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Kate Shelley: Heroine of the Bridge

After rescuing passengers from a trainwreck one stormy night in 1881, Shelley earned the nickname "Heroine of the High Bridge". Kate Shelley was born in 1863 near Dunkerrin, Ireland and immigrated to the United States with her family in 1865, due to the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. Settling in Boone County, the family made an income from their family farm and Mike Shelley's job working for the Chicago & North Western Railroad. In 1878, Mike Shelley passed from tuberculosis and 11-year-old James passed after drowning in the Des Moines River, forcing Kate to leave school to help her mother on the farm. On the night of July 6, 1881, during a strong thunderstorm, a train wreck occurred on the Honey Creek Bridge. Hearing the crash from their nearby home, 17-year-old Shelley acted quickly to prevent an oncoming train from Omaha from colliding into the wreck. Running out to the bridge with a lantern to light the way, a survivor flagged down Shelley to alert the Moingona depot for help. With a now burnt-out lantern, Shelley crossed the bridge on hands and knees over the stormy waters. Once across, she ran a mile to the depot to give them warning. Overwhelmed, Shelley fainted but once revived, led the rescuers to the 2 survivors. After hearing of her bravery in the rescue, Shelley's story spread quickly. The Chicago & North Western Railway Company awarded her with flour, coffee, and other supplies, while other organizations gifted her with a gold watch, a brooch, and earrings. Frances Willard, a social activist, gratefully paid for a portion of her college tuition and the State of Iowa granted her a gold medal. The Chicago Tribune, along with the help of a Turkish immigrant, helped pay off her family's debts and build them a new home. In 1901, the Boone Viaduct was built, but it was more commonly known as the Kate Shelley High Bridge, making her the first woman in the United States to have a bridge named after her. Resource can be used with the following standards to further develop lessons: SS-US 9-12.23 Iowans Influence US History.
U.S. Chronology
Iowa History Eras
Iowa County
Early & Late Date
1880 to 1885