Backstory: 'Coaches turned into death traps' in 1923 train wreck near Casper - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Backstory: ‘Coaches turned into death traps’ in 1923 train wreck near Casper

The wreckage of a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy passenger train is seen in this 1923 photo. The train crashed near Glenrock after heavy rains took out a bridge over Cole Creek. (Wyoming State Archives)

On September 23, 1923, a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy passenger train hauling nearly 70 people lumbered out of Casper’s station just after 8:30 p.m.

The train pulling luxury smoking, sleeping and coach cars was expected to arrive in Denver at 10:00 the following morning. It was a routine trip in that era, the most reliable, convenient and comfortable way to make the journey between boomtown Casper and the Colorado capital city.

Just 15 miles east was a bridge over Cole Creek that had been built just several years before. There was no way for the crew to know that torrential rains that had been hammering the area would have compromised the bridge.

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According to the official Interstate Commerce Commission report, the train was traveling between 30 and 40 miles per hour when it came around a curve towards the bridge. When the train’s lights finally hit the damaged bridge it was too late to stop.

After the engine plunged, the cars violently crashed down and onto each other one by one.

An Associated Press report from the days after described the horror:

“The crack Casper-Denver train hurrying through the storm at reduced speed is believed by railroad men to have started its plunge to destruction as the engine hit the first span of the bridge. The baggage coach apparently slid into the current on top of the engine and was crushed like an egg shell. The smoker, where greatest loss of life is believed to have occurred, was completely submerged. One end of the chair car was lifted out of the water by resting on the smoker, and this helped to save those in this car. One Pullman coach came to rest on the bank of the stream with one end in the water. Four men in the Pullman smoker are reported to have been caught in this death trap.”

The Friday, September 28 edition of the Casper Daily Tribune gave their account:

“Raging waters, fast caving banks and the worst weather conditions that have been witnessed in Wyoming in years are hindering any attempts to recover bodies from the wrecked Burlington train at Cole Creek. It will be some time tomorrow before any bodies  can be recovered, according to estimates of men who have the work of bringing the coaches out of the swollen stream.”

The Tribune reported that Yellowstone Highway was packed with stalled and stuck automobiles of friends, relatives and would-be volunteer rescuers attempting to reach the scene of the accident.

A survivor’s account described an eerie, shocked silence from passengers as the wreck unfolded. “I crawled up the isle and out of the rear vestibule and right onto the roof of car No. 21 which was at the every edge of the break,” said the witness.

The wreckage of a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy passenger train is seen in this 1923 photo. The train crashed near Glenrock after heavy rains took out a bridge over Cole Creek. Raging waters from the storm delayed rescue and recovery for days. (Wyoming State Archives)

About a week later, the Casper newspaper published an updated passenger list:

The Casper Daily Tribune, October 7, 1923, Page 1

Fred Fargo, address unknown, member I. W. W.
D. E. Schultz, baggageman and expressman, Casper.
E. J. Klove, brakeman, Casper.
W. J. Nource, Gunnison, Colo.
Albert Hill, colored, Dodge City, Kan.
Mrs. Minnie Owens, Casper.
F. R. Parker, New York City.
W. S. Wilson, Denver, painters’ union organizer.
Chas. Browne, Denver, Collier’s Weekly representative.
W. E. Hinrichs, Fort Collins, Colo., railway mail clerk.
Ella Seales, Lander, Wyo.
Unidentified man; body washed up by Platte river three miles below wreck.
Nicholas Schmidt, Douglas, Wyo.
Carl Linn, address unknown, (listed Thursday as unidentified).
J. P. Jensen, Boise, Idaho, recently of Glenrock, Wyo.
James R. Cogin, Model, Colo.
Feines E. Causey, Taft, Cal.
J. A. Griswold, Cedar Rapids, Ia.

Charles A. Guenther, Douglas, Wyo.
M. D. Montgomery, Denver.
R. G. Neill, salesman for Carter, Rice & Carpenter Paper Co., Denver.
O. E. Gahns, Denver.
H. Watkins, negro porter, Casper.
Guy W. Goff, conductor, Cheyenne.
E. J. Spangler, engineer, Casper.
Ollie Mallon, fireman, Greybull, Wyo.
J. F. Martin, Seattle, Wash.
R. T. Gierhart, Denver.
W. R. Douglas, Denver.
William Hines, homesteader, Ogallala, Wyo. [sic]

In all roughly 30 people died in that train wreck almost 95 years ago just outside of Casper.

The wreckage of a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy passenger train is seen in this 1923 photo. (Wyoming State Archives)