Adobe, CO Train Wreck, May 1906

Wray Gazette 3/23/1906 -


Pueblo, Colo.- The Adobe wreck will rank as one of the great railroad disasters in the history of railroading. In other wrecks the loss of life has been greater, but none was productive of scenes more horrible. The collision happened at Adobe, four miles east of Florence, at 2:30 o’clock Friday morning. A blinding blizzard was raging and the thermometer was 2 degrees below zero. Rio Grande passenger train No. 3 from Denver collided with No. 16 from Salt Lake. Operator J. S. Lively at Swallows is said to have slept and failed to deliver orders.

The accident happened on the same curve where about a year ago seventeen persons were killed.

Two great mogul locomotives were hauling No. 3 the westbound train, and they bore down on the engine pulling No. 16, around the outer edge of a sharp curve encircling the high bluff at the point of the wreck, on a down grade at the rate of forty-five miles an hour.

Going thirty miles an hour was No. 16. Shut off from each other’s view until almost together, there was no chance for brakes.

The engineers who lost their lives hardly knew what happened. The great engines came together in the light of their headlights with tremendous force.

The leading engine of No. 3’s double header was jammed and crushed between the mogul behind it and the one pulling No. 16 like an empty tomato can. The sheathing of one set of boiler tubes covered that of another great energy generator.

Cars piled up in high masses of steel beams and woodwork and caved in and down on their slumbering occupants.

The scene that followed, as described by the few survivors who have been able to talk coherently, can only be left to the imagination of people fortunate enough not to have been present.

No man can say to-day, to-morrow or next week how many travelers met their doom in the irresistible grind of wood and steel.

Sixteen charred, mangled and utterly unrecognizable bodies lie in the morgue at Pueblo, six more have been identified, and more that a score were doubtless burned to ashes.

Conservative estimates on the total loss of life place the number of dead at thirty-five. Rio Grande officials at Pueblo insist that the exact number of persons on the two trains cannot be ascertained; that it is impossible.
The Republican of Sunday morning says:

Operator L. S. Lively has been suspended from further duty, and Operator Wm. VanDeusen will be relieved, it states as soon as a suitable man can be sent to Swallows to take his place. As far as the train dispatcher’s office in Pueblo know, say the men in charge, VanDusen, was working his own shift at the Swallows station all the time and the first information received by the office was when the wreck occurred.

It is understood that Van Deusen had made arrangements to lay off and had come into the city to spend the night. It is not known definitely whether he did this or not. The opinion of the railway men as expressed is that Lively was directly responsible and that Van Deusen to some extent indirectly for the catastrophe.

Walter Murphy, the Florence oil driller who was supposed to have perished in the car while rescuing passengers from the flames has turned up safe and sound, with but a few scratches. It appears that he rescued a number of persons and then went with the injured people to Portland station, where he assisted in caring for them, before he took the time to return to his home.

A heart rending story of mother love and self-sacrifice is told by Conductor Kroeger, who had charge of the Pullmans on the westbound train.

“I saw one mother,” he said, “with a little babe in her arms. She knew that it was almost an impossibility to be saved herself, but her only thought was of her child. One hand was pinioned by the debris, but her head and the other arm were free.

“She was trying to keep her head from the flames and with her free hand was holding the infant as high in the air as she could. Just as we were about to reach her she gave a gasp and fell back into the flames with the babe.”

There is only one change in the death list as made up yesterday. The names of Patrick Murphy is stricken out and that of Thomas Brennan substituted. The list follows:

