Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dreadful Disaster- the 1888 wreck

The following are notes from the Pueblo Chieftain and the Colorado Springs Gazette on the 1888 explosion.

The morning edition of the Pueblo Chieftain on May 15th, 1888 offers some details on the town of Fountain that were not noted by other reporters.  It mentions the blacksmith shop of CW Sells (likely Cells), the frame structured school wioth a portion of the walls standing, and the badly damaged Mitchell House- a frame and adobe hotel.  The Fountain Hotel, about 1/2 mile from the blast, was also badly damaged.  The car of powder that exploded contained 17000 lbs of No. 2 Giant, being shipped to Leadville.  The blast destroyed two engines, 14 railroad cars, and the mail and baggage car.

Colorado Springs Gazette
Tuesday May 15, 1888 page 1 [Note that much of this article, as found in an historic newspaper database online, is illegible.]

Location of 1888 Explosion
On Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe railway south of Illinois Avenue
Depot probably stood just south of car lot on right side of tracks

Number 4486

Fountain village, situated 12 miles southeast of the city, was the scene of a terrific catastrophe early yesterday morning, which finds no parallel in the history of the county. The loss of life was comparatively small considering the magnitude of the ca the catastrophe but the damage cannot be accurately estimated.

An Explosion

A few minutes after three o’clock yesterday morning the residents of the town were aroused from their sleep by the report of a loud explosion.  The ground shook and the glass in the houses rattled perceptibly. The general impression was __ __ by an earthquake and the rumbling noise ___ ___ the explosion seemed to pass through the city from southwest towards the northeast.  Of course few people knew the exact nature of the deafening noise, but by 8 o’clock the news that a dreadful explosion had occurred at Fountain spread through the city.

May 19, 1888

The night policeman Michael was standing on the First National Bank corner when the explosion occurred.  He at once thought that a safe had been blown open, but a bright light which flared up in the southeast soon convinced him to the contrary.  He and policeman Powell then went to the Y on the Santa Fe railroad track, thinking that an engine boiler had probably burst. There they learned that the explosion had taken place to Fountain and was the result of a collision between the north-bound Kansas City express, and five wild freight cars.

Cause of the Collision

Fast freight train No. 31, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad, in charge of Conductor WC Chubback, was has been in the employ of the company for seven years, arrived in the city at half past two o’clock. When the train reached the Y below the freight depot it stopped and the engine proceeded to switch three cars loaded with livestock onto the side track having the chute, where they were to be unloaded. Five cars were left standing on the main track.  The rear car was the caboose, the next a tank car filled with naptha, then a car of railroad iron for the Midland, then a car of giant powder, and the fifth car was a car loaded with household goods and sewer tiling. 

Before going to the cattle chute, Conductor Chubback directed A. Orendorf, the rear brakeman, to set all the brakes on the cars remaining on the side track.  Orendorf, who worked on the mountain division of the road below Trinidad for two years and a half, and who knows the danger of cars breaking loose, states positively that he set four brakes as tight as he could and then left the train.  About ten minutes after a tramp asked him what had become of the rear cars.  He looked down the track but could not see the green and red signal lights on the car.  He walked to the place where the cars had been standing and was horrified to see them gone. He rushed to the depot to give warning as he knew the No. 7 Kansas City passenger express was due at Colorado Springs at 3:15.  The front portion of the freight train then started to overtake the wild cars but before it had gone two miles below the city the fatal explosion had taken place. The night operator at the depot endeavored to reach the operator at Fountain but failed to do so before the explosion. The freight train continued its journey to Fountain and arrived there at 4 o’clock. A horrible ___ meet the eyes of the train men.  A dense cloud of smoke was rising from the ruins of the passenger depot, and near it were the promiscuous remnants of the wrecked freight cars. In the gray light of the morning they could see the passengers of the train and the citizens of the place moving the wounded from where they had fallen to the neighboring houses.  The town presented a truly…

[end column 1. Top half of column 2 illegible.]
The train arrived in the city at 5 o'clock and two Midland passenger coaches were brought over from Colorado City to take the physicians to the scene of the calamity.  About half past five o'clock the train started, having on board Doctor Anderson, Gardiner, Solly, Horn, Arnold, Rice and Reber.  Agent CC Hoyt, City Marshall Dana, a representative of the gazette and several employees of the road at the depot___.
Dr. JE Moore, who resides at Fountain, and Dr. CT Berry, who has been stopping there temporarily, had done all in their power to make the wounded as comfortable as possible.

