The Great Chatsworth Train Wreck




August 10-11, 1887



Photo taken by A. H. Hall, a local Chatsworth photographer at the wreck site.

Engineer of the lead Engine No. 21

David Sutherland died January 28, 1921 in Peoria
 David Sutherland, who died this week in Peoria was an engineer of the T.P. & W. railroad for many years and, while in the employ of that line, pulled the first engine of the double header Niagara Falls Excursion special, the "death train" that went in the ditch August 10, 1887, due to the burning of a small  bridge near Chatsworth. The engine driven by Sutherland crossed the bridge in safety, but the structure collapsed immediately sending scores to their death.Illinois. He was married to Sara Jane Zollinger.
See memorial here.

Photo used with permission of J.M. Zollinger, owner and descendant of the Zollinger family.

 The is by J.H. Sawyer, a Kempton photographer, taken the following morning.

 Plaindealer in 1948 or 1949.



Located 2.5 miles east of Chatsworth

Erected 1954
Source: Illinois Historical Markers

Scroll down to the story


These are the 1887 Chatsworth Firemen who attended at the wreck site.
Source: Chatsworth Area Centennial Book
L.J. Haberkorn holds the lantern he used to lead 15 men to the site of the wreck.
Source:The Chatsworth Wreck by Clive Burford-1949
Told 50 years later.
Published in the Chatsworth Plaindealer in 1937.
 Plus memories of B.M. Judd, T.Y. Brown.
Also the 50th Wreck Reunion Story is there. 


 The T P&W Depot

A new page has been started at "Find-A-Grave" where you can see some obituaries of those that died in the wreck.  Be sure to check it out. Go Here


Mementos from the 100th Anniversary of the wreck in 1987

I am dedicating this page to the small town that I grew up in , Chatsworth, Livingston County, Illinois. They still remember this event every year with a "HERITAGE DAYS" festival, however not much emphasis is placed on the wreck.

I will give you facts that have been printed before, citing where the information came from. So, fact or fiction, it is the printed word ! 
Use the "Find" function on your computer for quick location of your families name. 


The following articles were printed in the
CHATSWORTH PLAINDEALER dated August 12,1887.
The entire front page and one fifth of the back page was all about the tragic wreck. 


Article #1



                  Horrors Beyond Description


Eleven Cars Out of Fifteen Totally Demolished 

The residents of our quiet little village were awakened from their slumbers a few minutes before one o'clock Thursday morning by the fire alarm, and in but an instant, apparently, people were running from all directions for the engine house, as no fire could be seen.  Instantly it became generally known that the Niagara Falls excursion train from Peoria, which had passed through here at 12:45, had been wrecked by a burning bridge two miles east of town.   A special train was immediately telegraphed for from Forrest, and as messengers brought in news of the wreck, it became apparent that some place be prepared for the reception of the dead and wounded, although the extent of the damage had not been imagined.  Many went to the scene of the disaster on foot, in vehicles of all kinds, and in the special train, while others remained and made arrangements to care for the dead and wounded in the hall, which had been opened to use as a hospital.  Upon arrival at the wreck, the sight was most terrible.  While all had read of disastrous wrecks, none had been prepared for such a scene as was presented.  

The first bridge west of the county line, and about fifty rods from the line, had caught fire and been slowly burning until the entire structure rested upon charred embers, and as the excursion train, which consisted of two engines, six sleepers, two chair cars, five coaches, one special and one baggage car, passed over, it gave way, and in an instant the entire train, with the exception of the last four cars, was precipitated to the ditch, and many were instantly killed, not knowing what had occurred, while hundreds realized what had happened only as they found themselves crushed and wedged between heavy timbers, unable to move, with the dead and dying laying in all shapes around them.  It was too horrible to admit of description.  The screams and moans of the wounded were heartrending, and the terror of the sight can not be imagined.   

Just east of the bridge three cars were telescoped, and it is wonderful that anyone escaped alive from either of them, they were so totally demolished.  What remains of General Superintendent  E. N. ARMSTRONG's special car lies headed north and south, instead of east and west as the track runs, and the other cars are in a similar manner, damaged or destroyed.  None of the occupants of his car were seriously injured.    

