridge below was on fire, but the flames not reaching the car. Went back and told the people in the car not to get excited, but to take their time. Remembered stumbling and falling at least three times in passing on the south side of the bridge on account of grass and weeds. Fire had undoubtedly been burning for a time, as the timbers seemed to be completely involved. Did not make any count of killed or wounded. Made a list of such as he recognized or could readily ascertain. Think the first train from Peoria arrived about 8 o'clock. Did not notice any physicians on the train. Saw Dr. Steele soon after. Do not know anything about holding the train at Forrest. Has no knowledge as to the relative safety of "double-headers" and divided trains. As a matter of judgement there was more danger to the solid than the divided train. Belief at the time and now was that the officials did all that could be done. It is easy to look back now and see where something better might have been done, but thinks that under the circumstances the best knowledge and the best impulses were obeyed. Do not know the rate of speed at the time of the accident. Considered that the train was making good time, on retiring twenty minutes before. Have no criticisms to make upon the action of the road officials.


Went on the 8:30 train, which was held at Forrest, reaching there about half past ten or eleven, and the train was held until about one. Heard a fireman say that a train was expected from Chatsworth with dead and wounded, and as soon as that arrived the train would leave. There were several doctors on our train and friends of persons who might be or were killed or wounded. There were no dead being taken out of the wreck on the arrival of our train. Went through the wreck with two or three others and could see none. Could not see anything to criticise in the company up to the time of the wreck, but thought the holding of the train was a mistake, on account of the suspense to persons on the train who had friends in the wreck. Did not know of any harm that had resulted from the detention of the train. On arrival every one seemed to be cared for.


An officer in charge at the depot in Peoria, was on the second chair car, at the time of the wreck. There was shock and he called out that the car was off the track, before the general crash came. Witness gave a detailed statement of his movements through the wreck in effort to aid sufferers. Had no warning of impending accident. Saw the burning bridge but did not examine it closely. Noticed along the track where the grass had been burned. Have no judgment as to the cause of the fire. Handled a great many dead and wounded, but have no idea of the number of such on the ground. Had no censure for the company. Has been a railroad man, and does not think the double-header was a source of danger in this case. It might be so on a long bridge. Think the train was running 35 or 40 miles an hour at the time of the accident. Think the speed was not greater after passing Chatsworth than the average before.


Is a lawyer, residing in Peoria. Was at the depot with other members of the relief committee on the arrival of every train bearing victims of the wreck; and went on Saturday to Piper City and Chatsworth. Talked with the wounded, and also Dr. Adams and Dr. Culbertson. Heard no complaints from any in reference to the action of officers of the road. Went on the train sent out to bring in all who were in a condition to be removed.


stated that he was deputy circuit clerk, residing at Peoria. Was on the train held at Forrest. Conductor at Forrest ordered all to get off the train as it would not go through, adding that there were too many out there now. Thinks the train was held from one to two hours. Remained at Chatsworth two or three hours before going to the wreck. Did not count the dead or wounded. Made no special examination of the bridge, but from what witness saw believed it had caught from the burning grass at the sides of the bridge. Believes this accident would have happened all the same had there been a single engine instead of the double-header. After getting off the detained train at Forrest word was circulated among the dissatisfied passengers that the train would go on and the passengers got on board, but even then the conductor claimed to have no orders to move. Thinks there was a plan to slip off the train and leave most of the passengers. Think there were not many more curiosity seekers on the train. There were a few. A new train was made up at Forrest, but the same car on which witness came went through to Chatsworth.

Adjourned to 2 o'clock p.m.



Afternoon Session 2:30 P.M.



Direct examinations as in the forenoon by Mr. Niehaus. Witness went on the third train out from Peoria to the wreck. Dr. Stewart, Dr. Hardin, Dr. Coulter and two or three doctors from Canton were on the train. Detained at Forrest about an hour with the understanding that Mr. Armstrong had ordered the train held because there were people enough at Chatsworth. Assisted in the medical services there. Do not know how many physicians were in attendance. Witness took off temporary bandages in several cases, dressed wounds that had been attended to before, and thinks the other doctors who went on the same train did the same. All the patients had been attended to at this time in some way. At three in the afternoon knew of seven or eight doctors at Chatsworth. Snively telegraphed from Forrest City that there were physicians and friends of the wounded on the detained train, and requested that they be allowed to proceed. Mr. Armstrong replied that they could go on if they would keep the crowd back from the hospitals.


