In 1870 Water Valley was enjoying a period of growth and prosperity as one of the most important towns in North Mississippi. Business was good because of the Mississippi Central Railroad and Water Valley was headquarters for the line which ran from Jackson, Tennessee, to Canton.
On February 25 of that year, the 3 p.m. mail train pulled out of Oxford headed south for Water Valley. One of the passengers was Colonel Sam Tate, president of the Mississippi Central. As the train approached Buckner’s Trestle, which was approximately three miles south of the Oxford depot, Tate sent word to the engine crew to apply the brakes and slow down.
His warning came to late.
The engine or one of the leading cars struck the trestle which either caused it to collapse or tore the tracks loose, derailing the train. The engine, mail and baggage cars, and the first passenger car made it over the 100 foot span before leaving the tracks.
Unfortunately the second passenger car fell into the 50 foot deep cut pulling the third passenger car in on top of it.
The people in the second passenger car were thrown to the rear which put them directly under the crushing blow of the third car. Col. Tate was standing in the aisle of the third car and was almost suffocated before the pile of wounded could be removed.
He was seriously but not fatally injured.
The accident took the lives of 20 people at the scene and several of the 50 to 60 who were injured died later. The people in the vicinity and the citizens of Oxford and Water Valley took care of the wounded, according to newspaper reports of the time.
Reports of the accident appeared in newspapers all over the country and the railroad was blamed for the accident. This wasn’t unusual as railroads of that era did have many accidents and the newspapers were quick to place the blame on carelessness on the part of railroad officials.
J. W. Simonton of New Orleans was a passenger on the train and provided an eyewitness account to the Chicago Tribune. He said that a rotten tie at the north end of the trestle was the cause. However, another witness told the Oxford newspaper that a wheel had broken off of one of the cars and struck the trestle.
Whatever happened, the accident at Buckner’s Trestle is one of the worst railroad disasters in Mississippi history.
Along with Col. Tate, among the inured from Water Valley were Charles McConnico, M. M. Mannly and W. Tolliferro.
This story is just one of many fascinating tales from the rails which are part of a video being produced for sale at the upcoming Watermelon Music Festival. Proceeds from the DVD will support the projects of the Town and Country Garden Club and the Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum. Call Gurner Photography at 473-1154 for more information.