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Q: Train wreck/derailment 1890's Arkansas ( Answered,   2 Comments )
Subject: Train wreck/derailment 1890's Arkansas
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: saguy-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 21 May 2006 17:39 PDT
Expires: 20 Jun 2006 17:39 PDT
Question ID: 731136
I am looking for information on a train wreck.  If you can find
evidence of this wreck I will gladly pay $200.  The information I have
is specific but very old.  I am not sure how accurate any of it is.  I
would use it as a starting point.

Here is the story my grandfather told me.
The wreck happened July 14, 1898 at Brinkley Arkansas.  The train
derailed after hitting a cow.  The engineer was killed.  The train
belonged to the cotton belt railroad.

The engineer was my great great grandfather William Simpson.  He was
born March 18, 1860 in Aspen Grove, Rockingham County, North Carolina.
 His son was William F Simpson who may have worked for cotton belt

My uncle thinks the engine was 143 or 148.  I know one of these
engines was in a wreck so finding an article on it wouldn't count
unless the article contained other pieces of my story.

Just to be very clear.  I am offering the 200 if you can convince me
that you found my great great grandfathers wreck.
Wrecks that would meet my requirement would be things like
Article mentioning train wreck, engineer W Simpson killed anywhere +/- 3 years.
Train derailed July 14th +/- 3 years,cotton belt,cow.
Close proximity +/- 3 years, train derailed (Cotton belt or cow).  

I won't pay for something like train derailed Florida 1894, a list of
major train wrecks, an email from cotton belt saying the have no
record of a crash in Brinkley.  I am paying to confirm the existence
of this wreck not for the time you put into it.  There is always the
possibility that the wreck is a family legend that never really
happened.  If this isn't acceptable please don't work on this question
and I will post the question again for less money and ask for a list
of all cotton belt wrecks in the 1890's.


Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 22 May 2006 05:24 PDT

Have a look at the clipping from this 1900 news story: 

Click on the file named [ train derailed ].

A lot of the right details are there, except that it's not 1898, its
not Brinkley (but it is Arkansas), and -- unfortunately or not -- it's
not your uncle.

Think the stories might have been blended together over the years?

Let me know what you think.


Request for Question Clarification by tutuzdad-ga on 22 May 2006 08:26 PDT
Like other researchers, I was unable to confirm that your relative
perished in a Cotton Belt derailment at Brinkley, Arkansas on July 14,
1898. However, I managed to find some seemingly compelling information
that, at the very least,  raises some question as to whether one of
these might actually be the accident you are inquiring about:

Please let me direct your attention to this train wreck on Saturday,
May 13, 1893 near Bird?s Point Missouri. This was a southbound train
enroute to Arkansas and points west in Texas originating from St.


Bird?s Point is 189 nautical miles from Brinkley Arkansas, which would
have been one of the scheduled stops along this particular route.


For whatever reason the train company refused to disclose information
regarding fatalities yet a persistent reporter investigated and found
that the unnamed engineer and fireman were killed.


Another wreck near McNeil, Arkansas, which may also have followed this
route including possibly Brinkley, is dated much later on August 2,
1930. Listed among the dead are several Arkansans including, ?Engineer
L. Simpson?.

?Train Wreck at McNeil, Arkansas kills Eight?

Please let me know your feelings about the significance of these two
events and in lieu of better information the acceptability of one of
these as an answer.


Request for Question Clarification by tutuzdad-ga on 22 May 2006 09:13 PDT
Here are some photos of the McNeil train wreck

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 22 May 2006 16:43 PDT

As noted in the comment (below), I posted a second article at the
esnips site, this one named "cotton belt train wreck 1899 brinkley
arkansas.jpg "

The two train wreck articles, when mentally merged, contain an awful
lot of the details you are looking for.

And I agree, too, that newspaper coverage of train wrecks was pretty
extensive, especially if a death was involved.  A wreck on the Cotton
Belt line from the late 1800's would most likely show up in a number
of newspaper archives from the period.


Clarification of Question by saguy-ga on 22 May 2006 19:37 PDT
tutuzdad-ga Thanks for looking.

pafalafa-ga you are amazing.  You met my requirements(close
date,cow,cotton belt,brinkley) the $200 is yours.

The rest of my request is optional.  How did you find this was there a
service you used?  Could you find anything else like an engine number?
Or a list of people killed in the Aug. 11th wreck.  Maybe some tips on
how I might be able research this.  I think it would have been
headline news in brinkley on that day I guess I can call their
library.  I am really impressed, I miss my 200, but I am impressed.
Subject: Re: Train wreck/derailment 1890's Arkansas
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 23 May 2006 05:07 PDT

Thanks so much.  It's always great to hear that one's research has
paid off (in more ways than one).

I added one more article at the esnips link on the August 11, 1899
story...a list of some of the injured is included, but not of those
killed.  The file is [ brinkley wreck ].

In addition to the articles I already linked to, perhaps I can offer a
few suggestions for additional research.

For starters, there's a good overview (if I may say so myself...I
wrote them) of online historical research tools at the articles on
Don?t know much about history?
?And a Few More History Research Resources

Of the resources mentioned there, two in particular may be worth some
more exploring.

The Making of America site (and its related sites) at:

I did not uncover any relevant materials at MoA, but since it has
pretty good coverage for the 19th century US, you may want to return
for another look.

The collection at is one of my favorite resources:

Although this is a subscription service, you can search there for
free, so you might want to do some poking around.  Note that you can
specify a date range in your search, to narrow results to a particular
day, week, year, etc.

The key to historical searching is to put together a collection of
terms narrow enough to get relevant materials, without being so narrow
as to miss important items.  Including [ simpson ] makes obvious
sense, unless an article doesn't actually mention your ancestor's name
(or -- not that unusual -- whether great-great-grandpa's name was
actually something a little different than what's come down to you in
the 21st century).  Mix and match terms, and try various combinations.

In particular, use Arkansas or Ark (which would have been the
abbreviation of choice at the time).  Or perhaps the accident wasn't
in Arkansas at all.

Use "cotton belt" in quotes to treat the term as a phrase.  Also, the
Cotton Belt's formal name was "Southwestern Railway":
[beware the midi 'music']

so you may want to use that in a search as well (then again, perhaps
the Cotton Belt wasn't the RR involved!]

If you're pretty certain that the accident did take place in the
Brinkley area, then there are off-line resources you can explore.  The
most relevant is likely to be archive collections of Brinkley
Arkansas History Commission -- Newspapers

in particular, this one:

Title: Brinkley Argus 
City: Brinkley 
County: Monroe 
Beginning Date: May 7, 1896 
Ending Date: Oct. 8, 1995 

The Commission site says they will not research a topic for you, but
in my experience, getting a sympathetic person on the phone can
sometimes do wonders, especially if you have a narrow date range for
them to look at. may want to take a trip to the archives one
of these days.

There are certainly other possibilities for researching your topic,
but I think I'll stop here, since there's enough above to keep you
occupied for a while, I would guess.

Best of luck with your quest...and let me know if there's anything
else I can do for you.  I'd be happy to continue helping in any way I

Subject: Re: Train wreck/derailment 1890's Arkansas
From: thursdaylast23-ga on 22 May 2006 16:33 PDT
Pafalafa-ga's question about a possible merging of stories makes
sense, especially given the other item s/he posted at the same link
above. I found reference to the Brinkley train collision in the New
York Times as well, under the headline "New Yorker Hurt in Train
Wreck" (NYT, Aug. 11, 1899, p.5). That article was very brief, shorter
than the one pafalafa-ga posted on It is interesting that
the date, while a year later, is still within the summer time frame
(less than a month's difference). I don't know whether blame was ever
officially attributed in the Brinkley collision to the freight crew,
as the reporter suggests, but that might be one rationale (conscious
or unconscious) for shifting your great grandfather's death to a
different site, where the circumstances were likely beyond anyone's
control. Or it may as likely be the natural outcome of a family oral
tradition, where the two incidents got fused in someone's memory
during a critical telling of the story and created the "hybrid"
history. The locations are only 210 miles apart, pretty much in a
straight line.

I will say that train accidents during that period seem to be
well-documented, even states away, sometimes down to lists of the
injured. Aside from the news items, I read a few editorial articles
that lamented, in specific detail, a year's worth of accidents,
injuries, or fatalities (none that I found for 1898-1899,
unfortunately). So if you have good reason to believe that your
great-grandfather died in a train accident, it is very likely to be
one of the accidents reported during that period, whether or not the
details you heard match exactly. I can't imagine it not being
reported, given the journalistic habits of the day regarding such
Subject: Re: Train wreck/derailment 1890's Arkansas
From: thursdaylast23-ga on 22 May 2006 21:01 PDT
I have asked a friend of mine whose hobby is genealogy to see if she
can turn up an obituary or possibly a death notice (to verify date of
death, perhaps cause of death) through the resources she's familiar
with in tracing her family history. (She loves doing this kind of
research.) If she comes up with any leads/information on your great
great grandfather while the question is still open, I will post them
here as a comment. Given that you will probably want to close the
question soon so that pafalafa-ga can get well-deserved payment, I
will try to figure out a way to post any additional information that
surfaces as a question under the same subject line in this category,
if you care to check back at a later date.

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