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On the River




Researched and Transcribed

By Sue Rekkas


The rebuilt Jennie Gilchrist in 1885 at LeClarie, Iowa



~ ~ ~ *** ~ ~ ~


Davenport Daily Gazette, Wednesday Morning, April 5, 1876, page 4.

LeClaire Items.


     Messrs. Gilchrist & Co. have purchased the new steamboat hull recently built for Capt. Lewis; when finished, she will be used in connection with the Danville, for towing coal, & etc.

                        Davenport, Ia. Jan. 19, 1937.

Per Charles Shuler, Sr. born 1856.

  “…You know, I married Gilchrist’s daughter Jennie…We had a steamboat here and I’ll tell you what happened.  You’ll be surprised.  We were hauling people up and down.  The water was so high, the railroad couldn’t run.  The steamboat was named after my wife.  It was called the “Jennie Gilchrist”, and they had to carry passengers on the boat.  I’ll tell you.  You’ll be surprised about this thing.  Yes sir, you’ll be surprised if you don’t know about it.  I’ve got it right in my book (a small note-book, size 2 1/2 x 4 in.).  The Jennie Gilchrist sunk Oct. 27, 1881.  Pat Maines—he was the father of Judge Maines, of Davenport—was engineer and captain.  John Shuler, my brother, was clerk and he was only 17 years old.  The boat hit the bridge and 9 people drowned.  It happened at 10:00 o’clock at night.  They were late getting started.  They had a barge, and he told the pilot to stop the boat, and he said I’ll stop it but they didn’t have anything to stop the boat.  He should have had them get on the barge.  Something broke on the engine (Chas. Schuler Jr. says a “Drive rod” broke).  My brother John Shuler got out of a window after the boat tipped over.  He got out and got on the barge.  A couple of days later, I came down and found one of the bodies.  Yes Sir, “Jennie Gilchrist” was the name of the boat.  Her father named it for her.  Mr. Gilchrist died in my house.  He lived with us 18 years.” – This was found in a folder marked “Jennie Gilchrist” at The Rock Island County Historical Society Research Library, Moline, Illinois.


Report of the Postmaster General, page 318—The steamer Jennie Gilchrist was sunk in the Mississippi river at the railroad-bridge between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa, and two pouches containing two registered packages were lost.




Daily Gazette, Friday Morning, October 28, 1881, page 4.





A Steamboat Goes Down.


The Jennie Gilchrist Strikes the Bridge.



Is Capsized and Sinks with all on Board



Twenty-eight Souls Plunged Beneath the Water



Of Whom but Eighteen are Reported Saved.



  Last night about 10:30 o’clock the alarm whistle was blown at the government bridge, the signal of distress around the whole neighborhood, and in less than five minutes the shore was crowded with people anxiously inquiring as to the cause of the call; in the meantime the alarm was also rung from the Fire King engine house.  The observation soon discovered the fact that a




had taken place.  It seems that the Jennie Gilchrist, a packet boat belonging to H. M. Gilchrist, of Rapids City, valued at $8,000 to $10,000, had taken on her cargo here and in Rock Island and was making her way with two barges laboriously through the bridge struggling against the fierce current, which was running at over seven miles to the hour, having come a little above, for some reason or other her engines stopped working, and before the extra could be set in motion she swung towards the Iowa shore, and then, drawn by the irresistible current, was forced under the third span of the bridge, her smokestacks and upper works striking the bridge.  She was immediately careened and




Driven thus under the structure, when she came out below she momentarily righted, and then went down with the current, sinking deeper and floating down stream at the same time.  The space that the boat went through is seen to be very small, as the bridge is now only some twelve feet above the water.  This, of course, tended to at once submerge the boat, aside from the careening, and the wonder is that any at all were saved; as it was the loss is terrible, though later report may perhaps give a more fortunate account of the matter.




   Very soon after the alarm, two young men from this shore, Louis Auerochs and Jack McGee, hurried into a skiff and put out in the raging current, surrounded by dense darkness, for all lights had been extinguished by this time.  These men rowed in the direction of the heartrending screams and cries for assistance coming from the river.  There they noticed four men upon one of the barges. Putting towards them they were directed to the wreck of the steamer, where, just in time to save him from going down with exhaustion, they took out one of the crew of the boat.  Nothing more could be seen, as all the others were locked in the




of the narrow cabins and recesses of the boat, in which they were quickly terminating their death struggle; excepting the four on the barge, the one from the wreck, and three men who were seen floating away on the other barge, no one is thought to have survived.  The scene of destruction, though brief, was terrible beyond description; the shouting of the people from shore, and the desperate cries of perishing unfortunates, mingling across the gloomy waters, made an impression on the awe stricken beholders never to be forgotten.




Joseph H. Moss, of Princeton, one of the firemen, says he had just gone to his bunk and was in a light doze, when the crash came.  Jumping to his feet, he rushed into the cabin, only to find himself submerged, and to feel that, as he thought, the boat had completely capsized.  Soon, however, she righted, and he found himself in water up to his chin.  Forcing his way out of the cabin, he was enabled to rise somewhat, and soon to gain the deck of the barge, from which he was subsequently taken into the skiff.  His opinion is that with the exception of the five men brought in by the skiff, and the three who floated down on the other barge, that all have been lost.  He saw Johnny Gilchrist, a son of one of the owners, but a few minutes before, beside him in the bunks, but has not seen him since, and he fears he got bewildered in the cabin, through the rush of waters and the escaping steam, and was unable to find his way out.

  John Callan, of LeClaire, a passenger, was in the engine room, and entirely under water, but also managed to gain access to the barge and the skiff.




    Owing to the lateness of the hour and the intense anxiety and alarm, darkness and distress pervading all the people, nothing very definite could be learned, though many rumors quickly circulated about people supposed to be on board the ill-fated vessel.  A talk with the survivors as also the agent, Jim Osborn, would make it quite safe to say that the boat had the engineer and Captain Patrick Manes, and one assistant engineer; two pilots, Dan Dorrance and Peter Hyer; two firemen, James Sanford and Jos. H. Moss; one clerk, Johnny Schuler; one deck hand, a mulatto, Billy Brown, and four others; the cook Temple; his daughter; one rather aged lady, a sister of Mrs. Hess, of Princeton; Mrs. Wm. Wendt, of LeClaire, and one other lady.  Of male passengers, John Callan, of LeClaire, John Gilchrist, a young man called Skelton, from Port Bryon, McCabe, a blacksmith from LeClaire, John Zuber, a harness maker from Port Bryon, Wm. Wendt, from LeClaire, and perhaps two others.