Was on the train which left for the wreck at 8:30, going by order of the mayor. Train was detained at Forrest nearly two hours. The only reason witness knew for the detention was Armstrong's order to hold the train on account of the crowd at Chatsworth. Witness examined the burned bridge and saw dry grass on the north side near the bridge. Was at Chatsworth and heard no complaints about lack of attention. Nurses seemed to be at every cot and several persons were in attendance who seemed to be doctors. Looked around Chatsworth and the wreck to see if any suspicious characters could be found. Saw one lady who claimed to have been robbed of a watch, but from the circumstances is inclined to think she lost it. Met two notorious characters from Peoria in the afternoon going out to the wreck, but does not think any systematic robbery was perpetrated at the wreck. Examined the bridge to see if there was any indication of incendiary work, and believes that the fire was accidental.


Went out on the 8:30 train to the wreck to look after some witness' own patients and friends. The train was held about an hour and a half at Forrest ostensibly to wait for the Chatsworth train carrying dead and wounded. Thinks the patients had been very nicely attended to. The wounds had all been temporarily dressed very nicely. Went down to the wreck, but made no examination of the bridge.


Residing in Peoria, is an iron-moulder. Had a wife and two daughters killed on the excursion train. Went out on the 8:30 train to learn if his family was safe. The train was detained at Forrest about an hour and a half. Does not know how the wounded were treated, but heard that all were well cared for. Heard at Forrest that the reason the train could not go on was because of Armstrong's order not to let it pass on account of there being crowd enough. Found his children dead at Chatsworth, and after considerable search found his wife. Had heard it was said protests had been made by Engineer McClintock about the double-header train, but had no personal knowledge of the matter.



At this point Mr. Niehaus, Gen. Rinaker, Mr. Lee and others went to take the deposition of Mrs. McClintock, widow of the late engineer of the fatal engine, causing considerable delay. In This affidavit, when submitted afterwards, affiant said that her husband expressed himself frequently before the departure of this excursion as reluctant to go. Not that he anticipated any special danger, but at best he did not like to take out excursions. He did not speak to her of any danger in running the double header, but particularly disliked to be on the hindmost engine. She asked him why, and he replied that he liked to use his own eyes. The last conversation on this subject was at the supper table the evening that the train left. They had been married eleven years, and she never had heard him express so much reluctance to going out. She asked why he had to go on the second engine, and he replied because his engine had air brakes. He did not say anything of the engineer who was to precede him. Never talked even at home about other engineers. Never heard him say that he had remonstrated with Mr. Armstrong or anyone else about running the double-header. Thinks he would have done so very freely if he had thought there was any serious danger. She did not believe the accident would have occurred if Mr. McClintock had been on the first engine.


Physician residing in Peoria. Went on the 10 o'clock train out to the wreck in professional capacity. Train was detained at Forrest perhaps three-quarters or an hour. Arrived at Chatsworth and was enabled to be of service as a physician. Went out to the wreck in the evening. Did not examine the burned bridge. Drs. Bourscheidt, Stewart and perhaps other doctors went out on same train. Found the patients at Chatsworth well cared for and plenty of physicians. Heard no complaint of want of care. Heard at Forrest that the train was delayed because there were already people enough at Chatsworth.


Was fireman on the second engine with engineer McClintock. Could see beyond the first engine but did not look out much on account of sparks and smoke from head engine. Felt no shock of the action of the first engine. Had no notice of the burning of the bridge. Fastening between engine and tender is under the deck, consisting of bar and two safety pins. Bar is loose and has play. Can not unfasten this from inside. Front engine separated from the tender. Did not notice the couplings after the accident. No Protest from McClintock to witness about going out as he did. Never heard him express himself thus to any one. Looked at the bridge after the accident, but could not judge of the cause of the fire. Do not remember looking forward after leaving Chatsworth. Think the slot at one end broke out of the fastening between the forward engine and tender in the accident.


Was engineer on engine 21. First saw the fire about 300 feet ahead, which seemed to be at the side of the track. Doubt if a headlight of an engine standing on the bridge where the accident occurred could be seen at Chatsworth. Have seen headlights disappear and come in view again between Chatsworth and Piper City. Can only account for not seeing the fire sooner on the account of there being little or no blaze. Could not tell on arriving at the bridge whether both sides were burning or not. Believe it would have been impossible to see the bridge sooner unless blazing. Have pulled out one passenger train on this road, about three years ago. Have been in the employ of the road about four years. McClintock was put behind because his engine had an air brake. Do not know how many cars the brakes on this engine would operate. It was ample for this train. Can stop a train of 15 cars with air brakes about as easy as one car. Consider the additional momentum of a long train overbalanced by the additional number of brakes applied. The fire when first seen seemed to be on the south side of the track. On getting very close saw the embers of the burning bridge. Fireman hallooed, "for God's sake jump!" Witness started to jump, but recovering himself, sprang and shut off the steam. Steam remained shut off until engine struck the bridge, then opened out full with a purpose to clear the burned bridge if possible. Engine sunk down on the bridge and was forced out by her own power and by the force behind. Gave no signal to the hindmost engine to put on brakes. Fireman disappeared instantly, when he called out to jump. Did not leave the throttle open long enough to increase the motion of the train. When witness first saw the fire it did not look like a burning bridge. Thought it was a little fire by the side of the track. Do not know in what distance this train could have been stopped. An ordinary passenger train can be stopped within a quarter of a mile on track situated as this was. Witness shuts off steam usually more than a quarter of a mile out from a station when a train is at full speed. After the wreck the coupling bar of engine was broken in two. Witness had no purpose to break away from the train and save himself. Was running as engineer about four years before coming upon this road. Previous to that fired three years on the C., B. & Q. Had experience in running passenger trains on the Wabash system.


Was fireman on the front engine. Saw a fire on the right hand side of the track, from the left side of the engine. Seemed to be a small blaze some 200 or 300 yards ahead. Do not know why the fire could not be seen sooner. Did not mention the matter at once to the engineer because the fire seemed to be away from the track. Have seen fires several times this summer by the side of the track. Was very close to the bridge when he called out to the engineer to jump. Do not know what condition the brakes were in. Have said it was hard to stop the train but never told anybody the brakes were out of order.


Resides in Jersey City; is agent for the Lawrence Railway Brake company; something new. Was in this city at the time the excursion train started. Was acquainted with Engineer McClintock. Was at the train to the last moment before starting. Asked McClintock where his other engine was, and he said it was over the bridge; adding, "We do not run double-headers over this bridge." Asked him if he thought it dangerous to run double-headers over that bridge, and he replied, "Oh, not at all". Have had twenty-one years of railroad experience. Had charge of the train that brought Garfield's remains west. Have been no double-headers run on Pennsylvania road for many years, because of the powerful engines used which will haul twenty passenger coaches. Does not consider it dangerous to run double-headers over this road. Considers the road in good condition, so much so that the double-header was as safe as single. Have had experience with the kind of brakes on this train. Usually such a train could be stopped with these brakes in 1,000 feet. Impression is that with both engines reversed, brakes all on and sand boxes all open train could possibly have been stopped inside of two blocks.
There was one more witness to examine, but he was absent, and it being late the board adjourned to 8 o'clock at the National hotel.


At the evening session Mr. Culver testified that he had resided in Peoria 25 years. Has been railroad engineer. Never had any conversation with any engineers, brakemen or other employes of this road in reference to the condition of brakes on the train that was wrecked. Would think such a train as the one in question might in an emergency be stopped in the space of 300 feet. Has been engineer for about ten years. Might be difficult to locate a fire by the side of the road so as to know how it was situated. An engineer would not make much time if he stopped for every fire along the track. Thinks such a fire as the one described in the question might have been seen a mile if there was nothing to obstruct the view; that a train running on a down grade as this one was and at a speed of thirty miles an hour could not be safely stopped in 400 or 500 feet. The tendency of sudden stopping on a bridge is to submit the bridge to more or less strain. Has run on double-headers, but does not like to run either the front or hind engine. Can not use air brakes on two engines. They might be so constructed as to do it, but are not. Does not consider it as safe to run two engines (double-headers) as one. The first objection would be the additional weight, and it is less manageable.


Mr. Renaker desired the press to extend the thanks of the board to the people of Peoria, to the citizens committee and Mr. Attorney Niehaus for the interest they had taken in procuring and placing before the board unbiased evidence in the important case. The board then adjourned to meet on Tuesday next at Chatsworth.



