Friday, December 1, 2017

The Chicago & Atlantic Railway Wreck at Sandy Hook, 1887

In a previous blog post, an enumeration of Porter County railroad accidents is provided that includes events leading up to each wreck. The wreck resulting in the most casualties took place at Woodville in Liberty Township in 1906, though the wreck at Porter in 1921 was nearly as devastating, resulting in 37 deaths and more than 100+ injured victims. The Shadyside Crossing wreck of 1909 near Baillytown on the Chicago, Lake Shore & South Bend Railway left the family and friends of 11 victims in mourning.

The first major railroad wreck in Porter County took place in 1887 on the tracks of the Chicago & Atlantic Railway in the southern half of the county. Like the other accidents mentioned above, this wreck was avoidable and was the consequence of human error.

On December 1,1871, the Chicago, Continental & Baltimore Railway was organized, in part, to provide rail service for the northern portion of Indiana. As a result of consolidation, this company became part of Chicago & Atlantic Railway on June 19, 1873. The company would eventually survey a route through Porter County in 1881 and soon after installed tracks. Traffic through Porter County commenced on the new line in 1883. 

Chicago & Atlantic Railway stations at Kouts and Boone Grove were erected to provide fuel, water, and passenger and freight service. A water tank was also constructed near the Sandy Hook Ditch that provided a filling point for steam locomotives operating on the line. This tank was located approximately one-quarter mile northwest of present day County Road 50 West from where this county road crosses the former rail line.

Note that the community of Boone Grove was originally located in the NW¼ of the SE¼ of Section 28 of Porter Township. The Chicago & Atlantic Railway's route passed south of Boone Grove and the railway company erected their depot near the center of Section 32, thereby bypassing the community by approximately one mile.

Plat maps of Porter Township, Porter County, Indiana,
showing location of Boone Grove in 1876 and 1895.
Source: Hardesty's Illustrated Historical Atlas of Porter County,
, 1876 [see p. 39] and Lee and Lee's Atlas of
Porter County, Indiana
, 1895 [see p. 33].

Similar to members of many communities across the United States at this time, the residents of Boone Grove were keenly aware of the importance of a rail line in the commercial development of their town. Thus, on June 4, 1883, Jefferson B. Woods submitted an application to the United States Post Office Department, certified by Hebron's postmaster Oscar S. Baird, to establish a post office along the newly constructed Chicago & Atlantic Railway line.

Woods' application was quickly approved on June 14, 1883, and mail service to the original Boone Grove in Section 28 was discontinued that same day and transferred to the community of Jumbo to the southwest in Section 32. Jumbo would soon change its name to Boone Grove on July 20, 1883, and the establishment a second location of Boone Grove commenced. The original Boone Grove would fade into obscurity as its residents relocated at the new Boone Grove situated along the Chicago & Atlantic Railway.

Chicago & Erie Railroad station at Boone Grove, Indiana, circa
1910, formerly known as the Chicago & Atlantic Railway.
Source: Collection of Steven R. Shook.

Chicago & Erie Railroad station at Kouts, Indiana, circa
formerly known as the Chicago & Atlantic Railway.
Source: Collection of Steven R. Shook.

The Kouts train wreck occurred during the evening of October 10, 1887. The Chicago & Atlantic Railway's passenger train No. 12 had left the Polk Street Depot in Chicago at 7:45 pm consisting of the locomotive, tender, and five passenger railcars, the two rear cars being sleeper cars. Soon after departing, engineer Bryan "Briney" O'Connor found that an eccentric strap on his locomotive had broken. The eccentric strap affixes to the rotating axle of the drive wheels and converts rotary motion into linear reciprocating motion. Despite the damage to one of the eccentric straps, the train could still operate.

Drive wheels of a steam-powered locomotive with eccentric strap highlighted.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The passenger train arrived at Hammond in Lake County, Indiana, to take on passengers and departed that city heading eastbound at 8:15 pm. Despite the situation, O'Connor continued the journey by working only one side of his locomotive's drive, which drastically reduced the train's speed.

Upon reaching Boone Grove, the passenger train, containing 27 passengers, was more than two hours behind its published schedule having lost 30 minutes waiting for connections, 55 minutes in disconnecting the broken eccentric strap on one side of the locomotive, and 31 minutes at Boone Grove in passing a freight train. Indeed, on the siding at Boone Grove was eastbound freight train No. 48 hauling heavy refrigerator cars packed with dressed meat from Chicago's Armour & Company.

Photograph of Bryan "Briney" O'Connor, engineer of
passenger train No. 12 on the Chicago & Atlantic Railway.
Source: Roman's American Locomotive
Engineers: Erie Railway Edition, 1899. [see p. 425]

The passenger train continued eastbound without stopping at Boone Grove. It was soon discovered that the unbroken eccentric strap was loosening and the train was forced to stop. Engineer O'Connor decided to idle the passenger train at the water tank between Boone Grove and Kouts, which was located in Section 2 of Boone Township. Brakeman John W. Jacobs of the passenger train, following safety protocol, activated a red semaphore lamp that was located about 1,200 feet behind the last car. The lamp acted as a warning signal to any potential oncoming traffic that another train was ahead standing idle on the main track.

Reports indicate that engineer John Dorsey, operator of freight train No. 48, pulled out of Boone Grove onto the main line about two minutes after passenger train No. 12 had passed the village. Dorsey failed to see the red semaphore lamp until he was nearly adjacent to it due to heavy fog. His train was traveling at about 35 miles per hour and accelerating at full steam.

Just prior to ramming into the rear of the passenger train, Dorsey and his fireman, William H. Willets, detected the faintly burning lamps affixed to the passenger train's rear sleeper car. Sensing disaster, the freight train's engineer and fireman leapt from their locomotive's cab prior to impact.

Meanwhile, brakeman J. O. Colton of the passenger train testified after the accident that just prior to the collision that he was alerted to the freight train by "sparks flying out from the [freight's] smoke stack." Colton then immediately ran back toward the freight train with a signal lantern. As he approached the semaphore lamp, he was struck by fireman Willets who had just jumped off the freight train's locomotive.

Boone Township, Porter County, Indiana, plat map showing
approximate location of the 1887 Chicago & Atlantic Railway collision.

 Source: Lee and Lee's Atlas of Porter County, Indiana, 1895. [see p. 23]

The force of the collision of the two trains, which occurred about three minutes after the passenger train went idle at the water tower, was apparently quite incredible. It was reported that the freight train engine plunged entirely through the rear Pullman sleeper car. This rear sleeper car's frame then telescoped into the sleeper car ahead of it and the next three passenger cars were splintered to pieces. Meanwhile, the upper works of the freight engine were torn away and its tender was thrown across the track

All of the freight train railcars derailed and "piled up for twenty rods [330 feet] about the prairie were hundreds of pounds of meat." Coals in the stove heaters on the passenger train soon ignited upholstery, and within five minutes the entire passenger train was ablaze. Witnesses reported that several trapped passengers, some only slightly injured, wailed and screamed as the fire overtook them; rescuers were unable to assist them due to enmeshed nature of the wreckage and the intensity of the flames. In fact, cause of death for victims of the accident was largely placed on the stoves used to heat the Pullman sleeper cars rather than the force of the accident.

Local farmers and the train crews attempted to extinguish the flames using buckets of water from the nearby tower. First-hand accounts of this disaster published in newspapers nationwide are heartrending to read. The injured were taken to the small Kouts Hotel on the east side of Main Street for treatment by local physicians, all but one suffering head injuries. Local farmers prepared rough pine boxes and placed the remains of the 11 killed in them and delivered them to Kouts for a coroner's inquest.

