|Railroad crew on site of the explosion, 1888|
Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum image
There are 3 different narratives of the Great Explosion of 1888 here, those of Grace Hutchin, Harry Ellington and Charles Hatch. See the additional articles about the train wreck in the main blog.
May 14 was memorial day for the small town as an explosion occurred. This account was given by Grace Hutchins whose father was killed that day.
The first two stories come from a copy of four pages of old type-written notes, which contain details of the great train explosion, and are simply labeled – 1888. These notes were found in the history files at the Fountain Library and probably came from someone at the
Two car loads of dynamite got loose in the yards at Colo. Springs and started on a mad rush south. A passenger train was warned at Fountain that it was coming so the Engineer Henry Hutchins put his train on the side track and then started to meet the runaway cars as this was the only way to stop them. They met just north of the depot and the explosion damaged almost every house in town. Four people were killed and one was the engineer Hutchins. The fireman has his legs so bowed by the concussion that it was hard for him to walk from then on. He was a German and nicknamed Binksey.
This is a report of the explosion as the story was reprinted in the Fountain Herald April 24, 1906. The editor was Harry Ellingston who had written the story when it happened.
Up to this time no particular attention had been paid to the freight cars, but now that the depot being in comparative safety it was proposed that the two cars at the end be run up the track to a safe distance, and the flames, which had just communicated to them. In a call for help for this purpose, several men went to the cars, when it was discovered by one of the men that one of the cars was marked “Powder”, that being the car that was burning. The alarm was given and nearly everyone fled for their lives. Not a moment too soon, however, for hardly a minute had elapsed ere the heavens were rent asunder by a livid flash, followed by a terrible report that jarred the earth as if that body had been torn apart from pole to pole, the shock being plainly discernable at
Seventeen thousand pounds of giant powder had exploded. The earth fairly trembled from the force of the concussion. Men, women and children were prostrated to the earth. Strong buildings were shattered as if made of pasteboard. Roofs of buildings, whose sides were sufficiently strong to withstand the atmospheric pressure were crushed down as if tons of rocks had fallen on them. Windows were shattered for miles around, the glass in many instances being forced through partitions and ceilings. Doors were torn from their fastenings as if but pinned in position and literally torn to pieces.
There were several persons who either did not hear the cry “Powder” or else did not realize the danger to which they were exposed, who did not heed the warning. C. F. Smith who was on the roof of the depot; H. W. Hutchins, on the back end of the engine tender; H. P. Bosworth, on top of the tender engaged in extinguishing the flames in the engine cab; Lawrence Weihart, on the platform, handing water to Mr. Smith, C. S. Hatch, O. L. Loomis, W. W. Loomis, Mort Loomis, W. H. Butler, carrying water to the former gentlemen. Lancelot Bell and H. Murray, who were removing freight from the depot, C. F. Smith being in the most perilous position received the greatest injuries. Besides having his right leg broken, there were several wounds made in his body, made by flying missiles, presumably pieces of iron, one piece being removed from his back after death, any one of which would very likely have caused his death. The whole weight of the west side of the depot, which was a large building, rested on him when found, from which position he was released and taken to his hotel where he was examined by Drs Moore and Berry and all done for his comfort that was possible. He lived but two hours after the explosion, enduring the most excruciating agony, but bore up under it manfully, never complaining, though he retained consciousness up to within a very short time before death came to relieve him from suffering. Mr. Smith came to Fountain about two months ago from Kinross
From appearances, when picked up H. W. Hutchins was thrown from his position on the engine to the ground, his head striking one of the rails, causing a fracture to the skull at the base, and breaking one leg between the knee and the ankle. He lived thirty eight hours after the accident suffering the keenest pain. Mr. Hutchins was sixty-three years of age and an old resident of Fountain, having been proprietor of the Pioneer store for many years, in which business he had made many friends who with a wife and three daughters deeply mourn his loss. In the death of Mr. Hutchins the town loses a good citizen and the wife and the children a loving husband and father.
H. P. Bosworth was also thrown from the engine, sustaining a dislocated shoulder and numerous other minor injuries from which, we are glad to state he is rapidly rallying and will in a few days, be around and out of doors.
Lawrence Weihart was a sight to behold, and when first found was supposed to be dead. He was rescued from the debris and taken to his home where medical care was procured, and on Thursday he was walking about town with the aide of crutches. He escaped with no more serious wounds than cuts and bruises on the face and body, though he was lying close besides Mr. Smith, when picked up and was from first appearances more seriously hurt, but such proved not to be the case.
Lancelot Bell and H. Murray were near each other when the explosion occurred and were nearly buried in the wreck of the falling depot, yet both escaped without a bone broke. Still their hurts are sufficient consequences to confine them to their rooms. Mr. Bell being of the two more seriously disables – he having one ankle badly sprained, a wrist cut and a great gash in one eye brow to say nothing of smaller cuts and bruises on other parts of his body. He managed to move around the house Thursday but said it was rather a painful task to perform. We hope to see him out in a few days. Mr. Murray seems to think his wounds of little consequences though they are quite painful. He will be all right in a few days he says.
[Ellington's article appears to also have been reprinted verbatim on the 59th anniversary of the accident in 1947, though the paper and date are unknown. The later article was clipped and glued on other paper, and a copy of this survives. The second story mentioned the ads that appeared in the 1888 paper, to include: TK Cell, proprietor of the Pioneer Blacksmith shop, HW Hutchins Fountain Pioneer store - general merchandise, plows, wagons..., Ariel Green tonsorial artist in the Ames block, JT Logan shoe shop in Ames block, OS Loomis, feed and stable. Roadsters, ponies, saddle and draft horses for sale; corner of Iowa and Race.
|D&RG wreck. Rocky Mountain News Apr 24, 1874|
The Denver and New Orleans, the second railroad to pass through Fountain, came south from Falcon along Jimmy Camp Creek, passing east of Fountain through what is now Metcalfe Park, and south toward Countryside where it ran parallel to the Denver & Rio Grande line. The D&NO became the C&S Railroad in the late 1890s. The rail bed was later abandoned and became C & S Road, much of it is known today as Marksheffel. The C&S did not have a station in Fountain, but used a siding to load cattle. After 1913, no more trains ran south of Falcon on this line. The 1935 flood washed out much of the remaining road bed. (first issue, no date).
The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad was built south through Fountain into Pueblo in 1872. Originally a boxcar was used as the station in Fountain, and a water tank built. About 15 years later a station was built, with a freight room, waiting room, bay window and tower. The Santa Fe reached Fountain in 1887. In 1917, during the war, the government took control of the railroads and made the D&RG and Santa Fe tracks into a circuit, as it remains today(Advertiser & News May 20, 1998).
Train Wreck, Fountain, May 1890, Aspen Weekly Times, May 10, 1890
|Rocky Mt News 5-8-1890|
|Denver Evening Post 2-9-1897|
|Weekly Gazette July 2, 1903|
|Colorado Springs Gazette Mar 16, 1905 |
|Photo courtesy of Herb Whalen family.|
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Benito Trujillo was paid $15 for his cow by the Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf Railway Company.
Colorado Springs Gazette Feb 23, 1915
A detailed investigation report of this accident can be found at
This map was found with letters written by the Fountain school children. Note the West House near the Double Crossing. This house still stands on N. El Paso.
Fountain is famous for the 1888 explosion that nearly leveled the town. Here is the article as it appeared in the New York Times on May 15, 1888. Note how the details differ from the article that appeared in the local Gazette.
A Whole Town Wrecked
A Collision Followed by a Terrible Explosion.
Three Persons Instantly Killed, and Three Fatally Injured and Many Others Seriously Hurt.
Denver, Colo. May 14. A collision between four cars and a caboose of a freight train, and a passenger train on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Road at Fountain, 12 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, caused a terrific explosion of a can of giant powder at 3:20 o'clock this morning. The explosion killed three persons instantly, mortally injured three more, and almost destroyed the entire town. It tore a hole ten feet deep and thirty by sixty feet in area in the earth, threw iron rails three hundred yards, scattered debris for half a mile, and demolished or damaged every structure in the place. The report was heard for 20 miles and awakened nearly every person in Colorado Springs. Its fearful effect can only be imagined and not described with any approach to the true horror of the situation, which was heightened by the burning of a car of naphtha and the flames which issued from a half dozen burning cars and the whole station buildings. The killed were: C.F. Smith, lumber dealer of Fountain, formerly of Keokuk, Iowa. He leaves a family. William Whitman, disabled railroad brakeman of Greenland, Col; Mrs. F. P. Widrig of Fountain, a milliner.
