Six years ago Miss Shelly won a gold medal from the Iowa Legislature, “and a wealth of admiration from all who read of her act of heroism.” The facts are these In a fearful thunder-storm and a torrent of falling rain, she looked out of her window in the darkness of the night, and by the vivid flashes of lightning shining on the scene, she saw that a railroad bridge near her home had been swept away by the storm. Just then she saw the headlight of a locomotive swiftly approaching the spot where the bridge had just been swept away, and plunge into the abyss below.
She lighted her lantern, and alone, amidst the thunder, and lightning, and storm, she crept up a rocky steep, and with her clothes torn to rags, and lacerated flesh, she reached the rails, and on her hands and knees crept out to the last tie of the fallen bridge, swung the lantern back and forth over the abyss, until she heard the faint voice of the engineer, who, though in the greatest peril himself, cried to her to go quickly and give the alarm to save the express train, which was then coming toward that perilous spot, and some help also, to rescue him.
She started for the nearest station, which was a mile away. To reach that station she had to cross a high trestle bridge of five hundred feet in length. She had gone but a few steps when a fearful gust of wind put out her lantern, which she then threw away, knowing that she could not relight it in the storm. She then dropped upon her hands and knees, and crept along from tie to tie over the trestle. Her way was lighted only by frequent flashes of lightning.
After crossing the bridge she hastened along the rails by the flashes of lightning to the station, and with what strength she had left told her story, and then fell in a dead faint at the station-agent’s feet. Help went quickly to the poor engineer’s rescue, and telegrams flew up and down the line, notifying all that the bridge was gone. While Miss Shelly lay yet unconscious, the express train came rushing into the depot.
When the passengers learned what perils the brave girl had passed through to save them, and saw her still lying in an unconscious state, they took her up tenderly, and bathed her torn and bleeding limbs, and soon brought her back to consciousness. Oh, how the scene beggars description, as the men and women gather about this brave girl of sixteen, looking upon her pale face, her torn and bleeding form. As they think how she went through all this to save their lives, words are too weak to express the deep gratitude of their hearts. They laid a substantial expression of their appreciation at her feet. Then, as the best they could do, they embalmed her memory in their warmest affections, while the world placed a wreath of lasting honor on her brow. And Kate Shelly, living or dying, with her approving conscience, can say: “I did what I could.”
What an example to all Christians, who see so clearly the dark abyss just a step before unconverted men, and they rushing with great speed towards it. Let us swing the lamp of truth before them, and cry with great earnestness: “Danger ahead! Bridge gone! No crossing but through the bleeding victim of Calvary!”
May we all learn a lesson of sacrifice and effort to save others, from this incident, that in the coming day Christ, may say of us: “They have done what they could.”
— A. B. Earle
Touching Incidents and Remarkable Answers to Prayer - 1893