I am looking for the date and account of the train wreck that lead to the death of ringmaster James Elias Eagles (1859-?). He was once in Robinson’s Circus, but may not have been at the time of the wreck. Here is all I have: “[He] worked for Robinson’s and later took care of trained circus horses. He was probably a ringmaster, since he was remembered as having worn a swallow-tailed coat and vest. His wife Mary was a bareback rider in the circus. Jim was injured in a circus train wreck at Ashtabula, Ohio, when his collarbone was crushed into the lung. Although he lived for another year and a half, he never fully recovered from the accident, and died at Cincinnati, Ohio.”
This is from the New York Times Oct 5 1885. I mentions James Eagles, who was severely injured, but survived.
FIVE MEN KILLED. ACCIDENT TO A CIRCUS TRAIN IN MINNESOTA. St. Paul, Oct. 4 – A Fergus Falls Special to the Pioneer Press says: At 8 o’clock this morning, while JOHN ROBINSON’S circus train, in two sections, was coming into this city from Wahpeton, on the Northern Pacific Railroad, about four miles west of this city, a coupling broke and the rear seven cars of the first section ran down the steep grade into the engine of the second section at a rate of 40 miles an hour. The caboose and two sleeping cars, containing 160 sleeping men, composed a portion of the section which had broken loose. The engineer of the approaching train stopped his engine, and he and the fireman jumped and were saved, but had not time to reverse, and both sections crashed into each other, killing 5 men outright, fatally injuring 3, and injuring 10 or 12 others slightly. The watchman of the train, trying to warn the sleeping men of the danger of the collision, was killed himself, refusing to desert, although aware that a collision was inevitable. He was frightfully mangled; his heart was found on top of a flat car some distance away, his bowels lying on the ground, and his body cut to pieces. The other men were mangled almost beyond recognition; EAGLES, the boss hostler, will probably die. He is injured internally. WILLIAM WINGOLD, of the lamp department, has one side of his head badly cut, and other injuries. No performers or animals were hurt. The men killed were the watchman, WILSON, and four canvasmen. The engine was badly smashed and cars reduced to kindling wood. The remarkable fact is that more were not killed and injured. Twenty or thirty others received slight cuts and bruises. The list of killed is: ROBERTS, canvasman, joined at Wadena on the way to Cincinnati; WILLIAM KROUSE, lived at Cincinnati; SAM BLAIR, joined at Colfax; JAMES WILSON, watchman, formerly policeman at Cincinnati. The injured men were removed to the hospital at Brainerd and a Coroner’s inquest will be held to-morrow.
I am a great-granddaughter of Jack Cottrell who is listed in the article. His full name, as we have it, is John Lawrence Cottrell. According to a census record, he was born in July 1849 in Ohio. A story about him is related in the Book by Pearl Baker “Wild Bunch at Robbers Roost”. “Cottrell had joined a circus when he was in his teens and had been badly injured by an elephant, necessitating a silver plate in his skull. He was a big, dark-complexioned man, nice looking, with blue eyes, slightly curly dark brown hair and a prominent nose. He was a fine hand with stock, took good care of his horses and cattle -” Would you possible have any additional information in your collections on him. I have been looking for him for years and years, trying to find out who his parents are.
Geraldine Gillies Griffin
You are probably aware of this, but the train wreck in Ashtabula, Ohio in 1895 also claimed the life of Phillip P. Bliss, who wrote the music to the well known hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”, using the words written by Horatio G. Spafford. I found this information at the web site ingeb.org/spiritua/itiswell.html. It mentions that a number of other notable Americans died in this accident. If you have any other information, I’d appreciate your sharing that with me.
Thank you – Eliot Evans
Thank you for the reply. It is very helpful. I will check out the Posy book; I assume there is only one written by him. I recently found that Jame Elias Eagles died 30 Mar 1896 Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio, from injuries suffered in a train accident in the fall of 1895 in Ashtabula Ohio. I hope I can find a picture of him in one of the books you mentioned.
James Eagles is listed as working in “The Stables” in the 1880 Great London Circus route book. That means he took care of horses in the traveling stables of the show. Gil Robinson’s book, Old Wagon Show Days (1925) includes Eagles in rosters for 1882 through 1891 and 1893 (last roster offered), always as Boss Hostler. That means he had supervision over all of the men and horses on the John Robinson circus. Jeff Posey and Jack Cottrell preceded him and in 1892 Jake Posey was in his stead. Posey’s book and the Robinson book might be checked for further reference.
Slout’s Olympians of the Sawdust Circle does not list James or Mary Eagles, nor is an equestrian by the name of Mary listed in the Robinson book rosters or the name finding aid. A check of the listings of wrecks and found nothing applicable for John Robinson or in the vicinity of Ashtabula, OH. There were many smaller railroad mishaps that never brought notice in the journals. Perhaps collections in the Ashtabula area have reference to the accident. The show played Ashtabula, OH on these dates after 1893 and before 1912, the last year of the Robinson-owned show: June 6, 1900; July 11, 1905; and May 7, 1907. Local Ashtabula newspapers might make mention of the wreck that injured Eagles.
Fred Dahlinger, Jr., Director of Historic Resources and Facilities, Circus World Museum.
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