Kate Shelley, was born in Loughaun Co. Offaly, Ireland, of Michael Shelley and Margaret Dwan.


Burlington Hawkeye
Burlington, Des Moines, Iowa
March 30, 1882

Des Moines Register
     How very few of the many acts of great bodies live after them. The only thing the late legislature of Iowa did-with its one hundred and fifty wise men at work for three months-that will go into history, or be remembered more than ten years probably, was the gold medal that it voted to Kate Shelley in recognition of a girl's heroism. It did a great deal else, a large detail of things, but all that were temporary in their nature and will be fleeting in their existence. But the little hoop of gold, an heir-loom in the Shelley family, will grow greater with the lapse of time. After five years there will probably be no public library in the world that will not contain a sketch of the story of the medal, and no collection of historic medals that will not contain a copy of this one of Kate's. A medal of honor, worthily won and worthily bestowed, is the most enduring as well as the most grateful of mortal baubles. The medallic history of the world is of remarkable interest. The mother of this Iowa heroine, sitting in the poverty of her humble home, and yet with a pride that came in her blood of some ancestor whose valor had been proved by field and fire-perhaps centuries ago-perhaps by a Sir Galahad or an Arthur himself-in saying she would rather have the state giver her daughter a medal than a home, was right. The circle of gold she knows is more than money, and means more in the present, and very much more in the future. She could work for money. Potatoes would bring money, eggs would -even begging But this shining stamp of gold, expressing the appreciation and admiration of a state, and preserving the record of heroism to history, mere labor could not earn nor money buy. Such tokens of immortality are only won by mortals of more than mortal courage or merit. So a double lesson has been taught here: A great legislature perpetuating its name in history by the one act of recognizing heroism-and next, a simple Irish woman, born from lowliest peasantry of poor and mendicant Ireland, verifying anew the quality of human nature at its best; by saying even in her poverty that the gold of honor is more than the gold of bread. It teaches further, that in the humblest breast and in the poorest home, as well as in prouder breasts in higher life, there is still burning yet the sparks of the living fire of noblest human purpose. It is this light falling on Kate Shelley's medal, that will give its purest radiance.

Burlington Hawkeye
Burlington, Des Moines, Iowa
April 6, 1882

    Since the action of the legislature in recognizing the heroism of Kate Shelley, an effort is being made to increase the fund for her benefit, so that she may go to school. The postmaster at Boone has been selected as custodian of all funds.

Burlington Hawkeye
Burlington, Des Moines, Iowa
May 4, 1882

     It is said Kate Shelley, the heroine, is not engaged to be married, but it is intimated that when the time does come for venturing upon the matrimonial sea, there was a switchman in the yards at Moingona who was with her in the sickness following her terrible adventure, and who, although wearing the clothes of a laborer and carrying a hand crippled in the service of the railroad company, will probably put in the first and best claim.

Daily Iowa State Press
Iowa City, Johnson, Iowa
Feb 17, 1899

Stories of Brave Girls.
     On July 6, 1881, a storm of wind and rain burst over Iowa, and in an hour's time every creek was out of its banks. So sudden was the flood that houses, barns, lumber and all portable objects within reach of the waters were carried away. Looking from her window, which in daylight commanded a view of the Honey creek railroad bridge, Kate Shelley saw, through the darkness and storm, a locomotive headlight. A second later it dropped; she knew that the bridge had gone and that a train of cars had fallen into the abyss. There was no one at home but her mother and her little brother and sister, and the girl understood that if help was to be given to the sufferers and the express train, then nearly due, warned, she would have to undertake the task alone.
     Hastily filling and lighting an old lantern and wrapping herself in a waterproof, she sallied out in the storm. She climbed painfully up the steep bluff to the track, tearing her clothes to rags on the thick undergrowth and lacerating her flesh most painfully. A part of the bridge still remained, and crawling out on this to the last tie, she swung her lantern over the abyss, and called out at the top of her voice. It was pitchy dark below but she was answered faintly by the engineer, who had crawled upon some of the broken timbers, and though injured, was safe for the time being. From him the girl learned that it was a freight train that had gone into the chasm, and that he alone of that train's hands had escaped. He urged her, however, to proceed at once to the nearest station, to secure help for him, and to warn the approaching express train of the fall of the bridge.
     The girl then retraced her steps, gained the track and made her way toward Moingona, a small station about one mile from Honey creek. In making this perilous journey it was necessary for her to cross the Des Moines river, about five hundred feet in length. Just as she tremblingly put her foot on this structure, the wind, rain, thunder and lightning were so appalling that she nearly lost her balance, and in the endeavor to save herself, her sole companion-the old lantern-went out. Deprived of her light she could not see a foot ahead of her, save when dazzling flashes of lightning revealed the grim outlines of the bridge and the seething waters beneath. Knowing that she had no time to lose, the brave girl threw away the useless lamp, and dropping on her hands and knees, crawled from tie to tie across the high trestle. Having gained the ground again, she ran the short distance remaining to the station, told her story in breathless haste and then fell unconscious. She was, however, in time to save the express with the scores of lives it carried.

Chief Reporter
Perry, Dallas Co, IA.
June 14, 1900

     Kate Shelly.- Mrs. Benj. Swisher, living east of Perry, is enjoying a visit from her mother and sister, Mrs. Shelley and Miss Kate, of Moingona. Kate Shelley is well remembered in this part of the country as the young heroine who saved the express train from a terrible calamity at the bridge near Boone some sixteen years ago.

Daily Iowa State Press
Iowa City, Johnson, Iowa
October 17, 1903

     The Northwestern Railway company has given the station at Moingona in charge of Miss Kate Shelley, to whom their gratitude can never be wanting. As all the telegraph instruments have been removed from this office, her work will be entirely the sale of tickets. Many times before the Northwestern has offered her high salaried positions on their road, but as each one would necessitate her removal from the home town at Moingona, where her aged mother is enjoying the last years of her life, she refused them all. This in part shows her unselfish devotion to her parent. Now as passengers go to and from this little station, they may see from this station, they may see and grow better acquainted with the woman whose bravery "saved the train."-- Ames Intelligencer.

Iowa Recorder
Greene, Butler, Iowa
June 7, 1911

     Kate Shelley, who prevented a loaded Northwestern passenger train from going into an open bridge near Boone 25 years ago, is at the point of death in a hospital at Carroll.

Washington Post
Washington, D.C.
Jan 22, 1912

Kate Shelly Crept Across Bridge in Storm to Save Train.
    Boone, Iowa, Jan. 21- Kate Shelly, heroine of the Honey Creek flood in 1881, died today at her home, a quarter of a mile from the Moingona bridge across the Des Moines River, the scene of her heroic act. Six months ago she was operated on for appendicitis, and before she recovered, Bright's disease set in.
     During a violent storm 30 years ago Miss Shelly, who was station agent at Moingona, crossed the bridge on her hands and knees at midnight to flag a passenger train on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and save it from plunging into Honey Creek, over which the bridge had been washed away.
     For her bravery the Iowa legislature awarded her a medal and a sum of money. She also received substantial recognition from the railroad.

Iowa Recorder
Greene, Butler, Iowa
Jan 24, 1912

     The funeral of Miss Kate Shelley, the Iowa heroine, will be held at Boone today. The Northwestern railroad company will furnish a special train to convey the remains and relatives to Boone.


For a biography and picture of Miss Shelley see: