Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Iowa: Where Does the West Begin? By Zina Abbott

Ever since the founding of the United States of America, the land considered the West has steadily moved farther west. For the sake of “Western” novels, some say the West is anything west of the Mississippi River. Others say it is west of the Missouri River. The state of Iowa is smack-dab between those two rivers. In fact, the Missouri and Mississippi form its western and eastern borders.

Map of when Native American ceded their land to the United States

Iowa became part of the United States of America after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, but uncontested U.S. control over what is now Iowa occurred only after the War of 1812 and after a series of treaties eliminated Indian claims on the state. The tribes known to inhabit Iowa in 1804 were the Sauk (Sac) and Meskwaki (Fox) on the eastern edge of Iowa along the Mississippi; the Ioway along the bank of the Des Moines River; the Oto, Missouri, and Omaha along the Missouri River, and the Sioux in the Northern and Western parts of the State. Before white settlement could begin, agreements to remove these tribes from their land began. The early to mid-nineteenth century saw immigration into Iowa of the Potawatomi and Winnebago, followed by the emigration from Iowa of nearly all Native Americans.

Beginning in the 1830s Euro-American settlements appeared in the Iowa Territory. By 1850, there were over 190 thousand people living in Iowa. Nearly 90% of the population at this time was from America, with Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania contributing the most settlers. Although most immigration from other parts of the world would come later, in 1850 the immigrant groups based on size were as follows: those from Germany were the largest, followed by the Irish, then those from England, Canada, the Netherlands, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Czechoslovakia. Most settlement took place in the southern and eastern counties, often near rivers, and close to rail lines. The factors that prompted settlement in Iowa included  the completion of railroads to the Mississippi, the advertising of Iowa lands by railroad and steamship companies, the publication of favorable guides and articles, drought in the Ohio Valley, and a cholera epidemic in other states.

 First Iowa School House

Iowa was a state many immigrant groups passed through on their way farther west. In 1846-48, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fleeing persecution in Illinois crossed the Mississippi and strung their camps out across southern Iowa. Although it was officially a state, it was still largely unsettled country—the West. Some of my ancestors, primarily from England, were part of the wave of immigrants who had joined that church while in Europe and either rode the railroad to the westernmost terminals, or sailed up the Mississippi River in steamboats until they reached Iowa. From there, they crossed in covered wagons until they reached Council Bluffs on the Iowa side of the Missouri River and Florence on the Nebraska side of the river to continue their journey west. One of my family lines with the surname of England crossed Iowa in the Martin Handcart Company, but did not continue farther west with that same company after reaching Florence, Nebraska (Another story for another time).

Iowa became a state in 1846. The first state capitol was Iowa City on the Iowa River. Iowa City had been the third capitol of Iowa Territory and the first capitol of the new state. The cornerstone of the Old Capitol Building was placed on July 4, 1840. In 1842, it housed the Fifth Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa and then became the first capitol building of the State of Iowa on December 28, 1846.

Iowa City 1854

The University of Iowa was founded on February 25, 1847, just 59 days after Iowa was admitted to the Union. The Constitution of the State of Iowa refers to a State University to be established in Iowa City "without branches at any other place." The original campus consisted of the Iowa Old Capitol Building and ten acres.

In 1855, the first classes of the State University of Iowa were held in the Iowa City Old Capitol Building. This university became the first public university in the United States to admit men and women on an equal basis. (Is there any doubt in your mind why I chose to feature this university in a few of my books?) In addition, Iowa was the world's first university to accept creative work in theater, writing, music, and art on an equal basis with academic research.

When the capitol of Iowa was moved to Des Moines in 1857 because it was determined the city was more centrally located, the Old Capitol Building became the first permanent "home" of the University, it became a permanent part of the University of Iowa at Iowa City and is still there today. It can be seen on the 1868 Birdseye Map of Iowa City in the center of two other buildings that were part of the university at that time.

By 1860, almost the entire state was settled and farmed by Euro-Americans. Subsistence frontier farming was replaced by commodity farming after the construction of railroad networks in the 1850s and 1860s. 

The charge of the First Iowa Regiment, with General Lyon at its head at the Battle of Wilson's Creek

When it came to the American Civil War, Iowa contributed a disproportionately larger number of young men to fight as soldiers. For example, last year, I wrote several books about the Kansas frontier and Fort Ellsworth, which was established by a volunteer unit from Iowa led by Lieutenant Ellsworth. During my research for several books, I continually ran into military units comprised of Iowa Volunteers. Afterward their military obligations were complete—both for fighting the Civil War and the frontier wars with Native Americans that followed, these former soldiers returned to Iowa to help transform the state into an agricultural powerhouse.

1881 Railroad map for Iowa

Especially as the railroads were built across Iowa, this state supplied a great deal of food to the rest of the nation. This 1881 railroad map shows the number of east-west rail lines that crossed Iowa.

Iowa is part of the West. If nothing else, along with being a breadbasket for the East, this state should be considered one of the great gateways to the West.


My most recently published book, Figgy Pudding by Francine, includes several chapters set in Iowa City. My hero is a professor there at the university. Whether or not the university had an astronomy department, I don’t know. In my books, it did. To find the book description and link with purchase options, please CLICK HERE.









Sunday, November 28, 2021


 We often romanticize the Old West, or any era of time, even though we know living in a certain day and age wasn't anywhere as glamorous as we want to believe. Why is that, I wonder? Because sometimes we need a break from our own reality? Or is it a "grass is greener on the other side" kind of thing?

I'll leave the philosophizing to you, but one I know for sure - for a woman, living in the 1800s wasn't nearly as wonderful as we kid ourselves into thinking. First and foremost, women had few choices. They couldn't own property except in special circumstances like homesteading, etc., they couldn't vote, sometimes they had their fathers arrange marriages for them to a man not of their choosing, and then once they did marry, their work pile doubled, then quickly quadrupled when babies came along, as they inevitably did.

That isn't to say this way of life wasn't a welcome one. The women were used to these situations, and being the nurturers that God made them, they found joy in starting families of their own and caring for their loved ones. But because of the societal rules of the day, women who didn't find husbands right away were faced with bleak futures. Yes, there were exceptions such as suffragettes, or women who decided to pursue academic interests, but most single young ladies during this time were quickly labeled as "spinsters" if the men of their station didn't show an interest in them. And if a single woman's father died, her care fell on the her brother's shoulders until she found a husband. Of course, other less favorable scenarios existed, but I don't like to think of those.



The heroine in a sweet romance I'm writing in the Broad Street Boarding House multi-author series is faced with such a dilemma. In Grace's Gift, Grace Lancaster's parents have left her older brother, Howard, to finish raising her after they die from illness. Grace loves her brother and appreciates what he's done for her, but living with him and caring for him, cooking and cleaning, etc., have become routine. She doesn't even realize that it is time for her to think beyond the little house they live in, or consider the possibility that Howard might want to find a bride of his own--until she accidentally interrupts a bit of courting Howard and a woman in town are engaging in.


That's when Grace decides to find a husband for herself. Which leads her to Denver, Colorado, where spinster sisters Sophia and Sybil Cartwright own a boarding house. (Their father, first a sea captain and then an entrepreneur in the West, left them enough money when he died for them to start a business venture of their own.) It isn't just any boarding house, however. It's rumored that females who stay in the Cartwright sisters' establishment (there are no male boarders allowed) become brides, usually to a man who is staying at the Palmers' boarding house next door. Many a couple have courted at the gate that connects the two lots. Grace, however, won't find her husband at the Palmers' establishment. Her future husband is hiding in the shadows of his more flamboyant cousin--the man whom Grace has already agreed to marry.

Grace's Gift releases on January 11, 2022. I'm enjoying writing this story so much! The characters are fun, and there's a fair amount of intrigue on the part of Grace's betrothed, Phineas Northcott. Can Ephraim Kempton help Grace to see the truth about Phineas before it's too late, or will she resent him interfering in what should be the happiest event in her life?

Although this book isn't available as a pre-order, I'd like to invite you to take a look at the other books in this series. Here is the series link, and two more books, Callie's Calamity and Mary Hannah's Misgivings, released yesterday. I'm grateful to have been asked to contribute to this wonderful series and be able to work with such talented authors!

Friday, November 26, 2021


By Caroline Clemmons

Francis Marion Smith may not be a household name, but you’ll recognize his contribution—Borax, which also became one of his nicknames along with Frank and the Borax King. He was born on February 2, 1846 in Richmond, Wisconsin. He graduated from Milton College in Wisconsin. The West called to him and he left home at the age of twenty-one. He traveled through Idaho, California, and Nevada, where he spent considerable time in mining. He settled for a while in Nevada. Another person mentioned in this article is his first wife, Mary “Mollie” Rebecca Smith, who also made contributions, and Frank's second wife, Evelyn Kate Ellis Smith, who continued the legacy.

Francis "Frank" Smith

In the late 1860s, Frank Smith was working under a contract with several ore mills near Columbus, Nevada, to locate and provide timber for mining camps. At Teel’s Marsh, he discovered a rich deposit of borax.  He had samples assayed and learned the ore was higher than any other known sources of borax. He staked several claims and launched his career as a borax miner.

Early partners were his brother Julius and two Storey brothers. They formed the Smith and Storey Brothers Borax Company. The four men established a borax works at the edge of the marsh to concentrate the borax crystals and separate them from dirt and other impurities. Later Frank Smith acquired the Storey brothers’ interest and the company name was changed to Smith Brothers Borax Company and later to Teel’s Marsh Borax Company. I wonder if the Storey brothers regretted selling. The Teel’s Marsh deposits soon became the world’s principal supply and remained so for many years.

Borax was first discovered in dry lake beds in Tibet and was imported via the Silk Road to the Arabian Peninsula in the 8th century. Frank Smith’s company brought borax to popularity with a variety of applications.

In 1875 there was an American financial depression. Even so, Frank Smith opened a retail store and office on New York’s Wall Street to expand the borax market. He advertised that borax would clean cashmere, cameos, and coral, keep milk and cream sweet, as well as prevent diphtheria, lung fever and kidney trouble. Gross exaggeration? His claims helped popularize borax as an additive.

Mary "Mollie" Smith

During this time, Frank Smith married Mary “Mollie” Wright of Brooklyn. In 1881, the couple moved to Oakland, California, where Frank invested in real estate. In 1884, Frank bought out Julius’ interests in their partnership. Frank never stopped operations at Teel’s Marsh, but developed interest in Death Valley, California. He worked with a renowned concrete engineer to design two new refineries for him. One was in West Alameda, California, and the other in Bayonne, New Jersey. The California refinery was recognized as the first structure of its kind built with reinforced concrete. (I am not ignoring the early Roman roads in Western Europe with their own type of reinforcement that are still usable today.)

In 1892, Frank and Mollie bought a summer home on Shelter Island, New York. Beginning with 42-acres that included a colonial-style home, they added to the house to give it 35 rooms. He purchased additional acreage until the home sat amid 435 acres. The Smiths called their new summer retreat Presdeleau. Just a tiny summer cabin get-away, right?

Presdeleau in 1900

In Oakland in 1895, Frank Smith and Frank Havens formed the Realty Syndicate. In addition to buying real estate, they acquired and consolidated small independent transit companies to create a system of streetcar lines and rail extensions to subdivisions the company was developing.

Also in 1895, Frank and Mollie completed a mansion in Oakland, California. Mollie oversaw the planning of a 42-room home on a 53-acre hilltop east of Lake Merritt off of Park Boulevard. Called Arbor Villa, the house had a ballroom and a bowling alley. Mollie and Frank often opened both their homes for charity-raising events. In 1896, Mollie hired Evelyn Kate Ellis, one of the girls she had helped through her charity work, as her personal assistant.

Arbor Villa

Ah, the life of the rich and famous! From June through October, the family with their Chinese staff and maids would board their private railroad car and an additional Pullman at Oakland and travel to Jersey City. From their they transferred to the Smith’s personal steam yacht and traveled down Long Island Sound to Smith’s Cove, where they stepped ashore at Presdeleau. Their girls, including Charlotte Sperry who they adopted in 1895, Florence Nightingale, and Mollie’s secretary Kate Ellis.

In the meantime, Mollie was still actively pursuing her charity work for orphaned girls and wished to expand. Frank gave her 30 acres of land, which she converted into the Mary R. Smith Trust and built thirteen cottages to house orphaned girls. Governed by a board of trustees by the women of the First Congregational Church, the first cottages were built in 1901. The cottages housed girls from the ages of four to twenty-five in need of a home, and girls were allowed to stay as long as necessary. Each cottage had a house mother selected by Mollie. Girls were taught to make most of their own clothes and help with housework. They attended public schools and many attended college.

Mollie died of a stroke on December 31, 1905. A year and a half later, Frank married Evelyn Kate Ellis, who had been Mollie’s secretary. Molly had requested Frank marry Evelyn if she preceded him in death. Over the next six years, the couple had four children. I wonder how Evelyn felt about the marriage that was Mollie’s legacy.

Evelyn Kate Ellis Smith

By 1928, Frank began to suffer a series of small strokes and was forced to retire. His manager was John Sherman, who took over—aided by Evelyn and her younger brother, George C. Ellis. Frank and Evelyn moved from their Oakland mansion to a smaller home across Lake Merritt in the Adams Point neighborhood. By 1930, Frank had lost the ability to speak, though his mind appeared clear. On August 27, 1931, Frank died and is buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.

Frank and Evelyn and children

In 1932, Evelyn took over as president of West End Chemical. Several years later, she turned it over to her brother, George. When the State of California took over providing for orphans, the funds in the Mary R. Smith Trust were redirected toward providing nursing education for qualified young women. Evelyn died in California in October 2002.

How man of you know what 20 Mule Team Borax is? I remember being fascinated by an old television commercial showing a large wagon pulled by twenty mule teams, the method by which borax was originally hauled out of the California and Nevada deserts. I think the show was “Death Valley Days”, but I’m not certain. I couldn’t imagine anything heavy enough to warrant that many animals. Recently, my husband found a fascinating YouTube video featuring a man who built such a wagon and the harnesses for that many animals. That made me wonder how much demand there is for borax and what it’s used for besides adding to older-style laundry detergent.

In 1877, Frank Smith founded the settlement of Marietta, Nevada, from which he shipped borax in a 30-ton load using two large wagons and a third wagon for food and water drawn by a 24-mule team for the 160 mile trip across the Great Basin Desert. The trip ended at Wadsworth, Nevada, where the nearest Central Pacific Railroad siding was located.

20-mule team in Death Valley

According to Wikipedia:

"The twenty-mule-team wagons were designed to carry 10 short tons (9.1 t) of borax ore at a time. The rear wheels measured seven feet (2.1 m) high, with tires made of 1-inch-thick (25 mm) iron. The wagon beds measured 16 feet (4.9 m) long and were 6 feet (1.8 m) deep; constructed of solid oak, they weighed 7,800 pounds (3,500 kg) empty; when loaded with ore, the total weight of the mule train was 73,200 pounds (33,200 kg; 36.6 short tons).

The first wagon was the trailer, the second was "the tender" or the "back action", and the tank wagon brought up the rear.

With the mules, the caravan stretched over 180 feet (55 m). Due to their rugged construction, no wagon ever broke down in transit on the desert.

A 1,200-US-gallon (4,500 l) water tank was added to supply the mules with water en route. There were water barrels on the wagons for the teamster and the swamper. Water supplies were refilled at springs along the way, as it was not possible to carry enough water for the entire trip. The tank water was used at dry camps and water stops.

The June 1940 issue of Desert Magazine confirms that the primary water tank was 1200 U.S. gallons. This detail is also given in "The History Behind the Scale Model".

An efficient system of dispersing feed and water along the road was put in use. Teams outbound from Mojave, pulling empty wagons, hauled their own feed and supplies, which were dropped off at successive camps as the outfit traveled. The supplies would be on hand to use when a loaded wagon came back the other way, and no payload space was wasted. There was one stretch of road where a 500-US-gallon (1,900 l) wagon was added to take water to a dry camp for the team that would be coming from the opposite direction. The arriving team would use the water and take the empty tank back to the spring on their haul the next day, ready for re-filling and staging by the next outbound outfit.

The teams hauled more than 20 million pounds (9,100 t) of borax out of Death Valley in the six years of the operation. Pacific Coast Borax began shipping their borax by train in 1898."

Display at the Harmony Works Desert Museum

Borax is a component of many detergents, cosmetics and enamel glazes. Additional uses include to make buffer solutions in biochemistry, as a fire retardant, in an anti-fungal compound, in manufacture of fiberglass, as a flux in metallurgy, neutron-capture shields for radioactive sources, a texturing agent in cooking, a cross-linking agent in Slime, as an alkali in photographic developers, and as a precursor for other boron compounds.

Warning! Borox is also an insecticide along with boric acid. Because our family has immune problems, we have to avoid insecticide sprays. We use boric acid in hidden places to discourage bugs which are abundant in the South. CAREFUL! Don’t use this where pets (especially cats) can get it on their pads and fur because it’s harmful when they lick it clean and ingest it!

Borax is banned in foods in most countries but is found in noodles from China and Indonesia—even though those countries have the ban. There are mixed reports of the danger. Some say prolonged ingestion causes liver cancer, others say it is safe. 

Borax, also known as sodiumborate, sodium tetroborate, and disodium tetraborate is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid. Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft, colorless crystals that dissolve in water. Commercially sold borax is partially dehydtrated.


Here you have examples of how men and women of great wealth have made life better for the rest of us. Through his hard work, clever investments, ingenuity and philanthropy, Frank Marion Smith aided our life in a myriad of ways. Mary Rebecca “Mollie” Smith aided many lives through her charitable work and Evelyn Ellis Smith continued that mission.







Wednesday, November 24, 2021

THANKSGIVING AND PRAYER: a look at the origin by Marisa Masterson

 Thanksgiving Day. I think of many things on that day--food, shopping, parades--but I rarely connect it with prayer. Yet, the roots of the holiday go back to that very thing.

William Bradford, the Plymouth colony's first governor, declared a religious feast after a successful corn harvest. The focus, as I found in research, was to give thanks to God for their very survival. Bradford's idea for this feast was inpsired by the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles, a time when the people refrained from work and recited the great deeds of the Lord. While the Pilgrim feast wasn't a day of fasting as Bradford called for at other times in Plymouth, the Puritan Thanksgiving undoubtedly included prayer.

The harvest observance remained relatively unknown until the American Civil War. Bloody and decisive, the Battle of Gettysburg was a victory for Union forces. After it, Lincoln called for the nation to celebrate Thanksgiving Day on November 26 of that year, 1863.

Excerpt from Abraham Lincoln's 1863 proclamation--

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

Notice that Lincoln refers to it as a day of prayer. Earlier that year, he had signed a proclamation for a national day of prayer and fasting. Using a holiday known only in New England, he was able to once more that year call for a day of prayer. And he recommends what the citizens of the Union should pray for.

Thanksgiving Day, the day I know, comes about later. In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt establishes a specific day for Thanksgiving each year. Why? He wanted to boost sales for the Christmas buying season. It seems to me that our modern, hedonistic holiday traces back to his decision. But the true roots of the holiday, well, those are worth remembering.

ON SALE for a limited time! A thank you to my readers.

Monday, November 22, 2021

I Am Grateful For ...

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

This month of November, in honor of National Native Heritage Month, I've been sharing my fascination with the cultures of the Indigenous Peoples. Although I'm not an Indigenous person, I've a great respect for what they have left us and what they still can offer to the world.

This month also is Thanksgiving and it seems appropriate to look at what these people offered that I am grateful for. 

Their music: Visit YouTube and you will find music that both inspires and inhabits you. I personally love the flute music


Their Art: From the Petroglyphs, pottery, to their beaded clothing, there is little that doesn't inspire me.

Image from en-Wikipedia

Their Wisdom: I have been grateful to those who've shared what that can of their culture and the wisdom they grew up with.

Their Stories: Stories are what connect us. The stories that have been shared help me to understand more of who they are. It's not for me to change anything about them, but to honor who they are.

Photo property of the Author

Here are links to the other November posts I've written on National Native Heritage Month:




Tuesday, November 16, 2021

A Widow's Cause: Bringing Thanksgiving to Victorian America by Jo-Ann Roberts


During most of the 19th century, Thanksgiving was not an official holiday. Admittedly, it had its roots in the New England states, and was widely celebrated there and into the mid-West. The actual date of the holiday was left to individual states and territories. It could vary widely from September through December, but mostly celebrated in November after the harvest.

While the idea of celebrating a good harvest was an old one, it took a Victorian lady to give it its voice. Specifically, the editor of a highly popular magazine of the times, Godey's Lady's Book, Sarah Josepha Hale. 

Suddenly finding herself a widow and single mother with children to support--including a brand-new baby--Sarah wrote a book, Northwood. Its success led to a job offer for the "editorship" of a new "ladies" magazine, turning Godey's into one of the most important periodicals in 19th century America. Though it is now remembered primarily for its fashion plates, crafts, and household tidbits, it covered social issues as well.
Year after year, Godey's Lady's Book published the same plea. Each year the campaign brought new success. By 1851, 29 out of 31 states celebrated a day of Thanksgiving. However, not on the same day so she continued to insist the holiday be celebrated on the exact same day. 

Having thoroughly thought it out, she suggested the last Thursday in November so that "the telegraph of human happiness would move every heart to gladness simultaneously." To further her cause for a unified day of giving thanks, she pointed out that farm labor was done for the season and the election cycle was over.
Below is the cover of Godey's Lady's Book and the original plea from 1847.

“OUR HOLIDAYS.—We have but two that we can call entirely national. The New Year is a holiday to all the world, and Christmas to all Christians—but the “Fourth of July” and “Thanksgiving Day” can only be enjoyed by Americans. The annual observance of Thanksgiving Day was, to be sure, mostly confined to the New England States, till within a few years. We are glad to see that this good old puritan custom is becoming popular through the Union…Would that the next Thanksgiving might be observed in all the states on the same day. Then, though the members of the same family might be too far separated to meet around one festival board, they would have the gratification of knowing that all were enjoying the blessing of the day…

Despite her claims, she had not achieved the ultimate endorsement; a proclamation from the President. In 1861, with civil war looming, she focused on national unity as her strongest selling point. 

Finally, under these conditions and the stress of considerable loss of life, a devastated Southern economy, and public support for the holiday, President Abraham Lincoln endorsed and proclaimed "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelt in the heavens." Furthermore, he stated, Americans should "fervently implore" blessings from the Almighty to "heal the wounds of the nations, and to restore it...to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union."

Thanksgiving in a Civil War camp

Successive presidents continued the tradition and proclaimed a yearly Thanksgiving at the end of every November.  Still not satisfied, Hale's magazine urged Congress to recognize the holiday. Unfortunately, she didn't live to see the Congressional proclamation of the Thanksgiving story (which finally took place in 1941), but by the 1870's Thanksgiving was already a part of America's culture.

The national holiday has become just what Sarah Josepha Hale envisioned: a celebration of home and hearth and the blessings for which we are grateful.

 Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 12, 2021

The Crash at Crush by Bea Tifton


A publicity stunt in Texas went terribly wrong on September 15, 1896. The general passenger agent for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, William Crush, had a brainstorm to increase ticket sales. He proposed that the company stage a train wreck. The railroad had recently replaced its 30 ton engines with newer 60 ton engines. Two of the surplus 30 ton engines could be used in the crash. 

A similar stunt had been executed near Columbus, Ohio on May 30, 1896 with great success.

 Even though the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad didn’t charge an admission fee, passengers buying tickets to and from the crash site resulted in a big profit for the railroad. 

The event took place 14 miles north of Waco and three miles south of the town of West.  In preparation, the railroad had two water wells drilled and erected a Ringling Brothers Circus tent. They built a grandstand, three speakers’ stands, a platform for reporters, two telegraph offices, and a train depot with a huge sign that designated the spot as Crush, Texas.  So that there was no chance of a collision on the main tracks, four miles of a separate track were built for the collision. 

As a safety precaution, the railroad engineers conducted a speed test to determine the point

of collision. The engineers told Crush that his idea was safe because the train boilers on the steam engines were not likely to explode even on a high speed crash because they were specifically designed to resist ruptures.

At 5:00 p.m. the trains rolled out for photographs. Crush gave the signal and the engineers and crew started the trains and then jumped off. The engines rumbled toward each other emitting whistles as they went. Torpedos had been placed on the track so they exploded constantly as the trains rode over them. Each train was going 45 miles per hour when the engines collided. 

There was a large explosion and debris flew everywhere. The crowd panicked as people began to run in every direction. Some people ran to grab the wooden remains on the track as souvenirs. One photographer from Waco lost his eye and two people were killed while six others were seriously injured. 

Stories of the collision and subsequent explosion made headlines all over the country. Crush was fired and rehired the next day. He went on to work for the railroad before he retired after sixty years with the company. The railroad settled lawsuits  filed by the victims’ families and the photographer. Several train collisions by other railroads were conducted for years to come. 

The Texas born ragtime musician Scott Joplin was performing near Crush at the time of the collision and was so struck by the event that he composed the “Great Crush Collision March” and dedicated it to the Missouri-Kansas-Railroad.

To listen to the composition:
Wikipedia "Crash at Crush"