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Avalanche hits a Great Northern Railway train near Corea, killing eight passengers on January 22, 1916.

HistoryLink.org Essay 10713 : Printer-Friendly Format

On January 22, 1916, eight passengers are killed when an avalanche sweeps down Windy Mountain in the Cascades and strikes a westbound Great Northern passenger train, shoving two rail cars over an 80-foot embankment. The disaster occurs near Corea station, seven rail miles west of Tye (formally Wellington), the west portal of the Cascade Tunnel, which in 1910 had been the scene of one of the worst railroad disasters in United States history.  

The Problem of Snow

Snowfall had been exceptionally heavy in the Cascade Mountains during the winter of 1915-1916 and slides and avalanches were a frequent occurrence. Lengthy snow delays were a major problem as they wreaked havoc upon the Great Northern Railway system. Rotary snowplows and hundreds of laborers were kept extremely busy keeping the route clear for the numerous trains that passed through Stevens Pass on a daily basis.

Corea (elevation 2,106 ft.) was a small company town that existed to support the Great Northern Railway, building and repairing the numerous snow sheds and maintaining the tracks along the tortuous route across the south face of Windy Mountain (elevation 5,680). The town was seven rail miles west of Tye (previously named Wellington), the west portal of the Cascade Tunnel, which in 1910 was the scene of one of the worst railroad disasters in U.S. history. Leaving Tye, the route continued west down a 2.2 percent grade, passed through Embro (formerly Alvin), entered a 170-degree curve that ran through Horseshoe Tunnel and crossed a 350-foot-long trestle over Martin Creek before arriving at the Corea station.

On Thursday night, January 20, 1916, more than 14 inches of wet snow fell on the Cascade Mountains and continued until noon on Friday. The temperature rose above freezing and then it began to rain and it rained all Friday night. On Saturday morning, January 22, 1916, the westbound Great Northern Cascade Limited, train No. 25, from Spokane was standing on the railroad tracks on the upper grade above Corea, waiting for a section crew to remove a minor snowslide blocking the rails. At 7:15 a.m. workmen had removed the snow and debris covering the tracks and the train was signaled to proceed.

Disaster

At that moment, an avalanche swept down Windy Mountain and struck the Cascade Limited broadside. Three rail cars were taken from the middle of the train, the engines and other cars remaining on the rails. The day coach and dining car were carried over the embankment and tumbled toward the lower grade of the horseshoe curve, approximately 80-feet below. The sleeping car was toppled onto its side with one end hanging precariously over the embankment, but remained on the upper grade. The dining car stopped sliding partway down the hillside and caught fire. The day coach, a steel car, was taken all the way down to the lower tracks and was covered with snow and debris.

The section crew, already at the scene, immediately rescued the passengers from inside the sleeping car. Several had suffered minor injuries when the car toppled over, but there were no fatalities. A search of the dining car yielded three injured and two dead passengers. Although hurt and disoriented, the five dining-car employees managed to escape on their own. The dead passengers were identified as Walter S. Carter and Bert F. Kirkman.

Rescuing passengers from the day coach proved to be more problematic as it had disappeared under several feet of snow. It took workers 30 minutes to cautiously descend to the car’s location and over an hour of digging through the pile of compacted snow and debris to uncover one end.  The job was risky as deep banks and drifts of snow on the mountainside were unstable and posed an immediate threat to the rescuers. Undaunted, they hacked through the roof of the car with axes and worked as quickly as possible to bring out the passengers. It took six hours to get everyone out of the car.  During the rescue operation, another avalanche occurred near Embro, demolishing more than 400 feet of snowshed.

Among the passengers riding in the day coach were Edward C. Battermann, age 33, his wife, Dora, age 32, and their three children, Clarence, age 8, Elmer, age 5, and eight-month-old Malinda. The Battermanns were on their way to Albany, Oregon, to attend the funeral of Dora’s mother. When the avalanche struck, Dora was in the washroom warming a bottle of milk for Malinda. The bottle broke seriously lacerating her hand. She was buried in the wreckage for nearly two hours before being rescued. Searchers found Edward dead with the lifeless body of his baby daughter, Malinda, cradled in his arms. Clarence was missing and Elmer escaped from the accident uninjured.

Counting the Living and the Dead

By noon, Great Northern Railway officials had complied a comprehensive list of passengers aboard the train. Thirty-four passengers had survived the avalanche. Twenty-two had been injured, four were missing and four were known dead. All the members of the train’s crew, with the exception of the five employees in the diner, were in cars the avalanche missed and were not injured. The passengers were taken to the hotel at Scenic to wait for the tracks to be cleared of snow and debris. A relief train soon arrived and transported the passengers to Everett, where the injured received medical care. Six passengers, more seriously injured, were admitted to Providence Hospital in Everett for additional treatment.

Dora F. Battermann (1884-1982) did not learn until she was hospitalized at Providence Hospital for cuts, bruises, and shock, that her husband and two of her children had been killed in the train wreck. She believed they had survived and had gone to Seattle on another train. Railroad officials had refrained from telling her of the tragedy and left it up to the hospital staff to break the bad news. Elmer G. Battermann (1910-1997), who had escaped the ordeal unhurt, stayed with his mother at the hospital in Everett.