     Of these the following are reported saved:  Patrick Manes supposed to have been floating down on the barge, and probably also Peter Hyers and William Wendt; J. H. Moss, John Callan, Billy Brown and John Zuber, with the one other, were taken into the skiff.  Mrs. Wendt was rescued just at the last moment by Policeman Faker, who hastened to the western part of town and out into the river with a skiff.  He found the suffering victim struggling in the water, and brought her to land near Cook’s point, a distance of over three miles from the scene of the accident.




  The mulatto boy, Billy Brown, says he and part of the crew had been told they might turn in, and so they went under the boiler to their bunks; soon after the Captain came rushing down, shouting, “Boys, turn out, nobody knows how we will get through the bridge.”  Instantly almost the crash came, and with it an escape of steam which burnt him severely in the breast.  Just then the boat lifted and he made his way to the guards, and jumping caught the rope leading to the barge; behind him he saw the three women standing, who also jumped into the water, since when they have not been seen.  While in the water he noticed a man on the barge running frantically about, crying:  “Oh, my wife! my wife!”  This was probably Mr. Wendt.

     Brown was taken into the skiff and is now at the Central Police Station, suffering severely from his scald and being attended by Dr. Emold (?).




      The chief engineer of the bridge, J. W. Howard, says the boat was noticed going laboriously up though the draw pier span; after she had gone but a small distance above, her wheels were noticed to stop, and then helplessly she was thrown by the irresistible current against span number three from the Iowa shore.  The bridge was not hurt any to speak of, the railing being slightly bent, that was all; on the bridge were found pieces of the upper works of the boat, bits of board from one to two feet long.  He saw the lights of the boat as she struck the bridge, but when she came out from below, all was darkness, showing that the boat had either careened or completely capsized; nothing, of course, could be done for her by the bridge officers and attendants and so he hastened to the draw and blew the signal of distress, four whistles, several times repeated.  In the shortest time every trace of the vessel was lost, the rapid current sweeping everything far below the bridge.






  This gentleman was also on board and was awakened in time to make for the barge which floated down the river, but was badly bruised about the back by pieces of the falling wreck.  He was caught between the deck and the barge and almost disabled, but managed to get on the barge.  He saw the clerk and second engineer being mashed and scalded near the smoke stacks, but they also succeeded in extricating themselves.  The Doctor went, with eleven others, on the barge, which floated down, and was taken by the steamer Evansville, which found them at Offerman’s island.


    In one respect the calamity is lessened by his statement for it shows a total of eighteen saved, among the names the Captain, clerk, the second engineer, the two pilots and John Gilchrist, the others are unknown; but in another respect the loss is still as severe, for the Doctor says that there were in all twenty-eight aboard.  Among the lost he places Wm. Wendt, whom he heard at first calling in heartrending tones for his wife, but did not again hear nor notice him, and fears he jumped from the barge into the water and was lost.  Among the lady passengers, he saw Mrs. Fanny Trever, and fears she is lost.




  It is stated that the cam rod gave out and that the attempt was made to unship it and run the boat on an extra one, but before this could be done she lost her head way and went irretrievably back.  A report was also current that something similar to it had happened to her once before, about a week ago, but she was fortunate enough to escape without injury.


  Certain it is that a most appalling and heart-rending catastrophe has overtaken us; homes desolate, families made wretched, widows to weep and orphans to mourn will remain to remember this unfortunate night; to all those our people extend their most sincere sympathy.




The Davenport Democrat, Friday, October 28, 1881, Page 1.




The Jennie Gilchrist Calamity.



Listing of the Persons Go Down With Her.



The Disabling--The Floating Against the Bridge—The Awful Losses After—The Passengers and Crew—A Gallant Rescue—The Saved and The Lost.



  A terrible steamboat disaster occurred in front of the city last night.  It was ten minutes, ten o’clock when the steamer Jennie Gilchrist, owned by H. M. Gilchrist of Rapids City, Ill., and put out from Rock Island and whistled for the government bridge.




is not more than 80 to 100 tons barren, built four years ago for towing coal rafts from Rapids City to Davenport, having engines of forty-horse power, probably, when the river floods suspended operation, on the C. M. & St. P. between Rock Island and Fulton, the Jennie engaged in packet business between Cordova and Princeton and Davenport, carrying light fright and passengers—though it is found she had no license as a passenger boat.  Before crossing for Rock Island she had received a goodly quantity of freight in Davenport, and a number of passengers.  The Davenport freight was placed on the steamer itself, the freight she received in Rock Island was placed on a flat boat she had in tow, while on the other side of her was a “model barge” belonging to McCosh & Donahue of this city, ‘which she was to drop at the bank, just above Stubb’s eddy.  There is no doubt that the steamer was over-loaded, having enough, with the flat and barge, to test the power of her machinery the utmost.  This was not her first experience of the kind—only three or four days ago, as she was passing up the north approach of the bridge, a pitman-cam gave away, and she floated back helpless in a strong current—and had she been before the bridge she would have met the terrible fate then which came to her last night.  She had no cabin on the boiler, her only upper works being the pilot house.  That experience ought to have been a warning, but it wasn’t.  “I had not been relieved from watch by Mr. Howard, when she signaled for the draw,” said Mr. James Cazatte, engineer at




to a Democrat reporter, “and when we heard her laboring so hard, we both said that something would happen to the Jennie Gilchrist if she kept on in heavy work; she passed up the draw channel slowly, but when she had reached the site of the old bridge, about a thousand feet or so above it, we saw her floating back, and knew that something was wrong.  It was soon evident that she was helpless, and at the mercy of the current.  I ran north on the bridge, as she was nearing it, and I stood on the upper deck of span 3, right between piers number 2 and 3 when she struck the bridge.  Instantly her steam pipes parted, and there was a terrific crash like that of an explosion, while her fires reddened the steam which filled the air for forty yards about us so that one could see nothing.  I stood there enveloped in steam, and when it cleared away I could see the dark mass moving down below the bridge and hear the cries for help!  When she was coming toward the bridge, Mr. Howard blew the signal of distress—and that was all that could be done by us to help them.”  It was just 20 minutes past 10 when she went under the bridge.


    It was not long, however, before there was




for Lewis Auerochs, a brakeman who lives at 316 East Front street, and John McGee, locomotive engineer, whose home is 207 Iowa street, rushed from their homes to the river, and jumping into Aueroch’s yawl, they pulled for the wrecked steamer, which was floating far in the distance.  They could hear the cries for help:  “Help! Help! For God’s sake save us!”—and they cried: “Don’t give up—we are coming,”  “Hold on, we’ll be there soon”  “keep up”  “don’t give up.”  The sinking steamer was not more than three hundred and fifty yards from the Davenport shore, and the river seemed covered with barrels, boxes, and lumber, which lessened their speed a good deal.  They made for the barge, however, and picked up a man who was hanging to a timber on the way, and found another jammed between the steamer and barges and they saved him, and then took three men off the barge.  The parties they saved were J. H. Moss of Princeton, John Zuber of Port Byron, Mrs. Hastings of Rapids City, William Brown of Rock Island, and one McNerry of LeClaire.  These names were given by the parties themselves, who were landed near the foot of Warren street.


     By this time two fishermen, Chris Monroe and Charles Monroe, whose fishing craft was moored just below the bridge, were out, each with a skiff—Auerochs had aroused them before he started—and so was Officer Falkner, captain of the night police, who had put out from the foot of Main street.  As they neared the floating wreck, Auerochs and McGee cried to them that they were alright, and they pushed ahead to save persons who might be in the water.  They came to a woman who was floating, her head just above water, and she was clinging to a board.  She was large, and the Monroes pulled up on either side of her, and they and Mr. Falkner lifted her into the latter’s boat; they rowed to Cook’s point, telephoned from the glucose works to the police station for the police wagon, and she was conveyed to Officer Falkner’s house, where she remained until the morning, when her brother-in-law, John Wendt, of Rock Island, came for her.  She was




and she and her husband were passengers for Princeton.  She states that she was in the pilot house with her husband, when they felt that the boat was floating back, and they, with the pilot and another man and a woman, rushed out and jumped for the barge on which they landed; her husband was holding her by the right hand when the steamer struck the bridge, and they stepped right into the water.  She never saw her husband again—he was drowned.  Others say that he got on the barge again, ran about shouting for his wife, and either jumped or fell into the water, and went down.


    While these brave men were rescuing the passengers on the barge and from the water, the steamer Evansville, Capt. Wesley Rambo, steamed out from the Rock Island side, signaling her approach to the scene.  She went to the flat-boat and rescued twelve or thirteen persons who were on its deck, conveying them to Rock Island.  The




on the steamer Jennie Gilchrist is not known accurately, as the clerk had not collected fare of passengers.  The officers were:

    Captain and engineer—Patrick Manes.

    Clerk—John Schueler.

    Pilots—Dana Dorrance and Peter Hyer

    Second engineer—William Smith of LeClaire

The firemen were Joseph Moss and James Sanford, and there were five deck hands, Levi Cummings and four colored men.  James Temple was cook.  So the boat’s crew numbered twelve men.




were 13 to 15 in number, and among them were Mrs. Mary Jane Camp of Davenport, Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Wendt of LeClaire, Miss Temple, daughter of the cook, Mrs. Fannie Trevors, of Rapids City, John Gilchrist, son of the owner of the boat, Dr. C. B. Davenport, of this city, John Zuber of Port Byron, James Skallon of Port Byron, John Callagan, foreman in McCosh & Donahue’s quarries in LeClaire, John McCabe of LeClaire, a man named Eli Thompson, whose place of residence is unknown, Heary Shackford, who lived back of Cordova—these are all the names that can be gathered—and probably comprise the entire list of passengers, though as to this the rescued passengers themselves disagree.

    Excepting the three passengers who were in the pilot house, all were in the little cabin, which was, of course, on the deck, and one would think they could tell the number of passengers in it.




so far as known are:  Mrs. Camp, Miss Temple, Mrs. Trevors, Mr. Wendt, Mr. Temple, the cook, and two of the colored deck hands—seven in all.  The persons saved narrate




  Joseph Moss, one of the firemen, says he was sleeping in a bunk, and near him was John Gilchrist; the latter jumped when the boat struck the bridge and aroused Moss, and he felt the boat tip and he was in water over his head; then something gave way and the boat reared and floated him up, and he made for a sky-light, got part way out when the timbers fastened him; a colored deck hand seized him and pulled him on the barge.  He came so near drowning that he was pale when he told the story.  When on the barge he shouted for help with all his might.

  Mr. John Zuber of Port Byron, says he was in the pilot house with Dorrance, who was at the wheel.  The boat stopped and Zueber called the engineer and asked him if he couldn’t make more headway: the engineer said something back that Mr. Dorrance could not hear, but the pilot left the house, and Mr. Zueber followed him, and rushed to the lower deck to get on the barge; just then the boat struck the bridge, and went down.  Mr. Zueber going under with her: she lurched up, and he caught on the upper works, but had to leave go, and then he seized a stick of timber, and held to it, alone, until a skiff came along and picked him up.  When the boat went down he made up his mind he was gone, and when the unexpected lerch brought him up it was the most delightful moment he ever experienced,--this chance for life.


    Mr. Callaghan was on the deck when the boat struck and he went down with her: reaching up he put his hand on a hot steam pipe and though it burned his hand her threw his arm about it and raised himself up until he caught hold of something else with the other hand to keep above water.  He felt the boat rolling over, and he managed to keep on top—and there he stayed, one hand and arm about useless from burning, until the loaded flat came along, as he expresses it, and he caught hold of it and by hard work clambered to its deck, and another man with him, and so it floated along until the Evansville reached them.


    Levi Cummings, a deck hand, was resting in the forecastle, when the boat lost her headway, and he and another hand jumped to the barge, and had just touched it, when the boat struck.  Ten others got on the barge with them, and Cummings cut it loose, and it floated them in safety to Willow Island, and there the Evansville found them.


    A colored deck hand, Randolph Brown, was badly scalded on his legs and arms by steam as the boat went under the bridge, but he managed to get upon the barge.


    Dr. C. B. Davenport of this city was jammed between the barge and the guards of the steamer as he was escaping to the former, and was injured in the back and head, and is feeling pretty sore.  People on the streets and in saloons heard the crash of the boat against the bridge and explosion of steam—heard the cries for help soon after, and they rushed to Front street and the ferry dock.  Soon the Fire King bell sounded the company call, and this enhanced the excitement and




The ferry dock and the freight cars in the C. M. & St. P. yard were soon covered with men, who could do nothing but hope that the brave men who formed the rescuing party would save all.  Nothing could be seen in the darkness but the light of the skiff lanterns; and when Auerochs and McGee returned with the report that between the skiff parties and the Evansville nearly all the passengers and crew were saved, the crowd cheered them.




did not float far, but sunk wheel foremost near the middle of the river off the foot of Gaines street, where its bow is visible.  The loaded flat floated to an island near the glucose works, where it was found this morning, and towed to the main bank.  Much of its cargo had been swept into the river.  The




put on the steamer by Agent Osborne was consigned as follows:

   Baker & Clark, Hampton, 10 barrels four, barrel corn meal, from Crescent Mills.

   Taylor & Williams, package merchandise.

   J. Zuber, LeClaire, box merchandise.

   Baker & Clark, merchandise.

   Gilchrist & Co., Rapids City, hardware.

    Albert Mills, Hampton, hardware.

    A.J. Johnson, Rapids City, two barrels and two boxes of crackers.

    Lowery, Cordova, two hundred empty lime barrels.

    J.J. Johnson, Rapids City,10 bundles, goods.

    Taylor Williams, Rapids City, 1 case merchandise. 1 bale cotton balling, and I bale quilts.

    M. Schiaffel 6 ½ barrels of beer.

    J.J. Johnson, Cordova, one hundred empty lime barrels.

    Taylor Williams, Rapids City, 1 barrel twine, barrel berries, bag of prunes, box groceries, box of coffee, ½ barrel currents, box canned goods,

     Half box lemons.

     H. W. Gilchrist, Rapids City, 10 barrels of flour.




is felt throughout the city that such a boat should be loaded as she was, or attempt to carry passengers when the water is at its present stage, and the current powerful, running at the rate of six miles an hour, and when it was known, that her machinery was weak.  The disaster was caused by the breaking of a pitman cam.  The law governing steamboats provide several penalties for violation of the regulations laid down in the steamboat licenses.  There was no life boat on the Jennie Gilchrist we are informed.




  It was ascertained at Hampton this afternoon that a young man named Henry Thomas, who lived at that place, was among the passengers on the steamer.  He was a cripple, and was unable to save himself.  He was about 30 years of age.  Two sisters of his live in Moline.



  This afternoon the steamer seemed to have righted herself, that is, taken a flat position in the water.  Parties are at work clearing the wreck of heavy freight in hopes of raising her.


  The boat was worth $6,000 to $8,000 probably, and her cargo was worth $2,000 at least.




    The steamboat disaster of last night carries woe into two households in Davenport, and sorrow into many hearts.

    Mrs. Mary Jane Camp, who went down with the steamer, had been a resident of Davenport for forty years.  She was the widow of Mr. Ethrel Camp, who was well-known in the city.  Her home was on East Locust street, near Brady.  She was going to visit her daughter, Mrs. Hess, who lives at Princeton.  She was 56 years of age.  Two daughters lived with her—Mrs. DeGraaf, with two children, and Miss Katie Camp.  She also cared for three children of her brother who died recently in Missouri.  She was greatly esteemed in the community, and loved by her neighbors.


    Mrs. Fannie Trevors, of Rapids City also drowned, was the wife of James Trevors, who follows the occupation of butcher, and the daughter of Mr. Jas. Morey, saw-filer at Reneick, Shaw & Crossett’s saw mill, whose home is on East Fourth street.  She was in her 23rd year.  She was married in Moline three years ago.  A child nine months old is left with her husband.  She came to the city yesterday on the Gilchrist on a business trip, and was anxious to return.  Her husband sat up all night awaiting the arrival of the steamer, and he did not hear of the loss until nearly 8 o’clock, when he heard that John Gilchrist had returned home, and he went to his house to inquire as to the delay of the boat.  There he was told the terrible news.  Mr. Trevors came to the city as soon as possible.  At noon there was a report that Mrs. Trevors was found floating on timber among the islands, and this gave him hope; but there has been no confirmation of the report.  He went rowing among the islands, however, in hopes of finding her.


    Mr. Thomas Temple, the steward and cook on the ill-fated steamer, has been steamboating many years, and was reliable and faithful in his employment.  He was between 50 and 60 years of age.  His daughter Sadie, who was drowned with him, was 19 years of age, and was intelligent and bright, and fairly adored by her father.  Her brother Thomas came to the city today, overwhelmed with grief, and unable to repress evidence of it.  He is at the wreck in hopes of recovering the bodies of his father and sister.


    Mr. Wendt, who jumped upon the barge with his wife, and then became separated from her, and supposed she was lost, was a resident of Cordova, where he kept a saloon.  He was almost 50 years of age.  The fireman, Moss, says he saw him running frantically about the barge calling the name of his wife, and it is thought he jumped into the river in his frenzy to swim about and find her.  He had no children.  He was will thought of at Cordova.




Daily Argus, Friday, October 28, 1881, page 4.





The Cause of the Accident at the Bridge.



A Steamer Sinks and Several Passengers Lost.



Graphic Description of the Midnight Disaster.



     Last night at about 11 o’clock a fearful accident just above the bridge, by which the steamer Jennie Gilchrist, a small craft utilized during the high water as a packet between this city and Port Byron and intermediate points, was wrecked by colliding with the bridge, and a number of lives were lost.  The mishap was due to many causes, the most immediate cause being the breaking of the cam rod, a portion of the machinery used in reversing the wheel.  The boat was towing two barges up the stream, one of which was loaded with freight.  This tow, in connection with the broken machinery, rendered the craft unmanageable, and the terrific current of the river, confined to narrow limits, soon caused the boat and her barges to shoot down stream and against one of the bridge piers.  The obstruction struck the bridge just aft of the boilers, and the steam soon spread itself over the sinking boat rendering the accident more terrible than would otherwise have been the case.  A few of the passengers and a portion of the crew escaped onto one of the barges while others jumped into the water and were rescued by their more unfortunate companions.  The night was dark in the extreme, and although a number of boats were anchored at this port the news of the accident did not reach Rock Island until some moments after the affair had occurred, as the sinking boat did not sound the alarm whistle.  The steamer Evansville, as soon as steam could be applied, started to the rescue, and proved of great assistance to the passengers and members of the crew who had taken refuge on the barge.  They were taken to places of shelter and left this morning for their respective homes up the river.


    The officials of the Jennie Gilchrist are severely censured by the surviving passengers for their lack of ability to cope with the accident.


   The officers with the exception of the clerk made their own personal escape a matter of the first importance and allowed the passengers to look out for themselves.  It is also admitted that the boat was over-loaded with passengers and freight, carrying more than she could successfully handle


    The most serious charge, however, is made by one of the surviving passengers to the effect that the crew including the second pilot were under the influence of liquor, and to this fact is attributed the lack of management after the first accident to the machinery before the bridge was encountered.


    The accident is certainly worthy of the closest scrutiny and if the charges preferred prove to be the case, punishment should be meted out to those of the crew and officers who so far forgot their duties as to start on a trip, in a dark night, with a swollen river while in an inebriated condition.





     At 10:30 o’clock the engineer discovered that the cam rod, which is used to reverse the wheel was broken, and the boat at once began drifting rapidly down stream.  The swollen river gave the current additional force and swiftly the craft went to its destruction.


    When the threatening danger became apparent Mr. Skelton at once rushed into the cabin telling the passengers of the accident which had happened and urging them to at once take refuge on the barge.  He notified the pilot of what has happened, who exclaiming, “Why, don’t they do something?  For God’s sake do something!”




