Kate lived in the town of Boone, in Iowa, near a railroad bridge over a creek called Honey Creek. She was about sixteen years old when the event took place which called forth her courage.
It was on the evening of the 6th of July 1881, when, just after dark, the severest storm of wind and rain ever known in that part of the country took place. In an hour’s time the Des Moines river had risen six feet, and the creeks running into it were overflowing their banks. Looking through her win- dow, which in the daytime commanded a view of the Honey Creek and the railroad bridge which went over it, she saw through the storm and darkness the headlight of a locomotive. In a moment it disappeared. She could not hear the crash which its fall must have occasioned on account of the terrible noise of the storm ; but she knew at once that the bridge had broken, and that the locomotive, with the train attached to it, had plunged into the chasm below. Then she thought how surely the people in that wrecked train would perish unless help reached them speedily. And she knew that an express train would soon be due there, and that unless warned in time of that broken bridge, it would plunge into that deep chasm and be dashed to pieces. Her father was away from home, and there was no one to help her. If anything was to be done, she must do it herself.
So filling and lighting an old lantern, and putting on a waterproof, she started out in the storm. She got on the track of the railroad, and went towards the bridge, and found part of it still standing. Crawling along on it to the last tie, she swung her lantern over the abyss, and called out at the top of her voice. It was dark as midnight below, but she was answered faintly by the engineer of the wrecked train. He had climbed up on some of the broken timbers, and though injured, was safe for the time being. From him the girl learned that it was a freight train which had dashed through the broken bridge, and that he was the only one of the train hands who had escaped. He urged her at once to hasten to the nearest station and get help for him, and have warning of the broken bridge sent to the approaching express train, that it might be stopped in time to avoid a wreck.
The girl then went back over the broken bridge, and started to go as fast as she could towards the nearest station, which was about a mile distant. In making this perilous journey, it was necessary for her to cross the trestle bridge over the Des Moines river, which was about five hundred feet long. Just as she tremblingly stepped on this bridge, the storm was beating against her so furiously that she nearly lost her balance, and in the effort to keep herself from falling her lamp went out, and she was left to make her way in the dark across that high bridge. How few persons would have had courage enough to go forward in the face of such appalling danger! But this was what that brave girl did. Throwing away her useless lantern, and dropping down on her hands and knees, she crawled from tie to tie across that bridge. On reaching the other side, she ran the short distance that remained, and soon reached the station. There she told the story of the broken bridge, and asked that help might be sent to the wounded engineer, and warning given to the approaching express; then she fainted, and fell insensible on the station floor. She was kindly taken care of; help was sent to the engineer, and warning to the coming train.
Pretty soon that train came thundering along, but was stopped in time. And when the passengers heard the story of the broken bridge, and of the noble girl whose courageous conduct had saved them from destruction, their hearts were melted, their eyes moistened, and their purses opened; and they made up a generous oflFering to her, as an expression of their grateful admiration of her noble conduct.
At the next session of the Legislature of Iowa, a gold medal, in memory of her brave conduct, was ordered to be prepared for her, and a committee was appointed to present it to her in the name of that body, and as an expression of their admiration of her conduct.
The courage of that girl saved a train from being wrecked, and scores of lives from being lost.