THE CALLAGHAN-KAYS TRAGEDY.
The bridge for the railroad over the Lackawaxen River at Lackawaxen,
a structure 400 feet in length, was being built in December, 1848.
Henry Dutcher was foreman of one side of the bridge, and Jacob
Dunkle of the other. On the east side of the river was a heavy
embankment for nearly a quarter of a mile, under contract by Clark
& Carman, who had about two hundred Irishmen at work on it.
When the bridge was ready to be raised, the chords had been stretched,
and the runways laid for running in the timber. The Irish railroad
laborers gave a great deal of trouble by insisting in going across
the bridge to the hotel at the mouth of the river for whiskey,
frequently a dozen or more at a time. They were afraid to walk
the single plank used for a runway, but would get down on their
hands and knees and creep across. This was done sometimes twenty
times a day, much to the annoyance and loss of time of the bridge
men. To do away with it a substantial foot bridge was constructed
a few rods above the railroad bridge, but the Irishmen would not
use it. They persisted in crossing on the runways. One day, when
about a dozen of them went on the bridge, Dunkle, who was an impulsive,
quick-tempered fellow, took up an iron bolt three feet long, and
swore that if they did not get off he would break their heads.
They got off, but as they did so they, swore vengeance on Dunkle,
calling him "a damned black Dutchman," and declaring
that they would get even with him. Henry Dutcher, who had the
good will of the laborers, advised them to use the foot bridge,
and they took his advice, but that night, out of revenge toward
Dunkle, they invaded his side of the bridge and carried off one
of the main braces, twenty-five feet long, and two oak keys, three
feet long. The next morning Dunkle missed his timber, and at once
mistrusted where it had gone. He took a good man with him and
went over among the Irish shanties. There, he found a man cutting
up the brace for firewood. Procuring a warrant from justice Thomas
J. Ridgway, who lived close by, Dunkle had the fellow arrested
and taken before the justice. The Irishmen supposed they had taken
him to Dutcher's tavern, where most of the bridge men boarded.
Bent on revenge, a dozen or more of them went over the river to
the tavern. It was then about half-past eleven in the forenoon.
They were there when the bridge men went to dinner, had been drinking
freely, and were ready for a fight. The men had to pass through
the bar-room to get to the dining-room. One of them began to talk
to the Irishmen, calling them names. Henry Dutcher collared him
and shoved him into the dining-room. Dutcher was the first to
finish dinner. "I went down in the room where the Irish were,"
says he in relating this, "talked with them a few minutes,
passed out, and went to Joel Shannon's store, about two hundred
yards above the tavern. I had just got into the store when I heard
some one crying:
"'Catch him! He has stabbed a man!'
"I rushed to the door in time to see a man running by,
with James Salmon close at his heels. Salmon got near enough to
strike the man in the back of the neck, knocking him several feet'
clear off the ground. As he struck the ground his head went under
a bunch of shingles. We secured him and took him back to the tavern,
where he was held until a warrant could be procured. The rest
of the Irishmen had fled in all directions.
"I found the man who had been stabbed lying dead upon
one of the benches. His name was George Kays. He was one of the
quietest and most peaceable men on the bridge job. The name of
the man that stabbed him was Patrick Callaghan. It was a deliberate
and unprovoked assault. Kays had not spoken a word to Callaghan
or to any one else, but was in the act of pulling off his pea-jacket
preparatory to going to work, when Callaghan plunged a knife into
his left breast, just below the nipple. The knife must have struck
the heart, for Kays was dead in less than five minutes. The stabbing
had been preceded, by an altercation and loud words between some
of our men and the Irishmen.
"We took the body of Kays into an upper room and notified,
the justice of the Peace, who acted as Coroner. He summoned a
jury and held an inquest. The jury returned a verdict that George
Kays had come to his death at the hands of Patrick Callaghan.
"The funeral of the murdered man had to be arranged for.
There was no coffin to be had except at Port Jervis, N. Y., or
Honesdale, Pa., either place twenty-five miles distant. I told
the men that I would make the coffin if they would find the lumber.
There was no lumber nearer than Holbert's mill, three miles up
the valley. By this time it was dark, and the men were afraid
to go after the lumber, so I started up the track alone, went
to the mill, selected the lumber, and sent a team after it. Returning,
I went over the river to our tool-house, near where the Irish
shanties were, got my tools, and worked until 2 o'clock in the
morning, in an open shed near the tavern, and could not get a
man to hold a light for me, they were all so afraid of the Irish.
The next day I finished the coffin, and in the afternoon we had
the funeral, I reading the burial service over the grave.
"The next thing to do was to take the prisoner to Milford
jail. To do this we selected eight men, arming them with muskets
and revolvers, to accompany the Sheriff, for they had to go right
past where the Irishmen were at work, and they expected that the
latter would try, to rescue the prisoner. This was not an ungrounded
fear, for as soon as the posse had driven past where the Irishmen
were at work, the laborers started with picks and shovels to make
a raid on the wagon the prisoner was in. But our men sprang out,
made a mark across the road, and covering the advancing body of
men with their guns, retreated about fifty feet, and told them
that the first man who put his foot over that mark would be a
dead one. The Irishmen wavered, halted, held a short consultation,
and turned back. It was well for them that they did. Our men had
a hundred pounds of ammunition, and were in dead earnest."
The prisoner was safely lodged in Milford jail, was indicted,
tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged, but Governor
Johnson, of Pennsylvania, refused to sign his death warrant, and
the next Governor, William Bigler, held that it was the duty of
his predecessor to sign all death warrants of those convicted
of murder during his term of office, and he refused to sign it;
so Callaghan was never hanged, but lay in Milford jail five years,
and was then pardoned and discharged. Callaghan afterward went
to Port Jervis, and worked as brakeman on the Delaware Division
of the Erie for twenty years. He was killed by being run over
by the cars not many miles from the spot where he had murdered
poor George Kays twenty-five years before.
At the time of the construction of the Erie, the building of
railroad bridges was in its infancy, or experimental stage. The
bridges were all of wood. The design first in use was the Bunn,
the bridges being covered. Later the Company adopted the Fowler
and the McCallum. In constructing a bridge of either of the two
latter designs, a level platform as long as the bridge, and at
least twenty-five feet wide, was erected, on which the whole broadside
of the bridge was drafted. Then the outside posts of the bridge,
after having been framed for the chords and arches, were put in
place and firmly fastened; the braces were framed and fitted in
position; the chords and arches (there was an arch to each span
of the bridge), were placed in position, and the top posts and
braces were framed and similarly placed. Thus a whole broadside
of the bridge was completed. This had to be all taken apart and
piled by itself, and the other broadside constructed in the same
way. The building of a large bridge of this kind made a long,
heavy job, requiring the handling of several thousand tons of
timber at least seven times over, besides the work of framing.
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