Missoula, MT Passenger Train Wreck, July 1891


The Northern Pacific westbound passenger train No. 1 was wrecked Saturday night about 11 o'clock, three or four miles east of Missoula, Montana. It was caused by a landslide which had covered the track at a sharp curve in the road, and the night being exceedingly dark, the engines failed to discover the obstruction.
MR. C. P. TATRO, of Spokane, was a passenger on the wrecked train, who with four others who were in the wreck, arrived in Spokane yesterday at 7 p.m.
MR. TATRO was badly burned about the shoulders, but able to be about this morning, though in a decidedly disabled condition. He gave a Chronicle reporter in substance, the following account of the horrible accident:
On the night of the wreck it was raining very hard and it was cold and exceedingly dark. During the night it hailed and in the early part of the evening it almost snowed, making it altogether a disagreeable night which seemed to bode of coming evil. The train came very rear running over a bridge east of Helena that had been almost washed out by the recent cloudburst, and there was only a narrow escape then from a plunge into eternity, which would doubtless have been worse than the wreck which did occur some hours later.
Fortunately the condition of the bridge was discovered in time to avoid the death plunge, and the train backed to Bozeman and came round by Butte and Garrison. This delay put the train several hours behind time and the train rocked and whirled through the darkness and rain at a tremendous speed. However, just before it reached the place where it was wrecked the valves were opened and the train slowed down to about twenty or twenty-five miles per hour.
About three or four miles east of Missoula there is a sharp curve in the road which runs between Hell Gate River and very close to it, where there is a deep cut made for the road bed. About eighty feet from the bank of Hell Gate River, a landslide had broken loose and completely covered the track. The train was just rounding the point on the curve when the crash came.
It was quick and disastrous. The engine was hurled from the track and turned demolished and helpless over the embankment. The tender dar drove by the engine and lay a few feet beyond, a total wreck. The mail and express cars and the baggage car leaped from the track and lay in a mass of ruins. The next two cars, occupied by tourists and emigrants, were totally wrecked. There were twelve coaches in the train, including baggage and express cars, and six of them were badly wrecked.
The car in which MR. TATRO was traveling turned over and over down the hill, and eight feet more and it would have plunged over the bank into the river, carrying fifty human beings to sure destruction.
Out of 175 passengers on board the train, two were killed and three more or less injured.
MR. TATRO, of Spokane, was thrown upon his shoulders and received some severe bruises.
The engineer was badly scalded, receiving also a severe cut on the head.
MR. L. S. MOSES of Helena, mail messenger, was slightly injured.
The two men who were killed were unknown tramps, who, it is supposed, were stealing a ride under some one of the coaches. Their bodies were horribly mangled. There were three other tramps who were riding the same way, but escaped uninjured.
Shortly after the cars were destroyed and while the passengers were running wildly about looking for their friends and aiding those who needed assistance, the baggage car caught fire and the red flames were rapidly getting an uncontrollable hold upon the debris, but the three unknown men whom the world calls "tramps" and whose lives had been saved, almost by miracle, burst into the passenger coaches, brought out the Babcock fire extinguisher and the hand grenades, and by hard work succeeded in extinguishing the fire, which by this time had gained considerable headway.

Pullman Herald Washington 1891-07-17