Horrific train wreck: Four lives lost; 4 Missouri families forever altered
This photo of the actual steam engine accident of Sept.23, 1907, was published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch Sept. 29, 1907. Newspapers.com
This steam engine is representative of the engines used in this part of the country at the turn of the century. Steve Chou Collection
Thomas O’Donnell was Marion County coroner at the time of the murder/suicide of three Hannibal residents in December 1907. One of the victims was Pearl Wilkinson, the estranged wife of Brakeman C.P. Wilkinson, who was killed in the horrific rail accident near Moberly on Sept. 23, 1907. Palmyra Spectator, July 22, 1908. Newspapers.com
Charles P. Wilkinson, killed in the wreck between two M.T.&T. steam engines on Sept. 23, 1907, is buried at Clarks Chapel Cemetery, New Franklin, Howard County, Mo. Find A Grave photo by Mark Frazier.
This is the second installment describing a fatal wreck on the M.T.&K. railroad lines near Moberly, Mo., at 6:30 a.m. Sept. 23, 1907.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Four families were changed forever in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 1907, when two M.K.&T. steam engines collided head on at Pickle Dish curve, two miles east of Moberly.
Four men died – each in the prime of his life.
* C.E. Winegar, engineer, approximate age 40. Profiled in the Jan. 18, 2020 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post, left behind a wife, Eliza, and two teen-aged sons.
* Harvey Bledsoe, engineer, approximate age 36. Profiled in the Jan. 18, 2020 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post, he left behind his wife, Nettie. They had no children.
This week, meet the other two trainmen who lost their lives.
William Wesley Schroder, 35, the fireman on the eastbound Train 444, left a widow, Minnie Mary Foster Schroeder, and three young children, Roy Schroder, about 10; Mildred Schroder, 6; and John R. Schroder, about 3.
Ironically, Willie had only recently hired on with the M.K&T., making just a few trips before the fateful accident. He was working as a fireman for Harvey Bledsoe, on engine 517, en route from New Franklin Junction to Hannibal. Speculation is that neither Bledsoe nor Schroder saw the oncoming train, which they met on a curve. Both men were still in the engine when their bodies were recovered, according to newspaper accounts of the day.
Prior to the accident, at the turn of the 20TH century, Willie, along with two of his brothers, lived in Springfield, Ill., where the three worked for the street railroad company. Willie was a conductor.
Circa 1907, Willie left Springfield, bringing his family back to his native Hannibal – where his wife also had family ties – and took at job with the M.K.&T. Railroad as a fireman.
(Those who are familiar with Hannibal’s past will recognize Willie’s son, John R. (Jack) Schroder, as a long-time gas station owner in Hannibal, and the town’s mayor from 1954-57.)
Willie Schroder was born in 1873, the son of John Daniel (J.D.) Schroder, a farmer at Eldorado, McDonough County, Ill., and Sarah Schroder.
J.D., his wife Sarah, along with their son Willie, moved to Hannibal during the 1880s, where J.D. first worked as a carpenter, and later operated a business at 227 Market St., selling new and second hand goods, fish and game. They lived at 325 Chestnut. In 1894, son Willie was working as a bookbinder for Standard Printing Co.
Willie Schroder married Minnie Foster of Hannibal – (perhaps the oldest) daughter of Frank and Minnie Foster, 508 Chestnut - in April 1897.
At the time of the train wreck, Willie’s inlaws, Frank and Minnie Foster, were living at 107 Grace. Also living there were their unmarried adult children, Jennie, Frank, Inez, Ernest, Harry, Enid and Clyde Foster. Census records suggest that after Willie’s death, his two young sons came to live with the Fosters in Hannibal, while Willie’s daughter, Mildred, moved back to Springfield, Ill., with her widowed mother.
During the early 1920s, Foster daughter, Jennie, married Solomon Joseph, owner of Hannibal Mercantile, By 1922, when Willie’s son, Jack, was 18, the combined members of the Foster/Solomon Joseph/Schroder family were living at 521 Bird Street, and members of the family continued to live in that house for more than 30 years. Today the house at 521 Bird is known as the Belvedere Inn bed and breakfast, owned by Bob and Pat Berg Yapp.
Jack Schroder’s paternal grandparents, J.D. and Sarah Schroder, moved from Hannibal to a farm near Palmyra, and J.D. gained the status as one of the most prominent farmers in Marion County. J.D. Schroder died in February 1922 at the age of 76. He was survived by his wife, and three of his five sons, Ross, of Springfield, Ill., George of Chicago and David Schroder of Hannibal.
Minnie Foster settled with the M.K.&T Railroad for $5,000.
Jack (John R.) Schroder died May 11, 1997, at Hannibal, at the age of 92. He is buried at Grand View Burial Park, Ralls County, Mo.
Mildred Schroder Pruitt died in 1990 at Fairfax, Virginia, at the age of 88.
Roy Schroder died Aug. 31, 1949, in San Juan Puerto Rico, about the age of 51.
Charles R. Wilkinson
is fourth train fatality
Charles R. Wilkinson was a brakeman on train 444 with Harvey Bledsoe and Will Schroder.
Charles Wilkinson married Pearl Hanson of Hannibal two years prior to the accident, on Sept. 5, 1905, at Fayette, Mo. At the time of the fatal train accident, Charles and Pearl were separated, but still married. Charles was reportedly living with his widowed mother, providing for her support.
Despite her separation from her husband, Pearl Henson Wilkinson stepped forward to file a $10,000 claim against the railroad following his death. She reportedly settled for much less. Her attorney took a handsome share of her proceeds, leaving her with a reported $1,000.
At the time, a man with whom she had been romantically involved before her marriage to Wilkinson – Isaac Wilcox – was back in good graces with Pearl, and claimed that he should receive a share of the money. But Pearl refused. Instead, a newspaper account reported she paid $650 for a house on St. Mary’s Avenue for her mother, Mrs. Augusta Neff, and kept the rest for herself.
On Dec. 9, 1907, Pearl was fixing up a house in the 200 block of North Street, Hannibal, which she had rented from Louis Leitz, putting down carpets and arranging furniture. At 6 p.m., Pearl had dinner at the Leitz home, located at 210 North St., Hannibal, then left to cross the yard to her new rental property.
But before she could reach her new home, a single gun shot rang out, and she dropped to the ground. Witnesses at the scene reported that Pearl’s brother, Archie (Cotton) Hanson, apparently grabbled a stove poker in order to protect his sister. Two shots were fired at Cotton Hanson, claiming another victim. He died still clenching the poker stick in his right hand.
Within seconds, Isaac Wilcox put the gun to his own head, the first shot deflecting, but the second shot, to his temple, proved fatal.
The newspapers of the day described the murder scene as among the bloodiest in the town’s history.
Charles P. Wilkinson is buried at Clarks Chapel Cemetery, New Franklin, in Howard County, Mo. He was 27 at the time of his death.
Next week: What caused the fatal wreck?
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) 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 www.maryloumontgomery.com