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On the River








Researched and Transcribed by

By Sue Rekkas



Daily Gazette, Wednesday Morning, November 2, 1881, page 4.




     Very cheerfully does The Gazette present to its readers the letter from Capt. Sam Van Sant, in relation to the Jennie Gilchrist, printed in another column this morning.  Still more pleasing it is to be assured, on such excellent authority, that the ill-fated boat was well built and strongly equipped.  Should the inquiry of the Coroner, or that of the steamboat Inspector, or both, also establish the fact that the Gazette has erred in its statement as to the manner in which steamboat owners now comply with the law, and that the inspection is now very rigid, none will be more grateful than will be the writer of the article referred to by our correspondent.  None the less certain it is, however, that the Gazette can prove, by sworn statements, that when this journal opened upon the inspection the fire of its criticisms two or three years ago and long after, the work of inspection was shamefully negligent.  Still, however, the question remains.  Was the engine of the Jennie Gilchrist in proper working condition, and were the officers of the boat at the time of the breaking of the cam rod, exercising due diligence.


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Daily Gazette, Wednesday Morning, November 2, 1881, page 4.





Facts as to Her Construction and as to Steamboat Inspection.



  Davenport, November 1, 1881.

  EDITOR OF THE GAZETTE:--One would judge from reading the newspaper account of the terrible disaster last Thursday night, caused by the sinking of the Jennie Gilchrist that said boat was old and worthless and should have been long ago condemned.  These accounts have misled the public and have done quite injustice to the owners of the boat.  It is to present the matter in its true light that I avail myself of a little space in your columns.


    The Jennie Gilchrist was a new boat.  She was built at LeClaire in1877, and has been docked and thoroughly repaired every winter since, with a single exception.  Her machinery was first-class in every particular, and no boat could boast of a better pair of boilers.  They were built last year of the best steel, and were allowed pressure sufficient to do any and all kinds of work without any violation of law.  I am willing to risk my reputation as a steamboatman that no more perfect little craft ever navigated these waters this same boat.  No pains or money have been spared to make her just such a craft.  Any boat, new or old, big or little, disabled and coming in contact with the bridge during this extreme high water, would be totally wrecked.  It is easy to blame men for dereliction of duty in times of great excitement and danger.  To me it is almost miraculous that so many were saved, when it is known that a steamboat in the dead hours of the night goes under a bridge, driven by the swift current with such force against the piers as to throw the boilers overboard, thus adding to the other dangers that of being scalded and blinded by steam.  Such a scene can better be imaged that described.  Consternation must have reigned supreme.  But as you say, let the matter be thoroughly investigated, and the blame, if any, placed where it rightfully belongs.


     Now, Mr. Editor, let me call your attention to a certain statement in your issue of yesterday, in which you are greatly in error.  In speaking of this same disaster, you say that there is not a single boat afloat on the stream which does not carry a greater pressure of steam than is allowed by the license.  That is a base slander on our steamboat owners, and licensed officers of the Mississippi river.  You cannot furnish proof of any such a state of affairs.  If you can it is your duty to do so and you will be liberally rewarded and at the same time do the public the greatest service.


     Our inspection has never been as thorough and complete as now.  Boilers are tested with the utmost minuteness and gauged annually and steam pressure allowed accordingly.  Excuse this little digression for it is very seldom that a steamboat man says anything in his own defense.


                                                 SAM VANSANT.

Davenport November 1, 1881.


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Daily Davenport, Friday, November 4, 1881, page 4.




A Wonder Some Terrible Accident Did Not Occur to Her Before.



She Had No Life Boat, No Life Preservers, No Anchor, No Licensed Mate or Master and Always Ran With More Steam Than She Was Legally Allowed to Carry.


LeClaire, Nov. 3, 1881.

Editor Democrat:


  In view of the excuses now being offered in behalf of the crew and owners of the ill fated vessel whose wrecking caused such sorrow in our midst, it seems met that the blame ought to be located, for it belongs somewhere.  With a view to finding out something in regard to the manner the Jennie was run, the undersigned interviewed a number of men of this place who have been aboard the boat in the last month and during the summer.  There are today dozens of men—good honest men, whose word is always good anywhere, who say that the boat in question never carried less than from 190 to 210 pounds of steam when she was towing.  It has been a notorious fact well-known to rivermen and citizens hereabouts that the boat was run with more steam than she was allowed.  It is true, as has been said by a correspondent of the Gazette, himself a riverman of experience, that the boat had good steel boilers and was a good little boat, but she never was able to do the work she has been doing since the high water came.  Then, too, it is not generally known that there was not a little rivalry between the Jennie and the Evansville; each stove to make time and get all the freight possible.  It is a safe statement to make, that the Jennie Gilchrist never came over the Moline chain with her legal allowance of steam.  


     With the tow barges she had in tow on the fatal night, had she been content with the legal allowance of steam, she could not have made LeClaire in less than five or six hours.


     Then, again, as to the management of the boat, let it be known that Mr. Maines, the engineer of the boat, was also captain in fact, although he did not carry master’s papers.  This is a direct violation of law.  It is said that there was no licensed mate on the boat.  There was not a suitable anchor ready for use.  Had there been a licensed mate on board, as is provided by law, on every boat that carries passengers, and had he been sober, and had there been an anchor of legal size ready  for any emergency, said anchor could have been cast and the boat held until the damage was repaired.  It is said there was an anchor aboard.  It was a little bit of toy concern that would not hold an empty flat, and was kept on board to comply with the letter of the law alone.  The master and pilot of the boat, Dana Dorrance, told the undersigned that when the wheel stopped he hallowed down the trumpet to the engineer to find out the trouble, but there was no response.  He hollowed again and again, but got no reply.  The pilot left his post only when it became a matter of self-preservation.


    Then, as to the matter of life saving appliances, the boat, I am informed, had very few life preservers on board.  A few days previous a man fell overboard, and nearly all the preservers were thrown to him.  There are now a stack of life preservers at the landing made for Jennie, because she lost hers and was without.  Then, too, the law makes it necessary for passenger boats to carry a life boat.  The Jennie had an ordinary skiff on the roof, turned upside down.  When the boat was drifting helplessly down to ruin with her precious cargo of human beings, there was no body in authority to tell them where to go or what to do.  What right had some roustabouts to assume command of a boat, and why would passengers follow their directions?  Is it to be wondered at that this boat, so overtaxed, should give up sometimes?  She had no buckets nor axes as is provided by law, in case of fire.  She had no anchor, no life boat, no life preservers, and no licensed mate, in effect no captain and the wonder is how she ever obtained permission to carry passengers at all.


    Your morning contemporary of the 2nd inst. contains a letter from a well-known riverman.  He speaks in glowing terms of the power and so forth of the Jennie.  All that he says with reference to the goodness of the boat is true.  If she had not been she would have sunk or blown up long ago.  The truth of the matter is that the Jennie was made to do more than she could stand.  As a natural consequence she gave out and that at a time when there was danger ahead.  But the worst phase of the case is that the owner, as well as engineer, knew that she was doing more than she could stand.  A few points not touched upon will form another letter.



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The Daily Union, Thursday, November 3, 1881, page 4.




The Accusations Against the Jennie Gilchrist and the Apparent Facts.


      As there is to be a thorough investigation of all the facts connected with the disaster of the Jennie Gilchrist it is well to know something of the reports that have been sent broadcast over the land by means of the telegraph, and the comments made upon these reports by the press.  There are definite accusations against the boat and its management which our investigations on the night of the accident led us to pass over as groundless and unjust, the result of excitement upon imaginations trained to conceive and believe the worst of any probable or possible situation.  The long and wholly unreliable dispatch which appears in the New York papers of Saturday contains this paragraph:

     There were seventeen persons in all lost.  The steamer had in tow one barge and on flat boat.  The latter was being pushed at the bow of the steamer, while the barge was fastened to the port side.  There seems to be no doubt that the steamer was totally unfit for the work.  She was heavily laden, and most of the crew were drunk.  Furthermore she was merely a freight boat, and not licensed to carry passengers.  The accident was entirely due to carelessness and liquor.  There was a great deal of whisky in the cargo, and some of it was tapped before the steamer left the wharf.


    The New York Sun, in commenting upon the dispatch, which it seems to have accepted as truthful, says editorially:


     While the terrible disaster to the steamboat Jennie Gilchrist, near Rock Island, in the Mississippi, on Thursday night, was no doubt intensified by the swollen state of the river, which made the current unusually strong, yet this fact cannot be brought in to shield the guilty.  The machinery was unquestionably defective; and as the state of the river was well known, it should have prompted unusual vigilance in inspecting and strengthening the steamer and its motive power.  As if it were not enough to put a defective steamer on the river when the floods had made it difficult to navigate, it is alleged that the boat was a freight boat, not licensed to carry passengers, and also that most of the crew were in liquor.  A disaster under such circumstances cannot be ascribed to the state of the river.  It is certain that a drunken crew and thoroughly incompetent and terror-stricken officers helped to bring it about.  In this story the traditional and almost romantic Mississippi pilot sinks into ignoble obscurity, and the prosaic steamboat clerk becomes a hero.


    These are exceedingly grave allegations to make, and to have published all over the land.  The Coroner’s jury cannot do otherwise than direct its inquiry in such a way as to make clear and beyond dispute or cavil the whole truth.  For our part, and without pretending that our information is conclusive, or that there may not be some basis for the reports set afloat and persistently reiterated, we believe that it can be readily shown:

   1.       That the boat was inspected last spring, and pronounced in good condition, and licensed to carry both passengers and freight.


   2.       That the machinery was, so far as known, in good condition, and the equipment up to the requirements of law.


   3.         That the boat was under the control of an experienced and licensed pilot and engineer, thoroughly competent, familiar with the river,

            and perfectly sober.


   4.         That the crew had been drinking but were not intoxicated, and that they did not interfere in any way with the management and

            navigation of the boat, or did anything to which the disaster can be remotely traced.


   5.         That the accident was caused by the breaking of a cam-rod by which the starboard engine was disabled and that the vessel became

            wholly uncontrollable.


   6.         That the accident happened 200 yards above the government bridge at a time of exceeding high water and rapid current, and that there

            was not time to apply the only remedy, unship the connection with the starboard engine and run with the larboard engine alone, before

            the boat was dashed against the bridge, less than five minutes elapsing between the break and the collision.


   7.          That an attempt was promptly and coolly made to apply the only remedy, pointed out above, which failed only for lack of time.  


     If these statements are true, as we believe them to be, the managers and operators of the Jennie Gilchrist should be exonerated from all blame, and the accident should be pronounced unavoidable by its very nature.  If, on the contrary, these statements are untrue, and there was culpable negligence in any essential respect, the sacrifice of life, and the future safety of passengers on the river, demand a full and clear statement of the actual facts and the visitation of the severest censure where censure belongs.


     The coroner’s inquest did not begin its work yesterday, owing to the absence of one of the jurymen, Mr. John Aster.  The inquiry will begin this morning in Justice Hawse’s office and Coroner Morris has already announced his intention to make it as thorough as the great importance of the case requires it should be.


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Review Dispatch, November 4, 1881.




     There were some narrow escapes from being on the ill-fated steamer Jennie Gilchrist, Thursday evening.  Messrs. Schillinger & Trumble, were telegraphed Thursday, to send some men to Rapids City to do some repairing.  They stared three men from their shop, who were to go up on the Jennie Gilchrist; but instead of going to Rock Island take the boat, they went up to the Moline landing, thereby escaping what might have been a watery grave.


     A son of David Reese, was going to some point up the river, but for some reason was delayed.  Benjamin Quick, a hardware merchant, and Mr. James, the railroad agent, accompanied by a couple of young ladies of Albany, came down on the Gilchrist, intending to go back on her, but did not reach the landing until the boat was out in the stream.  They watched until she reached the bridge with emotions that only four young people who get left can feel, then returned to the hotel to make the best of a disagreeable situation.  But they have thankful hearts today, for their providential escape.


     The inquest for Mrs. Camp called by Coroner Bawden was held in Davenport, the account of which follows.


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Davenport Democrat, Friday, November 4, 1881, page 1.




     Yesterday afternoon, Coroner Bawden took up and concluded the inquest as to the cause of the death of Mrs. Van Camp, of this city, one of the Jennie Gilchrist victims.  The mate, P. A. Hire, who was second pilot, also, on the steamer, testified that he was not on duty when the machinery broke down after the steamer had made the draw, but he saw the engineer trying to get the engine to work, and saw, also, that the boat was floating down steam;  he ran through the engine-room calling for everybody to get on the barge, [ the so-called “cabin” was a part of the engine-room], and when he leaped from the boat to the barge, the water was up to his knees.  He knew that the steamer had an anchor, three axes, 36 life preservers and a good hauser, but the anchor was not attached to the hauser and it was useless.  The Jury, Messrs. J. G. Shorey, T. H. Kemmerer and Geo. W. Ashton, returned a verdict that “Mary Jane Camp came to her death on the night of the 27th day of October, at 10:30 p.m., 1881, by being drowned by wrecking of the steamer Jennie Gilchrist against the government bridge, and the jury further find that no effort was made after the disabling of her machinery to anchor the boat, and are of the opinion that such an effort should have been made.” 


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Daily Gazette, Friday Morning, November 4, 1881.





No Effort Made to Anchor the Helpless Boat—Result of the Coroner’s Inquest.



