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Corporate Greed Leads to Death in Oklahoma Territory

September 20, 2000

Historian's Notes

The trestle collapse near Dover was a horrific event with only greed to blame. It's sad to say, but Oklahoma has always had a reputation as a corrupt state. This reputation didn't start recently, but has had a place here since the beginning of Euro-American occupation. This news piece is important because 1) it's interesting and 2) it goes to show that the "good old days" were not necessarily so "good"!

Resources

Goble, D. (1980). Progressive Oklahoma: The making of a new kind of state. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Additional information came from contemporary newspaper reports.

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.

This week, corporate greed leads to death in Oklahoma Territory.

It was on September 18, 1906 that a railroad bridge over the Cimarron River near Dover, Oklahoma Territory, collapsed sending a fully occupied passenger train into the rushing currents. The Rock Island No. 12 heading for Fort Worth from Chicago crossed the middle section of the bridge at approximately 9:00 pm, when the supports gave way and the entire structure fell into the fast-moving rain-swollen river. Over one hundred people perished in the wreck. The locomotive's engineer, in a split second move of brilliance, managed to disconnect the sleeping cars of the train saving them and their occupants from the plunge into the darkness below.

An engineering corps from Lawton and a signal corps from Blackwell stationed themselves downstream from the wreck to aid in rescues, as well as, the retrieval of bodies from the river. Many of the train cars including the engine were completely submerged in the river, and witnesses reported later that it seemed impossible for anyone who had been in the train as it fell to have survived. One man, who managed to swim out of the submerged smoking car, was found floating injured but still alive over twenty-miles downstream from the wreck site.

The official explanation for the wreck offered by the Rock Island Line was that the bridge supports were weakened by piles of driftwood lodged against the bridge by recent rains. Earlier in the week a small wagon bridge had washed down stream and crashed into the bridge further weakening the supports. Later, an investigation of wreck revealed something much different than the companies official line. It seems that the bridge over the Cimarron was constructed as a temporary crossing with a more permanent stable trestle to be constructed in the future. Rather than spend money on the new bridge, Rock Island used it's funds to further secure its monopoly on rail travel in the region buying up smaller rail concerns. The temporary unstable bridge, with its supports resting directly on the sandy river bottom, remained in place until the inevitable tragedy occurred. Even after the wreck, it took a court ruling to prevent Rock Island from installing an identical temporary bridge in the place of the one that fell...and that's what happened this week in Oklahoma history.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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