The Killed and the wounded is as follows:

HW Hutchins, Fountain
CF Smith, lumber dealer, Fountain
___ Whitman, Greenland

Mrs. P Widrig, Fountain

HP Bosworth, Fountain, collar bone broken
Dr. EG Walls, Colorado Springs, cut in head and body by glass
JF James, Fountain, arm broke
Waller Loomis, Fountain, leg shattered and afterwards amputated
Mort Loomis Fountain, head injured
Lawrence Veihart, Fountain, contused wound in the head
Lancelot Bell, Fountain, leg broken
Mrs. L Bell, Fountain, bruised head
Miss Myrtle Bell, Fountain, one arm broken
AJ Benedict, Fountain, bruised head and limb
Mrs. AJ Benedict, Fountain, bruised leg
WH Butler, Fountain, contused face and breast
Mrs. Fred Eubanks, Fountain, bruised head
Miss W _ Hinch, Fountain, cut in the face
CS Hatch, Fountain, cut in the head
KH Kirk, Kansas City, cut in the head
H Murray, Fountain, cut in the head
Joe Patten, Fountain, cut in the hip

Three passengers on the express train were slightly cut about the face. While the physicians were waiting upon the wounded the Gazette reporter made a hasty tour of the town.

Evidence of Destruction

The evidences of destruction were manifested on every side.  Buildings were collapsed, windows were shattered and the interiors of every house badly demolished.  In every house in the town the plaster had fallen down, covering the furniture.  The doors were blown in and the supports in many instances had been taken from the roofs, which had fallen in.  The Baptist Church which stood near the depot was totally demolished and the only remains of the structure is a pile of lumber.  The grocery store of HW Hutchins is also badly demolished.  The doors have been blown in and the windows broken.  The roof has sagged down in the center and the fallen plaster has played havoc with the stock of merchandise in the store.  Two frame stables near the store were completely gutted but the horses in the stables were not injured. The store of FB Ross was also damaged considerably in the front and on the roof.  In fact, not a house escaped the force of the explosion and ranchmen who live near the village for miles around state that the windows had been broken in their house.

The Debris

On every side were portions of the wreck which had been hurled by the explosion. Car wheels were split in two at a distance of 550 feet from the wreck. Large pieces of the railroad iron which was on the car were carried fully twice that distance. Rails were twisted as if they had been pipe stems, while one rail was torn from the ties, carried a distance of 200 feet and was driven into the ground and now stands on end. Pieces of iron and car wood were thrown with great violence against the houses and the sewer tiling on one of the freight cars was almost ground to powder. The lumber yard of CF Smith, who was killed by the explosion, was located near the depot.  But few pieces of lumber remain on the spot.

Account of the explosion

The explosion did not come upon the residents of the village without a warning.  Nearly every person in the town was awake at the time.  Mr JE Gay the night operator at Fountain said that he was in the office when the collision occurred.  The passenger train had arrived at Fountain at 2:44, on time. The train held a comparatively small number of passengers and over thirty at the out side. The engineer had alighted from the engine for the purpose of oiling it when he noticed the wild cars coming rapidly down the track.  His attention was first attracted to them by the signal lights on the caboose.  He told the fireman to get off the engine and as he did so the cars collided violently.

The car of naptha, which was next to the caboose, immediately exploded, and the burning liquid poured out upon the ground, saturated the locomotive and ran under the platform around the depot.  In a few seconds cars, platform and depot were all ablaze.  The residents of the village were awakened by the noise of the collision, but the sight of the conflagration soon brought them from their houses.  The passenger coaches, which with the exception of the baggage car, had been uninjured were detached from the engine and pushed down the track.

[Top of column 3 illegible]

Denny the agent of the company at Fountain discovered that there was a car of powder on the track by the make of the car.  The operator at Pueblo was telegraphed, but he could not give the number of the car.  He only knew that there was a car of powder.  An attempt was made to warn the people of the danger.  But some strenuously insisted that there was no powder there __ mistook the explosion of the naptha for that of the powder.

The Explosion
The flames quickly communicated themselves to the powder car and many say that it would be impossible to save it.  The people were directed by conductor Amman of the passenger train to seek safety.  Some heeded the warning but others remained near the area as if drawn there by some strange fascination. The passengers followed the doctor’s example and ran to the cars.  They had hardly reached them when the explosion took place.  No one who heard it can tell the nature of the noise.  People standing five hundred feet away were knocked senseless to the ground, either by the force of the explosion or by pieces of iron, etc. which were hurled through the air.

Conductor Ammon, who was running towards the creek, felt the whizz of a car wheel passing over his head.  Dr. E. George Walls of this city who was standing near the train was injured by pieces of glass from the windows of the cars.  Mrs. FP Widrig, who was standing over 600 yards away, was hit in the head by a piece of iron and fatally injured.  She is now dying. 