     A mass meeting of citizens was held in the courthouse square Wednesday evening. Its object was to take appropriate action in the matter of the Chatsworth disaster and the principal point was the adoption of the resolutions framed by the committee appointed at the last public meeting held on the evening after the accident and in adjourned session on last Saturday night. The scene of the assembling was more particularly the Adams street side of the court house, and Judge L. W. James was chairman. There was a fair sized representative crowd seated on the steps of the building and gathered about their base when the meeting was called to order. Judge James explained the object of the assemblage in a few sentences and remarked the necessity for a thorough impartial investigation. L. W. Hannon, chairman of the committee on a public memorial read the following preamble and resolutions:
     Whereas, On the night of Wednesday, August 10, 1887, the excursion train which left Peoria that evening for Niagara Falls was wrecked at a bridge near Chatsworth, Ill., resulting in the death and wounding of several hundred people, most of whom were residents of Peoria and the vicinity; and
     Whereas, The frightful destruction of life and the great number of the wounded make this appalling calamity the worst in the history of railroading; and
     Whereas, It is due to the dead and wounded and to the traveling public, upon one hand, and to the officials and servants of the Toledo, Peoria & Western railway upon the other hand, that an exhaustive and searching investigation be made into all the facts and circumstances (can't read the next word as the paper is folded here) with this dreadful catastrophe; therefore, for the purpose of inducing greater care by the managers of railways for the protection of the traveling public and placing the responsibility for this dreadful disaster where it may rightfully belong:
     We, the people of Peoria, earnestly recommend that the Illinois state board of railroad and warehouse commissioners, as well as the authorities of the state and the several counties called upon to investigate and examine, under oath, witnesses regarding the causes of the death of the persons killed in said wreck, and as to whether any person or persons are responsible therefore, that they may make a complete, thorough and exhaustive examination and investigation regarding the causes of said disaster, and as to the person or persons, if any, responsible therefore; that the commissioners inquire into the accommodations furnished by said railway company for bringing promptly to the scene of the wreck necessary assistance, efficient medical men and needed medical supplies; that they inquire into the facilities furnished the friends of the passengers on the ill-fated train to reach them and to communicate with them, and the facilities for removing all that were able of the wounded at the earliest hour, and for the removal of the dead to their several homes as soon as practical.
     Such disaster and distress reveal what is noblest and most divine in our nature, and link whole communities together in close brotherhood.
     The patience, fortitude and courage of the imprisoned, wounded and crushed, the calmness and serenity of those who survived only to die, the ceaseless and heroic efforts of the uninjured to rescue and relieve those who had been caught in the wreck and to put out the spreading fire, the prompt, generous and kindly aid of the people along the way, and especially at Chatsworth and Piper City, the splendid service of the physicians from near and far who flew to the side of the suffering at the first call, the ready assistance of the railway officials, and the prompt sympathy and ready aid given by our city officials and all our citizens, illumine and cheer the darkness and gloom of that awful night and of the terrible days that followed, and cannot be too highly praised or too long remembered.
     We are all sharers in the loss, the suffering, the sorrow which this calamity has entailed. For the bereaved, the maimed, the sick, every heart is touched. That they may be sustained and comforted in their afflictions and completely restored to soundness and health is our common wish and prayer.
     A catastrophe like this shocks not only our nerves, but our faith. For a little while it seemed as if God had forgotten the world, or that there was no God, and that we were at the mercy of the blind and pitiless forces of nature. But it is not fair to confound the improvidence of man with the Providence of God. He is wise and gracious, and orders all things for the best.
     What can support us in our grief but the hope that those whose journey and days ended at the fatal bridge have traveled onward to an upper and better home, to an ampler and sweeter life?
     L. Ph. Wolf saw an inconsistency in the memorial. He objected to recommending a full investigation and commending the railroad company at the same time. His idea was to strike out the clause favorable to the railroads but the meeting did not see it that way and his motion was swamped. Major Wells wanted to strike out of the memorial the clause relating to the state railroad and warehouse commission and he further objected to the passage concerning providence and God. His sentiments were opposed by Sol. Bennett and there were no clauses stricken out. Mayor Kinsey then moved to strike out everything but the expressions of regret, condolence and sympathy. Lawrence Harmon opposed this fiercely. The mayor thought it a mistake to mix the two things together, and wished to pass the section that calls for an investigation by a separate vote. His suggestion was voted down. The memorial was then adopted without alteration, and on motion of Collector Wilson the state's attorney was requested to represent the people at the investigation now pending before the state commission. Mayor Kinsey moved that the railroad and warehouse commission be requested to return to Peoria or remain here and give ear to additional testimony. The mayor, Bernard Cremer and Senator Bell were made a committee to wait upon the commissioners. The chairman was then instructed to appoint a committee of three to take charge of a relief fund and arrange for a public benefit. The meeting then adjourned.

Notes of the Disaster.


