June 6, 1996 - Issue: Vol. 142, No. 82 — Daily Edition104th Congress (1995 - 1996) - 2nd Session
THE LEGEND OF KATE SHELLEY; Congressional Record Vol. 142, No. 82
(Senate - June 06, 1996)
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[Page S5908] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] THE LEGEND OF KATE SHELLEY Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, it may have started out like a normal day, but July 6, 1881, did not end in a typical manner. In the late afternoon, around suppertime, a terrifying storm struck central Iowa. It was a terror. Sensible people stayed indoors away from its wrath and fury. Creeks and streams became full to overflowing with the rainwater as the storm raged on. Then there was a crash. It was heard by a family living close to one of the rain soaked creeks and the railroad bridge which crossed it. With that crash a young 15-year-old Iowa girl from Moingona stepped from obscurity into legend. As H. Roger Grant wrote in ``The Palimpsest,'' ``the courage of Kate Shelley rightfully deserves to be remembered.'' For on that night she bravely faced her destiny. Engine No. 11 was checking the Chicago & North Western Rail Road line for storm damage when it plunged into Honey Creek. The water was deep and the current was fast. The crewmen on that train needed help, and Kate Shelley knew she had to give that help. Putting all thoughts of personal safety aside, she went out into the storm. As she later said, ``The storm and all else was forgotten and I said that I must go to help the men, and to stop the passenger (train) that would soon be due at Moingona.'' Kate put together a lamp with a wick made from an old felt skirt. Again in her own words, ``(I) started out into the night and the storm, to do what I could, and what I though was my duty, knowing that Mother and the children were praying to God to keep me from every harm.'' Kate's father, who had been an employee of the Chicago & North Western, had died some 3 years before. Upon reaching the wreckage, Kate found that of the four-man crew, only two had survived. One clung to a tree and the other to tree roots as the deadly waters of Honey Creek swirled around them. Kate saw one of the men in the flashes of lightning. He shouted at her and she at him, but the noise of the storm was go great to be hearing each other was impossible. Let me again turn to Mr. Grant's ``Palimpsest'' article, Shelley (then) began the most perilous portions of her trek. Crossing the Des Moines River bridge, even in ideal conditions, was dangerous. The North Western had studded the ties along this 673-foot-long span with twisted, rusty spikes to discourage trespassers. And the ties themselves were spaced a full pace apart. `I got down upon my hands and knees, . . . and guided myself by the stretch of rail, I began the weary passage of the bridge,' explained Shelley. `I do not know how long I was in crossing, but it seemed an age. Halfway over, a piercing flash of lightning showed me the angry flood more closely than ever, and swept along upon it a great tree, the earth still hanging to its roots, was racing for the bridge and it seemed for the very spot I stood upon.' Added Shelley, `Fear brought me up right on my knees, and I clasp my hands in terror, and in prayer, I hope, lest the shock should carry out the bridge. But the monster darted under the bridge with a sweeping rush and his branches scattered foam and water over me as he passed. Kate Shelley made it across that bridge and to the station at Moingona. There she found that the North Western had already stopped the eastbound passenger train. But that was not the end of her perilous night nor of her heroism. Those two men were still clinging to life in the tumultuous waters of Honey Creek. A relief locomotive was sent with Kate as the guide. Engineer Edward Wood and brakeman Adam Agar were saved. Kate Shelley is an American hero for the ages. She is as much of a role model for all of us today and for our children's children's children, as she was to her contemporaries. Kate Shelley did not have to go out into that ferocious storm in the middle of the night in 1886. But she did. She knew that her actions would make a difference. Her actions would help people she did not know, but that she never the less cared for. Her actions would help to prevent destruction, injury, and death. Her selfless actions would save two lives. What an example for all Americans to follow. Mr. Grant quotes several contemporary newspaper accounts of the night in his article. One states, Ed Wood says he was well nigh overjoyed when he saw the light approaching the clearing near the end of the bridge, and that he will never forget the sight of Kate Shelley making her way over the twisted and broken trestle work to the last tie yet hanging over the wreck in the boiling flood below. Another newspaper wrote Shelley crossed the Des Moines River bridge, . . . with nothing but the ties and rails (with) the wind blowing a gale, and the foaming, seething waters beneath. Not one man in five hundred (would) have (gone) over at any price, or under any circumstance. But this brave, noble girl, with the nerve of a giant, gathering about her, her flowing skirts, and on hands and knees she crawled over the long weary bridge. Yesterday I said that the Iowa spirit was almost too big to describe. It is. But I think that I can in all honesty say the spirit of Kate Shelley is the spirit of Iowa. And it is a part of the American spirit, the spirit of helping others in a time of need and danger without expecting something for yourself. I hope that all of us can learn from this brave young woman's example. ____________________