e pitcairn statement

Q. Where were you employed on the last day of May last?
A. At Derry.

Q. In what capacity?
A. As Train Master for the Penna. Railroad.

Q. I wish you would state whether you had a heavy fall of rain there on the last day of May, and the two preceding days or not, and what effect it had on the streams.
A. Well, we had considerable rain, but we have had heavier rains. It rained frequently and rained hard, especially on Thursday night, the 30th.

Q. Were the streams much swollen about Derry?
A. Yes, sir, they were some swollen, but not as high as I have known them to be there. They were high though, and considerably swollen.

Q. What time, do you recollect, did the two Day Expresses arrive at Derry that day? the 31st?
A. My recollection is that they passed there very close onto their time; I wouldn't say the exact time, but they were there on time, or very near it.

Q. W ere you away from Derry on the 31st?
A. Not until I got word of the reservoir breaking?

Q. You were not at Johnstown before the reservoir broke?
A. No, sir.

Q. You were not in Johnstown until the damage was done; the loss of life and property?
A. No, sir , not at Johnstown; I however got to Bolivar before the water reached there. I was sitting in the office watching the movement; we had had word about three washouts up on the mountain, and I was finding out all I could, expecting to go up, and I knew about them holding those trains at Conemaugh. The operator was keeping me posted as he heard it over the wire, and along about five o'clock, between 4 & 5, I think it was near five, the operator got a report about the people coming down the river. The operator at Sang Hollow was telling us about seeing these people coming down the river, and at that time, I got a message from "R. P. " about people coming down the river, and to take a force of men, and the work train and go to save all I could. We got our force together and started in a very few minutes, and just as we got to Bolivar, the river commenced to rise very rapidly; it rose about three or four feet. We were there about ten minutes before any people or houses came, and we distributed our men on the county bridge there, and when they commenced to come, we succeeded in lassoing one boy out, about twelve years old; and we threw ropes to others to save them; but the water rose so rapidly that it struck the bridge, and we had o [sic] to get off, and we didn't more than get off until it went. There is a rapids right there, and the water runs very swift I told the men then to distribute themselves, some on one side and some on the other and save all the people they could, and I got a train of laoded [sic] cars and put it on the railroad bridge as I thought that was going to go. I went up into the telegraph office; of course there were people coming down all the time, and the men were throwing ropes and trying to save them, but I don't think they saved more than one or two beside this boy. I then got orders to go on east and make a report of the damage to the road, and I start ed, [sic] but was stopped by washouts when I got to Lockport for two or three hours until the water commenced to subside, and then by throwing rubbish off and feeling our way up, we got ahead. As we came along, we heard the cries and screams of people all the way along the river. We had left most of our men at Bolivar, but we started out to see if we could rescue anybody, but we got swamped and couldn't get any further.When [sic] we got as far as Nineveh, we found it worse there than any where else as far as the cries and screams of people were concerned; there seemed to be a great deal of distress. We got on up to Sang Hollow, and were going to try and rescue some of the people coming down, but the water was so high, we couldn't do much without boats, and I told the men we would get boats and probably we could rescue some. We then started back for Nineveh, and we got off and went across there to where this party that had the boats lives;-- of course the bridge was down, and we couldn't get over, but we hollowed across to him, and told him what we wanted, and they said it wasn't safe to go down at all, as the water was too high and swift. We told them we must go, and we must have the boats, as the people were drowning there, and we must save them. We got the boats, and by hugging the shore pretty close, we got down, and before we were through succeeded in rescuing forty or fifty people. we had left some of the men with the people who were hanging and holding onto bushes and trees, to encourage them, and tell them to hold on, and that we would get the boats down as soon as we could, and they did, and were all rescued. After we got them off, we went to work ad [sic] and gathered up two or three hundred bodies below there and brought them up to Nineveh. Then, I returned and went up to Johnstown, and turrned (?) in to help the company, and did what I could to get things in shape.there. [sic]

Q. Did the water come in a great wave or volume up where you were?
A. No, sir, it came very rapidly, but gradually; gradually but very fast. It surprised me the way the flood rose there at Bolivar, because I thought we were safe on that bridge, as the water was several feet below it, but it was soon touching it. I think though it was the rubbish and remnants of houses that broke the bridge; I don't think the water would have taken it yet a while; there were logs striking it and so on.

Q. Could you tell what time the water from the dam, after it bursted, got down to Bolivar, where you were?
A. I think the water reached there along about six or half-past six; the highest about seven.

Q. Did you notice anything at all in the way of a huge, large wave of water coming?
A. No, sir, it just seemed to raise very rapidly. I instructed the men to watch the water closely and see whether it was rising or falling. My idea was to go on up to where the slack water was. I thought we could get more people out there. It was a rapids there at Bolivar, and when anyone would come there, they came so swift, that they would let go offthe [sic] ropes There [sic] was one woman came down and had a child in each arm; she had a hold of the rope, but when she found she couldn't save the children and keep hold, she let go and went on down. The same way, there was a man came down with two women, and when he found he couldn't save the two women, he let go and went down, and they lodged on a tree below, and we hurried and went to save them, but when we got pretty near to them, a lot of rubbish and drift struck the tree and they all went under.

Q. Were you and the other men with you in the service of the Company?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And you think with the aid of the train, and the boats you had, you saved forty or fifty lives?
A. I think, Mr. Hampton, we were the means of doing so. Those skiffs never would have come down there, if we hadn't brought them, and almost compelled the man to let us have them.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

733 Lake Road
South Fork, PA 15956

Phone:

(814) 886-6170

Contact Us