William Hollis, engineer, Pueblo
Walter Cosslett, engineer, Pueblo
H.D. Sudduth, fireman, Pueblo
Ed. E. Baird, deputy sheriff, Denver
Archibald Whitney, convict, Denver
E. M. McFarland, messenger, Denver
A. N. Bairtlo, Salida
Miss Grace Bairtlo, Salida
Taylor Hewitt, Lebo, Kansas
Mrs. Lillian Hewitt, Lebo, Kansas
Mrs. Winona Hewitt, Lebo, Kansas
Pearl Hewitt, fifteen years old, Lebo, Kansas
Mrs. Katherine Hewitt and boy baby, Lebo, Kansas
Ed. Cowley, Emporia, Kansas
Mrs. Grace Cowley and baby, Emporia, Kansas
Fred Jones, Lebo, Kansas
Fred Limecooley, Denver
Mrs. Belle Webb, Keystone, Wyoming
Ray Field, aged ten, Keystone, Wyoming
Thomas Brennan, Leadville

In a fated car, bound for the coast, was a family party consisting of eleven persons. Of that party but two have survived the awful crash and the holocaust which followed.

In one awful moment the family of Taylor Hewitt of Lebo, Kansas, was all wiped out of existence.

The party, when it left Lebo, was composed of Taylor Hewitt, the father; Pearl Hewitt, fifteen years old; Mrs. Lillian Hewitt, wife of the older Hewitt, W. L. Hewitt and his wife, Winona; E.A. Hewitt and his wife Catherine, and his baby, Claudius, four months old; Ed. Cowley, a son-in-law, and his wife, and Fred Jones.

Of this number but W. L. Hewitt and his brother, E. A. Hewitt, survive. It is but little that either of the survivors of the Ill-fated family can tell of the awful disaster.

Mr. Hewitt found his brother, who was wandering about in a dazed condition. How the second Mr. Hewitt escaped from the wreck is not known, he not being able to tell how he happened to be on the outside of the car.

In the first coach of train No. 3, in which the greatest havoc was wrought, were a large number of foreigners, Italians, Slavs and Huns, bound for the Pacific coast. The “homeseekers” rate of $26 to pacific coast points had tempted these to make the journey.

There is almost an absolute certainty that the exact number of these will never be known and that their identity will never be established. No one knew whom these people were or where they were going.

To the train men, there were so many Italians or so many Slavs, represented in the majority of instances by block tickets. Their few scattered bones will fill the graves of the unknown, while in the old home far across the seas there will be eyes dimmed by long watching for the wanderers doomed never to return.

Possible it will never be known exactly how many perished in the wreck at Adobe. At headquarters in this city it is still maintained the exact number of killed was twenty-four, of whom eighteen were passengers and four train employes.

According to the reports of the two conductors the count shows that there were 159 passengers on No. 3 and forty-eight on No. 10, or 207 of the two. The injured passengers and those who escaped unharmed added to the number of bodies taken out tallies with the train count. All of the killed, excepting the four trainmen, were in the one car. Train No. 3 had made no stop after leaving Pueblo. At that place nine persons got off and thirty got on.

Deputy Sheriff E. E. Baird of Denver, one of those killed in the wreck, was taking Archibald Whitney to Canon City to serve a long sentence in the State penitentiary. It was at first reported that after Mr. Baird’s death, which seems to have been instantaneous at the time of the collision, Whitney was burned to death while chained to the seat and unable to break loose.

But, Undersheriff Thomas Baird, brother of the officer who was killed, when talked with at Denver, said that he had talked to` the coroner who found a pair of handcuffs in the wreck across a charred body. No iron was fastened to the handcuffs as would have been the case had he been chained to the seat.

“None of the officers,” said Sheriff Nisbol, “chain the prisoners to the seat. I have talked with Baird many times about this very thing and he was always opposed to the practice. Baird always claimed that the proper way to conduct a prisoner was to handcuff the right arm of the prisoner to the left arm of the officer. Baird left Denver, with the prisoner, White, in this way and they were seen in the train was handcuffed together. Baird would be the last man to handcuff a prisoner to a seat. I am confident that he did not do this, as I have stated he was very much opposed to doing so. In conference with the other deputies held several times, Baird always said that he would not handcuff a prisoner to a seat, and I am sure that he did not do it in this instance.”


Wray Gazette 4/20/1906 - The bodies of eight unidentified victims of the Adobe railroad wreck were buried at Pueblo on the 7th inst.