The work of rescuing the victims from their numerous precarious situations was immediately begun, and the Chatsworth fire department deserves especial credit for their valor and the much needed assistance they rendered.  As the cars fell, one crushing upon another, they were, in places, heaped twelve and fifteen feet into the air.  To rescue the sufferers from these, a system of planks and ladders were used, and the wounded, dying and dead alike carried down to places of safety.  To add to the terror of the scene a heavy thunder and lightening storm came up, and , with heavy rain made such a scene as would apall (sic)the bravest hearts.  As fast as possible the wounded were brought in by the special train, that they might receive proper medical aid, but the number so far exceeded anything that had been expected, that the upper and lower rooms of the hall were soon filled, after which the school building was opened and many were taken there, while many others were taken to private houses.  The FELKER building was used as a morgue, where the dead were brought from the wreck and left for identification. 

(Website Author's note: The school building  sat directly across the street , south, from the railroad depot.) 

The telegraph offices have been besieged with people wishing to communicate with friends and those expecting some tidings from anxious friends abroad.  

Many especially terrible scenes were presented.  Men and women reaching and hanging from the car windows and crushed to death while endeavoring to escape.  Mothers holding their infants out of the windows, that they, at least, might be saved.  Helpless infants and children who had been rescued, crying piteously for their parents, while many a mother rushed frantically about, vainly looking for her child who had perished in the wreck.  Many, as they lay with broken and crushed limb and bodies, calling for relatives and friends who were with them in the wreck, were stricken with grief to hear that they were not yet found, or were among the dead or dying.  Even the strongest men were forced to tears as they heard and saw the anguish of the unhappy excursionists.  While many displayed strong courage, grit, and heroism, others were almost frantic, and those in attendance upon them were forced to hold them to prevent acts of insanity and self-destruction. 
(Website Author's Note:According to the Blade:
July 9, 1888
A new stone bridge has been erected on the T.P. & W. , where the Chatsworth Wreck occurred.)

After the listing of the official dead and those who have died since, this article was next. 

From the Chatsworth Plaindealer

August 12,1887



The location of the terrible accident, accurately described is as follows;  It was the last railroad bridge on the T.P.&W. track in this county, and was to span the main ditch running through the JEROME HOWE and JAS.A.SMITH farms, in section one.   It is located nearly two and one-half miles east of Chatsworth, about fifty rods west of the Ford County line. It was a two pile bents, four piling to each bent.  It was fifteen feet long, six-feet high.  The stringers were seven inches by sixteen inches, two under each rail.  The ties were six inches by eight inches by  nine feet-oak.  The master mechanic of bridges and building of the T.P.& W. Ry. is Mr. J.H.MARKLEY, who swore at the coroner's inquest that the bridge had been repaired about fourteen months ago, and that its condition was good.  



Of the sixteen wounded left in Chatsworth, at this hour, eight are in private houses and eight on the upper floor of the Town Hall.  After receiving the very best care and everything that could possibly be done for them.  Their conditions as follows:  

DR.H.P.HAZEN , Fort Madison, Iowa, wife and wife's cousin, MISS ALTER, are all doing well, but will not attempt their journey home for some days.  An old aunty, who arrived today, and a brother of Mrs. HAZEN are with them, and they are as comfortable as circumstances will admit. 

MISS JULIA VALDIJO, ? Peoria, who is a great sufferer, from serious internal injuries, is not in a condition to be removed, and her prospects of recovery are extremely doubtful.  

H.H.BOND, Colchester, Ill., whose spine is injured, is suffering considerably, but will, if his courage keeps good, pull through.  His brother is with him and he is made as comfortable as his injuries will permit. 

ADAM SHAMBURGER, Peoria, Ill., who has a broken leg and abnormal injuries, is in a precarious condition, and is kept under the influence of narcotics. 

EATON WATTERS, Co?tage, Catarogues county, N.Y., is injured about the hips and head.  His internal injuries may carry him away. He is resting quietly at 9 p.m. Friday evening.  

MRS.R.H.CLARK, of Rootstown, Ohio, is in a precarious condition from internal injuries.  Her husband arrived from his home at noon Friday, and is prostrate with grief at the terrible condition of his wife and the loss of his little boy, whose remains have been admirably cared for by MR.W.W.POST and family.  Her sister, MRS.HARRIS, also arrived Friday and is nursing the patient as we go to press at 3:40 a.m. Saturday morning. 


HAROLD B. LAWRENCE, of Burlington,Iowa, who received bad, but not serious, cuts about the head,face, and legs, and whose back is bruised, is doing nicely.  His father is with him and will remain until such time as the patient is fit for removal.  


Little FRANK SNEDAKER, of Abingdon,Ill., is domiciled.  No braver person was in the ill-fated train than this little fellow.  His leg was amputated, his arm is broken, and his eye injured.  His mother was killed and his father has gone home with the remains, and will return.  MRS. KIPP, of Wing, Ill., a cousin of REV. SNEDAKER, is with the little hero.  He was very restless at the hour of our reporter's call, but all hope for the recovery of this brave little fellow, who said when asked at the time of his rescue, "I'm not hurt much, help those who are crying first."  


MISS SARAH MAY LAW, of Eureka, Ill., is still a great sufferer, and had been until a short time prior to our call, unconscious, but reaction has restored her.  Her brother is with her, and her uncle, who was here, took her mother, who was injured, but not seriously, home Friday.  The patient can not be moved for several days.  


C.B.NUZZEL, Canton, Ill., dislocated hip; not very serious, and will be about in a short time. 


MRS. S.R. BORDEN, Tonica, Ill., right ankle broken and left foot badly bruised.  Her husband arrived Friday and they will remain some time, as the lady and Mrs.MARTIN were friend from childhood.  


MR.JOTHAM NEIL, of Mossville, Ill., is badly bruised about head, but not confined to the bed. 

MRS. LETTIE NEIL, wife of above, has right arm and right leg broken and gash in forehead.  She is doing very nicely.  This lady lost a baby nineteen months old in the catastrophy, which has been taken home for burial. 