Chatsworth, Ill., Aug. 17. ---Matthew Cook, a brother of P. L. Cook, who is a member of the coroner's jury, informed the correspondent yesterday that on Saturday afternoon he was standing at the west end of the bridge when freight train No. 16 came along at a rapid rate two hours and a half behind time. Mr. Cook said that when the train passed over the bridge the stringers of that structure sank four inches, the ends resting on the bare earth.


Conductor Webster, of Colchester, who is employed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad company, who was here yesterday looking for jewelry supposed to have been found on the bodies of George F. Hartung and W. H. Potter, discovered some additional bones in the ashes at the wreck, the first lot having been found earlier in the afternoon by the Times correspondent. He showed them to several persons at Chatsworth, who insisted that they were the bones of some animal, or possibly those of a roasted chicken which some of the excursionists carried for lunch. Monday night, however, in order to settle the question, the bones were submitted to Dr. Charles True, of Kankakee, who had previously made an examination of the bones found earlier in the afternoon. He made a close inspection of them with a microscope and found that they came from a human body, one being the metatarsal bone and fragments, while another piece was the inner two-thirds of the clavicle. It is also understood that a barber named M. Georgie found several human bones in the ashes of the wreck Monday.


     On the day following the accident Mrs. R. H. Clark, of Rootstown, O., who died Sunday afternoon, and Miss Emma Alter, of West Point, Ind., who was severely wounded, informed several Chatsworth ladies who were caring for them that a gang of roughs took possession of their coach, No. 13, after leaving Fairbury, and extinguished the lights in the car several times between that point and Chatsworth. On each occasion after the lights were lit some ladies found their pocketbooks or articles of jewelry stolen. Miss Alter added that these men drank liquor, swore, and conducted themselves in the car in the most outrageous manner, an so angered her that she said indignantly: "If there is a hell those men are worthy of being there."
     Chatsworth, Ill., Aug. 18. ---Dr. H. S. M. Bards, of Fairbury, Ill., who arrived here at noon, brings the information of the death at 1 o'clock this morning of Elton Waters, of the Peoria watch company, who was on his way to visit his parents, who live at Cottage, near Dalton, N. Y. When taken from here to Fairbury he said to your correspondent that he was on his way to visit his parents, and would get to them yet. He had a hole in his thigh as big as a man's wrist, together with internal injuries, but bore up so bravely that the physicians dubbed him the hero. He did well until last evening, when blood poisoning and failure of the heart supervened, and he gradually sank. His body passed through here at noon, expressed to Dalton, New York.
     Elton Waters, another of the wreck sufferers, died of his injuries at Fairbury at 10 o'clock Thursday. Waters lived on Garfield avenue in this city, and was an employe of the Peoria watch factory. He was a young man and was on his way to Cataraugus county, New York, when the awful accident occurred. His demise swells the death roll to 78 names.


The following railroad disasters have occurred during the present year:

Accident Killed Injured
Jan. 1, collision on Devil's river. Texas 15 ...
Jan. 4, collision on B. & O. R. R., Republic, O. 16 12
Feb. 5, train derailed, Vermont Central R. R. 32 36
March 14, broken bridge, Boston & Providence R. R. 31 100
March 25, broken bridge, Norfolk & Western R. R. 8 ...
April 25, collision, Northern Pacific R. R. 6 18
May 28, collision, Pennsylvania R. R. 6 18
July 16, collision, Grand Trunk R. R. 12 200
July 21, collision, Erie R. R. 13 5
July 27, collision, Chicago & Alton R. R. 15 30

So far as the records of past railroad accidents show, there has been but one in which the deaths exceeded those of the T., P. & W. excursion horror of Wednesday night, and that was one which occurred June 24, 1881, on the Morelis railway, in Mexico, when a train fell through a bridge near Cuertla into the San Antonio river. On this occasion over two hundred lives were lost. Following is a list of railway disasters in which the losses of life were very large:

July 17, 1856 --- A passenger train on the Northern Pennsylvania road collided with a freight train near Campbell, killing 100 people.
June 29, 1864 --- A passenger train ran off a bridge near St. Hilaire, Canada. Eighty-three were killed and 200 wounded.
April 14, 1868 --- At Carr's Rock on the Erie road a passenger train rolled down an embankment into the Delaware river. Deaths twenty-six, and the wounded numbered fifty-two.
March 17, 1870 --- On this day occurred the New Hamburg horror. A train consisting of oil-tank cars left Jersey City. When it reached the bridge which spanned New Hamburg Creek, New York, several of the cars jumped the track and ran across the opposite or down track. Just then the Albany express dashed into view, and before it could be stopped it dashed into the oil tanks. Several of these exploded, throwing burning oil over all the cars, and to add to the horror the weight of the two trains let the bridge down into the creek. Everything that went down broke through the ice of the creek, and those who had any chance for escape previously lost it. The deaths were sixty, and the wounded twice that number.
Aug. 18. 1871. ---Collision at Revere on the Eastern road between Boston and Portland. Twenty killed.
June 22, 1872 ---Collision and explosion of locomotive boiler on the Grand Trunk road, near Belleville, Canada. Thirty were killed by being crushed and scalded.
Dec. 24, 1872 ---At Corry, Pa., a passenger train plunged through a bridge, Twenty deaths.
Dec. 29, 1876 ---In the midst of a blinding snowstorm, the Pacific express from New York on the Lake Shore road plunged through a bridge which crossed Ashtabula creek. One hundred were killed, including P. P. Bliss, the noted evangelist.
Dec. 28, 1879 ---A passenger train was blown off the Tay bridge into the river in Dundee, Scotland. Seventy-four lives were lost.


Peoria Weekly Journal: August 25, 1887

Page 7:


The Section Boss Lodged in the Pontiac Jail ---The Railroad Will Not Assist Him ---Grief of His Family---Corrections in the List of Dead.

Chatsworth, Ill., Aug. 19. ---After the coroner's verdict had been made public yesterday the jurymen explained that they had preserved such particular secrecy after returning the verdict because they did not desire that Coughlin should receive the news of his having been held to the grand jury, believing that he might attempt to escape. As soon as the verdict had been found, however, a warrant for Coughlin's arrest, prepared by Coroner Long, was placed in the hands of Deputy Sheriff Sanford, who is also the town marshal. The officer found Coughlin working with his gang a short distance down the track. He was immediately placed under arrest, but was allowed to go to his home, about a quarter of a mile from the depot, with the officer, where he put on his best suit of clothes and bid good-by to his wife and seven children, who cried and hung around his neck in the most affectionate manner. The prisoner was then taken to the depot where he awaited the coming of the train which was to carry him away to the county jail at Pontiac. While there he was interviewed by the correspondent.
     He said that he considered the verdict a most unjust one, and declared that Heald and Taggart, the section men who worked with him on Aug. 10, had perjured themselves in swearing that they had set fire to grass within sixteen feet of the bridge on that day. No grass had been burned within the distance of three or four telegraph poles east of the bridge on Aug. 10. He could not account for their having testified as they did. He had not had any trouble with them. In his opinion he had taken all possible precautions to prevent the bridge catching fire. He said he had been with the Toledo, Peoria & Western railroad for two years and previous to that time had been employed by the Illinois Central railroad for twenty-eight years, with the exception of three years, during which time he was in the war, having served in the Thirty-third Missouri infantry. [Note from the host of this site: Mr. Coughlin was released a few months later due to lack of sufficient evidence in proving he was responsible for the accident.
Santa Fe railroad's lawyers and their employment of him (until his retirement) after the wreck as well as the official conclusions helped to clear his name.]
     When the train was passing his house the most


were heard. The passengers looked out of the windows for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the noise, and saw Coughlin's wife and children standing in the doorway, giving way to the most violent expressions of grief, as they gazed after the train that was bearing the husband and father to prison.
     After the verdict had been announced Attorney J. S. Stevens, who has been here for several days looking after the interests of the road, said that the company would not assist Coughlin in any way to extricate himself from the difficulty.
     On board of the train which carried the prisoner away were ten members of Parker's band of Prairie City, town, who were on the excursion train at the time of the wreck, but who escaped uninjured. After the accident they returned to Peoria and took another train to Niagara Falls, for which point they had originally started, returning on Wednesday's train.
Coroner Long figures up a total of

