TRAIN WRECK AT DEPOSIT NY 1852
Letter submitted to dcnyhistory.org website by Rev. Chester N. Shew, February 2020
Deposit, February 18, 1852
Yesterday the dispatch came reporting the calamity which occurred to the train on which you started stating the fatality of two unfortunate persons & the hairbreadth escape of all who were in the car which was precipitated into the river, you being one is this car too though fortunately (as before) escaped with little injury. I tried to get Thaddeus Ward to go get the oxen, but as he could not go, went myself on my return met Harper & he told me that the train on which you were in had been thrown down a bank 20 feet into the river, but that you was not very badly injured. It gave a great deal of fright I assure you. But his saying you was but little injured at the windup of his story, removed my fearful suspicions & in a degree banished my momentary horror. You undoubtedly feel very grateful for your fortunate though narrow escape. I imagine the scene must have been heartrending & terrible to those who beheld it. But today there occurred here at the Depot the most terrible smash that has every occurred on the York and Erie. (New York and Erie CNS) It seems as the Mail Train was stopping at this station their usual time for dinner there was coming down to summit (Gulf Summit? CNS) fully close behind a heavy freight train & had got under such headway that the reverse of the engine had but little or no effect & from carelessness or something else the switch was not moved after parking of the Mail Train. At this moment the majority of the passengers were either taking dinner off elsewhere from the cars, the engineer and fireman of the Mail Train were at their dinner & the conductor (Mr. Maston being on the platform & the first to discover that an awful smash was inevitable gave alarm shouting at the top of his voice for all passengers to clear the cars then immediately with much presence of mind (knowing that the engineer was from his post) sprang upon the engine & in the instant gave it the whole head of steam & this being so sudden and powerful it detached the engine from the train, though it moved the cars sufficient to make the shock much less than as though the train had been at a dead stand, but this move was too late for the unfortunate ones who were in the hind car except for a few who were near the doors and jumped before the crash. As near as us ascertained there remained in the car at the time of the collision about six or seven & one Indian girl (Sa-Sa-Na CNS) who sang in concert with another sister & brother last evening at the Oquaga. ( reference is to the Oquaga House on Front Street in Deposit CNS) She was instantly killed awfully mangling her person breaking the top of her skull to atoms & throwing her brains in different directions. Another young lady who got on board at Great Bend was scalded in the most shocking manner. They telegraphed to her brother-in-law near the Bend whom she had been visiting also to her parents who reside in Orange County. From what is learned of her she is a young lady of respectable parents. Doc Gilbert says there is no chance for life, also an Irishman, residence Susquehanna, who they think is beyond recovery. Language is inadequate to express the appearance of the wreck. The engine run its whole length into the hind car tearing and sundering everything before it, the floors, seats windows were slivered finer than kindling wood. Oh! Oh! It was the awfulest scene that I ever witnessed & perfectly indescribable. Wm. Sand & his brother were in the car. His brother jumped from the hind end of the car in time to save himself & and Wm. Went in the saloon but could not get out before the smash. However he succeeded in getting out of the window & had one knee scalt slightly. What scalded them so severely was the boiler go all stove in & threw the water in every direction. This Bowles day to go down (The Engineer? CNS) & he succeeded in getting started with only one car & half filled at that about 3 o’clock over half the passengers have stayed over until tomorrow. I tell you it gave great alarm to passengers & the whole neighborhood too. I have just heard that the young lady who was so badly burned has expired. Hard fate & short notice. In relation to business matters little of importance has transpired since you left.. I went yesterday and got the oxen. Today Uncle U (sic) is drawing ice with them & they work well. Crisbee came down today & tried every method to have him trade the balance but could not succeed had to pay him the money. I think in appearance of matters that it was a good strike in getting the cattle as he owes considerable in other places. We heard the wood men are to be paid tomorrow. We have been doing rather moderate trade since you left. The cash small as usual.
A young fellow Miller who used to room with me at school called to see me last night & went west in the night train. Joe is gaining though very slow. He and Sal sends their respects. I should not have written you tonight had the accident not accured on the cars. But thinking it would be interesting to you concluded to inform you as definite as possible of the fatal disaster. We shall write you again soon & would like to hear from you very much as you was not very well when you started & got hurt besides. I presume you will find errors & some gross mistakes in this sheet but you must make some allowances as it was done in great haste.
Yours very respectfully
George I. Belden
Wm. S. Ford Esq.
PS We have the cellar in good shape again.
Death of SA-SA-NA Loft
On February 17, 1852 a passenger/mail train was parked on the siding at Deposit, NY at about midday. The train crew was taking their lunch in the station at that time and was about to continue their run. Some of the passengers had already boarded the cars and were setting down in the warm wood heated cars.
Unbeknown to the passengers already aboard, and possibly to the crew in the depot, a heavily loaded freight was headed down the mountain from the “Summit” (Gulf Summit, NY). Some person had failed to throw the switch on the siding that would have prevented any train on the main line from entering the siding where the doomed train was standing.
Fortunately for many who would have been on the train at the time they were instead having their lunch or taking care of final things before boarding. A Mr. Maston (The Conductor) was on the depot platform and noted the crash that was about to occur as the heavily laden freight was unable to brake or use the reverse of the engine in time to avoid what was about to become a terrible tragedy. Mr. Maston with quickness of mind jumped aboard the waiting engine and gave it a full head of steam in an attempt to move the train out of the way. But, while the train moved it was not fast enough to avoid the crash.
Aboard the last car on the train was a young Mohawk Indian girl who had been singing at the “Oquaga” (The Oquaga House a local theatre in Deposit at the time) with her sister and brother. They were traveling around singing and entertaining in an attempt to raise money to translate the Bible into the Mohawk language.
While Mr. Mastons heroic attempt to move the train caused the engine to completely disconnect from the rest of the cars it was not sufficient to avoid the collision. The freight engine smashed in the rear car carrying it the full distance of the car. Several persons aboard the car realized what was about to happen and leapt to their safety but unfortunately several persons, including the Mohawk girl SA-SA-NA Loft was unable to escape along with several others.
“She (SA-SA-NA Loft) was instantly killed awfully mangling her person breaking the top of her skull to atoms & throwing her brains in different directions.”) (from letter written to one William S. Ford, Esq (Member of the NYS Assembly and business owner in Deposit) by George I. Beldin, a business partner.)
I further quote from the letter mentioned above. “Another young lady who got on board at Great Bend (PA) was scalded in the most shocking manner. They telegraphed her brother-in-law near the Bend whom she had been visiting, also to her parents who reside in Orange County. From what is learned she is a young lady of respectable parents. Doc Gilbert says there is no chance for her life. Also an Irishman, residence Susquehanna (PA) who they think is beyond recovery.
Further quoting from the above letter. “Language is inadequate to express the appearance of the wreck. The engine run its whole length into the hind car tearing sundering everything before it, the floor seats & windows were slivered finer than kindling wood. Oh! Oh! It was the awfulest scene that I ever witnessed & perfectly indescribable. Wm. Sond? & his brother were in the car. His brother jumped from the hind end of the car in time to save himself & William went in the saloon but could not get out before the smash. However he succeeded in getting out of the window & had one knee scald slightly”.
While I am sure that many people know that SA-SA-NA-Loft was buried in Owego, NY her funeral and burial arranged by a Judge Avery in Owego and her monument can be found in the Greenlawn
cemetery there they might not know the story behind her death in Deposit, NY.
In recent years a person in Owego wrote a novel in which Sa SA Na and Judge Avery played a part.