Transportation History

July 6, 1881

In central Iowa, a potentially horrific passenger train wreck was averted thanks to a heroic teenage girl. The girl was 17-year-old Katherine Carroll “Kate” Shelley, who lived in that region of the Hawkeye State with her family.

Kate had been born in Ireland, and she and her family immigrated to the United States when she was only 18 months old. They ultimately settled near Honey Creek, a tributary of the Des Moines River, in Iowa’s Boone County. Kate’s father, who worked as foreman of a section crew building tracks for the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW), died in 1878. With her mother in bad health, Kate found herself serving as the de facto head of the household. Kate provided for her mother and siblings by planting and harvesting crops and also hunting for food.

Kate’s tenacity and strong sense of self-reliance were put to a severe…

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