When news of the disaster was received at the Great Northern Railway offices in Seattle, James Henry O'Neill (1872-1937), general superintendent of the railroad’s Western Division, immediately left for Corea aboard his private train. Upon arrival, he took charge of the operation and dispatched some 500 workers to the scene of the avalanche to clear the rails and search for the four missing passengers. Working with rotary snowplows, picks, shovels, and dynamite, the army of laborers removed all the debris from the tracks by Tuesday afternoon, January 25, 1916, and service both east and west was resumed. Near nightfall, the workers found the body of one of the missing passengers, Clarence Battermann. Meanwhile, clear and cold weather settled into the area, temporarily reducing the danger of more snowslides.

On Wednesday afternoon, January 26, 1916, workers employed to clear away the wreckage found the bodies of Mattie L. Wallace, age 29, and her 8-year-old daughter Mildred, buried under eight feet of snow. Witnesses said Wallace and her daughter fell through a window of the day coach when it tumbled down the embankment.

Searchers continued to shovel snow throughout the night looking for the eighth victim, but without success. On Thursday, January 27, they finally uncovered the body of last victim, James R. Wilson, closing the chapter on the accident. 

Aftermath

King County Coroner Dr. James Tate Mason (1882-1936) announced that no inquest would be held over the eight deaths. The accident was an extraordinary event and not due to criminal negligence. The decision was based on a comprehensive report by Chief Deputy Coroner Theodore Frank Koepfle, who had spent considerable time at the scene of the train wreck.

On September 28, 1916, The Leavenworth Echo reported that Great Northern Railway had avoided a lawsuit by reaching a settlement with the heirs of the passengers who lost their lives in the Cora avalanche. The amount wasn’t stated but it was believed to have been well above $5,000 per person. 

Dora Battermann remarried on July 9, 1918, to William H. G. Kaiser (1889-1952), an East Wenatchee fruit farmer. The Battermann family, as well as Kaiser, are buried in the Wenatchee City Cemetery.

A Bad Winter

During the winter of 1915-1916, drifting snow and avalanches plagued Great Northern’s route over the Cascade Mountains, causing long delays and fatalities. In addition to the Corea incident, three people were killed when a snowslide hit a train at Embro and four were killed when a section crew was buried near Leavenworth in Chelan County. 

On Thursday, February 10, 1916, an avalanche destroyed the steel trestle over Martin Creek, west of Corea, closing the line for over a month. In the 1920s, Great Northern decided to abandon this difficult section of track and built a new tunnel beneath Stevens Pass. The second Cascade Tunnel, nearly eight-miles long, was dedicated on January 12, 1929, and as of 2014, is still in active use by the Burlington Northern & Sante Fe Railway.

The Dead

Edward Christof Battermann (1883-1916), age 33, Wenatchee, Washington

Clarence C. Battermann (1906-1916), age 9, Wenatchee, Washington

Malinda M. Battermann (1915-1916), age 8 months, Wenatchee, Washington

Walter Stanley Carter, (1889-1916), age 27, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Bert F. Kirkman, (1881-1916), age 35, Sheridan, Wyoming

Mattie L. Wallace, (1887-1916), age 29, Lyons, Washington

Mildred Wallace, (1908-1916), age 8, Lyons, Washington

James Rae Wilson, (1871-1916), age 45, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Sources:
Becky Wandell, The Iron Goat Trail (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1999); "Five Reported Dead in Disaster at Summit of the Cascade Mountains," Bellingham Herald, January 22, 1916, p. 1; "Snow Slide on G.N. Takes Toll of Eight Lives -- Many Injured," Leavenworth Echo, January 28, 1916, p. 1; "G.N. Settles With Victims of Corea Slide," Ibid., September 28,, 1916, p. 1;' "“Cars Hurled Down Mountain by Big Slide," Olympia Record, January 22, 1916, p. 1; "Clearing Avalanche Wreckage," Ibid., January 24, 1916, p. 1; "Avalanche Strikes Train: Six Killed, Two Cars Swept Over 80-Foot Cliff, North of Seattle," Oregonian, January 23, 1916, p. 6; "Slide Hits Train," Idaho Statesman, January 23, 1916, p. 1; "No Trace Found of Two Missing Passengers," Ibid., January 24, 1916, p. 1; "Owl Express Is Cut in Two and Coaches Roll Down Mountain," The Seattle Times, January 22, 1916, p. 1; "Two Cars Drop Over High Cliff," Ibid., January 23, 1916, p. 1; "Army Digs for Bodies Buried by Avalanche," Ibid., January 24, 1916, p. 1; "G. N. Clears Tracks of Slides and Train Service Is Resumed," Ibid., January 25, 1916, p. 1; "Three More Bodies Taken from Snow," Ibid., January 26, 1916, p. 7; "Eighth Victim of Slide Is Found," Ibid., January 27, 1916, p. 13; "Officials Face Peril at Corea," Ibid., January 31, 1916, p. 13; "Rigid Probe of Wreck Ordered," The Tacoma Times, January 24, 1916, p. 6.


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Front page headlines, The Seattle Times, January 22, 1916



Photo page, The Seattle Times, January 25, 1916



Great Northern Railway Oriental Limited (center left) near Scenic, ca. 1910
Postcard Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 1976.6360.5)


Great Northern Railway passenger train on Martin Creek Bridge near Index, ca. 1928
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. Pickett 3953)


Great Northern Railway station and snowshed, Corea, September 27, 1916
Courtesy Washington State Historical Society (Image No. 1980.117.5)


Headstone, Batterman family, Wenatchee City Cemetery, n.d.
Photo by Rosalie Jensen, Courtesy Find a Grave.com


Great Northern Railroad superintendent James Henry O'Neill (1872-1937), 1910
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. A. Curtis 17474)


 
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