The following is a reproduction of an article written by Tim O’Neil and published in the Post Dispatch in 2012

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (St. Louis Post Dispatch)- On Nov. 1, 1855, the Pacific Railroad’s first train to Jefferson City left downtown bearing 600 prominent citizens.

“Some uneasiness has been expressed as to the safety of the road,” the morning Missouri Republican newspaper noted. “But this, we are told, is uncalled for.”

The railroad was a powerful expression of the city’s aspirations. Led by U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, St. Louis promoted itself vigorously as the starting point for a transcontinental railroad. Incorporators named the railroad for their ocean objective.

 Construction began in 1851. The line reached Kirkwood in 1853 and Jefferson City two years later. Its bridge over the Gasconade River, eight miles west of Hermann, wasn’t finished, but builders bolstered it with temporary trestle.

Thomas O’Sullivan, chief engineer, signed invitations for the guests on the first train. Among them was Henry Chouteau of the city’s founding family. Music and speechmaking preceded the departure at 9 a.m. of the locomotive “Missouri” and 14 cars from the Seventh Street station, south of today’s Busch Stadium. In Jefferson City, another big crowd awaited the celebratory banquet.

Rain fell harder as the train chugged westward. O’Sullivan pondered stopping to check the Gasconade bridge, but a gravel-hauling train had used it the day before. He was in the cab at 1:30 p.m. as the locomotive moved onto the first span at 12 mph.

The trestle shuddered and collapsed. The locomotive plunged 30 feet into mud, pulling with it all but one of the passenger cars in staccato collisions and shattering wood.

30 people died and hundreds more injured when the newly built Gasconade Bridge collapsed under the weight of a passenger train.

Among the 30 dead or dying were O’Sullivan and Chouteau. Seventy others were seriously hurt. A conductor ran to Hermann for help, but the storm disabled the telegraph. The first vague word of something bad at the Gasconade didn’t reach St. Louis until 8 p.m.

A Pacific train reached Jefferson City without fanfare four months later, but St. Louis’ dream was dashed.

 Chicago interests opened a bridge across the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Ill., in April 1856. The Pacific didn’t reach Kansas City until after the Civil War.

In 1869, the Golden Spike in Utah completed the transcontinental railroad from San Francisco to Chicago.

The Pacific was renamed the Missouri Pacific in 1867 and, in 1982, rolled into the Union Pacific.

Ten years ago, a Union Pacific crew digging beneath today’s Gasconade bridge unearthed an old railroad wheel. It had been forged in 1854.

Complete List of the Dead

A. L. CHAPPELL, father of J. T. Chappell
S. BEST, Fireman
PATRICK BARRY, Wood-passer.
T. J. MOTT, Representative of Dunklin county.
THOS. S. O’SULLIVAN, Chief Engineer
R. C. YOSTI, (firm of Shields & Yosti)
Capt. C. CASE

J. A. ROSS, firm of Ross & Gillum
____ ATHEY, late Assessor of city.
JOSEPH HARRIS, of St. Louis county
E. B. JEFFREES, Rep. of Franklin county
Mr. McCULLOCH, of Dunklin
One body, left at the Gasconade
One body, identified at Hermann – name unknown


Frank Lane, has leg broken
James Mollery, not seriously hurt
D.H. Armstrong, right arm broken
Capt. Connelly, right leg injured
Wilson Primm, bruised about the head
John Schuetze, not seriously hurt
Edward Colston, badly cut on head
S.J. Levi, bruised about face
L.A.Beneist, leg hurt
Judge Thomas, of Bridgeton, face injured
Jno. J. Hoppe, face cut
Wayman Crow, leg bruised
Peter Oshman, badly bruised
Mr. Dyson, firm of Taylor & Dyson, lower jaw broken, and otherwise badly injured
John C. Ivory, much cut and bruised
Wm. Lindsey, shoulder out of joint
John K. Field, firm of Beardsley & Field. This gentleman went out the day after the accident, having heard that his brother was seriously injured at the Gasconade Bridge. He failed to get across Boeuff Creek before the bridge there was washed away. Afterwards, he crossed the river, took a hand car, and was at work on it, when his coat was caught in the wheel and he was thrown out. The wheel passed over him, doing him very serious injury, principally about the face.
W.H. Tucker, the engineer on the locomotive, had his legs badly bruised, but will get well.
W. D’Œnch, right arm broken
Julius Bush, face cut badly
John Neindenhofer, face bruised
James McDermott, leg broken

Names of passengers below were taken from Daily Missouri Republican, published in St. Louis, MO, on the front page, dated Monday, November 5, 1855. The newspaper had first reported a list of dead and injured on November 2, but over the coming days revised its list as new information came in. Copy of this newspaper can be accessed from: