On this date in 1912, Kate Shelley died of Bright’s disease.
She was 49. Born Catherine Shelley in Loughan Moneygall,
County Offaly, Ireland on September 25, 1865, her family
emigrated to the U.S. when she was a year a half old and the
family settled in Moingona, Iowa.
Does the name sound familiar? She wasn’t an actress or a
politician, but she was a famous heroine and the first woman
in America to have a bridge named after her. Railroad
historians and those who follow the history of Iowa should
know her name.
In the afternoon of July 6,1881, a severe thunderstorm caused
Honey Creek to flash flood andt washed out the timbers that
supported the trestles of the railroad bridge over said creek.
The weather prompted railroad officials to send out a pusher
locomotive from Moingona to check track conditions.
When the locomotive, with a crew of 4 crossed the bridge, it
plunged into Honey Creek around 11 p.m. Kate Shelley heard
the crash and knew an eastbound passenger train was due to
cross the very same bridge into Moingona at Midnight. She ran
to the bridge and found surviving crew members, told them she’d
get help, and with the damaged Honey Creek bridge useless
began to cross the Des Moines River bridge to summon help.
Her trek started with a lantern for light yet when it failed
she dropped to the tracks and crawled on her hands and knees
until she crossed the bridge. Once she crossed the bridges
she ran the final half-mile to the Moingona depot to alert
railroad employees and get help for the injured.
She then led a rescue party back to the scene while the depot
made arrangements to stop the east bound train in Ogden, Iowa.
Three of the four in locomotive were saved along with all 200
aboard the train stopped in Ogden.
As happens with history on the internet, some sites have
different birth dates than others and the story varies
slightly. You can be the judge. Enjoy the rest of our
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