The October 12, 1887, issue of The Indianapolis Journal included a description of the water tank facility, its attending operator, and a statement from the operator:
The water-tank at which the accident took place is in the center of one of the vast swamps which cover a great portion of northwestern Indiana. Not a single building of any sort is in sight. On every side are sloughs and stagnant pools of water, with tracts of bog land between. Here and there a clump of willows breaks the monotony of the watery waste. The tank stands on a tall platform by the side of the track. A little shed virtually forms a part of the tank, where the pumping machinery is sheltered, and where the queer little man who attends the machinery has his bunk. For a long time he has not used it, but every night has rode into Kouts on his railroad velocipede and there spent the night, leaving the tank entirely alone. This man, whose name is Orf Fravel, was in the shed to-night, however, and was asked what precautions were taken in his absence to prevent such catastrophes as that which had just occurred. "Not a precaution," he answered, "except a sort of thing they call a semaphore. It is an English contrivance, and is supposed to act as a signal, but it don't."
An article published in the October 12, 1887, issue of the Los Angeles Daily Herald described the scene at Kouts and the accident as follows:
Dozens of blood-stained, smoke-grimed dead and dying women and children, victims of railroad careless and blundering, are littered in the village [Kouts], stationhouse, the hotel and every other available resting-place in the vicinity, while three miles west, down the track of the Chicago & Atlantic railway, near a lonely water-tank, piles of fearfully tangled debris mark the spot where the collision, seldom equaled for its terrible results, occurred.
Blame for the accident seemed to fall squarely upon Engineer Dorsey for failing to see and act upon the warning signal provided by the semaphore light. The passenger train crew, however, was also partly to blame for the wreck. Safety protocols called for the idled train crew to send a one of their members down the main line with flagging to warn oncoming rail traffic. No flagger from the passenger train was dispatched down the line.

The Los Angeles Daily Herald also reported on casualties resulting from the wreck:
When the reporters reached the wreck all the dead bodies had been carefully removed from sight. Only two of the wounded were still in the village [Kouts] and the local employees of the road were deaf and dumb to all seekers of information. About the only person about was Dr. C. W. McKee. He stated that to his best knowledge the collision had cost the lives of fully thirty people. It was a mammoth scene of destruction and there was a difficulty of arriving at a correct idea of its magnitude. Out of the Miller family of six only a boy was saved. Dr. McKee stated that only nine bodies had been recovered, and they were so badly charred as to almost beyond recognition, the most left of some of them being a blackened trunk, and in some cases there was little beyond a handful of ashes.
Newspaper headlines across the United States initially reported that 25 to 30 people perished as a result of this wreck, likely attributable to the estimate provided soon after the accident by Dr. McKee. Newspapers publishing morning editions had no other estimate by which to gauge the number of casualties and, therefore, reported Dr. McKee's estimate. The dead, however, appears to have numbered between nine and eleven. The official number of dead, reported after an investigation of the accident, was placed at nine.

Porter County Coroner Dr. Joseph H. Letherman was tasked with determining the cause of death of the wreck's victims. This undertaking included ascertaining the factors that resulted in the collision on the Chicago & Atlantic Railway line by conducting a coroner's inquest. The law in Indiana at this time did not require the coroner to empanel a jury. Instead, the conclusions resulting from the investigation, including the placement of fault for the deaths, rested solely with the coroner.

Within a week, Coroner Letherman had completed his investigation and rendered the following verdict:
I find the decedents to be as follows: Dr. William Perry, wife and daughter; a family supposed to be Millers, four in number, and one unknown man, not burned, supposed to be from Dundee, Ill.; and one unknown person -- who came to deaths by reason of injuries caused by the fast freight train No. 48 of the Chicago & Atlantic Railroad Company running into and crushing passenger train No. 12 of said road at the state ditch water tank, Porter county, Indiana, at or about midnight of Monday, October 10, 1887; said accident being the result of the negligence of the train dispatcher of said road in permitting passenger train No. 12 to attempt to run with a disabled engine, knowing that a fast freight train, No. 48, was but a few minutes behind it; and by the negligence and carelessness of Engineer Dorsey of freight train No. 48 running his engine at a high rate of speed through the fog, knowing that passenger train No. 12 was but a short distance in advance of his train with a disabled engine.