EIGHTY DEATHS [81 deaths; scores wounded]

of which three occurred in Piper City, two in Peoria, and one in Fairbury, making seventy-four persons on whom inquests were held here. The name of a 10-month old child of Mrs. Jonathan Neal, of Louisville, Ill., does not appear in the official list. The body supposed to have been that of A. Martin, of Bloomington, Ill., was that of M. H. Cassell of El Paso, Ill. The corpse believed to be that of N. A. Moore, is that of J. N. Noakes, of Moline, Ill. No such person as N. A. Moore is known.
     One cause of the jury's delay in finding a verdict was the fact that a difference of opinion existed among the jurors as to the wording of the clause relating to the burning of the bridge. With the exception of Shaw, the jury was in favor of "finding" that the bridge was fired from fires left burning, etc., while juror Shaw insisted that the evidence did not warrant such a wording, no matter what the juror's private belief might be. He held that the word "think" ought to be substituted, and carried his point.
     The verdict returned in the case of Mrs. Dr. Duckett will apply to every other person who died in Peoria from the effects of the accident.
     Coroner Long went home yesterday, but will be here again on Tuesday, when he will approve the verdict, settle several minor details of the inquest, and dismiss the jury. In the meantime Foreman Sears will fill up a blank for every person who was killed in the wreck or who died here. The coroner is allowed by Livingston county to charge a fee of $10 for every person on whom he holds an inquest, in addition to mileage.
     One member of the jury favored censuring Superintendent Armstrong for not having personally inspected the track of his road on August 10. Another member desired to censure the company for running "double-header" trains, while still another insisted that the entire management of the company ought to be censured for criminal carelessness.


A complete account of the testimony taken during the inquiry!

Harper's Weekly Account of the Accident pub. Aug. 20, 1887

Chatsworth Plaindealer's account of the Train Wreck (offsite)



Peoria Weekly Journal: September 8, 1887
Page 8


The T., P. & W. Litigations Commenced----

A Heavy List of Damages.

As intimated several days ago, there are a number of Chatsworth wreck sufferers in and about Peoria preparing to give the T., P. & W. clearly to understand that they have strong claims for damages. They have already commenced operations in a public manner. On yesterday afternoon there were no less than nineteen suits commenced in the office of Circuit Clerk Walsh, representing the first $127,500 worth of claims against the unfortunate road. The attorneys in these initiatory cases are Messrs. Page & Worthington and Jack & Tichenor. James Deal, Wm. Allen and Wm. Ball employ the former firm and each sues for $5,000 as administrator of the estate of his dead wife. Mrs. Harriet Stevens, by the same firm claims $10,000 for the death of Wm. Stephens, her husband, and Alice E. Stevens, one of the two daughters whom she lost. Louis A. McFadden, brother of the late Dr. Joseph D. McFadden, sues for $5,000, and in addition there are several suits in trespass for injuries in the hands of Page & Worthington. These include that of Jacob Z. Bogert for $10,000, in which the summons praecipe is already filed. The Jack & Tichenor death suits are brought by Wm. H. Smith administrator of the estate of Elton Waters, Peter F. Valentine, who lost his wife, Mrs. Emma Regan, whose husband M. M. Regan, was killed and E. E. Putney, administrator of the estate of Lillian F. Putney, his wife. All these cases are for $5,000 each. Messrs. Jack & Tichenor are also entrusted with the claims of a number of wounded. E. E. Putney, who lost his wife and mother, sues for $20,000 on account of his own personal injuries. Mrs. Phena Frahm, an employe of C. M. Howard, also badly hurt claims $20,000, Emma Ryan demands, $15,000 and Albert Valentine, William Regan, Earl F. French, and Lizzie Jones want $5,000 each. This, as aforementioned, is only the first installment, but it is hoped that even yet there may be some settlement effected without dragging the cases into endless litigation in the courts. The claimants say that the railroad men have made no advances whatever in the matter, and they do not propose to endanger their claims by any further delay. They say, too, that so far as the notices in the newspapers are concerned, the T., P. & W. people are careful not to father any one of them, and careful, furthermore, not to commit themselves one way or another. This leads them to take the only legal precautionary measure left open, and this they propose to do, be the consequences what they may. The retention of Albert Emerson of Danville, they urge, is no indication of a willingness on the part of the T., P. & W. to settle, for Emerson is engaged to merely hunt up the wounded and ascertain the extent of their injuries, for the guidance of the company. There is, in short, an element of distrust in the mind of the people, and they take the initiative to head off possible surprises. It must, however, be borne in mind that the railroad management has a big task on its hands. It is no easy matter for Manager Leonard to figure out just what he can do, and then he has to consult the stockholders and get their consent to the settlement project which he wishes to carry out. If then Manager Leonard has not come forward with a direct proposal to settle, it must not be forgotten that he has not in any way attempted to shirk the responsibility, or act as if he meant that the road should sneak out of it by an receivership or other possible quirk or scheme. Whatever has been done by the road since the wreck is of a nature favorable to a just and amicable settlement, and those who have legal claims ought not to do anything rash. The T. P. & W. under the present management is of course financially crippled by the accident, but this difficulty may be overcome. The road is bonded for $5,000,000, but only $4,500,000 of the bonds have been issued. It is possible that the remaining $500,000 bonds may be floated and other arrangements made with a view to settling all just claims. But as already stated it takes time to do this and Manager Leonard and his associates are at least entitled to a fair chance. They are known to favor the settlement project and to be working with that end in view. [Note from the host: T., P. & W. never accepted blame for this accident and as a result received many favorable court decisions on the monetary amounts to be paid for the death and injury settlements.]


