In November of 1912, a spectacular train wreck shattered the stillness of the night in the town of Montz. The headlines of the Times Picayune on Tuesday, November 12, 1912, stated, “Midnight Excursion Train Halted at Montz by Mishap Run into by Speeding Freight Which Crushes and Cremates Cars Crowded with Passengers for Woodville” (Mississippi).
That headline spelled out in dramatic terms what had happened on Monday, November 11, 1912. The article following that headline gave very graphic information, including the names of the 15 fatalities and the passengers who were injured, along with the names of railroad employees involved in the wreck. The wreck occurred in a remote location, slowing medical assistance from reaching the victims. The water supply was inadequate and there were few buckets to use. Injured passengers able to flee the train sought refuge in the nearby cornfields, which were illuminated by the wreckage flames. Most passengers panicked and were unable to assist the injured. Those who did not panic tore their clothes into strips for use in bandaging burned passengers. Both the dead and wounded were scattered about the cornfields of Montz. Many long hours passed before a doctor was able to reach the scene. The injured would not arrive in New Orleans by train to receive medical assistance until late the next day.
Blame shifted throughout the weeklong investigation, which included the convening of a grand jury in St. Charles Parish. Further, a joint inquiry of state and interstate commissions at Baton Rouge would be the first of its kind to be conducted in this country. The investigation results announced the culpability of many individual employees as well as the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Company. Poor judgment, poor training, and poor equipment all contributed to the event cited as America’s worst rail disaster. As quickly as the railroad tragedy burst upon the front page of the Times Picayune, by Monday, November 18, 1912, it was no longer headline news.
This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.