Monday, September 18, 2023

Learning About the Katy


If it weren't for the consistent pursuit of my family's story over the generations, I doubt I would have learned as much about history as I have. Add to that geography, economics, and human hopes and dreams, fulfilled or dashed. Learning about the life of others in the family eventually means learning about Life, itself.

With the last of my research goals abandoned for lack of material allowing me to continue that track, I'll be dedicating the upcoming two weeks to reviewing the loose ends left behind from previous months' goals. First on my list is a review of DNA matches in my ThruLines results for the Broyles family line. While that may seem a simple assignment, I hardly expected I'd be learning about a train line with a claim to fame of going against the grain. This is what I learned about the railroad line known, over a century ago, as "the Katy."

Apparently, unlike other lines known for shipping goods and passengers across the continent, connecting east and west, the Katy was part of a company which became known as the first railroad to enter Texas from the north. The "unconventional north-south network" of the Kansas-Texas division (the K-T, or "Katy" for short) of the Missouri Pacific Railroad owed its roots to a formation designed to build a supply network connecting frontier military posts in the midwest with port cities in the south. The dream was to eventually expand to a rail system stretching from Chicago to New Orleans.

Before 1870, the U.S. Congress had passed acts promising land grants to the first railroad to complete a route through the Neosho Valley to the Kansas border. Though the Katy line was the first to do so, they never received the promised land due to other restraints. However, the company continued its push southward, completing a route to the Texas border by 1872, and incrementally beyond that to several other Texas cities by the early 1900s.

All this I would never have known, had it not been for a newspaper report involving one of my Broyles line DNA matches' ancestors. On Friday evening, July 12, 1907, the Parsons, Kansas, Daily Eclipse carried the story:

Second section of Katy freight No. 414 went into a weakened culvert about three-quarters of a mile north of Colbert yesterday morning about 5:10 as a result of which the entire crew of five men were more or less injured, one very seriously.

Despite the seemingly offhand comment, "more or less," reading beyond the first paragraph did indeed spell out the story more clearly. The train was "running light"—consisting of only the engine and caboose—and had just passed Colbert in what was then "Indian Territory." The conductor had just received a "slow order" regarding two approaching bridges upon which construction work had recently been done. The train safely crossed the first. However, in attempting to slowly cross the second, after the engine cleared the area, the construction gave way, leaving the caboose crashing down almost on end.

It was there in that falling train car that brakeman Horace Maxwell Rolater was thrown to the floor of the caboose, knocked unconscious as the fall fractured his skull and caused internal injuries. By July 17, the next edition of the weekly Parsons newspaper reported that Rolater had died the evening of the day following the crash. By then, he had undergone surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain in hopes that would improve his chances of survival. He never regained consciousness.

Horace's father, who lived in Oklahoma, was present at the time of his passing. Not much else was said about the man who lost his life due to construction issues along the route he took that last work day. The newspaper did mention that Horace left a wife and two children—a boy and a girl—but they remained nameless. The only other comment provided by the article was that it was believed Horace Rolater was not a member of any Brotherhood or fraternal order, most likely meaning that there would be no help in providing his funeral and burial expenses—a hard burden for a young widow to bear unexpectedly.

While Horace Rolater was not anyone my family knew personally—he would have been my grandmother's third cousin—stories like this implore me to look further. Of course, you know there had to be more to this story, for the only reason I found it was because one of my DNA matches is a descendant of one of Horace Rolater's children.

Those children were indeed quite young when they lost their father—a devastating thought to consider, never mind live through. Horace's son was not quite five years old—an age in which a missing father might not be much more than a fuzzy memory. His daughter, still only one year old, would likely only have experienced the sudden sadness enveloping the home, not actually remembered the father she had lost.

Stories such as this are ones which cause us to stop and consider, no matter how far removed we are from the actual relative. They belong to the life history of another branch of the family, true, but they also belong to the tapestry of what makes our extended family what it is, even now. They remind me how important it is to capture those memories for the others who share those roots with us. They are all part of our fabric of life.



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