     The pilot then left his wheel, giving it a turn for port, and made a break for the barge, crying as he went downstairs: “Save yourselves; she is going to strike the bridge!”  In the cabin everything was confusion; women were crying and the men were about as useless; no one seemed to know what to do.  The crew, with the exception of Pilot Dorrance, the clerk and engineers and fireman, are reported to have been drunk, and as terror stricken as the others.  As she drifted down upon the pier, urged on by the swollen current, she partly turned and presented her starboard side to the obstructing pier, striking it just




     Eight persons had taken refuge on the barge, and as it swung around to the left of the pier they cast off stern and spring lines, the bow line was fastened to the flat ahead and when it was cast off the flat swung to the right and the line went out with a rush.  A negro named Jim Smally, was at that moment climbing over the bow of the barge, and the line being between his legs, he was




The negro was grabbed by the trousers and hauled aboard, a very astonished but highly grateful negro.


    When the Jennie struck the bridge she hit a little aft of the boiler’s head and broke them in.  At once




and for a moment the prospect of being scalded was added to that of being drowned. The scene at that time was terrific.  Those on the barge knew not whether they were safe or in total danger.  Around them was a thick cloud of steam suffocating them so that their only chance to breathe was by lying down and putting their mouths to the holes in the deck.  In the cabin of the boat could be heard the cries and moans of the




who had stayed there, while the crew on the forecastle were appealing loudly for help….Nothing could be seen and at the time no help could be given.  The barge drifted off to the left followed by the boat and the flat following it.


    After the bridge was passed the work of rescuing those on the boat began.  First the engineer was pulled aboard, then the clerk and one negro.  They had tried to reach the barge before striking the bridge but failed and falling in the water had drifted alongside the barge and they were rescued.  The wind carried the barge over toward the Davenport shore, and in the course of a short time they drifted down to the island outside of Paige, Dixon & Co’s Mill where it stranded.  Their stay there was short.  The Evansville had heard the cries for help and at once left Rock Island on its errand of succor.  In about twenty minutes it came upon the stranded barge and




from their situation, conveying them back to Rock Island.  Besides the twelve saved on the barge there were five picked up on the Iowa shore, who had clung to the wreck, one a woman who had displayed remarkable pluck.


     The following is the list of those saved so far as known.

  Passengers.  J. H. Mays, Mrs. Went, C. B. Davenport, Thomas Harts, J. McCelland and W. G. Skelton.

  Crew.  Billy Brown, Jno. Mars, John Shubler, Clerk, John Gilchrist Captain, Dorrance and Hire pilots, two engineers and three more of the crew.



    When the danger became apparent Mr. Skelton and the Clerk Shuler tried to get the passengers down to the barge.  The four women were in the cabin in a state of pure helplessness, doing nothing, saying nothing, evidently expecting death.  The gentlemen tried entreaty and advice, but it was useless; no one would stir, and it seemed impossible to get them or any of the passengers to move.  They were told that their only hope of safety lay in getting aboard the barge, but they would not stir, Mr. Skelton and Mr. Shuler shook them and tried to drag them, but it was useless, and in despair they left them to their fate.  Panic was everywhere, and any effort to overcome it proved fruitless.


    As soon as the steam began to escape the scene was still more horrible, as not a single object could be seen even at arm’s length, and the passengers and crew were obliged to assume a horizontal position in order to escape the scalding effects of the escaping vapor.  Men and women alike appeared to feel that their fate was to die, and the only question left open for them was a choice between drowning and scalding.  The lights were soon extinguished in the cabin as in fact all over the boat, and in perfect darkness they were left to grope their way to the doors, crawling upon their hands and knees, in order to secure even fresh air.




    When she struck the pier she was drifting down stream stern first with her starboard side exposed to the obstructions.  When about twenty feet from it the engineer had managed to get the machinery clear of the broken cam rod and was able to work one engine.  The pilot claims that had he had two more revolutions of the wheel he could have cleared the pier.  The steamer struck just aft of her boilers on the starboard side and as she hung for a moment before going to pieces, both barges became detached.


    The model barge fell off to the left, the lines being cast off by the men on board, and went down stream ahead of all the rest.  The flat being at the nose of the steamer hung awhile before it broke loose then followed the wreck of the steamer with the current.  The steamer careened over to one side and pressed against the barge as it followed it, while the boilers bursting covered all with a cloud of escaped steam.  It was but the work of a moment, but in that moment the fate of many lives was decided.  In passing through the bridge the hurricane deck of the steamer was carried off by the iron work of the bridge.  The hull and upper part of the boat are reported to have separated, but this assertion is denied as the wrecked steamer is just below this city, midway in the stream where her cabin projects above the water.  It is said that the hull is still connected with the cabin and that a close investigation will reveal the bodies of some of the unfortunate passengers on the ill-fated steamer.




    W. G.  Skelton of Rapid City, was one of the passengers upon the Jennie Gilchrist last night.  He was interviewed by an Argus representative who was a member of the rescuing party, and from him the following details of the affair are obtained.  He said:  “We left Rock Island about ten o’clock, and had as near as I can remember thirteen passengers and a crew of fifteen men.  The steamer had two barges in tow one of which was loaded.  We passed through the bridge all right.  There was some liquor on board of one of the barges owned by Mr. Went.  Somebody had tapped this and I saw the young Johnny Gilchrist passing the whiskey among the crew, and I am positive that some of them were intoxicated.  The engineer, fireman and the clerk were sober, but I can not say as much for the other members of the crew.  After we had passed through the bridge the engineer informed us that the cam rod had broken and that we were drifting down stream.  The clerk and I went into the cabin and informed the passengers of the accident and advised them to get out on one of the barges.  Some of them followed us but the majority became so frightened that they would not move.  In a second the boat was against the third pier of the bridge and the steam commenced to escape enveloping the boat and the barges in a cloud of vapor.


    A number of us got on the barge and when the collision occurred, we were sent down stream leaving the boat and her other barge above us.  We drifted down the river and were rescued by the Evansville a little after midnight.




    The little steamer Lone Star, with a number of people on board, including an Argus representative, left this city at 4 o’clock this morning to search for missing passengers.  The boat passed down the river, all about the islands in the vicinity of the Offerman’s Island.  The freighted barge was discovered just above the Glucose works on the Iowa shore.  The barge contained a number of articles shipped last evening, while a still greater number were discovered all along the river below this city.  The barge itself was in perfect order with the exception of the beam used to connect it with the towing steamer.  This gave evidence of receiving rough treatment, and is strong proof that the barge was severed from the boat by means of the collision, rather than being cast off by one of the survivors.


    The model barge was found at an earlier hour, and the people who had taken refuge upon it were rescued.


    The wrecked steamer is in the river just below the city, where a portion of her cabin still projects above the water.  As yet no effort has been made to examine the wreck but a hasty inspection revealed the fact that the hull is still connected with her cabin, and not separate as was as first thought probable that the steamer after colliding with the bridge pier, commenced sinking, and only a portion of the cabin was above water.  This portion being seen by the men on the barges led to the conclusion that the hull and cabin were distinct.




    Among the passengers were Mr. Went and wife, from Cordova, and an old lady whose name cannot be ascertained.  At the time of the accident the three were together and so remained until their unexpected plunge in the river.  Mrs. Went who was saved, states that she had her husband by the arm and the old lady had hold of her dress.  When the steam commenced escaping they were all blinded and attempted to reach the barge from the cabin.  They got out on the deck of the boat, but in place of stepping on to the barge they all fell into the river.  The barge had been separated from the boat by the force of the collision.  The greatest confusion prevailed, and Mrs. Went managed to grasp a floating board, some four feet long and six inches wide.  She imaged that her husband was floating near her and called to him for help.  By the aid of this board she was carried from the bridge past this city and Davenport down to Cook’s point, quite a distance below these two cities.  Her cries for help attracted the attention of Officer Faulkner, of the Davenport police department.  He secured a small boat and followed the floating figure down to Cook’s point, where he overtook her, and having rescued her from the water conveyed her to his own home in Davenport, where everything was done for her that could be suggested.  At an early hour this morning Mrs. Went was conveyed to this city, where she has relatives living on Second avenue, near Seventeenth street.  At the latest accounts neither her husband nor the old lady, who was precipitated in the water, have been discovered.



  The Jennie Gilchrist was owned by H. M. Gilchrist of Rapids City, who has employed it in connection with his extensive coal banks at that place.  It is a comparatively new boat having been on the river but four seasons and was built at LeClaire five years ago.  It was valued at $7,000 and as far as can be learned was not covered by insurance.  During the recent high water the Jennie Gilchrist has been plying between this city and Rapids City, and way points as a daily packet, leaving the latter place at an early hour in the morning and returning to the same port at an early hour in the evening.  Yesterday, on account of heavy cargo of freight, the steamer did not leave the city on her return trip until a late hour last night, which resulted in the accident noted.




  The list of passengers is given below:

  Port Byron—J. Zuber.

  Cordova—W. Went, wife and Child.

  Rapids City—W. Hastey, Mrs. James Trevor, Miss Sadie Temple and Frank Skelton.

  Four other passengers whose names can not be ascertained.

  The crew was as follows:

  Owner—J. W. Gilchrist.

  Master and Pilot—Dana Dorrance.

  Engineer—Patrick Maines.

  Second Pilot—Peter Hires.

  Clerk—John Schaecker.

  Firemen—James Sanford and James Moss.

  Watchman—William -----------

  Deckhand—James Small.

  Cook—J. B. Temple.

  Four colored deckhands whose names are not known.

  Of this list the following are reported saved:

  J. W. Gilchrist, Dana Dorrance, Patrick Maines  Peter Hires, John Schaeckler, James Sanford, William --------, Mrs. Went, J. Zuber, W. Hastey, Frank Skelton.


    It is probable that the drowned will not exceed seven or eight but at the present time, it is very difficult to state the exact number, as several are reported missing, who may have taken refuge in Davenport, or taken their passage to upper points on the steamer Evansville which left at an early hour this morning.




    At 2 o’clock this morning, Dana Dorrance, the master and pilot of the steamer Jennie Gilchrist, appeared before United States Commissioner E. D. Sweeney, and entered a formal protest as the freight and passengers of that craft which were detained by the accident.  In this document the master states that the books and other memoranda were lost in the accident, and the passenger list and freight were made entirely from memory.


     He states that the passengers numbered ten or twelve persons, four of whom he could not name, while the remaining eight are given above.


     The steamer had in tow two barges known as the “Robert” and “No. 3” of the Gilchrist line.  The freight on the boat consisted of 20 barrels of flour, 700 empty barrels, a bale of cotton batting, 2 small packages and several other articles that could not be remembered.


    The barge “Robert” was not loaded with freight, while the “No.3” contained 400 empty lime barrels, 300 bundles of stave, several packages of pop and cider and other packages that could not be enumerated.


    From this it will be seen that the master failed to enumerate any liquor, although the statement is made by one of the passengers that the barge contained that article.




    During the morning a number of persons visited the levee in this city as well as Davenport, to secure a view of the ill-fated steamer.


    A number of small boats filled with human freight also put off from the Illinois shore on tours of inspection.  These boats visited the sunken steamer, and then made their way to the points below, where the different articles were found floating in the river.  It was also supposed that the current would float the bodies of the passengers who had been drowned, to the shore about the lower islands.  During the morning these islands were watched carefully, but aside from a few boxes and other freight which was found floating on the water, the search was not very successful or exceedingly profitable.


    The Viola took a run down to the barge “No. 3,” and during the afternoon towed it back to the city.


    This afternoon a report was current that a female body had been found on Big Island just below this city, but the truth of the statement could not be ascertained.


    A number of persons having friends or acquaintances on board the steamer are making enquiries of the newspaper offices as to their friends’ whereabouts.


    It is certainly hoped that an effort will be made tomorrow to send down a diver in the cabin of the sunken steamer and ascertain whether any bodies have become lodged in that compartment.


    It will probably be several days before the Jennie Gilchrist will be raised or at least examined with the idea of raising the hull.




Daily Gazette, Saturday Morning, October 29, 1881, page 4.





Further Particulars of the Disaster



List of Passengers and Other Details.



    With daylight yesterday search was at once instituted for the purpose of finding the bodies of the victims of Thursday’s catastrophe, and to ascertain if possible just how many lives had been lost in the sinking of the ill-fated steamer, the Jennie Gilchrist.


    With the best effort and on the utmost inquiry nothing materially different could be learned from what was given in yesterday’s issue.  There is now only too much reason to fear that the fatality is fully as large as at first stated, and that all reported lost, are certainly sleeping beneath the waters the sleep which knows no waking.




     As additional particulars are learned the incidents of the occurrence become of an intense interest and the wonder is that we are able to record the survival of one of the passengers, Mrs. Wm. Wendt; shortly after the boat crashed against the bridge she found herself in the water, and is not certain in her own mind whether it was by jumping or being thrown there; luckily she in contact with a piece of board, not very large, but sufficient to buoy her up; drifting thus along she noticed a rather substantial plank within what appeared to be easy reach, but fearing to let go her hold of the board, she made no effort to reach the plank, displaying thus a coolness of head and a self possession quite extraordinary under such very trying circumstances.


