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Kate Shelly


Posted By: cheryl Locher moonen (email)
Date: 3/11/2020 at 09:51:08

In 1881 there was living on the east side of the Des Moines River in Boone County, near the track of the Northwestern Railway, in a little cabin, the widow of a Mr. Shelly who had been killed in a railroad accident. Her eldest daughter Kate was about fifteen years of age. On the night of the 6th of July, a terrific storm of wind and rain swept over that region. Honey Creek, ordinarily a small stream coming from the prairie south and west of the town of Boone, winds its way through the forest in a westerly direction emptying into the DesMoines not far from the railroad bridge which was first built across the river near the coal town of Moingona. The banks of the river here rise to a great height. The grade of the railroad, down the valley of Honey Creek, descends rapidly and not far from the Shelly cabin the track crosses the creek on a bridge of considerable elevation. On this wild night the Shelly family was aroused from their sleep by the roaring torrent of Honey Creek which was rushing by the cabin with the force and volume of a small river, uprooting great trees along its banks and bearing towards the river huge masses of floodwood. Upon striking a light they saw that it was time for a freight train to pass. Suddenly they heard the rumble of the train and then a fearful crash of timbers and a wild cry for help. They realized at once that the train had gone down into the flood with the wreck of the bridge spanning the creek near the cabin. Lighting a lantern Kate started in the direction of the bridge with the fierce storm beating in her face. The darkness was so great that she could see nothing, but guided by the noise of the roaring torrent she reached the bridge. Where the flood was roaring by, she soon discovered the wreck of the train which had gone down with the bridge, and heard the shout of the engineer who was clinging to the limb of a projecting tree which had been partly uprooted by the flood. He was the only survivor and on the opposite side of the creek where it was impossible for Kate to cross to his aid but he assured her that he was out of danger. Both knew that the night express from the west would soon be due and realized the terrible fate that awaited it, unless warned of the fallen bridge. The engineer could not cross the raging flood to go on this mission and so brave Kate Shelly hesitated not a moment but turned her face towards the river. The fierce wind and driving rain beat in her face and nearly carried her off her feet. The lantern was soon extinguished. It was a mile through the dense forest to the river with a long,high railroad bridge to cross before she could reach the Moingona telegraph office where warning could be sent to the approaching train. Hurrying on with all the strength she could summon, she at last reached the railroad bridge four hundred feet in length and fifty feet above the river. The tempest was now at its worst; there was no floor on the bridge, the rails resting on the cross-ties. It was impossible for the girl to stand at that height against the fierce gale that swept over it and on her hands and knees with the wild gale beating in her face she slowly made her way over the ties until the farther shore was reached. Lacerated and exhausted as she was, sufficient strength remained to enable her to reach the telegraph office, half a mile farther and give the alarm. Almost overcome by the unparalleled exertions, she had scarcely strength to rouse the agent and tell him of the impending danger before she sank helpless and fainting. Instantly a message flashed over the wire carrying warning to the approaching train which was fortunately reached barely in time to avert a greater horror than has ever yet overtaken an Iowa railroad. As the train halted at the little station, the last before the wrecked bridge, the passengers learning of the narrow escape from destruction hastily gathered about the brave little Irish girl attempting to express some measure of their gratitude to her for saving them from a fate too awful to contemplate. As her heroic deed became known through the press the story of that fearful night adventure was told in every portion of the country and the name of Kate Shelly became as widely known as that of any famous women of modern times. The Northwestern Railroad made her a small gift in acknowledgment of the deed. The Iowa Legislature at the session in 1882, made an appropriate recognition of the noble action of the obscure little heroine, by authorizing the Senator and Representative from Boone County, together with the Governor of the State, to procure and present to the brave girl a gold metal with an inscription.



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