The verdict, being in accordance with the facts, is that death resulted from careless or negligence on the part of the train dispatcher and the engineer [John Dorsey] of the fast freight No. 48, and censuring the company for allowing a crippled engine pulling a passenger train to be on the road a few minutes in advance of a fast freight, and by the negligence of Engineer Dorsey in not providing his engine with sand and his recklessness in running at such a rate of speed through the fog.
The verdict is confusing in that it mentions that John Dorsey failed to provide "his engine with sand." When Dorsey saw that his train was possibly going to collide with the passenger train, he set his engine's brakes. The brakes, however, did not hold well due to the heavy tonnage being hauled by the train. This was confirmed by testimony provided from the freight train's conductor, R. H. Mattlee.

Trains, especially those pulling significant tonnage, often carried sand that would be manually thrown onto the track to create more friction and increase braking efficiency. In this particular case, Dorsey did not have any sand on his engine to assist in braking his train. In addition, John Kilfoyle, a rear brakeman on the freight train, testified that when he went to the top of the rear refrigerator railcars to manually activate the brakes that he found them stiff and difficult to set. Thus, Letherman's verdict.

The dead included:
  • MILLER, Charles - Aged 50 years. A resident of Dundee, Kane County, Illinois, traveling with his family to visit relatives in Hungary. Charles was instantly killed when an iron rod penetrated his throat.
  • MILLER, Fred - Aged 20 years. Son of Charles and Lena Miller. Survived the initial collision but died in the flames of the wreck.
  • MILLER, Lena - Aged 48 years. Wife of Charles Miller. Lena initially survived the collision. Members of the train crew attempted to rescue her by dragging her out of the wreckage. She was trapped, however, and a seat cushion ignited above her head. "Then she attempted to pass one of her girls, a wee mite of a thing, whose white apron was stained with blood, to the rescuers who were crowded about the terrible scene. When the woman saw death was inevitable she closed her eyes as if in prayer, and, wrapping her only free arm around the waists of her children nearest her, awaited the coming of the flames."
  • MILLER, Wilhelmina "Minnie" - Aged 7 years. Daughter of Charles and Lena Miller. Survived the initial collision but died in the flames of the wreck.
  • MILLER, William - Aged 17 years. Son of Charles and Lena Miller. Survived the initial collision but died in the flames of the wreck.
  • PERRY, Ada Grace - Aged 10 years. Daughter of William and Ann Perry. Ada initially survived the wreck but perished in the flames underneath her trapped father. Buried at Pioneer Cemetery in North Judson.
  • PERRY, Ann - Aged 43 years. Wife of Dr. William Perry. Ann survived the initial wreck. She was trapped underneath her husband and perished in the flames. Buried at Pioneer Cemetery in North Judson.
  • PERRY, Dr. William - Aged 49 years. A resident of North Judson, Starke County, Indiana, and a veteran of the Civil War who served in Company G of the 73rd Regiment Indiana Infantry. William initially survived the wreck and worked his way to a shattered railcar window, getting the upper half his body out of the wreck. Rescuers attempted to drag him from the crushed railcar, but the intensity of the flames deterred their efforts and the physician perished in the flames. Buried at Pioneer Cemetery in North Judson.
  • A "young Irish woman." The woman was caught underneath the passenger car's heating stove. Rescuers witnessed her burn to death. This woman is believed to have been Bridget Malone of Chicago. A Thomas Malone, brother of Bridget, arrived in Kouts the day after the accident searching for his sister. Thomas had a conversation with Joseph McCool, a survivor of the accident. After describing his sister and where she sat on the train, "McCool remembered her, and at once placed her as the unknown Irish woman who was burned to death. An affecting scene ensued as Malone viewed the remains."
  • A "tramp." Of those that perished in the wreck, this is the only individual not to have been burned. Of large build and clean shaven, "his head and breast were crushed to a pulp." A newspaper report enumerating the dead and inured indicates that this individual was "supposed to be A. Limburg."