Mr. CF Smith, who was killed, was last seen on the roof of the depot where he had gone to fight the flames.  When the explosion happened he was thrown off the roof and the building fell on him.

Mr. HW Hutchins was standing on the tender of the engine, and HP Bosworth was passing water to him.  Both gentlemen were hurled to the ground by the explosion and buried under a mass of lumber and debris. There were not extricated until some minutes after the explosion.

The body of the man Whitman, who is believed to have a brother living at Greenland was burned into an unrecognizable mass. He was a poor railroad man formerly employed on the CB & Q railroad who had been given passage on the freight train by the conductors.  He was in the caboose when the cars broke loose, and one person stated that he saw him on top of the cars as they entered Fountain endeavoring to set the brakes.  He was quite sick when he boarded the train at Pueblo and said he was very feeble. It is thought that he was knocked off the cars when the collision took place.

After the Explosion

The scenes after the explosion were of the most heartrending character. On the streets of the village were the prostrate forms of men, women and children who had been knocked senseless by the shock.  Some were moaning piteously and others were crying loudly for help.  As soon as the uninjured persons had time to collect their senses, the work of repairing the injured was begun.  The wounded persons were carried into the nearest houses.  Before the explosion took place the night operator at Fountain had telegraphed the company’s officials at Pueblo that the collision had occurred.. He was compelled to leave his instrument and could not send any word about the catastrophe.

Repairing Begun

Superintendent JH Scott of Pueblo arrived at Fountain on a special train at half past eight o’clock with a large force of workmen. A track was laid around the wreck and telegraphic communication reestablished. Regular travel has been resumed. Dr. JD McDonald, the company’s surgeon at Pueblo arrived with Mr. Scott but found little to do.

The Spot of the Explosion

The ground upon which the car of powder stood now resembles a huge pit about ten feet deep and about thirty feet in circumference.  The only remains of the freight cars is a small pile of tracks, wheels and twisted iron.

Cause of the Collision

The crew of the freight train ascribe the accident to tramps.  They state that there were three tramps on the train whom the conductor had driven off.  The brakesman is positive that he set the brakes and that the cars could not have started of themselves.  He thinks that tramps started them out of revenge.


Reports of the Explosion

A man who came up on the train from Pueblo stated that the report had been distinctly heard in Pueblo.  The amount of damage is merely guess work and no figures can be given for several days.  The damage to houses, outbuildings, stores, etc. is estimated at $50,000.  This does not include the property of the railroad company.

Page 3. Top third and first column illegible

Jury consisted of Matt France, JH Thedinga, WHD Merrill, ES Bumstead, CL Gillingham and AF Mitchell.
The jury proceeded to scene of the explosion and viewed the remains of Whitman.  ___charred and unrecognizable __ was once the man Whitman. The jury then repaired to the Mitchell House and viewed the remains of CF Smith which had been ___ after the explosion.  Examination of the body revealed that a large piece of iron had entered his body left of the breastbone and passed out the right side.

The jury then proceeded to school building and the first witness, CS Berry, was sworn.  Dr. Berrey testified that he had resided in Fountain but a short time. He had been awakened by the first shock caused by collision, and on looking out from ___ in the direction of the depot ____ an engine and several cars on fire.  He was near the Mitchell House when the explosion occurred.  Mr. Smith lived about two hours after the explosion.  Mr. Smith told him that he was on top of the depot where he was fighting the fire.   He was rational and told him where his ___ were kept, where to find his ___ and where to address his ___ his death.

T B Mitchell, the next witness, said that he heard the collision and went to the depot.  He saw the naptha spread out to a distance of seventy-five feet on each side of track.  From 20 to 30 minutes elapsed before the powder explosion.  From three to five minutes passed from the time of the cry “Powder! Run for your lives!" was uttered and the explosion.

Denny was next sworn. He said that he was the agent and day operator at Fountain.  He was in ___ 500 feet east of the ___, he heard the shock of the ___. He looked out of his window and saw the engine and four or five cars ablaze.  He ran to the depot and removed the money in the safe and tickets.  From 15 to 20 minutes elapsed before the powder exploded.  He found Smith lying on the west side of the main track and at the north end of the depot.  Near him were HW Hutchins and Lawrence Veihart.  A lot of lumber and a portion of roof had fallen upon them.  Smith from under the lumber.  I said: You were on the roof? Yes I was putting out the fire.  Why didn’t you come down when you heard the cry of powder.  He replied “I am no coward".  The last words which he Mr. Denny heard him utter. 

They proceeded to extract Mr. Hutchins from the debris.  He said "Don’t lift my left leg.” In removing him a ___ with some papers and bills.