    Floating thus along she had been in the water perhaps half an hour, when she could hear the voices of Policeman Chas. Faulker and Chris and Charles Monroe, who were coursing the river in search of the unfortunates.  Imagine her horror, like the helpless victim of a terrible nightmare, when she heard the men say, “Well, there is no use of further search, we can’t find any one.”  And she there, in the last stage of exhaustion and so hoarse and feeble from her shouting and exertion during the half hour’s freezing drift, that her voice had entirely failed her, and summoning all her remaining energy she could hardly raise her voice to a whisper.  Thus, fortunately, sufficed to call the boats and she was saved.




    The vessel when coming through the bridge must in all probability have thrown her boilers overboard, for, as was stated yesterday, she seemed to right herself again and float off; whereas had the boilers been on board and shifted to one side, or were in the center, she would not have floated so readily away.


    She now lies in a about the center of the river, off the foot of Gaines street, a mile or so below the bridge.  John Gilchrist went down at day break yesterday with the “Lone Star,” to inspect the wreck, and sounded the river for the boilers but could not find them anywhere.  The boat shows part of the deck and about half the pilot house above the water, and is lying pretty well up on a sand bar.  Unless soon raised and sanctioned she will prove a total loss.




    Nothing new was learned yesterday as to the names or numbers of the dead, with the exception that the lady described by us as the sister of Mrs. Hess, was the mother of that lady, as also of Mrs. Digraph and of Miss Katie Camp, widow of Ethrel Camp, residing on East Locust street, near Brady, and had been, as was also her husband, among the first settlers of this county; highly respected and esteemed by all who knew her, her death, especially under these circumstances, is a blow indeed to all her many friends and relatives.


    Henry Thomas, of Hampton, Ill., who has two sisters living in Moline, is now also reported among the lost; being a cripple he was helpless when the shock came.

    Mrs. Fanny Trevor, who went down to a watery grave, was the wife of James Trevor of Rapids City, and daughter of James Morey of this place, she was only in her 23rd year, and leaves a child nine months old; her husband was in town and on the river all day yesterday, hoping against hope, that she might yet be found, but with nightfall yielded to despair, and became inconsolable in his grief.


    The lost, therefore, so far as can be learned were the following:  Mrs. Mary Jane Camp, of this city; Mrs. Fannie Trevor, of Rapids City; John Temple, the boats cook, and Sadie his daughter; William Wendt, of Cordova; Henry Thomas of Hampton, and two of the colored deck hands, making it sadly certain that at least eight precious human lives have been needlessly sacrificed.                                                  


    An attempt is to be made today to reach the cabin, divers are expected here and it is to be hoped that at least the bodies of the victims may be recovered, as a sad consolation to their mourning families.



Davenport Daily Democrat, Saturday, October 29, 1881, page 1.




    The cabin of the wrecked steamer Jennie Gilchrist floated from the wreck last night, and was found this morning, near Buffalo, lodged against a tree not far below Capt. Clark’s residence.  The head of a man came between the timbers, and it was taken out.  It proved to be Mr. Wendt, of Cordova.  It was brought to Rock Island, this afternoon, where his wife is.  There are more bodies in the cabin, and Mr. Hall, the diver, is searching for them.  Coroner Bawden is at the wreck.



Davenport Sunday Democrat, Sunday, October 30, 1881, page 1.




Further Information Concerning the Jennie Gilchrist Calamity.    



 Searching the Wreck—Two Bodies recovered—Statements of Owner and Engineer of the Steamer—Public Sentiment—The List of the Lost, and Other Particulars—Old Bridge Record.



    The awful calamity which befell the steamer Jennie Gilchrist, Thursday night, causing the death of at least ten of her passengers, continues an exciting topic in this community—and there is a general denunciation of those in charge of her for having overloaded her, and for receiving passengers when she was thus loaded, with a loaded flat and barge in tow besides.  The accident to her machinery as she was passing up the draw channel of the bridge, under similar circumstances, a few days before, as narrated in the Democrat’s account of the fatal disaster, ought to have been a warning, it is held to its owner.  But as for her condition and power, her owner says that she was built in LeClaire, four years ago, had been kept in good shape, and two years ago new steel boilers were put in; that she was inspected last spring by the inspector of hulls, Mr. Gordon, and the inspector of boilers and machinery, Mr. Scott, and was given a license to carry passengers, to convey freight not exceeding 74 tons, and to carry 175 pounds of steam; that she had the regulation equipment of life-preservers, anchors and skiff.  Now, how an inspector can passenger a steamer which has no accommodation for people at all—a small steamer, 100 feet long and 24 feet beam, with engine of 40 horse power, built for the especial purpose of towing small coal flats—is something that needs inquiring into.  It shows that there is something wrong in the inspections of boats in this district.  The engineer, Patrick M. Maines, has made a sworn statement to W. S. Commissioner Sweeney that he was at his post at the time of the accident, and that as soon as he became aware of the breaking of the cam-rod he unshipped the valve rod so as to work one engine, but before he could succeed in doing this, the boat struck the bridge; that he remained in the engine room until the boat passed under the bridge; when he escaped though the skylights, and was rescued through the assistance of J. W. Gilchrist and Peter Hyers.

  But the fixing of responsibility of the terrible affair is the duty of public officers, and the government inspectors ought to know how to go to work to place it.  The work of




 was entered upon for the first time yesterday.  The cabin and pilot house were visible all day Friday—but when day-light came yesterday morning, they had disappeared; carried away, probably, by the wind and waves of the previous night.  At 10 o’clock yesterday forenoon, Captain Whitney took the steamer Edith, with a flat-boat, and went to the place where the Jennie sank, it being the intention that Captain J. A. Wall, the diver, should descend and examine the hull, which was in 18 feet of water, directly opposite the foot of Warren street, and the 1/6th of a mile from the Davenport shore.  Just as they were over the hull, and were getting ready for the work, the steamer Viola came up from Buffalo, and Capt. Pierce informed them that the




just a quarter of a mile below Buffalo, at the bank, washed against a tree, and that the body of a man had been taken from it.  In half an hour Captain Whitney, diver Wall, Coroner Bawden, relatives of victims of the disaster, and several others, were on the steamer Viola on their way to Buffalo.  It was ascertained then that the upper works of the wreck had been discovered by the raftsmen belonging to the steamer Little Eagle, who were rowing along shore in search of loose logs.  Persons from Buffalo went down; they discovered the head of a man fastened between the jammed-in sides and the roof of the cabin, and they cut a hole in the roof and took out the




of Cordova.  When Coroner Bawden and his party, arrived, the wreck was washed partially on shore, and it was not very difficult work to search it.  Captain Will put on his rubber suit, and waded into the water up to his breast.  Coroner Bawden gave the body of Mr. Wendt in charge of his brother John, who lives in Rock Island, and it was brought to that city on the Viola, which returned immediately.


