The Awful Death of John R. Carson, the Well-Known Engineer

This is a story behind a gravestone in lower River View Cemetery.

John R Carson gravestone, with railroad track motif. Photo: J Miller

John R Carson. Born September 13, 1852. Died August 5, 1888. John Carson belonged to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.


August 5, 1888
John R Carson
The Awful Death of John R. Carson the Well-Known Engineer

On Tuesday last all that was mortal of John R. Carson, the well-known engineer on this division of the O.R.&S. line was laid to rest at Riverview cemetery, Portland. Who, of all his legion of friends could have believed a few days ago that he would now be numbered in the ranks of those that have passed beyond and only the memory of his cheerful face and pleasant greetings remain to remind us of the uncertainties of life.

On Sunday last [August 5, 1888] the west bound passenger train drawn by engine 59 pulled out of Huntington, considerably behind time and was soon thundering down the road at the rate of 35 miles an hour. A few miles out of Huntington, Carson left the cab of his engine and started forward to join Engineer Leach who was in charge of No. 44, in the lead. As he passed through the narrow window of his cab he gave Fireman Warnock a sign to lookout for the engine and in his usual daring manner, unmindful of the dangers surrounding him successfully passed his own engine and was standing on the right side of the water tank of No. 44 when in one unguarded moment he lost his footing - the next he was seen plunging headlong to the ground and a life full of hope, radiant with bright promises was forever hushed and John Carson lay dead upon the ground.

Carson was one of the oldest engineers on the division, coming here from the O.&C. road and prior to his employment on that line was working on the Virginia and Truckee road in Nevada. He was a member of Blue Mountain division of the Brotherhood of Locomotive engineers and also of the Red Cross Lodge K., of P. On Monday the body was placed on the west bound train for Portland.

Mrs. Carson accompanied the body of her husband to Portland with Mrs. H.C. Higginson, an intimate friend and on their arrival at that city were joined by relatives and a number of friends of the deceased and widow. The funeral took place on Tuesday and poor unfortunate John Carson now sleeps beneath the ever green turf of beautiful Riverview cemetery while a wealth of floral tributes of affection lie fading on the newly rounded mound of earth that marks the resting place of a kind and affectionate husband, a friend true as steel and one well worthy of a better fate.

Location of the Gravestone

Start at the RV Cemetery Chapel parking lot, and walk around toward the Spanish American War area. You'll come to some steps. Pause at the top of the steps and look due north. You may see a water standpipe painted orange on the lawn. Go down the steps, cross the road and walk toward the standpipe.

Directions to Carson's grave. Map by J Miller

Soon, you'll see an iron railing for another set of steps. These steps are older, widened more recently, probably when the iron railing was added. No need to go down the old steps! The Carson Grave is right there, within three feet of the iron railing. It is flat with the ground, not upright.

How the gravestone was discovered

In 2021, John Miller was researching an electric trolley route that connected Portland to River View Cemetery in the early 1900's. Over several visits he noticed a very old grave marker right at the top of some old steps that may have connected a trolley stop on Taylors Ferry to the cemetery. The railroad motif piqued his interest! A search led to Carson's obituary.

A Nearby Grave

If you go uphill just a ways from Carson's grave, you come to Abigail Scott Duniway's gravesite. Duniway was an American women's rights advocate, newspaper editor and writer. Her name should be familiar to most Portlanders.

Abigail Scott Duniway gravesite. Photo by Ken Kane


Questions for Our Readers

Editor's Note

Janine M. Bork posted the Carson Obituary online. Email to [] was returned as undeliverable.

Photo credits are as noted. Editor: J Miller. Thanks to M Read for suggestions.

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