In 1904, following a mine explosion in Pennsylvania that killed 181 men, including two rescuers, Pittsburgh steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, created the Carnegie Hero Fund commission to recognize “acts of civilian heroism.”
According to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission’s Website, 96 Oklahomans have received the Carnegie Medal of Honor as of December 2011.
Tom Ball was not the first person from Oklahoma to receive the Carnegie Medal of Honor, but he distinguished himself by giving the ultimate sacrifice.
The page one story from the Dec. 20, 1921 edition of The Oklahoman describes the accident:
“Tom Ball, 45 years old, unmarried, in whose heart the love for little children is stronger than his own desire for life, with left foot severed and hip mangled, is twisting in agony on a bed at a Wichita hospital facing death. The child whom he saved, all unknowing of the sacrifices made that it might live, prattled out of the scene and is unknown. Ball, whose 90-year-old father lives at Harper, Kan., was talking with his father a few minutes before the accident occurred. A flaxen-haired tot playing by the railway gleefully ran upon the track. The freight train started to back up. Ball leaped between the rails, tossed the child gently to safety, but failed to rescue himself. The caboose of his own train ran over him before the engineer halted the train. Ball lost one foot, his hips were crushed and he was injured internally. Physicians say that he probably will not live. A special train was run by the Orient road to Wichita in an effort to save Ball’s life.”
The accident happened in Harper, Kan., but Ball had lived in Fairview for 14 years and was known in every town on his run between Fairview and Harper, Kan.
The superintendent of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad began a movement, supported by the towns along Tom Ball’s route, to secure a Carnegie medal for his act of heroism and on April 30, 1922, The Oklahoman announced Ball’s selection for the honor.
“Thus reads the prosaic record of one of the most heroic deeds in the history of the railway service, for Tom Ball, whose home was at Fairview, gave up his life to save the life of a little child. The little boy was Carl E. Yoder, 5 years old. He was unhurt, but Ball was caught by the wheels of the car and fatally injured. He died a few hours later at Wichita, Kan., where he was rushed on a special train. The medal awarded by the Carnegie Hero Fund commission has been sent to his aged parents, Mr. and Mrs. M.C. Ball at Harper.”
An online search of federal census records and the Social Security Death Index, finds that Carl E. Yoder lived another 80 years after that fateful day.