    As has been stated, Coroner Bawden summoned a jury on the finding of Mrs. Camp’s body last Saturday, and the jurors viewed the remains.  Yesterday the jury was called together and a verdict reached.  Form the mass of evidence presented we give the following as the most important, it not yet having been offered at either of investigations on the other side:




     The principal witness was P. A. Hire, who testified essentially as follows:  He was second pilot and mate on the Jennie Gilchrist, and has been on her since Oct. 20, 1881.  Up to the night of October 27th no accident occurred.  He was not on duty that night, but the boat left Davenport about 6 p.m., and Rock Island about 10.  The boat went through the draw all right and when about two hundred yards above the bridge began floating down.  On going to the engine room Mr. H saw Engineer Mean (Maines) trying to get the engine to work.  He went to help turn the wheel, but seeing the boat drifting into the bridge ran back through the engine room and called for everybody to get out.  He kicked out the side door leading to the guards, at the same time calling for God’s sake to get on the barge, but as the witness reached the forecastle the boat struck the bridge.  The water was up to his knees when he jumped from the boat to the barge.  He heard two splashes and knew that two persons had fallen into the water.  The witness recites the fact that there were twelve on the barge when they were picked up by the Evansville.  He says the Gilchrist had a good life boat in which he had carried twelve people.  She also had an anchor, three axes, three dozen life preservers, and a good hawser on the boiler deck.  The anchor was not attached to the hawser.  No one took command of the boat after the engine stopped.  There was no order given to drop anchor.  Witness did not think any of the officers took liquor.  He assisted Mrs. Camp into the boat and saw her in the cabin.




    The verdict is rendered in these words:

    “The said jurors on oath do say that Mary Jane Camp came to her death on the night of the 27th day of October, at 10:30 p.m. 1881, by being drowned by wrecking of the steamer Jennie Gilchrist against the government bridge, and the jury further find that no effort was made after the disabling of her machinery to anchor the boat, and are of the opinion that such an effort should have been made.

                                                                                        J. G. Shorey

                                                                                        T. H. Kemmerer,

                                                                                        Geo. W. Ashton.

     Of course, as the reader of this report will at once understand, the inquest thus was conducted simply to legally establish the fact of the death of Mrs. Camp by drowning, as a result of the wrecking of the Jennie Gilchrist.  As to the cause of that disaster no real investigation was had.  That is left to the inquest being conducted by Coroner Morris, in Rock Island.  It is expected, on all hands, that thorough work will be made by that inquiry.  Still, it would have been well could Iowa have done its work, as to the death of one of its citizens, no less but even more exhaustively.   Particularly so, since it is to the Coroner’s jury alone that the public must look for light on the real cause of the catastrophe.  As to the examination of the Government Inspectors of Steamboats, little need be expected.  These gentlemen—Messrs. Girdon and Scott—are, in fact, making an inquiry where they are themselves, possibly, blameworthy.


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Daily Gazette, Wednesday Morning, November 9th, 1881, page 4.





As Furnished to The Gazette by Reliable Authority.



LeClaire—Widows and Orphans of the Gilchrist Horror.



LeClaire, November 8, 1881.

     James Sanford, fireman of the Jennie Gilchrist, and lost at the wreck of that boat, was for some fifteen years a resident of LeClaire, and leaves a wife and three helpless children in destitute circumstances.  John McCabe, a passenger and lost at the same time, was also a resident of LeClaire, was a blacksmith by trade, and worked for a number of our shops during the past season.  He leaves a wife and two children dependant on the charities of the generous public.



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The Daily Union, Thursday, November 10, 1881, page 4.





What the Evidence Has Shown.


     The long and thorough examination into the condition of the steamboat Jennie Gilchrist and the nature of the accident, though not concluded yet, has thrown about all the light on the subject that can be expected.  When we think of the circumstances we feel surprised that so many persons escaped rather than that so many were lost.  The testimony showed 14 employees of the boat, 12 passengers who paid fare and Mr. Gilchrist, who was not enumerated with either class making 27 in all, or two less than our first estimate.  If these two were on board—and we think one of them was—they escaped the vigilance of the clerk on his round making collections.  That 18 were saved we know, and the number of the drowned is not less than 9 nor more than 11.  The swiftness of the current is illustrated by the fact that the boat lost the distance it had taken half an hour to gain going up stream above the bridge, in from three to five minutes.  In that brief interval the engineer notified the pilot of the nature of the accident but did not make himself heard, and being compelled to try to rearrange the machinery connections he could only leave a man at the trumpet, and even he had to be called away in half a minute to try to turn the wheel, which there was not time to do.  Thus when the pilot felt the loss of headway there was no one to tell him, at the trumpet below, what was the matter.  He could not leave his post any more that the engineer could neglect trying that which want of time alone prevented him from accomplishing.  Hire the mate certainly gave warming of the danger ahead by calling loudly to everybody to get on the barge, but whether in his excitement he uttered his cry in the cabin is not clear.  Certain it is that the passengers had as early warning as anyone else, from Skelton and Schaechter, and that if their understanding, had not been paralyzed they could have escaped more readily than the crew is shown by the fact that the barge lines had been cut by one of the crew to save it from the danger of being drawn down with the sinking steamer.  With the collision the great escape of steam added to the horrors of the water and the darkness, and those who thought to jump upon the barge jumped into the river instead, some to be rescued, others to find a watery grave.  In the whole picture as presented by witness after witness before the Coroner’s jury there are a succession of untoward circumstances, each of which contributed to the fullness of the disaster, but every man did his part as best he could, and there is no room for censure or blame.  The boat was properly equipped, the machinery in good order till the camrod broke, and the responsible officers did their duty fully, but the current was too swift and the time too short for human effort to avoid the collision.  There may be several witnesses yet examined when the jury reconvenes, but it is not likely that anything will be offered that will put a different phase on the situation as already graphically described by fourteen participants and three experts.


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Daily Gazette, Saturday Morning, November 12, 1881, page 4.


     At last something is being done, or rather, going to be done, about the wreck of the Gilchrist.  Last evening a barge was loaded and made ready to take to the scene of action, preparatory to the beginning of operations.  On it were placed ropes, anchors and other necessary things, and also the pilot house of the Jennie, all fitted up with windows.  There are two barges necessary to the raising of the boat, but the other is not brought out.  And we should say it is high time that something was done.  It has been now fifteen days since the boat was sunk, and she has by lying within easy reach of both times during the whole of that time, containing, as we have every reason to believe, besides her machinery the bodies of some of the victims of that awful disaster, and still not one move of any kind has been made toward the recovery of either wreck or bodies.  When we had here a man who makes it his business to work under water, with plenty of flatboats and steamers to convey them to the scene, and plenty of assistance ready at any and all times, and still nothing done to ascertain whether any bodies were there, the conviction is forced upon us that the bodies are not wanted.  The only way for the parties interested to do is to proceed forthwith upon the investigation and have the matter settled; and we hope that course will be entered upon in earnest very shortly.


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Daily Gazette, Monday Morning, November 14, 1881, page 4.


     Capt. Dorrance, of the late Jennie Gilchrist, took two flat boats down to the wreck yesterday, and anchored them with the intention of raising it this afternoon.  The wreck lies in the middle of the river, about opposite Western Avenue.


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Daily Gazette, Monday Morning, November 14, 1881, page 4.








The Examination Commenced—What Was Done.



    Yesterday the two barges are to be used in raising the hull of the Jennie Gilchrist were moved down and placed in position for work.   They lie pretty well across the current, one each side of the hull and parallel with it.  On one in the pilot house of the Jennie, fitted up with windows and a stove, for the convenience of the operators; and each is fitted out with plenty of rope and other paraphernalia necessary for the work.


    Toward evening Jim Osborn made a series of soundings, and concluded that he deck is perfectly clear, machinery and everything being gone.  The bow lies pretty well down stream and the hull lies very much tipped in the water, one side being only four feet under the surface, while the other is much further under.


    The diver did not enter the water, as it was too late before all arrangements were complete, but he will go down today and make a thorough examination.  If the machinery and boilers, etc, are all gone, and the deck clear, as is supposed, it cannot be possible that any bodies are in the wreck.  But where or when the machinery left the hull cannot be told as yet.  It is certain that it does not lie up by the bridge, as all the evidence brought forward in the inquest tends to show that it still remained on board.  And even the boilers were thought by Mr. Hastie, one of the passengers, contrary to the general opinion, to be still on the wreck after it passed the bridge.  So it will take time and much searching to find the different parts of the machinery.  Today will tell, probably, if the weather permits, whether the whole thing is together or nearly so; and if it is as Mr. Osborn supposes, the balance will have to be hunted up before the coroner’s inquest can go on, in order that he jury may view the broken rod.


    We are glad that the work has commenced.  The rough weather for the past few days is sufficient excuse for not working during that time, but does not explain the long inaction of the previous ten days. Even the boilers were thought by Mr. Hastie, one of the passengers, contrary to the general opinion, to be still on the wreck after it passed the bridge.  So it will take time and much searching to find the different parts of the machinery.  Today will tell, probably, if the weather permits, whether the whole thing is together or nearly so; and if it is as Mr. Osborn supposes, the balance will have to be hunted up before the coroner’s inquest can go on, in order that he jury may view the broken rod.


    We are glad that the work has commenced.  The rough weather for the past few days is sufficient excuse for not working during that time, but does not explain the long inaction of the previous ten days.


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Daily Gazette, Wednesday Morning, November 16, 1881, page 4.


     The examination of the Jennie Gilchrist hull commenced, yesterday morning, but not a great deal was done.  Capt. Wall went down, and, although the water was dirty and prevented him from seeing very much, and was so cold as to nearly freeze him up, he found things pretty much as was stated in Monday morning’s Gazette.  Cables were placed in position or raising the wreck, and the work will probably be pushed rapidly, today, in hopes of finishing the job.  The hull, when raised, if that desirable result is ever attained, will be towed to the boat yard for repairs.  Whether there really are any bodies in the wreck will be ascertained today, if the weather allows.  They probably are not there; but where they are is difficult to say.  IT is queer that none have appeared on the surface yet, as it has been already nineteen days since the accident occurred.  In such cold weather the usual allowance of time for bodies to remain under water is nine days; and now those bodies have employed the other ten days is a question not easily answered.


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Davenport Democrat, Wednesday, November 16, 1881, page 1.


     The work of raising the sunken hull of the Jennie Gilchrist is progressing.  It is thought that the hull is upside down, and if such is the case it is probable that some of the bodies of those drowned may be found beneath the hull.  A chair was taken from beneath the wreck this morning.


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Daily Argus, Thursday, November 17, 1881, page 4.


     It looks rather funny to see the pilot house of the Gilchrist fitted up with glass and a stove, being used to work in while raising the hull it used to ride on.  But such is life.  One day we are up and the next down.


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Daily Argus, Thursday, November 17, 1881, page 4.





Work on the Wreck of the Jennie Gilchrist.



Another Body Found and Fully Identified.



     Yesterday the wreck of the Jennie Gilchrist was raised to the surface but before the chains could be adapted to the changed position, the current carried the hull and the two barges down the river some three hundred yards when the anchors again caught and the barges became stationary.


     It was learned for the first time, at a late hour yesterday afternoon that the hull was completely overturned, as when raised the underside of the hull was first presented, and the deck and a portion of the cabin were upon the bottom of the river.




     Captain Wall, found it impossible to do any effective work at the bottom of the river owning to the swiftness of the current.  In going down the current would carry him below the wreck, and it became impossible for him to make any headway against the running water.  He states that the current at the surface between the two barges was sufficiently swift to carry him off the ladder and downstream although loaded with all the extra weights that his suit would allow.  The current at the bottom of the river was even more rapid than that above, and it became impossible for him to work to any advantage.  Chains were dropped under the wreck and the bow was thus lifted above the water.  The bow was lowered again and chains were placed under the stern.  A third chain was placed about amidships and the hull was raised to the surface.  When this was accomplished, the men ascertained for the first time that the boat had capsized at the bridge on the night of the accident and had remained bottom side up in the middle of the river from that until the present time.




     As soon as the wreck was raised, the body of Henry Thomas, one of the passengers on the ill-fated steamer, was liberated and immediately came to the surface.  It was taken on board one of the barges, and shortly afterwards the deputy coroner was notified.  In the clothing upon the deceased were found his watch, $3.35 in money and some memoranda.  The remains were identified by relatives, and, after being viewed by the coroner’s jury already engaged in the work of investigating the cause of the death of W. Wendt, the body was taken to the establishment of Undertaker Knox.  This morning the remains were sent to Hampton, where the funeral will occur during the day.


     It is thought that the deceased, in attempting to leave the cabin on the night of the accident, was overcome by the water coming in as the boat careened, and before he could extricate himself from the steamer he was drowned.  His body was caught between the cabin wall and the hull, and remained so until the boat was righted yesterday afternoon.


    There were probably more bodies in the wreck, which may have floated away, and it is not certain that any more will be found.


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Daily Gazette, Thursday, November 17, 1881, page 4.








The Body of Henry F. Thomas, After Lying for Twenty Days in the Water Rises to the Surface and Is Recovered—Needless Barbarity in Leaving It as Long in Such Place—The Wrecked Steamer.



     When the hull of the Jennie Gilchrist had reached nearly the surface of the water, which was at about 4:20 p.m. yesterday, a body was seen to rise to the surface, seemingly floating on a board.  It was perfectly evident that the body had come from beneath the wreck, and that it had been there all the time, coming up now only when the weight and obstructions that had held it for so long had been removed.  The body was covered with mud that had settled upon it from the dirty water in which it had been confined.  It was recovered and placed upon one of the barges used in the operations, and awaited an opportunity to be removed to this city.


    Toward evening, Capt. Cameron, of the ferry boat, sent John Reimer and another man with a skiff to bring the body ashore.  It was about 7 o’clock when it was landed at the foot of Twelfth Street, where Undertaker Knox and the brother of the unfortunate man took charge of it and conveyed it to the undertaking rooms.  There was no difficulty in identifying it as the body of Henry F. Thomas, of Moline, who was known to have been upon the ill-fated steamer when she met with the horrible accident.  Coroner Morris was notified, and will hold an inquest over the remains at 9 o’clock this morning.


    The work on the hull will continue until it is raised, and will then be towed down to the boat yards for repairs.  At present, the wreck lies bottom upward, the stern up stream.  A change occurred at about dark last night, the current being so strong, that the barges dragged their six anchors some hundred feet, and swung completely around.  The hull is raised so that it is just discernable under the surface of the water, and it was because it had left the bottom and thus increased the strain of the current that the change was caused last night.  The boat will probably be entirely raised today, and if there are more bodies there, they will now be recovered, to as, each, one more chapter to the horrible record already made in the Jennie Gilchrist affair.


    The same idea seems to have entered other heads of all our people, and that is that it was entirely unnecessary and inexcusable for the managers of the operations, subsequent to the accident, to allow the boat to lie so long, within easy reach, without making an effort to recover any bodies that might, and were firmly believed to be in the wreck.  An explanation is in order.


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Davenport Democrat, Thursday, November 17, 1881, page 1.








The Body of Joseph Henry Thomas, One of the Victims of the Jennie Gilchrist Disaster Found—the Coroner’s Jury, etc.



    The remains of Joseph Henry Thomas, one of the victims of the Jennie Gilchrist disaster were found at 5 p.m. yesterday.  The hull had been raised a short distance when the body which had evidently been fastened beneath the wreck raised to the surface of the water.  The body was taken in a skiff and conveyed to shore and then to the undertaking rooms of O. B. Knox, where the coroner’s jury in the Gilchrist matter—consisting of John Barge, foreman, David Hawes, John Reitiker, Albert Warren, John Aster and Robert Coyne, assembled and after being sworn by Coroner Morris, viewed the remains and adjourned to 9 a.m. today.  At the appointed time the jury assembled at the office of Justice Hawes, but immediately adjourned to 1 p.m., as coroner Morris had been called to hold an inquest upon a suicide at Milan.

    The remains of Joseph Henry Thomas have been confined beneath the hull of the wrecked steamer for twenty days, and his face had turned black as an African.  His hair and whiskers came out at the slightest touch.  In his pockets were found a $5 legal tender bill and $3.31 in silver and nickels, an open faced silver watch which had stopped at 11 o’clock; a gold tooth pick, and several note books and letters.  Everything in his pockets and his clothes were completely filled with sand.


    The remains were taken to Hampton, the deceased former home, by a brother, this morning, where the funeral occurred this afternoon.


    Expressions of contempt at the action of the owners of the ill-fated steamer, in not raising the hull the day after the disaster, when, it is believed, many bodies might have been found, are very generally heard.


    There appears to have been a drag in the whole business—someone waiting for someone else, until public demand became so imperative that the owners of the wreck concluded at last to at least make a move in the direction in which they should have long since moved.


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Daily Argus, Friday, November 18, 1881, page 4.





      At 10 o’clock this morning the funeral of Henry Thomas of Hampton, was held at that place.  It will be remembered that Thomas was one of the passengers on the steamer Jennie Gilchrist and was drowned in the accident to that craft.  His body was found in the wreck, and in raising the hull the body was liberated.  The deceased was a member of the United Workmen, and his funeral was conducted by that society.  The religious ceremony was pronounced by the Rev. A. Harper of Port Byron.  The funeral was largely attended.


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The Davenport Democrat, Friday, November 18, 1881, page 1.


      The hull was raised last night and conveyed to the boat-yard of Kahlke Bros., where it will undergo repairs.  The coroner’s jury will probably meet tomorrow and examine the wreck, after which they will render their verdict.


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Daily Gazette, Monday Morning, November 21, 1881, page 4.


      Nothing more has been done with the wreck of the Jennie Gilchrist, since it was towed to the neighborhood of the boat yard.  Ice will soon take charge of it, and put an effective damper on any further work.


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Daily Gazette, Tuesday Morning, November 22, 1881, page 4.


      Work has begun on the righting of the wreck of the Jennie Gilchrist, yesterday, at the boat yards.  Cables were placed so as to produce the desired result, and the hull was partly turned over.  It still lies, however, nearly bottom upward, and some little distance out from the shore, being still swung between the barges.  It is hoped and expected that more bodies will be found in it when it is so arranged as to allow examination.  There are so many ways in which the victims of the accident might have been caught and held there, that it cannot be certain until the whole thing is taken to pieces that no more bodies are there.  One thing gives the idea that they must be confined there yet, and that is the fact that none have been found floating; whereas, if they were free to float about, surely some of them, if not all, must have appeared at the surface before now.  If the weather allows of a continuation of the work for a few days, we shall probably know as to the truth of the theory.


