Monday, April 19, 2010

Tragedy on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe

Sometimes, while researching one ancestor you fall upon another who has a story to tell.  And sometimes, you solve a family mystery, only to uncover another one. Both happened this week searching for Kansas newspaper articles on my grandfather, Carl Clare. My grandfather was named after his uncle, Carl Clare, his father Harry's younger brother who was born in 1890. Carl, who would be my great great uncle was missing one of his arms, the result of an accident on a train. None of the current living family members knew what that accident was, just that it involved a train.

While searching those Kansas newspapers, I found the story of what happened to Carl on that train.  The story was printed in the Kansas City Star on November 27th, 1905 and reads:
Carl Clare, a 15-Year-Old Newkirk, Ok., Boy, in a Critical Condition.
WICHITA, KAS., Nov. 27.---Carl Clare of Newkirk, Ok., was brought to a Wichita hospital this morning. He was shot by the night watchman in Harper, Kas. He is in critical condition. Clare, who is only 15 years old, had been riding the blind baggage of an Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train on his way home from a visit.  When ordered to halt the boy started to run and the watchman shot him.  A bullet from a 44-caliber revolver passed through his right side.

This newspaper article was a goldmine of information.  It solved the mystery of how Carl lost his arm on the train. It also tells his age and his current place of residence. But, it leaves other mysteries to be solved...where was he coming from? who was he visiting? was he alone? what hospital was he brought to? was there no way to save the arm? who cared for him? did his parents take the train to Kansas to be with him?

Image of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe train in 1890

St. Francis Hospital, Wichita, Kansas circa 1905

One of the most interesting bits of information revealed in the article is that Carl was riding in the "blind baggage" of an Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train. By 1905, the year Carl took this fateful ride, the trains of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad traveled from Chicago to San Francisco.

We know Carl was probably travelling somewhere from the east back towards the west and was shot in Harper, Kansas, just south of Wichita.  His father had moved the family from Ellison, Illinois to Powhatten, Kansas before moving to Oklahoma during the great Land Runs.  Perhaps Carl was visiting family left behind in Ellison or Powhatten.

Carl was riding in the blind baggage of the train.  This tells us that he was most likely not traveling with his parents. The blind baggage of the train was a baggage car that was carried behind the coal tender of the locomotive and was known as a "blind baggage car" because it had no connecting door but a loose blind over  the exit.  Because there is no connecting door, hobos (migratory workers) who hopped the trains without paying could not be discovered from within the train.  This became known as "riding the blinds". It was a very dangerous way to travel as was "riding the rods", hanging on under the train. Researching this I found several stories of those "riding the blinds" losing fingers or hands or being ran over and killed while trying to hop a moving train.

"The Ballad of Casey Jones" has a lyric that refers to the blinds:
Casey said before he died
fix the blinds so the bums can't ride
If they ride, let them ride the rods
and put their hands in the trust of God

Was my great great uncle Carl a migratory worker, a hobo? Or was he just returning from spending time with family? Carl was shot...discovered by a night watchman. Carl, who must have been just a frightened teenager took off running which was probably his most natural instinct. Instead of letting him go, the night watchman shot him with a 44-caliber gun. Thanksgiving was three days later so it's assumed he spent that time in a Wichita hospital. Who was the night watchman who shot him? What was his story? There is more mystery now than before!  I'll have to put my Sherlock sensibilities to work and try to solve it.

An interesting endnote to this blog entry: I've taken one shot of railroad tracks. One shot of part of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. That one shot was taken in 2008 in....Harper, Kansas. 
Coincidence? Or perhaps I was drawn there by ancestral energy.  I prefer to believe the latter.

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