Skip to main content

Exploring Texas History: The Crash at Crush

Shannon has written web content and general interest articles for various clients and websites for over a decade.

Crush, Texas

Crush, Texas

Author's Note

While researching for my "Chasing the Past" serial story, I accidentally stumbled upon some other lesser-known historical events that took place in Texas. I became intrigued and realized how little I know about this state in which I have lived for exactly half of my life now. So this is the start of a new series. I hope you will explore Texas history along with me, starting with the spectacularly disastrous 1869 Crash at Crush.

Now, if you're so inclined please enjoy the musical score commemorating the event as you read more about the publicity stunt gone wrong. The music was written by famous ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who is said to have possibly been a witness to the collision. He published it mere months after it happened and dedicated the piece to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway when he did so. He even included specific written instructions with the score for how to create the sounds of the crash.

What Was the Crash at Crush?

On September 15, 1869, the town of Crush existed for a single day. On this day, people came from all over the state just to witness the spectacular head-on collision of two locomotive steam engines going full speed at the time of impact. These people witnessed a lot more than they bargained for, though, when the boilers on both trains exploded, causing injuries among the crowd and a few deaths from shrapnel.

The stunt accidentally injured and killed a few people

The stunt accidentally injured and killed a few people

Why Plan a Train Wreck?

There is no official reason on record, but many speculate that William Crush, the passenger agent for the railway commonly known as Katy, proposed the idea of a staged trainwreck to draw attention to the railroad and simultaneously generate profit. His idea was to send two obsolete locomotives speeding toward one another until they collided while an audience witnessed the spectacle from a safe distance.

Promotion of the event began months in advance, and as anticipation began to build, round-trip train tickets were sold for $2 specifically to bring people to the event. With an estimated crowd of between 30,000 to 40,000 people, the town of Crush became the second most populated city in Texas.

No one lived in Crush, yet it had a very active midway. The town boasted its own jail, employing at least a couple hundred constables to hold the crowd accountable for their behavior. The town also contained a train depot, two water wells, grandstands, a reporter platform, two telegraph offices, and a tent from the Ringling Brother Circus. In addition, various vendors and sideshow attractions set up shop. It was to be an unforgettable day of fun and excitement.

The locomotives' boilers unexpectedly exploded

The locomotives' boilers unexpectedly exploded

The Crash!

Originally scheduled for 4 PM, the crash took place about an hour later due to the crowd’s initial refusal to remain at a 200-foot distance from the tracks. Only news photographers and reporters were allowed to be as close as 100 feet. Once the crowd settled down enough, the two trains rolled slowly down the track until they met in the middle with their cowcatchers (the mounted pieces of metal at the front of an engine used to deflect any debris that may be on the track) were touching. Next, they backed up until they were at opposite ends of the track.

Those on board the locomotives followed a simple set of instructions: wait for the signal, open the throttle to full speed, tie off the whistle cord, and jump off the doomed engines, allowing the trains to gather speed until the point of impact.

According to reports, there was a hushed silence after the impact, which was immediately followed by shrieks of fear as the two boilers simultaneously exploded. Even those who remained at what was thought to be a safe distance were caught up in the deadly shower of debris. Two people died, a photographer lost an eye, and several more crowd members were injured. Hundreds more rushed forward after the debris settled to collect souvenirs.

What Happened Next?

Katy engineers predicted the boilers were unlikely to explode because they were specially designed to resist rupturing in the event of a derailment. For extra precautions, the boxcars were all tied together with a chain so that their couplers could not separate and lose cars. The constables kept the crowd pushed back to what was deemed to be a safe distance, but it was not enough. The boilers unexpectedly exploded, sending debris several hundred feet into the air and out toward the crowd.

William Crush was immediately fired. Those who were injured and the families of the deceased were financially compensated. The event photographer who lost his eye received monetary compensation and a lifetime pass on the Katy railway.

Surprisingly, the disaster did exactly as it was supposed to do. Reports of the incident generated talk about the railroad across the nation. Instead of a decline in business, ticket sales increased. Therefore, Crush was rehired and able to work with the company until he retired several decades later. All that remains of Crush, Texas, is a historical marker and some pictures in museums.


© 2018 Shannon Henry


Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on June 08, 2020:

Thanks, Flourish. I appreciate that!

It seems hard to imagine paying and traveling to go watch something like that....but then think about Evil Kenevil. Humans like a good thrill, especially if there is danger involved.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 08, 2020:

It's shameful what we will travel long distances and pay to watch this type of stuff, but I guess it's just human nature. They were attracted to the thrill that something might go wrong, someone might get hurt, and yep, it did. You should definitely do more history articles like this.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on April 27, 2020:

I have started others and thought about making this a series. However, I have not had much time to do the necessary research. Maybe knowing someone is interested will be the kick in the butt I need to work on those other some more. Thanks. You stay well and safe, too.

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on April 27, 2020:

Very welcome, Shannon. And if you've done more history pieces, please point me to them as I am interested though was unable to locate other similar works by you. Be well, be safe, and have a good week!

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on April 27, 2020:

Thank you, Greg. I appreciate that very much!

greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on April 27, 2020:

Fascinating read! I wondered immediately about the folks who had to be driving each of those trains to get them going, but I saw where they jumped off short of the collision. I love finding well-written accounts like this that tell a tale of history I never heard before. Thanks for that!

Robert Sacchi on August 03, 2019:


Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on August 03, 2019:

That's true and, in a way, this reminded me of the modern-day demolition derbies when I first learned of it. Except on a much larger scale, of course. Must be the bigger in Texas thing. LOL

Robert Sacchi on August 03, 2019:

People do watch demolition derbies albeit they are in much better controlled conditions.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on August 03, 2019:

That's what they say, Robert. In all my years here, I can say that is a truth. Bugs are bigger, too...*shudder*...Why not a disastrous publicity stunt? I can't really wrap my mind around witnessing a stunt like that, though.

Robert Sacchi on August 03, 2019:

An interesting article about a dumb publicity stunt. I guess everything is big in Texas.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on November 04, 2018:

Even more amazing when you think about the time period. I don't know if that many people would go to something like that now.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on November 04, 2018:

What's amazing is that 30k people turned up!

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on November 04, 2018:

I know, Lawrence. Who woulda thunk it? Seriously.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on November 04, 2018:

Very interesting, deliberately staging a crash as a publicity stunt.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 22, 2018:

Thanks, Larry. I thought it was quite curious when I first heard about it. Glad you found it of interest, too.

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on October 22, 2018:

Very interesting article. I had never heard about this, until now.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 11, 2018:

Thank you, Chitrangada. I found some reports that said that another crash was never planned and then I found some reports that said railroads continued to plan crashes after that one. I wonder which is true when it's strange enough to think even one was planned.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 11, 2018:

This is interesting indeed and I had never heard of the Crash at Crush!

Makes me wonder that this was planned!

Thanks for sharing this well written story with some interesting pictures and video.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 10, 2018:

Thanks, MzB! Considering this is Texas, I'm really not that far from Waco either, but I never knew of this fiasco until I was researching something else and found it. I think the video at the end was also playing Joplin's tune in the background. It had the better sounds of the crash, in my opinion.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on October 10, 2018:

Shannon, I lived in Texas for five or six years, and I'd never heard of the Crash at Crush either. But then I didn't live near Waco. This was a very interesting piece, well documented and well written. I love Scott Joplin, thanks for including him and the other video, too. Great job.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 10, 2018:

Thanks, manatita. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

manatita44 from london on October 10, 2018:

Well- written and nicely documented. I enjoyed that piece.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 10, 2018:

So true, Mary! Thanks for the smile.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 10, 2018:

He truly lived up to his name, Crush. People's reaction are truly unpredictable.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 10, 2018:

I know, Zulma! My first thoughts were how in the heck could that possibly make people want to ride a train? I would think, especially since it ended in disaster, that the opposite would have happened. That maybe a fear of what a train wreck looks like would keep people from wanting to travel that way. Instead of a profit, there would be a decline in passenger travel. I sort of get the morbid fascination with grabbing souvenirs and such. Sort of. I wouldn't want a souvenir to from anything like that, but plenty of people do things like that even today. People are crazy!

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 10, 2018:

Hi, Eric. Maybe you're just a walking encyclopedia? LOL. Glad you enjoyed it.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 10, 2018:

Bizzare is definitely the word, Bill. I wonder at some of the market stunts used today. Maybe things haven't changed all that much in the corporate world? LOL

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 10, 2018:

Pamela, I imagine the types of things seen at carnivals and the circus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And then I think about how people like to witness things like buildings being brought down with dynamite in a controlled fashion. Or how we stand in awe at the destruction of a natural disaster. When I think of it like that, I can see the appeal. Especially believing it would be safe.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on October 10, 2018:

This is a great story. I can't believe someone thought a train wreck would be a great way to advertise train travel. And yet, it worked and they made money. I'll never understand people.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 10, 2018:

Very cool and I have no idea why I knew of this.

Thanks for a great piece and story. So cool.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2018:

I love history, but I gotta tell ya, this is one of the more bizarre stories I've ever read...a planned train wreck? Who woulda thunk it possible! Me thinks the guy who planned it had way too much time on his hands with nothing to do. lol

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 10, 2018:

Shannon, I had never heard of this historical event, and this was a very interesting article to read while listening to the music. I can't imagine wanting to see 2 trains crash at full speed, but the publicity must have made it sound great.

Shannon Henry (author) from Texas on October 09, 2018:

Thanks, John. I hadn't heard of it either until I stumbled upon an article about it while searching for something else related to the railroads and cattle trails. Like you, I became intrigued. Glad you found it interesting, too.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on October 09, 2018:

Shannon, this was very interesting. I had never heard of the Crash at Crush, and having once worked for the railroad I found it intriguing. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.