Those who are mortally injured are: Lawrence Weibert, carpenter of Fountain, H. W. Hutchins, merchant of Fountain.
The wounded are: HP Bosworth, Fountain, broken collar bone; Dr. EG Walls, Colorado Springs, cut in head and body by glass; JF James, Fountain, arm broken; Walter Loomis, Fountain, leg shattered; Mart Loomis, Fountain, head injured; Lawrence Veinbart, Fountain,
contused wound in head; Lancelot Bell, Fountain, leg broken; Mrs. L. Bell, Fountain, bruised head; Myrtle Bell Fountain, one arm broken; AJ Benedict Fountain, bruised head and limbs; Mrs AJ Benedict, Fountain, bruised legs; WH Butler Fountain, contused face and breast; Mrs. Fred Eubanks Fountain, bruised head; Mrs. WL Hinch Fountain, cut in the face; CS Hatch, Fountain, cut in the thigh; EH Kirk, Kansas City, cut in the head; H Murray, Fountain, cut in the head; Joe Patton Fountain, cut in the hip.
A fast freight train from the South on the Santa Fe Road arrived at Colorado Springs at 2:30 o'clock in the morning. In this train were three cars of live stock, a car naphtha, a car of giant powder, a car of rails for the Midland Road, a car of merchandise, and a caboose. The stock cars were cut off from the rest of the train, which was left standing on the main track. The conductor, WC Chubbuck, instructed his brakeman to securely set the brakes on the standing cars and this was done. Ten minutes afterward a tramp asked the brakeman what had become of the cars.The latter ran to the place where they had been left standing and was horrified to find them gone. The cars when loosened started at once at a high rate of speed down the steep grade toward Fountain. As they ran their momentum increased until the speed was frightful. The Kansas City passenger express train bound north had just reached the station at Fountain and stopped as the wildcat cars crashed in to the engine. The shock was terrific and burst open the naphtha car tank. the inflammable fluid ran out under the station platform. The engine and the cars immediately caught fire. The whole population of the town was aroused by the shock and brought out more hastily by the fierce flames which shot up about the wreck.Next to the naphtha car was the one with rails, and next to it the car with 17,000 pounds of giant powder. The naphtha immediately enveloped the whole station, the shattered locomotive and the wrecked freight cars, as well as the baggage and express cars of the passenger train.
On the train there were 30 passengers and at the collision all were shaken up greatly and rushed for the doors. The people of the town flocked to the scene and sought by the appliances available to extinguish the flames. The passenger coaches, which, with the exception of the baggage car had been uninjured, were detached from the engine and pushed down the track for a considerable distance. Suddenly the agent at the station, JC Denny, shouted that there was giant powder in one of the cars on fire, and warned all to run for their lives. They plunged one over the other and scattered in every direction. Then the terrible explosion came. People were knocked senseless to the ground. The burning station collapsed as if swept by a cyclone. The air was filled with iron rails, pieces of broken car wheels, and debris. The Baptist Church which stood near the station was totally demolished. the grocery store of HW Hutchins was wrecked and every building was shattered. Mrs WP Wilding, who is dead, was struck by a piece of flying iron as she was standing 500 feet away.
When the explosion occurred CF Smith was on the roof of the station endeavoring to stop the fire. He went down with the buildings. HW Hutchins was on the tender of the wrecked engine, and HP Bosworth was passing him water. Both were buried under the debris, and as the wild cars neared the locomotive the engineer and fireman were near. They ran for their lives and escaped, and Whiteman, who was in the caboose of the cars when they were cut loose, was last seen on the top endeavoring to turn the brake.
The damage can be but roughly estimated at $100,000, of which the company will loose half. It is currently believed that tramps who had been put off the freight train at Colorado Springs released the brakes of the disconnected cars.
|Rocky Mountain News 5-28-1888|
This article which appeared a few weeks after the crash brings up another question. What became of the $800 Mr. Smith was carrying?
Investigation of the 1888 Explosion
|This photo from the Denver Public Library collection shows the collapsed Baptist Church and a structure behind it that may be this house at 232 S Main.|