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Pre-Civil War era rail conductor crushed between cars on siding

This is a small sketch map showing drainage and the major cities and towns in the Midwest. It includes railroad stations along a heavy distorted line representing the mail railroad line in Missouri, the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railway. This is an early example of the typical timetable map which was designed to place emphasis on specific routes. Library of Congress. From Appletons’ Illustrated Railway and Steam Navigation Guide, New York, 1863.


During the decade in which Daniel Farwell was born – the 1830s – the railroad industry evolved from an experimental testing of metal-on-metal as a means of transportation, to a reasonable substitute to man-made canals for transporting goods from developed areas to the newly settled portions of this country.

By 1860, a railway boom was under way in the United States, with rails viewed by capitalists and industrialists as a superior means of reaching the developing Western states than the previously heralded steamboats.

Daniel Farwell was born in 1838, a middle son in a large farming family living in Cattaraugus County, New York. While most of his siblings would remain close to their New England roots, by 1859 Daniel had ventured off to Hannibal, Mo., located as it was on the horizon of the New West. In February 1859, the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad made its first run between Missouri’s two rivers, the Mississippi and the Missouri. He took up railroading as a profession.

Acclimated to this type of work, he soon advanced in the ranks, achieving the coveted role of railroad conductor. The nation was on the brink of war, and Farwell’s profession put him in a key position to help the Union Army in its quest to preserve the Union.

Hannibal facilities

The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad’s switching yards and machine shops were located in the river bottoms below Hannibal’s famed Lover’s Leap.

Railroad enthusiast Archie Hayden explains: “In the beginning say 1859, the H&StJo provided a hotel and passenger house at the lower landing in South Hannibal. This facility accommodated both train and steamboat traffic. It was called the Railroad House or Hotel and was run by Mr Varney. By the time the Civil War was going on, the railroad had established a passenger house in the office of the Cruikshank Lumber Company at 3rd and Collier. A few years later they had moved this service to the lobby of the three-story hotel on the northwest corner of South Main and Collier. The 1871-72 Hannibal City Directory listed its name as Bluff City House and it was run by Joel Satterwaite. By the mid 1880s it was the Kettering Hotel and finally known as the Marion Hotel.”

Conductor’s role

The conductor was in charge of the train.

The trains of this early era and their crews were challenged by many obstacles, including bushwhackers who shot at passing trains during the Civil War years, guerrilla fighters who set railroad bridges afire during the conflict between the states, shifting rails, which had oftentimes been built upon gravel or dirt without the stabilization of railroad ties; and washouts, like the one discussed in the story of Frank Bradley, who drowned when his engine lunged into the raging waters of Minnow Branch on the last day of July, 1875.


Frank Bradley and Daniel Farwell were contemporaries from Hannibal’s earliest railroad days; in fact, Frank started working for the Hannibal and St. Joe as a switchmen under Daniel Farwell’s tutelage.

But their paths led them in different directions.

Bradley trained for his role as engineer for the H&StJo, and Farwell moved west, going to work as a conductor for the Kansas City, St. Joseph and Council Bluff railroad. Both men were well known and true rail pioneers.

The Atchison Champion, in its Oct. 6, 1874 edition, described Conductor Farwell as “one of the old timers whose history will be written up in nursery rhymes.” (At the time, Farwell was just 36 years old.)

Those associated with those early rail years deeply mourned Frank Bradley’s death in July 1875; but four months later, the suffering would begin anew. Daniel Farwell lost his life to a rail accident as well.

The accident

Newspaper accounts of the accident state that it occurred at East Atchison – also known as Winthrop, Mo., - across the Missouri River from Atchison, Kansas. Conductor Farwell’s train was on a side track, waiting for a St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern train to pass. A switch was turned in error, allowing the moving train to collide with the rear of Farwell’s train.

Farwell was in between the sleeper and coach cars at the time. Farwell was trapped in between the cars, the impact breaking both of his legs. He remained conscious as his coworkers cut him from his entrapment. He was taken to a nearby hotel, and his wife was summoned. Before she could arrive at his bedside, however, his life was extinguished.

Farwell’s body was returned to Hannibal for burial in Section G123, Riverside Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Christiana Kniffin Farwell, and their son, Leonard Guy Farwell, who was born in 1864.

Mrs. Farwell later married Dr. W.D. Foster, and in 1880, the family was living in Hannibal. The Fosters later moved to Kansas City, where Dr. Foster continued his medical practice.

Ironically, Leonard Farwell was killed in a train accident as well. It is believed that he was a lawyer at the time of his death, and the accident occurred at Morrison, Mo., (west of St. Louis) when he was struck by a Missouri Pacific train. He was 34 at the time of his death, and is buried next to his father in Riverside Cemetery.

Note: Paul Varney was proprietor of Railroad House, passenger depot, H&StJo Railroad: 1859 directory. Varney died at the age of 53, on Sept. 17, 1859, and is buried in Old Limits Lot 41, Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Thanks to Archie Hayden for his invaluable assistance with this story.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

Archie Hayden shares this period photo of a Kansas City, St. Joseph and Council Bluffs steam engine.

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