Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kentwood Train Wreck Killed 75 People in 1903

A few months back Marcia Wilson called me and asked me if I had any knowledge of a train wreck that took place in 1903 in Kentwood, Louisiana? She told me that she heard that many of the bodies were buried at Oak Grove AME Church, in a mass grave.

The accident happened on November 14, 1903 on a Saturday. Two extra work crews from various points up in Mississippi had been working below Amite on the construction of the double railroad track, according to a letter from the railroad office in Chicago. 

There were about 100 men in each gang, they filled the last two wooden coaches of the north bound local Number 32. They had just been paid and many were playing cards as they went toward home for the weekend. The paymaster used silver dollars to make robbery more difficult for anyone who might be tempted by the large payroll, it would be too heave to carry money off. 

No. 32 stopped in Kentwood at the depot. Two northbound passengers boarded and were seated in the third coach from the rear. There was a colored woman named Sallie Jones and April "Boy" Washington a brother of Boy Washington who worked at the ice plant. 

The Picayune Newspaper said that dead negroes are numerous and the odor of burning flesh is something dreadful and caused several strong men to faint. People raced north to help. Doctors rushed from Tangipahoa, Osyka and Mccomb. A special train was arranged to carry the injured to New Orleans where they were met by ambulances from Charity Hospital. 

Many of the work gang had died with cards in their hands. Dice and silver dollars and cards were scattered all over the area.  Carpenter crews from the McComb railroad shop were sent with boards of rough 1 by 12 lumber and they built coffins at the north end of the depot. 

Some men were badly burned so that they were placed two and three in a box. They started hauling before day Sunday morning and hauled all day to the cemetery of the African Methodist Episcopal Church where a long trench has been dug near some cedar trees,  north and south of the road. 

Bob Washington, was about 10 or 11 years old at the time. Pointed out where the unmarked graves where. 

White Dead.
ANDREW KISEG, Crystal Springs, Miss.
Negroes Dead.
KING HAYES, Tugaloo, Miss.
JOHN SMITH, Tugaloo, Miss.
JOHN WILLIAMS, Brookhaven, Miss.
JERRY AUSTIN, Canton, Miss.
Unknown Mulatio (Penn's crew).
Eighteen unidentified negro men.
One unidentified negro woman.
White Wounded.
BUD WILSON, fireman No. 6, McComb City, Miss.
HENRY STARKEY, Nathalbany, La.
Negroes Wounded.
EUGENE McDANIELS, Gilchesberg, Miss.
ERVIN LOVE, Rogue Chitto, Miss.
MONROE WALBUR, Hazelhurst, Miss.
JOHN THOMAS, Canton, Miss.
V. S. GRANT, Eutah, Ala.
W. COLEMAN, Canton, Miss.
CHAS. NASH, Madison, Miss.
W. SMITH, Crystal Springs, Miss.
WILL TILLMAN, Brookhaven, Miss.
WILL MAY, Canton, Miss.
HENRY WRIGHT, Calhoun, Miss.
MARLON, McMullen, Brandon, Miss.
The Times-Democrat New Orleans Louisiana 1903-11-16

Source: Local  Lore and Legend: Written by Irene Reid Morris
List of Dead and Injured: The Times-Democrat New Orleans, Louisina, 1903-11-16