At least five individuals were injured in the wreck, including:
  • AYRES, Mrs. E. - A resident of Huntington, Huntington County, Indiana.
  • McCOOL, Joseph - Aged 24 years. A resident of Boston, Massachusetts, who had been traveling in the Chicago area visiting relatives. McCool suffered injuries to his back and limbs.
  • MILLER, Herman - Aged 14 years. Son of Charles and Lena Miller. Herman suffered a crushed skull and shattered left leg. He was taken to Kouts where he convalesced in the Kouts Hotel.
  • WRIGHT, Dr. Charles L. - Aged 25 years. A resident of Huntington, Huntington County, Indiana.
  • WRIGHT, Edith (Swain) - A resident of Huntington, Huntington County, Indiana. Wife of Charles L. Wright.

Given Coroner Letherman's verdict, John Dorsey was indicted for involuntary manslaughter by a grand jury and arrested by the sheriff of Porter County, Elias N. Thomas, on December 28, 1887. Dorsey, who was expecting to be arrested, posted bond for his trial appearance.

Dorsey hired the law firm of Skinner & Dille to defend him at trial. The firm was effective in quashing the indictment against him in the Porter County Circuit Court of Judge Elisha Chapman Field. However, the state, represented by Edgar Dean Crumpacker, John H. Gillett, and Louis T. Michener, Indiana's attorney general, appealed Judge Field's decision to the Indiana Supreme Court, which overturned Field's decision (State v. Dorsey 118 Ind. 167). The Indiana Supreme Court's decision said that the act charged in the indictment against Dorsey showed "such wantonness and recklessness as to constitute manslaughter, if not murder."

In addition to the criminal charges against Dorsey, at least four civil claims were filed against the Chicago & Atlantic Railway. The administrator of the Miller family estate sued the railway company to recover $20,000. A guardian's suit was filed to recover $10,000 for Herman Miller, who was the only member of the Miller family to survive the wreck. The proprietor of the Kouts Hotel, George H. Miller, filed a claim against the railway to recover compensation for the room, board, and care of Herman Miller after the accident. Note that George and Herman were not related to one another. Mary Jane (Price) Nimon tended to the care of Herman while he convalesced at the Kouts Hotel. Finally, Joseph McCool, one of the injured passengers of the wreck, settled with the railway company for $1,000 prior to departing Kouts.

Despite extensive research, the outcomes of the criminal and civil suits against Dorsey and the Chicago & Atlantic Railway could not be found. Interestingly, in a biography William H. Willets, the fireman on the freight train, the following information concerning the Kouts wreck contradicts the indictment of John Dorsey and inquest verdict rendered by Coroner Letherman:
During William H. Willets' period of service as a fireman on the Erie he was in one of the most disastrous wrecks the road ever had. It occurred on the night of October 10, 1887, at Kouts water station in Indiana, and was the result of a heavy fog which was so dense that the semaphore protecting the rear of a disabled passenger train could not be seen until too late to prevent a heavy freight, on which Mr. Willets was fireman, from crashing into the rear Pullman of the passenger. The engineer of the freight, Dorsey, Mr. Willets, fireman, and Prouty, head brakeman, saved themselves from serious injury by jumping, but several passengers were killed outright and their bodies burned in the fire that almost immediately enveloped the passenger train. It was one of those distressing accidents, the blame for which must rest upon the elements, for after a searching investigation the coroner exonerated the railway officials and employes from any culpability or neglect.
The Chicago & Atlantic Railway would be renamed once again in 1890, as the Chicago & Erie Railroad following a bankruptcy reorganization. In 1941, the railroad was consolidated into the Erie Railroad. The Erie Railroad officially abandoned their line through Porter County in 1980.

Source Material

Gibbons, John. 1893. Criminal Reports: A Series Designed to Contain the Latest and Most Important Criminal Cases Determined in the Federal and State Courts in the United States. Volume VIII. Chicago, Illinois: Law Book Publishers. 748 p. [see pp. 518-520]

Goodspeed, Weston A., and Charles Blanchard. 1882. Counties of Lake and Porter, Indiana: Historical and Biographical. Chicago, Illinois: F.A. Battey and Company. 771 p. [see pp. 24, 221]

Hardesty, A. G. 1876. Illustrated Historical Atlas of Porter County, Indiana. Valparaiso, Indiana: A. G. Hardesty. 90 p. [see p. 39]

Lee and Lee. 1895. Lee and Lee's Atlas of Porter County, Indiana. Chicago, Illinois: Lee and Lee. 81 p. [see p. 33]

The Lewis Publishing Company. 1912. History of Porter County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests. Volume I. Chicago: Illinois: The Lewis Publishing Company. 357 p. [see pp. 334-335]

Romans, H. R. 1899. American Locomotive Engineers: Erie Railway Edition. Chicago, Illinois: Crawford-Adsit Company. 614 p. [see pp. 336, 424-426, 555]

Shaw, Robert B. 1978. A History of Railroad Accidents, Safety Precautions and Operating Practices. Kirkwood, New York: Vail-Ballou Press. 473 p. [p. 457]

Anonymous. 1887. The Accident at Kouts Station. Railroad Gazette 19:673. 

Anonymous. 1887. Editorial Announcements. Railroad Gazette 19:686.

Anonymous. 1887. The Kouts Accident. Railroad Gazette 19:689.

Anonymous. 1887. The Kouts Disaster -- The Coroner's Verdict. The Railway Review 27:619.

Anonymous. 1887. Mentions. Railroad Conductors' Monthly 4(12):665.
Shaw, Robert B., Ralph S. Podas, John H. White, Jr., Karl A. Roider, H. Roger Grant, and Mark Reutter. 2001. A History of Wrecks. Railroad History 184:20-77.

Anonymous. 1889. Railroads. The Railway Conductors' Monthly 6(6):287.

Newspapers (listed by date of publication)
The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; October 12, 1887; Volume 47, Page 1, Columns 1-2. Column titled "An Unknown Number Die. Terrible Railroad Accident Near Kouts, Ind."

The Indianapolis Journal, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana; October 12, 1887; Page 1, Columns 4-6 and Page 2, Column 1. Column titled "Mangled and Burned."

The Los Angeles Daily Herald, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Indiana; October 12, 1887; Volume 29, Number 10, Page 1, Columns 5-6. Column titled "Death's Harvest. Terrible Train Wreck Near Kouts, Indiana."

Newark Daily Advocate, Newark, Licking County, Ohio; October 12, 1887; Volume 17, Number 76, Page 1, Column 1-2. Column titled "Did Not See the Signal. Frightful Railroad Wreck Near Kout's, Indiana."

Wichita Eagle, Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas; October 12, 1887; Volume 7, Number 125, Page 1, Columns 3-5. Column titled "A Railroad Horror. A Fast Express on the Chicago & Atlantic railroad, Near Koutts, Ind."

Atchison Daily Champion, Atchison, Atchison County, Kansas; October 13, 1887; Volume 23, Number 166, Page 1, Columns 1-2. Column titled" The Kouts Disaster."

The Tribune, Chesterton, Porter County, Indiana; October 13, 1887; Volume 4, Number 27, Page 1, Columns 3-4. Column titled "The Kouts Horror."

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio; October 22, 1887; Volume 45, Number 302, Page 1, Column 7. Column titled "Sad Case. Poor Little Herman Miller, the Victim of the Kouts Disaster."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri; December 14, 1887; Volume 38, Number 152, Page 4, Column 4. Column titled "The Kouts Disaster. Four Suits for Damages Against the Chicago & Atlantic Railroad."

Ottawa Daily Republic, Ottawa, Franklin County, Kansas; December 29, 1887; Volume 7, Number 306, Page 3, Column 6. Column titled "Engineer John Dorsey Arrested and Released on Bond."

The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; October 1, 1951; Volume 25, Number 75, Page 1, Columns 4-5 and Page 3, Column 1. Column titled "Charles Lauer's Memory of Kouts Dates Back Long Way," by Rollie Bernhart.

© 2017 Steven R. Shook. All Rights Reserved.

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