McShane's Bride (The Dotsero Train Wreck)

 

Based on an actual event.

In 1908 and sight unseen, Iowa born Ethan McShane gave over half of his life savings to buy land near the small town of Palisade, Colorado. Eager to see the land, he caught the next train out. However, with no assurance of a proper home for her, he left his bride of just a few short days behind. Just a few weeks later, she too excitedly boarded a train bound for Colorado – a train that would never reach its destination.

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CHAPTER 1 

Cinderblocks! That was the promise of a good living in the tiny community of Dotsero, Colorado. That the blocks were made from the lava flow of a nearby volcano didn’t bother them. It had surely been thousands of years since an eruption occurred anywhere in North America. Nor did the people mind that the original Ute Indian name of Orestod had been spelled backward when the Concord Stagecoach Station was established. Dotsero was the perfect place to change out tired horses for the refreshed, thereby carrying passengers, goods, and mail by stagecoach across the Continental Divide.

Dotsero, Colorado lay at the base of a mountain, in a valley just below the timberline where the Eagle River flowed into the mighty Colorado. Elk and deer roamed freely, and some of the finest horses in the state could be bought at Dotsero. Though it was small with less than a hundred men, women, and children, the town could boast of a shoe shop, a barbershop, a café and saloon, and a mercantile. As well as fuel for automobiles, the gas station sold kerosene for lamps, and ice from their ice house in summer. A one room log cabin school sat just west of town under four pleasant cottonwood trees.

It was the workers and the railroad tracks being laid through Glenwood Canyon that fully awakened the sleepy little town. The relatively flat land of Dotsero became the place where tracks that would carry passengers and freight through the Rocky Mountains, finally connected to an iron bridge, set upon two stone pillars, that spanned the Colorado River. It was therefore, a great day for the residents of Dotsero when they could transport their cinderblocks by rail rather than horse-drawn wagon.

Laying rails in a canyon that had a sheer rock wall on one side, and steep cliffs that dropped into the mighty Colorado River on the other, was difficult at best. Where it was wide enough, the tracks ran alongside a narrow dirt road, and where it was not, the men used dynamite to blast away sections of the rock wall. In case of injuries, the D&RG kept a relief train stationed at the other end of the canyon at Glenwood Springs to facilitate an urgent rescue. It consisted of a locomotive, a coal car, and one chair car, the seats of which could be converted into beds.

Because it was necessary for trains going one direction to safely avoid those going the opposite way, the railroad built two sections of parallel side tracks called sidings. The first was beside the town of Dotsero and the second, a short five minutes further west of the Glenwood Canyon entry.

Naturally, one of the first things the railroad did was to turn the two-room stagecoach station into a depot, complete with an agent capable of sending and receiving Morse Code telegrams. With the railroad tracks came poles set at specific intervals, both to the east and the west, that held the wire upon which the telegrams were relayed from one depot to another.

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 Author’s note:

In reading our family history, my grandmother spoke of being in a terrible head on train wreck. At the time, she was pregnant and as a result lost her unborn baby in 1909. Grandmother Martha Mary McClurg did not elaborate on the wreck, but the one at Dotsero is the only one I could find in that time period. The two little girls with her would have been my Aunt Nedra and my mother.

I found four different accounts of the Dotsero train wreck, all inconsistent with the others. For example, one lists a caboose at the last car on the passenger train while another says it was an observation car. One article mentions the jackknifed coal cars and another does not. For that reason, I have listed my research material below.

 

Eyewitness Accouunt, Gendisasters.com

Mountains, Men & Memories: Death and Destruction in Dotsero, by Kathey Heicher

Dotsero, Co, Train Wreck, killed & injured Gendisasters.com

Old Grand Junction Train Station - Colorado Preservation, Inc.

Wicked Western Colorado: Mayhem, Mischief & Murder in Colorado, by D. A. Brocket

1909 price of things, Morris County Library

 Transportation Facts from 1909 - Roanoke Public Library

Glossary of rail Transportation Terms - Wikipedia

Interesting pictures of Dotsero History - Eagle Valley Library District


 

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