Katherine Shelley

by Alexander from Midlothian

Kate Shelley
Unknown author [public domain] via Wikimedia

What does a hero mean to you? You may think of a hero as someone who can fly or save the world. Maybe you think it is someone who is strong, powerful or you might even say amazing or perfect. Well that is not what a true, real, human hero is. A real hero is not some fictional comic book super person. They are someone who has a strong and big heart, a great attitude, and a quality of excellence. So no, not everyone is a superhero but anyone can be a true hero. Katherine Shelley (Nicknamed "Kate") is one of many of these heroes. Though many people are special, the one thing that makes Kate stand out is her sheer courage, knowledge and amount of people involved with her heroic actions. This is her story.
Eighteen-year-old Kate Shelley was a young adult girl who lived on a 165 acre farm along Honey Creek which was a major tributary that was almost as large as the Des Moines River, which it drained into. Their house was located not far from where Honey Creek, which happened to be more like a slightly small river, conjoined with the Des Moines River. She lived with her mom, 2 younger sisters and younger brother. There was a fifth child but he had drowned while swimming in the Des Moines River. Because she was the oldest and her dad had died of "consumption", Kate had to take part of the parenting role. She did a great deal of what her dad had done before he passed. The family lived near a train bridge. Since Kate had lived there for all but the first year of her life, she knew the train's schedules and was able to tell when they were coming. This was her day to day life. It might not have sounded fun but she loved it. She loved being in the field, tidying, reading, some teaching, and especially cooking. So Kate always had a smile drawn on her face. Then one day there came a bump in the perfectly smooth road. A large bump.
It was July 6, 1881, and the sunny day was also a very hot and humid day which sparked violent enormous storms to explode over parts of the mid-west. It was around 4:30 that afternoon that a violent supercell plowed into the area. The storm brought extremely strong winds, massive hail, and plenty of other severe weather. There were many other storms that hit the area and caused places to get up to 2 inches of rain. But the storms were not done yet. Later a second round of storms rolled in, dropping more rain. Then finally, the third and final but longest round of storms hit. The rain was hard and steady and lasted for hours on end. By sundown several places in the area had recorded up to 6 inches of rain and steadily climbing. The Honey Creek had begun to rise very quickly. Unaware of the rising creek Kate got her siblings ready for bed. Then she sat down and read a book while eating a few snacks here and there. Kate enjoyed the rain. She had been listening to it and the sound of thunder while reading because if there was one thing Kate loved it would surely be reading.
It was around fifteen till 11:00 and Kate began to hear the sound of a light rumble. It got louder and louder. Then it was almost a roar. It sounded like wind, very strong wind. It was not the storm though, it was the 11:00 train rolling through. Kate listened to the familiar sound. The rumble getting louder into a roar. then the whistle, then the sound of the trestle being crossed, then the rumble getting loud one last time before a whistle and then the sound of it leaving into the distance. She had become familiar with the sound as it happen several times each day. The whistle blew then the sound of the Bridge being crossed. This followed by the sound of snapping and crushing. Then there was a crash and finally a huge... thud? Kate thought to herself, that was not right. The sound always seemed muffled but it was as if they had suddenly been right outside the window and noticeably even strangely louder. Alarmed, Kate jumped up slammed her book shut and ran out the door after quickly grabbing a lantern. She began to walk out towards the end of their field near the water. She got about halfway down, just about 30 feet above the normal water height when she heard the sound of splashing when she stepped. She looked down to see herself ankle deep in water. The river had flooded. She looked up to see the disaster. The creek had washed out the concrete pillars and caused the bridge to collapse and the train fall in. Then she remembered the eastbound midnight train with 200 passengers headed right for the bridge.
Kate sprinted as fast as she could to the damaged bridge. It was so badly damaged that it swayed in the wind. She began crossing it. The bridge's railroad ties were spaced out a lot since many had fallen off in the storm. The bridge had no railings and was moving back and forth. Kate realized the only way to get across was to crawl on her hands and knees. She slowly maneuvered herself onto the bridge. She fell to her hands and knees and began the long trek to the other side of the bridge. She used her lantern to see where to put her feet. However, a gust of wind had broken the lantern and it was no more use. She let it fall into the raging flood below. The river had come up so high that she could, every now and then, feel a splash of water spray from below and over the bridge. She continued to crawl. Her shoes had fallen off and her clothes were drenched and damaged as they ripped when they got snagged by a rail, tie, or spike. As she worked her way across the span of the bridge, she gashed and bruised herself on pieces of the track and bridge. She could only use the light of the almost constant lightning to see where she was going. She heard shouts from the fallen train below and screamed back that she would be back with help in a little. She knew time was running out so she began to crawl faster. She slipped several times and let out a shrill scream before catching herself and continuing on. After about 40 minutes she finally crossed. She felt sick but the train was on its way and would be there soon. So she ran, she had to. She ran as fast as she could and covered over two miles in about 15 minutes. When she got there she busted through the door. startling everyone inside. She then screamed, "The bridge is out! Stop the train!" Almost as she said that she gave out and collapsed. She could not stand and she was breathing heavily. The eight or so people in the station looked at the soggy, bloody, ragged, homeless looking girl that had just blasted in the door without warning. The trains whistle blew in the distance. Kate attempted to say, "Stop the train!" It did not sound like much though. Two people working there walked out into the storm. They signed the red signal and the train stopped. Kate who was bleeding and cut badly was taken to a doctor that night.

The next day the sky was clear and blue. It was clear that the bridge was washed out. Kate had told them about the worker train and two of the four people were saved. About a month later the station was having an event at which they saluted Kate in front of an entire town. They also announced that they were going to begin construction of a new bridge and that it would be named after Kate as the Kate Shelley High Bridge. Kate was remembered for her heroic efforts on that night that in total saved 239 people. Anyway, this is why Katherine Shelley is a hero. A true Hero.

Page created on 5/31/2017 11:08:31 AM

Last edited 9/23/2020 12:28:52 AM

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Related Links

Kate Shelley - Heroine of the High Bridges
Remembering (the real) Kate Shelley - Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs