Since the festival’s founding in 2001, Katy Days has featured a Bluebonnet Banquet, an evening of food and railway lore recounted by a guest speaker. This year’s banquet, attended by over 50 residents and hosted at the Parsons Senior Center, 1800 Belmont Ave., featured Don Banwart, author and entrepreneur. Banwart also spoke at the banquet in 2014. This year, Banwart told the event’s attendees of a railway incident that occurred west of Fort Scott in 1885.
“What we are going to talk about tonight is the ‘Legend of Hell’s Bend,’” Banwart said. “We’re going to reveal the truth of it tonight.”
The incident involved the railway line that would later become the MKT “Katy” Railroad, the namesake of Katy Days. During the presentation, Banwart explained how the Kansas and Texas division of the Missouri Pacific Railroad came to be known as the Katy Railroad.
“People were so used to calling it the ‘KT’ that the advertising company that was hired after the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (railroads) came out of receivership spelled it out ‘Katy,’” Banwart said.
Showing a postcard depiction of the incident’s location on a television screen, Banwart walked the audience through the actual narrative of events.
“’The Missouri-Pacific K and T division railway had a good-sized derailment at the curve near the Marmaton River west of Fort Scott, later known as Hell’s Bend,’” Banwart said, reading from a January 1885 newspaper account. “’A landslide occurred there, throwing the engine and several cars into the river upside down, every which way. The engineer and firemen jumped from the cab of the train, thus saving themselves from possible death. Several rigs were broken, trying to remove the engine from the river, with no success.’”
The locomotive had struck a large boulder, estimated to weigh 20 tons. The legends surrounding the wreck took off almost immediately, Banwart said.
“People would still tell you that the conductor, fireman and crew was killed,” he said.
A week after the derailment, another newspaper account chronicled the train’s recovery from the Marmaton River.
“’The Missouri-Pacific wrecking crews succeeded yesterday in raising the boxcar, tinder car and engine from the Marmaton River,’” Banwart read, adding that crews had to build tracks down into the river to set the engine on, in order to roll the train out.
However, in the years following the event, stories of the train’s visibility when Marmaton River water levels were low began to surface.
“’The Marmaton is so low that it has exposed the engine sunk the water.’ From 1885 to 1939 the legend has grown,” Banwart said. “’The smokestack of the Katy locomotive, which rolled into a deep hole in the river several miles above Stuart’s dam 50 years ago, is now partially out of the water, according to reports.’”
According to Banwart, the newspaper story was the result of the discovery of the train’s bell, or top half of the smokestack, which had broken off in the derailment. Banwart exhibited pictures of several artifacts in connection with the derailment and ended the evening with questions from the audience.