Their friends, MR. AND MRS. N.Q.TANQUAREY, of Pontiac, and MR. TUTTLE of Dunlap, and MISS NEIL, of Mossville, are caring for them.  
AUGUST 26, 1887
For the past two weeks sympathetic hearts all over the country have gone out toward those who were victims of the late disaster, and to sorrowing relatives and friends. The general subject of conversation has been this great calamity, and many who had kept up under the great nervous strain, now, that the excitement is almost over, are giving way, and the result can not be foretold. It is better that we expel from our minds the scenes of that melancholy night and again assume the even tenure of our daily life. In many cases this is a necessity for the living, and it certainly is no injustice to the dead. We can not forget the dead, and it is right and proper that we grieve over this great bereavement, but it is of no benefit longer to relate the scenes of that awful night, or to dwell upon the details by which eighty happy mortals were dashed into eternity with not a moment's warning. Let us cherish their memories and appreciate kind friends, persons who were friends then, if never before, but let our minds not dwell upon the anguish and suffering. Though many a friend is maimed for life, he was still spared to us, and those who, on that terrible night, breathed their last are free from their suffering.   
A circumstance illustrative of how the bodies of the victims of the late disaster were mangled beyond recognition was brought out at Peoria Friday last. One of the bodies was identified at the wreck as that of Mrs. Mahala Clay, of Eureka, and was taken to that place and buried. Mrs. Hicks, of Chillicothe, Ill., was missing. Search by her friends disclosed the fact that the body which was buried at Eureka as that of Mrs. Clay was really that of Mrs. Hicks. The identification was established by means of the clothing. The body was exhumed and transferred to friends of Mrs. Hicks and taken to Peoria last Friday. The only body taken from the wreck that had not been identified was placed in the vault at Peoria. Friends of Mrs. Clay went to Peoria and identified it as her and took it home. In both instances the final identifications were made by means of the clothing, the bodies bearing no semblance of their former selves. The dead and missing are now all accounted for.  
Note: The story of Mrs. Hicks' tombstone can be read here. 
As to the report which has gained credence here, associating the late Elton Waters with those on the train who were blowing out the lights, and committing other depradations prior to the accident, the following letter from one who has known Mr. Waters from childhood should give such a hush to these reports as will cause them to forever remain as silent as the grave of the boy whom their tongues have villified. 
Peoria,Ill., Aug.23, 1887
Mr. E.M. Bangs -- Dear Sir, ---Yours of 20th, addressed to Mr. Howard, received. He is well on his way to California by this time, so I hasten to reply, and authorize you to fully refute the slanderous stories about poor Waters. He came here from New York state over a year ago, and has worked steadily and faithfully ever since, never taking a day's vacation. He was well known to us at home, his father having been employed for a number of years as traveling salesman by the Howard Bros. I am personally acquainted with them all, father and sons. Waters took the train at Peoria, as can be proved by all the party who remain alive,viz: French, Mrs. Regon, Miss Frahm and Miss Jones. He never was in Forrest in his life, and I doubt very much if he even knew where it was. The whole yarn hinges on the unsupported statement of a dying woman. She was simply mistaken, that was all, and probably arose from some fancied resemblance; but the ridiculous part comes in when you stop to consider how badly Waters was injured -- given up by the doctors the very next day. I can not see how anyone knowing these facts can imagine him going  through the train robbing people. Why, it carries its own refutation. I do not think it will be necessary to make affidavit to the foregoing. If your word is not sufficient, I suppose nothing else short of an action for libel would have any effect on chronic scandal mongers. Mr. Howard will cheerfully concur in all I have written, and more, as words fail me, 
Yours respectfully,
W.H. Smith
Treas. Peoria Watch Co.
Mr. C.B. Nuzzel, who has been at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Orr since receiving sever injuries in the wreck, was taken to his home in Canton, Ill., Saturday last. he was accompanied by Mr. Samuel Orr.
Mr. Homer H. Bond, one of the victims of the wreck, was taken by his friends to Blandinsville last Saturday, where he will be cared for by relatives until he recovers. 
_________________(unreadable), Macomb, Ill., Wednesday. He was accompanied by his mother and brother-in-law, who have been with him constantly since the accident. 
Mrs. Borden, of Tonica, is the only one of the injured excursionists who has not been removed to her home. She is quite an aged lady, and her wounds heal slowly, but in time, and with the good care she is receiving, she will doubtless recover. She remains at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Martin, and her husband is still with her.  
Mr. B.M. Judd, who was one of the unfortunate passengers on the excursion train from here, is able to hobble about assisted by a cane. His main ailment is an internal injury just above the hip, from which his is still a sufferer.  
The State Bard of Railroad and Warehouse Commissioners, who were expected here Tuesday to commence investigation as the the cause of the late disaster, have not yet put in an appearance, owing to the illness of one of the members. 
While the janitor was cleaning the Town Hall on Saturday last a basket, a pocketbook, a knife, a button-hook, one T.P.& W. R.R. special check No. 110, two Niagara Falls excursion ticket, one signed Florence Boucher and one signed Mr. Cording, were found. The same may be had by the person applying at this office and properly identifying the articles.   



Death List            
Later Deaths & Obits         
More Wreck Articles 2        
More Wreck Articles 3         
Wounded List       
The Song                            
Wreck Links                       

 Read a paper written in the defense of Timothy Coughlin written by Sam DePino 2011
Scroll down to the DOC file "Legacy of Silence"



Read a recount of the wreck here

 Railroad Wrecks 



Read the recollections of Art Young, reporter for the Chicago Daily News here

 Art Young-His Life and Times



The story published on August 12, 1887
The story published on August 13, 1887
The story published on August 15, 1887
The Survivors-one year later

 Read the Australian "Brisbane Courier" report from Oct. 3, 1887


Definitely a lack of communication!

Read what lots of papers across the country had to say.
This link will take you to the search page--
Under "Select A Year or Date Range" --click and select "1887"
Under "Enter Search" put --"chatsworth" in the box that says "....with any of the words"
Click "Search".
Once you get the results, click on each result (Picture of the paper), then click on "Zoom" to enlarge.
Holding down a left click on your  mouse will allow you to move the paper.
I could have provided individual links to each page, however, there are 26 pages with 10 results on each page, so plan on plenty of time to read these !!
It is really worth the effort tho if this subject interests you!!