A Suggestion.

Dr. Culbertson, of Piper City, a conspicuous figure among the Chatsworth heroes, has spent a few days in this city and was full of intelligently formed opinions concerning the great disaster and its results. In private conversation he enlarged upon one need of the relief work now in progress, which may possibly not be well considered. The strain of the situation fell heavily upon the people of these two small towns. Poor people in both places not only left their work and business interests to suffer, but in many instances literally stripped their houses of food, clothing, and especially of bedding to help relieve the distress. In this, of course, they did only their duty, and without hope or thought of remuneration. But now, when an effort is being made to divide up the burden by admitting all to a little share in it, these good people should be borne in mind. Many of them, the doctor says, could not be induced to take any money, even to replace articles freely furnished. But the aid movement should be large enough in its scope to reach even these with some token of public recognition and sympathy that will make their hearts glad. These and their compeers have proved once more that after all, "the world is not so bad a world as some would like to make it." A good fund, therefore, should be raised. It is in a noble cause.


Poem in the Peoria Weekly Journal on Jan. 26, 1888:

There is a great deal of solid poetry scattered about Peoria in heaps, and
it always does us good to rescue a section of it occasionally and present it to the public.
This morsel is particularly fine:

The 10th of August, oh fatal day!

That lured our loved from us away,

Full of bright anticipation

Of sights for them in store,

Little thinking most of them

Should view their homes no more.

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers,

And children likewise, too,

Had said their last good bye on earth

As the engine from the platform drew.


Bright and happy seemed the throng,

As the train was urged along;

Great preparations had been made

To reach Niagara's shore.

Instead of meeting at Niagara Falls,

They met at heaven's door----

The door all mortals here below

Must enter soon or late.

It matters not what way or form,

We must abide by Fortune's fate.


As on and on the engine swept,

Nearer to death's door they crept,

When lo! there came a crash most deep

Which caused the human heart to shrink,

And heap on heap there lay a mass

Of human forms beneath the brink;

What was once a happy throng,

Full of laughter, full of mirth,

Lay all crushed and heaped together

On the damp and budless earth.


Pleasure now had turned to sadness,

Changing mirth and joy and gladness.

Terror reigned in every heart,

As depicted on their face;

Crying, begging to be saved.

Appealing to the Lord for grace.

Noble hearts and willing hands

Soon sent aid to those distressed.

While some were far beyond relief,

And so their bodies lay at rest.

Some would cry in wild despair,

Where is my brother, where, Oh Where?

And Oh my mother, where is she?

Is she too numbered with the dead?

And others there in copious strains

Would gaze around in dire dread,

As if intent to catch a glimpse

Of some dear one now missing.

And as the corpse was borne along

The sight was most distressing.


There is Ed McClintock, brave engineer.

Had ran an engine for many a year.

But once and for all he could not save

The throng, the precious burden which

Was nearing its destruction fast.

And there must perish in the ditch.

The crash had come; lo! all was o'er.

And search was being made.

They found McClintock's headless form

As on the track it laid.


The railroad officials, I must say

Done all that in their power lay.

By paying for victims of the wreck.

But who can soothe the heart

Of pain and anguish mingled there

For those from whom they had to part.

God alone can soothe their sorrow;

He alone can ease their pain.

Teach them to know that soon or late,

They shall meet their loved again

Yes, meet again to part no more.

On yon celestial shining shore

Where those dear ones that gathered then

Are living free from care

And only waiting for such time

Their bliss with you to share

All you friends now --- to mourn

Find solace here in this:

Think soon you may be called upon

To share with them eternal bliss.

-- Sarah J.
Peoria, Ill.


Engineer E. B. McClintock's Number 13 Engine crashed through and turned over, killing McClintock instantly.

Photo from the National Archives

Submitted by your Host

Any contributions, corrections, or suggestions would be deeply appreciated!

Copyright Janine Crandell
All rights reserved
Updated September 13, 2005