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Daily Gazette, Wednesday Morning, November 28, 1881, page 4.








     Work on  righting and landing the remains of the Gilchrist was carried on yesterday, down at the boat yard; and it is so far advanced that the larboard half of the hull, with the engines and machinery thereon, was raised above the surface.  To allow of this move the whole thing had to be moved further out into the river to find depth enough of water.  Strong cables are attached, and the power comes from the machinery of the Whitney, which boat is kept at the place in readiness to do anything required.  These cables are wound around the steamer’s capstan and the power applied thus.


     It is morally certain, nothing serious coming up to interfere, that the operations will be finished by noon today, and the wreck sat right side up.  Then it will, as soon as possible, be hoisted upon the ways and the repairing begun.  What the developments of today will be in regard to the finding of more bodies, cannot be told until the whole thing is done.  The cabin is entirely gone and the machinery somewhat broken.  It is still thought possible, however, that some bodies may be caught somewhere in the machinery.


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Daily Gazette, Friday Morning, December 2, 1881, page 4.


     The hull of the Jennie Gilchrist is now high and dry upon the ways at the boat yard.  A thorough examination failed to discover any more bodies in the wreck, and now the conundrum is, where are they?  It is probable that, after all this time has elapsed since the disaster, no more of the bodies will ever be found.  The hull sustained no injury, being sunk by filing from above.  The repairing will now be commenced, probably.  The boilers have not yet been recovered, nor even looked for.  If they were new, as was represented, they ought to worth a search.


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Daily Gazette, Monday Morning, December 5, 1881, page 4.




     On Friday the Lone Star made an unsuccessful trial to find the boilers of the wrecked Jennie Gilchrist.  On Saturday Capt. Dana Dorrance made a trial with a skiff and succeeded.  The boilers lie about 100 yards west of pier No. 4, from the Iowa shore.  A buoy was left to mark the spot, and today an effort will be made to raise them.  Being of steel, their value is about $1,400.


     At Kahike Brothers’ Boat yard the men are at work repairing the wreck of the Jennie Gilchrist.  The work goes on slowly, but will be finished sometime, when all the parts, so widely scattered at present, are gathered up and collected together once more.


     The hard wind storm of last evening……It was feared that the barges, anchored at the spot in the river where the Jennie Gilchrist boilers are, would drag their anchors and float off.  It was a wild old night.


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Daily Gazette, Friday Morning, December 9, 1881, page 4.


  The ferry boat yesterday towed the Jennie Gilchrist’s boilers down to the Rock Island boat ways.  They were brought to the surface of the water from their sunken position through the means of barges and then taken below.


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Daily Gazette, Wednesday Morning, December 7, 1881, page 4.




     The Evansville brought down two flat-boats from LeClaire yesterday, and they were anchored over the Jennie Gilchrist’s boilers, the work of raising them having commenced.


Same page.




     At Kahike Bro’s. boat yard the men are at work repairing the wreck of the Gilchrist  The work goes on slowly, but will be finished  sometime, when all the parts, so widely scattered at present, are gathered up and collected together once more.


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Daily Gazette, Sat Morning, December 17, 1881, page 4





The Jennie Gilchrist.


      Messrs. Kahlke Bros. have been at work lately in making a steamboat from what was left of the Jennie Gilchrist after the wreck.  The hull and the engines which stuck in their places were hauled out of the water and placed right side up on the ways, and the work of rebuilding commenced; and it has proceeded so far as to make the thing look something like a steamer once more.  The upper works have mostly been replaced, and are surmounted by the old pilot house from the original boat.


     The machinery, so much of it as has been recovered, is in a badly demoralized condition.  Having been first dragged along the river bed as the wreck first lodged, and then stained by the chains used in hauling it up on the ways, it is most of it badly bent and broken.  One of the engines is intact, but the other, the starboard one, is badly out of shape.  The engine used to run the capstan was bent up also, but has been straightened out and placed in position once more.  The boilers, which have only recently been fished out of the creek, are once more in position upon the deck, but are not connected with any other part of the works.  The greater part of the machinery still lies at the bottom of the river a little below the bridge, in the same place where the boilers were found, but no one has yet undertaken to bring them to the surface.


     The wheel of the boat looks worse than any other part of the wreck, being almost all gone.  Only the shaft and a few ribs and a bucket remain.  The work goes on steadily and before a great while, if the owner ever shows any interest in the matter, the Jennie Gilchrist will be ready for another season’s work.  It is to be hoped that she will be so fixed as to run no risk of another catastrophe.


Collected and transcribed by

 Sue Rekkas


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