IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
Saturday Evening Post
Capt E. H. Thomas
BURIED UNDER FARMS
followed by shifting of channel
Wrecked Boat Buried Every Seven Miles from the Mouth of the Missouri
Clear Up to Great Falls.
My boat was on the down trip from
Davenport to St. Louis. We
landed at Keokuk, where we took on a lot of freight and sufficient coal
to make the trip to St. Louis. It
was my watch out of Keokuk. The
lines were let go. I rang
the backing bells, and the big stern wheel commenced to make its
revolutions. The steam had
reached the top mark, and it was making a noise, as it came out of the
safety valves on the boilers. Some
people on the shore were yelling at me, and pointing toward he stern of
my boat. I could not hear
them for the steam, but I looked and saw nothing in the way, and let her
back at full speed. As I
looked ahead again I saw the wooly head of one of the colored
roustabouts bob up near the
bow of the steamer. He came
up smiling, with his face toward me.
He had been sent out on the wheel to do some repairs.
The engineer as is their custom, started the engines slowly, to
work the water out of his cylinders, pulled the colored gentlemen under
the boat and I had backed over him.
He was a professional river rat from St. Louis and a good
swimmer, and he soon made the shore.
I landed and picked him up, and the only complaint he put up was
that he had lost the wrench which he was using to tighten up the buckets
on the wheel. It was
considered a great joke for one of the crew to fall overboard.
The boys got it on to me on one occasion.
We were lying at Muscatine one night discharging a lot of
freight. We finished the job
about midnight. I started
for the pilot house to take the steamer out.
There was a torch burning on the levee, and its light blinded me
so that I wandered over to the starboard side, and
fell from the roof into the river, a distance of about 25 feet.
As there was plenty of water under me, the fall did me no harm
except to ruin a suit of clothing which I had purchased in St. Louis.
It was one of those expensive Prince Albert suits, with the
lavender attachment, and this was its first trip up the river.
After its drenching at Muscatine the shrinking commenced and I
was never able to get into it thereafter.
It was a costly dive and swim for me, but the incident furnished
the boys with amusement for a
week or ten days. It was a
common saying among us that one could not be classed as a steamboat man,
until he got wet. So I took
my turn with the rest of them, and it was a high dive, a good one.
In some cases such incidents brought fatal results.
I was making a trip on one of the Davenport and Montrose packets.
We were on the up stream run, and between Muscatine and Davenport
we lost one of our colored deck hands.
This man was in the habit of loafing around the engine room and
tinkering with the machinery. The
engineer had told him a number of times to stay out of there, but he
paid no attention to the order, and continued his visits.
On the night of his disappearance, he went in there and turned
the throttle of the “Doctor” engine, and started the big boiler pump
at a gallop. Seizing a bucket of hot water the engineer made a run for
him, threatening him with the scalding water.
The colored man backed out of the engine room and when on the
guard the hot water was thrown on him. He went overboard backward, and
that was the last seen of him. No
alarm was given, and there was but one man, a fireman, who saw the man
go into the river, and he said nothing about it for a week.
When it became known , some of the crew threatened to report it
however they did not do it, and the incident was soon forgotten.
One more victim wad added to the list of floaters on the big
river, and that was the end of it. We
landed at Keithsburg one afternoon and among the passengers who came
aboard was Norris Keoch, a boy about 13 or 14 years of age.
His home was in Wapello, and he had been down there visiting his
Uncle Henry Martin. The
uncle told the clerk that he was sending the boy home.
That he could not keep him away from the river and he was afraid
he would be drowned. We went
into the Iowa river after dark, and the last I saw of the boy was at
sundown, just below New Boston, when I told him to go down off the roof.
I then called the steward and told him to look after the lad.
He was running around all over the boat, and I was afraid he
would fall into the river. The
steward put him to bed at 8 o’clock.
When we reached Wapello a thorough search was made, but little
Norris could not be found. His
suit case and a pair of boots were in his stateroom.
Little Norris was a good swimmer and we still had a hope that he
might have reached the shore or one of the islands.
On the down trip we went slowly, sounded the whistle and made a
search of the shores and islands, but Norris was not there.
We put searching parties at work on the Iowa and Mississippi, and
on our next trip we were hailed by two men in a skiff.
They had found the body in a drift pile near, the head of Huron
Island. To me, this was a
sad affair, one which brought tears to my eyes, when I gazed upon the
lifeless form of little Norris and thought of his grief stricken mother
in Wapello. Our theory was
that the lad, after being put to bed, had left his berth and in his
sleepy condition, walked off the boat at some point between Wapello and
the mouth of the Iowa.
BURIED IN THE MISSOURI RIVER
The latest effort to
recover a supposedly valuable cargo of whiskey from the hull of a
wrecked Missouri river boat has failed.
Men who explored the wreck of the steamer Leadora, sunk
four miles south of Elk Point, S. D., after burning in 1867, expected to
find 100 barrels of whiskey, but found nothing except rusted iron and
the rotting mass of the 148 tons of miscellaneous cargo that the boat
carried. The same experience
rewarded the men who spent thousands of dollars in sinking caissons to
the hull of The Arabia, near Parkville, Mo.
Several years ago, in the expectation of recovering the cargo of
150 barrels of whiskey that went down with the boat in 1856.
The only find that rewarded treasure seekers was a lot of old
wool hats, which had resisted the decay of nearly fifty years.
Some years earlier treasure seekers explored the hull of the
Twilight, sunk near the mouth of Fishing river, opposite Napoleon
Mo., but found nothing of value.
These failures, however, will not daunt other treasure seekers,
for there are still believed to be rich treasures awaiting a finder in
some of the more than 250 rotting hulks that lie embedded in the
river’s sand. Some 200 of
these boats have been sunk by rocks and snags, the remainder by fire,
explosion or overloading. The
first wreck on the river occurred in 1819, when the Thomas Jefferson,
one of the government fleet in the Long Yellowstone expedition,
was wrecked at the Cote Sans Dessein opposite the mouth of the Osage
river. The last wreck in
which the boat was sunk and lost was the government steamer Atlantis,
sunk by an ice gorge at Missouri City in 1919.
The government lighthouse tender Lily struck a snag at
Wellington, Mo. A few weeks
later and sank in shallow water, but was raised some time later.
Probably the richest treasure in any of these wrecks is that on
the Bedford, sunk April 25, 1840, at the mouth of the Missouri
river. The boat had a heavy
passenger list and there was said to be a large amount of silver and
gold on board. One passenger
is known to have had on board $6,000 in gold in his trunk, while
estimates of the total amount of gold and silver on board range anywhere
between $25,000 and $100,000. In
the boat’s safe was said by one report to have been more than $25,000
on deposit by passengers, in addition to money of the owners, paid to
them for passage and to be used in trading.
The Bedford struck a snag after entering the mouth of the river
and sunk until only its smokestacks showed, within one minute fifteen of
the passengers were drowned. A
terrible rainstorm was raging at the Lime and the night was pitch dark.
Since the sinking of the Bedford the mouth of the river has moved
south several miles, leaving thee wreck of the steamer buried under land
that now is being farmed.
Another boat which would yield a treasure to its finders is the Bertrand,
which sank in 1865 in Bertrand Bend, near Portage La Force Neb. With
a cargo in which there were iron flasks containing more than $25,000
worth of quicksilver destined for the mines of Montana. Probably the
most valuable cargo ever lost on the river was that on the Butte,
which sank July 13, 1863 near Fort Peck, Mont.
The cargo was valued at $110,000 and it was said to be a large
quantity of gold dust from the Montana mountains.
The Boreax which sank near Hermann Mo. In 1846, after
burning carried a large quantity of silver bullion and Mexican dollars.
The boat was supposed to have been set afire by men who expected
to steal the treasure, but the fire spread so fast that they were forced
to jump overboard to save their lives without getting
at the silver.
Nearly all the boats coming down the river until along in the
80’s carried more or less gold and silver from the Montana mines, and
passengers coming from the west frequently were miners who carried their
wealth in gold dust. The
records of losses of this kind, however are very indefinite.
In many cases boats sank so quickly that passengers and crew had
barely time to save themselves without heeding any treasure that might
be aboard. In other cases
boats sank in shallow water and everything was saved and the boats were
raised again. Many of these
boats are now buried under dry land, due to the shifting of the river
channel, where, if they could be located, it would be an easy matter to
explore them. In some cases
the wrecks still are in the channel and can be seen at low water.
Frequently where they have, or may, become a menace to
navigation, they are pulled apart or blown up by the government snag
boats. The hull of the Timour which blew up just below Jefferson
City, August 29, 1854 lies part - on the present bank of the river and
is almost wholly out of the water in the extreme low water season.
More than thirty persons killed in the explosion on the Timour
and the safe, which contained a large amount of money was blown to
the top of a bluff, 200 feet high.
DISASTERS ON RIVER
From the mouth of the river to the head of navigation, at Fort
Benton, Mont. There is a wreck to about seven miles of river.
A great deal has been written abut the explosion on the Saluds
at Lexington, April 9, 1852, when twenty-seven persons were killed but
that was not the worst of all the explosions. The worst explosion was
that on the Edna, near the mouth of the river July 3, 1842, when
fifty-five German immigrants were killed.
The explosion on the Timour killed thirty and the
explosion on the big Hatchie at Hermann, killed a large number.
The records of this explosion, which occurred July 25, 1845 are
Fewer than thirty persons have been drowned as the result of
steamboat accidents, more than half of them drowned by the sinking of
the Bedford. All told, there
have been about 305 wrecks in the history of the Missouri River.
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