Those running the lottery for the land rush estimated that between 10 and 20 thousand people might take part. Officials in Coeur d’Alene were ecstatic, until the people started showing up like herds of bison. More than 7,000 came. There wasn’t a hotel room or even a room in a private house left to rent. Meanwhile, hoteliers in Spokane warned that Coeur d’Alene prices would be too high and encouraged rushers to stay in their city.
Fortune seekers on their way between Coeur d’Alene and Spokane to participate in the land rush packed two Spokane & Inland Railway trains on Saturday afternoon, July 31, 1909, the No. 5 eastbound and the No. 20 westbound. Why they were on the same track was for investigators to later determine, but on that afternoon the only thing that mattered was that they met head-on, each train going about 45 miles per hour.
The Twin Falls Times News covered the story in depth a few days later because a local man was one of many injured.
“It was the smoking car of the westbound train that all of the deaths occurred and most of the injured were hurt. This car was crowded to the limit, the aisle being packed with standing passengers.
“When the crash came the partition separating the motorman from the passengers was swept backward and with it the front seats. Passengers in the front of the car were thrown on top of those in the rear, while the front car of the eastbound train telescoped the smoker and smashed the seats, framework and window glass into an inextrable (sic) mass, from which the victims were extricated with difficulty.”
Sixteen died in the crash. Reports of the number injured varied from 75 to 116.
Though on the day of the crash most of the injured and dead were headed to Spokane, it was the Idaho land rush that had brought many of them to the area in the first place.