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.
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.
Charles Shuler, Sr. born 1856.
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.
Gazette, Friday Morning, October 28, 1881, page 4.
A Steamboat Goes Down.
The Jennie Gilchrist Strikes the
Is Capsized and Sinks with all on
Twenty-eight Souls Plunged Beneath
Of Whom but Eighteen are Reported
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
MOST TERRIBLE ACCIDENT
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
INSTANTLY FILLED WITH WATER.
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.
A NOBLE RESCUE.
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
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.
A SURVIVOR’S STORY.
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.
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.
THE SAVED AND THE DEAD.
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.
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.
BILLY BROWN’S ESCAPE.
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.
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 BRIDGE ENGINEER’S STATEMENT
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.
DR. C. B. DAVENPORT’S ACCOUNT.
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.
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.
THE CAUSE OF IT.
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.
Davenport Democrat, Friday, October 28, 1881, Page 1.
A RIVER HORROR.
The Jennie Gilchrist Calamity.
Listing of the Persons Go Down With
The Disabling--The Floating Against
the Bridge—The Awful Losses After—The Passengers and Crew—A Gallant
Rescue—The Saved and The Lost.
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.
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
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.
was not long, however, before there was
TO THE RESCUE,
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
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 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.
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
NUMBER OF PEOPLE
steamer Jennie Gilchrist is not known accurately, as the clerk had
not collected fare of passengers. The officers were:
Captain and engineer—Patrick Manes.
Pilots—Dana Dorrance and Peter Hyer
Second engineer—William Smith of LeClaire
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
the steamer by Agent Osborne was consigned as follows:
Baker & Clark, Hampton, 10 barrels four, barrel corn meal, from
Taylor & Williams, package merchandise.
Zuber, LeClaire, box merchandise.
Baker & Clark, merchandise.
Gilchrist & Co., Rapids City, hardware.
Albert Mills, Hampton, hardware.
Johnson, Rapids City, two barrels and two boxes of crackers.
Lowery, Cordova, two hundred empty lime barrels.
Johnson, Rapids City,10 bundles, goods.
Taylor Williams, Rapids City, 1 case merchandise. 1 bale cotton
balling, and I bale quilts.
Schiaffel 6 ½ barrels of beer.
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
Half box lemons.
W. Gilchrist, Rapids City, 10 barrels of flour.
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.
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.
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.
boat was worth $6,000 to $8,000 probably, and her cargo was worth
$2,000 at least.
THE VICTIMS OF THE DISASTER
steamboat disaster of last night carries woe into two households in
Davenport, and sorrow into many hearts.
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
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.
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.
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.
Argus, Friday, October 28, 1881, page 4.
The Cause of the Accident at the
A Steamer Sinks and Several
Graphic Description of the Midnight
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.
officials of the Jennie Gilchrist are severely censured by the
surviving passengers for their lack of ability to cope with 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
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.
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.
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!”
BLEW HIS WHISTLE
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
AFT OF THE
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
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
STEAM BEGAN TO
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
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.
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
RESCUED ITS TWELVE
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
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
SCENE IN THE CABIN.
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
AT THE PIER.
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.
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
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.
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 LONE STAR.
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
model barge was found at an earlier hour, and the people who had
taken refuge upon it were rescued.
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
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.
list of passengers is given below:
Cordova—W. Went, wife and Child.
Rapids City—W. Hastey, Mrs. James Trevor, Miss Sadie Temple and
other passengers whose names can not be ascertained.
crew was as follows:
Owner—J. W. Gilchrist.
Master and Pilot—Dana Dorrance.
Second Pilot—Peter Hires.
Firemen—James Sanford and James Moss.
Cook—J. B. Temple.
colored deckhands whose names are not known.
this list the following are reported saved:
Gilchrist, Dana Dorrance, Patrick Maines Peter Hires, John
Schaeckler, James Sanford, William --------, Mrs. Went, J. Zuber, W.
Hastey, Frank Skelton.
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.
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.
states that the passengers numbered ten or twelve persons, four of
whom he could not name, while the remaining eight are given above.
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.
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
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
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
Viola took a run down to the barge “No. 3,” and during the afternoon
towed it back to the city.
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.
number of persons having friends or acquaintances on board the
steamer are making enquiries of the newspaper offices as to their
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.
will probably be several days before the Jennie Gilchrist will be
raised or at least examined with the idea of raising the hull.
Gazette, Saturday Morning, October 29, 1881, page 4.
THE GILCHRIST HORROR.
Further Particulars of the Disaster
List of Passengers and Other
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.
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
A MOST MARVELLOUS ESCAPE.
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 POSITION OF THE WRECK.
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.
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.
THE DEATH ROLL.
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
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.
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
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
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 WRECK OF 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
Davenport Sunday Democrat, Sunday, October 30, 1881, page 1.
THE RIVER HORROR.
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.
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
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
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
HAD BEEN FOUND
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
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
after the arrival of Coroner Bawden the
OF MRS. CAMP
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
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.
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
Mr. Gilchrist intends having the hull searched today. The
OF THE LOST
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.
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.
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.
Daily Argus, November 1, 1881, page 4.
The Mishap as Viewed From the
ON THE BRIDGE
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.
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.
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.