1922 tragedy in Haverhill
G.C. “James” Cotton was a section man for the Frisco railroad and it was common in the 1920s for some of the railroad workers and their families to live in box cars or bunk cars. The section men were assigned to a railroad section and it was convenient to have their families living nearby.
Cotton’s box car was located approximately 200 yards west of the small Haverhill station on the Frisco line. It was the home of Cotton, his wife, Minnie Bell, age 30, Ida May, 8, Cecil, 6, Johnny, 4, and Richard LeRoy, 10 months.
On the night of Saturday, Dec. 9, 1922, James Cotton had been to Augusta on business and was returning to Haverhill on the 312 night train when he noticed a bright light in his family’s bunk car. He rushed to the box car and found the body of his wife lying in the door of the car. She was alive, but died a few minutes later. He found the interior a mass of flames and heard his children screaming. He ran into fire and fought frantically to reach them, but the flames drove him back.
He turned away for help. When the fire was extinguished, the father and the neighbors found the charred bodies of the four children in a bed at one end of the car. They had died together. The body of one of the children was over the baby.
The fire was believed to have been caused by the explosion of a lamp left burning for Mr. Cotton.
Residents of the area for many years recalled the tragic story of a young mother and her four children perishing in a fire on a cold December night in 1922.
Sources: Wichita Daily Eagle, Dec. 10, 1922; Topeka Daily Capital, Dec. 10, 1922; Fort Scott Daily Tribune and Fort Scott Daily Monitor, Dec. 11, 1922.
Don’t miss another Tales of Butler County in Saturday’s TG edition.