    Mr. Wendt had evidently been trying to clamber though a sky-light, when the roof settled, smashed down by a stack, and caught him.  He had gone back into the steamer to find his wife after missing her.


   Soon after the arrival of Coroner Bawden the




of davenport, was discovered in a position similar to that of Mr. Wendt, and taken out.  It was placed in a box by the coroner, and brought to Davenport in the evening in the Little Eagle.  Coroner Bawden was well acquainted with the deceased, and recognized the remains as soon as he saw them.  The




all afternoon, but no more bodies were found.


    Mr. Trevors, of Rapids City, whose wife was among the victims, Mr. Temple, the son of Thomas and brother of Sadie Temple, who were drowned, Mr. John Gilchrist, Pilot Hyers, and others, searched the water about the wreck for bodies, but found none.


    A barrel of cranberries, a bale of cotton batting, three kegs of beer, straw mattresses and bed quilts, and men’s clothing, were taken from the wreck, and after dark the party all took the Little Eagle for home.


    Mr. Gilchrist intends having the hull searched today.  The




comprises ten persons:  Mrs. Mary J. Camp of Davenport, William Wendt of Cordova, Mrs. Fannie Trevors of Rapids City, Thos. Temple, Sadie Temple, James Sanford, the fireman, George Sidney, deck hand, John McCabe of LeClarie, Henry Thomas of Hampton, and Henry Shackford of Cordova.  A man named William Hanson is reported as lost, but it is not certain that he was on the board.  Sanford and Sidney were poor.  The later has lived in Davenport several years, following the occupation of teamster, and shipped on the steamer last Tuesday.  Sanford had a large family in LeClarie, who have not been out of the sight of want in several years, and are left in poverty; he was an honest, hard-working, and kind husband and father, of good character as a citizen and man, but unfortunate all the time.  John McCabe was a blacksmith by trade, and a good workman; he was an enemy to nobody but himself.  He leaves a small family in very poor circumstances.




of Rock Island county, took charge of the remains of Mr. Wendt immediately on the arrival of the body at the Rock Island levee and empanelled a jury—John Barge Foreman, John Reticker, David Hawes, Albert Warren, Robert Coyne, and John Aster—who viewed the body, and were dismissed subject to call.  Now, as the casualty which involved the death of Mr. Wendt occurred on the Iowa side of the river, and as the body was found on the Iowa shore, it is hard to see how Coroner Morris has the jurisdiction in the case.  However, there may be good results from his efforts.  Certain it is, that the laws of Iowa do not justify the coroner of Scott county entering into such an examination as an inquest in the case would involve—and there are laws of Iowa are in fault.  Coroner Morris has been a seaman, and if he goes to work in the business he will do his duty thoroughly.  But the proper parties to take a hold of the matter are the government inspectors of steamboats for this district—or better, perhaps, a supervising inspector, for the district inspectors guaranteed a license on the Jennie Gilchrist.




to steamboats have occurred here before—but never one so terrible as the one of last Thursday night.  The old railroad bridge, first used in September, 1856, and the first one constructed over the Mississippi, caused the destruction of a few steamers and more rafts.  The boat interest of the upper Mississippi river was bitterly opposed to its construction—especially as its drawbridge was fixed in almost the worst possible place, the currents of its channels being oblique and very rapid indeed.  In May, 1856, the large steamer Effie Afton, while endeavoring to pass through the draw, was struck by a flurry of wind, driven against a pier and broken.  She took fire, and the flames communicated to the bridge, destroying two or three spans of it.  The steamer was utterly destroyed, but no human lives were lost.  In September, 1858, the large stern-wheel steamer Fanny Harris went against the draw pier of the bridge, two of her firemen were drowned, and she sunk; she was raised at an expense of $3,000.  In March 1859, the steamer Aunt Letty was driven against the pier, and stove to pieces.  She was raised , and forty feet of her hull and upper works was replaced.  In May, 1861, the splendid steamer Grey Eagle was sunk at the draw pier, and was totally wrecked, one passenger being drowned; boat and cargo valued at $35,000.  All these accidents occurred in day light, for steamboatmen knew better than to attempt passage through the old bridge draw at night, unless by the light of a bull moon in good water.  There were numerous lighter accidents of importance at the old structure, and all were laid to the position of the draw pier.  The Jennie Gilchrist calamity is the first accident of importance at the new bridge, now nearly nine years old, and it certainly was not the fault of the bridge.  It is the most appalling disaster that ever happened on this section of the river.



The Daily Argus, November 1, 1881, page 4.





The Mishap as Viewed From the Bridge.






    These guards on the government bridge witnessed the accident to the Jennie Gilchrist and give some very important testimony regarding that affair, last Tuesday night.  Pemberton, McDonald and Ankam were on the Iowa approach when the Gilchrist passed though the draw.  The former was on his way to return the day watch on the Island.  The two stood talking for some time, when one of them noticed that the wheel of the little steamer was not revolving.  They could not see the boat on account of the darkness, but the wheel not revolving was commented upon by all of them.  One of the party then proceeded to walk from the Iowa side to this city after the conversation above noted and he succeeded in reaching the Island before the boat was carried down against the bridge, showing that some time must have elapsed between the discovery of the broken machinery and the final collision with the bride.


    The two remaining guards stood talking and finally they discovered the lights on the steamer and saw that she was drifting down stream.  They both passed out on the bridge when the pilot blew his whistle for the bridge draw.  The boat was near the Iowa shore, and soon after blowing the whistle, it struck the span upon the bridge between the third and fourth pier.  Just before the collision occurred the guards heard someone in the pilot house say in effect “My God I don’t know what will happen now,” They also heard a man calling for his wife “Mary.”  The Gilchrist did not touch a pier, but struck on the span between the two piers.  The barge hit the pier and became detached.  A second after the accident, the most agonizing screams and yells were heard and then all became quiet.  The model barge had two lanterns upon it and when this passed under the bridge the people could be seen distinctly by the guards on the bridge.  The engineer on the bridge draw blew his distress whistle while two of the bridge attendants took a small boat and pulled for the Evansville, giving the officers of that boat the first intimation of the accident.


    The guards believed that all the passengers and crew had escaped to the barge, as the quietness after the accident, and the lanterns on the barge, indicted that ample preparations had been made for the impending and expected accident.


Collected and transcribed by

 Sue Rekkas


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