…near the Mitchell House when the car blew up. It simply deprived some of his senses and left him bewildered. He heard the noise ringing in his ears and ___ after the explosion. The blaze from the burning cars and depots lighted up the entire vicinity.  After the explosion the depot was one mass of flames.  The first thing that Dr. Berry remembers after the explosion was the cries of the injured.  The cries came from nearly every part of the village and were of the most pitiful character. The eldest son of Mr. OS Loomis was struck  in the leg by a piece of iron and knocked down near the Mitchell House.  His cries soon brought Dr. Berrey to his assistance and he was carried to his house, which adjoins Mr. Mitchell’s property.


Mr. Henry W. Hutchins who had been steadily growing weaker from 8 o’clock in the morning, breathed his last at a quarter past 5 o’clock in the afternoon.  From the time he was taken from the wreck he remained in an unconscious condition… internal hemorrhage caused by a severe concussion.  One of his ankles was also badly crushed.  His condition was quite similar to a person suffering from a stroke of apoplexy. Uncle Hutchins, as he was familiarly called, was one of the pioneers of Fountain.  He was a man of kind heart and unimpeachable integrity.  Mr. Hutchins was 62 years old.  He was born in Ohio, and previous to his removal to Colorado was a resident of Iowa.  He came to Fountain in 1864 and located his ranch on the creek four miles above the town.  He removed to the village over eight years ago where he has since conducted a general merchandise store. He leaves a wife and three daughters, two of whom are married and living in Dakota.

Mr. CF Smith, another victim of the explosion came to Fountain two months ago from Ken___, Iowa.  He opened a lumber yard in the village about a month ago and expected to have his family with him during the coming summer.  He was in his thirty third year.  Mr. Smith during his brief residence in the village had many acquaintances.  He was a gentleman in every sense of the word.

Mrs. Widrig came to Fountain two years ago last fall for the benefit of her husband’s health, who was a sufferer from consumption. He died the 7th of last June. Since his death she has been engaged in dressmaking.  She leaves a little boy 10 years old.  Her relatives live in Springfield, New York.

Force of the Shock

At the ranch of Mr. Charles De Graff, two miles this side of Fountain [north], several windows were broken and the front door which was locked was blown in.  The front door of Mr. Loomis’ house was blown in and carried partially up the stairs which lead to the second story.  The roof of the new barn which Mr. Loomis has only recently completed was crushed heavily in the center.  The interior of the Pullman car which was attached to the rear of the passenger train was badly demolished.

There were many miraculous escapes from the force of the explosion. Mr. H Murray, who stood near the water tank when the powder caught was only slightly injured.  Mr. OS Loomis and his youngest son Mort were holding a pail of water in each hand on the platform, 50 feet from the powder car when the terrible catastrophe happened.  Mr. Loomis was entirely uninjured but the little boy received a slight cut on the lip.  500 feet from where Mr. Loomis stood his other son’s leg was broken.

Unfortunate Newspaper

The dispatch office was badly torn up and the material thrown in every direction.  At the Wave office, over a quarter of a mile from the wreck, the type was thoroughly “pied”.

Disposition of the Remains

The remains of the man Whitman were brought to this city by Hallert & Baker and will probably be interred in Evergreen Cemetery.  The body of Mr. Smith will be sent to his former home for interment today.  Mr. Hutchins will be buried in Fountain.

Two of Mr. OS Loomis’ sons were injured by the explosion but Mr. Loomis escaped without receiving a bruise.  But about six o’clock last evening he received a serious if not fatal injury from a kick by a horse which he was leading to water.  One of the animal’s hind feet struck Mr. Loomis full in the right cheek, split it open, broke his nose, and made a frightful wound. 

A railroad agent thought that the wild freight cars would have their speed all diminished when they reached the bridge over the Denver and Rio Grande railroad a mile this side of Fountain.  Their speed to the bridge he estimated would reach 40 miles an hour. In going over the bridge the speed would be reduced to 15 or 20 miles an hour.  After crossing the bridge there is a very heavy downward grade, which would increase the speed to 40 miles.

May 16, 1888 Gazette
The work of repairing the damage wrought by the explosion has already begun.  The railroad company has a large force of laborers at work removing the debris from the depot site and placing the track in thorough condition.
Lawrence Veihart, who was reported dead by the Denver News yesterday, is not so bad as first reported. 
Yesterday morning the body of CF Smith was sent by the Kansas City express to his former home in Iowa for interment.  At 10 o’clock this morning the funeral of Mr. HW Hutchins will take place at Fountain.  He will be buried in the little cemetery south of the village. The remains of the man Shipmen, who was burned beyond recognition, are at Hallett and Baker’s undertaking establishment.  Unless something is heard from his relatives this morning, the body will be interred in the potter’s field in Evergreen cemetery.

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